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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Widespread corruption in China made Chinese government officials especially vulnerable to CIA recruitment, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping sought to mitigate this threat by weeding out corruption, according to a new investigation by Foreign Policy magazine.

Why it matters: The anti-corruption campaign, combined with China's other counterintelligence efforts, may have reduced the CIA's visibility into what is happening on the ground in China.

Background: Shortly after he assumed office in late 2012, Xi launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that targeted the widespread practice of bribe-seeking and grift among party cadres and government officials.

  • The campaign has long been judged to have had two primary aims: redeeming the corrupt one-party system in the eyes of the Chinese populace and giving Xi a credible reason to go after his political foes.

Now we know of a third aim — countering CIA recruitment.

  • The Chinese government discovered the CIA was paying the “promotion fees” for some Chinese officials, Zach Dorfman reports for Foreign Policy.
  • This was a double vulnerability. Not only were these Chinese officials being paid by U.S. intelligence, but those very payments were allowing the officials to rise higher in the system, giving the U.S. even greater visibility into China’s halls of power.

What they're saying: "Paying their bribes was an example of long-term thinking that was extraordinary for us," a former senior counterintelligence official told Foreign Policy.

  • "Recruiting foreign military officers is nearly impossible. It was a way to exploit the corruption to our advantage."

What happened: Top Chinese leaders recognized corruption was threatening the legitimacy of the party and even China's national security, Dorfman reports.

  • Xi's anti-corruption campaign, combined with a counterintelligence offensive that saw the arrest or execution of dozens of CIA assets in China, mitigated the threat and reduced the CIA's footprint on the ground there.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.