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30 Jan, 2024 18:29

US no longer enjoys uncontested primacy – CIA chief

The agency has stepped up recruitment to counter Russia and China, William Burns wrote in an op-ed
US no longer enjoys uncontested primacy – CIA chief

The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has admitted that his country no longer enjoys undisputed superiority in global politics.

In an op-ed published by Foreign Affairs magazine on Tuesday, William Burns acknowledged that China’s rising military and economic strength, Russia’s willingness to use military force in Ukraine, and a growing number of regional powers pursuing independent foreign policies have all led to “a world of intense strategic competition in which the United States no longer enjoys uncontested primacy.” 

With American power facing more challenges than at any point since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has increased its recruitment efforts in Russia and opened a new “mission center” focused exclusively on China, Burns revealed.

Much of the article makes a case for continued military aid to Ukraine, arguing – as other Washington officials have – that cutting Kiev off from Western weapons would send a message of “American fecklessness” to China, thus encouraging President Xi Jinping to attack Taiwan.

Burns also claims that discontent within Russia has created a “once-in-a-generation recruiting opportunity for the CIA.” However, while the agency has been attempting to recruit informants via its Telegram and X accounts, Burns did not elaborate on any successes.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted last week that “someone should have told the CIA that VKontakte [a social media network] is much more popular in our country than X,” which was banned in Russian in 2022.

“While Russia may pose the most immediate challenge, China is the bigger long-term threat,” Burns continued, adding that the CIA has spent the last two years “reorganizing itself to reflect that priority.”

The agency has doubled the proportion of its budget spent on China, hired more Mandarin speakers, and competed for influence with Beijing in Latin America, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific, he said. In 2021, the agency opened “a new mission center focused exclusively on China,” he said, adding that the center is the only one of around a dozen such facilities to focus on a single country.

However, current and former intelligence officials told the Wall Street Journal last year that the CIA has struggled to recruit Chinese sources and informants. While Burns boasted of the CIA’s work in Latin America, officials told the journal that agents working in the region are routinely surveilled by their Chinese counterparts. 

The CIA suffered a devastating blow to its intelligence-gathering abilities in 2010, when Chinese authorities began identifying, arresting, and reportedly executing CIA agents in the country. An investigation by the New York Times put the number of spies killed or imprisoned at 20, while Foreign Policy magazine has claimed that at least 30 agents were executed between 2010 and 2012.

When Burns admitted last year that the CIA was once again running agents in China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry threatened to “take all measures necessary to safeguard national security.”

Despite the CIA’s struggles, Burns’ Russian counterpart, Sergey Naryshkin, told the Russian ‘National Defense’ magazine in September that Moscow still considers Washington its “most dangerous and uncompromising geopolitical opponent.” Speaking to Russian media earlier this month, Naryshkin warned that the US is currently attempting to recruit Russian students to build a “fifth column” in Russia ahead of the presidential election in March.

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