The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is considering creating a “Mission Center for China,” according to people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported Aug. 12.
Serving as a center for assets from across the CIA to meet the organization’s needs, a separate China mission center, along with other existing centers set up for counterintelligence, counterterrorism and the Near East, would help acquire headcount, funding and high-level attention for activities, as related by three anonymous current and former officials.
The Mission Center for China would operate independently.
The proposal is part of a wider review by CIA director William Burns, in regards to the agency’s China capabilities, and aims to increase efforts on the rival country within the agency. China has already been part of the larger “Mission Center for East Asia and Pacific.”
“As director Burns has said, China is one of his priorities, and the 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.
While the CIA’s main purpose is to give independent intelligence assessments to the U.S. President, it also aims to consider each administration’s priorities.
In 2017, the agency formed a new Korea Mission Center to prepare for the threat of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, saying that it would help to “more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts.”
In a Senate confirmation hearing in February, Burns called China’s “adversarial, predatory leadership” the largest threat to the US and is moving to “replace the United States as the world’s most powerful and influential nation.”
Burns also told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the China proposal would increase focus and urgency, while also enhancing its “already impressive cadre of China specialists,” broadening language capabilities and adjusting personnel and resources in the long run.
Burns said, in an interview with NPR, last month that the larger review, which came after concerns on Chinese spying efforts in the US, also sees the consideration to deploy China specialists in select areas across the world, mirroring the strategy used to combat Soviet influence during the Cold War.
Moreover, he said the CIA was developing ways to counter the “ubiquitous technical surveillance” and other” very advanced capabilities on the part of the Chinese intelligence service,” that are putting strains on espionage missions overseas.
According to FBI director Christopher Wray, Chinese tactics, ranging from cyber espionage threats against Chinese nationals in the US, have incited fears of threats by the Chinese Communist Party.
Incidents including, as reported by the New York Times, the dismantling of CIA spying operations in China in 2017 and the elimination of a dozen CIA sources from 2010 to 2012 have challenged the ability to collect data on the country by the CIA and other American intelligence agencies.
Now, the intelligence community is facing uncertainty in regards to tracing the COVID-19 pandemic to a laboratory leak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“The intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how the Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” said director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, in April.
While a House Intelligence Committee official has declined to comment on the potential setup of a mission centre, he did say that the committee was satisfied with Burns’ handling of the review on the CIA’s efforts towards China and are expecting great results.