CHINA: by Peter CoatesNews Weekly
Beijing spying apparatus gears up for Olympics
, May 10, 2008
The Beijing Olympic torch protectors who ran in Canberra on April 24 represent a minute part of China's vast Olympic security apparatus, writes Peter Coates.
Beijing has at its disposal at home and abroad hundreds of thousands of spies and informers and the latest Big Brother technology with which to keep track of political opponents.More than 100,000 civilian security personnel will be in Beijing for the Olympics. This does not include military personnel and a vast network of intelligence agents and informers inside the city. The Olympic protection task covers an estimated 10,500 athletes, 500,000 foreign visitors, two million Chinese visitors and thousands of foreign VIPs, including President George W. Bush.
Olympic security is also being influenced by the size of Beijing - a city with a population of 16 million covering 16,000 square kilometres.
The preliminary torch relay through such cities as London, Paris and Canberra, has proven a mixed blessing for China and a definite headache for the security services of participating nations. Rolling protests and overreactions by some torch protectors initially caused deep international embarrassment for China and has tarnished the Olympic ideal of international peace, but the Chinese leadership may see this as a worthwhile trade-off.Rule legitimised
The benefit is that attacks on China's torch by Tibetan separatists or other dissidents prompt a mostly genuine demonstration of Chinese nationalism. Chinese Communist Party leaders have further legitimised their rule by boosting Chinese nationalism and directing it against perceived foreign and internal threats.
A reality that should be recognised by observers across the Western political spectrum is that the Beijing Olympics represents the biggest security operation in that city since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. The fact that China's President Hu Jintao chose to launch the Beijing Olympic torch relay from Tiananmen Square on March 31, 2008 is significant. Perhaps China's leadership wishes to replace the square's dark reputation with happy memories of the Beijing "Good Luck" Games.
China must handle the usual security Catch 22. If security appears too tight and visible, China risks courting international resentment. If security is low-profile and some terrorist event occurs, China risks being labelled an incompetent even unstable country. China's security chiefs would see the terrorist tragedy at Munich in 1972 as the result of an overly light security regime. They would also recall the embarrassment to China when 10 Australian women were held hostage in a bus in March this year. Serious security incidents do happen.
Security in the area of pre-Games administration and diplomacy is coordinated by the security department of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG). Immediately before and during the Olympics, BOCOG's Security Command Centre (SCC) will coordinate security operations and responses. The SCC is working alongside the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau in recognition that security is both a Games and Beijing government responsibility. The joint security chief of the SCC and the bureau is the formidable Mr Ma Zhenchuan. To prepare for emergencies the BOCOG security department and SCC have drawn up a wide variety of security contingency plans, at least one for each venue and each team. Emergencies naturally include terrorism and (in China) protests but also fires, storms and buildings collapsing.
Associated with the SCC is the Sacred Flame Protection Unit whose agents ran through Canberra. These agents were assigned the early and misleading description of "student volunteers" by some Chinese officials. China's state-controlled news media has reported that the agents are specially selected and closely vetted personnel from the special forces academy of the paramilitary People's Armed Police. Each agent is 6'3" (1.905 metres) or taller. After a rigorous selection process they are indeed ordered to "volunteer". The Chinese admit that at least some have been taught martial arts. All this suggests that the communist propaganda term "student volunteers" has been misapplied to a unit of close-in protection agents.
For several years BOCOG's security department has liaised with international security organisations like Interpol and the security and intelligence organisations of participating nations. For example, on March 28, 2007 a security coordination conference met in Beijing for liaison with intelligence and security officers based in major embassies in Beijing. The schedule of future security liaison meetings for the Beijing Olympics was set out in practical detail. Within this liaison structure, bilateral and multilateral discussions would have taken place concerning the large contingents of foreign intelligence and security personnel who will be at the Olympics to protect national teams and VIPs. The Olympic torch relay would also have been a major discussion area for embassy representatives of countries involved.
Officers drawn from the 700,000-strong Chinese People's Armed Police (PAP) will probably form the most visible uniformed security presence at Olympic venues. Many will also be plainclothes. The PAP, under both civilian and military command, was established for various roles, including protecting embassies in Beijing, riot control, border control, fire-fighting and other internal security roles. On top of their torch relay protection duties many thousands of PAP officers were sent into Tibet to crush recent dissent.
