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Ministry of State Security [MSS]
Guojia Anquan Bu [Guoanbu]

The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is the Chinese Government's intelligence arm, responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Aside from the MSS, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), General Staff Second and Third Departments also engage in military intelligence and counterintelligence operations. The People's Republic of China's intelligence infrastructure is the third largest after the United States and Russia. The organizational structure of the MSS reflects the structure of the Russian KGB. The MSS is responsible to the premier and state council, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Political Science and Law Commission oversees ministry activities. In terms of personnel, the MSS favors non-professional intelligence agents such as travelers, businessmen, and academics with a special emphasis on the overseas Chinese students and high-tech Chinese professionals working abroad with access to sensitive technological material.

In respect to domestic intelligence activities, the MSS is responsible for the surveillance and recruitment of businessmen, researchers and officials visiting from abroad. While the MSS has only visibly subjected dissidents and foreign journalists to surveillance measures, an intricate network of more clandestine surveillance is conducted by state ministries, academic institutions and the military-industrial complex. Surveillance equipment, both video equipment and wiretaps, are often hidden in hotels frequented by foreigners. Surveillance activities range from conversations with visiting scholars, to obtaining information in a certain field, to active recruitment of agents.

The Ministry's History

Prior to 1949, during the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, the central institution of the Chinese intelligence community within the Communist Party of China [CPC] was the Central Department of Social Affairs (CDSA), which subsequently became the Central Investigation Department (CID), and was later replaced by the Ministry of State Security in 1983.

During the Yanan period, the Central Department of Social Affairs provided CPC leaders with reports on the world situation and on the major events and issues taking place abroad. These efforts were based on news reports from foreign press agencies, and a limited number of foreign newspapers and books. During the 1946-1949 warfare between Kuomintang and Communist troops, the intelligence provided by the Central Department of Social Affairs proved instrumental in the Communist's battlefield victories.

After the Chinese Communist Party consolidated state power in China in 1949, the intelligence system played an increasingly important role in the state. Li Kenong, head of the department, also held several other leadership positions, including head of the Central Investigation Department, deputy chief of General Staff, and vice minister of foreign affairs, and attended meetings for the Political Bureau as an observer.

During the 1950's, every Chinese embassy had an Investigation and Research Office for intelligence collection staffed by the Central Investigation Department. Analytical tasks were the responsibility of the Central Investigation Department Eighth Bureau, publicly known since 1978 as the "Institute of Contemporary International Relations."

Shortly before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1977), Li Kenong died and was succeeded by Luo Qingchang. Kang Sheng [who had once headed the Central Department of Social Affairs] was by that time a member of the CPC Political Bureau, and he assumed responsibility for the work of the Central Investigation Department.

During the Cultural Revolution the Central Investigation Department was abolished, most of its senior leadership was sent down to the countryside for re-education, and most of its activities and assets were absorbed by the PLA General Staff Second Department. The Central Group for the Examination of Cases, composed of Central Investigation Department cadres acting on orders of Kang Sheng (one of the most powerful communist officials during the revolution), were instrumental in the removal from power of individuals such as Deng Xiaoping.

With the death of Lin Biao in the early 1970's the Central Investigation Department was re-established. When Hua Guofeng and Wang Dongxing assumed power in 1977 they sought to enlarge the Central Investigation Department and expand the CPC's intelligence work as part of their more general efforts to consolidate their leadership positions. This initiative was resisted by Deng Xiaoping, who had returned to power. Deng Xiaoping argued that the intelligence system should not use Chinese embassies to provide cover, and that intelligence personnel should be sent abroad under the cover of reporters and businessmen. Consequently, the Central Investigation Department withdrew its men from Chinese embassies abroad, except for a small number of secret intelligence agents.

Zhou Shaozheng, a veteran of the Central Investigation system, became head of the General Office of the Central Investigation Department in 1976. During the CPC's 12th National Congress in 1982, a bureau chief under the Central Taiwan Affairs Office informed against Zhou Shaozheng. It was alleged that during the mourning period following Premier Zhou Enlai's death, Zhou was accused of earlier attempts to move against the Premier. Investigation results later showed that Zhou Shaozheng was innocent, however this cost him the chance to be considered for the post of Minister of State Security.

In 1983, Liu Fuzhi, secretary general of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and minister of Public Security, proposed the establishment of a Ministry of State Security that would merge the whole Central Investigation Department with the counter-intelligence elements of the Public Security Ministry. This proposal was approved by the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.


In June 1983 the National People's Congress, perceiving a growing threat of subversion and sabotage, established the Ministry of State Security under the State Council. The new ministry was charged with ensuring "the security of the state through effective measures against enemy agents, spies, and counterrevolutionary activities designed to sabotage or overthrow China's socialist system." At its inception, the ministry pledged to abide by the state constitution and the law and called upon the citizenry for their cooperation, reminding them of their constitutional obligations to "keep state secrets" and "safeguard the security" of the country.

The Ministry's Record

Lin Yun, deputy minister of Public Security, was appointed the first minister of the Ministry of State Security Ministry. However in 1985 a department head of the Anti-Espionage Bureau Yu Qiangsheng, a cadre from the Ministry of Public Security, defected to the United States. After this incident, Lin Yun and the chief of the Anti-Espionage Bureau were both removed from their posts.

