China - Ministry of State Security MSS
China’s Ministry for State Security (MSS), colloquially known as the Guóanbù, performs both intelligence and security functions for the Communist regime. In Europe, its activities focus on industrial espionage and monitoring Chinese students and residents abroad. Typical MSS practice is to flood the zone with hundreds or even thousands of short-term, low-level assets gathering a “mosaic” of OSINT and HUMINT to be analyzed in Beijing. The Seventh Bureau of the Bu Er, or (more formally) Military Intelligence Department (MID) hosts China’s famed cyberintelligence teams of hackers, cryptanalysts, and spyware programmers.
The Ministry of State Security (abbreviation: MSS; Chinese: 国家安全部; pinyin: Guójiā Ānquán Bù; lit. 'State Security Ministry'; IPA: [kwǒ.tɕjá n.tɕʰɥɛ̌n pû]) is the principal civilian intelligence, security and secret police agency of the People's Republic of China, responsible for counterintelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. The MSS is active in industrial espionage and adept at cyber espionage. Its military counterpart is the Intelligence Bureau of the Joint Staff Department. Described as one of the most secretive intelligence organizations in the world, it is headquartered in Beijing with subordinate branches at the provincial, city, municipality and township levels throughout China. Today's MSS began as the Chinese Communist Party's Central Special Branch until it was replaced by the Central Social Affairs Department (SAD) in 1936. In 1955, the Social Affairs Department was replaced by the Central Investigation Department (CID), China's primary civilian intelligence organization from 1955 to 1983 and the MSS's immediate predecessor. The MSS was created in 1983 with the merging of the CID and the counterintelligence elements of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). The network of state security bureaus and the Ministry of State Security should not be confused with the separate but parallel network of public security bureaus, administered by the MPS.
In March 2009 former MSS operative Li Fengzhi told the Washington Times in an interview that the MSS was engaged in counterintelligence, the collection of secrets and technology from other countries, and repressing internal dissent within China. The internal repression, according to Li, includes efforts against houses churches, the underground church and the Falun Gong religious group, plus censoring the Internet to prevent China's population from knowing what is going on outside the country. Li emphasized that MSS's most important mission is, "to control the Chinese people to maintain the rule of the Communist Party".
In 2012, an executive assistant to MSS vice minister Lu Zhongwei was found to have been passing information to the CIA. Lu Zhongwei was not formally charged, but that incident was said to have infuriated Hu Jintao and led to a tightening on information dissemination and increased counterintelligence activities in Beijing and abroad.
The Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB) of the MSS has repeatedly been involved in both failed and successful attempts to recruit foreign agents. In 2010, the SSSB directed US citizen Glenn Duffie Shriver to apply for a position at the National Clandestine Service of the CIA. In 2017, SSSB case workers were implicated in the recruitment of US Department of State employee Candace Claiborne who was charged with obstruction of justice.
In 2013, a Chinese driver was employed by Senator Dianne Feinstein who was notified that the driver was being investigated for possible Chinese spying. At some point, he visited China and was recruited by China's MSS. He worked for Senator Feinstein for several years. The FBI concluded the driver hadn't revealed anything of substance.
During January 2017, the FBI arrested Candace Claiborne, a State Department employee who had previously worked in the American Embassy in Beijing between 2009 and 2012. In April 2019 Claiborne pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States. Prosecutors argued that she had passed sensitive information to the MSS.
Economic espionage has become a prime directive of the MSS and the FBI has estimated that 3,000 companies in the United States are covers for MSS activity. Companies such as Huawei, China Mobile, and China Unicom have been implicated in MSS intelligence collection activities.
In 2017, MSS officials entered the United States on the pretence of transit visas as cultural officials. During the visit the officials made an attempt to persuade Chinese dissident Guo Wengui to return to China in order to face charges for prosecution. Guo Wengui accepted the meeting, out of apparent gratitude for one of the officials, named Liu Yanping, having previously assisted in bringing the wife of Guo Wengui to America. However, Guo Wengui recorded the conversations and alerted the FBI. Subsequently, the Chinese officials were confronted by FBI agents in Pennsylvania Station, the Chinese officials initially claimed to be cultural affairs diplomats but ultimately admitted to being security officials. The Chinese officials were given a warning for their activities in New York and were ordered to return to China. Two days later, the officials again visited the apartment of Guo Wengui once more prior to leaving the country. While at the apartment the second time, the officials reportedly ate dumplings made by the wife of Guo Wengui, and Guo Wengui walked them out of the building after again declining their offer of clemency for silence. The FBI was aware of the second visit and agents were prepared to arrest the Chinese security officials at JFK Airport prior to their Air China flight on charges of visa fraud and extortion, but arrests were not made following pressure from the State Department to avoid a diplomatic crisis. The FBI did, however, confiscate the Chinese officials’ phones before the plane took off.
