The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) main counterintelligence and intelligence collection agency. Originally tasked in 1983 with gathering domestic intelligence, information on affairs in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and monitoring dissidents in foreign countries, the agency was ill prepared to gather intelligence on the Beijing's main rivals; namely Moscow and Washington. However, as time and technology advanced, the MSS sharpened and honed its counterespionage and intelligence collection skills in order to match any foreign adversary. Today, thanks in no small part to decades of hard work and dedication, the secretive organization is one of Beijing's most effective tools for the advancement of national interests.
As evidenced by the organization's structure, the MSS’s current taskings include foreign intelligence collection, counterintelligence, domestic surveillance, political security, and intelligence analysis. In short, The Intelligence Ledger assesses the MSS to act in function as a conglomeration of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Minister for State Security: Chen Wenqing
Number of Employees: Unknown
Annual Budget (Public): Unknown
The MSS is divided into eighteen bureaus, each with differing areas of responsibility. Although The Intelligence Ledger has not been able to identify the mission of every bureau, the chart shown below offers an accurate picture of the organization based upon available information.
The mission of the First Bureau of the Ministry of State Security remains unclear. Although there are indications that the group may be responsible for controlling MSS non-official cover (NOC) officers in foreign states, there is also evidence that the bureau may be responsible for recruiting Chinese citizens visiting intelligence targets and requesting them to collect political, scientific, and technological information. As such, The Intelligence Ledger is unwilling to make a definitive statement in regards to the purpose of this bureau.
The Second Bureau of the Ministry of State Security is tasked with collecting intelligence of strategic importance to the People's Republic of China. Officers assigned to this group typically utilize diplomatic, government, and journalistic covers while pursuing their assigned objectives. Although the Second Bureau has a moderate level of success in recruiting foreigners as agents, ethnic Chinese remain a major recruitment target.
The Ministry of State Security's Third Bureau's mission remains unclear. Although some analysts have claimed this group is dedicated to the development and analysis of economic intelligence, The Intelligence Ledger has not developed enough clear information to support this theory. As such, a definitive statement in regards to the purpose of this bureau is not possible.
The Fourth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security is responsible for intelligence collection and the monitoring of dissidents in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. As Beijing considers these regions under its dominion, the Second Bureau (Foreign Intelligence Collection) is not responsible for operations in these areas. Officers of the fourth do not act in a law enforcement capacity, instead opting to solely focus on running agents in order to collect information that may be of importance to the state or Communist Party of China (CPC).
The Intelligence Ledger can state with a high degree of confidence that the Fifth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security is the organization's main analytical section. According to individuals interviewed and evidence studied by Intelligence Ledger staff, the Bureau has steadily increased the quality of analysis products produced by the MSS since the ministry's founding in 1983. Although quality and professionalism of products has improved, analysts assigned to the Fifth continue to struggle with explaining and analyzing complicated situations using communist terminology and maintaining appearances of ideological purity.
The exact mission, or even an indication of the mission of the Sixth Bureau has eluded Intelligence Ledger analysts. While some sources claim the Sixth is dedicated to providing tactical and strategic planning support to provincial level MSS offices, others argue that it is a purely counterintelligence focused bureau. Due to a lack of consistency amongst evidence and dearth of sources, The Intelligence Ledger is not prepared to make a determination as to the mission of the Sixth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security.
The Seventh Bureau of the Ministry of State Security is tasked with gathering intelligence on foreign intelligence services operating inside and outside of the People's Republic of China. The bureau has proven relatively successful in its counterintelligence role, with its most notable operation unfolding from 2010 through 2012 with the killing of twenty individuals operating on behalf of the CIA inside China. It is unclear if the Eighth Bureau assisted in this undertaking.
The exact mission of the Eighth Bureau is unclear. Although The Intelligence Ledger has established that the group is geared towards counterintelligence and is limited in its reach outside of mainland China, it is unsure of the Eighth's exact operational focus and what distinguishes it from the Seventh or Ninth Bureaus. As such, The Intelligence Ledger has chosen to refrain from stating definitively the group's tasking.
The Ninth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security, also known as the Internal Protection and Reconnaissance Bureau, is responsible for monitoring foreign organizations working or operating within the People's Republic of China. The Intelligence Ledger further assesses that the Ninth Bureau may have some role in monitoring reactionary and dissident groups in sovereign Chinese territory.
According to several American academic and western research organizations, the Tenth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security targets student and academic institutions for intelligence collection in order to ensure internal stability within the PRC. Furthermore, the Tenth Bureau seeks to utilize groups of Chinese students and academic institutions oversees in order to advance Beijing's strategic objectives.
The Ministry of State Security's Eleventh Bureau is responsible for open-source intelligence collection and analysis. Disguised publicly as the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the group studies a wide range of topics viewed as significant to the PRC's success by strategic policymakers in Beijing. Analysts assigned to the Eleventh Bureau are able to regularly meet with foreign government delegations, scholars, and experts in fields of important to China.
