Opinion The CIA should leave diplomacy to diplomats
CIA creates new mission centers focused on China and technology
In announcing the changes, the CIA director referred to "increasingly adversarial Chinese government" as the "most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century."The China Mission Center "will further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government," Burns said in a statement on Thursday.
CIA Director Bill Burns is a lifelong career diplomat and a former deputy secretary of state. He's also an ambitious man.
Under ordinary circumstances, there is nothing wrong with that: Washington, D.C., is an ambitious town. Just as every senator looks in the mirror and sees a future president, every foreign service officer sees in his or her reflection a future secretary of state.
President Joe Biden pledged during his campaign and repeatedly during the first months of his presidency that he wanted to return diplomacy to center-stage. This was always a false choice since soft power and hard power are not mutually exclusive but are most effective in tandem. In seeking new leadership for the CIA, Biden turned to Burns, a man with whom he was well acquainted from Biden’s days on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in the vice presidency.
CIA creates working group on China as threats keep rising
WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA said Thursday it will create a top-level working group on China as part of a broad U.S. government effort focused on countering Beijing’s influence. The group will become one of fewer than a dozen mission centers operated by the CIA, with weekly director-level meetings intended to drive the agency’s strategy toward China. The CIA also announced that it would ramp up efforts to recruit Chinese speakers and create another mission center focusing on emerging technologies and global issues such as climate change and global health.
Fair enough. While, in a Venn diagram, the skill sets for intelligence professionals and diplomats overlap, they do not do so to the degree many policymakers may imagine. Intelligence professionals can coerce and threaten unencumbered by the restraints of diplomacy. They are not there to debate and formulate foreign policy. Still, it is good for an organization like the CIA to get an infusion of new blood and a fresh perspective from those groomed outside its institutional culture who can challenge conventional wisdom. The same is true for the State Department and the Pentagon.
The problem, according to not only diplomats and intelligence professionals but also members of allied intelligence services, is that Burns appears purposely to confuse his role. He seems less vested in directing the CIA than in using his position and the consequent access to Biden to ingratiate himself to the commander in chief. He appears to be lining himself up to succeed Secretary of State Antony Blinken as Foggy Bottom’s top man.
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Early in his tenure, for example, Burnsin Baghdad , the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, in order to further Iran-Saudi diplomacy and perhaps also insert himself in U.S.-Iran diplomacy. The CIA denied a "meeting," though it appears Burns and Shamkhani deliberately both attended an iftar dinner at the residence of Iraq’s foreign minister in order to talk. Likewise, against the backdrop of unfolding chaos in Kabul, Burns flew into the city to with Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior Taliban official and top interlocutor during the U.S.-Taliban peace process. Burns has also visited , the , , , , among many other countries during his short tenure. He may very well be the most traveled director of central intelligence to date.
While the CIA seldom discusses Burns's particular agenda in each country, others are less restrained. In Israel, for example, Burns sought not only to discuss Iran but also to reengage the Palestinian National Authority after the Trump administration had cut it off. Is this really the job of a CIA director?
CIA launches China initiative to combat rising threats
The Central Intelligence Agency has created a new offshoot that will focus exclusively on the threats emanating from China. © Provided by Washington Examiner CIA Director William J. Burns announced the formation of the China Mission Center on Thursday, which will “address the global challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China that cuts across all of the Agency’s mission areas,” according to a press release from the agency.
Nor should engagement surrounding Saudi-Iran rapprochement necessarily be Burns's job. And the problem with Burns’s negotiations with the Taliban was that he appeared to catch both CIA and State Department experts unaware. He essentially walked into a room and winged it. This does not mean he was freelancing — Biden asked him to make the trip — but he ran roughshod over the policy processes of both bureaucracies in pursuit of face time with the president.
The CIA has an important role to play, and it needs both a guiding hand and a leader attuned to its inner workings. It does a disservice to the agency to treat it like a stepping stone or to use its mantle to travel for missions better suited to a diplomat, a role Burns at present should not play. Whenever Burns is on the road for a mission not rooted in intelligence, he by necessity neglects the organization the Senate confirmed him to lead. The United States may already have paid a high price for this.in the Middle East during the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan.
The best way for Burns to fulfill his ambition to become the 72nd secretary of state is not to leverage his portfolio into diplomatic missions and face time with Biden. It is for Burns to show that he is truly committed to the position in which he now serves. He should leave the diplomacy to Blinken.
CIA forming mission to counter China, 'the most important geopolitical threat we face'
Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns announced the formation of the China Mission Center to counter Beijing.Burns announced the agency’s adjustments to its organization structure and approach to "best position it to address current and future national security challenges.
Michael Rubin () is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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