Chinese Intelligence and Cyber Reconnaissance Infrastructure

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stefano Mele


Communications are critical to everyday life. Governments, businesses, military, all rely on communications.

Moreover, information collected and collated from intercepted diplomatic, military, commercial and financial communications offers potential competitors an advantage on the negotiation table or battlefield.

On July 19, 2010, the People‘s Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff Department (GSD) unveiled the country‘s first Information Support (Assurance) Base [中國人民解放軍信息保障基地].

Unverified Chinese bulletin board site analyses concluded the base is China‘s cyber command, tasked to deal with cyber threats and safeguard China‘s national security.

Indeed, the People‘s Republic of China (PRC) has emerged as a global power in information and communications technology (ICT). Guided by a 15-year (2006-2020) development strategy, a priority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and PRC government is the informatization [信息化] of its national civilian and military infrastructure as a means to ensure sustained economic growth, compete globally in the ICT realm, and ensure national security.

Information dominance, whether for political, economic, or military purposes, requires mastery of both the electromagnetic spectrum and the global cyber sphere. The PLA GSD Third Department [总参三部] and Fourth Department [总参四部] are considered to be the two largest players in China‘s burgeoning cyber-infrastructure.

Today, the GSD Third Department and its counterparts within the PLA‘s Military Regions (MRs), Air Force, Navy, and Second Artillery oversee a vast infrastructure for monitoring communications traffic from collection sites inside China, possibly from embassies and other facilities abroad, and perhaps from space-based assets in the future.

Its network of assets are able — assuming sufficient interest and barring sophisticated encryption - to monitor almost any radio communication or phone call within line of sight of Third Department SIGINT stations.

On the other hand, faced with increasing challenges to its communication systems and computer networks, the Third Department also has assumed the responsibility for assuring the security of PLA computer systems in order to prevent foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive national security information. These functions are encompassed under the concept of technical reconnaissance [技术侦察], which is the foundation of informatized warfare.

This study offers a tentative baseline for assessing the GSD Third Department, affiliated Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus (TRBs), and supporting research and development organizations.

An examination of this organization, its role and function would provide a mosaic with which to better evaluate China‘s signal intelligence and cyber-infrastructure. The study first examines the Third Department command structure and subordinate research institutes, and then offers an overview of the Third Department‘s 12 operational bureaus.

The discussion then focuses on the technical reconnaissance assets under each of the PLA‘s seven MRs, Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery Force.

A must read:

Cross-posted from Stefano Mele

Possibly Related Articles:
China Military Cyberwar Espionage Reconnaissance National Security Intelligence PLA
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