Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts

The People’s Republic of China Consulate in San Francisco (above). The Consulate has been a bit troublesome. On occasion, it has been linked to suspected Chinese espionage efforts on the West Coast. However, Chinese intelligence operations in the region, which holds world-leading science and tech firms, have more often been tied to state-owned businesses, private firms, academic institutions, or research institutes than the Consulate. In a January 31, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed James Olson’s To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence. In Chapter Six, Olson lists 10 “benefits of a counterintelligence operation” and explains how to reap them. In this essay, greatcharlie presents some suggestions on how Olson’s precepts might be applied to help defeat Chinese espionage efforts throughout the US.

In its January 31, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed James Olson’s To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019. In Chapter Six “Double-Agent Operations,” Chapter Seven, “Managing Double-Agent Operations,” and Chapter Eight “Counterintelligence Case Studies,” in particular, Olson provides a generous amount of information on how counterintelligence operations have been conducted by US counterintelligence services. Readers are also favored with many of the logical principles that Olson would practice and expound during training during his service in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) counterintelligence. Included among what he presents is a list of benefits US counterintelligence seeks to gain from a double-agent operations: spreading disinformation; determining the other side’s modus operandi; identifying hostile intelligence officers; learning the opposition’s intelligence collection requirements; acquiring positive intelligence; tying up the opposition’s operations; taking the oppositions money; discrediting the opposition; testing other countries; and, pitching the hostile case officer. Many of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US counterintelligence are laid out. Some portions are couched in anecdotes illustrating practices used in the past. Each to an extent is a display of the imagination and creativity. One discovers how double-agents were dangled to garner interest from adversarial intelligence services, false information spiked with just enough truths, “chicken feed,” was transmitted, and nuanced communications between the double-agent and his handler were managed. In 12 case studies, Olson finally presents a classical series of demonstrations along with lessons learned. He tells it all in an apposite way. Virum mihi, Camena, insece versutum. (Tell me, O Muse,of the skillfully man.)

In fairness, Olson’s work should not be judged in terms of his reaction to the prevailing national security crisis at the time of this writing: Chinese intelligence penetration into the foundations of US power. A criminal strain is observed running through the thinking of the Communist Party of China as it dispatches Chinese foreign intelligence services to steal volumes, tons of information from the most secure locations in the US. Perhaps what the future may hold is made darker by the fact that among its central members, are individuals of immense intellect, making them a far more dangerous threat to US interests. In greatcharlie’s view, there is much that can be extracted from To Catch a Spy that might constructively provide some suggestions on how to address this crisis. With the objective of being transparent, greatcharlie must disclose that on the matter of Chinese espionage in the US it is partisan, giving its complete support to the US, the homeland. That does not imply that a bias colors its discussion. No information is skewed or bent with preconceived ideas. What it does mean is that readers will likely discern facts are interpreted from that perspective.

In Chapter Six of To Catch a Spy, Olson lists the 10 “benefits of a counterintelligence operation” related in particular to double-agent operations and explains, in brief, how to reap them. In this essay, greatcharlie may albeit step out on shaky ground to present some discreet suggestions on how 9 of Olson’s 10 precepts might be applied in efforts to defeat Chinese espionage activities in the US. The suggestions are the result of some creative thinking on what if anything new might be said on the matter. In the essay’s discussion, greatcharlie hopes to avoid any appearance of instructing counterintelligence officers on what to do. Rather, the only desire is to offer all readers its suggestions, leaving it up to those in US counterintelligence to observe, reflect, and act as they may. It would be satisfying enough to know that some of what is presented here might  resonate with a few of them. It is presumed by greatcharlie that Olson’s precepts harmonize to a great degree with those that currently guide US counterintelligence officers in active service and thereby anything resulting from them would not be deemed too fanciful or even recherché. Applying Olson’s precepts to developments on the Chinese intelligence front in greatcharlie’s would have been beyond its scope of its preceding review of To Catch a Spy –although some readers noting the review’s length might sardonically query why there might be any concern over a few thousand words extra. In response to such concerns, greatcharlie has attempted to apply Olson’s teachings to the discussion here without making it an exercise in “large data processing.” It should also be noted that from the corpus of work on Chinese intelligence, a great influence upon greatcharlie are the writings of Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA, where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019), a book which is nothing less than brilliant.

Additionally, upon consideration of what it could offer to support the development of more effective approaches to defeat Chinese human intelligence and electronic intelligence collection activities against the US, greatcharlie bore in mind that it would need to be somewhat Daedalian in its discussion. Therefore, what is offered are fragments of ideas with the aim of leaving a figurative trail of breadcrumbs that  a few officers in the US counterintelligence services might pick up. Hopefully, after testing their virtue, they will find something useful. Given this approach, greatcharlie apologies in advance to other readers who may find the discussion somewhat cryptic or a bit “undercooked” at places. De minimis grandis fit magnus acervus. (From the smallest grains comes a big heap.)

Chinese Foreign Intelligence Versus US Counterintelligence

Resolving the problem of halting the torrent of successful Chinese intelligence operations against targets inside the US has hardly provided mental exaltation for the rank and file in US counterintelligence services operating in the field. US counterintelligence has lived with failure too long. Surely, a great cloud has covered any happiness of their work. The inability to put an appreciable dent in Chinese efforts has likely had some measurable impact on the morale of earnest US counterintelligence officers. Indeed, the abstruse puzzle that Chinese intelligence operations pose has most likely been an anxiety generating challenge that has pressed those given to believe it is their purview to know things others cannot know. At the top, senior executives and managers must account for the failing of their respective US counterintelligence services. Imaginably, they resent the deficiency. Surely, they are feeling terribly unsettled by regular reports of so much being blown, so much intellectual property and classified material being lost. They have certainly had a bellyful of the failure rate against the Chinese intelligence networks. There has been so much scandal–or at least what should be scandal–with US political leaders becoming entangled with Chinese intelligence operatives, from interns, drivers, fundraisers, to “camp followers.” Expectantly, senior executives and managers should be wondering whether the rank and file of US counterintelligence has gone on hiatus. To use contemporary sports vernacular in the US, US counterintelligence services “have not shown up” in the struggle with China. They may also be wondering, given the array of tools and considerable resources available to them, whether the rank and file, led by squad, shop, or unit supervisors and commanders, have told them the whole story. Perhaps harshly, they would question whether the rank and file were organizing valid plans or going off on profitless “school boy larks,” not remotely sufficient to defeat a most cunning opponent. Against the Chinese style intelligence operations, it may very well be the case that the ordinary principles of trade craft and security have gone to the wall. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.” Directors and commanding officers of US counterintelligence services can only come to the US Congress for hearings on oversight and appropriations seeking sympathy not approval or report any real success.

Perchance little has really been provided in any official assessments of why US counterintelligence efforts have been so unsuccessful. Perhaps senior executives are not asking the right questions or any questions. When one is overmatched, one will usually lose. Some enhanced intelligibility in the discussion of what has been occurring would help to bring at least the US public around to a better understanding of what where things stand and the prospects for success. Without that, policy analysts and other observers are left to presume that the Chinese are that much better. Indeed, as of this writing, the suggestion that has frequently been voiced in certain quarters concerned with the crisis, and has even spilled out into the newsmedia, is that the professional, diligent officers of the US counterintelligence services–and sadly those qualities cannot be ascribed to the entire group–are simply unable to get a handle on the Chinese threat. That suggests there has been a complete eclipse of their faculties. However, that should not be taken as the gospel truth. Surely, the men and women of the US counterintelligence services, correctly focused, will be able to gain and retain the initiative and start pulling apart Chinese intelligence networks. The renowned US industrialist Henry Ford once remarked: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” The US counterintelligence services maintain their vigil.

Olson’s Precepts from To Catch a Spy

On “Spreading disinformation”

Olson begins his veritable “mini manual” by explaining double-agents can be used to provide the opposition service with false or misleading disinformation, but this a relatively infrequent objective. Deceiving the enemy in this manner requires tremendous planning and subtlety because adversarial foreign intelligence services are not easily deceived. Very often they possess the means to verify the provenance of the double-agent’s reporting. Moreover, if the double-agent reports that some action will take place in the future and it does not, the double-agent’s credibility is seriously undermined. According to Olson the use of disinformation in a double-agent operation would only make sense when the stakes are unusually high or the opposition has limited means of verification.

With reference to “Determining the other side’s modus operandi”

Olson explains that a double-agent is in a perfect position to report back on the opposition’s modus operandi. For any counterintelligence officer responsible for monitoring and thwarting hostile services operations, it is invaluable to know how the service conducts its business. Olson recalls that when he was tasked with developing counterintelligence programs at CIA field stations, the first thing he did was review all of the double-agent operations that any US government agency had run in that location. What he wanted to learn was how the target services operated. Among the questions that he would ask were the following: “Did they meet their agents in safe house, cafes, parks, vehicles, or some other location? What time of day did they prefer for agent meetings? Were there sections of the city they overused? Did they incorporate initial contact points into their modus operandi, and if so, what kind? What kind of equipment and training did they provide for their agents? Did they use electronic communications of any kind? Where were their dead drops and what did their concealment devices look like? What type of signal device did they prefer?”

Olson remarks that It was especially helpful to have double-agent history in the same city that you are operating, but there was value in reviewing any foibles of double-agent operations run by the target service anywhere. As Olson explains,, the case officers of the service have all had the same training and follow the same operational doctrine. They tend to fall into habits and use operational techniques that have worked for them elsewhere. The result can be predictability–a major vulnerability in spying that can and should be exploited by the opposition’s counterintelligence. 

Concerning “Identifying hostile intelligence officers”

Foreign intelligence services take great pains to hide their case officers under a variety of covers according to Olson. They can pose as diplomats, trade officials, journalists, students, businessmen or businesswomen, airline rep de esentatives, employees of international organizations, and practically any other profession that gives them an ostensible reason for being in the country. US counterintelligence is tasked with piercing those covers and identifying the spies. One of the best tools available for this task is the double-agent.

In some cases the handling officer is the recruiting officer. If the recruiting officer first met our double-agent dangle when he was providing the dotting and assessing venues in true name, then the double-agent can provide a positive identification from the beginning. As standard practice, however, the case officer will use an alias in meeting with the double-agent. The double-agent can still provide a detailed description of his or her handler and can often make an identification through a photo spread. Also, since counterintelligence service running the double-agent operation knows when and where the case officer will show up, for example to meet to meet the double agent, to service a dead drop, or to mark a signal, it has technical options to assist in identification. The case officer usually comes from a known pool of officials from the local embassy, consulate, the UN, a trade mission, or some other official installation. Olson claims that it never takes long “to make” who the handler is.

Double-agent operations that go on for an extended period, as many of them do, Olson explains that they will lead usually to additional identifications of hostile intelligence personnel. Case officers rotate regularly to other assignments, and their agents doubled or otherwise, are turned over to a new case officer for handling. Other case officers are sometimes introduced into the operation as a back-up or as a subject expert. The primary case officer may handle the day-to-day operational aspects of the operation but may not have the in-depth knowledge required to debrief the double-agent effectively on a highly technical subject. Olson says it is not uncommon in these cases for intelligence services to insert a more knowledgeable debriefer into an operation from time to time. He continues by explaining that If the primary case officer may not be able to get a surveillance break to pick up a dead drop, for example, or may not have cover to mark or read a given signal. In that event a colleague from the residency is called on to help out–and can be identified by employed cameras or other surveillance techniques nearby. Olson states that in some long term double-agent  operations, as many as twenty or thirty opposition case officers and support personnel have been exposed in this manner.

Olson warns that things get funny when the handling or servicing officer if a double-agent operation is an illegal or nonofficial cover officer (NOC). Case officers in these categories face arrest or imprisonment if caught. For that reason, illegals or NOCs are used carefully and as a rule only handle or support a case in which the bona fides of the operation are considered airtight.

With respect to “Learning the opposition’s intelligence collection requirements”

In what Olson calls “the cat-and-mouse game” of counterintelligence, even the slightest advantage can be the difference between winning and losing. A good double-agent operation can provide a winning edge by alerting the sponsoring service to the opposition’s collection requirements. Knowing what the double-agent is being asked to provide the handler is a valuable window into what the opposition’s priorities and gaps are. A question posed would be “How much pressure is being put on the double-agent to collect intelligence in a certain area?” He says that the range of tasking is limited, of course, to what the double-agent professes his access to be,  but a good double-agent might hint at the possibility if expanded access to smoke out the opposition’s response. For example, a high technology double-agent might tell his handler that his future duties might include research in high technology devices. Olson says the question then would be: “Does the opposition service respond either alacrity or lassitude?” According to Olson, the latter reaction could indicate that this requirement is being covered by another agent.

