Ministry of State Security reveals UK'S MI6 using foreign consultant for espionage targeting China
Published: Jan 08, 2024 08:40 AM

cyber attack Photo:VCG


China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) on Monday disclosed a case in which the British Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) used foreign personnel from "a third country" to engage in espionage activities against China.

Chinese security analysts warned of a potential 007-like scenario in which countries such as the UK, in line with their broader strategy of countering China, have expanded their espionage efforts beyond traditionally targeted areas to encompass economic, military, scientific, technological, and financial domains.

In 2015, MI6 developed a relationship with a foreign national, identified as Huang, who was the head of a consulting agency overseas, then established an "intelligence cooperation" relationship, according to a statement released by the MSS on its official WeChat account.

Since then, MI6 has instructed Huang to enter China multiple times under the guise of a public identity, to collect intelligence on behalf of the British side and recruit individuals for MI6. MI6 also provided professional intelligence training to Huang in the UK and equipped Huang with specialized spy equipment for intelligence communication.

Through meticulous investigation, the national security agency discovered evidence of Huang's espionage activities and took legal measures against the individual in accordance with the law and in a timely fashion, the MSS said. The MSS did not disclose Huang's nationality.

Huang provided MI6 with nine confidential-level national secrets, five secret-level national secrets, and three pieces of intelligence, according to assessments by the confidentiality department.

While investigations pertaining to the case were ongoing, the national security agency promptly notified relevant international parties and organized consular visits, ensuring the protection of Huang's legal rights.

The disclosure by China's national security organ comes as the UK has intensified its intelligence operations in China. In July 2023, MI6 chief Richard Moore told Politico that his agency is channeling more resources to China than anywhere else in the world. 

The espionage case involving Huang has sounded the alarm about the severe threats to national security that China has to face, Li Baiyang, an associate professor of intelligence studies with Nanjing University, told the Global Times on Monday. "We should be wary of the '007s' around us; we shouldn't naively think that 007 is a character that exists only in films. It [espionage] is actually everywhere, [and they are] planting their spies in other countries."

In recent years, not only has the US intensified its efforts to gather intelligence and conduct acts of espionage against China, but the UK, a member of the Five Eyes alliance, has also been discreetly engaged in espionage activities. Some of their operations align with the intelligence departments of the US, particularly in China's territories  such as Hong Kong, Xizang, and Xinjiang, Li Baiyang said. 

While prior to the de facto case of espionage acts by the UK, the UK accused of one man spying on the UK on behalf of China. On September 11, 2023,  Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded to the accusation, terming the alleged China's espionage against the UK as "entirely groundless." 

China firmly opposes that. We urge the UK to stop spreading disinformation and stop political manipulation and malicious slander against China, Mao noted. 

It is in line with the old saying of "a true thief yelling stop thief!" Both MI6 and the CIA, through their intelligence activities, align with their overarching strategy of countering China. The national security challenge confronting China is of the utmost gravity, as their efforts to counter China extend beyond specific domains and encompass economic, military, scientific, technological, and financial realms, Li Wei, an expert on national security at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

One of the characteristics of MI6's espionage activities against other countries is the utilization of individuals from a third country. The UK, which was once the master of colonies in various countries, excels at enticing nationals from these regions that were once under British rule, often by offering incentives such as green cards, mansions, or other forms of compensation, Li Baiyang noted. 

To fulfill their mission of doing more to conduct espionage activities against China, back in 2020, the MI6, MI5, and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHO) openly launched a campaign to recruit Putonghua speakers. "Our Mandarin [Putonghua] linguists use their language skills to provide intelligence insights and deliver clear analysis," the ad read, according to the GCHQ which is an intelligence and security organization responsible for providing signals intelligence and information assurance to the government and armed forces of the UK. 

From an alternative perspective, the disclosure underscored China's resolute determination and formidable capacity to combat espionage, Li Baiyang said. Li explained that by promptly unveiling this case, it serves as a direct message to MI6 and other intelligence agencies to exercise restraint. Regardless of the clandestine nature of their intelligence operations, China is resolutely committed to exposing and thwarting such activities.

China has a more united front in fighting against activities that endanger national security, including espionage, Chinese analysts also said. Li Wei told the Global Times that public awareness has especially been enhanced after a newly revised Counter-Espionage Law came into effect on July 1, 2023.