While a great deal of discussion has been afforded to the U.S. military’s near two-decade long anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts, it wasn’t the only facet of the American national security apparatus that saw a distinct shift in operational strategy following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The CIA, America’s covert intelligence gathering service with a long standing reputation for being involved in far more than simple intelligence gathering, also changed its focus following those deadly attacks. However, according to new CIA Director Gina Haspel, it’s time to get back to the business the CIA has specialized in since its inception in 1947: keeping tabs on America’s national opponents.
While the shadow of terrorism remains throughout many regions of the world, new threats on the horizon have recently pushed the defense and intelligence communities to re-engage with Cold War-like concerns about Russian aggression, along with a brand new ones about Chinese diplomatic and military expansion. The most formidable threat to the American way of life, it would seem, is no longer the specter of lone wolf terror attacks inspired by extremists. Now its nations that took advantage of American’s two-decade reprieve from the pursuit of global military dominance, fielding purpose built weapon systems developed to counter America’s strengths, and even putting new technologies into operation that America can neither match nor defend against.
“Our efforts against these difficult intelligence gaps have been overshadowed over the years by the intelligence community’s justifiably heavy emphasis on counter-terrorism in the wake of 9/11,” Haspel said this week. “Groups such as the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda remain squarely in our sights, but we are sharpening our focus on nation-state rivals.”
The Navy was the first to begin taking the idea of near-peer warfare seriously, with a slew of programs rushed into development aimed at countering China’s hypersonic anti-ship missiles that render American carriers, the nation’s most potent form of force projection, effectively useless in a conflict between the two powers. Soon thereafter, the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division began training for the possibility that they may be tasked with re-taking captured elements of the domestic American infrastructure. Then the Air Force began training to conduct operations in radar and communications-denied air-space, supposing a war against a technologically capable opponent. In classic Marine Corps fashion, their shift toward concerns about large scale war against a near-peer level opponent was punctuated by Commandant Gen. Robert Neller predicting his force may soon be facing a “big ass fight,” prompted in part by Russian aggression in Europe.
It seems logical that the CIA would follow suit, adjusting their own focus away from insurgents and terror groups and back toward developing assets in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
In fact, repeated reports out of Moscow have suggested that an increasing crackdown on potential leakers by the Kremlin has resulted in near silence from American intelligence assets in Russia. Operatives in China were reportedly silenced more directly, with Chinese counter-intelligence services gaining access to a secure communications network employed by intelligence assets within their country and using it to systematically capture and execute the vast majority of American’s intelligence apparatus within their borders.
It would seem that America’s intelligence apparatus now faces a similar uphill battle to the one currently faced by the military: getting back into a fight they’d been ignoring for decades and finding that America’s position of global supremacy in each sphere is no longer certain.