Taiwan is Losing its Spy Wars with China

If you follow developments in Beijing’s worldwide espionage and influence offensive, you’ve probably heard that the FBI opens a case regarding China every 10 hours (the 2020 figure) or 12 (2021). Doing the math, 8,760 hours per annum means something like 876 new cases a year, or in the updated version, 730.

The Communists have long had an espionage advantage over the Nationalists and their successors, but widespread Taiwan defeatism adds to their leverage.

These are only the new cases, not the total figure for open investigations—which could add up to several thousand, as such inquiries can last for months or years without resolution, public or private. Beyond the small number of cases the Justice Department brings to indictment and trial each year, it does not say how many cases it has closed.

The numbers suggest an overwhelming challenge, even as the Bureau bolsters its efforts to combat Chinese counterintelligence, counterespionage, tech transfer, and other matters—not to mention its drive to recruit special agents with Chinese language skills.

But if you think America has a tough nut to crack, consider our brethren in Taiwan. There, the Republic of China, as it’s formally known, is battling an astounding onslaught of Beijing’s spies. Such subversion raises the question of whether Taiwan will really be able to defend itself during an invasion until help arrives from the U.S.—or even whether it will fight.

In 2017, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau publicly estimated that 5,000 mainland spies were operating in Taiwan. When SpyTalk interviewed former ROC senior intelligence officers in Taipei in May, one of them said the real number is closer to 2,000 to 3,000. But even that more modest figure is a lot of spies for Taiwan, an island the size of Belgium with a population of 24 million.

Whatever, these numbers are not universally accepted, nor is evidence offered to support them. But occasional revelations do not contradict Taipei’s official claims, and some of those cases are alarming. One involved a former Taiwanese Navy rear admiral, and another earlier this year implicated a retired Taiwanese Air Force colonel and six accomplices. Other significant cases were described in a 2021 Reuters investigation.

For the full article, see www.spytalk.co, here.

China’s Illegal Police Abroad: radio segment & background

Say “cheese.” Okay, don’t say cheese.

China’s semi-underground police station in New York, set up there by the Fuzhou Public Security Bureau, made headlines last month for good reason. It was completely illegal and was harassing dissidents, as well as chasing actual exiled criminals.

And there are hundreds more across the world.

For an eight-minute explanation of these stations, go here for my interview with Scott Tong on “Here and Now,” the award-winning radio program from National Public Radio and WBUR Boston. They do long-form interviews and dig deeper into contemporary affairs than other such shows, and are worth checking out.

More Details:

The Chinese Communist Party has always been a secretive organization. For their 98 million members, clandestine operations are normal. Even the headquarters building of the party’s all-important Organization Department is unmarked with standard signage.

The party is overly concerned with the slightest opposition, in part because China’s history of revolts and revolutions has many examples of fatal revolts rising from below. Whenever they find organized activity not controlled by themselves, the CCP moves to nip it in the bud. This was true before Xi Jinping rose to lead the party, and will continue after he departs the scene.

This includes Chinese dissent abroad. Party leaders no doubt remember that the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, did most of his organizing against the Qing Dynasty overseas before returning when the time was ripe in 1911 – as did Lenin to Russia a few years later.

So it is no surprise that the CCP takes dissent in the U.S. and elsewhere very seriously, even if it seems harmless to their powerful party-state (an important difference in perspective to keep in mind when observing CCP behavior). Thus, they have tasked the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to have its subordinate Public Security Bureaus (PSBs) go abroad and tackle dissent, even by isolated individuals.

To be fair, the officers at these “secret police stations” also hunt for actual criminals that have committed fraud or worse. And today’s secret police stations have precedent, as shown by Matt Schrader in his January 2019 China Brief article on “Overseas Chinese Assistance Centers.”

Even older precedent: the openly established police posts in South Africa, set up beginning in 2004 for what appears to be good reasons with the agreement of the host government.

But the problem lies where such stations have been set up in secret, for reasons unacceptable to the host government, violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Research in East Asia

During the entire month of April, I was in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia conducting research and interviews for the upcoming book. I am writing more about the findings from that trip and will send along links to articles that result.

I was particularly intrigued to find that awareness of Beijing’s worldwide espionage and influence offensive is rising more or less at the same pace overseas as it is in the United States but with less hyperbole.