Olson demonstrates another ploy that can be used to learn the adversary’s collection priorities which was to have a military double-agent, for example, announce to his handler that he is up for reassignment and is about to put in his wish list for a new posting. Olson says the double-agent would be prompted to ask his handler: “Where would the service like him to go?  Where does the service not want him to go? For what kind of bullet should he be applying?” Olson explains that how the handler responds can indicate the services collection priorities and gaps in locations where it thinks it can handle the double agent safely.

Olson further explains that intelligence services do not task their agents haphazardly. The requirements are generated by a systematic process that includes input from all the interested parties. In the US, for example, requirements for the intelligence community result from an elaborate consultation and give and take managed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The process is far from casual. Any intelligence service can learn a lot by analyzing the requirements given to its double agents. There is significant meaning in what the opposition service is asking for and what it is not.

Regarding “Acquiring positive intelligence”

Olson reveals that occasionally, a foreign intelligence service so believes in the trustworthiness of a double agent that it shares with that double-agent positive intelligence information. The purpose may be to give the founder agent background information to assist in his or her collection efforts. Another reason for doing so might be that the case officer-double-agent relationship may become so critical that the case officer assumes the double-agents ironclad loyalty and “talks out of school.” Olson also says a case officer may try to enhance his or her standing with the double-agent by boasting about past or current accomplishments.

With reference to “Tying up the opposition’s operations”

Every minute an opposition case officer spends on a double-agent, proffers Olson, is a wasted minute. The handlers time is wasted. Also tied up in the operation for no productive purpose are technical teams, linguists, surveillance, and analysts. Olson goes on to note that It is perhaps a perverse but still undeniable pleasure for a US counterintelligence officer to sit back to survey his or her double-agent operations and to gloat about owning a big chunk of that adversary’s time and energy. Every useless thing that a foreign intelligence service does in handling one of our double agent operations leaves less time for it to hurt us with real operations. In the great game of counterintelligence, these are gratifying victories.

As to “Taking the oppositions money”

Foreign intelligence services vary tremendously in how much they pay their agents, but Olson admits that with the right kind of material, a good double-agent can command big money. He explains that the willingness of an adversarial service to pay our double-agents large amounts of money is a good indicator of how deeply we have set the hook. 

About “Discrediting the opposition”

Commenting generally, Olson says intelligence services hate to lose face. Enough of them around the world have acquired such bad reputations for violating human rights, torture, other violent acts, and murder, that there is not too much for the many to lose in terms of good standing. They want to project to the world an image of competence, professionalism, toughness and discipline. Olson explains that any publicity that highlights their failures can undermine their support from their government and demoralize their troops. He notes that in closed societies like the Soviet Union, East Germany, China, and Cuba, intelligence services were hardly accountable to the press and public as those of Western democratic societies. However, he maintains that they still did everything they could to protect their reputations. Olson says that the same is true today of our major counterintelligence adversaries.

The US is reluctant to publicize expired double-agent operations out of fear of revealing sensitive methodology or subjecting the American principal of notoriety. In selected cases, Olson states that he would like to see US counterintelligence be more proactive in capitalizing on the other side’s failures. He believes that by doing so the US can make them gun shy about engaging in future operations against its citizens. He asserts that the US could publicize how they fell into our trap and how much they gave away to us in the process. He suggests that once they are lured into operating inside the US, counterintelligence services can do a splashy expulsion of case officers who have diplomatic immunity and arrest those who do not. As a benefit, Olson suggests the hostile service looks bad for letting itself be duped by our double-agent operation, and should pay a price for it. It loses some of its operational staff, its reputation for professionalism suffers. He feels that no mistake by the opposition should go unexploited. 

The People’s Republic of China Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). Resolving the problem of halting the torrent of successful Chinese intelligence operations against targets inside the US has hardly provided mental exaltation for the rank and file in US counterintelligence services operating in the field. US counterintelligence has lived with failure too long. Surely, a great cloud has covered any happiness of their work. The inability to put an appreciable dent in Chinese efforts has likely had some measurable impact on the morale of earnest US counterintelligence officers. Indeed, the abstruse puzzle that Chinese intelligence operations pose has most likely been an anxiety generating challenge that has pressed those given to believe it is their purview to know things others cannot know.

Suggestions Drawn from Olson’s Precepts

Do Not Fume, Think!

In Greek Mythology, there was Até, an unpredictable figure, not necessarily personified, yet represented rash, chaotic, ruinous responses by both gods and men to a situation. She was famously mentioned in Act 3, Scene 1 of  William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony addresses the body of Caesar and predicts civil war: “And Caesar’s spirit ranging for revenge,/ With Até by his side, come hot from hell,/ Shall in these confines, with a monarch’s voice,/ Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.” Até has been described as a chain reaction, a mechanism in which evil succeeds evil. In finding a handle to the current espionage crisis with China, it is not a time for a “gloves off” attitude. Minds should be directed toward getting at the opponent to send a message, to bully or even to overwhelm, The requirement in this situation is subtlety, nuance, thinking, not any heavy-handed business. If any US counterintelligence officer involved cannot sustain that, he or she is working the wrong target. Informed by experience, greatcharlie is aware that it is a predilection among not all young special agents in a particular US counterintelligence service, but some, to be frightfully eager to prove something to their cohorts and to themselves. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions)).

Practicing what is compulsory for all investigations in the Chinese crisis is sine qua non. However, if one’s thinking is not yielding satisfactory outcomes, then one must focus upon how and what one thinks. A corrective step must be to concentrate to enhance one’s ability to summon up new ideas and insights, study, understand, and consider the deeds of personalities. It is one thing to supposedly see everything–certainly the tools available to US counterintelligence services allow them to see an extraordinary amount of things, but another thing to properly reason from what one sees. US counterintelligence officers must think harder and conceptualize better. They must ruminate on events in relation to those that proceed them and meditate on what the future may bring. They must practice forecasting decisions by their adversary that may shape what might come and then proof their efforts by watching events unfold in reports. 

The question that must beat the brain of every US counterintelligence officer working on the matter is most likely: “Where will they strike next?” As a practical suggestion, the focus of many investigations–if not all investigations–of Chinese intelligence networks send operations might be placed on two points: those controlling networks and running operations in the field; and the composition of operations in the field.

Know Who Controls the Chinese Intelligence Networks

As it was discussed in the July 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” personnel of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the civilian foreign intelligence service of China, are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. In most countries, MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. In the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. MSS personnel are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for ten years if required. In most countries, the local MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. Having stated that, it is near certain that presently far greater numbers of MSS officers as well as officers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Communist Party of China intelligence units are operating without official cover throughout the West. (Note: The four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders are the United Front Work Department, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department.) Instead of embassies and consulates, they operate out of nongovernmental, decentralized stations. They are known to often operate out of front companies created solely for intelligence missions or out of “friendly” companies overseas run by Chinese nationals, “cut outs“, who are willing to be more heavily involved with the work of MSS and other Chinese intelligence services than most Chinese citizens would ever want to be. This approach may be a residual effect of pollination with Soviet intelligence in the past. 

There is a common misunderstanding about the Soviet KGB Rezidentura. While it is generally believed that all intelligence activity by KGB in another country was centralized through the Rezidentura in the embassy or consulate, under a Rezident with an official cover, as fully explained by former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin in his memoir, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), there were also nonofficial Rezidenturas that operated away from Soviet diplomatic centers. Those nonofficial Rezidenturas had their own Rezident or chief of station, chain of command, missions, and lines of communication to Moscow. One might suppose that when the relationship during the Cold War was still congenial, had doubtlessly demonstrated to the Chinese, the benefits of operating two types of Rezidentura overseas, official and nonofficial. In a July 9, 2017 National Review article entitled “Everything We Know about China’s Secretive State Security Bureau”, Mattis explains that the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements of MSS more than likely possess most of the officers, operatives, and informants and conduct the lion’s share of the operations. For some time, those provincial and municipal sub-elements performed mostly surveillance and domestic intelligence work. These provincial and municipal state security departments and bureaus By the time of Mattis’ writing, they had become small-sized foreign intelligence services. They were given considerable leeway to pursue sources. In Mattis’ view, that independence accounted for variation across the MSS in terms of the quality of individual intelligence officers and operations. At the present, the provincial and municipal state security departments and bureaus may be operating entire networks of their own in the US with appropriate guidance from MSS Headquarters and the Communist Party of China.

There are likely many unexplored possibilities that perhaps should be considered about the managers of Chinese intelligence networks in the US. Anything that can be gathered or inferred about the individuality of such a person must be put forth for study. A constant effort must be made to understand what makes the network manager tick. Using some of what is publicly known about how Chinese intelligence services have been operating in the US from a variety of sources, to include US Department of Justice indictments and criminal complaints, one might conceptualize traits that could be ascribed to those managers possibly on the ground in the US, controlling operations day-to-day, are: energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Among their traits, one might expect that they would exude a positive attitude that encourages officers, operatives, and informants to do their utmost in the field. That energy is transmitted to US citizens and Chinese émigrés being recruited to serve the purposes of their intelligence services and, of course, the Communist Party of China. There would very likely be the hope among Chinese intelligence services and the Communist Party of China that following the detection of each of their victories by US counterintelligence services there is an opposite effect upon the officers of those organizations. Chinese intelligence services would surely hope that a sense of defeat reaches deep into the psyche of US counterintelligence services rank and file and firmly sets within them a sense of disponding woe, sorrow, and discouragement. They doubtlessly want them to feel gutted.

The managers controlling operations of Chinese foreign intelligence networks in the US have undoubtedly been selected due to their proven mental alertness, quick thinking, adaptability, and curiosity. They surely have the right stuff to be open-minded and imaginative, within authorized parameters, and are willing to adapt. Surprisingly given the iron-grip culture among managers and executives in Beijing, these “field managers” have apparently been given some leeway to use their initiative to achieve progress. It likely accounts for how the Chinese are able to react quickly to any changing circumstances. To an extent, it may also explain why Chinese intelligence services may appear to some to be so disdainful of any danger that US counterintelligence efforts might pose to their operations despite knowing that they are actively being pursued by them by the hour. To be on top of everything, the network managers are likely sharp as a tack and no doubt endlessly study what is known by Chinese intelligence about US counterintelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, concepts and intent, and the latest counterintelligence tools US counterintelligence has fielded. Among such individuals, a solid foundation of information likely allows for the development of viable inferences and strong insights which in turn allows for confidence in using their intuition on what may come or what is coming their way. These network leaders are also likely able to identify any “bad habits” that may have ever brought US counterintelligence services too close for comfort. 

There remains the possibility that the network manager may not even be located in the US. Still, someone must be present on the ground in the US, to relay, with authority, directions from the manager and respond to inquiries and urgent matters from those operating in the field. It could be the case that they maintain modest lodgings not only to reduce costs and keep a low-profile in general. However, the presumption of a low-profile manager could also be entirely incorrect. It may very well be that they are individuals who have achieved considerable success and prominence in areas such as business and finance. As such, they, as a professional requirement, would both have access to and daily accumulate knowledge far beyond average boundaries of the latest events in industry and government. They would know what is important and urgent, what is moving things forward, what is the next big thing, who and where are the individuals influencing events and how to make contact with them and get connected to all of it. In their fields, they may be among the most capable at doing that and may have the recognition, awards, and the financial benefits that would confirm it. It would appear that they avoid engaging in any surreptitious or malign efforts in their own companies or in their own fields. However, it is still a possibility.

Such prospective network managers would very likely be untainted by any apparent or questionable affiliation with Chinese universities, the PLA, and the Communist Party of China. (That does not mean family members who may reside in China would not be thoroughly connected to such organizations.) If the individuals have family ties back to China, there would be nothing apparent about them that would make them suspicious. They would likely have no overseas travel or contacts that would create suspicion. Doubtlessly, an endless list of notables from their fields might be prepared to vouch for them. All the while, though, they would be managing intelligence operations of their networks in an exquisite fashion, and feeding back information to China vital to US national security and the key to helping US businesses maintain their competitive edge against foreign rivals. (If the manager is situated in the US, oddly enough, there may actually be a number of creative ways to draw out such senior managers of field operations. As aforementioned, greatcharlie will never offer any insights even from its position outside the bureaucracy that it believed might result in any negative outcomes for the US as it seeks to resolve the China crisis. That being stated, as stated in the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago,” if one were to mine through the US Department of Justice’s very own indictments and criminal complaint against those few Chinese officers, operatives, and informants that have been captured, reading between the lines very closely, one can find to more than few open doors that might lead to successes against existing but well-cloaked Chinese intelligence networks and actors. Not one case has been a “wilderness of mirrors.”)

Perchance those of a younger generation would say that Chinese intelligence network managers in the US, as described here, as being  “woke,” or as the Germans would say, “wach,” both words roughly refer to them as being awake. In greatcharlie’s view, spying on the US is not woke. Nonetheless, everyday, the network managers place their keen eyes on the world around them and have a deep understanding of how people tick, how they fit in and feel where they live and work, and how they can get the ones they have targeted tangled up in their respective espionage enterprises.

