The director of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency told BBC on Monday that China’s efforts to “exert covert influence over the West” are just as problematic as Russia’s. Mike Pompeo told the news network that the Chinese had a much bigger “footprint” than the Russians.

“Think about the scale of the two economies,” Pompeo said on Russia and China. “The Chinese have a much bigger footprint upon which to execute that mission [of trying to exert influence over the US and Western Europe] than the Russians do.”

Pompeo cited China’s alleged efforts to steal US commercial information and “infiltration of schools and hospitals” as evidence for his claims that Beijing posed as much of a danger as Moscow.

“We see it in our schools. We see it in our hospitals and medicals systems,” he claimed. “We see it throughout corporate America. It’s also true in other parts of the world.”

On January 17, former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested at the John F Kennedy Airport in New York, for allegedly spying for China. He is thought to have retained classified information, which he used to help China.

Since 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been inquiring into the disappearance of CIA agents in China. It is alleged that some 20 informants had been killed or jailed in the country between 2010 and 2012, BBC said.

Pompeo said on Monday that countries could work together to combat Chinese efforts to exert power over the US and Western Europe. “We can watch very focused efforts to steal American information, to infiltrate the United States with spies – with people who are going to work on behalf of the Chinese government against America,” he said.

However, Pompeo claimed that Russia could attempt to interfere in the midterm elections in the United States in November 2018. He also said that North Korea may be able to strike the US with nuclear missiles “in a handful of months”.