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News :: International Relations

‘The Chinese Octopus'

China has a unique, rich and long history, but very little is known about the history of its secret services or their activities at home and abroad.
Moscow News Weekly

By Yevgeny Rumyantsev

The Party's Special Services

Their history began with the formation of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in 1921. One of the founders of CPC special services was Zhou Enlai.

The services greatly expanded their scope of operations in 1937, when full scale war broke out with Japan. In October 1937, the CPC intelligence and counter intelligence services were known as the Political Protection Directorate, which was then reorganized as the Social Research Depart­ment, which existed until 1983.

At the same time, so-called United Front sections were created at CPC local committees, which exist to date. They have engaged in a variety of activities to establish and promote contacts with public and political forces, as well as with influential people, regarded by the CPC at various times as allies or partners.

The CPC also created a system of territorial special agencies to ensure control of rural areas and at transport nodes: they were, essentially, public security agencies. Today, they have diversified into a network covering the whole of China, their functions roughly corresponding to those of local police stations in other countries of the world.

State Security Agencies

China has a diversified structure of special (security) agencies, which can be conveniently divided in two large groups - civilian (that is, answering to the CPC Central Committee and partially to the State Council) and military. The military services are controlled by the Central Military Council; historically, this unit has been the most powerful and politically influential part of China's special services.

The special services are comprised of state security, public security, military intelligence and counter intelligence agencies. Additionally, some intelligence and counter intelligence, political surveillance, and anti-corruption, information and analysis functions, as well as secret operations (mainly designed to exert political influence), are performed by the State Committee for Defense Related Sciences, Technologies and Industries, and several subdivisions of the CPC Central Committee: the Special Research Department, the United Front Department, and the Discipline Enforcement Commission.

The civilian special services, as well as the law enforcement agencies, are supervised by the CPC Central Committee Politico Legal Commis­sion. It oversees the activities of the State Security and Public Security Ministries, the paramilitary People's Police, the courts, the Prosecutor's Office, and the Ministry of Justice.

The special services in the military are supervised by an agency that is rarely mentioned in the media - the Committee for the Protection of Secrets, which answers to the Central Military Council.

The CP Special Research Depart­ment has been actively involved in internal political surveillance, as well as in foreign intelligence operations. Its Eighth Directorate was a major think tank and clearing house on security related information, publicly known as the Chinese Institute of Modern International Relations. Today, it is part of the State Security Ministry, engaged mainly in internal party investigations.

The State Security Ministry

The State Security Ministry (SSM) was established in 1983 as part of a large scale reorganization of China's state apparatus following Mao Zedong's death and the subsequent power struggle.

Foreign policy considerations were also an important factor in the establishment of the SSM. Chinese intelligence services took advantage of the "policy of openness with respect to the outside world." Beijing recognized Chinese living abroad as patriots. An array of measures was implemented to establish contacts with them and reorient them from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Political propaganda was yet another important consideration here: open affiliation of a special service (the Social Research Department) with the Communist Party exposed it to attacks as an instrument of party dictatorship.

The Public Security Ministry

Civil security agencies emerged in China following the merging of security administrations on the local level, as well as public security subdivisions of military control committees. Initially, their basic function was to "root out" Kuomintang agents, as well as all other forces resisting the PRC. The Public Security Ministry (PSM) was established in 1949 to enforce public order, fight crimes (including political crimes) and conduct intelligence and counter intelligence operations. In the 1950s-70s, the ministry became a major instrument of political reprisals against millions of Chinese people.

In 1983, the greater part of PSM intelligence and counter intelligence agencies was merged with the Social Research Department, subsequently leading to the establishment of the State Security Ministry. But public security administrations on the local level retained their intelligence and counter intelligence subdivisions, which continued to develop and consolidate. By the early 1990s, the Public Security Ministry had a diversified intelligence and counter intelligence system, largely parallel to the one that exists in the SSM. It also posts intelligence agents to work abroad, but its focus is on obtaining information about the penetration of "hostile forces" into China.

The PSM has about 30 main directorates, which mainly engage in routine police work. "Chinese specifics" here are represented by the 26th Directorate, whose function is to fight the Falun Gong movement. [Literally "Practice of the Wheel of Law," a system of "mind and body cultivation" introduced by Li Hongzhi to the public in 1992, incorporating elements of Buddhism and Taoism. - Ed.]. In addition to Falun Gong, it is active in suppressing outlawed religious organizations.

The Armed Forces

Like all militaries in the world, the CPR Armed Forces have always had intelligence units. A distinguishing feature of the military establishment in Communist China is a diversified network of political agencies - a system borrowed from the Soviet Armed Forces, but with Chinese specifics: political agencies comprise two special services.

The first is military counter intelligence. During the war years it was called the Directorate for the Elimination of Traitors, but is now known as the Protection Directorate. The second, created in the 1930s,

was the Directorate for Operations behind Enemy Lines, now the Liaison Directorate, combining the functions of special propaganda and spying against Taiwan. In the 1990s, a certain number of Liaison Direc­torate agents worked under cover (mostly using business companies as a front) in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States, among other places. As a general rule, these are well educated, experienced intelligence officers.

The main military special service is the Second Directorate of the General Staff. It enjoys broad powers within the country. One of its departments directs the activity of military attaches abroad. Its information and analysis departments handle and process information provided by all types of intelligence services. Daily intelligence bulletins are sent to members of the Central Military Council, the CPC Central Committee Politburo, and chiefs of the General Staff, the Main Political Directorate, the Main Arms Directorate, and the Main Directorate for Logistics. The Political Directorate performs counter intelligence functions, including political vetting of officers in all branches of service.

The Third Directorate of the General Staff is responsible for electronic and signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations. Very little is known about it, but according to some sources, it employs a total of 130,000 personnel. The Third Directorate could be compared to the National Security Agency in the United States. One of its most secret areas of activity is monitoring party, state and military officials at all levels throughout the country with the use of state of the art technical means.

CPC Special Agencies

These include the Social Research Department, the United Front De­part­ment, the International Depart­ment of the CPC Central Committee (information and analysis), and corresponding departments on the local level. It is also known that some CPC leaders have personal secret services - at least, that was common practice under Mao Zedong. Working under the cover of administrative, logistic or technical offices or using other fronts, they conducted surveillance on political opponents.

The United Front Department and its territorial branches conduct operations against Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao; in the PRC, they target intellectuals, religious and other organizations. This line of activity is being given higher priority as the non-public sector of the Chinese economy expands and the number of enterprises with a share of foreign capital increases.

The Department also continues to use the party underground - the practice that it borrowed in its time from the Comintern. [Communist Interna­tional, also known as the Third International, international Com­munist organization founded in Moscow in March 1919. The Inter­national intended to fight "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State."- Ed.] According to some sources, its officers work abroad under diplomatic cover, among other things, recruiting Chinese living outside the PRC or people of Chinese descent who have contacts with Taiwan.

Today, all of these structures are also active on Russian territory.


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