In the words of Taylor Swift, we all “need to calm down” and focus on the facts.

To subscribe to my newsletter about Chinese espionage, send me an email: matthew.brazil@gmail.com

Another PRC Intelligence Reorg?

The non-communist Chinese press buzzed last week with rumors that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plans to reorganize its IC (intelligence community). They will allegedly merge the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security together into a new organ directly under the CCP Central Committee.

China Times cited Ming Pao (Hong Kong) here, saying that a new super-security organ will be placed under the CCP Central Committee. The name: the “Central Internal Affairs Commission” [中央内务委员会, Zhongyang Neiwu Weiyuanhui].

That would be a commission, at the level of the Central Military Commission, NOT a higher-ranking CCP department, like the Propaganda Department and the Organization Department of the Party.

The usual Falun Gong-affiliated sources have carried the story, which also is covered on Radio Free Asia (RFA). Supposedly, this reorganization will be announced during the “two sessions” (the NPC and the CPPCC) beginning this week, on Saturday 5 March.

This sort of news is troublesome because no sources are ever cited. The information, even if completely accurate, will in any case be kept secret by the CCP until the last second.

I polled four scholars who have long studied the organs of Chinese state security. None had heard any information to confirm or refute the idea of another PRC IC reorganization. The last reorg was in 2015, creating the PLA Strategic Support Force, and before that, in 1983, when MSS was founded.

“Possible but not probable” said one. “It makes sense,” said another, since Xi Jinping seems to favor consolidation of Party control due to longstanding issues of corruption in the ranks: web search MSS former Vice Minister Ma Jian, for example.

Former MSS Vice Minister Ma Jian in humble confession mode (Image: China Central Television)

Another China analyst from the Paris-based organization Intelligence Online offered a similar view. While there is no evidence that this reorganization is in the works, she said that this seems consistent with Xi Jinping’s continuing efforts to reduce the margins of “untrusted functionaries.”

For more, see the article at Spytalk.co, here, where you can find numerous pieces on China, Russia, and our very own national security state.

That Balloon (or Those Balloons)

If you’re not sick of balloonery, take a look at this piece that I recently published on SpyTalk. It attempts to assemble the important stuff about that ordeal, and also this Defense One article by my comrade Thomas Corbett at Bluepath Labs.

Speaking of American companies helping China’s defense industry, watch for an upcoming article on Defense One. It will show how the business model of certain American high-tech companies is ideal for Chinese entities trying to evade US export controls.

As always, feel free to pass information this along to any interested party. Or Party.

How China’s Cell Phone Spies Track Covid Protesters

US firms helped build Beijing’s ubiquitous surveillance systems

Police officers in Luoyang in Henan province wear sunglasses linked to facial recognition software that can identity fugitives. The devices are just some of the advanced surveillance technology used by police in China. Photo: Reuters via SCMP

China’s anti-lockdown protests last month were the worst blow yet to the prestige of Xi Jinping. One moment, the Chinese Communist Party’s leader was riding high after securing a third term at the top of the party-state. The next, he was challenged by demonstrators in the streets to “step down,” a sentiment that protestors also chanted against the party itself.

The discontent with the CCP expressed by demonstrators exceeded that of the more massive 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square, albeit this time with much lower numbers: most of the 19 or more cities where protests erupted drew less than 50 people, while the other half in tier one cities with more foreign contact attracted over 50, some in the hundreds.

Though the numbers were small, it was a notable “political coming out of the closet,” (政治出柜, zhengzhi chugui), much discussed in Chinese social media. But to keep it in perspective,  the protests were not thousands of people openly defying authority, as the world now observes in Iran. As far as is known, these were limited actions by small groups in urban centers. 

However, the protests in China at the end of November were bold, as those who participated risked arrest or worse. And there is a chance that the demonstrators represented a larger and more cautious percentage of society. 

Though the party leadership rapidly (maybe too rapidly) eased the “zero Covid” restrictions that prompted this popular anger, those who spoke up soon learned who was boss.

A rough pattern of police response developed, with some similarity to the way some other protestors have been treated. Mere participants were summoned to police stations to explain themselves and sign statements saying they would never do it again. One demonstrator, perhaps typifying others, had tried to disguise himself with a balaclava and clothing change but was quickly tracked down by police. He was surprised at how easily authorities had picked him out of a large crowd, evidently using his phone data and their urban surveillance system.

