CIA mulls creating ‘special China unit’ in bid to 'out-spy' Beijing

Mission centres are stand-alone entities that utilise resources from across CIA in line with agency priorities


News Desk August 13, 2021

In an escalation of its efforts to gain greater insight into the United States' top strategic rival, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is weighing proposals to create an independent “Mission Centre for China”, Bloomberg quoted people familiar with the deliberations as saying.

Mission centres are stand-alone entities that utilise resources from across the CIA in line with agency priorities, the report said.

In the intelligence bureaucracy, a separate China centre would make it easier to secure headcount, funding and high-level attention for China-related activities, according to three current and former officials who spoke about the internal deliberations on condition of anonymity.

Read more: US-China cold war

The proposal, part of a broader review of the agency’s China capabilities by CIA Director William Burns, would elevate the focus on China within the agency, where China has long been part of a broader “Mission Centre for East Asia and Pacific.”

Existing mission centres include those for counterintelligence, counterterrorism and the Near East, the report added.

“As Director Burns has said, China is one of his priorities, and CIA is in the process of determining how best to position ourselves to reflect the significance of this priority,” the CIA said in a statement.

One former CIA officer, who asked not to be identified discussing his former employer, said that many in the agency have long seen a need to create a separate China centre. But at least until now, nobody was willing to pull the trigger to make it happen, he added.

Also read: Would Biden’s strategy to counteract China through Pakistan succeed?

According to Bloomberg, although the CIA is intended to provide independent intelligence assessments to presidents, the agency adjusts to reflect the priorities set in each administration.

In 2017, during the Trump administration, the CIA established a new Korea Mission Centre aimed at meeting the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea. At the time, the agency said the centre would help it to “more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts.”

The China proposal reflects the priority Burns laid out during his Senate confirmation hearing in February. The veteran diplomat called China’s “adversarial, predatory leadership” the biggest threat to the US, saying Beijing’s goal is to “replace the United States as the world’s most powerful and influential nation.”

“For CIA, that will mean intensified focus and urgency -- continually strengthening its already impressive cadre of China specialists, expanding its language skills, aligning personnel and resource allocation for the long haul,” Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Competition with China is a top priority for the Biden administration - and for members of Congress, who want a tough line towards Beijing. Avril Haines, Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, also called for an “aggressive stance” towards the threat from China.

Russian aggression also is a constant concern, especially its involvement in US elections and the SolarWinds hack that penetrated government agencies and that US officials have blamed on Russian hackers.

(The story was originally published on Bloomberg)

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