Posts by China’s Ministry of State Security Warn Against Revealing State Secrets

Three Posts

In March, China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) made three posts on its WeChat account that warned individuals against sharing military or state secrets. The first posts warned military enthusiasts and social media influencers against posting images of footage of military sites and unit movements on social media. The third post warned people about consulting companies being fronts for “overseas espionage and intelligence agencies” to gather information. The posts indicate that China views the three groups as potential information leaks that could be exploited by overseas intelligence agencies to gain insight into subjects that the country sees as sensitive. Furthermore, they also illustrate how China will potentially use the revised laws regarding counterespionage and protecting state secrets to eliminate the sources.

Military Enthusiasts

The post on March 8th warned military enthusiasts against posting content on social media that could be used by “overseas espionage and intelligence agencies.” The post began by pointing out how “military security is an important part of national security, and military-related information is highly sensitive and is the focus of intelligence collection by overseas espionage and intelligence agencies.” The article then explains how, with the development of China’s mobile Internet industry, military enthusiasts who are active became “a high risk group” for espionage, secret theft, and leak cases in the military field.

Furthermore, the article also highlighted how some individuals become involved due to having a “weak awareness of national security and lack awareness of law, confidentiality, and prevention.” This weak or lack of awareness means that they “unknowingly bring hidden dangers” or even cause harm to China’s military security, so they have to bear the serious legal consequences and personal responsibilities. The post then briefly explains that national security agencies safeguarded China’s national security by investigating several cases.

Ministry of State Security WeChat March 8th post warning military enthusiasts from posting “sensitive military-related information” on social media

The post then points out the various reasons that military enthusiasts would post military-related information, such as “showing off strength, attracting attention, and attracting traffic to their profiles. Furthermore, they also point out that the more experienced “senior enthusiasts” are keen to collect and organize “sensitive information related to the military” and communicate it within the enthusiast groups or publish it on self-publishing, social media platforms, or various military forum websites that can “easily cause military secrets to be widely disseminated.”

The post then outlines the two types of information that the military enthusiasts’ will post to various social media or forums. The first type of military-related information the post mentions is information related to troop drills, exercises, and training involving “star weapons and equipment.” The individuals wait for opportunities to observe the various exercises and training and “even trespass into military restricted areas” to illegally take photos or videos of military-related information or confidential content.

However, the post also said that some military veterans also contact friends that are still on active duty to ask questions and collect information, including “internal information” or military secrets. Other individuals also “extensively collect” military-related information on both domestic and foreign websites and then utilize professional analysis and research tools to “produce professional military-related materials. A third group of individuals are considered “inquiries and porters who actively forward military-related information on the Internet.” The individuals also publicly release “sensitive information” communicated to them privately within groups.

MSS post warning Chinese citizens to be careful when doing their ‘cool hobby’ (taking photos or videos)

The other type of information that the individuals will release involves tracking the changes, developments, and trends in China’s “high-tech weapons and military equipment. Furthermore, the content the military enthusiasts will post includes “a large amount of sensitive and confidential information” such as aircraft number, equipment quantity, model or variant, troop or exercise location, etc. The data and information that the individuals post creates “a data pool of military-related sensitive information” that is shared both within the group and on the Internet. The amount of data will increase and become “more abundant and professional” until it threatens China’s military and national security.

The article then describes “three major risks” posed by ‘military fans’ leaking secrets on social media or the Internet. The first risk, “the ‘guidance type’ risk of leakage of sensitive military information is greater,” since military enthusiasts take photos and videos and will post them as they please. While it is a personal hobby, the posting of photos and videos is “consistent with the requirements for overseas personnel to observe and search for sensitive military information and conduct open source military intelligence research.” The post points out that once the photos and videos of the “surrounding environment of Guansou (intelligence gathering) are leaked, it will undoubtedly ‘guide’ overseas military and intelligence agencies and become their ‘no money, no trouble, no operation’ intelligence source.

MSS poster about military enthusiast changing from “Internet addict” to “butterfly” by reporting instances of individuals posting military-related information on Internet

The second risk is that “military-related network groups are riskier as they serve as conduits for overseas secret theft.” The reason why is due to overseas espionage and intelligence agencies “always paid close attention to” and attempted to collect information on the deployment and training of Chinese equipment, troops, and weapons, etc. The post gave an example of how the agencies would “often lurk” in military forums or online groups and pose as military enthusiasts, participate in topic discussions, or participate in offline activities. The information that these agencies would obtain will likely become “key information needed” by these institutions and personnel.

