Intelligence agencies are by nature secretive, but China’s MSS seems to operate under a heavier veil of secrecy than most – unlike the CIA or MI6, it does not have an official website, any publicly listed contacts or spokesmen or women. Not much is known about China’s sprawling espionage operation, but this is what we do know. What is the MSS? The Ministry of State Security is China’s main civilian intelligence agency. Formed in 1983, it is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence, as well as domestic surveillance and intelligence for national security – so it is often descr
The MSS is headed by a Politburo member, Li Zhaoxing, and has at least 300,000 employees at government agencies, paramilitary agencies, the military, and universities, according to Reuters. Chinese media reports suggest that the MSS has nearly 20,000 people in its military intelligence arm. Why is it so secretive? First, it would be expensive to be public about such a large organization. Second, it is considered a high risk for infiltration by foreign intelligence agencies. ix China’s neighbor, North Korea, has been a target of MSS agents. What are its main objectives? It pursues national security in three areas: economic security, political security, and social stability. It is also tasked with safeguarding the Chinese Communist Party’s power and public image.
China’s MSS plays a very special role in the Government of China. Their sole mission is to protect China’s political system from internal and external threats, and this is an extremely broad mandate. China’s MSS is generally regarded by the Western Intelligence Community as one of the most capable intelligence agencies in the world. The Chinese intelligence agency is secretive and it seems to operate on a vastly different scale to that of Western intelligence agencies. The MSS is often compared to the CIA and MI6, and it’s fair to say that the two services are very similar in most respects. We know that the MSS has 9,000 intelligence operatives spread around the world, and these agents are the tip of the MSS’s spear in identifying and disrupting Western espionage and sabotage activities.
China’s Ministry of State Security is also responsible for espionage. In a 2017 paper on the Strategic Trends for China’s Military Strategy, Nathaniel Medcalf and Christine Fair say: “China has a detailed and extensive foreign intelligence collection and reporting capability… The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will likely use information about politics, economics, social structure, culture and international relations to identify opportunities and leverage relationships, including to seek to exert influence on the United States and its allies and interests.
Foreign intelligence domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence, are split into seven ministries and departments, These include: China National Intelligence Bureau China Domestic Security and Public Security Bureau Beijing Military Region Security Bureau North China Bureau Chengdu Economic Crime Bureau Jiangsu Province Bureau of State Security The Strategic Support Force (SSF) also has its own intelligence units and is responsible for gathering intelligence from various overseas agencies and foreign governments. It operates under the control of the Ministry of State Security, and its members are handpicked and trained for espionage operations.
China’s MSS is not only bigger and more involved in the global espionage than the CIA and MI6 combined, it also operates in more countries – even more than both of the great Western powers. China has roughly 1,200 intelligence personnel in the CIA’s UN member states, compared to 3600 for the UK, while the MSS has personnel in every single one of the 190-member UNSC states, compared to 700 for the CIA. Like the US and UK, the MSS plays a major role in geopolitical affairs through overt diplomatic proxy, and also through the DIRTI (Deep Intelligence Networks) Project. According to the NY Times, the MSS has between 60,000 and 80,000 personnel, compared to between 5,000 and 20,000 for the CIA. What Does this Tell Us?
The many different trade and aid policies being pursued by China globally have been heavily criticised but can developing countries become more independent or will China’s policy reform?