September 25
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At a recent closed-door meeting with the heads of the agency's counterterrorism center, the CIA made it clear that fighting al-Qaeda and other extremist groups will remain a priority, but the agency's money and resources will increasingly be diverted to fighting China.

CIA Deputy Director David Cohen said that while the US will continue to pursue terrorists, the top priority is to better understand and counter Beijing.

A year after the war in Afghanistan ended, President Joe Biden and top national security officials are talking less about the fight against terrorism and more about the political, economic and military threats posed by both China and Russia. There has been a quiet turn in the intelligence services that is moving hundreds of officers to China-focused positions, including those with a history of terrorism work.

The last week clearly shows that the US has to deal with both at the same time. Days after Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul, China held a large-scale military exercise and threatened to cut ties with the US over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

The US has long been alarmed by China's growing political and economic ambitions.

Intelligence officials have said they need more information about China, including after they were unable to definitively determine the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proponents of the Biden administration's approach point out that the US was able to track down and kill al-Zawahiri, a testament to its ability to counter threats in Afghanistan from abroad. Critics say that the fact that al-Zawahiri lived in Kabul under the apparent protection of the Taliban indicates a resurgence of extremist groups that America is unable to counter.

The shift in priorities is supported by many former intelligence officers and lawmakers from both parties, who say it is overdue.

Congress pushed the CIA and other intelligence agencies to make China a top priority. The channeling of resources to China has required cutbacks in other areas, including counter-terrorism. Specific figures were not available because intelligence budgets are classified.

In particular, lawmakers want more information about China's development of advanced technologies. Under President Xi Jinping, China has invested trillions of dollars in quantum science, artificial intelligence and other technologies that are likely to change the way future wars are fought and the structure of the economy.

Last year, the CIA announced that it would create two new centers - one for China and one for new technologies - to centralize and improve intelligence gathering on these issues. The CIA is also trying to recruit native Chinese speakers and reduce security check wait times to recruit new people faster.

At the agency, many officers learn Chinese and move into new China-focused positions, though not all of these positions require language training.

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