A veteran Chinese intelligence officer who defected to the United States says that his country's civilian spy service spends most of its time trying to steal secrets overseas but also works to bolster Beijing's Communist Party rule by repressing religious and political dissent internally.
"In some sense you can say that intelligence work between two countries is just like war but without the fire," Li Fengzhi told The Washington Times in an interview aided by an interpreter.
Mr. Li worked for years as an Ministry of State Security intelligence officer inside China before defecting to the United States, where is he awaiting a response to his request for political asylum. He gave a rare, detailed interview to The Times on Sunday regarding the activities of the MSS, China's Communist-controlled civilian spy agency.
His prior work as a Chinese spy was confirmed to The Times by a Western government source familiar with his defection. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Mr. Li's case.
Mr. Li told The Times that the MSS focuses on both counterintelligence - working against foreign intelligence agencies - and the collection of secrets and technology.
The MSS, however, is unique from other nations' intelligence services in that it is patterned after the former Soviet Union's KGB political police. Its most important mission is "to control the Chinese people to maintain the rule of the Communist Party," he added.
Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, did not address Mr. Li's comments directly but repeated past Chinese government statements regarding its intelligence activities.
"Allegations of China conducting spying activities against the United States are groundless and unwarranted," he said Wednesday. "China never engages itself in activities that will harm other countries' national interests."
Mr. Wang said communist rule in China produced historic economic and social progress and that China has contributed to a more secure world. "This is a fact no one can deny," Mr. Wang said.
On those who leave the party, Mr. Wang said "there are also a handful of people who betray their faith and leave the party, whose acts as well as some people's political lies will never shadow the great feats of the party."
Mr. Li said he left China's intelligence services to protest the agency's role in government repression of political dissidents and religious groups that are outside of the ruling communist system.
The MSS, mainly a foreign intelligence service, is "deeply" involved in domestic repression of nonofficial Christian churches and the outlawed Falun Gong religious group, Mr. Li said.
"The Ministry of State Security is actually not doing things for the security of the country, but rather they spend a lot of effort to control the people, the dissidents, the lower-class Chinese people, and make these people suffer and also make their life miserable," he said.
In the interview, he also said:
• China's spy agency is focused on sending spies to infiltrate the U.S. intelligence community, and also on collecting secrets and technology from the United States. "China spends a tremendous effort to send out spies to important countries like the U.S. to collect information," Mr. Li said.
PETER LOCKLEY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES Li Fengzhi, who worked for years as a Ministry of State Security intelligence officer inside China, is in the U.S. awaiting political asylum.
• China is censoring the Internet to prevent the population from knowing about what occurs outside the country.
• An internal MSS manual that is kept secret from most officers outlines the primary role of the service as the promotion of Communist Party's interests.
• Ongoing cooperation between the CIA and FBI and the MSS in countering international terrorism can be constructive, but U.S. agencies need to be cautious because the MSS is mainly an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, and does not directly serve the interests of the Chinese nation or people, he said.
Mr. Li said he worked in the MSS department in charge of gathering economic, political and technical information in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Some of the work involved targeting and recruiting foreign nationals who visit China.
He was born in 1968 in northern China and was first recruited into a provincial Chinese intelligence service before being promoted to the MSS in Beijing after several years.
Two groups in China that are a main focus of the MSS are unofficial Christian churches and the outlawed Falun Gong religious group, he said.
The MSS also has targeted pro-democracy activists, like those who were involved in the mass demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, he said.
The MSS is China's main civilian spy service that is viewed by U.S. int