Ministry of State Security
Guójiā Ānquán Bù
Official seal of the MSS
Ministry overview
Formed1 July 1983; 41 years ago (1983-07-01)
Preceding agencies
  • Central Special Branch
  • Central Social Affairs Department
  • Central Investigation Department
TypeConstituent Department of the State Council
JurisdictionPeople's Republic of China including Hong Kong and Macau
HeadquartersYidongyuan compound, No. 100 Xiyuan, Haidian District, Beijing, China[1]
39°59′32″N 116°16′42″E / 39.9921°N 116.2783°E / 39.9921; 116.2783
Motto"Serve the people firmly and purely, reassure the party, be willing to contribute, be able to fight hard and win"
Employees110,000 (estimated)
Annual budgetClassified
Minister responsible
Deputy Ministers responsible
  • Tang Dai
  • Shi Haoyong
  • Yuan Yiku
Ministry executive
  • Nie Furu, Head of Political Department
Parent organizationCentral National Security Commission
Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission
Child agencies Edit this at Wikidata
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese国家安全部
Traditional Chinese國家安全部
Literal meaningState Security Ministry

The Ministry of State Security (MSS or Guóānbù; Chinese: 国家安全部; pinyin: Guójiā Ānquán Bù; lit. 'State Security Ministry'; IPA: [kwǒ.tɕjá án.tɕʰɥɛ̌n pû]) is the principal civilian intelligence, security and secret police agency of the People's Republic of China, responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and the political security of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One of the largest and most secretive intelligence organizations in the world, it is headquartered in the Haidian District of Beijing, with powerful semi-autonomous branches at the provincial, city, municipality and township levels throughout China.[2][3][4]

The origins of the MSS begin with the CCP's Central Special Branch, better known as the Teke, which was replaced by the Central Social Affairs Department (SAD) in 1936, which was in turn succeeded by the Central Investigation Department (CID) – the MSS's immediate predecessor – in 1955. In 1983 CID was merged with the counterintelligence elements of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to create the MSS.

The MSS is active in industrial and cyber espionage, where it has replaced the People's Liberation Army (PLA) as the country's most sophisticated and prolific advanced persistent threat actor.[5][6] It makes arrests through its own People's Police units and retains the authority to conduct extrajudicial court hearings.[7][8][9]

The ministry has also been known to be involved in transnational repression, organized crime, surveillance and harassment of dissidents abroad and influence operations targeting overseas Chinese diaspora in collaboration with the United Front Work Department.[10][11][9]

Today the agency is estimated to have at least 110,000 employees, with 10,000 directly attached to MSS headquarters and 100,000 spread across its dozens of provincial branches.


MSS functions as China's intelligence, security and secret police agency.[12] 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).[13] 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."[14]

According to sinologists 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."[4]

The MSS is a civilian agency that controls its own separate police force, the "State Security Police", which is one of the four components of the People's Police. The MSS seal contains the emblem of the Chinese Communist Party and the official uniform being identical to that of the other People's Police, with the only difference being the patch on the right arm with the Chinese characters "国安" ("State Security").[15]

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 MPS for crimes involving state security with identical supervision by the procuratorates and the courts.[16] 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.[17]


Central Special Branch (1928–1936)

In November 1927, the CCP established its first formal intelligence service, with Zhou Enlai founding the Central Special Branch (Chinese: 中央特科; pinyin: Zhōngyāng Tè Kē, often shortened to Teke; sometimes written Special Services Section (SSS)) to conduct "special operations" work.[4][18] With Xiang Zhongfa and Gu Shunzhang's assistance, Zhou designed the organization that many Chinese intelligence officers today see as the origins of their enterprise. Establishing secret bases across the Chinese territory, the Teke was composed of four sections led by Gu Shunzhang and Kang Sheng.[19][18]

Zhou's primary objective was to disrupt the Kuomintang's secret police attempts to penetrate the CCP which required both a defensive counterintelligence effort to identify potentially traitorous members of the party and an offensive intelligence effort to plant spies within the Kuomintang's security and intelligence services. To prevent leaks and limit damage caused by infiltration by Nationalist spies, agents of Teke were forbidden to have any relationship with other agents making the party so compartmentalized that many never knew the name of the organization only calling it "Wu Hao's Dagger", a reference to Zhou Enlai's nom de guerre.[19][18]