Perhaps reading this, one might get the impression that greatcharlie was attempting to convince readers that Jupiter himself was running the Chinese intelligence networks. That is surely not the case. However, it must be recognized that the sort controlling those networks are likely of a very special nature. Surely, with regard to politics which is all so important in the regime of the Communist Party of China, one would expect that network managers deployed against the US, despite not having much physical contact with anyone in Beijing, would be the fair-haired boys or gals among one or more of the senior executives in MSS or even a senior leader of the Party, itself. 

Whatever any US counterintelligence service may attempt to do in an effort to break Chinese intelligence operations, its officers must be mindful that this may likely be the sort of individual they are seeking to maneuver against. Without the ability to get up close to these managers, it might be enough to conceptualize them, given the pattern of activity and interrogations of intercepted officers, operatives, and informants and reinterviewing the handful of “recent” defectors in US hands. (It is wholly plausible that the officers, operatives, and informants working in the US have never seen and do not know the identity of their network manager on the ground. They may only recognize the individual by code via orders, rectifications, responses to inquiries and requests, and inspirational messages.) If the abstract entity, de créature imaginaire, constructed here is, by coincidence, correct in every particular, there may be the rudiments to get started on trying to “steal a march” on perhaps a few of the Chinese intelligence network managers. Shaping one’s thinking against thinking and conceptualized tratits of de créature imaginaire, may be enough to open new doors. Perhaps in time, such in-depth study of these aspects will allow informed counterintelligence officers to develop true intimations, not valueless surmisals or absurd speculation, of what may be occurring and what is about to occur. In “A Story of Great Love,” published in the Winter 2011 edition of the Paris Review, Clarice Lispector writes a sentence that is amusing yet conceptually germane to what is discussed here: “Once upon a time there was a girl who spent so much time looking at her hens that she came to understand their souls and their desires intimately.”

The People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston (above). From this now closed building, China directed government, economic, and cultural activity across the southern US. Ministry of State Security (MSS) personnel are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. In most countries, the local MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. Having stated that, it is certain that presently far greater numbers of MSS officers as well as officers from the People’s Liberation Army and Communist Party of China intelligence units are operating without official cover throughout the West. Instead of embassies and consulates, they operate out of nongovernmental, decentralized stations.

Discover the Composition of Network Operations

One might suppose the Chinese intelligence networks in the US, as a primary purpose, unlikely conduct operations in which they blithely seek out new targets day-after-day, although there are perhaps some operations underway that serve to monitor individuals in positions that might be interest and sites of information of interest with the guidance of MSS headquarters, provincial bureaus and municipal departments based on available intelligence. The settled, more fruitful networks that have nettled US counterintelligence services the most are likely set up to run operations on targets of a certain type, rich with prospects at locations in  which Chinese intelligence operatives and informants are well ensconced. One could reasonably expect that there will be a commonality in location for both predator and prey. (Although, nothing can really be certain for espionage is a deke business.) The Chinese intelligence operation will be set up in proximity of a figurative “happy hunting ground,” a high-tech firm, laboratory, academia, political network, foreign, national security, economic, trade policymaking office, agribusiness, and aviation, and energy business to list only a handful. In addition to propinquity, there will be a common functionality of any Chinese owned business that may establish themselves in the hunting ground, and very apparent efforts to create employee links by them with their likely targets. 

Control remains essential in the authoritarian (totalitarian) regime of the Communist Party of China and therefore there is a certain specificity intrinsic to every operation–despite nuance in design, methods, and other imaginative approaches attendant–that will presumably allow for monitoring, oversight, and audits. If it ever was detected that an odd Chinese intelligence network was skillfully mixing tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods in operations conducted following an aggregate rollup of known Chinese intelligence efforts in the US, it is unlikely that particular network’s approach, while perhaps creative to the extent possible, will never stray too far from any observances that would be laid down by their respective Chinese intelligence services. If the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods used by Chinese intelligence networks are really so similar, one could say their operations will likely have a common “DNA.” The adversary’s known practices are undoubtedly cataloged by US counterintelligence services. It will be necessary to more closely study the common functionality of networks and operations. As much information on their operations must be collected as possible. Study what has been learned by allies. Identify common vulnerabilities in every network. Identify, study, and exploit their deficiencies.

As much of what the networks Chinese intelligence services are exactly doing day-to-day in the US remains unknown publicly at least, it is impossible to say with certainty how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their operations. One can imagine there has been some impact. Nevertheless, given that reality, in considering how COVID-19 factors into their efforts, one must again enter the world of supposition in which one analysis of how those networks are not only operating, but more specifically, how managers of those networks are communicating with Beijing and with their officers, operatives, and informants, can be just as good as another.

Even before COVID-19 hit, for Chinese intelligence networks on the ground in the US, managing communications in any direction was imaginably no mean feat. As it was discussed in the August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 2).” Perhaps, the main lesson for Chinese intelligence services was that it was not safe to continue creating and maintaining secret communications or reports, any truly important documents, electronically. It was the same as leaving an open door to foreign intelligence service penetration. The transition back to paper would be the best answer and easy enough. Indeed, the use of hard documents and files was what the most seasoned foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers were most familiar with using. Moreover, they are very likely individuals of conservative habits, and never became so familiar with computer work as their younger counterparts. The return to paper files would certainly lead to the collection of what would now be thought of as considerable amounts of documents. File rooms and vaults have very likely been rebuilt or returned to service. Urgent issues concerning diplomatic matters were likely communicated via encrypted transmissions. There was very likely a sharp increase in transmissions once the consulate received notice that it was being forced to close. Use of that medium would provide some reasonable assurance that content of the communication would be protected. Nothing of any real importance was likely communicated by telephone given that the US would surely successfully eavesdrop on the conversation. 

One might venture to say that a likely move to hard documents may have been evinced when the world observed presumably Ministry of Foreign Affairs security officers and MSS intelligence officers using fire bins to burn bundles of documents inside the compound of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston, Texas as it prepared to close. It might be the case that burning the documents is standard operating procedure for Chinese diplomatic outposts in such instances as an evacuation. MSS counterintelligence would hardly think that US intelligence and counterintelligence services would pass up the fortuitous opportunity to search through or even keep some or all of the documents consulate personnel might try to ship or mail to China while evacuating the building, even if containers of documents were sent as diplomatic pouches.

From what is publicly known, it appears that Chinese intelligence networks do not recruit after simply spotting a potential operative or informant. If that were the case, the success rate of US counterintelligence services against them would be far higher given the opportunities such activities would present and given the experience of their organizations in dealing with such a basic set up. Chinese intelligence services clearly work wholly on their own terms, investigating only those “targets” who they choose to investigate, essentially ignoring anyone that may have the slightest appearance of being dangled before them. It is a benefit for them to operate in what could be called a target rich environment in the US. Recruitment is “by invitation only.” If one is not on the figurative guest list, one does not get in! As part of their investigations of targets for recruitment, doubtlessly it is important to identify the psychological profile of a person, his political orientation, his attitude towards his motherland, China or towards the US, where he or she has become a citizen or visiting for school or long-term employment. And then, after accumulating a sizable amount of material (based on a whole array of undertakings: plain observation, audio- and video-surveillance of the places of residence, agency-level scrutiny, including “honey traps”), on the basis of the analysis, a decision is made about a transforming the investigation into a recruitment with appropriate conditions (such as through compromising materials or a voluntary agreement) or about wrapping up the whole matter by “educating” a foreigner, conveying a favorable message on China and the wave of the future, Chairman Mao Zedong’s vision of Communism.

After studying what is being specifically done by a network long enough, one will begin to see dimly what a network or specific operation is driving at. After finding a few missing links, an entirely connected case will not always, but can be obtained. Once a clear picture emerges, one can start developing attack vectors against Chinese intelligence networks with a forecast of nearly assured fruits. Lately, the identification and aim at any networks has clearly been far less than accurate. Do not use individuals lacking good judgment and sanguine required based on one’s own standard. Create the best team possible. Know your people well. Keep a close eye on neophytes. (As touched on in the discussion of Olson’s “Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence” of Chapter Four in greatcharlie’s review of To Catch a Spy, a supposition verging on the ridiculous must be seen as such by a supervisor and appropriately knocked down. A keen interest must be kept on how subordinates, especially novices, are reasoning with facts. A supposition verging on the ridiculous might involve imputing criminal motive or involvement on a party that could not have been part of a criminal conspiracy or ascribing characteristics to an individual who could not possibly possess them or has not displayed them. A good case could be blighted by such wrongheadedness.)

Gnawing a bit further at the matter of using young, novice counterintelligence officers on such delicate cases concerning Chinese intelligence, one should avoid the pitfall of allowing them to manage surveillance work for a case and turn it into something that might more reflect the work of a security service in a totalitarian country to soothe their egos. Be mindful of the use of time, energy, and budget by them such as placing heavy, wasteful surveillance on the street not to advance the casework but to prove some immature point of power. Casting some wide net will bring in nothing but a lot of extra things that time, energy and money cannot be wasted upon. Differ nothing to their judgment. Every mistake or misstep made by US counterintelligence, whether the result of a manager’s use of some clever misdirection or whether self-inflicted, represents a success for a Chinese intelligence network manager. Keep firmly in mind the managers of Chinese intelligence networks are flexible enough in their thinking that they appear to be able to change horses in midstream while maintaining the metaphoric helm on a steady heading so to speak. 

Concerning contractors, by their nature, they are owned and managed by businessmen out to make money as priority. That focus among many of them can be boiled down to the  precept, “minimum effort, maximum gain” and that can be most apparent in how they conduct their so-called operations on the street. As already alluded to here, their “operatives,” often poorly vetted before being “hired,” many times find it difficult in the field, physically surveilling a target or trying to open a clandestine conversation, to be their higher selves. They are often too aggressive, even ruthless, and engage in what could politely be called “aberrant behavior.” Strangely enough, for many contractors, the reality that their operatives display these characteristics is a point of pride.. As it was discussed in greatcharlie’s January 31, 2020 review of To Catch a Spy, the negative behavior of contractors witnessed in the field by an adversarial intelligence service’s officers, operatives, and informants could very likely have an impact on their impressions of US counterintelligence services beyond what has already been inculcated within them by their masters. It should be expected that any negative impressions could have the deleterious effect of negatively impacting a decision to defect or be recruited if the idea might ever cross their minds. It is impossible to calculate, but it surely can be imagined that a number of potential defectors and recruits may have been deterred from taking the first step over this very issue. Recognizably, there is a reduced ability to effectively oversee what contractors are doing at all times on behalf of US counterintelligence services. At best, the managers of a particular counterintelligence operation that they may be hired to support will only know what the contractors divulge about their efforts. Close observance of them in operation, done furtively by managers of US counterintelligence services, would doubtlessly substantiate this.

Those in US counterintelligence services considering what is noted here might cast their minds back to the observation of the renowned 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal in Pensées (1670): “Justice without power is inefficient; power without justice is tyranny. Justice without power is opposed, because there are always wicked men. Power without justice is soon questioned. Justice and power must therefore be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.”

Surely at one time the relationship between contractors and US counterintelligence services was quite beneficial as they provided real assistance through manpower and talent, but again, the situation has since changed considerably. They are shadows of what they once were in terms of quality.  Beyond some possible invaluable assistance they may be providing through precious outside of the bureaucracy analysis and advice on Chinese intelligence activities in the US, in the China case, US counterintelligence services should severely minimize or eliminate contractors if possible. There may be a place for such contractors and their ways in counternarcotics, organized crime control, human-trafficking or some other kind of criminal investigations. However, up against the sophisticated intelligence services of a determined adversary as China, those contractors are not a credit to US counterintelligence services. They are nothing but a liability. The China case is too important to indulge in any uncertainties. On an additional point, technical intelligence tools must be utilized effectively and appropriately. Monitor only those who need to be monitored. Resist the urge to play George Orwell’s “Big Brother.” That urge is another weakness. Nimia illæc licentia profecto evadet in aliquod magnum malum. (This excessive license will most certainly eventuate in some great evil.)

The continued success Chinese intelligence services and counterintelligence services in being to conceal their massive espionage efforts may suggest that conceptually, they may approach establishing their presence in the US with the thought of “peacefully coexisting” in the same environment as US counterintelligence services. The relationship that they seem to have sought with US counterintelligence services in order to ensure the security of their networks and operations is not “cat and mouse” or combative. It is strangely, but logically, symbiotic. 