The role of the Twelfth Bureau within the MSS is unclear to analysts at The Intelligence Ledger. Although it is apparent that it reprises some responsibility over large-scale analysis of Chinese citizens in the People's Republic of China, it is hard to determine what type of analysis is being conducted. As such, one must refrain from stating definitively the group's tasking.
The Thirteenth Bureau oversees the research and development of technology that may be of use to the Ministry of State Security. Furthermore, the Thirteenth is not shy about repurposing western technology for its own benefit. The public face of the bureau, the China Information Technology Evaluation Center (CITEC), was given broad power under China's 2017 National Cybersecurity Law to "review and analyze" foreign technology sold in the Chinese market.
The Fourteenth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security serves as the organization's technical investigations branch. According to all available sources, its responsibilities include monitoring telecommunications and mail networks within the People's Republic of China. It is unclear if this group has any control over foreign mail and telecommunications intelligence collection.
The role and responsibilities of the Fifteenth Bureau is unclear to analysts at The intelligence Ledger. Although it appears to be focused on some form of intelligence collection in Taiwan, it is difficult to determine how it differentiates itself from the Fourth Bureau. As such, The Intelligence Ledger has chosen to refrain from definitively stating the group's tasking.
The mission of the Sixteenth Bureau has evaded clarity for several years. Although it may specialize in satellite imagery analysis, this has never been confirmed. As such, The Intelligence Ledger has refrained from stating the group's assumed responsibilities.
The Intelligence Ledger has been unable to ascertain the role of the Seventeenth Bureau. Although some may claim that this section is responsible for maintaining the MSS's web of front companies in foreign states, the evidence supporting such a supposition is flimsy.
The Eighteenth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security appears to be solely dedicated to conducting operations within the United States. Although there is a dearth of information is regards to this section, what is available has been assessed to be reliable by Intelligence Ledger analysts.
The Ministry of State Security, though relatively young when compared with intelligence agencies in the Russian Federation and United States, is reasonably successful. Although the overwhelming majority of MSS case officers still employ basic gambits 'on the street', western law enforcement and intelligence officers are increasingly being confronted with sophisticated tradecraft and clever counterespionage methods.
The Ministry of State Security employs a wide variety of strategies and tactics to perform its duties in both the People's Republic of China and in adversarial states. Over the course of a detailed investigation, The Intelligence Ledger analyzed dozens of operations conducted by the MSS in the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom in a bid to better understand the organization's modus operandi. It is obvious that the MSS gathers a wide range of intelligence through a variety of methods, including human intelligence (HUMINT) and cyber intelligence (CYBINT).
Employment of Case Officers & Agents
In order for any intelligence service to successfully collect information on a foreign state, said agency should maintain the ability to insert or infiltrate case officers and agents into the target region. The People's Republic of China and Ministry of State Security recognize this fact, and have invested considerable time, effort, and resources into the development of such a system.
MSS case officers are typically deployed to target countries in one of two ways: on official government cover, also known as legal status, or on non-official cover (NOC), otherwise known as illegal status. The Ministry of State Security has proven adept at using officers on both non-official cover and official government cover to collect intelligence.
Operatives utilizing official government cover can pose as diplomats, journalists, scientists, students, and military attachés while collecting intelligence. As they are technically apart of a visiting delegation or diplomatic mission, individuals acting in these roles can not be prosecuted by target states. As such, legals need not fear imprisonment or execution while fulfilling their duties. Instead, the target state in which they were discovered will likely expel them from sovereign territory and seek to damage their careers by burning their agents. It is important to note that most officers of the MSS are on official cover. These individuals act through agents, which are either payed, compromised, or ideologically motivated.
For intelligence officers operating under non-official cover, life is considerably more stressful. As an illegal, case officers can not rely upon diplomatic immunity in captured, as they are not assigned to a diplomatic mission or visiting delegation. Embedded in the target country's population, NOC officers face life imprisonment or death if taken into custody.
The Ministry of State Security and other intelligence agencies in the People's Republic of China regularly employ agents in target countries. The Central Intelligence Agency's predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), defined an agent as, "an individual recruited in the field who is employed or directed by an OSS operative." Thus, this organization will do the same. The Intelligence Ledger is aware of several types of agents being utilized by MSS officers in the United States presently or previously, including double agents, agents-in-place, sleepers, and agents-of-influence.
The Intelligence Ledger believes that MSS case officers and agents operate relatively the same inside of the People's Republic of China, although their goal is the disruption of dissident organization or foreign espionage rings. Furthermore, officers and agents are exposed to considerably less risk, as they are operating inside friendly territory.
Cyber Intelligence + Warfare
The People's Republic of China and Ministry of State Security have proven skilled at cyber intelligence collection and conducting cyber warfare against target states. Although their main efforts have been devoted to the theft of sensitive and classified technology, the MSS's keyboard warriors also are seeking to target government agencies in order to gather information that would be beneficial in determining Washington's strategic aims.