Chen Wenqing has risen from street cop to boss of China’s powerful Ministry of State Security. Loyalty paid off.
Chen, Wenqing Chen—never a 007, no martinis shaken or stirred, no tuxedo or Aston Martin. He’s just a working-class star of China’s civilian spy apparatus, the MSS.
Tall and athletic-looking—according to official photos that only show him from the waist up—with a square-jaw and the black dyed hair common among Chinese leaders, Chen has the looks of a hero in a Chinese spy flick. Instead, he’s risen from local cop through the counterintelligence ranks to the top of China’s feared Ministry of State Security.
Since its founding in 1983, the MSS has had a preeminent role in China’s vast machinery of domestic repression. But Chen appears set to turn its foreign spying arm into an increasingly effective presence in America and elsewhere during the 2020s, says Nicholas Eftimades, one of the most well informed former U.S. government officials on Beijing’s espionage apparatus. With steady improvement in its foreign spying tradecraft over the past four years, Eftimiades says in his latest book, the MSS is now “China’s pre-eminent civilian intelligence service” and “targets political and defense information, foreign policy, overseas dissidents, military capabilities, and foreign intelligence services.” Meanwhile in the cyber realm, MSS competes with the notorious hackers of the People Liberation Army, who have repeatedly looted U.S. government files and raided corporate data banks.
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