Ministry of State Security (China)

The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is the intelligence, security and secret police agency[2] of the People's Republic of China (non-military area of interests), responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. It is headquartered in Beijing.

Ministry of State Security
of the People's Republic of China
Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù
Logo of the Ministry of State Security
(contains the Emblem of the Communist Party of China)
Agency overview
FormedJuly 1983
Preceding agencies
TypeGovernment ministry (Cabinet-level)
Jurisdiction People's Republic of China
39°59′32″N 116°16′42″E
Annual budgetCN¥56 billion
($8 billion)(FY 2018)[1]
Agency executive
Parent agencyState Council
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

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 Ministry of Public Security.

A document from the U.S. Department of Justice described the agency as being like a combination of CIA and FBI.[3]

The logo of the MSS is unique among Chinese government agencies as it displays the party emblem instead of the state emblem.

Missions and powers

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."[4]

Article 4 of the Criminal Procedure Law 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.[5] 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.[6]



The precursor of the modern MSS was the Central Department of Social Affairs (CDSA), the primary intelligence organ of the Communist Party of China (CPC) before its accession to power in 1949, directed by Kang Sheng.[7] 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 CPC 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.[8]

The CDSA was thoroughly reorganized in the summer of 1949.[9] It was renamed, becoming the Liaison Department (not to be confused with the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China) and was attached to the General Intelligence Department of the Central Military Commission (chaired by Mao Zedong himself).[10] The new department was given a new chief; Kang Sheng was removed, being replaced by General Li Kenong, a protégé of Zhou Enlai.[10]

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 Ministry of Public Security, 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 Communist Party Central Committee, again with Li Kenong as its Director.[11] 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.[10] 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.[10] 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.[10]

Throughout these years, the Central Investigation Department had to face competition from the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, which was active in formenting international revolution by funneling weapons, money and resources to various guerrilla movements (not all of them communist) across the world.[12][13]


The MSS was established in 1983 as the result of the merger of the CID and the counter-intelligence elements of the Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China. One of its longest-serving chiefs was Jia Chunwang, a native of Beijing and a 1964 graduate of Tsinghua University, who is reportedly an admirer of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (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 a decade of distinguished service as head of the MSS.

In October 2018, the deputy director of the Ministry of State Security, Yanjun Xu, was charged with economic espionage by the United States prosecutors.[14]


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".[15]

Chinese intelligence agents, probably under the control of the MSS, have achieved success in penetrating the U.S. Intelligence Community in the past. In the 1980s, Larry Wu-Tai Chin (Jin Wudai), a translator for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service of the CIA, was arrested and charged with espionage in the service of the PRC. He had been recruited in 1944 while stationed in China as a U.S. Army officer and went undetected for four decades. More recently, in 2003, Chinese-American Federal Bureau of Investigation source and Republican Party fundraiser Katrina Leung was arrested and accused of being a double agent for both the FBI and the Chinese government, although she was acquitted of charges of copying classified information, and convicted only of tax charges and of lying to the FBI.

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20] Companies such as Huawei, China Mobile, and China Unicom have been implicated in MSS intelligence collection activities.[21][22]

In 2017, Ministry of State Security officials entered the United States on transit visas that did not allow them to conduct official business. During the visit the officials made an attempt to persuade Chinese dissident Guo Wengui to return to China. 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.[23]

Agency heads

Agency heads are known as Minister of State Security (MSS), reporting directly to the State Council.[24]

NameTook officeLeft office
1Ling YunJune 1983September 1985
2Jia ChunwangSeptember 1985March 1998
3Xu YongyueMarch 1998August 2007
4Geng HuichangAugust 2007November 2016
5Chen WenqingNovember 2016Incumbent


The government lists that headquarters as shared with the Ministry of Public Security adjacent to Tianamen Square at 14 Dongchangan Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing.[25] MSS facilities also operate in the northwest of Beijing in an area called Xiyuan next to the Summer Palace in Haidian District. Xiyuan is located south of the MSS affiliated University of International Relations and northeast of the government operated Xijiao Airport. A guarded compound called Yidongyuan is located within the Xiyuan area and offers housing to MSS personnel. The Xiyuan area also contains an elementary school, a hospital, a campus for the Beijing Business Management School, and the Beijing Institute of Electronics Technology and Application. The MSS operates clandestine facilities in the Xiyuan area among the housing and various other institutions.

