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US Spy Agency Pivots to Better Confront Beijing

FILE - The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia, Aug. 14, 2008.
FILE - The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia, Aug. 14, 2008.

The United States top spy agency is making changes in response to what it describes as an “an increasingly adversarial” government in Beijing.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns Thursday announced the creation of a new China Mission Center to make sure the agency’s resources and existing efforts are working together to face the growing threat.

In a statement, Burns called the Chinese government “the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century.”

“Throughout our history, CIA has stepped up to meet whatever challenges come our way,” Burns said. “And now facing our toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry, CIA will be at the forefront of this effort.”

The CIA also announced it is creating a Transnational and Technology Mission Center and the new position of chief technology officer to better address issues of global competitiveness, including emerging technology, economic security, global health and climate change.

The CIA also said it is launching a Technology Fellows Program, to bring in experts to work with the agency for a period of one to two years.

The heightened concerns about the activities of the Chinese government are not new, and Burns hinted during his confirmation hearing earlier this year that changes could be coming to better take on the dangers.

“Competing with China will be key to our national security in the decades ahead," Burns told lawmakers in February, describing China’s leadership as both adversarial and predatory.

"The evolution of [President] Xi Jinping's China over the last six or seven years has been a very sharp wake-up call,” he added. "It's the kind of aggressive, undisguised ambition and assertiveness that I think has made very clear the nature of the adversary and rival that we face."

During a worldwide threats hearing in Congress this past April, the CIA director further warned that the U.S. rivalry with China was increasingly focused on technology, and that almost one-third of the CIA’s workforce was already working on technology and cyber.

Despite the sharper focus on China, the CIA statement promised there would be no let-up when it comes to other top threats, including terrorism and what the agency said is an “aggressive Russia, a provocative North Korea and a hostile Iran.”

However, the way the CIA takes on some of those threats is changing.

As part of the changes, the CIA will no longer run separate mission centers for North Korea or Iran, both of which were created in 2017.

A U.S. official, speaking to VOA on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the changes, said the Korean Mission Center would be “folded back into” the agency’s larger East Asia-Pacific Mission Center, while the Iran Mission Center would be reabsorbed into the Near East Mission Center.

The official said the changes are organizational and that the resources being devoted to both North Korea and Iran are not changing.