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In Risky Hunt for Secrets, U.S. and China Expand Global Spy Operations - New York Times - 17.09.23

The nations are taking bold steps in the espionage shadow war to try to collect intelligence on leadership thinking and military capabilities.


As China’s spy balloon drifted across the continental United States in February, American intelligence agencies learned that President Xi Jinping of China had become enraged with senior Chinese military generals.


The spy agencies had been trying to understand what Mr. Xi knew and what actions he would take as the balloon, originally aimed at U.S. military bases in Guam and Hawaii, was blown off course.


Mr. Xi was not opposed to risky spying operations against the United States, but American intelligence agencies concluded that the People’s Liberation Army had kept Mr. Xi in the dark until the balloon was over the United States.


American officials would not discuss how spy agencies gleaned this information. But in details reported here for the first time, they discovered that when Mr. Xi learned of the balloon’s trajectory and realized it was derailing planned talks with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, he berated senior generals for failing to tell him that the balloon had gone astray, according to American officials briefed on the intelligence.


The episode threw a spotlight on the expanding and highly secretive spy-versus-spy contest between the United States and China. The balloon crisis, a small part of a much larger Chinese espionage effort, reflects a brazen new aggressiveness by Beijing in gathering intelligence on the United States as well as Washington’s growing capabilities to collect its own information on China.


For Washington, the espionage efforts are a critical part of President Biden’s strategy to constrain the military and technological rise of China, in line with his thinking that the country poses the greatest long-term challenge to American power.


For Beijing, the new tolerance for bold action among Chinese spy agencies is driven by Mr. Xi, who has led his military to engage in aggressive moves along the nation’s borders and pushed his foreign intelligence agency to become more active in farther-flung locales.


President Xi Jinping of China has led his military to engage in aggressive moves along the nation’s borders and pushed his foreign intelligence agency to become more active in farther-flung locales.


The main efforts on both sides are aimed at answering the two most difficult questions: What are the intentions of leaders in the rival nation, and what military and technological capabilities do they command?


American officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss espionage, have stressed in interviews throughout the year the magnitude of the challenge. The C.I.A. is focusing on Mr. Xi himself, and in particular his intentions regarding Taiwan.


The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence task forces across the nation have intensified their hunt for Chinese efforts to recruit spies inside the United States. U.S. agents have identified a dozen penetrations by Chinese citizens of military bases on American soil in the last 12 months.


Both countries are racing to develop their artificial intelligence technology, which they believe is critical to maintaining a military and economic edge and will give their spy agencies new capabilities.


Taken together, U.S. officials say, China’s efforts reach across every facet of national security, diplomacy and advanced commercial technology in the United States and partner nations.


The C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency have set up new centers focused on spying on China. U.S. officials have honed their capabilities to intercept electronic communications, including using spy planes off China’s coast.


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In Risky Hunt for Secrets, U.S
. and China Expand Global Spy Operations – The New York Time
Download AND CHINA EXPAND GLOBAL SPY OPERATIONS – THE NEW YORK TIME • 97KB

Julian E. Barnes is a national security reporter based in Washington, covering the intelligence agencies. Before joining The Times in 2018, he wrote about security matters for The Wall Street Journal. More about Julian E. Barnes


Edward Wong is a diplomatic correspondent who has reported for The Times for more than 24 years from New York, Baghdad, Beijing and Washington. He was on a team of Pulitzer Prize finalists for Iraq War coverage. More about Edward Wong


A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 17, 2023, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Global Espionage Grows Between U.S. and China. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe










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