CIA Launches China Mission Centre to Confront Beijing
The media first reported on the US foreign intelligence agency's aspirations to launch a separate China-focused department back in August. Up to now, the People's Republic of China was a part of the agency's "Mission Centre for East Asia and Pacific."
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has formally launched a China mission centre to confront perceived threats emanating from Beijing, Agency Director William Burns announced on Thursday.
The centre was formed "to address the global challenge posed by the People's Republic of China that cuts across all of the Agency's mission areas," Burns said, according to a CIA statement shared with the media.
Burns characterised China as "the most important geopolitical threat" facing the United States in the 21st century, and described the Chinese government as "increasingly adversarial."
In addition to the new China Centre, the CIA's announcement on Thursday mentioned the creation of a "Transnational and Technology Mission Centre," ostensibly meant to address issues said to be "critical to US global competitiveness," including technology, global health, climate change, and economic security. The agency also created a new senior position â€“ "chief technology officer." Details on the role or who would fill it were not immediately provided.
US media reported on the possibility of a separate "Mission Centre for China" this summer, with the department expected to concentrate on intelligence operations related to the PRC as a stand-alone, single-issue focus entity and allow for personnel, funding and high-level agency attention to be devoted to the Asian nation.
The China Centre joins other geography-based departments including Africa, Europe, and Eurasia (which includes Russia), the Near East, South and Central Asia, and the Western Hemisphere (including all of North and South America). The Transnational and Technology Mission Centre joins other issue specific departments specialising in counterintelligence, counterterrorism, global issues, and weapons and counter-proliferation.
Adversaries Taking Apart CIA Informant Networks
The creation of the new centre dedicated to Beijing comes in the wake of a report that CIA officers working overseas have been warned that troubling numbers of informants recruited to spy for the United States were being captured or killed.
The warning, reportedly made in a top secret cable, said that the CIA's counterintelligence mission centre had looked at dozens of cases over the last several years involving foreign informants who had been killed, arrested, or compromised.
The report indicated that adversarial intelligence services in countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan have been hunting down CIA sources and in some cases turning them into double agents.
The large number of compromised informants in recent years demonstrated the growing prowess of other countries in employing innovations like biometric scans, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and hacking tools to track the movements of CIA officers in order to discover their sources, the report suggested.
The warning was primarily aimed at front line officers, the people involved most directly in the recruiting and vetting of sources, the report said, citing unnamed people who had read the cable.
The cable reminded CIA case officers to focus not just on recruiting sources, but also on security issues including vetting informants and evading adversarial intelligence services, the report added.
Pivot to China
Burns promised to make China one of his top priorities as CIA director during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year. This summer, the spy chief indicated that his agency was considering "forward-deploying" its China specialists, including operations officers, analysts, and technologists, to compete more efficiently with Beijing in a manner similar to what the CIA had done during the Cold War in its competition against the Soviet Union.
Burns has said repeatedly that he considers China America's "biggest geopolitical challenge" in the 21st century and a threat to US "global leadership."
The creation of the new departments comes amid growing tensions between Beijing and Washington over issues ranging from trade and technology transfer to back-and-forth recriminations about the origins of the coronavirus, to potential flash points in Taiwan and the South and East China Seas.
Last month, Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang asked US leaders to "please shut up" if they had nothing constructive to say and called on US officials and policy wonks to stop approaching the US competition with China as a new "cold war."
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