CIA is often feared and considered as a necessary evil in government structure and services. It is essentially a spy organization and the justification of its existence is obvious since every nation is engaged in espionage whether friend or foe. Its inception was triggered by the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack. While the Navy Intelligence and FBI both had intelligence about the potential attack but the info did not get to the central government in time to prevent the attack. Hence President Roosevelt created the Office of Security Services (OSS) headed by General William J. Donovan, a WW I hero, as the Director with the function of sending spies and saboteurs to foreign countries and behind enemy lines. OSS had 12,000 staff in Wash. DC and field agents, for example, 500 in Paris then occupied by Germany.
After WW II, Harry Truman abolished OSS but shortly changed his mind (communism and Cold War atmosphere) to set up Central Intelligence Group and National Security Agency in 1946. In 1947, Congress passed the national security act which created the National Security Council (NSC) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headed by Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) (1947-2005, for example George Bush served as the director from 1976-1977). In 2001, the 911 tragedy shook the nation and CIA was questioned in its competence. In 2004, Congress passed Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act placing CIA and Department of National Homeland Security under Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Today, CIA has grown to 50,000+ staffers.
Reviewing the history of CIA, one could not help but have concerns with its deeds. Perhaps many of its positive achievements might have been kept in secrecy, but what have been exposed by media and congressional hearings are alarming from motive, methods and results points of view. In the 1950's to 70's, a cargo and passenger airline, Air America, was used to track SE Asia and China but got involved in opium and heroin trade; Air America was suspended. Again in 1980's and 90's, the agency was linked with supply and sale of crack cocaine in Latin America and elsewhere with funds generated to fund guerrilla activities in Latin America. The American public had a hard time accepting the operation even though its motive might be acceptable.
Two other activities raised considerable public concern were one using harsh interrogation methods and the other performing illicit experiments on US and Canadian citizens with electroshock therapy, drugs (mescaline and LSD) for mind control and extracting information as well as applying psychological torture. In a public sympathetic operation such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (1961), the agency recruited Cuban exiles and trained them with military skills but the project failed and Fidel Castro was strengthened.
Of course, there were numerous operations which might be launched under American interest, but the operations aiming to make regime change were often controversial, costly and unsuccessful. There were two dozen covert operations in 20th century alone, most notably Zaire (Congo), Indochina (Indonesia, South Vietnam), Tibet, Vietnam and Latin American countries. In 21st century, war on terrorism, Middle East and Pivot to Asia added more operations. The agency is funded within ~$85B budget for all US intelligence communities but the covert operations are often funded by the black budget never published.
Bloomberg news reported (8-12-2021) that “CIS Weighs Special China Unit in Bid to Out-Spy Beijing”. This news could be just a balloon testing the wind since currently there is a bi-partisan anti-China sentiment brewing in the Congress helpful in passing a bill to create an independent “Mission Center for China” to branch out of the Misson Center for East Asia and Pacific for gaining greater insight into the U.S.'s top strategic rival. This proposal is a part of a broader review of the agency's China capabilities by CIA Director, William Burns to elevate the focus on China, reported by Peter Martin and Nick Wadhams of Bloomberg.
Mission centers are explained as stand-alone entities that utilize resources from across the CIA in line with agency priorities. Quoted from current and former employees: "In the intelligence bureaucracy, a separate China center would make it easier to secure headcount, funding and high-level attention for China-related activities." In American government politics, the appointed department or agency head is serving at the pleasure of the president. As long as the Biden Administration embraces an anti-China policy and place China as the most serious competitor to the U.S., it would be expected that Director Burns would adjust the agency to reflect the priority of the Administration.
A profound question: Was Biden's China policy constructed with and based on the intelligence information about China supplied from the U.S. intelligence communities including the CIA? In my previous articles, I have raised the issue that the U.S. China policy has not been formally openly debated, certainly not with many real long-time China experts. We do know that there are opposing opinions on the assumption that China is destined to displace the U.S. on the world stage. In the previous Administration, Trump had assembled a team whose members were anti-China but based on a few people's own conviction (a few books written decades ago by people never had close contact with China). Opinions from people like Henry Kissinger, Kevin Rudd, ... were totally ignored.
The new Biden Administration has assembled an experienced team on national security and foreign affairs, but it seemed too convenient to inherit the Anti-China policy from the previous Administration without engaging an open debate. What were the intelligence communities' opinions? From military, economics, diplomacy, technology and trade aspects, how did we arrive at the unanimous anti-China policy? There are definitely different opinions on the organic media, for instance, we cannot compete with China on a cost base. It would cost us $100,000 to $500,000 to support an intelligence agent, say in our Mission Center for China, but it would cost China only $10,000 to $50,000 to support an intelligence agent.
I have also voiced my opinion before that it is vitally important to make sure that our China policy are based on sound assumptions. On a wrong assumption, the consequence can be very costly. For example, making the assumption that China is destined to displace us, we will devise any means to weaken China. We play the Uighur card (Muslim card), creating a genocide story in an attempt to create problem for China internally and externally with her Muslim neighbors. We can launch a costly covert operation in Xinjiang but the track record tells us the success rate is extremely low but cost is high. The CCP policies with Uighurs may be more highhanded than we like to see, but they achieved results, poverty lifted, population expanded, education level raised and job skills improved. The Uighur standard of living is much higher than their neighbors. Do you think a CIA covert operation will succeed in Xinjiang? We failed in Tibet, didn't we?!
It is obvious that we American citizens must think hard about the question: Should we Americans pay for another CIA Mission Center? In 2017, CIA created a Mission Center for Korea, what did we get out of it? We did see Trump and Kim meet in the Singapore Summit, but that could happen without a Mission Center on Korea. For U.S.-China relations, we need sincere and hard work in diplomacy not more covert operations or Mission Centers.