That symbiotic relationship, however, is malignant, and designed to be parasitical. To that end, managers of Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence services in the US likely respond to any detection of the presence of US counterintelligence personnel or activity not by avoiding them, but by connecting in some smart way to them. Connecting to them, to give a couple of simple examples means having operatives work for a contractor engaged in physical surveillance, or take on low level employment in or around offices of those contractors. From such positions and similar ones, they would enable themselves to monitor the most well-orchestrated, well-conducted activities from the inside. Some operatives, finding work as operatives in the agencies of contractors for US counterintelligence services  could actually become, and have very likely actually been, part of those operations. Note that operatives of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services directed to get close to US counterintelligence services personnel and activities may not necessarily be ethnic Chinese. (For a fuller discussion of that matter, see the July 31, 2020 greatcharlie post “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1).”) Such a precaution would likely be deemed less necessary by managers of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services for operatives placed within or close proximity of contractors offices and personnel as those managers have likely become well-aware of the astonishing lack of due diligence and security practiced by them. Surely, US counterintelligence activities of greatest interest would be those against Chinese foreign intelligence networks and operations. However, there would undoubtedly be significant and considerable value in being aware of physical surveillance activities by US counterintelligence services against the other adversaries of those services. There is every reason to believe cooperative relationships exist among the intelligence services of US adversaries. To say the least, there would be some monetary value in information collected by China of that kind.

Much as some parasites, those operatives who might successfully penetrate any organizations of or pertaining to US counterintelligence services would never act directly  to destroy those personnel or organizations but would rather only nourish themselves off  of them by collecting critical information from them for the security and survival of Chinese Intelligence activities in the US. Reminding again of what might be called Olson’s maxim from To Catch a Spy, “Penetration is the best counterintelligence.” One can almost be certain that senior executives and managers in adversarial foreign intelligence services surely believe that, too! That is something for US counterintelligence services to be very concerned about.

With regard to working with quantitative data, broken down to the essentials, it must continually be used to keep US counterintelligence officers cognizant and well appraised of activity by confirmed Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants tied to diplomatic missions. With quantitative data, users ought to drill down on data concerning their daily and hourly activity from communications to commuting. One must be able to discern even the slightest changes in activity, whether increased or decreased. Data should be reviewed daily to identify the slightest changes from the aggregate numbers. Revisiting data that has already been rolled up and aggregated is also advised. It should be mined through for more details, clues. (One should never get so caught up with data to believe that an opponent’s actions can be reduced to an algorithm. The opposition’s leaders are living, breathing, agile, flexible and–despite working in Communist China–potentially unconventional thinkers.)

Getting Results

Measures of success of the practices suggested here may hopefully be a marked increased prospective opportunities to: neutralize; displace; and, intercept, even recruit, from a targeted Chinese intelligence network.

1. Displace

If the purpose of US counterintelligence is to displace a Chinese intelligence network or operation, the rapid shutdown of an operation would be a sign of success in that endeavor. The threat of intercept or the very public revelation that an officer, operative, or informant in the network has been apprehended would naturally spur such an action. If the environment is made hot enough for the network, its managers and the remainder of their string of officers, operatives, and informants will indubitably go to ground with the hope of resurrecting their network with its diffuse operations at a more favorable point in time. However, if an operation has packed up and moved out, there will be a palpable change in the working atmosphere for the counterintelligence officer who has had their noses to grindstone working the case. In a frenzied rush to exit the US, individual suspected Chinese intelligence officers, working in academia or industry, in physical isolation from their compatriots, or ones that may appear to be operating independently and farthest away from their network compatriots and resources, may no longer see the need to carry on with any pretenses. It is also interesting to see that there is never mention of any effort by Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, or informants to figuratively throw dust in the eyes of those investigating, plant false leads or use other means to misdirect, as they make their escape.

Interviews can be used as a psychological tool to prompt displacement. For the network manager who is logical, visits to the residence or workplace of a subject of investigation by US counterintelligence officer to invite them for an interview in the respective office of their service, or to interview them at that location, may be viewed as probing based on some insight possessed by the adversary. There is the odd chance a network manager might believe a US counterintelligence service was on to something. However, it would seem they would more likely think a US counterintelligence service would “hold its cards a little closer” if it had something solid to act on. If the network manager is thinking in that way, it would mean  he or she has been trying to see through all things cooked up by US counterintelligence. Surely, for the Chinese intelligence  services as much as those of the US, studying their oppositions modus operandi is as important a task as anything else.

Operatives and informants, on the other hand, may become jittery. However, such a visit may not unnerve the network manager. The reaction of a network manager may be no visible  reaction at all. He or she will likely continually display nerve and knowledge. The possibility of such interviews has likely already crossed the managers mind. The network manager has likely already assessed how officers, operatives, and informants in his or her retinue will act or react when approached. The task of the network manager will be to deduce what triggered the interview, reason from cause to effect what is the likely course of events to follow, and act accordingly. That being stated, activities and especially the communications of those approached for interviews must be monitored. New travel plans by individuals with some association to those interviewed, scheduled closely by date, must be examined.

2. Neutralize

To assist in determining where to interdict, stand up a “Red Team” on a non-stop basis, using templates properly constructed from everything known and insights and inferences on Chinese operations and to continue to build up a legend for de créature imaginaire with the objective of achieving increasing accuracy. Among tools that should be made available for use in neutralizing Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, should be heavy financial rewards for “coming forward”; and whistle-blower-like protections. Casting one’s mind back to the “Chieu Hoi” program used to contend with the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, US counterintelligence services, using an approach certainly not the same but conceptually similar to that, may very well be able net a few long-time operatives and informants of China see intelligence services with deep involvement in their efforts, who may have had their fill of the whole business and want to get out, but safely. Cela n’a rien d’évident. (The fact that the Chieu Hoi program was implemented in an Asian country is purely coincidental. No deliberate connection regarding a region, race, or political philosophy was made. The parallel is that much as the Viet Cong, Chinese foreign intelligence officers in particular, but any operatives and informants as well are often “true believers,” who act out of conviction. Similar to the Viet Cong, they are driven by a deep-seeded ideology. In their unique case, it is usually the erroneous belief that China is the champion of the oppressed and will become the dominant power in the world.) In case the point has been misunderstood, heavy financial rewards for them would mean steep rewards. Ideally, the result will be to threaten the rewards structure, financial and psychological, of the Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. If money would not be the elixir to turn any Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, or informants, US counterintelligence services would only need to pose the question to themselves: Deployed to the US and caught in the business of spying, what else would truly satisfy them enough to cause them to  defect or to become a double? If the situation becomes desperate enough, ask the targeted Chinese intelligence officer, operative, or informant: “What do you want? Name it!” (In other words, at least to get things moving, do whatever it takes, but within reason!) Turning Chinese operatives and informants should ideally take on the appearance of something akin to a business enterprise while actually being a counterintelligence task, if successful. Cela encore n’a rien d’évident. (Note, however, that money can become poisonous in both directions, creating temptation among those in service ranks unfortunately disposed to transgressions. Therefore, its distribution must be very carefully supervised.)

To be succinct, the hope of US counterintelligence should be to come in contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit idealistic vision of China as the dominant power and shape of the world for the future, but with reservations, serious reservations. Those sentiments would need to be worked on. The next best hope would be to find the officer, operative, or informant who is not doing things for an ideal, and whose reasons for turning on China would be venal. Pretio parata vincitur pretio fides. (Fidelity bought by money is overcome by money)

3. Intercept

Non capiunt lepores tympana rauca leves. (Drumming is not the way to catch a hare.) This could be entirely off the mark, but it appears that aggressive counterintelligence appears to have been directed at targets of opportunity versus the industry-centric networks of Chinese intelligence in the US. While there may be a meretricious benefit to this practice, it accomplishes nothing in terms of tearing down Chinese intelligence networks or smothering greater espionage operations. Again, elevated thinking is required. There must be an inflexion point at which US counterintelligence services become the fox, and the days of being the chicken come to an end. Better use must be made of tools available and good practices. There must be better use of deception. To lure Chinese intelligence networks into traps, network managers and higher ups in the Chinese system must be convinced that the figurative cheese in the trap is something worth the risk of trying to take. Psychological operations must be used to draw them closer to targets US counterintelligence can cover while remaining concealed. As part of the information warfare campaign with China, an effort must be made to surreptitiously “assist” Beijing in discovering a novel target worth pursuing. Chinese intelligence services have enjoyed a halcion season of success. They apparently have no intention of being thrown off their pace and streak of victories by what they in all likelihood suspect are attempts by US counterintelligence to score a victory against their effort during their moment of glory.

US counterintelligence officers must do their utmost to go beyond the normal scope in determining what will attract Chinese intelligence network managers. They must not proceed by pretending to know. There is no room for guesswork. Approaches developed must not be derivative. They must put as much time as necessary into developing them to become as certain as humanly possible that any new approaches will work. Any enticement or manipulation must not give off any indication of being a plant nor chicken feed. It must appear as genuine gold dust. Under extremely controlled circumstances, it may need to be actual gold dust! What is left is to wait for the network to show itself. There is nothing else to do otherwise. Efforts to stoke or prompt the adversary will lead to blowing the entire set up. Impatience is what the Chinese will look for because that is what every other foreign intelligence service expects of US counterintelligence.

Logically, it would be a capital mistake for Chinese Intelligence services to adulterate what could likely be characterized as an operation in which every aspect was well-known with individuals of ultimately unknown character, loyalties, or reliability and targets of likely no immediate unknown value and of no prior interest or desire. As senior executives and managers in Beijing might assess, if anything suddenly put before them was truly of any immediate value or desirable to China, the individuals or the information would have respectively been recruited or stolen already. Assuredly, that is the pinch for US counterintelligence services when it comes to getting decent double-agent operation off the ground.

John le Carré, the renowned author of espionage novels of the United Kingdom who served in both both the Security Service, MI5, and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, during the 1950s and 1960s, offers the statement in The Honourable Schoolboy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1977): “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” US counterintelligence officers must be mindful of what may be perceived in the conference room as an advantage over the opposition intelligence network manager may be the ugly product of groupthink. They must judge perceptions in view of what is  actually known about that opponent, even if he or she remains de créature imaginaire and how that manager may act in response to what they plan to put in his or her way. Use of aggressive tactics or overwhelming superiority can be turned into a liability by an agile thinker. It is also important to understand that no matter how the Chinese intelligence network or operation may be approached, everything done, particularly if successful, will be studied by superiors in Beijing so that all gaps that may have been exploited in a disrupted, displaced, or destroyed network will be rapidly and quietly set right in all remaining networks. Operational missteps that might have been exploited will be identified and never made again. (Be observant for changes in practices among networks and operations being traced.) In view of what Beijing may learn from an initial attack, adjustments in the next US counterintelligence strike against a Chinese intelligence network or operation must be considered even before the first is executed. In a cycle, this approach to attacking Chinese intelligence networks and operations must be adjusted for each new situation and repeated.

To go a step further, one might speculate that having achieved countless victories with near impunity inside the US, Chinese foreign intelligence services now very likely conduct counterintelligence exercises in the field, likely in a nondisruptive way vis-a-vis ongoing operations, to ensure that in their present state, their intelligence networks are free from US counterintelligence detection and interference and that no intelligence service from anywhere could play havoc with them. 

It is unlikely that the senior executives and managers of Chinese foreign Intelligence services are sitting back and gloating about their victories. Rather, it is very likely that everyday they work harder and harder to make their networks and operations better and more effective, pushing their espionage capabilities far-beyond the reach of the counterintelligence services of the countries in which they operate. All of that being said, one might still imagine that soon enough, in a gesture aimed at figuratively putting some dirt in the eyes of US counterintelligence services, the Chinese foreign intelligence services may spend some hours planning some upheaval that their networks could cause in the US to embarrass US counterintelligence services. It would imaginably be designed to knock them well-off track and symbolically mark China’s domination of their opponent on his own home ground. China would also be sending a message concerning its dominance throughout the espionage world. Of course, despite its meretricious effect, whatever such a potential ploy might be, it would doubtlessly be conducted in such a way that the government in Beijing and the Communist Party of China would feel enabled to plausibly deny China’s connection to the action. (These are only some thoughts, ruminations, on the situation. Hopefully, this should not cause any undue concern. Or, cela n’a rien d’évident.)

The Chinese have likely concluded US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services are under stress and are bound to take risks to score a victory or win the whole ball game. To that extent, it is unlikely Beijing wants its intelligence services reaching after anything when their plates are already full follow up on leads they created for themselves. It is possible that the Chinese foreign intelligence services have never seen US counterintelligence services get anything substantial started against their networks in terms of penetration. However, the Chinese will unlikely mistake quiet for security. They probably never really feel secure in the US. It is hard to imagine what might ever be worth the candle to Chinese intelligence services to reach after. Impatience in any US operation would most likely be considered anathema.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above). Given the success of Chinese intelligence services in the US, China might soon enough choose to send a message to symbolically mark China’s domination of their opponent on his own home ground. and its dominance in the espionage world. Chinese foreign intelligence services operating in the US may spend some time planning an upheaval that would figuratively put some dirt in the eyes of US counterintelligence services. Despite any meretricious effect such an act might have, whatever such a potential deplorable ploy might be, it would doubtlessly be conducted in such a way that the government in Beijing and the Communist Party of China would be able to plausibly deny their connection to the action.