Leaders of the protests were treated more harshly. At least one—the man who may have led the first “step down” chants in Shanghai—was apprehended at work and has since disappeared. He, too, thought he might not

be identified.

Years ago, well before Xi Jinping’s new era of paranoid surveillance, some citizens have been more clued in than others to the regime’s use of mobiles to keep tabs on users. Chinese citizens secretly working for a foreign intelligence agency were trained to, among other things, separate their phones from any incriminating activity.

Those just living lives removed from international intrigue, but who were tech savvy, also chose different ways to minimize surveillance, according to a Chinese American author who has regularly returned to China for research. They would “put their cell phones in another room when they talk, or take out the SIM cards, use different cell phones to contact different people,” similar to the tactics of protestors in the U.S. to avoid surveillance and police use of data.

See here for the rest of the article in SpyTalk

China’s Fearful Intelligence Culture

Excerpt from “China, The Fearful Intelligence Culture,” By Matthew Brazil

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has placed priority on its intelligence and security operations for almost a century. This core business of the party significantly contributed to the CCP’s 1949 victory and to the maintenance of its current power.

Most recently, the internet and artificial intelligence (AI) have enabled previously unimaginable foreign espionage successes. Yet there are cracks in the façade: unending existential fear about enemies within; fear of being caught between CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s never-ending anti-corruption drive and a culture that still fosters graft; as well as fear of being insufficiently loyal to Xi’s “thought” and to his status as the CCP “core.”

Drawing from Chinese language publications and interviews with former western security officials who had regular contact with their Chinese counterparts, this chapter argues that these are old problems, but under Xi, have become more pronounced than in recent decades. It shows how China’s espionage organs will likely continue to achieve successes in cyber espionage, agent recruitment, and technology theft, but dispassionate intelligence analysis may be hindered by pressure to conform to the party line. Thus, Chinese intelligence culture in the 2020s may sometimes make it difficult for Beijing’s senior leaders to see the forest through the trees.

The above is an excerpt from “China: The Fearful Intelligence Culture”, in Ryan Shaffer, ed. The Handbook of Asian Intelligence Cultures (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, October 2022). This chapter on China has six sections:

  • The Shellshocked Roots of Chinese Communist Intelligence and Security
  • Corruption, Anticorruption, and Power Struggles
  • State Security, Not National Security
  • The Lasting Leftist Influence of Mao Zedong and Kang Sheng
  • Competent Spy Versus Rear Area Ideologue
  • Conclusion: Beijing’s services may be developing a superior understanding of big data compared to their Western counterparts as cyber operations garner an ever greater share of resources. Meanwhile, during the 2020s and 30s the ranks of State Security and military intelligence will fill up with recruits born during and after the 1990s, raised in an era of heightened nationalism and suspicion of foreigners. If the legacy of fear persists while raw data from cyber and other operations keeps piling up, Beijing’s ability to make sense of the outside world and future domestic developments may decline.

The Handbook of Asian Intelligence Cultures has 30 chapters, one for each Asian nation, and can be found on Rowman.com and Amazon.

The above article is also available on LinkedIn here.

The Lockdown Protests in China Meet the Intelligence and Security Apparatus

Here are two very recent forums where I had opportunities to reflect on the intersection between China’s security and intelligence apparatus and the nationwide lockdown protests:



As a result of the tragedy in Urumqi, protestors in China are almost certainly motivated by the fear that they themselves might become fire, earthquake, or flood victims should they need to evacuate a locked-down location.

Secondly, if demonstrators did not previously understand the extent to which their mobile phones were miniature spies-in-the-pocket, they certainly do now. That realization could alter the way people in China handle their cell phones. Imaginative ways to circumvent the surveillance system could develop.

Finally, the protests will probably soon be suppressed. But if they continue, the next step could be to call in the  People’s Armed Police  (PAP), which is a different organ of state security than the Public Security Bureaus around the country. The PAP is little understood outside of China – but is an extremely powerful tool with vast resources. They are trained to quickly put down mass civil disturbances with overwhelming force, but to do so without resorting to the June Fourth, 1989 solution of machine-gunning the citizenry in the streets.