In 1985 Jia Chunwang was appointed Minister of State Security following the dismisal of Lin Yun. Both the public security and central investigation elements of the Ministry insisted that Lin Yun be replaced by one of their own cadres. To settle this conflict, the CPC leadership appointed Jia Chunwang, as he was an outsider with ties to neither element. Under Jia Chunwang, the MSS achieved measurable successes in gathering nuclear and other technological sensitive information from the United States. In 1998, Jia Chunwang was appointed Minister for Public Security to replace Tao Siju. He also served as the first political commissar and first secretary of the CPC Committee of the Chinese People's Armed Police Force. In December 2002, he served as deputy procurator general, and in March 2003, he was elected China's Supreme People's Procuratorate by the 10th National People's Congress.

In 1998, Xu Yongyue, a native of Zhenping in Henan Province was appointed minister of state security, to take the vacancy left by Jia Chunwang. Xu Yongyue was characterized as a member of China's "blue-blood" league and a trusted deputy to President Jiang Zemin. Xu advocated an end to corrupt practices within the ministry, such as the selling of one-way travel documents to Hong Kong that were typically given to intelligence agents. Corruption had plauged the intelligence sector since the central discipline inspection departments had no oversight over the intelligence ministry. In 2002, he was elected to the Central Committee. In March 2003, he was reappointed as the head of MSS. In 2004, Xu was instructed by an angry Luo Gan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, to monitor Ding Zilin, a mother of a Tiananmen Square victim who submitted a video testimony to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and other Tiananmen dissidents domestically and abroad. Reports also suggested that under Xu, the MSS was involved in actions taken against the Falun Gong dissidents.

According to DEBKAfile, an Israeli online source, following September 11, the MSS informed the PRC's defense ministry that the United States would ally with Russia in order overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Such an alliance would alter the PRC's calculations regarding policies in the region.

On 12 October 2004, Xu Yongyue met with Nartai Dutbaev, chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee. The two conferred about bilateral cooperation and affirmed cooperative efforts on "fighting international terrorism, extremism, organized crime, and the drug business." In February 2006, Xu led a delegation to Singapore to meet with the Minister of Defense and Minister Mentor.

In a 20 May 1998 statement before the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress, it was reported that 50% of the 900 cases investigated on the West Coast with regards to technology transfers involved the PRC. It was reported that the FBI estimated that cases of Chinese espionage in Silicon Valley had risen by 20 to 30 percent each year. Aside from the United States, the PRC's agents remained of concern in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

The Ministry's Agents

Professional Chinese intelligence agents are generally assigned to overseas postings for terms of six years, 10 years, or long-term residence, depending on the nature of the job or on performance. The MSS is not the only government branch that conducts intelligence operations; MSS agents often fulfill the intelligence needs of other government arms as well. In the United States, the PRC has seven permanent diplomatic missions with intelligence personnel on staff.

In mid-September 1996, the Central Military Commission and the State Council approved the report of the plan drawn up by the General Staff Department and Ministry of State Security on the consolidation, readjustment, and reinforcement of intelligence in Hong Kong, Macao, and abroad. Nearly 120 intelligence agents who had been operating in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Northern Europe, and Japan as industrialists, businessmen, bankers, scholars, and journalists, were recalled.

Aside from professional agents, the MSS co-opted low-profile Chinese nationals or Chinese-American civilians to engage in the acquisition of mid-level technology and data. Chinese travelers, businessmen, students, and researchers formed a large pool of potential agents. The MSS maintained control through the carrot of access and personal connections ('guanxi') and the stick of threatened alienation from their homeland. These agents would gather small pieces of information to slowly assemble the whole picture. According to a 1999 congressional committee hearing, it took the PRC two decades to gather the intelligence on the WW-88 nuclear warhead designs, from the US national nuclear weapons lab. A report by Senator Rudman (R-NH) in 1999 characterized the PRC's intelligence gathering apparatus as "very proficient in the art of seemingly innocuous elicitations of information." The diffuse nature of data collection also rendered prosecution of suspected spies by US counterintelligence authorities extremely difficult.

The MSS' methods for economic espionage operated in three models. The first was the recruitment of agents, especially scholars and scientists, in the PRC before they were sent abroad to purchase information. The second model used Chinese firms to purchase US companies with the desired technology. The third method was the purchase of technology through Chinese front companies. This third model was the most commonly used.

The FBI estimated that over 3,000 companies were fronts set up for Chinese spies. An example of a front company at work was the 1993 case of Bin Wu and two other PRC nationals who, under the direction of the MSS, attempted to smuggle third generation night vision equipment through a front company in Norfolk, Virginia. Wu was a good example of a MSS agent; he was a non-professional pro-Western dissident who was given a choice between jail and an opportunity to go abroad, serve his country, and help his family. As a sleeper cell, Wu was encouraged to establish himself as a professional and businessman, and then was later activated when needed.

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Page last modified: 12-07-2022 16:49:09 ZULU