CIA Creates New ‘China Mission Center’ to Counter CCP – Years After Devastating Loss of Spies in China

Photo of Huawei booth at Mobile World Congress 2015 Barcelona. Huawei is a Chinese firm suspected of working with Beijing's intelligence services to facilitate spying / Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns Via Flickr

On Thursday, CIA Director William Burns said in a statement that the agency was creating a new ‘China Mission Center’ (CMC) that “will further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government.”

He added, according to CBS News, that this center would cut across “all of the agency’s mission areas,” noting the CIA’s concern was “the threat …from the Chinese government, not its people.”

No such unit focusing explicitly on China had previously been created. CBS News added that:

Burns has consistently identified China as an unparalleled challenger, and has vowed to bring an “intensified focus” on competition with Beijing. This despite President Biden repeatedly downplaying the geopolitical battle and promising that the U.S. is not seeking a “new Cold War” with China.

Burns said the new mission center will bring “a whole-of-Agency response” and will “unify the exceptional work CIA is already doing against the key rival.”

The CMC will become one of fewer than a dozen mission centers operated by the CIA, with weekly director-level meetings intended to drive the agency’s strategy toward China. The CIA also announced that it would ramp up efforts to recruit Chinese speakers.

This new enhanced focus on communist China comes almost a decade after the CIA suffered a catastrophic loss of its spies (or ‘assets’) in China when its clandestine encrypted communication system was compromised, and dozens of agents were executed.

This disaster, which was first reported in 2017 by the New York Times, appears to have begun at least by 2010 and continued for at least two or three years afterwards.

That significant loss of its China networks likely also severely hindered the CIA’s ability to monitor developments in Wuhan prior to and during the COVID outbreak in 2019. Business Insider reported that:

About 30 spies were reportedly executed, though some intelligence officials told Foreign Policy that 30 was a low estimate. The US officials were reportedly “shell-shocked” by the speed and accuracy of Chinese counterintelligence, and rescue operations were organized to evacuate their sources.

The CIA has since been rebuilding its network in China, but the process has been long and expensive. This new China Mission Center will hopefully accelerate this rebuilding of China-focused intelligence capabilities. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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