Non-resident Fellow,  The Jamestown Foundation  and Contributing Editor,  SpyTalk  San Jose, CaliforniaMobile (Signal enabled): +1-408-891-5187

Encrypted:  matt.brazil@hushmail.com   https://www.mattbrazil.net/   https://www.usni.org/press/books/chinese-communist-espionage 

The Pacific Century Podcast – “Chinese Spies: Is America Helpless Against PRC Espionage?”

The Hoover Institution’s Dr. Michael Auslin is joined by Anna Puglisi, former National Counterintelligence Officer for China, and Matt Brazil, Senior Analyst at BluePath Labs and co-author of Chinese Communist Espionage, to discuss just how widely and successfully Chinese spies have penetrated American business, government, and academia.

Listen at: the Stanford Hoover website, Stitcher, or Podbean.

The full URL at Stanford:


“China Is Spying on Western Europe. Here’s How to Fight It”

National Review Magazine


September 18, 2022 6:30 AM

China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 10, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Reuters)

As Washington’s allies struggle to resist Beijing’s worldwide espionage and influence offensive, the U.S. can set an example.

hen the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, many in the nation remained resistant. But in the words of Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party had three “magic weapons” (法宝, fǎbǎo): a well-organized military, party building, and its United Front apparatus, now known as the United Front Work Department (UFWD). In part by stressing consensus and mischaracterizing their long-term plans, United Front cadres convinced influential figures to support the new government. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mopped up remnant Nationalist units, invaded Xinjiang and Tibet, and intervened in Korea.

The chairman avoided publicly praising a fourth magic weapon: his espionage apparatus, then called the CCP Social Affairs Department (社会部, Shèhuì bù, SHB). From 1946 to 1949, SHB spy rings thoroughly infiltrated the Nationalist Party, army, and government. As Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek later reportedly said, “there was no space that they did not enter” (无孔不入, wú kǒng bùrù).

For more, see The National Review/

The Spies of Brussels

(Online title: Brussels, the Den of Spies) The home of the EU and NATO remains an open playground for Chinese and Russian operatives.

SpyTalk, 27 August 2022

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Brussels (Credit; Wikimedia Commons)

Conjure up a list of cities considered world capitals of espionage. Those featured in movies and television, with their romantic atmosphere and scenery, include Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, London, Cairo, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Bangkok, and Saigon. 

Not to ignore the less romantic but important cities of Moscow, Beijing, and Washington, DC. 

By comparison, Brussels seems overlooked by spy novelists and film directors, but its unusual concentration of diplomatic missions to the European Union, NATO, and to Belgium itself brings a high ratio per square kilometer of diplomats and lobbyists—as well as spies. “Washington and Brussels compete for the largest number of embassies and other representations on earth” remarked an ICT (information and communications technology)  executive close to the Belgian authorities. He added that the spy agencies of numerous countries, including America, Russia, and China “do whatever they want here; there are so many [espionage] issues going on that Belgian authorities don’t know where to start.”

His view was not contradicted by other Belgians in the private sector and in government, including the police, who requested anonymity when interviewed in July…

The article continues here

Recent Findings on Chinese Espionage: The New Books in National Security Podcast

MSS personnel at a “Police Festival” observance

In this episode from the New Books in National Security podcast, Peter Mattis and I discuss:

  • The targets of China’s Ministry of State Security and the PLA Intelligence Bureau
  • Where Beijing sees winners and losers in the espionage competition
  • Why China made cyber espionage so effective
  • How communist ideology and Xi Jinping “thought” affect intelligence collection and analysis
  • The intersection of Chinese espionage and influence operations

Peter Mattis has worked on a range of China-related issues in the U.S. government and within think tanks. Recently, he served in government as the Senate-appointed Staff Director on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He began his career as a counterintelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, and he was a fellow at The Jamestown Foundation when he co-authored Chinese Communist Espionage: A Primer.

Matt Brazil is a senior analyst at BluePath Labs in Washington, DC, and is currently working on a second book which will be a narrative account of Beijing’s contemporary espionage and influence offensive. Before helping to write Chinese Communist Espionage, he worked as a soldier, diplomat, export controller, and corporate security investigator. He has spent over eight years living and working in China.

The host, John Sakellariadis is a 2021-2022 Fulbright US Student Research Grantee. He holds a Master’s degree in public policy from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia and a Bachelor’s degree in History & Literature from Harvard University.