The China Syndrome: CIA Reportedly Wants ‘Separate PRC-Focused Center’ to Battle Beijing’s Spies
10:37 GMT 13.08.2021 (Updated: 10:43 GMT 13.08.2021)
© AP Photo / Carolyn KasterThis 13 April 2016 file photo shows the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
© AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster
Reports on the ruthless foreign intelligence agency’s supposed wish list come amid growing tensions between the US and China over the origins of the coronavirus. This week, a source told China’s Global Times newspaper that US intelligence agencies were frantically searching for informants in Wuhan for their ongoing Covid origins probe.
The Central Intelligence Agency is mulling the creation of a separate “Mission Center for China” which would concentrate on intelligence operations related to the People’s Republic, sources said to be familiar with the discussions have told Bloomberg.
At the moment, the PRC is part of the CIA’s ‘Mission Center for East Asia and Pacific’. Mission centers operate as stand-alone, single issue-focus entities designed to tackle a particular country or priority. There are 11 such centers operating at the moment.
The Trump administration created a special Korea Mission Center in 2017 as part of its failed effort to tackle the country’s nuclear weapons programme. Other geography-based centers include Africa, Europe and Eurasia (which includes Russia), the Near East, South and Central Asia, and the Western Hemisphere (which includes all of North and South America). There are also mission centers specialising in counterintelligence, ‘counterterrorism’, global issues, and weapons and counter-proliferation.
According to Bloomberg’s sources, a separate mission center for China would hypothetically make it easier for the agency to focus personnel, funding and high-level agency attention on China.
The CIA did not confirm whether plans for a China center were being discussed, but indicated in a statement that agency director William Burns had recently commented on China being “one of his priorities.”
“CIA is in the process of determining how best to position ourselves to reflect the significance of this priority,” the agency said.
Last month, Burns said his agency was considering “forward-deploying” China specialists, including operations officers, analysts and technologists, to compete more effectively with Beijing in a manner similar to what the CIA had done during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Burns called China America’s “biggest geopolitical challenge” for the 21st century and indicated that it was a threat to US global leadership (i.e. hegemony).
He added that the technology sector was now the biggest area of competition between the two economic superpowers, particularly as China’s surveillance capabilities and smart cities have made ‘staying ahead’ of Chinese intelligence more difficult.
At his Senate confirmation hearings in February, Burns promised that his CIA would intensify its “focus and urgency” on the PRC, including a pledge for “continually strengthening its already impressive cadre of China specialists, expanding its language skills, aligning personnel and resource allocation for the long haul.”
One of Bloomberg’s sources said that the creation of a separate mission center for China is something that has been seen as necessary within the agency for a long time, but that until now nobody was ‘willing to pull the trigger’ to make this a reality.
The CIA’s China overhaul comes amid reports of consternation inside America’s intelligence community with regard to China’s growing counterintelligence capabilities. In 2017, US media reported that China had managed to ‘systematically’ wipe out the CIA’s agent networks and operations inside the country beginning in 2010, and liquidated at least a dozen of its sources.
Spooks Instructed to Study Covid
More recently, amid the back-and-forth blame game by the US and China on the origins of the novel coronavirus, officials have expressed frustration about being kept in the dark on the matter. In April, National Intelligence director Avril Haines admitted that the US intelligence community simply “does not know exactly where, when or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially.”
In May, President Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to put a report on his desk about the coronavirus’s possible origins by the end of August after his party and allied media began walking back long-held assumptions that the virus appeared to be of natural origins (a position long-supported by China and the World Health Organisation).
This week, sources said to be familiar with the state of the probe told media the intelligence community remains divided over whether the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute or Virology or jumped naturally to humans from animals.
Also this week, a source told China’s Global Times that US intelligence was in a frantic search for informants from Wuhan, including scientists, doctors, and ordinary citizens, looking for data on ‘loopholes’ in China’s anti-epidemiological work, information on Covid patients, and the lives of city residents during the lockdown.
Before that, media reported that US intelligence had gotten their hands on genetic blueprint information from virus samples from the Wuhan lab, and that the data was being studied to determine if it could help uncover Covid’s origins. Sources told CNN that the spy agencies face multiple problems, chief among them being the “very small pool” of Mandarin-speaking scientists cleared to analyse the information. Other sources said they were sceptical that the uncovered data would provide intelligence with any “smoking gun” on the pandemic’s origins without further analysis of “contextual clues.”
US intelligence agencies’ Wuhan probe comes amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing, and an increasing tendency by officials from both countries to ask questions about whether Covid was the result of an accidental or deliberate leak. While US officials have been discussing the Wuhan lab, Chinese officials have asked questions about the mysterious mid-2019 temporary shutdown of the Fort Detrick military bio-lab in Maryland, and whether the virus may have emerged from there.
30 July, 03:44 GMT
Meanwhile, some officials, including US lawmakers led by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, have effectively hinted that both countries may be responsible for the global pandemic, alleging that US officials consciously funded potentially dangerous bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan lab in the years leading up to the pandemic beginning in 2017 after such research was prohibited in the US. The officials named by Paul and others, including long-time Covid czar Anthony Fauci, dismissed the Kentucky senator’s line of questioning in recent congressional testimony, with Fauci suggesting that the lawmaker “did not know what [he was] talking about.”