On September 29, 1999, US National Intelligence Council (NIC) discussed their five-year assessment on the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). This was prior to China’s admission to the World Trade Organisation and after the mistaken NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on May 7, 1999, for which President Clinton apologised to Jiang Zemin.
The NIC papers need to be analysed to evaluate French journalist Roger Faligot’s riveting Chinese Spies—from Chairman Mao to Xi Jinping, although he does not refer to it. This book proves what seniors in external intelligence had told me—the French were the best informed on China.
Etienne Fiori, police chief in the Shanghai French Concession, was the first to detect secret attempts by Henri Lozeray and Jacques Doriot, the Comintern’s French representatives, to help Chen Duxiu’s followers, including Mao Zedong, to set up their Communist party on July 23, 1921. The foundation of their future intelligence unit as a counter intelligence body, like Dzerzhinsky’s Russian Cheka (1917), was laid when Luo Yinong, later politburo member, was asked to investigate how Fiori could get prior intelligence. Faligot says: “That embryonic structure would...become the biggest secret service network in the world”.
Its horizons were expanded in the 1920s when Zhou Enlai, the “true founding father of Chinese secret Service” and others like Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yi, Ye Jianying, Zhu De and Nie Rongzhen, migrated to Europe for technology adaptation. From then on intelligence was closely associated with all strategic schemes: domestic counter-revolutionary suppression during the Mao-Kang Sheng era to Xi Jinping’s global leadership.
In 1979, the US asked Deng’s help to set up stations to monitor Soviet activity. He agreed, with conditions, and got CIA/NSA assistance. They are the core of China’s cyber warfare capability.
Deng laid the foundations of China’s economic and technology ‘warfare’ prowess during his ‘charm offensive’ to the West. He also revived the “maritime spirit of ancient China” through its navy’s modernisation. It was he who moulded Guoanbu (the Chinese intelligence service) and the PLA’s intelligence to adopt the tactics of the legendary ‘sea lamprey’, a slippery snake-like fish which blends in with the landscape, clinging to rocks, and latches on to its prey.
Deng took Ling Yun, the new spy chief on his successful visit to the US in 1979 and started a liaison with CIA, MI-6, BND and DGSC through the Guoanbu’s 12th bureau. The 10th bureau was charged with economic and technical espionage through newly-created front organisations, like the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC).
As a result, western countries got an impression that Deng was moving away from the earlier ideology-oriented Communist model into a more institution-driven, decision-making system. Echoing this, the 1999 NIC meeting recommended that the “WTO membership for China is strongly in our interest”.
After the Iraninan revolution, when the US lost its Iran base, President Jimmy Carter deputed CIA director Stansfield Turner to seek Deng’s cooperation in May 1979 to set up a telemetry station for monitoring Soviet nuclear and missile tests. Deng agreed, on the condition that the Chinese would install it. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, Chinese technicians were trained by CIA/NSA/W. German BND for their stations at Qitai and Korla (Xinjiang). These facilities became the nucleus of the present gargantuan Chinese capability for cyber warfare against the West.
The NIC meeting had referred to China’s plans for “asymmetrical military contingencies” against opponents “possessing state-of-the-art militaries”, but felt it was against Taiwan. Faligot connects it to a study by Chinese colonels Qiao and Wang Xiangsui in 1999, based on the Serbian experience in the Yugoslav wars (1991-2001), to include new forms of guerrilla and economic warfare, besides computerised destruction of IT systems.
Faligot argues that the bombing of Belgrade Chinese embassy was intentional, as NATO had detected a hidden unit helping Serbian commanders through secure signals. PRC had close relations with Yugoslav intelligence since 1977, when Serbian leaders like Milosevic and Stanisic were part of the service then led by Stane Dolanc, Tito’s deputy.
Faligot reveals two interesting snippets affecting India. Zhou Enlai, the real target of the April 11, 1955 Air India Kashmir Princess bombing, escaped after being alerted by the British officers in the Hong Kong special branch. Jean Pasqualini, the French journalist arrested in 1957 by Mao’s agency for spying for MI-6, told interrogators that he never met his handlers but only delivered information to the Indian mission in Beijing. If true, this would corroborate Christopher Andrew’s findings in his history of MI-5 that Indian intelligence was then playing a subservient role.
(The writer is a former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat)