China, Russia, and radical Islam: Security service details threats to Czechia

A report from the Security Information Service speaks about current international threats to Czech security.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 18.10.2022 14:47:00 (updated on 19.10.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

Czechia’s main counter-intelligence division has outlined security threats that the country is currently facing, pinpointing China and Russia as provocateurs, as well as the threat of Islamization. The Security Information Service (BIS) of Czechia published a report on Monday detailing external threats to the country.

China: a high-level threat amid strained relations between Prague and Beijing

China presents a “rising comprehensive intelligence threat” to Czechia, according to the report. Chinese intelligence activities in the country continue to be at a high level and operate against the interests of the country. 

Operating under diplomatic or journalistic cover, China has maintained an active interest in political developments in Czechia, for example in post-election scenarios. As noted by ČTK, Chinese representatives in Czechia enlisted the services of Czech experts and agencies that would be able to provide appropriate analyzes and surveys. 

"After the [2021] election results resulted in the loss of some long-established contacts, China began intensive damage-control work, including seeking new partners in the Czech political scene." 

The Czech Security Information Service (BIS)

Chinese agents have also sought to liaise with Czech academic contacts as a way to attain extra information for China’s benefit, the report found. 

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Prague offers potential evidence of Chinese influence in Czechia. The capital city has two "unofficial police stations" that ostensibly operate as a means to assist Chinese citizens with documentation. Ladislav Šticha, a counterintelligence spokesman for the BIS, notes in Deník N that these stations may be "an attempt to gain control over their [China's] own diaspora” in Czechia.

An investigation by Deník N found that such centers “quite openly declare their attachment” to the Chinese police and allow Chinese intelligence to monitor the Chinese community in foreign countries. 

With a direct connection to the state and the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the BIS fears that such centers are used to exert influence over Chinese nationals and acquire information. 

A 2020 report from the BIS aptly notes that "according to the current [Chinese] legislation, every organization and citizen must participate in national intelligence activities. Cooperation with the Chinese security forces is thus mandatory for Chinese individuals by law.” This close, coerced, relationship poses a risk to Czech intelligence. 

"By combining forced obedience and fear of the negative consequences of anti-regime actions, China is creating a network of loyal compatriots abroad that can be used for its influence operations."

The Czech Security Information Service (BIS)

The unofficial “police stations,” or help centers, deny any wrongdoing – China claims that their function is to simplify the lives of Chinese people when dealing with complicated administrative matters abroad. The current centers’ operation is legal and breaks no Czech laws, but is being closely monitored by the BIS.

Relations between Czechia and China have recently become more strained. Chinese media have, for example, criticized the Czech government’s decision to lead a 90-person delegation to Taiwan in August 2020, as Deutsche Welle reports.

The BIS warned against Chinese takeovers of Czech firms and against efforts to transfer Czech production to China in order to protect the country’s security and reduce Chinese influence.

The BIS also accused China of sponsoring cyberespionage agents to conduct malicious online activity in Czechia’s web sphere. According to the 2022 National Cyber Power Index by Harvard University, China is the second most powerful cyber nation in the world.

The top 10 most powerful countries in terms of cyber capabilities: 2020 and 2022. National Cyber Power Index 2022
The top 10 most powerful countries in terms of cyber capabilities: 2020 and 2022. National Cyber Power Index 2022

The Chinese Embassy in Czechia described the findings of the BIS’s report as unsubstantiated criticism. "China is a partner for the Czech Republic, not a rival," it asserted on its website.

Russia’s threat sees slight decline after Czech expulsion of diplomats

Whereas China’s threat is increasing, that posed by Russia is declining – yet still existent, the BIS report found. 

Since the expulsion of 100 Russian embassy staff in 2021 – following the Czech government’s findings that Russian diplomatic staff were involved in the 2014 Vrbětice explosions – Russia’s espionage capacities on Czech soil have significantly decreased.

"Intelligence presence from traditional positions legalized at the embassy is at a very low level and at the moment does not pose a fundamental risk to the security of the Czech Republic," BIS chief Michal Koudelka told reporters, as cited by ČTK.

However, Czech counter-intelligence found that a Russian agent with links to Czech journalists and politicians used them to promote a pro-Russian political agenda and mediate topics that are in line with Russia's interests. 

The "influential" group that the agent was part of "had sufficient funds to maintain or even expand the circle of pro-Russian journalists and activists who would organize public events that could be used for the benefit of Russian propaganda," the BIS said.

Following anti-Russian, pro-Ukrainian actions that Czechia has adopted since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, the threat of Russia remains omnipresent.

Islamization remains a threat due to online propaganda

Another topic the BIS reviewed was the threat of Islamization from the Middle East. 

According to the counter-intelligence agency, there is a low, yet persistent, risk of individuals in the country being radicalized through their exposure to online jihadist propaganda. People in Czechia displaying signs of potential radicalization tend to have links to Islamic militants currently in areas under the influence of the Islamic State.

Although, as per the BIS report, “radical manifestations” of Islamization have decreased since 2019, when the Islamic State was ousted from the last of the territory it had seized across Syria and Iraq, the threat of ex-IS fighters and their families returning undetected to Europe – potentially finding their way to Czechia – remains.

The BIS has confirmed that there has been no recorded arrival of any returnee from areas of jihadist fighting into Czechia.

There is no substantial threat of organized attacks by Islamic terrorist organizations, the BIS note, and low risk of individual “lone wolf” attacks. The BIS notes that, owing to waning global influence, the Islamic State is tactically focusing on regions closer to its sphere of influence: namely, Asia and Africa.

The threat of the Middle East's Iran, according to the BIS, is a long-term concern to European states, including Czechia. However, the counter-intelligence agency noted the lack of a present, considerable threat from Iran.

In a visit to the BIS headquarters on Monday this week, Prime Minister Petr Fiala thanked the counter-intelligence organization for its help in safeguarding the country. According to Fiala, the "information that the government receives from BIS turns out to be accurate and very important at the moment."

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