A decade ago, the Chinese government systematically ended the CIA’s spying campaign in the country, capturing or killing informants. Some former officials have alleged breaches of the agency’s classified communications system, while others blamed a former CIA official who was later convicted of passing secrets to China. Since then, the agency has tried to rebuild its network, but the Chinese government’s power to track people’s movements and communications has slowed the effort.
A senior CIA official said the new technology center will help the agency stay ahead of new technologies that can identify spies. During the past several years, the official said, the agency has been working to address new technological developments and encourage officers not to underestimate adversarial intelligence services.
In CIA jargon, tradecraft is the skill that spies use to evade adversary operatives, find new sources, and communicate securely with them. Technological advances by countries such as China have forced the agency to update and improve its trade craft. And the senior official said the new focus on technology and China will help in their efforts to transform their trade craft.
The changes are also an attempt to refine the broad restructuring of the CIA undertaken by John O’Brennan in 2015, when he became director in the final years of the Obama administration. Prior to the announcement, Mr Burns reached out to former agency directors to provide information about the restructuring and their thinking, many of whom said the change made sense to them.
“The CIA must adapt to the policy priorities of each new administration, as well as the evolving global landscape of national security challenges and opportunities,” said Mr. Brennan. “If there is any country that deserves its own mission center, it is China, which has global ambitions and poses the greatest challenge to American interests and the international order.”
The new restructuring isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Mr. Brennan’s. But Mr. Burns is undoing two changes made by Mr. Brennan’s successor, Mike Pompeo, who are in line with President Donald J. Trump had his first CIA director. Mr. Pompeo created mission centers focused on North Korea and Iran. Those clusters will now be clustered back into regional centers focused on the Middle East and East Asia.
A senior CIA official said eliminating independent Iran and North Korea centers does not diminish the agency’s view of the importance of those countries or the threat they pose. But a review of the agency’s operations concluded that Iran and North Korea were best analyzed in the context of their broader areas.