The Way Forward

Month after month, US counterintelligence services discover another set of occasions when China has incommoded federal agency, a private firm, an academic institution, or research institute by stealing from them classified information or intellectual property most often vital to the national interest. Leave it to say, having engaged in an empirical study of public facts coming in what has been transpiring, the potential trajectory of China’s malign efforts is breathtaking. By 2021, it should have been the case that MSS networks were being regularly penetrated by US counterintelligence and rolled up in waves at times chosen by US counterintelligence services. Ongoing and developing MSS operations should have already been heavily infiltrated and those infiltrated operations which are not destroyed should be used as conduits to push disinformation back to China. As for individuals recruited by MSS, many should have already been identified as a result of US counterintelligence infiltration of MSS networks and at appropriate moments, those operatives and informants should have been intercepted, neutralized, and recruited as counterespionage agents. However, that is not the case. Perhaps in some allied country, success against China will be achieved showing US counterintelligence services the way forward. With a long history of successfully defending the United Kingdom from foreign spies, it may very well be that MI5 will not have the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, the exalted person herself, wait much longer for good news.

Whether this essay for some will cause a journey from unawareness, curiosity, or a lack of clarity to knowledge, remains to be seen. There has been more than enough talk about how bad the problem with China is. That becomes by the by. There must be more talk about how to defeat it. The US must move from the defensive to the offensive, and take the game back to China and destroy all of its networks. It could be the case that US counterintelligence officers must relearn and hone the skill of lying before the water course and awaiting the big game. Many plans can be developed to advance against a problem. However, choosing the right plan, the one that will work, is the challenge. Much as with physicians, for investigators, every symptom must be told before a diagnosis can be provided. In a very small way here, greatcharlie has sought to contribute to development more effective approaches to defeat Chinese intelligence collection efforts in the US. Before writing this essay, greatcharlie fully understood and accepted that there are those singular US counterintelligence services that would be completely uninterested in, and even shun, any voice or meditations from outside the bureaucracy that would dare offer assistance to them in their struggle with China’s intelligence services. (It must be stated that greatcharlie has either been retained to supply any imaginable deficiencies of US counterintelligence services nor has it been retained for anything by any of them.) Often in the US national security bureaucracy, perspectives on adversaries can become too austere. Over time, even unknowingly, walls are built around those perspectives, fending off an effort to more accurately understand an adversary at the present that may shake the foundations of them. That sort of mindset, as suggested,, perhaps an unconscious bias, can creep its way in and become comfortable. That can spell disaster. This may very well be the case with Chinese foreign intelligence activity in the US.

With a near endless chain of losses, the following theft sometimes being a greater defeat than the one proceeding it, greatcharlie feels compelled to ingeminate the position expressed in the conclusion of its August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post US counterintelligence services should consider hiring individuals from outside the bureaucracy who are already known due to demonstrated interest in the subject matter and recognized as possessing some ability to present what may be unorthodox innovative, forward-looking perspectives. New thinkers can rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. In effect, surface layers could be peeled off to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. From the inside, one might characterize observations and hypotheses offered by outsiders as mere surmisals and suppositions from those perceived lacking the necessary depth of understanding that long time analysts bring to an issue. With no intent to condescend, one might assess responses of that type would be defensive and emotional, and least likely learned. The purpose of using such perspectives is to have a look at issues from other angles. Thinking outside the bureaucracy would hopefully move away from the usual track, the derivative, the predictable, especially in special cases that may be hard to crack. Indeed, what outsider brings to the analysis of an issue, through the examination of people and events and interpretation of data, is the application of different sensibilities founded on knowledge acquired after having passed through a multitude experiences that might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside the box thinker. One could say the length and breadth of that knowledge and experience allowed for an alternative understanding of humanity. Such an understanding also could have been sought through personal study. 

The suggestion should not seem so exotic at this point. Even the adversaries of the US would likely imagine the possibility that some assistance from an unexpected source and direction could pose the greatest threat to their success. Perhaps some US counterintelligence services will never brook the idea of receiving such assistance from outside the bureaucracy. However, in the end, the US counterintelligence service which opens itself up to new, thinking, new insights, new approaches, will very likely bag its tiger. Vigilando, agendo, bene consulendo, prospera omnia cedunt. (By watching, by doing, by consulting well, these things yield all things prosperous.)

Book Review: James M. Olson, To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019)

In a nine-count US Deparment of Justice indictment filed in an Atlanta federal court in 2017, the four members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the FBI poster above were accused of hacking into the Equifax credit reporting agency’s systems, creating a massive data breach that compromised the personal information, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, of about 145 million people, nearly half of all US citizens. There is little need but for citizens to read reports in the news media to know foreign intelligence services were operating inside and outside the US with the intention of causing the country great harm. In To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), James Olson places the efforts of dangerous foreign forces front and center. He explains the efforts being taken by US counterintelligence services to unthread the complicated nature of foreign intelligence activities in the US and drive away the dangers they pose.

There is little need but for US citizens to read reports in the news media to know foreign intelligence services were operating inside and outside their country with the intention of causing the country great harm. In To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), James Olson places the efforts of dangerous foreign forces front and center. However, more importantly, Olson explains the efforts being taken by US counterintelligence services to unthread the complicated nature of foreign intelligence activities in the US and drive away the dangers they pose. As the former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Olson is eminently fitted to represent US counterintelligence officers and present their work. In defining counterintelligence, Olson states that it “consists of all the measures a nation takes to protect its citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies.” Reportedly, over the years 80 countries, to include allies and friends, have engaged in espionage operations against the US.

As with all other elements of the intelligence industry, counterintelligence work requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. It is not the nature of intelligence services to regularly use aggression and force to halt an opponent, shut down its networks, thwart its operations, and intercept its intelligence officers, operatives, and informants. The intellect is the tool used for doing so.

From what Olson explains, counterintelligence organizations worldwide must detect necessary attributes of an actor, certain indicia, before initiating a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy” or operative or informant or  foreign intelligence service. The primary means to confirm their identity is through careful study and observation of the subject and thorough research of all available information. It is a process similar to selecting a target for recruitment. That process may not always be easy going. A foreign intelligence officer’s tradecraft may be superb and all of his or her interactions and moves might appear authentic. The foreign intelligence officer’s movement technique could make maintaining surveillance on the subject difficult. For any counterintelligence services, that type of professionalism in an opponent can pose a challenge. Oddly enough though, it will result in increased suspicion among some. Counterintelligence may very well be the greatest manifestation of the paranoia business.

Regarding his career, again, for over thirty-one years, Olson served in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA, mostly overseas in clandestine operations. He was deployed overseas for several assignments, and eventually became chief of counterintelligence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. At the time he wrote To Catch a Spy, he was retired and working as a Professor of the Practice at the Bush School of Government and Public Service of Texas A&M University. Robert Gates, the former Director of Central Intelligence, 1991-1993 remarked about Olson: “James Olson is a legend in the clandestine service, having served in some of the most difficult, dangerous, and complicated assignments at the height of the Cold War. As director of Central Intelligence, I trusted him without reservation when he was chief of counterintelligence not only because he was enormously capable but also because I knew he thought deeply about the ethical and moral dimensions of what we did every day. Amid the countless books and memoirs of retired spies, especially at this time, this one is essential reading.” Olson was born and raised in Iowa. He studied mathematics and economics at the University of Iowa. Following college, he took a commission in the US Navy, serving aboard guided missiles destroyers and frigates. After a period, he would return to Iowa to study law at the University of Iowa. Apparently, Olson had every intention of practicing law in a small county seat town in Iowa. However, the CIA approached him and invited me to apply for a position in the clandestine service.That us when the story of his life in counterintelligence began.

This book has immediate historic significance because Olson is recognized as an authority among intelligence circles worldwide. There are not so many that have been written so well by former professionals. While others may have their preferences, three of special note and highly recommended by greatcharlie are: Raymond Batvinis, Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies: FBI Counterespionage During World War II (University Press of Kansas, 2014); David Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (HarperCollins, 1980); and, Scott Carmichael’s True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy 1st ed. (Naval Institute Press, 2007) which Olson refers to in To Catch a Spy.

In Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies–reviewed by greatcharlie on April 30, 2014, the historian, Batvinis, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent, presents a crucial chapter in the history of World War II during which the FBI really began and refined its counterintelligence mission. He discusses the FBI’s then new reliance on intrusive investigative techniques (wiretaps bugs, access to bank and financial transaction records), and the evolution of the Bureau’s liaison relations with the British, Canadian, and US military intelligence agencies. (In a proceeding book, his acclaimed, Origins of FBI Counterintelligence (University of Kansas, 2007), Batvinis went off from scratch to tell the reader about the situation.) In Wilderness of Mirrors, Martin tells the story of how an ex-FBI agent William “King” Harvey identified the notorious Soviet double agent Kim Philby in conjunction with James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counterintelligence responded to the betrayal of family friend Philby’s betrayal and descends into a paranoid wilderness of mirrors. Wilderness of Mirrors set a benchmark for studies, memoirs, and all other written works on US counterintelligence. It was once required reading for some intelligence professionals–and perhaps it still is. The author of True Believer, Carmichael, was a senior security and counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the lead agent on the successful spy hunt that led to Ana Montes. He provides an inside account of how his espionage investigation, with the eventual help of the FBI, progressed over a period of several years to develop a solid case against Montes. She is the only member of the US intelligence community ever convicted of espionage for the Cuban government. Every twist and turn is all the more intriguing as truths become lies and unlikely scenarios are revealed as reality.

To Catch a Spy is not Olson’s first book. He is also the author of Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying (Potomac Books, 2006) Fair Play examines ethical challenges facing US intelligence officers as they attempt to operate within a standard of acceptable moral behavior. That examination is couched in an insightful summary of intelligence history through fifty reality-based scenarios.

To Catch a Spy, 248 pages in length, was released by Georgetown University Press on April 11, 2019. Since then, many others have already formed their own opinion of Olson and his work. For those who may excavate through To Catch a Spy to thoroughly consider points of exposition concerning both himself and activities in which he was engaged, the book has doubtlessly been substantially edifying. The reader is provided with an amazing opportunity to see it all through the prism of a master craftsman as he discusses his profession. Indeed, as with Fair Play, everything Olson provides in To Catch a Spy is founded on his experience during a lengthy career in US counterintelligence. Nevertheless, To Catch a Spy is not a memoir of his life or of his career. That has yet to be written, and perhaps may not be. Still, if one were to go off anyway and measure Olson’s book against the memoirs of Cold War Soviet, Eastern Bloc adversaries of the US there is a decided difference. Those memoirs have a tendency to be anecdote laden, picturesque and exciting. While those who have professionally analyzed them judge them as omitting much, their books typically provide enough nuance to allow for extrapolation, inference, and conceptualization of their tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods. They also often point to their bad choices, pitfalls and ways to minimize losses after encountering them, commonplace wrong turns and remedies to them. That is really what the neophyte needs to receive most.

The author of To Catch a Spy, James Olson (above). Olson is eminently fitted to represent US counterintelligence officers and present their work. For over thirty-one years, Olson served in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), mostly overseas in clandestine operations. He was deployed overseas for several assignments, and eventually became chief of counterintelligence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In defining counterintelligence, Olson states that it “consists of all the measures a nation takes to protect its citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies.” Reportedly, over the years 80 countries, to include allies and friends, have engaged in espionage operations against the US.

Surely for readers thrilled by spy novels, there was enough provided by Olson to allow them to live vicariously through his anecdotes. In the genre of fiction and nonfiction spy stories, there is an artistic milieu in which–often under the demands of publishers who are intensely interested in selling books–writers seek to position themselves amidst. It cannot be denied that human nature instinctively finds entertainment more compelling than edification. Perhaps even among them, there may be some who will decide after reading To Catch a Spy, that there is nothing so outré about counterintelligence. However, often things seem simple once they have been explained.

Among professionals, not only in the US, but worldwide, To Catch a Spy was likely anticipated with baited breath. That stands to reason that this category of reader would be aware that Olson possesses a huge body of thoughts that most US counterintelligence officers on the job today. There was considerable satisfaction among professionals with his first book, Fair Play. They could have only imagined that To Catch a Spy would be another gem. One might perceive while reading To Catch a Spy that Olson subtly takes on the role of instructor, introducing somewhat nuanced details about certain matters in his lecture as if he were trying to impart the full benefit of his experience to prescient, young CIA counterintelligence officers. To that extent that he does all of this, there is a trace of something akin to a pedagogy for developing the reader’s understanding of the world he is moving them through. A quote widely attributed to one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” To that extent, novice US counterintelligence officers must master the fundamentals, and the foundation will be laid to explore one’s potential with confidence and an assured step with knowledge and experience of those who came before.