The last risk is that “there is a greater risk of ‘internal types’ becoming the targets of screening and luring overseas personnel.” Overseas intelligence agency personnel mingle among military enthusiasts to specifically identify and screen the individuals “in sensitive areas or those who facilitate intelligence gathering missions.” They would then use various means, such as “emotional attraction and financial temptation, to win over and instigate rebellion” against their intended targets and threaten them into cooperation.

However, the post points out that the military enthusiasts “are concerned about national defense construction.” Specifically, these individuals care about and support the development of China’s military equipment, actively spread national defense knowledge, and inspire patriotism. However, the enthusiasts should also “abide by the law and never carry out behaviors that endanger national security in the name of personal hobbies.” The post also says that we (China) “must enhance our ability to discern and avoid being used by people with ulterior motives” to ‘unintentionally’ leak military and state secrets that cause harm to the country’s national security. The Ministry then urges people to report individuals that “have illegally taken photos of sensitive military equipment, disseminated sensitive military equipment information and military activity information, and related suspicious activities.”

Social Media Influencers

MSS WeChat post from March 27th that warned social media influencers against posting military-related information or state secrets

On March 27th, the MSS made another post that warned social media influencers to be careful about the information they post on the Internet. The post pointed out that with the rise of “self-media,” i.e., social media influencers on the Internet, casual comments or videos may receive a lot of attention. Furthermore, “everyone has the opportunity” to become an ‘Internet celebrity, with a significant number of “outdoor check-in and knowledge-sharing bloggers who are widely recognized and welcomed.” However, the post said that “what these ‘Internet celebrities’ hold the ‘traffic password,’ they also need to improve their own national security awareness” to prevent ‘interested people’ from taking advantage of the loopholes.

The post then said that “sharing experiences depends on the occasion, but please use caution when speaking” about intelligence or military matters. Individuals in recent years have discussed intelligence or military secrets they gained from their work “in classified units” to attract network traffic and capture the curiosity of Chinese netizens interested in the “classified” or intelligence industry. These units range from government and party organs to national defense and military industries and scientific research institutes or organizations. Furthermore, these individuals would share their experiences and leak secrets on “public online platforms, revealing mysteries between their words.”

They also “do not hesitate to take the initiative to disclose state secrets from their “original unit” when they are still in their “period of confidentiality” for the sake of claptrap. However, this type of behavior “may attract” foreign espionage and intelligence agencies’ attention at the same time their posts bring in viewers. The post then points out that under the revised Safeguarding State Secrets Law, individuals “involved in secrets shall not disclose state secrets in any way during and after the declassification period.” The law also says that they “must abide by the state confidentiality regulations and continue to keep the state secrets they know to fulfill confidentiality obligations.”

It then explains that people sharing professional knowledge and workplace experience can play a positive role in spreading positive energy to target audiences as long as it is within the scope permitted by industry rules, laws, and regulations. However, people who hold and understand state secrets should abide by confidentiality laws, regulations, and rules and “consciously adhere to the bottom line of confidentiality. The post then urges individuals who want to become “Internet celebrities” to “pay attention” to their personal words and deeds and to never leak national secrets or endanger national security due to big or small mistakes.

MSS Poster saying they were honored and rewarded for their support of national security (people who reported incidents involving national security)! (Come and watch the video)

The post is divided into three sections, with the first called “sharing experiences depends on the occasion, but please use caution when speaking” about intelligence or military matters. Individuals in recent years have discussed intelligence or military secrets they gained from their work “in classified units” to attract network traffic and capture the curiosity of Chinese netizens interested in the “classified” or intelligence industry. These units range from government and party organs to national defense and military industries and scientific research institutes or organizations. Furthermore, these individuals would share their experiences and leak secrets on “public online platforms, revealing mysteries between their words.”

They also “do not hesitate to take the initiative to disclose state secrets from their “original unit” when they are still in their “period of confidentiality” for the sake of claptrap. However, this type of behavior “may attract” foreign espionage and intelligence agencies’ attention at the same time their posts bring in viewers. The post then points out that under the revised Safeguarding State Secrets Law, individuals “involved in secrets shall not disclose state secrets in any way during and after the declassification period.” The law also says that they “must abide by the state confidentiality regulations and continue to keep the state secrets they know to fulfill confidentiality obligations.”

It then explains that people sharing professional knowledge and workplace experience can play a positive role in spreading positive energy to target audiences as long as it is within the scope permitted by industry rules, laws, and regulations. However, people who hold and understand state secrets should abide by confidentiality laws, regulations, and rules and “consciously adhere to the bottom line of confidentiality. The post then urges individuals who want to become “Internet celebrities” to “pay attention” to their personal words and deeds and to never leak national secrets or endanger national security due to big or small mistakes.

