China Mission Center: US Spy Agency CIA To Revive A Cold War-Era Strategy To Keep An Eye On China

Taking a cue from its Cold War-era strategy, the US spy agency CIA has proposed an independent “Mission Centre for China” in its bid to get better insight into Washington’s top strategic rival, according to reports.  

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China has been accused of espionage by the US and other western countries on several occasions in the past although Beijing rejected these claims.

The Australian, a leading publication from Australia, had last year reported on leaked data of 2 million China Communist Party (CCP) members, who were allegedly “embedded” in some of the biggest companies in the world which included banks, defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies.

According to reports, some of the companies identified with having CCP members as their employees included manufacturers such as Boeing and Volkswagen, pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and AstraZeneca as well as financial institutions such as ANZ and HSBC.

CIA Director Bill Burns. (via Twitter)

It was also reported in 2017 that a Chinese spyware called ‘Jian’ had targeted the US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. The computer incident team of Lockheed Martin had detected the presence of this Chinese spyware and reported the same to Microsoft.

Considering these threats posed to the US national security, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) proposed the idea of setting up an independent “Mission Center for China”, South China Morning Post reported.

CIA Director William Burns who floated the idea said that the agency is carrying out a broader review of its capabilities with respect to China, which has been a part of the agency’s much broader “Mission Centre for East Asia and Pacific”.

Mission centers are stand-alone entities that utilize resources from across the CIA units in line with agency priorities, a Bloomberg report said. A few current and former CIA officials told the news outlet that a separate center for China would make it easy for the agency to get a headcount, funding as well as high-level attention for China-centered activities.

At present, the US spy agency has separate mission centers for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and the Near East.

“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. 

Another former official of the agency said “many in the agency have long seen a need to create a separate China center. But at least until now, nobody was willing to pull the trigger to make it happen”, Bloomberg quoted the person as saying.

Inside the CIA headquarters, Langley, Virginia (via Twitter)

This China proposal put forward by Burns is a reflection of the priority highlighted by him during a Senate hearing in February. The veteran diplomat described China’s “adversarial, predatory leadership as 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.

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The agency is also thinking of deploying its China specialists around the world, similar to its approach used for countering the Soviet influence during the Cold War, Burns said in an interview with NPR.

He also said “the agency was looking into how to deal with the ubiquitous technical surveillance” and other very advanced capabilities on the part of the Chinese intelligence service, which make it more difficult to conduct espionage overseas”.

Recently, the intelligence community has also been under pressure to find out and analyze if the COVID-19 pandemic was caused due to a lab leak in the Chinese city Wuhan.

“The intelligence community does not know exactly where, when, or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence, had said in April. He also called for an “aggressive stance” towards the threats posed by China.

According to The Express Tribune, one of the top priorities for the Biden administration as well as the members of the Congress is competition with China as they want a tough line for Beijing. Russian aggression also is a constant concern, especially its involvement in US elections and the SolarWinds hack that penetrated government agencies, for which that US officials have blamed Russian hackers.

— Written by Kashish Tandon