Secret Services Concerned About Chinese Activity in Europe

From commercial information to political influence, Beijing’s interests are vast and the techniques that China is applying in Europe are increasingly sophisticated.

The story could serve as the basis for a spy movie. Pierre M, a French spy, was sent to the East to be the eyes and ears of the French ambassador in Beijing. Arriving in the Chinese capital, the spy found a young Chinese woman who had just been hired as the ambassador’s translator. The two fell in love and the spy ended up tasting his own poison, ending up being spied on and sentenced by the French justice to eight years in prison for passing “harmful information” to a foreign power.

But this is just one of many stories that, according to European authorities, is becoming more and more frequent on the old continent, particularly with regard to Chinese espionage. For decades, Europe has grown accustomed to stories of Soviet spies infiltrating a variety of Western organizations, but according to the intelligence community, China is becoming an espionage giant – and that is making European authorities nervous.

“Chinese intelligence agents are on an equal footing with the Russians,” a former CIA chief for Europe told the Financial Times. This idea was corroborated by two American secret service officers operating in European territory, guaranteeing that “the best operations in China are now as good as the best in Russia” and, in addition, they have some operations that are described as “exquisite”.

“The scale of China’s efforts is breathtaking,” warned FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The cyber espionage capabilities of China’s Ministry of State Security (the state institution responsible for Chinese espionage) are well known in the spy world. The case of the information leak from Microsoft servers in 2021, which made the information of 30,000 companies around the world available, was proof that they have the potential to carry out complex operations and find flaws in well-guarded systems. However, these attacks are often linked to intellectual property theft and economic espionage. Official Chinese sources reject the claims and call them “irresponsible”.

But the progress made in the area of ​​human espionage, or “HUMINT”, has come as a surprise to everyone. This is an area where Russia has demonstrated over the years a tendency to dominate and was therefore seen by European authorities as a priority target of counterintelligence efforts. However, according to eight different sources heard by the newspaper, the increase in number of spies and the quality of their operatives has been rising considerably.

The situation is so serious that a community known for its secrecy felt the need to go public with its concern. That’s what happened in July, when the head of the US federal police, the FBI, and the leader of MI5, the UK’s internal secret services, held a press conference describing Chinese spying activity as “a challenge that changes the whole game.” This is, they insist, the greatest security danger of an entire generation.

And the techniques are increasingly varied. Pierre M.’s case is what US spies call “sexpionage”, one of many “HUMINT” techniques. They consist of emotionally involving the “target” in order to extract the desired information. But experts warn that the Chinese objectives are different from the Russians and it is necessary to understand this factor to realize that the spectrum of action of these is much wider. China has several goals ranging from commercial information to political influence. This makes China use all Chinese citizens as a potential source of information for the state.

“Russian espionage tends to be very focused, while China uses a ‘whole of society’ approach,” a source from the secret services explained to the US publication. That’s what was set out in the 2017 law governing China’s secret services, which requires “all organizations and citizens” to “support, assist and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.”

The spy community also notes that there is a different standard than Russian when it comes to approach. China exercises greater care in the use of spies in an attempt to avoid being caught and having its name involved in major scandals. Therefore, the Chinese Communist Party tries to make all Chinese citizens potential spies, even if they are unaware of it. This tactic can become extremely inefficient, resulting in multiple operatives spying on the same target.

“Effectiveness is more important to China’s security services than efficiency,” said Nigel Inkster, former director of operations at MI6 and now a senior advisor to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

But these were not isolated cases. In 2021, Estonian authorities sentenced an army-linked scientist working on several sensitive projects to three years in prison for collaborating with Chinese authorities.

Source: With Agencies


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