MSS poster warning aviation enthusiasts should not turn into ‘”stealing secrets volunteers”

The second section is titled, “the check-in adventure is divided into different scenes, so please proceed with caution.” Some of the “outdoor enthusiasts” will share their photos and videos of “niche check-in spots on social media and openly used ‘restricted areas’ as a gimmick to gain attention.” An example the post gave was the influencers taking photos with “Military Important Areas No Entry” warning signs in the background without any “scruples” to attract public attention. Furthermore, these individuals also show in detail the various routes they used to cross the railway networks and enter the military restricted areas.

The post points out “this illegal behavior of breaking into military restricted areas” to take photos and videos to attract people and fans. This illegal behavior “not only seriously disrupts the management order of our important military areas but may even provide an opportunity for overseas spy and intelligence agencies to spy on and analyze our military deployment, which endangers national security. The section also points out that Chinese citizens and organizations have an obligation to protect military facilities under the Military Facilities Protection Law. It then points out that any behavior that disrupts the management of military management and restricted areas and “endangers the safety of military facilities will be severely punished by law.”

The post says that the Internet enabled the public to follow in the footsteps of “Internet bloggers” to appreciate the great rivers and mountains of the motherland and enjoy the local customers without leaving home.” However, the classified sensitive and military management areas are “by no means tourist attractions.” People with “ulterior motives” who capture the relevant information are a “serious threat to national security.” This kind of “Internet celebrity” behavior to gain traffic at the expense of national security is “absolutely not advisable.” It then cautioned netizens to remain rational and not blindly follow trends and harm national security when pursuing Internet “hot spots,” i.e., trends and visiting ‘niche’ scenes.

However, network providers and platforms should enhance their management and operation systems, perform audits, and have supervision responsibilities to “eliminate the impact of situations that may leak state secrets and endanger national security.” They should also “keep a close eye on confidentiality risks, eliminate hidden dangers of leaks, and eliminate the impact of situations that would also cause leaks. Both should also actively cooperate with national security agencies or relevant departments to handle any potential leaks in accordance with the law.

Consulting Companies

MSS WeChat post warning about the “threat” posed by overseas espionage and intelligence agencies using “investigation and consulting activities” to gather “steal confidential information”

The MSS made another post on March 27th about the potential for overseas espionage and intelligence agencies to use “investigation and consulting activities” as a cover to conduct intelligence collection. The foreign agencies use this method to circumvent laws and regulations as well as regulatory systems for important and sensitive industries since it would allow them to “steal confidential information” in key Chinese industries that pose major risks to the country’s national security. The MSS included a “national security agency’s [MSS] micro-film “Secret Investigation” that the agency adapted from a real case.

The movie showed how “overseas spy intelligence agencies instructed an overseas investigation and consulting company” to use the opportunity of working with Chinese domestic enterprises to seek overseas investment and “carry out so-called investigations and consultations” to steal a significant amount of money. The post then explained the film’s story about how an overseas foreign intelligence agency used a consulting company to obtain confidential information that could have led to “the near-loss of our national security and interests.

Screenshot of MSS short film “Secret Investigation”

The film showed how an investigation and consulting company conducted a due diligence investigation to assist a company in being listed in overseas stock markets. The consulting company “lured” company personnel to “answer confidential questions, querying confidential information beyond the scope of the investigation,” and photograph confidential files on core products to gather core data and state secrets. The information that the company gathered is “related to the national economy and people’s livelihood.” If it is accumulated “to a certain extent and comprehensively analyzed,” it can show important subjects such as China’s economic operations, national defense, and military affairs. These subjects are an important target for overseas espionage and intelligence agencies and will seriously harm China’s national security if leaked.

 

The short movie then explained how generous rewards are full of traps, and the subtle questions hide mysteries. It then showed how the “seemingly normal investigation activities” of overseas investigation and consulting companies are illegally obtaining business secrets and “acting as a ‘black hand’ for foreign countries to contain and suppress China’s ‘advantageous industries.” They are also spying on and stealing the company’s core secrets as they provide important overseas services to me and act as ‘accomplices’ in intelligence theft and infiltration to “instigate rebellion.”

The MSS then explained that the “illegal investigation activities” of this overseas investigation and consulting company have been on their radar. The agency then conducted a raid to prevent the leak of the company’s core data and learned that the company stole their national secrets “under the instruction of overseas spy intelligence agencies.” The ministry had “strong evidence” of the theft and promptly safeguarded China’s national security in accordance with the law.

Screenshot of MSS short film “Secret Investigation”

The post ends with the MSS reminding readers of the laws and regulations that the investigations and consulting companies would violate by obtaining core or state secrets on behalf of overseas espionage intelligence agencies. The Counterespionage Law and how any espionage activities, including those committed by other overseas institutions, organizations, and individuals other than espionage organizations and their agents, or instigated and funded by others, or those committed by domestic institutions, organizations, and individuals in collusion with them. The reminder also said activities that bribe, spy on, steal, or illegally provide state secrets, intelligence, and other documents, data, materials, and items related to national security and interests, or bribe, coerce, induce, or instigate state personnel to rebel.

The other law mentioned is the Measure for the Administration of Foreign-Related Investigations “promulgated by the National Bureau of Statistics that stipulates that foreign-related market surveys must be conducted through foreign-related investigation agencies.” It also stipulates that “foreign-related social surveys must be conducted through foreign-related investigation agencies after approval.” The measure states that overseas organizations and individuals cannot directly conduct market and social surveys in the country, nor are they allowed to conduct market and social surveys through institutions that have not obtained a foreign-related survey license. The post then says that “national security is everyone’s responsibility and for citizens to notify the MSS if they discover suspicious situations that endanger national security.”

Analysis

However, one of the most interesting aspects of the posts is how they warn both groups not to leak information they may be privy to due to their jobs involving accessing or viewing intelligence. Specifically, the March 8th post warns individuals who travel overseas that they can become targets if overseas intelligence agency personnel discover they have or can access information they’re interested in collecting. Individuals traveling overseas would be targeted by intelligence agencies since they would be easier to exploit due to being outside China. Furthermore, they would also be vulnerable to various espionage techniques, such as blackmail, honeypots, or cyber exploitation techniques, to gather information from them. The March 27th post also contained a warning to veterans or individuals who were in their confidentiality periods not to leak information. The warning also cautions veterans and individuals not to contact their former colleagues to ask questions about accessing sensitive information.

Both posts also warned military enthusiasts and social media influencers not to enter restricted areas on military bases and other sensitive sites to take photos and videos to gain traffic to their profiles or websites. The posts then used examples of how the individuals trespassed into military restricted areas and even posted photos that also included “Military Important Areas No Entry” signs in them. The warnings indicate that the MSS considers them significant enough to specifically tell individuals not to do these activities because of the potential for overseas intelligence agencies to view and use them. Furthermore, the agency also believes that the information posted by these two groups is a significant source of intelligence that could be exploited by foreign intelligence agencies. This insight is true since both groups previously posted photos and videos of equipment or troop formations in restricted areas, which would represent a significant information leak.

While the MSS warned both groups against posting photos or videos containing sensitive military-related information, they would likely continue for two reasons. The first reason is that individuals would ignore the warnings since they know the MSS cannot go after every individual who potentially violates the law. The MSS would become overstretched if they investigated every time a person posted military-related information to their accounts. Furthermore, these investigations would mean the agency would have less time to devote to investigating more substantial intelligence leaks.

The second reason is that the MSS previously issued similar warnings and investigated cases but only handed out light punishments. Previously, the investigations conducted by the MSS ultimately led to the individual being ordered to remove the posts and to swear they would refrain from entering restricted areas and taking photos. However, the MSS would likely be more incentivized to investigate and punish individuals due to the emphasis that Chinese leader Xi Jinping places on protecting information that could harm the country. The Chinese government would likely give them a choice of either punishment or assisting in “telling China’s story,” i.e., spreading propaganda.

The March 27th post indicates that the MSS believes that these consulting companies can be used to collect sensitive information on behalf of intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the post indicates that it is part of a larger trend that shows the MSS will be tasked with guarding economic security. The March post comes after a post by the MSS in January warning people against holding state secrets or conducting non espionage activities that could harm national security. Another post from December 2023 also reinforces this narrative but also highlights the MSS’s increasing role in protecting China’s economic security.

The film illustrates both aspects by providing the example of a “recent case” where an overseas intelligence agency used a consulting firm in an attempt to steal information. The MSS likely based the film on one of the investigations the MSS conducted in 2023 against foreign consulting and due diligence companies. The reason why the MSS views the investigations as collection efforts is due to information providing insight regarding the true state of China’s economy. The post also illustrates how China is expanding the MSS’s ability to investigate these companies by revising and using various laws.

For example, the post specifically mentions China’s revised Counterespionage Law and two of its articles to show how individuals could potentially violate the law. Another way the MSS could use the law is by labeling any information that could paint China’s economy in a negative light as state secrets. The counterespionage law vaguely defines what would be considered state secrets, so it would be the MSS’s preview to make the determination. However, China could also use the recently revised Protecting State Secrets Law to prosecute individuals who fail to safeguard state secrets from overseas intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the law’s article about work secrets would also be used since, like state secrets, the term is also vaguely defined as items that are obtained during a person’s duties that are not considered state secrets but would cause harm if leaked.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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