Based in Shanghai, Teke grew to become "a small army of messengers, people smugglers, and informers" with a constant presence in clubs, religious organizations, music groups, and brothels serving as Zhou Enlai's (and subsequently the CCP's) eyes and ears both in Shanghai and across the nation. Nonetheless, Teke had to compete with the newly established KMT Bureau of Investigation and Statistics (BIS) under the notorious Dai Li whose nickname as the "Chinese Himmler" lives on for his horrific torture record which included death in excruciating agony and forced heroin overdosing.[19] Under Dai Li, the BIS created vast networks of 100,000 operatives across and outside the borders of China and mastered new means of intercepting communist communications — an art taught to the KMT by American cryptographer Herbert Yardley for use against the Japanese. The overwhelming advantages of the KMT were challenged only by the extensive and thorough infiltration of the security services by Teke agents including Qian Zhuangfei, Li Kenong, and Hu Di.[19][18]

Gu Shunzhang, whom Zhou Enlai had chosen to head operations for Teke, would prove to be one of the most adversely consequential members of the CCP's underground intelligence ring. Having been born in Shanghai on "the wrong side of the tracks" according to French author Roger Faligot, Gu lived crudely out of bars smoking opium, having affairs, and joining the Green Gang but made a name for himself as a magician. Made a bodyguard for Mikhail Borodin, the Comintern agent and advisor to the Kuomintang from Soviet Russia, Gu was sent to Vladivostok to learn the tactics of insurrection and tradecraft of espionage as Borodin feared division between the Chinese nationalists and communists. A trained spy, Gu led Teke operations from the group's 1927 founding until 25 April 1931.[citation needed]

While performing the typical magic show for young children that usually covered for his espionage missions, a nationalist informer who had turned on the CCP recognized Gu from a photograph and alerted the KMT authorities. A number of KMT agents appeared and tackled Gu, not only gleeful to have detained one of their most challenging communist adversaries but successful in turning the spymaster against the communists making Gu the most notorious intelligence traitors in modern Chinese history. As Gu provided the KMT with a flood of Teke agents' names and safe house locations, Zhou's spy inside the BIS, Qian Zhuangfei, immediately notified Zhou and Kang Shang who were able to relocate every Teke agent within two days — avoiding a potential extermination of CCP's core. Some agents, however, were located and arrested. On 21 June 1931, presumably with help from Gu's defection, the KMT captured CCP General Secretary Xiang Zhongfa hiding in a jewelry store with his cabaret dancer mistress. Despite offering to convert to the KMT party, Xiang was shot by his jailers before the received word of Chiang Kai-shek's pardon. Though the CCP's nascent intelligence branch under Kang Shang had narrowly escaped destruction, the damage done by Gu's defection and the number of communist spy arrests attrited the group until, in 1935 the CCP elected to disband it. While many of Teke's agents moved to the Red Army's Political Protection Bureau (PPB) led by Dong Fa, the PPB focused entirely on counterintelligence meaning real intelligence collection would go largely dormant until the formation of the Social Affairs Department.[4][19]

Central Social Affairs Department (1936–1955)

See also: Central Social Affairs Department

In 1936, the CCP established in Yan'an, Shaanxi the Social Affairs Department, often abbreviated as SAD in English, to consolidate the party's foreign intelligence and counterintelligence efforts. It wasn't until 1938 when Kang Sheng took control of the department and restructured the organization that it took its final form in the merging of the preceding Special Branch, the Political Protection Bureau (which Kang Sheng had previously headed), and the Guard Office. The Political Protection Bureau provided rear area security to CCP forces prior to the Long March and close security to Mao during the march while the Guard Office established a local constabulary and counterintelligence service. Under Kang Sheng and his deputy Li Kenong, the SAD provided the CCP foreign intelligence, domestic intelligence, military security, and political security in every province in which communist forces held terrain.[19][18]

The Social Affairs Department was constructed similarly to the Soviet model (as Kang had been trained by Soviet intelligence in Moscow):[19][18]

