Human technology

Biden’s CIA Director creates high-level China-focused unit


William Burns testifies at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing for his appointment as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2021. Tom Williams / Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – Career diplomat US President Joe Biden, appointed to head the Central Intelligence Agency, creates a high-level unit to refocus the agency on China in an era of relations tense between the two largest economies in the world.

CIA Director William Burns said on Thursday that the China Mission Center he was establishing “covers all of the agency’s mission areas,” while noting that the CIA’s concern is that “the threat comes from the Chinese government, not from its people ”.

A senior CIA official compared Burns’ creation of Chinese unity to the agency’s narrow focus on Russia during the Cold War and its focus on combating terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. No high-level unit focusing explicitly on China had previously been set up by the agency, even following the violent attacks on China by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The new Chinese unit was one of many reshuffles resulting from a broad review the agency launched last spring, the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

During the first months of the Biden administration, relations with Beijing deteriorated due to deep differences on many issues, including human rights, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. But senior officials from the two countries met this week to improve communication and set the stage for a virtual meeting of presidents by the end of the year. Read more

Other agency initiatives include the merger of an Iranian mission center established by the Trump administration into a larger unit in the Middle East and the merger of a unit focused on Korea with a larger unit in the Middle East. East Asia and the Pacific, the official said.

Burns said the CIA is also creating a chief technology officer position as well as a new office called the Transnational and Technology Mission Center. This unit, the senior official said, would allow the agency to focus more narrowly on issues such as global health, climate change, humanitarian disasters and disruption caused by new technologies.

The agency will also create a program under which it would encourage qualified employees to serve as “technology fellows” for a year or two in private industry.

The senior official said the agency has also set up an “incident cell” to oversee responses to the mysterious disease known as “Havana Syndrome” which has plagued many diplomats and staff in the United Nations. CIA, some of whom have been “diagnosed with actual harm”.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; edited by Mary Milliken and Richard Pullin

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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