US Intelligence Agencies Focus Resources on China While Fighting Al Qaeda – National

At a recent behind-closed-doors meeting with heads of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, CIA Official No. 2 made it clear that the fight against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups would remain a priority — but that the money and the Agency resources would be increasingly shifted to focus on China.

A year after the end of the war in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden and senior national security officials are talking less about counterterrorism and more about the political, economic and military threat posed by China and Russia. There was a quiet turn within the intelligence services, moving hundreds of officials to China-focused positions, including some who had previously worked in the terrorism field.

Intelligence officials stress that the fight against terrorism is rarely ignored. Just a week ago it was announced that a CIA drone strike had killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari in Kabul. But days later, China held large-scale military drills and threatened to cut ties with the US over the visit of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosis to Taiwan. It underscored the message conveyed by CIA Deputy Director David Cohen at that meeting weeks ago: The agency’s top priority is to try to understand Beijing and do something to counter it.

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The US has long been concerned about China’s growing political and economic ambitions. China has attempted to meddle in elections abroad, launched cyber and economic espionage campaigns, and held millions of minority Uyghurs in camps. Some pundits also believe that Beijing will try to take over the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan by force in the coming years.

Intelligence officials have said they need more insight into China even after being unable to definitively pinpoint the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beijing is accused of withholding information about the origin of the virus.

And the war in Ukraine has underscored the importance of Russia as a target. The US used declassified information to uncover Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pre-invasion war plans and rally diplomatic support for Kyiv.

Supporters of the Biden administration’s approach note that the fact that the US was able to track down and kill al-Zawari is a testament to its ability to combat foreign threats in Afghanistan. Critics say the fact that al-Zawari lived in Kabul, under apparent Taliban protection, suggests there is a resurgence of extremist groups against which America is ill-armed.

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White House says US will continue efforts to maintain communications with Beijing while China halts dialogue

White House says US will continue efforts to maintain communications with Beijing while China halts dialogue

The shift in priorities has the backing of many former intelligence officers and lawmakers from both parties, who say it’s overdue. This includes people who served in Afghanistan and other missions against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

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Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he believes the US has focused too much on counterterrorism in recent years.

“A far greater existential threat is Russia and China,” said Crow, a Colorado Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees. Terrorist groups, he said, “will not destroy the American way of life… like China can.”

CIA spokeswoman Tammy Thorp noted that terrorism “remains a very real challenge.”

“While crises like the Russian invasion of Ukraine and strategic challenges like the People’s Republic of China require our attention, the CIA will continue to aggressively pursue terrorist threats around the world and work with partners to counter them,” Thorp said.

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Congress has urged the CIA and other intelligence agencies to make China a top priority, according to several people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. Pushing resources to China has required cuts elsewhere, including in counterterrorism. Concrete figures were not available because intelligence budgets are secret.

In particular, lawmakers want more information on China’s development of advanced technologies. Under President Xi Jinping, China has pledged trillions of dollars in investment in quantum science, artificial intelligence and other technologies that are likely to disrupt the way future wars are fought and economies are structured.

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As part of the shift, congressional committees are trying to better track how intelligence agencies are spending their funds on China and are seeking more details on how specific programs are contributing to that mission, a person familiar with the matter said.

“We’re late, but it’s good that we’re finally shifting our focus to this region,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who serves on the House Intelligence Committee. “That means in people, in resources, in military assets and in diplomacy.”

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The CIA announced last year that it would create two new “mission centers” — one for China, one for emerging technologies — to centralize and improve intelligence collection on these issues. The CIA is also trying to recruit more Chinese speakers and reduce security clearance wait times in order to hire new people faster.

Within the agency, many officials are learning Chinese and moving into new roles focused on China, although not all of those jobs require language training, people familiar with the matter said.

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Officials note that intelligence officers are being trained to adapt to new challenges, and that many have been accelerated into counterterrorism duties since the September 11, 2001 attacks, identifying targets — also useful in countering Russia and China, former said officers.

“It’s the analysis and targeting machine that has become extraordinary,” said Douglas Wise, a former senior CIA officer who was deputy chief of operations at the Counterterrorism Center.

The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, renamed the Counterterrorism Mission Center in a 2015 reorganization, remains a point of pride for many who credit its work with protecting Americans from terrorism after 9/11 . CIA officers landed in Afghanistan on September 26, 2001. and were part of operations to drive out the Taliban and find and kill leaders of al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden.

And 13 years after a double agent tricked officers pursuing al-Zawari and blew himself up, killing seven agency employees, the CIA killed him in a strike with no reported civilian casualties.

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The CIA was also involved in some of the darkest moments of the fight against terrorism. It ran secret “black site” prisons to hold terror suspects, some wrongly, and was found in a Senate investigation to have used interrogation methods amounting to torture. Elite CIA-trained Afghan special forces have also been accused of killing civilians and violating international law.

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There has long been a debate as to whether counterterrorism has moved the intelligence community too far from traditional espionage, and whether some of the CIA’s counter-terrorist work should instead be done by military special forces.

Marc Polymeropoulos is a retired CIA operations officer and former base chief in Afghanistan. He said he supports a greater focus on China and Russia, but added: “There’s no reason to scale back what we’ve had to do.”

“This idea that all the CT work that we did was kind of wrong, that we took our eye off the ball — just think of how everyone felt on September 12,” he said.

Rebalancing the agencies to have a greater focus on China and Russia will ultimately take years and will require both patience and the recognition that the agency’s culture will take time to change, Wise said.

“We’ve been fighting terrorism for decades,” Wise said. “We must have a rational plan to make this adjustment that doesn’t take long enough for our enemies to exploit a glacial process.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press US Intelligence Agencies Focus Resources on China While Fighting Al Qaeda – National


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