One might expect that copies of To Catch a Spy may be possessed by US counterintelligence officers from the various services are treasured and well thumbed. Spotted among reviews of the book on Amazon.com are comments from US intelligence officers in which they attest to the value, positive impact To Catch a Spy had on their thinking and their work. Alex J. Vega IV, Joint Counterintelligence Training Activity (JCITA), Defense Intelligence Agency, and Former U.S. Army Attaché, U.S. Embassy, Moscow, Russia wrote: “Jim Olson has shared with us his accumulated wisdom, lessons learned, and roadmap for the future. To Catch a Spy is the new U.S. counterintelligence standard. It is a must read for serious professionals and anyone interested in the spy world. Jim has done a tremendous service, not only to our generation, but also to those of the next who choose to answer the call to join the counterintelligence battle.” Henry A. Crumpton, a twenty-four-year CIA veteran, author of The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’ s Clandestine Service (Penguin Press, 2012), and CEO of Crumpton Group LLC. remarked: “The author, America’s counterintelligence guru, has crafted a remarkable, indispensable book rich in heartbreaking detail and sharp analysis–serving as a clarion call for a stronger response to the unrelenting, sophisticated, and successful foreign espionage assault on our nation.” Robert M. Gates, Director of Central Intelligence, 1991-1993, stated: “Amid the countless books and memoirs of retired spies, especially at this time, this one is essential reading.”

One could safely state that To Catch a Spy has not been everyone’s cup of tea. Despite such glowing expressions of satisfaction and appreciation, there is a view of the book in which it is asserted that Olson really did not dig down so deep on issues in the text to display his full capabilities as a counterintelligence thinker. He could hardly be so profound, or candid at all. Some professionals worldwide who may have acquired a copy of To Catch a Spy were disappointed when they discovered that the text is not heavy with inferences and insights, and analysis supported by references. In fact, such are rather sparse in the book. In Mark Soares’ review of the book in the scholarly journal Intelligence and National Security, (Mark Soares (2020) To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence, Intelligence and National Security, 35:7, 1079-1081, DOI: 10.1080/02684527.2020.1746125), he begins by saying: “James M. Olson has written a deeply personal composition of his extensive career to counterintelligence with the Central Intelligence Agency  (CIA) using a loose and relaxed format not typically seen in intelligence literature.” Explaining Olson’s purpose in writing the book, Soares remarked: “To Catch a Spy serves as Olson’s caution to future US intelligence practitioners and to his country as a whole to pay far more attention to counterintelligence matters rather than focusing all efforts on collection.” However, Soares would eventually judge the book critically, stating: “Though To Catch a Spy is undoubtedly an entertaining read, scholars and academics will be disappointed by the absence of references, with Olson opting instead to use informal notes to add background details to organizations,  individuals, tradecraft terms, or historical events mentioned in the book (pp. 203-217). Many of the events described by Olson could have been referenced more properly given the abundance of information available on such topics.”

For security reasons, Olson admits to having doffed his cap to his former employer so to speak by submitting To Catch a Spy to his former employer, CIA, for review. It is a requirement for officials from the US Intelligence Community with backgrounds as Olson. In Olson’s case, his former employer’s solemn warning of secrecy was increased with regard to the knowledge he retained as any information that would provide some nuance on how the US detects and catches spies would be of the utmost interest and importance to the foreign intelligence services of adversaries as well as allies. One can only imagine an individual with his wealth of knowledge is holding back considering how much more he could have potentially ruminated upon in the book. Under such circumstances, it is understandable that Olson’s lack of profundity would disconcerts some.

If Olson were writing only for intelligence professionals, he would have a diminutive audience. While some US counterintelligence professionals might nonetheless view it as their book, To Catch a Thief is a book published for the largest audience possible. To that extent, Olson does not take for granted how much the reader can absorb from what he teaches. It is evident that he takes control of that process, apportioning how much of the story he feels would be appropriate. When he feels the reader should be ready for more, Olson increases the quantity and complexity in his anecdotes.

Even after what could be sardonically characterized as Olson’s generous effort to spoon-feed some readers, other concerns about how the book was written were voiced by reviewers from outside of the profession. In the New York Journal of Books, Michael McCann wrote: “To Catch a Spy struggles to the finish line far behind many other, better publications in terms of immediate relevance. Which invites an important question: Who is Olson’s intended audience?” On that point McCann goes on to state: “To Catch a Spy will provide a useful textbook for students taking Olson’s courses at the Bush School. No doubt they will be quizzed on his ten commandments, the three principles of workplace counterintelligence, and other key points. It will also help them write summaries of important counterintelligence cases over the years and the lessons learned from them.” Leaving no doubt that he was disappointed by the book, McCann states: “For the general reading public, however, To Catch a Spy doesn’t really appeal. Those looking for “juicy new disclosures” will be disappointed as they wade through material just as easily accessed at no cost by googling for it online.”

In its review, greatcharlie, using its understanding of the subject as a nonpracticioner, observing from outside the bureaucracy, follows those aspects of the book closely. The last outcome greatcharlie wants is for its review to boil down to discussion of “Olson left this out. He left that out. He did not elaborate enough here or there.” Despite any concerns about what was missing in the text, in its review of To Catch a Spy, greatcharlie explores what one can appreciate and learn about Olson’s thinking process from what he does provide in the text. However, what is most impressive about To Catch a Spy to greatcharlie is the manner in which it stimulates thought on the issues presented. Books that can stir a fire inside the reader, and a passion for a subject, are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. To that extent, included in the review are greatcharlie’s own thoughts about counterintelligence topics covered by Olson which hopefully will clarify its own understanding of what Olson presents for the reader, and will also encourage readers to weigh their own impressions thoughts on those topics and perhaps develop of their own insights on them whether they may be actual intelligence practitioners or just enthusiasts. Additionally, greatcharlie offers its own thoughts on those topics to assist in giving context to the work of US counterintelligence to US citizens, nonprofessional readers, in particular, and give some perspective to the counterintelligence professional on how the US citizen might perceive his or her work. With any luck, what is presented will appropriately resonate among both sets of readers. Rationale enim animal est homo. (Man is a reasoning animal.)

The Headquarters of the Russian Federation SVR in Yasenevo (above). The first three chapters of To Catch a Spy  form a compendium of efforts Olson spotlights of respective Chinese, Russian, and Cuban foreign intelligence services against the US. This is a matter that absolutely merits treatment particularly for the sake of the intelligence enthusiasts and the nonpracticioner. It is great that Olson broached the matter early in his book. The intelligence services of China, Russia, and Cuba are driven by the same concepts and intent that typically drive the leadership of their respective authoritarian countries: greed, cruelty, and lust for power, even world domination. It is fairly well-known outside of the intelligence world that China has concerned the US greatly of late.  Olson’s compendium of adversarial intelligence services activities essentially provides a run down of those respective adversaries’ intelligence operations, both successes and defeats. Much of the information on the cases used to support any small assertions by Olson on the nature of these adversaries’ respective efforts has already been made public. In fact, they were presented in some detail via US Department of Justice indictments and criminal complaints for those cases.

Country Reports on the Main Adversaries of the US

The first three chapters of To Catch a Spy  form a compendium of efforts Olson spotlights of respective Chinese, Russian, and Cuban foreign intelligence services against the US. This is a matter that absolutely merits treatment particularly for the sake of the intelligence enthusiasts and the nonpracticioner. It is great that Olson broached the matter early in his book. The intelligence services of China, Russia, and Cuba are driven by the same concepts and intent that typically drive the leadership of their respective authoritarian countries: greed, cruelty, and lust for power, even world domination. It is fairly well-known outside of the intelligence world that China has concerned the US greatly of late.  Olson’s compendium of adversarial intelligence services activities essentially provides a run down of those respective adversaries’ intelligence operations, both successes and defeats. Much of the information on the cases used to support any small assertions by Olson on the nature of these adversaries’ respective efforts has already been made public. In fact, they were presented in some detail via US Department of Justice indictments and criminal complaints for those cases.

Suspected spy for the Communist Party of China, Christine Fang (above). It was revealed in 2020 that Fang had established contacts and some relationships with several political officials from mayors and local council members, to Members of the US Congress as part of an effort by China to infiltrate US political circles. Olson explains that the Chinese have been trying to influence US political campaigns through illegal contributions since at least the 1990s. Olson says China is in a class by itself in terms of its espionage, covert action, and cyber capabilities. He admitted the US was not doing enough now to prevent China from stealing its secrets. Olson reports that the goal of China’s massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the US is to catch up with the US technologically, militarily, and economically as quickly as possible.

China

Olson explained that China is in a class by itself in terms of its espionage, covert action, and cyber capabilities. He admitted the US was not doing enough now to prevent China from stealing its secrets. Olson explains that the goal of China’s massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the US is to catch up with the US technologically, militarily, and economically as quickly as possible. Olson asserts that if the average US citizen fully understood the audacity and effectiveness of this campaign, they would be outraged and would demand action. 

There were four important disclosures by Olson on Chinese espionage, which, despite claims from some reviewers were well-known, in greatcharlie’s view can at least be said to have been given “proper” additional light in his discussion. They include the restructuring of the Chinese intelligence services, the political work they do in the US, concerns that a possible mole is ensconced in the US Intelligence Community, and again, the enormity of Chinese espionage. Regarding the Chinese intelligence apparatus, he explains that it was restructured in 2015 and 2016. The principal Chinese external intelligence service is the Ministry of State Security (MSS)., which is responsible for overseas espionage operations. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) concentrates on domestic activities but also occasionally runs agents abroad. The MSS and MPS were relatively unaffected by recent organizational changes in the Chinese intelligence community. The major impact has been on the People’s Liberation Army  (PLA), which since the 1950s has been heavily engaged in intelligence operations. The PLA in theory has concentrated on military intelligence, but it has actually defined its role more broadly. Olson reports that it has competed with the MSS in a wide range of economic, political, and technological intelligence collection operations overseas, in addition to its more traditional military targeting. The PLA is still responsible for the bulk of China’s cyber spying. However, Olson points to indications that the MSS has been assigned an expanded role in this area as well. Concerning how it is all organized, Olson reveals that the PLA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) operations are managed by the Joint Staff Department, and comes under the Central Military Commission. The previous breakdown of the PLA into intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence like certainly capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission.Thus, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army (2PLA), responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army (3PLA), the rough equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA), responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army (4PLA), responsible for electronic warfare have been rolled into the new Strategic Support Force. Olson explains that much as all intelligence services worldwide, both the MSS and the PLA make regular use of diplomatic, commercial, journalistic, and student covers for their operations in the US. They aggressively use Chinese travelers to the US, especially business representatives, academics, scientists, students, and tourists, to supplement their intelligence collection. Olson takes the position, disputed by some experts, that Chinese intelligence services take a vacuum cleaner approach and collect literally any kind of data they can get their hands on in the US.

Olson explains that the Chinese have been trying to influence US political campaigns through illegal contributions since at least the 1990s. He points to the huge row raised in 1996 when the Washington Post reported that the US Department of Justice was investigating possible illegal Chinese contributions to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in an effort to influence both the Presidential and Congressional election that year. After getting into a handful of pertinent details about two Chinese businessmen, Johnny Chung and John Huang, Olson explains that the FBI determined that the 1996 illegal funding operation was coordinated from the Chinese Embassy in Washington. Olson says the issues at stake for the Chinese government are not difficult to devine: US support to Taiwan, intellectual property law, trade policies, the environment, human rights, and Asian security. China denied any role in the influence buying. Going a step further, Olson warns that candidates of both political parties have been targeted for influence buying. Chinese hackers have been detected in the campaign websites of both candidates in every presidential election since 2000, another indication that the threat of Chinese election tampering has not gone away. In 2016, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was notified by the US Department of Justice that he was the target of investigation for allegedly accepting a questionable campaign contribution of $120,000 from Chinese businessman Wenqing Wang. McAullife was not charged with any crime. There has been considerable controversy lately about alleged Russian tampering in the US presidential Election of 2016. Such allegations, Olson duly notes, should  be investigated thoroughly, of course, but he points out that the Chinese have been engaged in such activities for 20 years.

