Ministry of State Security of the People's Republic of China
Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù
Logo of the Ministry of State Security

Flag of the People's Police of China
Agency overview
Formed1 July 1983; 38 years ago (1983-07-01)
Preceding agencies
TypeConstituent Department of the State Council (cabinet-level executive department)
Jurisdiction People's Republic of China
39°59′32″N 116°16′42″E / 39.9921°N 116.2783°E / 39.9921; 116.2783Coordinates: 39°59′32″N 116°16′42″E / 39.9921°N 116.2783°E / 39.9921; 116.2783
Annual budgetCN¥56 billion (FY2018)[1]
Agency executive
Parent agencyState Council
Ministry of State Security
Simplified Chinese中华人民共和国国家安全部
Traditional Chinese中華人民共和國國家安全部
Literal meaningChinese People Republic State Security Ministry

The Ministry of State Security (abbreviation: MSS; Chinese: 国安部; pinyin: Guó'ānbù)[note 1] is the civilian intelligence, security and secret police agency of the People's Republic of China, responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. Its military counterpart is the Intelligence Bureau of the Joint Staff. Described as one of the most secretive intelligence organizations in the world, it is headquartered in Beijing[2][3] with subordinate branches at the provincial, city, municipality and township levels throughout China.

The MSS was preceded by the Central Investigation Department (CID), which was China's primary civilian intelligence organization from 1955 to 1983. The MSS was created in 1983 with the merging of the CID and the counter-intelligence elements of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS).[4][5][6]

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. The logo of the MSS is unique among Chinese government agencies in that it displays the emblem of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) instead of the more widely used state emblem.


The mission of the MSS is to ensure "the security of the country through effective measures against enemy agents, spies, and counter-revolutionary activities designed to sabotage, destabilize or overthrow China's socialist system."[7][8]

Article 4 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China gives the MSS the same authority to arrest or detain people as regular police for crimes involving state security with identical supervision by the procuratorates and the courts.[9] The National Intelligence Law of 2017 grants the MSS broad powers to conduct many types of espionage both domestically and abroad, it also gives the MSS the power to administratively detain those who impede or divulge information on intelligence work for up to 15 days.[10]

MSS functions as China's intelligence, security and secret police agency.[11] A document from the U.S. Department of Justice described the agency as being like a combination of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[12] Author Clive Hamilton described it as being similar to an amalgamation of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) "with a lot more power and less subject to the constraints of the rule of law."[13]

After the introduction of market elements in the Chinese economy in the early 1980s (leading to a hybrid economic system that includes Soviet-style economic planning and large-scale state ownership existing alongside a significant private sector) and especially after the end of the Cold War, many foreign analysts described the Communist "Party–State" and its security agencies as being left without a real ideology, relying only on repression and the stoking of Chinese nationalism; more recent works, however, highlight the increasing importance of Marxism–Leninism in the worldview, internal culture and self-image of the CCP security apparatus; Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong remain the central influences, although classical Chinese thinkers such as Sun Tzu are also studied. According to researchers Peter Mattis and Matthew Brazil, who have studied the MSS for many years:

"The language Chinese intelligence uses reflects its Marxist–Leninist and revolutionary heritage. The lexicon suggests (as has been borne out in interviews with former officials who had routine contacts with their Chinese counterparts) that the intelligence services are bastions of faith in the CCP. Although they may be practical in terms of techniques and methods to acquire intelligence, this information is filtered through a Marxist–Leninist lens. The implication is that foreign targets are viewed in the worst possible light."[2]

The MSS is a civilian agency, although it controls its own separate police force (the "State Security Police", one of the four components of the People's Police) and includes some People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers among its personnel. The MSS official uniform is dark navy blue, similar to that of the regular People's Police, with the only difference being a badge on the right arm with the Chinese characters "国安" ("State Security").[14]


Li Kenong, in overall command of Chinese intelligence from the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 to his death in 1962.
Li Kenong, in overall command of Chinese intelligence from the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 to his death in 1962.
Xiong Xianghui, famous Communist spy of the Chinese Civil War, headed Chinese foreign intelligence from 1973 to 1982.
Xiong Xianghui, famous Communist spy of the Chinese Civil War, headed Chinese foreign intelligence from 1973 to 1982.


