CIA Has a China Problem: Few Spies

'Wall Street Journal' reports US has little covert knowledge of what's happening in Beijing
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2023 2:30 PM CST
CIA Has a Problem: Few Spies in China
Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a toast at a dinner marking the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 28, 2023.   (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool, File)

A little more than a decade ago, right around the time current Chinese leader Xi Jinping was rising to power, China obliterated America's spying network within the country. About two dozen Chinese agents—many of them recruited when China was weaker and beset by corruption—were rounded up and either executed or imprisoned, the Wall Street Journal recounts. It's still not clear what happened, beyond the broad explanation that China found what the newspaper describes as a "flaw in the CIA's covert communications with its agents." But what is clear is that the US is still struggling to rebuild its espionage abilities in Beijing, writes Warren P. Strobel. For now, it remains largely blind to what is happening behind closed doors as China, and Xi himself, grow more powerful.

"Horrendous. Horrendous. Horrendous," a former senior US official says of that breach of agents a decade ago, which the US has never publicly acknowledged. "And I have doubts about whether there's been much of a recovery since then." A former US intelligence official points out the recruitment problem, with Chinese officials surely thinking, "Why would I take a call from a US person—I know that Chinese people got bullets in the back of their head.'" The CIA has shifted more money and resources into programs to infiltrate China's government since 2020. While things have improved, the level of intelligence is reportedly not what it was when the earlier network of spies was in operation. (Read the full story.)

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