Beijing threatens ‘all necessary measures’ against US spies
China will “take all necessary measures to safeguard national security” against American spy networks, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a press briefing on Monday. More than a decade after its Chinese operations were blown, the CIA is currently active in the country once again.
“The US on the one hand keeps spreading disinformation on so-called ‘Chinese spying and cyber attacks’, and on the other hand tells the public about its large-scale intelligence activities targeting China,” Mao told reporters. “This in itself is quite revealing. China will take all measures necessary to safeguard national security.”
Four days earlier, CIA Director William Burns told a security conference in Colorado that his agency was currently running agents in China.
“We’ve made progress and we’re working very hard to make sure we have a very strong human intelligence capability to complement what we can acquire through other methods,” Burns told attendees.
The CIA suffered a devastating blow to its intelligence-gathering abilities in 2010, when Chinese authorities began identifying, arresting, and reportedly executing CIA agents in the country. An investigation by the New York Times put the number of spies killed or imprisoned at 20, while Foreign Policy magazine has claimed that at least 30 agents were executed between 2010 and 2012.
A joint CIA/FBI commission concluded that the agency’s communications equipment had likely been hacked, and that a mole had given the spies’ identities to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), Foreign Policy reported. In 2018, a former CIA officer named Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested in the US and admitted to passing on the identities of American agents and their informants to the MSS. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2019, although it was never revealed whether the information he provided led to the glut of arrests between 2010 and 2012.
The crackdown left the CIA almost oblivious to the inner workings of the Chinese state for more than a decade. For example, Burns admitted in April that the US had no indication that Beijing would mediate a normalization deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
It is unclear why Burns chose to publicly reveal his agency’s recent activity in China, especially two months after the CIA chief visited Beijing in an ostensible attempt to ease tensions between the two powers. Moreover, Burns’ admission comes two years after the CIA warned all of its foreign outposts that its informants were being captured and recruited by rival services in China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and other countries.