How China’s Spies Turned World-Class

published on July 3, 2020

the Chinese Communist Party is great at

spying on people and not just inside

China but also in America welcome back

to China uncensored I'm Chris Chappell

the Chinese Communist Party has an

extensive network of spies and over the

last two decades the party has rapidly

developed its espionage tools Shelley

Jeong sat down with intelligence

researcher Matt Brazil co-author of

Chinese Communist espionage and

intelligence primer to learn more thank

you for joining us dr Brazil happy to

so in your book you say that you know

Chinese espionage has now become like a

global superpower

so how scared should we be they're

world-class and the reason we like to

call them world-class is that they have

recently become equal in ability and

reach to any other world class power

like the United States Russia France and

Britain but from the hiss at the history

of Chinese intelligence and it seems

like it wasn't really especially in

terms of foreign intelligence it wasn't

really that way until the early 2000s is

that right

they began to really get serious in the

1990s and as we talked about in the book

it was in 1989 that State Security

decided that they wanted to revamp

education not only for the their own

officers but for the general population

and so right after Tiananmen Square they

commissioned a book on leak on own one

of their early heroes and who was also

the head of their intelligence service

in the 50s and so they they paid for it

they found the researchers they wrote

the introduction to the the book on Lee

kinome

and they emphasize that this is for

younger generations to learn about the

heroes of the past so that they can

sharpen their own skills and realize

that they too can make a contribution to

the revolution so why is it important to

look back at the history of the

Communist Party's espionage activities

chiefly because it tells us the facts

about how the Chinese Communists have

run intelligence operations like

everybody else the reality of everybody

spies applies to the Chinese as well as

to everybody else in it it also

underlines the fact that their

operations have always been professional

secret compartmented limited to only a

few people and it runs runs in the runs

against the old American idea that there

is a grains of sand approached by the

Chinese which means basically that that

China likes to use thousands of ordinary

Chinese people overseas to do their

spying for them nothing could be further

from the truth and that unfortunate

characterization leads to the idea that

every Chinese person is a potential spy

which is silly but it's gained a lot of

traction in the US and some other

countries and so we we were very

concerned about that idea because it

leads to false assumptions it leads to

bad policy and so we tried our best to

make clear that that's not the case

using this book what would you say is

the biggest misconception about Chinese

communist espionage one of the biggest

misconceptions is that it's mysterious

and indeed in the modern day Cong Chun

the black sheep who of the Communist

Party who was actually expelled after he

died he's criticized for his mysticism

because he used to insist that he could

smell a spy that he could tell a spy by

looking at them and indeed he persecuted

innumerable people with that kind of

assumption

it was accepted and he was backed up by

Mao he was one of mouth' most loyal

adherence and Mao was loyal to him as

well it doesn't seem like a great way to

run a spy organization though shoot

first and ask questions later not not a

good thing I agree so one of the things

that you brought up in your book that I

thought was particularly interesting was

the idea that in the Chinese Communist

Party the intelligence information would

kind of get filtered through this

Marxist Leninist lens can you give us an

example of what that means one of the

most difficult problems they face

internally which they may or may not

acknowledge internally is that they use

this Marxist Leninist lens to analyze

practically everything so they have a

historical sense they've got it all

figured out as Marxist Leninist they

have a theory they have science they

have a way of looking at history that

enables them to predict the future and

when things go wrong then they typically

ascribe that to being somebody's mistake

or a leftist deviation or something of

that sort and that makes it hard for

them to explain things when they can't

find that deviation or that villain to

blame things on and so that means that

when they try to explain a problem to

their higher-ups who also ascribed who

also go for this view that if they can't

find somebody to blame it on then it

becomes difficult to to make a proper

explanation so this is why they've

actually gone after foreigners like Nate

Thayer for example the man who reported

on the death of Pol Pot he was

approached by the Shanghai State

Security Bureau and asked to write some

some briefs on different problems and

they can take something like that

something written by a foreigner and

show it to somebody who wants to know

about a particular problem and if

there's some piece of information in

that analysis that's a little bit

heretical they don't get blamed for it

so it's like well

that was what this foreigner said so

that's okay but if it's from an internal

source then it has to kind of be

politically correct yes you may be

familiar with son Kyle XI which until

the mid 90s was a classified publication

so for the audience sancocho XI or

reference news is a collection of

foreign news reports that would not

ordinarily make it into the Chinese

press and the same thing there we can

put information out about something

going on outside of China or maybe even

inside of China through a foreign news

report and not get blamed for and not

get persecuted interesting in the book

you talked a little bit about the

difference between the Ministry of State

Security and the People's Liberation

Army how they're both responsible for

intelligence but in terms of Western

analysis of that we seem to focus more

on the PLA than the MSS isn't important

to have that instinct distinction it is

because until the reorganization that

happened three years ago the PLA was

perhaps the leader in foreign

intelligence or at least they were the

more visible part of of PRC foreign

intelligence because they were getting

caught you may be aware of how a us

cybersecurity organization private

company managed to actually turn the

cameras back on the PLA s laptops and

view the pictures of the analysts at

work and that's how the FBI got their

their their pictures for the those

wanted posters all right when the

Justice Department indicted yeah PLA

soldiers right yes exactly

now MSS apparently has been just as

successful maybe even more successful in

cyber operations but the point is they

have maintained a much lower profile and

so my co-author Peter mattis likes to

call this realization that has occurred

in the last 10-15 years that there's so

much more stuff

to be gained through cyber espionage he

likes to call it the dread-nots moment

as in the change in navy ships at the

turn of the last century where ships

suddenly had more armament and bigger

guns and longer range that whole idea of

having bigger guns and longer range can

be applied here because now instead of

having to recruit spies get them in or

run a very expensive and very elaborate

signal intelligence operation to get

your information that requires

satellites and and outstations and

thousands of analysts and intercept

operators a lot of technology a lot of

money now the the ability to get these

things done can be seen in the software

code that's used to infiltrate foreign

systems and of course once you get into

the office of personal management

computers or United Airlines computers

because a lot of US government people

flying United or anthem insurance

computers a lot of US government people

took insurance through anthem there's an

unbelievable wealth treasure trove of

information in these places and so that

so as they've done throughout their

history and as all intelligence agencies

do the Chinese services are going where

the secrets are you say in the book that

they could have been targeting the OPM

hack to get the information of

government officials what would they do

with that information well every

government official who gets a security

clearance has to fill out a form if it's

if it's the case of most of the agencies

it's called the sf50 the standard form

50 so you're putting down in that form

not only your name social security

number and date of birth you're putting

down all your friends all the addresses

you've lived in the past X number of

years whether or not you've had exposure

to foreign nationals and so all this

information together provides a

marvelous profile for someone who is

thinking about

testing out possibly recruiting an

American so they could actually be

targeting officials to spy for the MSS

or something that yes and and of course

not only the OPM information but also

the stuff we use every day now because

we need to get our names out there to

further our careers LinkedIn has as you

may have read become a big resource for

not only the Chinese services but also

you look at if you look at the open

source center that's run by our

intelligence community they have

advertisements out there for people to

work for them and do precisely the same

thing so I want to ask about corporate

espionage now can you name a company

that's gone into China that hasn't been

spied on that would be hard to do in the

affirmative more than negative but

there's a baseline of surveillance on

all foreigners and all Chinese people in

China and that baseline of surveillance

if you're Chinese it includes your your

urban personnel file it includes all the

information that goes into your national

ID card including your race and so on

and includes where you work if you're a

foreigner when you travel to China just

like this this happens in Thailand to

where I recently visited you check into

a hotel they copy your passport and I

immediately give it to the police now

the reason they do this and if you put

yourself in the shoes of the local

public security bureau if something goes

wrong with a foreigner then they're

responsible because you're on their turf

they're gonna have to answer for

whatever it is you did or didn't do the

movements you made or didn't make so

that's why they have a strong incentive

to to know all about you at that basic

level but they don't really look at you

unless they have reason to they have

interest in you if you are working for

some sort of sensitive company with high

technology or if you

you've come to China and you start to do

religious proselytizing or on the

Chinese side if you're a Chinese citizen

they're interested in you if you're a

Tibetan or if you're a weaker or if

you're a dissident or if you're a lawyer

for dissidents then of course they

intensify the surveillance if you're a

foreigner who goes to China and you

misbehave even if it looks to you like

certain things are legal if you

misbehave you don't cross all your T's

and dot all your eyes then you might be

subject to a more intense examination as

well so does that include people who go

to China for business reasons as a

former corporate security adviser do you

think that companies in the US are

cognizant of the risks of going into

China now is that pretty well known they

are but whether or not they do proper

training is another question and whether

or not their employees accept these

realities is another question because

when you go to China you the first thing

you notice if you're from a Western

country that has a Western level of

street crime is there tends to be less

street crime and you also run into

people who are very polite to you who

treats you with deference and it's easy

to fall into the impression that

everything's a lot better here but the

reality is that if there's any interest

in you as a foreigner then you're going

to be subject to very intense

surveillance and you won't see it

because it's done very well so it won't

be and you know kind of like guys in

sunglasses following you that you could

necessarily spot a lot of it might be

you know technology-related yes with all

the cameras in China now it's amazing

how many cameras there are and what they

can do of course we've read about how

artificial intelligence AI is being

employed to be able to identify people

police are now experimenting with

glasses that they can use to identify

people that are linked through Wi-Fi to

mainframe servers with all that

information so it's it's difficult to

evade surveillance in China if you're a

subject of interest of course if you're

not if you're if you're considered to be

an ordinary person going about their

business and you're no threat to the

state then you're virtually ignored how

do you think you and I would do I think

they'd go after you that makes me feel

better because of your exposure in in

public and and I that when I used to do

my work there that I was watched and and

I used to do stuff that was only

recently legal for example it used to be

totally illegal to do T SCM work which

stands for technical surveillance

countermeasures that's finding bugs in

tables and walls stuff like that that

used to be totally illegal however the

company in the United States which I

won't name that sells this stuff that

has world-class equipment I've been

trained at there Tennessee facility and

they have lots of customers in China and

why is that

that's because surveillance electronic

surveillance in China has has become so

ubiquitous it's not only the government

anymore it's also private individuals it

used to be for example up until about

2005 that if you wanted to buy

electronic eavesdropping equipment you

had to go to Hong Kong you'd go to

Nathan Road in Kowloon where all the

camera shops are and you'd be able to

find bugs that would work with an FM

radio and more sophisticated ones that

had their own receivers and so on but

starting about then this stuff was sold

on the mainland by mail and

so now companies are spying on each

other there are plenty of private

investigations companies that are using

this stuff like mad and so the Chinese

side decided to make legal the

acquisition and use of anti bug

detection equipment at that level at

that at that sort of semi-professional

level but they don't allow you to search

for stuff that is at the professional

level that police police level Oh

listening devices so if you know it's

corporations like Chinese corporations

spying on each other that's something

that you could try to protect against

yes and that's that's something that is

consistent with the Chinese approach

using law to rule China so as you've

probably heard many people say China's

not a country that is is governed by law

it's a country that they use law to

govern and so what they've wanted to do

over the past 10 years is institute laws

that are relevant to many areas but also

relevant to espionage so that they can

have codified approaches to catching

spies that don't allow for any deviation

from party policy so in other words

they've got it all down on law what you

can do and what you can't do and that

eliminates some measure of corruption

because local officials don't have

latitude to do whatever they want they

have to follow the law if they're trying

to catch spies obviously Taiwan is a

huge interest to the Chinese Communist

Party has there been a lot of espionage

related to things like the Taiwan

elections that are coming up espionage

between those two sides Taiwan and the

mainland indeed is a long-running

activity on both sides there has been

there are a lot of cases that have that

we have in the book we scratch the

surface only in the book of course and

indeed when we did our research we had a

chance to go through some archives at

the interior ministry in Taiwan to to

get some of the historical stuff and and

the number of cases there is in the

thousands so there's a long practice of

the two sides spying on each other

because each considers the other to be

its major threat because each offers a

Chinese alternative to the other and the

elections of course are a very strong

interest to Beijing the Taiwan elections

because they are concerned about the

incumbent government eventually moving

toward advocating independence of Taiwan

from the mainland do you have an example

of the type of espionage that they would

use related to Taiwan yes there are

numerous examples one of them for

example involved a colonel in the Taiwan

army who went to China after he retired

and was recruited there probably not

intending to be recruited but he was he

was spotted assessed cultivated and

recruited and then he went back to

Taiwan and and started to try to recruit

others and he was found out by a junior

officer that he had known in service

whom he approached and thought he could

recruit to be part of his spy ring but

that junior officer reported him

the Taiwanese military has been a

special target of the PRC services for

obvious reasons in terms of the us

what do you think the US government has

to watch out for from these Chinese

security agencies the problem that US

officials tend to complain about is that

they're overwhelmed and under-resourced

so that's the biggest problem

it's important to remember that the

Chinese agencies are using professionals

to do their work and there's another

aspect to this too on the industrial

espionage side of relatively amateurish

operations done by state-owned

enterprises themselves they've been

given letters of marque from the Qing if

you will to go out and get technology

secrets by themselves and this is

illustrated quite well in these two FBI

videos that you may be aware of they're

kind of cheesy but they're factual one

is called game of pawns I did watch that

one yes yes game of pawns about the glen

duffy shriver case when this young man

who was studying in China in a very

controlled environment where there's a

baseline of surveillance and then you

can drill down if you're really

interested in somebody well the Shanghai

State Security Bureau became very

interested in him and they recruited him

to try to pass the fornix service exam

and then just try to join CIA and paid

him a lot of money to do that so that's

game upon's

the other video is called company man

and company man is about a state-owned

enterprise trying to get secrets

industrial secrets regarding industrial

glass from a company in New York and you

can see in this particular video that

they went about it in a very slapdash

and and reckless way and they got caught

because of that there seems to be a

certain level of entrepreneurial

espionage when it comes to the corporate

espionage things thanks to dung shopping

was there anything that surprised you as

you were researching this book I was

surprised by the number of cases that we

were able to uncover and talk about and

one of the things I was very surprised

about was the level of sophistication

that has

has been pursued successfully over the

past 20 years but I think it's important

to remember that that the whole Marxist

Leninist thing with them being super

committed to Marxism and communism

as a vision the the part of the Chinese

government where the truest believers

reside there's no moral equivalence in

my mind but you might say the same thing

about our own security services and we

like to make fun of it the television

series on Adult Swim called American Dad

for example features a dad who works for

the CIA he has this misshapen Square job

it's ridiculously huge he wears an

American flag on his lapel he he's

totally macho and full of testosterone

and he doesn't tell his family anything

about his work it's because everybody

spies every society that has a

sophisticated and and large bureaucratic

intelligence service their citizens or

human beings they react to that stimuli

and in kind of a human way thank you so

much for joining us dr Brazil happy to

[Music]

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