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:[26][27]

Bureau №Encompassing DivisionDirective
1Confidential Communication DivisionResponsible for the management and administration of confidential communications
2International Intelligence DivisionResponsible for strategic international intelligence collection
3Political and Economic Intelligence DivisionResponsible for gathering political, economic, and scientific intelligence from various countries
4Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau DivisionResponsible for intelligence work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau
5Intelligence Analysis DivisionResponsible for analysing and reporting on intelligence and collecting guidance on how to handle intelligence matters
6Operational Guidance DivisionResponsible for directing and supervising the activities of provincial level MSS offices
7Counterintelligence DivisionResponsible for gathering counterintelligence information
8Counterintelligence DivisionResponsible for monitoring, investigating, and potentially detaining foreigners suspected of counterintelligence activities. This Bureau is reported to primarily cover and investigate diplomats, businessmen, and reporters[28]
9Internal Security and Anti-Reconnaissance DivisionResponsible for protecting the MSS from infiltration by foreign entities by monitoring domestic reactionary organizations and foreign institutions
10External Security and Anti-Reconnaissance DivisionResponsible for monitoring students and institutions abroad in order to investigate international anti-communist activities
11Information and Auditing DivisionResponsible for the collection and management of intelligence materials
12Social Research DivisionResponsible for conducting public opinion polling and surveying the population
13Science and Technology Investigative DivisionResponsible for managing science and technology projects and conducting research and development
14Science and Technology Investigative DivisionResponsible for inspecting mail and telecommunications
15Comprehensive Intelligence Analysis DivisionResponsible for the analysis and interpretation of intelligence materials
16Imaging Intelligence DivisionResponsible 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
17Enterprises DivisionResponsible 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.[29]

Other managerial offices have been said to include:[30]

  • General Office
  • Legal Department
  • Political Department
  • Party Committee
  • Propaganda Department
  • Legislative Affairs Coordination Office
  • Veterans Affairs Department
  • Xiyuan Management Department

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.[31]

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 Communist Party of China.[32][33] CICIR has been identified by Stratfor Global Intelligence as belonging to the No. 8 Bureau of the MSS, and as providing intelligence reports to the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.[34] 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.[35]

Many MSS personnel are trained at the University of International Relations in Haidian, due north of MSS housing and offices in Xiyuan.[36][37]

An agent of the MSS, Zheng Lu Peng, is the main antagonist of the espionage hero Cono 7Q in the spy novel Performance Anomalies,[38][39] by Victor Robert Lee.[40] 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.[41]

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.[42]

In season three of The Last Ship (2014), MSS agents are the major antagonists of the crew of the USS Nathan James.[43]

In the television series Mr. Robot (2015), a fictional Minister of State Security is portrayed by BD Wong.[44]

