Rundown of China’s spy agencies will make uncomfortable reading for some

Rundown of China’s spy agencies will make uncomfortable reading for some

  • You know about the CIA. And the FBI. The whole world knows that James Bond worked for MI6.

Everyone knows the name of the Soviet Union’s notorious foreign espionage service, the KGB, the training ground for today’s Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Most people have heard of the ruthlessly efficient Israeli Mossad. Most Australians have heard of the domestic spy agency ASIO. And a few will know of Australia’s overseas spy agency, ASIS. But can you name one of China’s intelligence services? Just one?

We’ve heard in recent years that Chinese spying and hacking in Australia is so rife that it’s overwhelming our own intelligence agencies. The federal government in 2018 even introduced new laws to try to limit Chinese spying and interference. But we can’t name the agencies doing it. Is it because they are so small and insignificant? Today, China has more people engaged in its spying effort than any other country, according to the 2019 book Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer by Americans Peter Mattis and Matthew Brazil.

So how can we be so blind to such a big enterprise? A New Zealand sinologist, Anne-Marie Brady, in a new essay on China’s spying, suggests a couple of reasons. One is what she calls “decades of post-Cold War complacency, of arrogance about the superiority of liberal democracies over communist systems”. Another is a post-September 11 preoccupation with terrorism among Western intelligence systems including Australia’s. A third is public sector cutbacks.