C.I.A. Reorganization to Place New Focus on China

A decade ago, the Chinese government systematically dismantled the C.I.A.’s spying operation in the country, with informants captured or killed. Some former officials have blamed a breach of the agency’s classified communications system, while others have blamed a former C.I.A. officer later convicted of giving secrets to China. Since then, the agency has tried to rebuild its networks, but the Chinese government’s power to track the movements and communications of people have slowed the effort.

A senior C.I.A. official said the new technology center would help the agency stay ahead of new technologies that can identify spies. During the last several years, the official said, the agency has been working to address new technological developments and pushing officers not to underestimate adversarial intelligence services.

In the jargon of the C.I.A., tradecraft is the skills spies use to evade adversarial operatives, find new sources and communicate with them securely. Technological advances by countries like China have forced the agency to update and improve their tradecraft. And the senior official said the new focus on technology and China would help in those efforts to continue to transform their tradecraft.

The changes are also an attempt to refine the broad reorganization of the C.I.A. undertaken in 2015 by John O. Brennan, when he became director in the final years of the Obama administration. Before the announcement, Mr. Burns reached out to former agency directors to brief them on the reorganization and his thinking, several of whom said the changes made sense to them.

“The C.I.A. must adapt to the policy priorities of each new administration as well as to the evolving global landscape of national security challenges and opportunities,” Mr. Brennan said. “If there is any country that deserves its own mission center, it is China, which has global ambitions and presents the greatest challenge to U.S. interests and to international order.”

The new reorganization is not nearly so broad as Mr. Brennan’s. But Mr. Burns is undoing two changes put in place by Mr. Brennan’s successor, Mike Pompeo, who was President Donald J. Trump’s first C.I.A. director. Mr. Pompeo created mission centers focused on North Korea and Iran. Those groups will now be folded back into regional centers focused on the Middle East and East Asia.

A senior C.I.A. official said ending the independent Iran and North Korea centers did not reflect any reduction in the agency’s view of the importance of those countries or a lessening of the threat they posed. But a review of the agency’s operations concluded that Iran and North Korea were best analyzed inside the context of their wider regions.


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