The United States has to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer the “only big kid” on the geopolitical block, said Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Burns has said. Highlighting the rise of China, Burns said in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday with NPR that the US intelligence service may now have to forward-deploy its “China specialists” to compete effectively with Beijing.

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“…I am exploring right now, to forward-deploy China specialists – whether it is operations officers, analysts, technologists as well – to make us more effective in that competition, in that rivalry in the field as well,” CIA director William Burns was quoted as saying in the NPR interview.

China is the biggest geopolitical challenge to the US in the 21st century, Burns said, adding that the technology sector is the biggest area of competition between the two countries.

On the issue of troop rollout in Afghanistan, the CIA director said that the US still retains “significant capabilities” in and around Afghanistan to gather information on terror groups. Expressing concern over the Taliban advances following the US military drawdown, Burns noted that the Taliban are probably in the “strongest military position that they have been in since 2001”.

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Speaking of geopolitical forces, the CIA director also commented on Russia’s overarching influence in world affairs. In his interview, Burns indicated that the intelligence service suspects Russia could be behind the “Havana syndrome”, which is affecting the health of US diplomats in Cuba. However, he added that there are no definitive conclusions and various possibilities.

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Havana Syndrome is a series of unexplained medical symptoms first experienced by State Department personnel stationed in Cuba beginning in late 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported. Since then, diplomats and other officials stationed around the world have experienced similar symptoms. Notably, similar accusations against Russia had emerged from American media outlets in the past, with Moscow repeatedly denying them.

Burns said that Russia “could be, but I honestly cannot – I do not want to suggest until we can draw some more definitive conclusions who it might be. But there are a number of possibilities.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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