CCP Human Intelligence Espionage in the US

CCP Human Intelligence Espionage in the US
Students walk across the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The university is one of five that reportedly has undisclosed ties with a leading Chinese military research university sanctioned by the United States. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Antonio Graceffo

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is enraged that the United States accused its students of spying, even though the CCP regularly uses students for spying.

Beijing accused the United States of harassing Chinese students, with some being questioned about spying and others deported. However, suspicions were not baseless, given China’s National Intelligence Law, which obliges citizens to assist the CCP in intelligence gathering.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chinese regime is determined to achieve its 2025 development goals, resorting to extensive espionage. This involves stealing secrets in 10 strategic industries to enhance China’s competitiveness and dominate these sectors in the future. The U.S. Intelligence Community identifies the CCP as the primary espionage threat, often involving the recruitment of students as agents.
The 2025 project is backed by the state, blending military and private sector resources in military-civil fusion. Using satellite surveillance, cybercrime, and human intelligence gathering, the CCP seeks to gather extensive information. U.S. companies and educational institutions are viewed as soft targets for espionage, with Chinese graduate students and engineers frequently participating in crucial research, whether in collaboration with U.S. private companies, the U.S. government, or a combination of both.
Chinese intelligence operatives frequently pursue the same objectives through multiple coordinated attacks using various tools. While some operatives work remotely, engaging in hacking and cybercrime to pilfer proprietary or secret information, this represents only a small part of their strategy. Numerous operatives focus on acquiring publicly available information by conducting web searches and scanning social media posts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. Spies have also been known to leverage dating apps or job sites to target specific individuals who may possess or gain access to the information they seek.
These agents typically work for the Ministry of State Security or the General Staff Department Second Department (2PLA), also known as the GSD Intelligence Department. GSD is tasked with gathering and analyzing military and political intelligence, similar to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. It combines functions akin to the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, encompassing space and satellite reconnaissance functions.
The Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collection capabilities of 2PLA include overt and clandestine HUMINT operations. Intelligence officers often recruit individuals from state-owned enterprises or academic institutions. Furthermore, 2PLA oversees the Chinese military attachés stationed in Chinese Embassies worldwide. In 2019, the involvement of 2PLA came to light when U.S. authorities discovered that the Chinese Consulate in Houston was engaged in spying activities, including managing Chinese students recruited as agents.

Although the CCP spy threat is well-known to U.S. officials, the Central Intelligence Agency is somewhat hamstrung in countering it. In 2021, the CIA established a China Mission Center, experiencing a level of expansion and urgency akin to its surge in counterterrorism efforts post-9/11.

However, unlike that period, there is minimal indication that Congress has augmented the CIA budget or increased its personnel strength. The specific allocation for the CIA within the $874.2 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2024 is undisclosed. Still, it constitutes only a small portion compared to the funding directed toward the Pentagon or the nation’s advanced satellite collection platforms.
As communist China emerges as the top military threat, the Defense Department receives a budget exceeding $800 billion. However, given the Chinese regime’s status as the leading intelligence threat, the CIA’s funding should also be large, but, in reality, it’s only a small fraction of the Defense Department.

Safeguarding against CCP spies is exceptionally challenging due to the regime’s formidable technical counterintelligence capabilities and its engagement with the general population, including students, engineers, and businesspeople.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping encourages the public not only to spy for Beijing but also to spy on one another, reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era and the Cultural Revolution. This backward step indicates that the CCP has no intention of responsibly participating in the generally accepted, rules-based international order. It also implies that the CCP’s intelligence community doesn’t face the same funding and legal restraints as the United States.

Beijing expressed outrage over the alleged “groundless interrogation, harassment, and repatriation of Chinese students,” citing potential espionage threats. However, this concern wasn’t groundless. Due to China’s National Intelligence Law, these students qualified as foreign agents under U.S. law.
Article 7 of the National Intelligence Law mandates that “All organizations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts … protect national intelligence work secrets they are aware of.”
Additionally, Article 14 states that “All organizations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts … protect national intelligence work secrets they are aware of.“ And Article 14 reads, ”State intelligence work organs … may demand that concerned organs, organizations, or citizens provide needed support, assistance, and cooperation.”
This requirement to aid the CCP in intelligence gathering and to keep intelligence work secret aligns with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act definition of a foreign agent as “any person within the United States who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or otherwise acts at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a foreign government or any official thereof.”

The CCP doesn’t mind spying on the United States; it just hates being accused of spying.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, is a China economic analyst who has spent more than 20 years in Asia. Mr. Graceffo is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport, holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and currently studies national defense at American Military University. He is the author of “Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion” (2019).
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