From 1942 to 1944, as the Social Affairs Department expanded, Kang Sheng became paranoid and fearful of spies within his organization. Kang, known as the "Chinese Beria" abroad, frequently reminded others that political deviation was inextricably linked to being a traitorous spy, remarking "There is a close link between the twin crimes of espionage and deviationism. One is not a deviationist, as we have tended to believe, by chance or error. It is, ineluctably, dialectically, because one is a Japanese agent or a Kuomintang spy—or both. We must begin a ruthless hunt to root out these two plagues from Yan'an because, by fighting against deviationism, we weaken the clandestine plots of our enemies, and vice versa." Convinced that at least 30 percent of his organization were counterrevolutionaries and spies, Kang established a counterintelligence quota which contributed greatly to the practice of bigongxin, forcing a false confession in order to build a case against the accused. Kang's counterintelligence inquisition utilized "techniques of punishment and interrogation inspired by the millennia-long Chinese tradition of torture, updated by twentieth-century Stalinism for the requirements of the era" with torture practices including driving bamboo spikes under fingernails, inserting hair from a horse's tail into the penis, pumping high-pressure water into the vagina, cutting off the breasts of women looking for their tortured husbands, forcing the ingestion of large amounts of vinegar, applying burning incense to armpits, tying to a whipped horse's tail, and live burials. Kang's perceived connection between political deviation and traitorship led many senior leaders to avoid criticizing Kang's purges.[19][18]

Known by 1944 as the "party hangman", Kang was eventually opposed by Zhou Enlai and later Mao Zedong who forced Kang to produce his own self-criticism proclaiming that perhaps only 10 percent of the comrades accused were spies and, in November 1944, relieved him of the position as head of the Social Affairs Department. Various rumors for the cause of his removal endure. One version claims that his paranoid purges made him a target of many senior communist officials, many of whom found themselves in Kang's sights. Another less likely explanation from Mao's physician, Li Zhuisui, claims that Kang suffered acute paranoia and symptoms of schizophrenia and consequently sent to a mental asylum. American intelligence reported believed Kang's downfall was the result of the recent collapse of the pro-Stalinist faction proceeding the deaths of Stalin and Beria since Kang had trained as an intelligence officer in Moscow. Li Kenong, the new head of the Social Affairs Department, developed the organization's intelligence networks and was appointed by Zhou Enlai to simultaneously serve as the nation's deputy minister of foreign affairs.[19][18][21]

Central Investigation Department (1955–1983)

In an effort to disaffiliate the intelligence service from Kang Sheng's paranoia-driven legacy of purges, the organization was renamed to the CCP Central Investigation Department (Chinese: 中央调查部; pinyin: Zhōngyāng Diàochá Bù) with only one SAD branch moved out to its own organization, the Legal and Administrative Work Department.[19]

In the 1950s, nearly every Chinese embassy abroad had an Investigation and Research Office, a cover for a group of intelligence officers belonging to the Central Investigation Department (CID) who kept close watch on diplomats and embassy staff, often sitting in on meetings and reporting back to CID headquarters' Eight Bureau (known later as the "Institute of Contemporary International Relations").[19][21][22]

On 9 February 1962, Li Kenong died after a period of illness from the residual effects of brain damage from a fall he had sustained three years prior. Kong Yuan, Kang Sheng's former secretary and friend of Zhou Enlai, ran the service with Zou Dapeng and Luo Qingchang as his deputies.[19]

Early in 1976, Mao Zedong and his defense chief Marshal Lin Biao plotted to overthrow army Chief of Staff and Deputy Prime Minister Luo Ruiqing who, despite being a lifelong supporter of the CCP and founder of the MPS, had opposed the political training in the military instituted at Mao's directive. Eager to thieve for the second time a senior position in the security services from Luo and to gain a stronghold over the party's security apparatus, Kang Sheng prepared a traitorous dossier on Luo complete with accusations of "illicit intercourse with foreigners". Lin Biao sent for Luo's arrest, and, under appalling conditions of incarceration and interrogation, Luo attempted to commit suicide in March by throwing himself from his cell breaking two legs after which Red Guards forced him to make his own self-criticism. As Mao Zedong launched his Cultural Revolution in 1966, Kang Sheng attempted to limit the destructive influence of the revolution on his intelligence and security apparatus issuing in September the directive "Codes, telegrams, confidential documents, files, and secret archives are the essential secrets of the Party and State; the safeguarding of all of these elements is the responsibility of all cadres, revolutionary masses, students, and revolutionary teachers." Despite this, Kang Sheng soon found that the calamitous red wave that overtook Mao's China would grow beyond his control. It wouldn't be until October 1978, after Mao's death in September 1976, that Hua Guofeng and Wang Dongxing would rebuild the Central Investigative Department which was officially reestablished on 28 July 1978. The organization still lacked experience or established tradecraft which would cause them a number of embarrassments.[19]

Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia

The most impactful embarrassment of the newly reestablished Central Investigative Department (or Diaochabu) was their inability to predict the Vietnamese invasion of the Republic of Kampuchea (today Cambodia) in 1979. Following a visit to Democratic Kampuchea by Wang Dongxing in early November 1978, he and head of the new Central Investigative Department Luo Qinchang praised the ten-year friendship with the Khmer Rouge and helped Kaing Khek and Ta Mok to establish the neighboring communist party's notorious S-21 interrogation and extermination camp where around 20,000 Cambodians would be killed under Pol Pot's genocide.[23][24] Within a month of Wang and Luo's return to China, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Kampuchea in response to a series of border attacks on the Liberation Army of Kampuchea.[citation needed] Perhaps by ideological closeness to Pol Pot and his followers, Chinese intelligence under the Central Investigative Department, and consequently PRC leadership, was caught by surprise by the Vietnamese invasion. Unable to contact the Khmer Rouge who, under the leadership of Ta Mok, had escaped into the jungles to organize a guerrilla resistance with only one Chinese agent carrying a defective satellite radio, a thousand Chinese military advisors fled Cambodia via Thailand and left 4,000 civilian advisors to the invading Vietnamese army. Compounding the intelligence failure, as the invasion broke the Central Investigative Department expressed confidence to Chinese leaders that the invasion would be easily repelled and that the Chinese embassy in the capital, Phnom Penh, would be unharmed.[19]

Hoping to force a Vietnamese withdrawal from its ally Cambodia, the People's Republic of China launched their own southward invasion across the border into Vietnam in February 1979 which was withdrawn four weeks later after heavy resistance by Vietnamese guerrillas bearing Soviet and American weapons.[citation needed] Nonetheless, head of the CCP Deng Xiaoping supported the Khmer Rouge for another ten years in exile limiting his criticism of the two million-victim genocide assessing "the domestic counterintelligence activities created a negative atmosphere, slowing down many activities and causing social problems as well as many other problems... A thorough study of this political aspect should be undertaken and concrete measures taken."[19]

End of the Diaochabu

At the end of the Cultural Revolution, as China struggled to regain its footing after a tumultuous decade, Deng Xiaoping and his fellow reformers Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang endeavored down the road of governmental reform. CCP general secretary Hu Yaobang decried Kang Sheng's destructive and paranoid legacy in a speech in November 1978 enumerating many of the crimes Kang Sheng had been found guilty of, up to and through the Cultural Revolution. Kang's condemnation was bolstered by the investigation prepared by Luo Qingchang's Central Investigative Department which detailed how Kang had organized the Yan'an purges and named any of his opponents "counter-revolutionary".[19]

Deng Xiaoping was himself a victim of Mao's Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four, and Kang Sheng's secret police. Deng's son, Deng Pufang, became paraplegic and needed to use a wheelchair after Red Guards threw him from a high window. After these experiences, Deng was committed to reforming the Chinese intelligence services. Deng first initiated a small but meaningful campaign to degrade Kang Sheng's legacy, which began with Hu Yaobang's speech. Next, Deng subordinated the Central Investigative Department into a minor political organ. Finally, Deng took all the "external intelligence expertise" from the Central Investigative Department and consolidated it and all the CCP's espionage and counterintelligence functions into a new, "revolutionized" Chinese intelligence service, fitting of the new era of the Chinese "opening-up" to the world.[19]

Ministry of State Security (1983–present)

The headquarters of the Ministry of Public Security near Tiananmen Square are also officially listed as MSS headquarters, but those are actually located at No. 100 Xiyuan, Haidian District