The headquarters of the Ministry of Public Security near Tiananmen Square are reported to also function as MSS headquarters, but the degree to which operations are run out of the official address of No.14 Dong Chang'an Jie vis-à-vis the secretive Xiyuan compound is disputed.[citation needed]
The headquarters of the Ministry of Public Security near Tiananmen Square are reported to also function as MSS headquarters, but the degree to which operations are run out of the official address of No.14 Dong Chang'an Jie vis-à-vis the secretive Xiyuan compound is disputed.[citation needed]

The precursor of the modern MSS was the Central Department of Social Affairs (CDSA), the primary intelligence organ of the CCP before its accession to power in 1949, directed by Kang Sheng.[2] The CDSA operated from the communist base area of Yan'an in Shaanxi Province in northern China during the 1937–45 Second Sino-Japanese War. The CDSA provided the CCP with assessments of the world situation based on news reports and furnished the Communists with intelligence that proved crucial in the Chinese Civil War against the Nationalist forces.[15]

The CDSA was thoroughly reorganized in summer 1949.[16] It was renamed, becoming the Liaison Department (not to be confused with the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party), and was attached to the General Intelligence Department of the Central Military Commission (chaired by Mao Zedong himself).[17] The new department was given a new chief; Kang Sheng was removed, being replaced by General Li Kenong, a protégé of Zhou Enlai.[17]

Meanwhile, after the establishment of the People's Republic of China a few months later, in October 1949, domestic intelligence, counter-intelligence and regime protection came under the control of the new MPS, headed by General Luo Ruiqing.

The Liaison Department, now responsible for foreign intelligence, was significantly expanded and upgraded in 1955, becoming the Central Investigation Department (CID) under the CCP Central Committee, again with Li Kenong as its director.[18] On orders from Li, all Chinese embassies in the 1950s established "Investigation Offices" to gather intelligence, while Soviet KGB advisers helped train new agents. Li Kenong's high standing with both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai can be seen from the fact that, while serving as Director of the Central Investigation Department, he was simultaneously given the posts of Deputy Chief of PLA General Staff and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, in order to help him control and coordinate foreign intelligence more effectively.[17] Li was also a good friend of Wang Dongxing, chief of Mao's personal security force.

After Li Kenong died in 1962, the Central Investigation Department gradually came under the control of Kang Sheng and his people, who managed to make an impressive comeback after many years; especially after the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Kang became one of Mao's closest associates.[17] Following Mao's death in 1976, the new leadership under Hua Guofeng initially tried to return to the pre-Cultural Revolution years and strengthen the CID. However, Deng Xiaoping, who gradually rose to supreme power, distrusted the CID. On Deng's orders, the Investigation Offices in Chinese embassies were dissolved and the CID downgraded.[17]

A major operation for the Liaison Department and later the Central Investigation Department during the early Cold War years was the collaboration with the Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis, whose ships went on to secretly carry cargo to Chinese ports in violation of the trade embargo that was imposed on China in 1950 by many Western countries, including the United States.[19]

Throughout these years, the Central Investigation Department had to face competition from the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party, which was active in fomenting international revolution by funneling weapons, money and resources to various guerrilla movements (not all of them communist) across the world.[20][21] Likewise, the Intelligence Bureau of the PLA General Staff was also very active in funding, arming and training various insurgent groups, especially in Africa.[22]


The MSS was established in July 1983 as a result of the merger of the Central Investigation Department and the counter-intelligence elements of the MPS.[4] There were serious political reasons behind the merger, as Luo Qingchang, who had been Director of the CID since 1973 and was a powerful player in Chinese Communist intelligence since the 1940s, was a fierce opponent of Deng Xiaoping. Although Deng had risen to supreme power in the late 1970s, he initially couldn't remove Luo from his post, until he finally succeeded in 1983.[2] But even after this, Luo still remained influential as an adviser on the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs.[2]

One of the longest-serving Ministers of State Security was Jia Chunwang, a native of Beijing and a 1964 graduate of Tsinghua University, who is reportedly an admirer of the CIA. He served as Minister of State Security from 1985 until March 1998, when the MSS underwent an overhaul and Xu Yongyue was appointed the new head of the organization. Jia was then appointed to the Minister of Public Security post, after 13 years as head of the MSS. The MSS was under the influence of Zhou Yongkang until his ouster and conviction for corruption in 2014.[23] One of the people responsible for "taking down" Zhou Yongkang was Chen Wenqing of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, who was nominated Minister of State Security by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2016, partly as a reward for purging Zhou and his network.[24][25]

Since Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012, the MSS gained more responsibility over cyberespionage vis-à-vis the PLA, and has sponsored various advanced persistent threat groups.[26] In October 2018, the Deputy Minister of State Security, Yanjun Xu, was charged with economic espionage by the United States prosecutors.[27]

On May 28, 2021, a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California returned an indictment against four People's Republic of China (PRC) citizens for their alleged roles in a long running campaign of computer network operations targeting trade secrets, intellectual property, and other high value information from companies, universities, research institutes, and governmental entities in the United States and abroad, as well as multiple foreign governments. The indictment alleges that Zhu Yunmin, Wu Shurong, Ding Xiaoyang, and Cheng Qingmin targeted the following sectors: aerospace/aviation, biomedical, defense industrial base, healthcare, manufacturing, maritime, research institutes, transportation (rail and shipping), and virus research from 2012 to 2018, on behalf of the PRC Ministry of State Security. Additionally, the indictment alleges the use of front companies by the PRC Ministry of State Security to conduct cyber espionage.[28][29]

MSS facilities in Xiyuan, Haidian District, Beijing
MSS facilities in Xiyuan, Haidian District, Beijing


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 nonofficial Christian churches and the outlawed 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".[30]

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.[31]

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.[32]

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.[33]

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.[34]

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.[35]

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.[36] Companies such as Huawei, China Mobile, and China Unicom have been implicated in MSS intelligence collection activities.[37][38][39]

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.[40]

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.[41]

In 2019, according to a report released by the European External Action Service, there were an estimated 250 MSS spies operating in the capital the of European Union.[42]

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.[43][44] In September 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a security advisory regarding hacking by groups affiliated with the MSS.[45]

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.[46]

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.[47][48]

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 2 of the operatives were also in contact with 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.[49][50]

In February 2021, The Daily Telegraph reported that Britain had expelled three MSS agents posing as journalists.[51]

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.[52][53]

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.[54][55]

United Front activities

Further information: United Front (China) and United Front Work Department

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.[56] 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[s]".[57]

Agency heads

Since 1983, agency heads carry the title of Minister of State Security (MSS), reporting directly to the State Council.[58]

No. Name Took office Left office
1 Kang Sheng 1939 1949
2 Li Kenong 1949 1949
No. Name Took office Left office
1 Li Kenong 1949 1955
No. Name Took office Left office
1 Li Kenong 1955 1962
2 Kong Yuan 1962 1967
3 PLA military takeover due to the Cultural Revolution (Special Unit 8341 under Wang Dongxing) 1967 1969
4 Officially placed under the 2nd Bureau (Intelligence) of the PLA General Staff, in fact controlled by Kang Sheng 1969 1973
5 Luo Qingchang 1973 1983
No. Name Took office Left office
1 Ling Yun June 1983 September 1985
2 Jia Chunwang September 1985 March 1998
3 Xu Yongyue March 1998 August 2007
4 Geng Huichang August 2007 November 2016
5 Chen Wenqing November 2016 Incumbent


The government lists that headquarters as shared with the Ministry of Public Security adjacent to Tiannamen Square at 14 Dongchangan Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing.[59] MSS facilities are reported to also operate in the northwest of Beijing in an area called Xiyuan (Chinese: 西苑; pinyin: Xīyuàn; lit. 'Western Park') next to the Summer Palace in Haidian District.[60] The Federation of American Scientists website states that Xiyuan houses the headquarters of the MSS.[61]

The MSS is divided into Bureaus, each assigned to a division with a broad directive and each bureau is given a specific task. In November 2016, a MSS associated Weibo account posted an outline of the first 11 Bureaus, however additional Bureaus up to No. 17 have been identified:[62][63]

