WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) – The Central Intelligence Agency is weighing proposals to create an independent “Mission Center for China” in an escalation of its efforts to gain greater insight into the U.S.’s top strategic rival, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
The proposal, part of a broader review of the agency’s China capabilities by CIA Director William Burns, would elevate the focus on China within the agency, where China has long been part of a broader “Mission Center for East Asia and Pacific.”
Mission centers are stand-alone entities that utilize resources from across the CIA in line with agency priorities. In the intelligence bureaucracy, a separate China center would make it easier to secure headcount, funding and high-level attention for China-related activities, according to three current and former officials who spoke about the internal deliberations on condition of anonymity.
“As Director Burns has said, China is one of his priorities, and 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.
Burns said China is the biggest threat to the U.S., claiming that 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,” the CIA director told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Burns said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) last month that the agency’s broader China review was also considering whether to deploy China specialists in locations around the world, following the approach used to counter Soviet influence in the Cold War.
Burns 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.
The proposals for the China mission comes as senior officials have raised concerns over the scale and ambition of Beijing’s alleged spying in the U.S., with Beijing denying the allegations and accusing Washington of the same act.
China has branded the U.S. as the “biggest threat to global cybersecurity” after Washington publicly accused Beijing of an attack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server software that compromised tens of thousands of computers worldwide.