Chinese Communist Espionage Cover

Chinese Communist Espionage

An Intelligence Primer

Peter Mattis and Matthew Brazil

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2019, 384 pages

Book Review published on: February 7, 2020

Chinese espionage poses a big security threat to the United States. This threat has expanded in the past several decades from targeting national secrets to targeting foreign technology and intellectual property of value to China’s economy and national defense. Peter Mattis, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, and Matthew Brazil, a former Army officer and diplomat, have collaborated on writing a primer on Communist Chinese intelligence organizations and activities. Their intent is to demystify Chinese intelligence operations.

Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer is divided into seven chapters, each with a specific theme: “Chinese Communist Intelligence Organizations,” “Chinese Communist Intelligence Leaders,” “Notable Spies of the Chinese Revolution and the Early PRC,” “Economic Espionage Cases,” “Espionage during the Revolution and the Early People’s Republic,” “Espionage during China’s Rise,” and “Intelligence and Surveillance in China, Then and Now.”

Among Mattis’s and Brazil’s many significant observations and reflections, three stand out. First, the authors dispel the myth that the Chinese do not use traditional tradecraft; they use several notable spy cases to illustrate China’s use of traditional tradecraft such as exploiting case officer and agent relationships, using third-country locations for meetings or dropping off data, and passing information between couriers. Second, China’s recent espionage activities reflect an emerging sophistication in its intelligence activities that is on par with first-class intelligence agencies around the world. Third, China intelligence professionals do not limit themselves to recruiting Chinese alone; China has been successful in targeting and turning former intelligence officers, with former CIA officer Kevin Mallory, Defense Intelligence Agency official Ron Hansen, and former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee being the most significant.

Mattis and Brazil describe the evolution of China’s intelligence operations from focusing primarily on enemies within the party to directing activities at external threats to Communist China. They recount how Russia played a major role in training Chinese intelligence agents. The authors also detail the deleterious impact several purges had by cleaning out the ranks of Chinese intelligence people.

Chinese Communist Espionage is not a definitive work on Chinese intelligence operations but serves as an introduction to the topic. The authors include notes and a bibliography reflecting their extensive research. This book is a must read for government and private-sector security stakeholders at policy and practitioner levels.

Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas