A year after Afghanistan, spy agency pivots to China

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a recent closed-door meeting with leaders of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, a second CIA official made it clear that fighting al-Qaeda and other extremist groups remains a priority. But CIA funds and resources are increasingly shifting to China.

CIA drone attack killed al Qaeda leader It has shown that the fight against terrorism is not an afterthought. But that didn’t change the message delivered by the agency’s deputy director, David Cohen, at that meeting a few weeks earlier.

A year after the war in Afghanistan ended, President Joe Biden and senior national security officials spoke less about counterterrorism and more about the political, economic and military threats posed by China and Russia. speaks a lot. A quiet reorientation is taking place within the intelligence community, moving hundreds of officers, including those previously working on terrorism, into China-focused positions.

Last week made it clear that the United States must deal with both simultaneously. Days after Ayman Zawari was killed in Kabul, China held major military drills and threatened to cut off contact with the United States over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The United States has long been wary of China’s growing political and economic ambitions.China tried to influence foreign elections,mount Cyber ​​and corporate espionage campaignsWhen Millions of Uighurs Detained in CampsSome experts also believe that Beijing will attempt to occupy Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island By force.

intelligence officer said They need more insight into China, including after failure to definitively identify the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.Beijing is under fire Withholding information About the origin of viruses.

And the war in Ukraine underlines the importance of Russia as a target.America used declassified information to publish Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pre-invasion war plans and rallying diplomatic support for Kyiv.

Proponents of the Biden administration’s approach point to the fact that the United States was able to track down and kill al-Zawari is evidence of its ability to target Afghan threats from abroad. Regarding the fact that Zawari lived in Kabul, apparently under Taliban protection, he said: Suggests there is a resurgence of extremist groups America is not ready to meet.

The change in priorities is backed by many former intelligence officers and lawmakers from both parties who say it is premature. This includes those who have served in Afghanistan and other missions against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Rep. Jason Crowe, a former Army ranger who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he believed the United States had focused too much on counter-terrorism over the past few years.

“The far bigger existential threats are Russia and China,” said Crow, a Colorado Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees. Terrorist groups will not “disrupt the American way of life…like China can,” he said.

CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorpe said terrorism “remains a very real challenge.”

“Although crises such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and strategic challenges such as those posed by the People’s Republic of China require attention, the CIA actively tracks terrorist threats around the world and works with partners to counter them.

Congress is pushing the CIA and other intelligence agencies to make China a top priority, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified information issue. Imposing resources on China requires cuts in other areas, including counter-terrorism. Specific figures were not available because the intelligence budget is classified.

Lawmakers, in particular, want more information about 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 future wars and the fabric of the economy.

As part of the transition, a congressional committee is seeking to better track how intelligence agencies spend money in China, providing more detail on how specific programs contribute to their mission. , said a person familiar with the matter.

Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a Utah Republican, said: “That means people, resources, military assets, and diplomacy.”

CIA Last year it announced it would create Two new “mission centers” – one for China and one for emerging technologies – to centralize and improve information gathering on these issues. The CIA is also trying to recruit more Chinese speakers and reduce wait times for security clearances to recruit new personnel more quickly.

Within the agency, many staff members have learned Chinese and are moving into new China-focused roles, but not all of these jobs require language training.

Officials say operatives are being trained to adapt to new challenges, and many were more quickly transferred to counter-terrorism roles after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It will also help counter Russia and China, the former officer said.

“What has become extraordinary is the analysis and targeting machine,” said Douglas Wise, a former senior CIA officer and deputy director of the Counterterrorism Center.

The CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center, renamed the Counter-Terrorism Mission Center in a 2015 reorganization, has remained a staple since 9/11 for many who believe in its job to keep Americans safe from terrorism. Proud. It was also part of an operation to expel the Taliban and find and kill al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

and 13 years later Double agent tricked cop Although he pursued al-Zawahri and blew himself up, killing seven agency personnel, the CIA killed him in a strike, but no civilian casualties were reported.

The CIA was also involved in some of the darkest moments of the war on terrorism.activated Secret ‘black site’ prison Some Wrong, Senate Investigation Found To Detain Terrorist Suspect used An interrogation method equivalent to torture. Elite Afghan Special Operations Forces trained by the CIA was also accused Killing civilians and violating international law.

It has long been debated whether counter-terrorism has pushed intelligence agencies too far away from traditional espionage, or whether military special forces should take over some of the CIA’s efforts to target terrorists.

Marc Polymeropoulos is a former CIA operations officer and former base chief in Afghanistan. He said he supported a greater focus on China and Russia, but added, “There is no reason to reduce what we had to do.”

“This idea that all the CT work we did was somehow wrong is the idea that we took our eyes off the ball. Please,” he said.

Reorienting agencies to focus more on China and Russia will ultimately take years, Wise said, requiring patience and recognition that agency culture will take time to change. .

“For decades, we’ve been fighting terrorism,” Wise said. “This adaptation requires rational planning. It won’t take long enough for an adversary to exploit the glacial process.”