One year after Afghanistan, spy agencies pivot toward China
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a recent closed-door meeting with leaders of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, the CIA’s No. 2 official made it clear that fighting al Qaeda and other extremist groups will remain a priority — but the Institutional funding and resources will increasingly turn to focus on China.
CIA drone strike that killed al Qaeda leader Show that fighting terrorism is not an afterthought. But that didn’t change the message that the agency’s deputy director, David Cohen, conveyed at that meeting a few weeks ago: While the United States will continue to hunt down terrorists, it is imperative to work to better understand and counter Beijing.
A year after the war in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden and top national security officials have spoken less about counterterrorism and more about the political, economic and military threats posed by China and Russia. There has been a quiet turning point within the intelligence community, with hundreds of officials being redeployed to China-focused positions, including some who have previously worked on terrorism.
Last week made it clear that the United States must address both. Days after Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul, China held large-scale military exercises and threatened to cut ties with the United States over a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
The United States has long been alarmed by China’s growing political and economic ambitions.China tries to influence foreign electionsconduct cyber and corporate espionageand imprisoned millions of ethnic minority Uighurs in concentration camps. Some experts also believe that Beijing will try to seize the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan in the coming years by force.
Intelligence officials say they need to know more about China, including after the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic could not be determined.Beijing accused of withholding information about the origin of the virus.
The Ukraine war highlights the importance of Russia as a target.U.S. uses decrypted information to expose Russian President Vladimir Putin planned a war ahead of the invasion and mustered diplomatic support for Kyiv.
Supporters of the Biden administration’s approach point to the fact that the United States was able to track down and kill al-Zawahri as a testament to its ability to target the threat in Afghanistan from abroad.Critics say al-Zawahiri lives in Kabul and is apparently under the protection of the Taliban, a sign of a resurgence of extremist groups The United States is incapable of fighting back.
Many former intelligence officials and lawmakers on both sides support the shift in priorities, which they say is overdue. This includes those who served in Afghanistan and other missions against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he believes the U.S. has focused too much on counterterrorism over the past few years.
“The bigger existential threats are Russia and China,” said Crow, a Colorado Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees. He said terrorist groups “will not destroy the American way of life like China…”
CIA spokesman Tammy Thorpe noted that terrorism “remains a very real challenge.”
“Even if crises such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and strategic challenges such as the People’s Republic of China demand our attention, the CIA will continue to actively track terrorist threats around the world and work with partners to address them,” Thorpe said.
Congress has pushed the CIA and other intelligence agencies to make China a top priority to discuss sensitive intelligence issues, according to several people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Pushing resources to China requires cuts in other areas, including counterterrorism. Because the intelligence budget is classified, specific figures are not available.
In particular, lawmakers want more information on China’s advanced technological developments. Under President Xi Jinping, China has pledged trillions of dollars in investments in quantum science, artificial intelligence and other technologies that could disrupt the way wars are played and the economic structure of future wars.
As part of the shift, congressional committees are trying to better track how intelligence agencies spend money on China and seeking more details on how specific programs contribute to that mission, a person familiar with the matter said.
“We’re late, but it’s good that we’re finally turning our focus to the region,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who serves on the House Intelligence Committee. “That means in terms of people, resources, military assets and diplomacy.”
The CIA announced last year that it would create Two new “mission centers” — one on China and one on emerging technologies — focus and improve intelligence gathering on these issues. The CIA is also trying to recruit more Chinese-speakers and reduce wait times for security clearances to hire new people faster.
Inside the agency, many officials are learning Chinese and moving into new China-focused roles, but not all of those jobs require language training, the people said.
The officials noted that intelligence officers were trained to adapt to the new challenges, and many moved more quickly into counterterrorism roles after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Advances in counterterrorism efforts — including better use of data and disparate intelligence sources to build networks and identify targets — could also help counter Russia and China, the former official said.
“Its analysis and targeting machine became extraordinary,” said Douglas Wise, a former senior CIA official and deputy director of operations at the Counterterrorism Center.
The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, renamed the Counterterrorism Mission Center after a 2015 reorganization, remains a source of pride for many who see it as protecting Americans from terrorism after Sept. 11. CIA officials arrived in Afghanistan on September 26, 2001, and were involved in replacing the Taliban and finding and killing al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
13 years after double agent deceived officer The CIA hunted down al-Zawahri and blew itself up, killing seven agency employees, the CIA killed him in an airstrike, and no civilian casualties were reported.
The CIA has also been involved in some of the darkest moments in the fight against terrorism.It operates a secret “black field” prison Arrests of terror suspects, some wrong, Senate inquiry finds they used A method of interrogation equivalent to torture.CIA-trained Afghan elite special operations unit also charged Killing civilians and violating international law.
There has long been a debate over whether counterterrorism keeps intelligence agencies away from traditional espionage, and whether some of the CIA’s work on terrorists should be done by special forces under the military.
Marc Polymeropoulos is a retired CIA operations officer and former base chief in Afghanistan. He said he supported a greater focus on China and Russia, but added that “there is no reason to reduce what we have to do.”
“The idea that all the CT work we’re doing, somehow, is wrong, we’re focusing on the ball — just remember how everyone felt on September 12,” he said.
Repositioning the agencies to focus more on China and Russia will ultimately take years, and will require patience and an understanding that the agency’s culture will take time to change, Wise said.
“We’ve been doing counterterrorism for decades,” Wise said. “We have to have a reasonable plan for this adaptation that doesn’t take long enough for our enemies to take advantage of glacial processes.”