Bureau No. Encompassing Division Directive
1 Confidential Communication Division Responsible for the management and administration of confidential communications
2 International Intelligence Division Responsible for strategic international intelligence collection
3 Political and Economic Intelligence Division Responsible for gathering political, economic, and scientific intelligence from various countries
4 Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau Division Responsible for intelligence work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau
5 Intelligence Analysis Division Responsible for analysing and reporting on intelligence and collecting guidance on how to handle intelligence matters
6 Operational Guidance Division Responsible for directing and supervising the activities of provincial level MSS offices
7 Counterintelligence Division Responsible for gathering counterintelligence information
8 Counterintelligence Division Responsible for monitoring, investigating, and potentially detaining foreigners suspected of counterintelligence activities. This Bureau is reported to primarily cover and investigate diplomats, businessmen, and reporters.[64]
9 Internal Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Division Responsible for protecting the MSS from infiltration by foreign entities by monitoring domestic reactionary organizations and foreign institutions
10 External Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Division Responsible for monitoring students and institutions abroad in order to investigate international anti-communist activities
11 Information and Auditing Division Responsible for the collection and management of intelligence materials
12 Social Research Division Responsible for conducting public opinion polling and surveying the population
13 Science and Technology Investigative Division Responsible for managing science and technology projects and conducting research and development
14 Science and Technology Investigative Division Responsible for inspecting mail and telecommunications
15 Comprehensive Intelligence Analysis Division Responsible for the analysis and interpretation of intelligence materials
16 Imaging Intelligence Division Responsible for collecting and interpreting images of political, economic, and military targets in various countries through both traditional practices and through incorporation of satellite imagery technologies
17 Enterprises Division Responsible for the operation and management of MSS owned front companies, enterprises, and other institutions

Additionally, In 2009, the MSS was reported by a former official to have a Counterterrorism Bureau.[65]

The provincial offices of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Public Security located in Hubei Province (Wuhan)
The provincial offices of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Public Security located in Hubei Province (Wuhan)

Other managerial offices have been said to include:[66]

In December 2016, the MSS structure was split into a National Counterintelligence Agency and a National Intelligence Agency, it is unclear from public information what change this reorganization had on MSS Bureaus and Divisions.[67]

The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) is a large civilian think tank for international issues. Located in Beijing, the institute is affiliated with the MSS, and overseen by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.[68][69] CICIR has been identified by Stratfor as belonging to the No. 8 Bureau of the MSS, and as providing intelligence reports to the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.[70] The organization itself does not speak much about its relationship with the Chinese government, however, and Chinese media reports rarely acknowledge the institution's ties with the regime.[71]

Many MSS personnel are trained at the University of International Relations in Haidian, due north of MSS housing and offices in Xiyuan.[72][73]


See also: National Intelligence Law of the People's Republic of China and National Security Law of the People's Republic of China

National Security Law

As the first steps in a series of laws designed to strengthen national security under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping's administration, in 2015 the National People's Congress passed a national security law which extended its control over the internet, space and deep ocean. The law declared both cyberspace and outer space to be part of China's national security interests, along with the ocean depths and polar regions, where Beijing had been extending its exploratory activities. The text also required internet and information systems to be “secure and controllable”, a potential source of concern for foreign technology companies operating in China.[74]

National Intelligence Law

In 2017, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPSC) passed a national intelligence law which greatly expanded the powers of China's intelligence agencies and legally obligates Chinese citizens both domestically and abroad to: "support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts". Critics have argued this forces businesses and individuals to hand over information to Chinese intelligence agencies and effectively co-opts diaspora abroad to engage in economic and political espionage on behalf of the ruling Communist Party.[75]

Popular culture and literature

An agent of the MSS, Zheng Lu Peng, is the main antagonist of the espionage hero Cono 7Q in the spy novel Performance Anomalies,[76][77] by Victor Robert Lee.[78] Zheng, who has engineered Beijing's takeover of Kazakhstan, comes from a family that was tormented during the Cultural Revolution, leading to his own traumatized personality.[79]

In the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Wai Lin, portrayed by Michelle Yeoh, is an MSS agent working together with Bond to stop a crisis that could lead the British and Chinese into war.[80]

In the British science fiction film The Machine (2013), an MSS agent is a major antagonist. In season three of The Last Ship (2014), MSS agents are the major antagonists of the crew of the USS Nathan James.[81]

In the television series Mr. Robot (2015), a fictional Minister of State Security is portrayed by BD Wong.[82]

The Chinese spy novel Ice is Sleepy Water (Chinese: 冰是睡着的水) by Liu Meng tells the day-to-day life story of a group of MSS agents.

See also


  1. ^ Mandarin pronunciation: [kwǒ.án.pû]; abbreviated from 国家安全部 Guójiā Ānquán Bù [kwǒ.tɕjá án.tɕʰɥɛ̌n pû], 'State Security Ministry'.


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Further reading