State security departments: The birth of China’s nationwide state security system

Alex Joske

Deserepi 0 (2023)

China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) sits atop a national system of state security units, yet provincial-level state security agencies, a defining feature of China’s intelligence apparatus, have attracted little research. Provincial agencies are subordinate to the MSS but have their own origins, cultures, networks and priorities. Today, they are also particularly active in foreign operations. This paper documents the establishment of the first 14 provincial agencies to provide a foundation for analysing the state security system and the creation of the MSS. Tracing their establishment and early development through official histories and biographies, this paper shows the diverse backgrounds and capabilities of provincial agencies, which originally combined counterintelligence, foreign intelligence and technical units. It also provides new findings on foreign intelligence agencies that were predecessors to the state security system. Finally, studying the birth of provincial security agencies offers new insights into the original priorities of the state security system and the founding of the MSS itself.

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