China opens National Intelligence College on the campus of Hunan University.
China opened its eighth National Intelligence College on the campus of Hunan University in the central city of Changsha last week. Since January, similar training schools have opened inside universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Qingdao and Harbin.
The move comes amid growing worries in the West at the scale and breadth of Chinese intelligence-gathering, with MI5 saying that the Chinese government “represents one of the most significant espionage threats to the UK”.
In February, China allegedly managed to penetrate the Foreign Office’s internal communications network.
Until now, however, the bulk of Chinese foreign espionage is thought to have been conducted primarily by academics and students who are sent to the host countries only for a short period of time.
The new schools aim to transform and modernise the Chinese intelligence services, producing spies who are trained in the latest methods of data collection and analysis. Each school will recruit around 30 to 50 carefully-selected existing undergraduates each year.
The move echoes similar efforts by Western intelligence agencies, including MI5, to improve their analytical capabilities and use of technology.
The United States has a similar project, named the National Security Education Program, that was set up in the wake of the first Gulf war in order to boost language and culture training for US spies.
The Chinese programme began in 2008 with the founding of the first Intelligence College at Nanjing university. A second school was set up in the southern province of Guangdong at the end of last year, and the programme has now been dramatically accelerated.
“The establishment of an Intelligence college at Fudan is in response to the urgent need for special skills to conduct intelligence work in the modern era,” said a spokesman for Shanghai’s Fudan university.
“The college will use Fudan’s existing computer science, law, management, journalism and sociology resources and then carry out special intelligence training,” he added.
However, the university would not disclose the location of the new spy school, and students at Fudan university have been kept largely in the dark about its existence.
“China does not have the talents and skills it needs in its intelligence departments,” said Cao Shujin, the deputy dean of the Zhongshan National Intelligence College, and a professor of information management. “We needed to set up specific degree courses to fill those requirements,” he added.
“After students spend a year studying information management, they can elect to switch to the Intelligence College. We have not decided the exact screening process yet.” Mr Cao said the new colleges were “nothing for the West to worry about”. He said: “This is nothing like the changes going on in the People’s Liberation Army, we are just trying to provide the right sort of skills for our requirements. Some of our graduates will probably go into the government’s intelligence departments, but maybe not all of them.”