In true Communist style the Beijing municipal authorities have enlisted a "citizens' army" of up to 600,000 "volunteers" to support the paramilitary and civil police in monitoring public areas and presumably shadowing Tibetans and other dissidents. 50,000 Beijing Olympic volunteers will also be on security duty.
As with any major official event contingency plans have been drawn up to counter terrorism with deadly force. SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams are being organised from the PAP. Special forces units equivalent to the US Delta Force are available from the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Beijing's electronic security infrastructure is already huge. China reportedly has more than 30,000 online police monitoring and blocking internet websites considered seditious. Chinese security is also capable of monitoring the e-mails and phone calls of Falun Gong supporters and Tibetan separatists within China and overseas.Surveillance cameras
By August 2008, when the Olympics begin, Beijing authorities will have installed up to 300,000 public surveillance cameras monitoring train stations, major public places and Olympic venues. These cameras and a large number of private cameras (in hotels and shopping centres, for example) may utilise face-recognition software to search for known terrorists or dissidents. Multilingual voice software may also be present that scans mouths for key words and phrases that might indicate a threat.
Olympic security is carried overtly and covertly overseas by several Chinese intelligence agencies. China's largest external and domestic intelligence organisation is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). The MSS probably includes official liaison officers in embassies and consulates to carry out security intelligence liaison functions. MSS officers also operate covertly. In relation to the Olympics a major objective of MSS officers is to gather information on Tibetan separatists and Falun Gong members as well as on Muslim terrorists and dissidents.
Some exposure of Chinese intelligence activities in Australia occurred when Mr Chen Yonglin, a Chinese diplomat at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, defected to Australia in July 2005. Mr Chen advised the Australian government that his major role in Sydney was to monitor and intimidate Chinese dissidents, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. Mr Chen had been essentially carrying out a security function that amounted to political interference against Australia's democratic traditions.
He estimated that there were approximately 1,000 secret agents and informants active against Chinese dissidents in Australia. Other Chinese policemen and diplomats who have defected supported this estimate and indicated that these spies might be operating in Australia under diplomatic, student, journalist and business cover.
The vast numbers of Chinese students (estimated to be up to 10,000) who were bussed to Canberra on April 24, 2008, for the Olympic torch relay may well have been partially organised and financed by the Chinese embassy and its consulates. This created headaches for the Australian Federal Police, security services, Commonwealth and ACT governments. While there was no mass violence, authorities had to plan for the full range of possibilities. The extra equipment and police officers deployed resulted in an increase in the Canberra security budget of more than $1 million.
Chinese pressure and legal realities overcame premature announcements from the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that the Chinese torch protectors would neither be near the torch nor protecting it.
The legal aspect is evident in a document made public in the UK which refuted earlier claims by UK authorities that they were ignorant of the identity and function of the China torch protectors at the London leg of the relay. The document is a signed legal agreement between the Greater London Authority (GLA) and BOCOG identifying the security roles of torch protectors.
As BOCOG probably negotiated standard agreements with all countries hosting the torch relay, it is highly likely that Australia's Commonwealth and ACT governments had agreed to the status and function of the torch protectors with BOCOG many months ago. Precise legal wording of the protectors' role would have been agreed. However, the interpretation of the wording and existence of a formal agreement may remain politically contentious.
The sheer numbers of Chinese students mobilised to attend the torch relay in Canberra reflects the Chinese government's resolve that the Beijing Olympics will be a successful symbol of nationalism.
Some media reports indicate that police found the numbers of Chinese students present to be intimidating and, as a result, the police did not intervene to stop assaults by groups of Chinese students when they could have done so. The ease of Chinese student mobilisation is a cause for future concern.
Similarly, security services should be finding the anti-dissident activities of Chinese agents in Australia to be cause for re-examination. The high priority placed on good trade relations with China appears to have put these concerns on the back-burner. Leaders who embrace communist China too closely may expect nasty surprises.- Peter Coates is an independent researcher who formerly worked for the Australian Government on intelligence and policy issues. His website is Pete's Intelligence Blog at: spyingbadthings.blogspot.com