The formation of China Mission Center announced on Oct. 7 aims to address “the global challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China,” CIA director William Burns said on Thursday, adding that such challenge “cuts across all of the Agency’s mission areas.”
A senior CIA official said the agency will hire Mandarin speakers and mobilize Chinese specialists globally.
The new working unit will “further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government,” Burns said in a statement, stressing that the threat is from the Chinese government, not the Chinese people.
“Throughout our history, CIA has stepped up to meet whatever challenges come our way,” he told the workforce. “And now facing our toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry, CIA will be at the forefront of this effort.”
Justice Department in 2018 launched the China Initiative to counter economic espionage from China. The first line on the initiative’s home page states that around 80 percent of economic espionage prosecutions would benefit the Chinese state. In September, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)’s director Christopher Wray said his agency “is “opening a new China counterintelligence investigation every 12 hours.”
The initiatives from Burns mark his first major moves since taking office in March and fall in line with the priorities he laid out before taking office.
During his confirmation hearing in February, Burns had characterized “out-competing China” as “key to our national security in the decades ahead,” although he also highlighted issues such as climate change and denuclearization as areas of “mutual interests.”
As part of the organization reshuffling, the CIA will merge mission centers on Iran and North Korea—both set up during the Trump administration—with the broader Middle East unit and one on East Asia-Pacific respectively. The agency will also address the recruiting delays due to completing background checks and security clearances, with a goal of reducing the processing times to an average of six months.
The changes reflect the “regional nature of those issues in a lot of ways,” said the senior official, who added that “China is really global.”
An additional office, called the Transnational and Technology Mission Center, will “address global issues critical to U.S. competitiveness,” such as emerging technologies, economic security, climate change, and global health, according to Burns.
CIA’s deputy director David S. Cohen will oversee the implementation.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he looked forward to working with the CIA to ensure the changes “meet the challenges we are facing.”
“The strategic threat environment has been changing, and the intelligence community needs to adapt to meet that new environment,” he said in a statement.
The committee’s vice-chair, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also welcomed news of the China working group.
“The threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party is real and growing,” he said in a statement. “Every part of our government needs to reflect this great power competition in message, structure, and action.”
Experts have previously noted the challenges in tackling the China challenge.
The regime “has made massive inroads, basically running around the United States with a giant vacuum cleaner for decades, stealing every secret we have on any topic under the sun,” retired CIA operations officer Sam Faddis told The Epoch Times in an earlier interview. To him, “the idea that, in 2021, the CCP is now seen as a big problem makes [the CIA] a little late to the party.”