Officers from the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) will no longer be sent “behind enemy lines” in China to collect intelligence, sources are saying, which, if true, could undermine Taiwan’s ability to understand developments in China.
Citing unnamed sources in intelligence circles, the Chinese--language China Times reported last week that under new directives issued to the military spy agency, the bureau would no longer be allowed to send its agents to China or direct Taiwanese businesspeople based there to collect classified information or develop spy networks.
According to the article, the MIB will be barred from breaking laws and regulations in China and will limit itself to using networks that are already in place to collect information from open sources such as journals, books, newspapers and academic papers.
Meanwhile, its collection of classified information and human intelligence on China will focus on overseas Chinese or Chinese who visit Taiwan on a regular basis.
Amid the government’s restructuring efforts, the bureau has been streamlined to cover six areas of responsibility, namely: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Europe, electronic intelligence and administration.
Similar directives appear to have been issued to the National Security Bureau (NSB), the nation’s principal civilian spy agency.
According to the China Times, NSB officers will cease cooperating with allies in Southeast Asia in monitoring Chinese vessels passing through the Strait of Malacca and could curtail efforts to conduct “backdoor” communications intercepts inside China via India.
In addition, an unidentified country in Central America has also approached the NSB and offered to monitor and collect intelligence from China’s representative office in that country for the Taiwanese government, provided that the NSB was willing to provide the funding needed for the operation. The bureau turned down the offer after thorough consideration.
According to an anonymous source familiar with Taiwan’s intelligence collection operations, China’s representative offices in various countries have always been vital channels through which the Taiwanese government obtained intelligence, as their security measures on classified documentations were less stringent than those seen within the Chinese government.
“In the past, we [the Taiwanese government] would normally not turn down such ‘paid service’ for intelligence collection due to the adequate funding earmarked for such purposes and China’s apparent efforts to poach our country’s diplomatic allies in Central America,” the source said.
Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major-General David Lo (羅紹和) told the Taipei Times yesterday that the ministry does not comment on intelligence matters.
Such directives, which could not be independently confirmed, would occur as Beijing increases pressure on the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to engage in political talks and sign a peace accord. Although a drawdown of aggressive intelligence collection in China could send signals of goodwill to Beijing, it should be noted that intelligence agencies rarely discuss their means of collection or the true nature of their operations.
Among other restructuring plans, the MIB’s information operations will now fall directly under General Staff Headquarters rather than the NSB, with the unit in charge of communications intercepts in China being annexed to the ministry’s Communications Development Office, the China Times said, adding that the unit had moved to Sindian District (新店), New Taipei City (新北市).
An unnamed military source said that the MIB’s human resource and intelligence operations would no longer be overseen by the NSB director, as is the case at present.