Security Forward-Risk & Intelligence Forum’s quarterly meeting was held at The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers in the City of London on 11 April 2019.
We were first addressed by our ‘Speaker in Residence’ Lt Col Crispin Black. His presentation was entitled: Know the Enemy and Know Yourself (Sun Tzu – the Art of War): The Role of the Chinese Intelligence Services in Foreign and Domestic Policy. He took a bleak view of the repressive activities of the Ministry of State Security (MSS). The repression of Muslim Uighurs in the far western province of Xinjiang is especially harsh; with arbitrary detention, destruction of property, and even the confiscation of children – enabled by a frightening network of CCTV cameras and aggressive monitoring of social media and telephone calls. Other parts of China exhibit Orwellian programmes of Social Credit scores and accompanying sanctions, due to be rolled out across the country by 2020.
Abroad, MSS has been running aggressive traditional and industrial espionage since the turn of the century, with some success in infiltrating high value targets. The CIA had between 20 and 30 highly-placed sources in China at one time; it is now blind, with most of them rounded up and executed in the last ten years as a result of either technical attack on its communications; or a so-far-unidentified mole at Langley. Industrial espionage at Boeing means that domestic Chinese aircraft manufacturing techniques will be as sophisticated as those in the US within a few years. Chinese cyber-espionage and cyber-warfare skills are causing sleepless nights at NSA. And, in plain sight, China’s Belt and Road Initiative indicates the acquisition of critical infrastructure and strategic resources across the world.
What isn’t clear is whether Chinese intelligence aggression is just part of what we should expect from a country that feels it is, at last, returning to its rightful place in the world. Or is it more sinister? An effort to achieve regional dominance first (Taiwan and the South China Sea) and then knock the USA off its perch – with all the dangers involved.
Our second speaker was Professor Andrew Silke, who holds a Chair in Terrorism, Risk & Resilience at Cranfield University. He gave a fascinating and challenging presentation and questioned the accepted logic on the causes of radicalisation. His talk ranged over geopolitical issues such as population growth and other influencing factors that identify the propensity for terrorism. As we had a ‘China Theme’ for the day, he also included some very interesting information on China. The questions flowed thick and fast after his presentation and it engendered a strong debate which could have carried on for quite a long time.
We then had our usual session on ‘Sharing Your Current In-Tray’ during which participants introduced themselves and identified issues of particular interest and concern. This is always a valuable session, which allows a platform for those present to raise issues and discuss points of concern with the whole group. Over Tsingtao beer (some would have preferred a cocktail, but the beer seemed more appropriate) and then dinner, we were pleased to have Bill Hayton as our guest author and dinner speaker. In line with our China theme, Bill talked about his book ‘The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia’. As usual, a copy of the book was given to all participants. The next meeting is scheduled to take place on 17 July at The Gunmakers' Livery Company. More information can be found here.