In 2019, according to a report released by the European External Action Service, there were an estimated 250 MSS spies operating in Brussels.
In September 2020, a journalist, a Chinese MSS operative and her Nepalese informant were arrested in India for providing classified information about Indian army deployments in Doklam area and India's MEA to two officers of Yunnan State Security Department (YSSD) of MSS.
In December 2020, 10 MSS Operatives of Xinjiang State Security Department (XSSD) were arrested in Kabul, Afghanistan by NDS. During Questioning, one of operative told the interrogators that they were gathering information about al Qaeda, Taliban and Turkistan Islamic Party in Kunar and Badakhshan provinces, and wanted to trap and assassinate high-level members of Turkistan Islamic Party. At least two of the operatives were also in contact with the Haqqani network for this job. After days of negotiations between Afghanistan and China, all of them were pardoned and were flown out of the country in a plane arranged by the Chinese government.
In February 2021, The Daily Telegraph reported that Britain had expelled three MSS agents posing as journalists.
In March 2021, at least Six Chinese bloggers were arrested by MSS for 'insulting' People's Liberation Army Ground Force soldiers who died in the Galwan Valley clash. Those bloggers had suggested that the death toll of the China-India border clash was 11x higher than the official count of four.
In late April 2021, the Ministry of State Security announced that it was introducing several new measures to fight alleged infiltration by "hostile forces" of Chinese companies and other institutions. These measures include drawing up a list of companies and organisations considered to be at risk of foreign infiltration and requiring them to take security measures. In addition, staff travelling on business trips to the Five Eyes countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) have been ordered to report all contacts with foreign personnel, participate in anti-espionage seminars, and leaving mobile phones, laptops, and USB drives at home before traveling abroad.
While some details remain unconfirmed, it is understood that China organizes its resources as follows:
- "Specialized military network warfare forces” (Chinese: 军队专业网络战力量) - Military units specialized in network attack and defense.
- "PLA - authorized forces” (授权力量) - network warfare specialists in the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).
- “Non-governmental forces” (民间力量) - civilian and semi-civilian[definition needed] groups that spontaneously engage in network attack and defense.
Foreign Policy provided an estimated range for China's "hacker army" personnel, anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 individuals. In response to claims that Chinese universities, businesses, and politicians have been subject to cyber espionage by the United States National Security Agency since 2009, the PLA announced a cyber security squad in May 2011 to defend their own networks.
In 2017, the cyberespionage threat group known as Gothic Panda or APT3 was determined to have nation-state level capabilities and to be functioning on behalf of the MSS by researchers. In 2018, the United States Department of Justice indicted two individuals of the cyber-espionage group APT10, which it stated was under the direction of the Tianjin State Security Bureau (TSSB) of MSS. In 2020, the United States Department of Justice indicted two MSS contractors who were involved in hacking Moderna, a biotechnology company developing a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a security advisory regarding hacking by groups affiliated with the MSS.
Surveillance of dissidents abroad
In September 2020, A New York City Police Officer of Tibetan descent was arrested for gathering information on Tibetan American community for the Tibet State Security Department (TSSD) of MSS. He was also trying to recruit potential informants inside the local Tibetan community. In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted individuals, including an MSS officer, for surveilling and conspiring to harass Chinese American pro-democracy dissidents, including political candidate Xiong Yan, Olympic figure skater Alysa Liu and her father Arthur Liu. In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a US citizen for spying under the direction of the MSS on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, Taiwan independence supporters, and Uyghur and Tibetan activists.
United Front activities
The ministry also carries out significant influence operations through so called "united front" work, in which overseas diaspora, business contacts and NGO's are leveraged in order to purchase political influence and sway policy direction to Beijing's favour. Xi Jinping has personally spoken about the importance of United Front work in saying: "Party committees at all levels must place united front work in an important position" and the "United Front Work Department" part of the party's "magic weapon