National Security Concerns Spur Disconnection of Chinese Batteries from Camp Lejeune

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Signage stands on the main gate to Camp Lejeune Marine Base
Signage stands on the main gate to Camp Lejeune Marine Base outside Jacksonville, N.C., April 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

An American power company announced this week that it disconnected Chinese-manufactured batteries from Camp Lejeune after lawmakers raised concerns to the Pentagon about security.

On Friday, Duke Energy told Military.com that it disconnected the lithium batteries produced by the company CATL from the North Carolina installation's energy infrastructure after "some concerns about this project" were raised -- mostly by Republican lawmakers, but co-signed by at least one Democrat as well.

Earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., penned a letter with nearly 30 other lawmakers addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking the Pentagon to "immediately reverse the decision to install CATL batteries at Camp Lejeune, as well as conduct a full assessment on all installations."

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Chinese infrastructure in the U.S. has come under intense scrutiny by lawmakers, experts and defense officials over concerns that Beijing-backed systems might contain spyware or other means to conduct espionage on America.

Within a week, Duke Energy said it had disconnected the batteries over those concerns, though it also said in a statement that the batteries were not connected to Lejeune's systems or networks and that it made the change due to concerns from inside the Capital Beltway.

"In safeguarding our national security, decisive actions must be taken to eliminate potential threats," Rubio told Military.com in a statement Friday in response to the disconnection.

"Disconnecting systems supported by the Chinese Communist Party is common sense, especially when it comes to securing our military bases," he said. "It is important that we as a nation take proactive, not reactive, measures to protect ourselves from our adversaries."

Reuters was first to report the disconnection this week. The publication reached out to CATL, the Chinese company that manufactures the batteries, which said that the accusations were "false and misleading."

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for China's embassy in Washington, D.C., told Reuters that Beijing "always opposes the U.S. side politicizing trade and investment cooperation."

Military.com reached out to Camp Lejeune for comment, asking if the disconnection of the batteries would affect the installation.

"Operations are not impacted at Camp Lejeune, and there is no impact to training or readiness," Nat Fahy, a Marine Corps spokesperson, said.

In March, Duke Energy touted Camp Lejeune's battery storage as the largest in North Carolina and that its expanding capabilities would improve the installation's efficiency. It did not say in the press release if the batteries were produced in Beijing.

"Through an enhanced use lease [EUL] and strategic partnership with Duke Energy Progress, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune has been able to make an important investment in the pursuit of energy security inside the fence-line," Cmdr. Ross Campbell, director of Public Works at Lejeune, said at the time in the press release.

Concerns over Chinese infrastructure in the U.S. have only increased as tensions between the two countries have played out in the Pacific and around the world. The U.S. has been particularly wary of Beijing's influence stateside, to include concerns over infrastructure, but also in cyber and human intelligence.

"China almost certainly is capable of launching cyber attacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines, and rail systems," according to the U.S. Intelligence Community's 2023 Annual Threat Assessment.

Last year, CNN reported that the FBI determined that Chinese-backed infrastructure could disrupt American nuclear assets. Defense officials also have said that service members are being targeted by China for insider information.

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