Washington is beefing up its resources targeting Beijing over a decade after losing most of its local assets
The US is still struggling to rebuild its spy capacity in China over a decade after losing all of its agents in the country, current and former intelligence officials told the Wall Street Journal on Monday.
The report described a “titanic, but mostly secret shift at the CIA and its sister US spy agencies” refocusing Washington’s $100-billion-a-year intelligence apparatus from “fighting insurgencies around the world” to “preparing for a possible ‘great power’ conflict with China and Russia.”
Beijing is the top priority for the CIA, director William Burns told the Journal, explaining that his agency had “more than doubl[ed] the budget resources devoted to the China mission over the past three years” and established a China Mission Center as a standalone entity coordinating those activities.
These include a new unit focused on emerging technologies and interfacing with the US private sector. Several US intelligence agencies have also established units focused on analyzing open-source intelligence, while electronic surveillance has become Washington’s main information source inside the country, where Beijing’s own surveillance apparatus makes meeting and recruiting human sources increasingly perilous.
Even attempting to recruit officials when they travel to third countries has proven difficult, a former senior official admitted, describing how US agents who believed their cover to be intact in a Latin American country were actually followed and filmed by Chinese observers as they tried to recruit a target.
Current and former US intelligence officials acknowledged the CIA’s mission was crippled by the loss of as many as 30 Chinese assets between 2010 and 2012 due to a glitch in the agency’s covert communications systems and a betrayal by one of its Chinese operatives.
The former official, calling the losses “horrendous,” acknowledged “doubts about whether there’s been much of a recovery since then,” the discoveries having put a chill on recruitments that extended far beyond a single country. The individual explained their reasoning: “Why would I take a call from a US person, I know that Chinese people got bullets in the back of their head.”
While the US maintains a network of spy satellites and cyber-surveillance tools targeting China, the agency has never recovered its on-the-ground intelligence capability in the country, and even now relies on President Xi Jinping’s public statements to gain working knowledge of his plans, the Journal’s sources admitted.
Burns has nevertheless suggested the US knows Xi’s plans for Taiwan, considered a breakaway province by Beijing and increasingly fortified with US weapons against a hypothetical invasion from the mainland. Xi and his military leadership “have doubts about whether they could pull off a successful, full-scale invasion of Taiwan at an acceptable cost to them,” the CIA chief told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum in July.
December 26, 2023 at 10:50PM