Proposed by Premier Zhao Ziyang and Minister of Public Security Liu Fuzhi and approved at the first session of the sixth National People's Congress (NPC), the Ministry of State Security (MSS) was approved on 20 June 1983 to be a merger between the Central Investigation Department and the Bureau of Investigating Counterrevolutionaries (or the First Bureau) of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to "protect the security of the state and strengthen China's espionage work".[4][19][25][26][27] The following day, the NPC appointed Ling Yun to be the first Minister of State Security which would announce its establishment on 1 July 1983.[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.[4] But even after this, Luo still remained influential as an adviser on the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs.[4] Although the MSS maintains loyalty to party and ideology as a central mission,[28] its founding represents the first time that a Chinese intelligence organ was placed under the State Council instead of the party.[4]

The 1st Bureau of the new MSS managed internal affairs and security in each of the provinces with the help of local and regional offices. The MSS also maintained a number of concentration camps (Chinese: 劳改; pinyin: Láogǎi) where apprehended enemy spies like the Taiwanese "Society of the Continent" network in Tianjin. The 2nd Bureau of the MSS was responsible for foreign intelligence collection beginning in the nearby capitals of Tokyo, Bangkok, and Singapore. Intelligence officers of the 2nd Bureau operated under diplomatic cover posing as advisors or secretaries to diplomats in-country. The MSS' 3rd Bureau was responsible for nearby areas the People's Republic of China wished to draw back into the CCP's control: Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. The 4th Bureau focused on the technical aspects of espionage, the 5th Bureau for local intelligence, the 6th Bureau for counterintelligence, the 7th Bureau that conducted surveillance or special operations, and the 8th Bureau engaged in research through open sources (OSINT). The 8th Bureau took control over the former branch of the Central Investigative Department called the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) whose members denied any connections to the Chinese intelligence apparatus. The 9th Bureau managed the threat of enemy infiltration and MSS officer defections, the 10th Bureau worked with the State Scientific & Technological Commission and the intelligence section of the Commission for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND). The 11th Bureau managed computers, networks, and information technology equipment, and finally the 12th Bureau was responsible for liaising with foreign intelligence services under the name of the Office of Foreign Affairs. Officers of the 12th Bureau worked with the CIA's David Gries, BND's Dr. Herms Bahl, MI6's Nigel Inkster, and the DGSE's Thierry Imbot while keeping them under surveillance. The so-called Office of Foreign Affairs also took up duties to surveil visiting tourists, diplomats, and journalists who began to enter the country after China's opening to the world. The MSS' first head announced "The intelligence agencies and secret services of some foreign countries have increased their spying activities against China's state secrets and are now sending agents to subvert and destroy our country."[19]

One of the longest-serving Ministers of State Security was Jia Chunwang, a native of Beijing and a 1964 graduate of Tsinghua University, reportedly an admirer of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[citation needed] He served as Minister of State Security from 1985 until March 1998, when the MSS underwent an overhaul and Xu Yongyue, a former secretary of party elder Chen Yun was appointed the new head of the organization.[29] Jia was largely responsible for the development of the MSS out of each of the provincial departments of state security, wherein many police officers found themselves intelligence officers the next day.[4] Within the first year, Jia consolidated the security departments of Beijing, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Liaoning, and Shanghai.[4] Between 1985 and 1988 Jia had managed to incorporate those departments of Chongqing, Gansu, Hainan, Henan, Shaanxi, Tianjin, and Zhejiang.[4] From 1990 to 1995, Jia incorporated security departments from Anhui, Hunan, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces.[4] Jia was then appointed to the Minister of Public Security post, after 13 years as head of the MSS. After becoming the secretary of Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission in 2007, the MSS was under the command and influence of Zhou Yongkang until his ouster and conviction for corruption in 2014.[30] 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, as well as replacing the prior minister Geng Huichang.[31]

Under Xi Jinping

Since CCP general secretary 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 such as Double Dragon.[32][33] In October 2018, the Deputy Minister of State Security, Yanjun Xu, was charged with economic espionage by the United States prosecutors.[34]

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.[35][36]

In July 2023, the MSS opened a WeChat account, where it wrote its first post that it wishes to popularize counterintelligence among the population and make such activity "normal" with systems of rewards.[37] In another post in September, the MSS criticized the policies of the United States towards China, saying that the US was "decoupling and disconnecting at the economic level, ganging up at the political level, deterrence and containment at the security level, discrediting and disparaging at the public opinion level, and constraining and locking down at the rules level".[38]