Olson notes that in a May 20, 2017 New York Times article informed that 18 to 20 of the CIA’s best spies inside China had been imprisoned or executed. The New York Times based its information on “ten current and former American officials” who chose not to be identified. According to Olson, the losses actually occurred between 2010 to 2012 and effectively wiped out the CIA’s excellent stable of assets inside the Chinese government. Olson proffers, “If true, this disaster is eerily reminiscent of the decimation of the CIA’s Soviet agent program in 1985.” The fact that Olson would even discuss the New York Times report in To Catch a Spy, gives the story far greater credence than it would have otherwise. With regard to what occurred from 1975 to 1985, the CIA built up a remarkable inventory of well-placed agents inside the Soviet Union–only to see them disappear, one by one, because of what Olson describes  “the perfidy” of Edward Lee Howard and Aldrich Ames. According to the New York Times report, the CIA’s counterintelligence theories about what went wrong in China have mirrored the same avenues that  it explored after 1985. Olson laid out a few of the questions that were asked by US counterintelligence services: “Could our compromises have been the result of sloppy tradecraft? We’re we being beaten on the street? We’re our secret communications being intercepted? Or did we have a mole?”

Olson says arrests in rapid succession in a compressed period usually point to a mole. In fact, a former CIA case officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, was arrested by the FBI in January 2018 and charged with espionage. After Lee left the CIA in 2007, he moved to Asia with his family and was doing business there. In 2010, he was allegedly approached by Chinese intelligence officers. If, as alleged, Lee gave up the identities of CIA spies in China, Olson believes he either took notes with him when he left the agency in 2007 or remembered who they were. Olson reports that the FBI, as part of its investigation, was looking closely at deposits made to Leeds bank account. It took 9 years to catch Ames. Olson states: “I hope it will not take that long to figure out what happened in China and, if the problem is in fact human, to bring the traitor to justice.

Olson submits to the reality that enormity of the Chinese espionage effort is staggering, noting that the FBI announced in 2015 that it had seen a 53 percent increase in economic espionage against US companies over the previous year, and most of it from China. US companies remain extremely vulnerable despite being aware of the Chinese threat. According to Olson, the MSS and PLA primarily play the ethnic card in their recruitment operations. They target a large number of ethnic Chinese–the “overseas Chinese”–who live in the US and virtually every other country in the world. Still, the MSS and PLA would also engage in nonethnic recruitment of US citizens. Those nonethnic recruits, Olson says are few in number, have done serious damage given reports on their activities.

Olson presents the statistic that approximately 4 million ethnic Chinese in the US are only a generation or less from the mainland and great numbers of them still have relatives in Communist China. He says many of them also still feel pride and sympathy for the culture and accomplishments of China, particularly the build up of economic and military strength under Mao and his successors. Olson states that the common tactic is to play on loyalty to Mother China and to exert pressure via relatives still living in China. A Chinese-American working in the US government or in a high-tech firm would usually be approached on that basis, but he notes that venality and greed can also play a large role in any recruitment of a spy. Olson says that all US citizens who visit China are assessed as potential recruitment  targets–and those who he access and show susceptibility are singled out for aggressive development. To emphasize how well Chinese recruitment efforts work, Olson provides a partial listing of Chinese-Americans who have fallen to this trap, the information they were instructed to collect, and where they were located: US Navy Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin, caught providing classified military information; Szuhsiung Ho, caught recruiting six other US engineers to provide nuclear technology to China; Peter Lee, caught providing naval technology and defense information to China; China Mak, caught passing classified information on surface ships and submarines; Fe Yei, caught stealing computer microprocessor technology for China; Walter Lian-Heen Liew, caught providing chlorides-route titanium dioxide production technology to China; and, Greg Chang, caught providing proprietary information on the US space program to China. Olson then devotes a page and a half to the case of Katrina Leung, whose objective was not to steal technology but to infiltrate US counterintelligence. His account provides less about tradecraft, having been errantly recruited by the FBI as a counterespionage agent, she used and told more about the details of her relationship with two FBI counterintelligence officers, James Smith and William Cleveland.

As for nonethnic recruits of the MSS and PLA, Olson presents summaries of the cases of Benjamin Bishop, caught passing classified defense information to his young Chinese girlfriend; Candace Claiborne, having served in Shanghai and Beijing as a State Department employee, she was caught cooperating with Chinese intelligence; and, Glenn Duffie Shriver, recruited by MSS while visiting China as a student was caught delivering stolen military technology to his intelligence handlers. Curiously, even though Olson explains that he has presented only a partial list of ethnic and nonethnic recruits caught by US counterintelligence services, the list appears rather diminutive given his own admission that there is a vast Chinese intelligence collection effort currently underway in the US. There would surely be some reason for US counterintelligence services to be proud of the outcome of investigations into the activities of those captured. However, far more will need to be done before they begin to even stem Chinese espionage in the US. (A discussion of the transition from ethnic to non-ethnic recruitment by can found in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1).”

Olson touches on two recurring themes in discussions on Chinese intelligence: students and cyber attacks The question of Chinese students in the US, is especially pertinent. According to another statistic that Olson offers, in 2016-2017 there were 350,755 Chinese nationals studying at US colleges and universities, accounting for approximately one third of the total of international students in our foundry. He points to that fact that a large majority of Chinese students are studying science or engineering, fields that have direct relevance to China’s industrial and military aspirations. Olson reveals that many Chinese students are encouraged by Chinese intelligence to remain in the US, to obtain employment, and to acquire lawful permanent resident status. Lawful permanent residents can apply for US citizenship after five years of residence, three years if they are married to a US citizen. Naturalized US citizens are eligible for US government security clearances after five years of citizenship. Olson says these regulations represent a trade off between our need for certain skills–particularly technical skills–and security. Olson notes that the US Intelligence Community feels any intelligence service worthy of the name would jump at the chance to infiltrate its officers and co-optees into government agencies, national laboratories, and high technology firms of a priority target country. While admitting that he had no data to support that position, he says it is inconceivable to him that the MSS and PLA would have overlooked this enticing and easily exploitable path to access.

Regarding cyberattacks from China, Olson notes that they are nothing new. The first major attack was discovered in 2005, but it was quickly determined that infiltrations of US government computer networks had been going on since at least 2003. Olson relates that the 2003 operation, dubbed Titan Rain, was a coordinated attack by Chinese cyber spies to download sensitive Data from networks at the US Departments of Defense, State, Energy, and Homeland Security, as well as a host of US defense contractors. In one day, the hackers stole reams of sensitive aerospace documents with schematics of propulsion systems, solar paneling, and fuel tanks for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Other targeted locations included the US Army Information Engineering Command, the Naval Oceans Systems Center, the Missile Defense Agency, and US national laboratories. Olson says cyber attacks such as Titan Rain present a unique challenge in terms of attribution. In the case of Titan Rain, however, Olson explains that it is not credible to conclude that a multifaceted and sophisticated operation of this magnitude could be anything other than a Chinese government-sponsored activity.

In 2010, Google announced that the company had detected a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on [its] corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.” While China’s involvement in cyber attacks was by no means surprising, Olson supposes Google’s decision to publicize the breach was unusual. Typically, companies are wary of publicizing such leaks for fear that perceptions of insecurity could negatively affect their business. The explanation may lie in the fact that Google executives, who had continually met resistance from the Chinese government regarding censorship since the company had entered the Chinese market in 2006, finally decided enough was enough.

Google first learned of the attack from Chinese human rights activists in the US who had reported that their Gmail accounts had been accessed by unknown users. As details of Operation Aurora, as it was called, surfaced, it became clear that the attack was highly tailored and complex. The cyber spies exploited a flaw in Internet Explorer 6.0 to gain access to targeted computers. Once the vulnerability was identified, the hackers determined which officials at various companies had access to sensitive information. Emails that, once opened, installed malate on the target computers were then sent from servers in Taiwan to the chosen company officials. The hackers from then on had unfettered access to the officials’ computers and could steal any information they deemed valuable. Google was not the only US firm targeted by the Aurora cyber spies. No less than 34 companies, to include Yahoo, Symantec, Adobe, North run Grumman, and Dow Chemical, were victimized. The Washington Times reported, “Each of the companies was targeted differently, using software developed from the attackers’ knowledge of the individual networks and information storage devices, operating systems, the location of targeted data, how it was protected, and who had access to it.” According to federal cybersecurity experts, attacks of Aurora’s precision and sophistication could be achieved only with substantial the government’s support.

Perhaps the most egregious of all the attacks on US computer systems became public in June 2015, when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that its database had been breached by unknown persons. The personnel records of 21.5 million US government employees, past and present–including Social Security numbers, biographical information, and the results of security background investigations–were stolen. The information, in Olson’s informed view, would be a gold mine for any intelligence service seeking to spot, access, and develop US government employees for future recruitment. The US Intelligence Community placed blame for the attack squarely on China. Beijing denied any official responsibility for the breach and, in fact, announced in December 2015 that it had arrested a small group of nongovernmental hackers for having committed the crime. No information was provided on the hackers’ identities, place of deployment, or sentencing. Skeptics suspected a convenient cover-up to ease tensions with the US before a scheduled visit of People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping. Olson s that the only Chinese entity, state sponsored or otherwise, that he could think of that would have a motive for stealing all the OPM data is the MSS. The administration of US President Barack Obama signed a bilateral agreement in September 2015 pledging that neither side would use cyber attacks to steal intellectual property for commercial purposes. According to Olson, a US cybersecurity company documented a Chinese cyberattack on a US company the day after the agreement was signed. In the three weeks that followed, there were at least seven more attacks from China against US high-tech companies. 

The current director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Sergey Naryshkin (above). Second place on Olson’s list of  counterintelligence threats to the US goes to the Russian Federation Following the Soviet Union’s collapse, the monolithic Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. was divided into two new agencies, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB and Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Despite the democratic posturing and economic liberalization of the early years, in the end, not to much changed about Russian activity in the US. Many of the KGB’s old and young guard stayed on and simply moved into new offices in Yasenevo for the SVR or the Lubyanka for the FSB.

Russia

Second place on Olson’s list of  counterintelligence threats to the US goes to the Russian Federation (Russia). Despite the democratic posturing and economic  liberalization of the early years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian security services did not change much. Intelligence was reorganized in Russia in 1991. The monolithic Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. was divided into two new agencies, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB and Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Unlike the former satellite countries of the Eastern Bloc (e.g., Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), where intelligence services of the new democratic regimes purged old Communist apparatchiks, many of the KGB’s old and young guard stayed on and simply moved into new offices in Yasenevo for the SVR or the Lubyanka for the FSB. The Russians did not consider it professionally disqualifying for someone to have served previously in the repressive and undemocratic KGB.  When Olson mentions that organization, it must be made clear that he viewed it as “a ruthless and vicious organization that oppressed its own people, crushed religion, sent political dissidents to gulags or psychiatric hospitals, and killed its enemies.” Olson describes the FSB as being responsible for Internal security in Russia, specifically counterintelligence, counterterrorism, domestic unrest, state crimes, and border security. Meanwhile, the SVR is responsible for external intelligence collection and covert action. With this structure Russia has aligned itself more closely to the US and United Kingdom models , in that the FSB is the rough equivalent of the FBI or the Security Service (popularly referred to as MI5) and the SVR corresponds to the CIA or the Special Intelligence Service, popularly known as MI6. (An explanation of the United Kingdom’s nomenclature of MI5 and MI6 is provided in some detail in greatcharlie’s December 11, 2020 post.) Russian military intelligence is the responsibility of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU which has operated under that name since World War II. 

Olson says that there was real optimism, even a belief in some quarters, that the US Intelligence Community could forge a new relationship with the Russian intelligence services on the basis of trust and cooperation, particularly in areas of common concern, transnational interests. They included counterterrorism, narcotics, and organized crime. Olson said that some of the early talks between representatives of the two services were so encouraging that “the US side decided it did not want to jeopardize this potential intelligence détente by getting caught in any kind of provocative spying against our new ‘friends.’” The problem with that line of thinking was illustrated by Olson when pointed to the episode of former KGB archivist Vasil Mitrokhin. Mitrokhin provided MI6 with a gold mine of documentary intelligence on Russian espionage information from the revolution to the 1980s. However, Mitrokhin had initially attempted to provide the information to the CIA, but Olson explained he was rebuffed based on the rationale that the CIA did not want to antagonise the SVR given its aims of establishing a cooperative relationship with that Russian intelligence service. 

Then what Olson describes as an avalanche of bad news came when it was discovered that both the SVR and the GRU intelligence operations against US personnel and installations worldwide had never ceased. They were in fact being conducted aggressively. Olson then points to the cases of CIA officers Aldrich Ames, Edward Lee Howard, Harold James Nicholson, FBI special agents Earl Edwin Pitts and Robert Philip Hanssen, and the US Army’s George Trofimoff.

Another Russia concern to which Olson draws the reader’s attention was the case of a group of illegals–described by Olson as professional intelligence officers living in the US under false identities–intercepted by the FBI in 2010. The case was made very public and news stories on it garnered considerable public interest, with focus placed on a divorce, Anna Chapman, who held dual Russian and United Kingdom citizenship. Olson remarks on the politics of the illegals detainment, trial, and exchange. Olson also gives attention to Russian information warfare, which he explains supplements their human intelligence efforts. 

