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Legislative committee to study securing Texas ‘from hostile foreign organizations’

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(The Center Square) – Ahead of the legislative session next year, Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, created a new committee to help identity threats posed to Texas from hostile foreign organizations.

The new House Select Committee on Securing Texas from Hostile Foreign Organizations will be tasked with identifying potential threats to the state’s economy, security and more and make policy recommendations.

“Texas is known around the world as America’s leader in economic opportunity, innovation and personal freedoms. But this legacy also makes us a target for foreign economic aggression and subversive influences,” Phelan said. He created the committee “to study the threat posed by these groups and their affiliates on the Texas economy, statewide security and fundamental American values.”

State Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant, will chair the committee; other members include Angie Chen Button, Cody Harris, Todd Hunter, Ray Lopez, Armando Martinez and Terry Wilson.

They are tasked with studying “the threat posed by hostile foreign organizations related to entities on the Texas economy, security, and values;” to evaluate the ways in which hostile foreign organizations acquire property, including real property; to examine rates of intellectual property theft in Texas and identify the most impacted industries. They will report their findings and recommend policy changes to mitigate risks, he said.

During the last legislative session, the Texas Senate passed a bipartisan bill filed by Sen. Louis Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to ban foreign nationals from countries posing national security threats to the United States from purchasing land in Texas.

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, whom Phelan appointed to the new committee to “secure Texas from hostile foreign organizations,” killed Kolkhorst’s bill. Hunter, who chaired the House State Affairs Committee, never scheduled the measure for a hearing, ensuring its failure, The Center Square reported.

When asked why he didn’t prioritize the bill or move it out of committee, neither he nor his chief of staff responded to requests for comment.

Kolkhorst filed the bill after the Texas Legislature unanimously passed the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act banning all contracts or agreements with foreign-owned companies related to critical infrastructure in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in 2021.

The Legislature acted after a Chinese billionaire and former Chinese People’s Liberation Army general bought over 130,000 acres of land just miles from Laughlin Air Force base in Val Verde County, the largest air force pilot training base in the U.S.

After Hunter killed Kolkhorst’s bill, The Center Square exclusively reported that an aggressive and coordinated effort was launched in Texas to oppose her bill using a social media platform with direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

An unclassified U.S. Air Force report first obtained by The Center Square from a military source, entitled, “The China Threat,” details how the CCP uses WeChat to engage in “information warfare” against Americans, “whose content is thoroughly regulated by the CCP.”

It cites work conducted by Seth Kaplan, a professorial lecturer at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and his team. In an exclusive interview with The Center Square, Kaplan explained that he identified a large WeChat public account, “1point3acres (一亩三分地)” and its online forum and website that operated in the U.S. but was managed in Shandong, China.

He also found numerous examples of how WeChat was being used to propagate the narrative that Kolkhorst’s bill was the “new Chinese Exclusion Act.” After she filed it, for months, the CCP narrative framed opposition efforts.

Kaplan also identified one Chinese thread that included an article published by The Center Square that Abbott shared on social media, expressing his support, saying he would sign it.

Former active-duty Navy JAG and national security law expert Jonathan Hullihan told The Center Square that the orchestrated attack on Kolkhorst’s bill “should be a wake-up call to all Americans that China is engaged in unconventional warfare against the U.S.”

Phelan’s directive appears to extend beyond the scope of Kolkhorst’s bill to focus on intellectual property theft and other threats. It came after Russian hackers targeted water systems in west Texas, federal authorities warned all state governments of potential cyber-attacks targeting critical infrastructure, and after FBI Director Christopher Wray warned of espionage, cyber and other attacks posed by the Communist Party of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea against Americans.

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