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. "Is Trump's 'Art of the Deal' any match for Xi Jinping's long game?". 2019-05-09.
  2. See:
  3. "2017 03 29 Claiborne Complaint and Redacted Affidavit". U.S. Department of Justice. p. 4 (PDF p. 5/59). Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  4. Ministry of State Security, Intelligence Resource Program, Federation of American Scientists
  5. "Criminal Procedure Law of The People's Republic of China".
  6. "China passes tough new intelligence law". Reuters. Reuters. 2017-06-28.
  7. Duthel, Heinz (2014). Global Secret and Intelligence Services I: Hidden Systems that deliver Unforgettable Customer Service. p. 485. ISBN 978-3738607710.
  8. Pike, John. "Ministry of State Security [MSS] Guojia Anquan Bu [Guoanbu] - Chinese Intelligence". Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  9. Zhu Chunlin (ed.), Lishi shunjian 1 (Moments in History 1) (Beijing: Qunzhong chubanshe, 1999), p. 5.
  10. "China, People's Republic of" in Richard M. Bennett: Espionage: Spies and Secrets, 2012 edition, Virgin Books
  11. Yang shangkun riji (Yang Shangkun's Diaries) (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2001), p. 185.
  12. Brady, Anne-Marie (2003). Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing foreigners in the People's Republic. Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7425-1862-9.
  13. Directorate of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (December 1971). "Intelligence Report: The International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party" (PDF). Retrieved June 17, 2019.
  14. "Oh no, Xi didn't! Chinese spymaster cuffed in Belgium, yoinked to US on aerospace snoop rap".
  15. Gertz, Bill, Chinese Spy Who Defected Tells All, Washington Times, March 19, 2009, p. 1.
  16. Gertz, Bill, Exclusive: Arrested spy compromised China's U.S. espionage network: sources, June 15, 2012
  17. Mattis, Peter, This Is How Chinese Spying Inside the U.S. Government Really Works, June 11, 2017
  18. "Feinstein had a Chinese spy connection she didn't know about — her driver -". 2018-08-01. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  20. Ministry of State Security MSS (Guojia Anquan Bu Guoanbu), July 28, 2011
  21. Gertz, Bill, Chinese telecom firm tied to spy ministry, October 11, 2011
  22. Fuhrman, Peter, Government cyber-surveillance is the norm in China — and it’s popular, January 29, 2016
  23. Borger, Julian, Trump sought dissident's expulsion after hand-delivered letter from China – report, October 23, 2017
  24. Ministry of State Security search, China Vitae. Accessed 14 March 2010.
  25. 揭秘中共特务政治:国安〝里外通吃〞 特工超十万, June 1, 2015.
  26. MSS Associated Weibo Account, "国家安全部内设11个局", November 21, 2016
  27. 王海天, 红墙背后的黑手 解密中共国安部(图), Jan 31, 2012.
  28. Blanchard, Ben (December 30, 2016). Macfie, Nick (ed.). "China to Prosecute Former Senior Spy Catcher for Graft". The New York Times. A source with ties to the leadership has previously told Reuters that Ma was director of the ministry's "No.8 bureau", which is responsible for counter-espionage activities on foreigners, mainly diplomats, businessmen and reporters.
  29. 观海内参, "揭秘马建口中的大陆国安部第17局究竟是什么单位", May 4, 2017
  30. 王海天, 红墙背后的黑手 解密中共国安部(图), Jan 31, 2012
  31. Radio Free Asia, "中国国安部或将拆分 各设反间谍和情报单位", December 26, 2016
  32. David Shambaugh, “China’s International Relations Think Tanks: Evolving Structure and Process,” The China Quarterly, Vol 171 (Sept 2002) pp 575-596.
  33. Michael D. Swaine, "The role of the Chinese military in national security policymaking," National Defense Research Institute.
  34. Stratfor Global Intelligence Ministry of State Security organization chart
  35. Open Source Center, "Profile of MSS-Affiliated PRC Foreign Policy Think Tank CICIR", 25 August 2011
  36. Peter Mattis, 'Assessing the Foreign Policy Influence of the Ministry of State Security', The Jamestown Foundation, China Brief Volume: 11 Issue:1, January 14, 2011
  37. Stratfor Global Intelligence, 'Special Report: Espionage with Chinese Characteristics' Archived 2011-08-22 at the Wayback Machine, March 24, 2010.
  38. Lee, Victor Robert (2012-12-20). Performance Anomalies. USA: Perimeter Six. ISBN 9781938409226.
  39. Performance Anomalies |
  40. Diplomat, James Pach, The. "Interview: Victor Robert Lee". The Diplomat. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  41. Lee, Victor Robert (2013-01-15). Performance Anomalies. Perimeter Six Press. ISBN 9781938409202.
  42. Turan, Kenneth (19 December 1997). "James Bond Is Back in Franchise That Never Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  43. Katleman, Michael (2016-06-19), Rising Sun, Eric Dane, Adam Baldwin, Bridget Regan, retrieved 2018-02-20
  44. Wigler, Josh (20 October 2019). "'Mr. Robot' Final Season: Sam Esmail Reveals Brutal Villain's Heartbreaking Backstory". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
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