In early 2011, U.S. solar panel manufacturing giant Solyndra was considered one of the world's most innovative companies, following an encouraging visit from then-President Barack Obama at a time the economy was still reeling from the 2008 downturn. Then in September of that year, it filed for bankruptcy despite receiving more than half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees, becoming a central talking point for Obama's political rivals leading up to the 2012 election. Economists and defense officials who served at the time blame market pressure from rivals in China who are believed to have improved their own technology by stealing American designs.
Three months later, in December, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Russia's legislative election as neither free nor fair – a criticism that Russian leader Vladimir Putin viewed as fomenting revolution in his country. He reportedly vowed revenge in kind.
Foreign governments have for decades attempted to exert influence inside the U.S. to their political or financial advantage but perhaps never as acutely or troublingly as in recent years, current and former officials say. Through complex cyber operations, Russia sows dissent wherever it can to undermine American unity at home and alliances abroad, while China increasingly grabs influence within the U.S. to further its own long-term economic and security goals, sometimes in plain sight. Both appear to be successful, though in sharply different ways.
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