In January 2024, the MSS published a list of "10 conditions", euphemistically referred to as "cups of tea"[39] to its official WeChat channel; which would subject individuals to scrutiny and questioning by state security authorities, including but not limited to: endangering national security, illegally acquiring or holding state secrets, committing or assisting espionage, refusing to cooperate in an espionage investigation, leaking state secrets related to counter-espionage and intelligence works and "failing to take security precautions against spying".[40]

Contemporary activities

Further information: Chinese intelligence activity abroad, Chinese espionage in the United States, and Foreign electoral intervention

The MSS recruits new intelligence officers primarily from major universities, police and military academies.[41]

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 house churches, the underground church and the 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."[42]

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.[43]

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.[44]

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.[45]

The fundamental purpose of our counter-espionage struggle is to defend the security interests of our country. We must take resolute measures and never allow any country or political force to infiltrate, subvert or sabotage us. But we will also never carry out infiltration, subversion, and sabotage against other countries because we are a socialist country led by the Communist Party of China, which is determined by the nature of our country..

..The combination of public and secret, and the combination of specialised groups, is a fine tradition of our Party and an effective magic weapon in our concealed front to counter traitors and prevent spies. We must carry forward this fine tradition and make new developments in the new situation.

— Qiu Jin (邱 进), Deputy Minister for National Security: Study and implement the anti-spy law with the overall national security concept as a guide[46], People's Daily (February 12, 2015)

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.[47]

Companies such as Huawei, China Mobile, and China Unicom have been implicated in MSS intelligence collection activities.[48][49]

In 2017, MSS officials entered the United States on the pretense 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 his wife 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.[50]

In 2019, according to a report released by the European External Action Service, there were an estimated 250 MSS spies operating in Brussels.[51]

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 Ministry of External Affairs to two officers of Yunnan State Security Department (YSSD) of the MSS.[52]

In December 2020, 10 MSS Operatives of Xinjiang State Security Department (XSSD) were arrested in Kabul, Afghanistan by the National Directorate of Security. During Questioning, one of operative told the interrogators that they were gathering information about al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Turkistan Islamic Party in Kunar and Badakhshan Provinces, and wanted to trap and assassinate high-level members of Turkistan Islamic Party. At least two of the operatives were also in contact with the 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.[53][54]

In February 2021, The Daily Telegraph reported that Britain had expelled three MSS agents posing as journalists.[55]

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 11 times higher than the official count of four.[56]

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 organizations 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.[57][58]

In September 2022, it was reported during Congressional testimony that the FBI had informed Twitter of at least one MSS agent on its payroll.[59]

In December 2023, a joint investigation by Financial Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde reported that Belgium former senator Frank Creyelman accepted bribes from MSS for three years to influence discussions within the European Union.[60]

In March 2024, the MSS warned that overseas intelligences services had used foreign consulting firms as a cover to steal classified information and pose "major risks to national security."[61]


Further information: Cyberwarfare by China

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.[62]

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.[63]

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.[64][65] In September 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a security advisory regarding hacking by groups affiliated with the MSS.[66]

In March 2024, the United States Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and UK government sanctioned an MSS front company called Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology and affiliated individuals for placing malware in critical infrastructure and breaching the UK Electoral Commission.[67][68]

Surveillance of ethnic minorities

Domestically, the MSS undertakes surveillance of ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang.[69]: 121 

Surveillance and harassment of dissidents abroad

Further information: Transnational repression by China

According to Nicholas Eftimiades, "[o]ne of the MSS's responsibilities has been penetrating Chinese dissident groups abroad — what they call the 'five poisons': democracy advocates, Taiwan, Tibetans, Uyghurs and Falun Gong."[70] In the United States, MSS officers were reported to have worked with students affiliated with local university chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association to surveil other students.[71]

The core of political security is regime and institutional security, the most fundamental of which is to safeguard the leadership and governing position of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics...national security organs have always placed the maintenance of political security at the top of their agenda, and have made political security their main focus.

— Ministry of State Security statement, 15 August 2023[28]

During the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay, MSS agents coordinated counter-protesters to disrupt pro-Tibetan independence demonstrations in San Francisco.[72][73]

In September 2020, Baimadajie Angwang, a New York City Police Officer of Tibetan descent, was arrested for allegedly gathering information on the Tibetan American community for the MSS. He was also accused of trying to recruit informants inside the local Tibetan community.[74][75] In January 2023, federal prosecutors dismissed all charges against the officer.[76]

In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted individuals, including an MSS officer, for surveilling and conspiring to harass Chinese American pro-democracy dissidents, including political candidate Xiong Yan, Olympic figure skater Alysa Liu and her father Arthur Liu.[77][78][79] In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a US citizen for spying under the direction of the MSS on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, Taiwan independence supporters, and Uyghur and Tibetan activists.[80]

In December 2023, a joint investigation by Financial Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde reported an agent of the Zhejiang branch of the MSS had been tasked with discrediting German anthropologist Adrian Zenz.[60]

United front activities

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

The MSS also leverages so-called "united front" work for intelligence activity.[7][81][82] In 1939, Zhou Enlai espoused "nestling intelligence within the united front" while also "using the united front to push forth intelligence."[7] According to Australian analyst Alex Joske, "the united front system provides networks, cover and institutions that intelligence agencies use for their own purposes." Joske added that "united front networks are a golden opportunity for Party's spies because they represent groups of Party-aligned individuals who are relatively receptive to clandestine recruitment."[7]

Roger Faligot stated that the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre led to the "growing use of party organizations, such as the United Front Work Department and friendship associations, as fronts for intelligence operations."[19]: 182 


Main article: Minister of State Security (China)

Below are the heads of the MSS and its predecessors, the Social Affairs Department and Central Investigation Department. Since 1983, agency heads carry the title of Minister of State Security (MSS), reporting directly to the State Council.[citation needed]

Social Affairs Department (1939–1955)

No. Portrait Director Took office Left office Time in office Leader
Kang Sheng 康生
Sheng, KangKang Sheng

(born 1898)
1939 (1939)1949 (1949)10 yearsMao Zedong
Li Kenong 李克农
Kenong, LiLi Kenong

(born 1899)
1949 (1949)1955 (1955)6 yearsMao Zedong

Central Investigation Department (1955–1983)

No. Portrait Director Took office Left office Time in office Leader
Li Kenong 李克农
Kenong, LiLi Kenong

(born 1899)
1955 (1955)1962 (1962)7 yearsMao Zedong
Kong Yuan [zh] 孔原
Yuan, KongKong Yuan [zh]

(born 1906)
1962 (1962)1967 (1967)5 yearsMao Zedong
Wang Dongxing 汪东兴
Yuan, KongWang Dongxing

(born 1916)
1967 (1967)1969 (1969)2 yearsMao Zedong
Kang Sheng 康生
Sheng, KangKang Sheng

(born 1898)
1969 (1969)1973 (1973)4 yearsMao Zedong
Luo Qingchang 罗青长
Qingchang, LuoLuo Qingchang

(born 1918)
1973 (1973)1983 (1983)10 yearsMao Zedong
Deng Xiaoping

Ministry of State Security (1983–present)

No. Portrait Minister Took office Left office Time in office Leader
Ling Yun 凌云
Yun, LingLing Yun

(born 1917)
June 1, 1983 (1983-06-01)September 1, 1985 (1985-09-01)2 years, 92 daysDeng Xiaoping
Jia Chunwang 贾春旺
Chunwang, JiaJia Chunwang

(born 1938)
September 1, 1985 (1985-09-01)March 1, 1998 (1998-03-01)12 years, 181 daysDeng Xiaoping
Jiang Zemin
Xu Yongyue 许永跃
Yongyue, XuXu Yongyue

(born 1942)
March 1, 1998 (1998-03-01)August 1, 2007 (2007-08-01)9 years, 153 daysJiang Zemin
Hu Jintao
Geng Huichang 耿惠昌
Huichang, GengGeng Huichang

(born 1951)
August 30, 2007 (2007-08-30)November 7, 2016 (2016-11-07)9 years, 96 daysHu Jintao
Xi Jinping
Chen Wenqing 陈文清
Wenqing, ChenChen Wenqing

(born 1960)
November 7, 2016 (2016-11-07)October 30, 2022 (2022-10-30)5 years, 357 daysXi Jinping
Chen Yixin 陈一新
Yixin, ChenChen Yixin

(born 1959)
October 30, 2022 (2022-10-30)Incumbent1 year, 246 daysXi Jinping

Notes: Wang Dongxing directed the Central Investigation Department while it was under Special Unit 8341 under the pressures of the Cultural Revolution. Succeeding him, Kang Sheng directed the department while it was under the Second Department of the People's Liberation Army.[citation needed]


According to the Federation of American Scientists, MSS headquarters is in the Xiyuan (Chinese: 西苑; pinyin: Xīyuàn; lit. 'Western Park') area of Beijing's Haidian District.[83] According to David Wise, Xiyuan also contains other MSS facilities.[84] Bureaus may use cover identities under "one institution with two names".

Bureau Chinese name English name Responsibilities
First Confidential Communication Bureau Management and administration of confidential communications[citation needed]
Second International Intelligence Bureau[citation needed] Lead bureau for 'open line' foreign operations under official cover, collecting strategic international intelligence, particularly political intelligence.[7]
Third Political and Economic Intelligence Bureau[citation needed] Gathering political, economic, and scientific intelligence from various countries[citation needed]
Fourth 台港澳局[4] Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau Bureau[4] Intelligence work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau[4] The Institute of Taiwan Studies is its public facing front for Taiwan operations.[7]
Fifth 情报分析通报局[4] Report Analysis and Dissemination Bureau[4] Analysis and reporting on intelligence and collecting guidance on how to handle intelligence matters, responsible for coordinating operations with provincial bureaus[7]
Sixth Operational Guidance Bureau[citation needed] Directing and supervising the activities of provincial level MSS offices[citation needed]
Seventh 反间谍情报局[4] Counterespionage Bureau[4] Gathering information and developing intelligence on hostile intelligence services inside and outside China[4]
Eighth 反间谍侦察局[4][85] Counterespionage Investigation Bureau[4] Monitoring, investigating, and apprehending foreigners (often diplomats, businessmen, and journalists)[86] suspected of espionage in China[4]
Ninth 对内保防侦察局[4] Internal Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Bureau[4] Protecting the MSS from infiltration by foreign entities by monitoring domestic reactionary organizations and foreign institutions[4]
Tenth 对外保防侦察局[4] External Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Bureau[4] Monitoring students organizations and institutions abroad in order to investigate international anti-communist and reactionary activities, protecting overseas staff[4]
Eleventh 中国现代国际关系研究所[4] China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations[4][7] Performs open-source research, translation, and analysis often meeting foreign delegations or traveling abroad as visiting fellows[4]
Twelfth 社会调查局[4] Social Investigation Bureau[7] Conducting polling, surveying the population, and managing the China International Culture Exchange Center.[7] Once the dominant bureau for US operations[7]
Thirteenth 中国信息安全测评中心[4] China Information Technology Security Evaluation Center[4] Better known as the China Information Technology Security Evaluation Center (CNITSEC), the bureau oversees science and technology projects and China's national computer vulnerability database, the Chinese National Vulnerability Database[4][87]
Fourteenth 技术侦查局[4] Technical Reconnaissance Bureau[4] Inspecting mail and telecommunications[4]
Fifteenth Unknown Taiwan operations include the public-facing Institute of Taiwan Studies at the China Academy of Social Sciences[4][88]
Sixteenth Imaging Intelligence Division[citation needed] Collection and analysis of geospatial intelligence from overhead reconnaissance, utilizing both airborne and space-based collection platforms.[citation needed]
Seventeenth Enterprises Division[citation needed] Operation and management of MSS owned front companies, enterprises, and other institutions[citation needed]
Eighteenth United States Operations Bureau[4] Conducting and managing clandestine intelligence operations in and against the United States[4]
The provincial offices of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Public Security located in Hubei Province (Wuhan)

Many MSS personnel are trained at the University of International Relations in Haidian, due north of MSS housing and offices in Xiyuan, as well as Jiangnan Social University.[89][90]

China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

Main article: China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

The Ministry of State Security operates the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR, pronounced KICK-er), an academic think tank on international affairs.[4][85]

CICIR was the eighth bureau of the former Central Investigation Department (CID) of the Central Committee, but became the eleventh bureau of the MSS when the CID was merged with the counter-intelligence department of the Ministry of Public Security to form the new Ministry of State Security in 1983.[85]

Although the Chinese government has not publicly acknowledged CICIR's connection to the MSS, numerous press reports, scholars, and think tanks within and without China have detailed the relationship between the two organizations.[85][4][7] The institute is managed by the MSS, and overseen by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.[91][92][85] 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.[85]

See also


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Further reading