‘No Real Insight’: US Spying Operations In China Are Way Behind Where They Should Be, Former Intel Officials Say

(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
Font Size:

The U.S. intelligence community is racing to catch up espionage capabilities in China after a devastating compromise a decade ago virtually eliminated American assets in Beijing, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing multiple current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

What is suspected to be a bug in covert communications technology exposed up to two dozen spies working for the CIA, including some former high ranking Chinese Communist Party officials, all of whom the increasingly hostile and nationalistic government in Beijing quickly purged, the WSJ reported. Since then, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have encountered major hurdles to reconstitute its eyes and ears on Beijing as competition spikes.

“We have no real insight into leadership plans and intentions in China at all,” a former senior intelligence official who until recently had access to classified reporting told the WSJ. (RELATED: Two US Navy Sailors Charged With Funneling Defense Secrets To Chinese Agents)

“Horrendous. Horrendous. Horrendous,” a former senior U.S. official told the outlet of the compromise. “And I have doubts about whether there’s been much of a recovery since then.”

Moves to deepen intelligence focus in Asia follows a broader focus among American political, military and economic leadership to maintain an advantage in great power competition with China, the WSJ reported. While the U.S. has not abandoned ongoing counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East and the intelligence apparatus required to support those operations — particularly in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel and spiraling militant activity throughout the Middle East — a major shift is underway.

“We are approaching the PRC as a global priority, more than doubling the budget resources devoted to the China mission over the past three years, and establishing the China Mission Center as CIA’s only single country mission center to coordinate the full agency’s efforts on this issue,” CIA Director William Burns told the WSJ. “Even as we are balancing multiple priorities including ongoing conflicts, we remain intensely engaged on the strategic long-term challenge posed by the PRC.”

Burns formerly headed a Washington, D.C. think tank that employed CCP members and came under fire for the group’s ties to the China-United States Exchange Foundation. the DCNF previously reported.

Burns took a secret, previously unreported trip to South Korea and Japan sometime since the Hamas attacks, according to the WSJ.

The Agency is also ramping up recruitment for analysts and case officers with a focus on Mandarin, emerging technology and collaboration with the private sector, according to the WSJ.

Former officials told the outlet the CIA never stopped aggressively building and maintaining intelligence operations in China since the post-9/11 wars on terrorism. Only recently, however, has the entire U.S. government prioritized China.

However, insight into the inner workings of the CCP and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s intentions remains a challenge since the agents were lost between 2010 and 2012, officials told the WSJ. CIA reports at the time predicted Xi would prove a more nationalistic, security-minded and antagonistic leader than prior Chinese presidents, but the Obama administration failed to fully appreciate the consequences of those reports, former officials said.

Since then, Xi developed a massive surveillance state that complicates human spying operations.

The U.S. primary insight comes from satellite imagery that captures changes to Chinese military deployments and buildup, while cyber tools collect massive quantities of electronic communications, officials said. Intelligence analysts pore over Xi’s public statements to determine his plans.

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact