China Red Cell Projects Beijing Triumph
Two former top CIA officials game out a dark future in 2041 aimed at provoking thought on avoiding a disaster
Shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, the agency’s analytical wing, created a Red Cell, an elite group of analysts tasked with “thinking outside of the box” on a number of issues facing the U.S. One of them was dedicated to the challenge of a rapidly modernizing China.
Recently two former senior CIA officers imagined what a Red Cell project on China would look like if it were carried out today. They came up with a futuristic scenario set some 20 years down the road, in 2041, when China had become “the pre-eminent global power, having eclipsed the United States,” a time when Beijing is busily changing the US-dominated international order, established in the ashes of World War Two, to suit China’s own needs.
The task of this fictional Red Cell, posted on the Cipher Brief web site, was to explain how this happened. As an erstwhile China hand myself, I was fascinated, so I invited the two former senior CIA officials who designed it, Kristin Wood and Martin Petersen, to discuss the project on the SpyTalk podcast.
Among other top CIA jobs she held, Wood was a presidential daily briefer during the George W. Bush administration and later Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Innovation & Technology Group at the Open Source Center.
Petersen, who spent 33 years with the CIA before retiring in 2005 as the agency’s Acting Executive Director, also ran the agency’s Office of East Asian Analysis before becoming Associate Deputy Director of Intelligence for Strategic Plans and Programs.
“Marty and I have done a number of pieces together, and lots of projects since we both left the agency,” Wood, now the CEO and co-founder of August Interactive, a technology-forward gaming studio, says during the SpyTalk podcast. “And so this particular piece [is asking] how did the United States become number two in terms of world global power and influence.” It’s “imagining that the newly elected president is turning to CIA to ask that question. And so that is the premise of the red cell that we wrote on China.”
“It was Kristen's idea,” Petersen said. “She said, okay, it's 2041. Things have gone poorly from the U.S. global strategic point of view. How did that happen?”
I asked Petersen whether China’s rise to global dominance in their scenario could happen without a military clash with the United States.
“I think the way we laid it out, it could be. And that in some ways to me is more frightening than predicting a clash over Taiwan or the South China Sea,” he said, adding. “all the signs were there. And what we have on the part of the United States is a failure of will to address those.”
Listen to the whole fascinating conversation on Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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