This week we look at the CIA's new China and Foreign Technology Mission Centers, and new information about losses sustained by the agency.

Spy Games: The CIA Shifts its Focus to Threats from China and Foreign Technology


Welcome to your weekly Intelligence Brief… items in our cue in this installment look at recent developments with the Central Intelligence Agency, which include 1) the announcement of the agency’s new China and Technology Mission Centers, 2) what a Top Secret cable recently revealed about CIA agents killed or otherwise compromised around the world, and 3) how a secret CIA back door aided with the evacuation effort in the final hours of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Before we begin our analysis this week, a few of the stories we’re covering over at The Debrief right now include the latest in the ongoing developments regarding U.S. government interest in unidentified aerial phenomena, with recent legislation approved by the House Intelligence Committee that includes a mandate that would increase the sharing of data collected about UAP according to language within the bill. Also, our very own Tim McMillan reports on new research published in the British Journal of Psychology, which suggests people tend to believe conspiracy theories for the same reason they enjoy a good fantasy novel or science fiction movie. Also, Editor in Chief MJ Banias asks whether transdermal patches are the future of medicinal magic mushrooms; this, along with several other stories we’re covering in recent days, a complete list of which can be found at the conclusion of this week’s newsletter.

Meanwhile, in podcasts this week, Cristina Gomez recently caught up with former New York Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal for a discussion on Skinwalker Ranch and other topics, while Chrissy Newton sits down with an Area 51 insider and former CIA specialist, who reveals his knowledge about the world’s most secretive base. You can find more videos, podcasts, and other content from The Debrief on our YouTube channel. 

That said, it’s now time that we shift our attention to the CIA, and why the intelligence agency currently has China in its crosshairs.


The CIA Launches New China and Technology Mission Centers

Early on Thursday, CIA Director William Burns disclosed new details about his agency’s efforts to confront increasing national security challenges. Amidst a number of organizational changes, the agency tasked with collecting foreign intelligence and counterintelligence has announced the establishment of a pair of new mission centers, one of which will focus on “transnational and technological threats,” while the other aims to address rising concerns related to China.

As its name implies, the agency’s Transnational and Technology Mission Center, according to Burns, will examine foreign technological developments, in addition to addressing concerns related to health, climate, and other issues.

Meanwhile, the agency’s China Mission Center will aim to “strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century,” which Burns cited as “an increasingly adversarial Chinese government,” according to Thursday’s statement.

William Burns
CIA Director William Burns (Public Domain).

Along with the announcement of its new mission centers, the agency says that a new chief technology officer position, as well as a new “Technology Fellows” program and enhanced recruitment and onboarding processes are to be implemented.

The changes follow a series of reviews conducted by the agency’s director since he became director of the agency on March 19, 2021. Burns, whose former experience includes service as the United States deputy secretary of state between 2011 and 2014 and a 33-year diplomatic career with the US Foreign Service, said that the CIA’s newly announced efforts “cuts across all of the agency’s mission areas.”

In response to the news, the South China Morning Post noted that “No such high-level unit focusing explicitly on China had previously been set up by the agency,” even amidst the “harsh attacks on China by former president Donald Trump and his aides.”

Calling current tensions with China the United States’ “toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry,” Burns said his agency “will be at the forefront of this effort.”


Counting Its Losses

The CIA’s new efforts to meet challenges arising from the East arrive amidst information disclosed earlier this week about dozens of CIA informants in various countries that have been killed or captured in recent years, after being recruited by the agency for its spying efforts on behalf of the United States.

On October 5, The New York Times reported on a top-secret cable issued to its CIA stations around the world that revealed uncharacteristically specific data on the number of CIA agents that have been executed by the intelligence agencies of countries like Russia, China, Iran, and others in recent years.

According to the Times, the cable also “highlighted the struggle the spy agency is having as it works to recruit spies around the world” within increasingly challenging areas. The cable also stated that rival intelligence agencies have consistently sought to capture and turn CIA sources for employment as double agents.

Among the many problems the agency has faced in recent years, the cable cites poor tradecraft, gullibility on part of the agency when trusting sources, hasty recruitment practices, and underestimating foreign intelligence agencies as primary factors contributing to its reported losses.


The CIA’s Backdoor Efforts in Afghanistan

Despite the sobering news about its killed, captured, or compromised assets around the world, it has been learned that the CIA was able to play a significant role in helping several Afghans evade Taliban checkpoints and escape Afghanistan during the chaotic final hours of the recent U.S. evacuation from the country.

According to a report appearing in the Wall Street Journal, a little-known back door located two miles from the main gates at Kabul’s airport known as the “Liberty Gate” was opened in order to help Afghans who were attempting to flee the country.

A Marine escorts a Department of State employee to be evacuated from Kabul Airport in Afghanistan (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell).

The “Liberty Gate,” also known as the “Glory Gate,” is reportedly a secret entrance the CIA has used in the past for the quiet entry and withdrawal of agents and other intelligence assets. As the final 48 hours of the U.S. withdrawal approached, its use was expanded to account for the number of Afghans accumulating among evacuation waitlists.

According to the Wall Street Journal, State Department employee Sam Aronson had been on duty at the gate when it had been used to facilitate the passage of buses filled with Afghan employees who had worked for the U.S. Embassy. Aronson requested permission to then begin allowing families through that were currently on waitlists, which was also allowed with one caveat: that stealth evacuation effort didn’t “blow our gate.” Apparently, the operation went off without a hitch.

As the CIA realigns its focus with China in mind, it marks a new stage for America’s intelligence agency tasked with collecting information related to national security around the world. The agency’s renewed focus on the East also showcases the heightened concern surrounding friction between two of the world’s largest economies, and the technological rivalry between them that many continue to compare to tensions not seen since the Cold War era.

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] the, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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