Cyber spying is widely used by Russia to interfere in the politics of other foundries, to manipulate their populations, to spread disinformation, to conduct unconventional warfare, and to collect intelligence. The Russian objective is to harass, to discredit, to disrupt, to deceive, and to spy on rival states. The last ten years have seen not only a dramatic increase in the frequency of Russian cyber activity, but also, what Olson alarmingly characterizes as a quantum leap in the brazeness, sophistication, and destructiveness of the attacks.

Olson reports that the FSB has taken the lead in launching denial-of-service attacks on foreign governments and sponsoring anonymous “web brigades” that bombard political blogs and other forums with disinformation and pro-Russian propaganda. The GRU’s cyber capabilities are primarily directed at supporting military interventions, but the GRU is suspected of also having carried out cyber attacks on non-military objectives, such as the German Bundesamt and French television station. The lines of responsibility between the FSB and GRU are blurry and overlap, leading to a possible duplication of cyber efforts. The SVR uses cyber operations to support human intelligence operations. Although it is not as directly involved in cyber operations  as the FSB and GRU are, it plays a planning role in overall cyber strategy.

According to Olson, Russian cyberspying first surfaced on the world stage in a big way in Estonia in 2007. Russian-Estonian relations fell to a new low over the removal of a Russian war memorial. At the height of the controversy, Estonia was hit by a massive denial-of-service attack on government offices, political parties, banks, and media outlets. In 2008, as a prelude to the Russian armed forces invasion of the Republic of Georgia, the voluntary was victimised by well-orchestrated cyber attacks creating disarray. Internet services were rerouted and blocked, websites were defaced with pro-Russian propaganda, and news agencies websites were attacked, and in some cases brought down. The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 was followed by waves of sophisticated cyber attacks against Ukraine’s central government in Kiev. Separate attacks on energy suppliers, the power grid, the financial sector in Ukraine, as well as the Ministry of Defense in years since.

Olson asserts that unlike Chinese espionage, which he characterized as being based on China’s cold, objective attitude toward the US, an impersonal self-interest, Russian spying is predicated on a certain animus toward the US. Olson concludes that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin “does not like us,” and says his grudge is personal. Olson believes that in sheltering Edward Snowden, who he describes as a “contemptible US turncoat,” Putin is showing his disdain for the US.

Olson informs that when the US Intelligence Community is interviewing applicants for employment today, it sometimes refers to the “Big Five” foreign languages that are in highest demand: Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Russian. The Russian language is still on the list for good reasons, not the least of which is that the SVR and the GRU are all over us. Olson believes that Russia will remain a major counterintelligence concern for the US for the foreseeable future. He concludes that the US would be naive in the extreme to believe that it could ever expect good faith from Putin.

Ana Montes (above) was a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst arrested in 2001 on charges of committing espionage on behalf of Cuba. According to Olson, the Cuban DGI was the most effective intelligence service the US counterintelligence faced. A noteworthy aspect of Cuban intelligence activity in the US is the quality of the tradecraft. In the case of Montes, for 16 years she passed the DGI everything she could get her hands on related to US counterintelligence efforts against Cuba. It was no small feat for the Cubans to run her case and others as long as they did and in hostile territory under the noses of US security and counterintelligence officials without getting caught. (Olson gives the Montes case substantial treatment in Chapter Eight.)

Cuba

Olson’s review of the Cuban threat was perhaps the best written of the three assessments. Olson declares that the Cuban Intelligence service may be the most effective service that US counterintelligence services face. The Cuban Intelligence Directorate, formerly known as General Intelligence Directorate or DGI was established by the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, one time Cuban Prime Minister, then Cuban President, Fidel Castro, in 1961 to preserve the Revolution; to collect intelligence on Cubans enemies, both foreign and domestic; and, to carry out covert action operations as directed. Castro was aware as early as 1961 that President Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, the US Attorney General, were trying to have him assassinated through a variety of CIA plots that never came anywhere near fruition. The DGI reportedly became Castro’s tool of choice to carry out his vendetta against the CIA and the US.

Olson states the Cuban DGI cannot compete with the Chinese or the Russians in terms of overall damage to US national security, but that is primarily a function of its smaller size, narrower objectives, and limited resources. However, perhaps  it should  have been added, as Olson is surely aware, under furtive cooperative arrangements, foreign intelligence services, not knowing the true nefarious nature of a case, are often asked or position themselves, to support the intelligence efforts  of other countries when there is a common interest or considerable benefits of all kinds. Reportedly, friendly foreign intelligence services are often asked to engage in surveillance activities and initiate clandestine contacts with innocent US citizens outside and  inside the US. Many foreign intelligence services of other countries, particularly medium to small sized organizations actually love being brought into US intelligence operations of any kind. It gives them the opportunity to have a place at the table with the US, there will usually be important lessons learned, supposedly good relationships with US counterparts will be enhanced or created, and most of all, there will be financial benefits courtesy of the US taxpayer.

In their recruitment operations against the US, Olson reveals that the Cubans, much as the Chinese, often benefited from non-monetary inducements, ideological  in the case of the Cubans, ethnic in the case of the Chinese. That sort of recruitment is often facilitated by the fact that many of the US citizens who worked for the DGI and the MSS essentially volunteered their services. Another noteworthy aspect of Cuban intelligence activity in the US that Olson points to is the quality of the tradecraft. The longevity of an espionage operation is largely a result not only of the skill of the handling officer but also the techniques and equipment used to run the operation securely.

Olson reveals that in 1998, the FBI broke up a large Cuban espionage operation in South Florida called the Wasp Network (Red Avispa). This network consisted of fourteen or more Cuban spies who had the mission of penetrating anti-Castro organizations in Florida. Evidence against some of the members was too thin for prosecution, but five ringleaders stood trial and we’re convicted of espionage and other crimes. One of the Cuban-American groups, the Wasp Network, infiltrated was an organization named Brothers to the Rescue. Brothers to the rescue flew aircraft in and around Cuban airspace to assist people fleeing in boats and to drop anti-Communist propaganda leaflets. The organization was clearly a thorn in Castro’s side. As the story goes, a member of the Wasp Network found out the flight plan of Brothers to the Rescue flight to Cuba in February 1996. Cuban fighter aircraft shot down the plane in international airspace, and all four Cuban-American on board were killed. (It stands to reason that the Soviet Union, which in its day essentially armed the Cuban military and security forces, would have provided Cuba with more than a rudimentary capability to monitor nonmilitary flights from the US that did not use electronic countermeasures as well as the weapons systems to shoot down from the ground and fighter-jets that could scramble and intercept Brothers to the Rescue missions. Perhaps there was a greater reason to shoot down the 1996 flight, due to someone in particular being on board or to demonstrate Cubans capability to some operatives or informants that supported the collection of the flight plan, that led to what occurred.)

While Olson gives the case of Ana Montes greater treatment in Chapter 8 “Counterintelligence Case Studies,” notes in this chapter that due was a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst arrested in 2001 on charges of committing espionage on behalf of Cuba for at least 16 years. During that period Montes passed the DGI everything she could get her hands on related to US counterintelligence efforts against Cuba. Olson writes that the tradecraft the Cubans used in handling Montes was fantastic, a credit to the art of espionage. Olson comments that it was no small feat for the Cubans to run cases as long as they did and in hostile territory under the noses of US security and counterintelligence officials without getting caught. Montes was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

Interestingly, Olson notes here that the CIA could penetrate the KGB and sometimes count on it to make tradecraft mistakes, but it was not so fortunate when dealing with the the DGI. Perhaps Olson was a bit exuberant about presenting the DGI as a formidable foe or maybe there was some simple oversight, but the notion that the Cuban intelligence was somehow less able to make mistakes somewhat contradicts what was one of the more remarkable aspects of the Montes case as recounted in the text. As Olson describes in Chapter 8, Montes was coached by DGI on tradecraft to include erasing everything incriminating from her hard drive. He notes that Montes either did not follow instructions or they did not work because the FBI recovered a treasure trove of espionage traffic on her Toshiba laptop.

Olson goes on to discuss the case of a retired State Department official, Kendall Myers, and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, who were arrested on charges of having been DGI agents for almost 30 years. Myers joined the US Foreign Service with a top secret clearance in 1977. Later he was given even higher clearances when he was assigned to the highly sensitive Bureau of Intelligence and Research  at the State Department. Myers sympathised with the Cuban Revolution and believed that the US was subjecting Cuban government and people to unfair treatment. His response, probably beginning in 1979, was to spy for Cuba. With help from his wife, Gwendolyn, he engaged in a full-fledged espionage relationship with the DGI. Until Myers’ retirement in 2007, he passed top-secret documents and other classified material to the DGI in a sophisticated system of dead drops and brush passes. During their trial, it became known that the Myers had received personal congratulations from Fidel Castro. The damage they did to US national security was incalculable.

As for the CIA’s recruitment of DGI officers, it was more likely that there would be a walk-in, attempting to escape from problems of their own making with the DGI. The case Olson points to is that of Florentino Aspalllaga Lombard. Referred to by Olson as Aspillaga, he was the highest ranking defector from DGI that the US ever had. Olson was directly involved in his case. In 1987, while Olson was posted to the US Embassy in Vienna, he was summoned to his office by an agreed parole indicating that there was a walk-in. That walk-in was Aspillaga, and he was accompanied by a teenaged girl who was his mistress and the daughter of an official of the Cuban Embassy in Prague. Aspillaga, had left his wife and three children and was on the run, hoping to find a new life as a couple in the US. Aspillaga offered their services to the CIA as barter.

In what Olson called a sensational revelation, Aspillaga told the CIA that former CIA officer Philip Agee had cooperated with the DGI and had been paid close to $1 million. Agee’s role as a DGI agent was later confirmed by former KGB officer Oleg Kalugin, citing his memoir, Spymaster: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (Smith Gryphon, 1994) as his source. Kalugin said Agee had walked into the KGB in 1973, had been turned away as a suspected provocation, and then had gone to the Cubans. Agee, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, joined the CIA in 1957. He served in a series of undercover assignments in Latin America in the 1960s, supposedly becoming more and more disillusioned by what he considered CIA support of right wing dictatorships. While assigned to Mexico City in 1968, Agee resigned from the agency, moved to Europe, and began his new career of neutralizing the CIA. In 1975, he published a book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, a detailed description of his career and exposé of CIA activities in Latin America. Most damaging of all, he included the names of 250 CIA undercover officers and foreign agents (operatives and informants). thereby disrupting CIA officers’ clandestine careers and subjecting them to considerable personal risk. The foreign agents he identified were exposed to the even worse fate of possible imprisonment or execution. The CIA chief of station in Athens in December 1975, shortly after he was outed by Agee. Agee’s guilt has never been proved conclusively, but few CIA officers believe that the timing of Welch’s killing was a coincidence.

Olson states that Agee’s US passport was revoked in 1979, but he still traveled widely, mostly in Europe, for the next several years using passports provided by the leftist governments of Grenada and Nicaragua. In subsequent books and magazine articles, Agee continued his denunciations of the CIA and the US government and disclosed the identities of an additional one thousand CIA officers and agents. Olson states here that it was clear at that point that he was not operating on his own but was getting help from a foreign intelligence service. Olson does not explain or support this fact with any data. Hopefully, he is not theorizing on a hunch but is rather presenting an inference that he can support. Whenever one theorizes in such a way without fact, one makes a capital mistake. Olson goes on to explain, unfortunately, under US law at the time, the unauthorized disclosure of the names of undercover US personnel was not a crime, so Agee could not be indicted and extradited to the US. Additionally, he remarks that Agee was operating on behalf of the DGI could not be denied after 1989. Then by Olson to state Agee’s involvement with the KGB was a near certainty  because of the close relationship that existed between the DGI and the KGB. To support this, Olson points to a statement by Kalugin in Spymaster that he read reporting from Agee that the DGI passed to the KGB. Olson claims it is inconceivable to me that the KGB would let its client service run a source of this magnitude without inserting itself into the operation.

Yet, despite what Olson inferred, the data may suggest otherwise. By Olson’s own admission, the KGB rejected Agee for recruitment in 1973. Senior executives and managers at Moscow headquarters would need to reverse a decision. They may not have been that flexible. The DGI apparently rejected the KGB’s original evaluation of Agree. That seemed even more interesting to consider. Olson then reveals that in 1989, Agee played a key role in a DGI operation against the CIA. He posed as a CIA official from the inspector general’s office in a fiendishly clever recruitment operation against a young CIA officer stationed in Mexico City. Mexico City was once Agee’s beat for the CIA, at least until 1968. Still, Agree was completely unrecognizable to US Embassy security as well as Mexican authorities. Mexico City was also being watched closely as it had a well-known role as launch pad for Soviet and Eastern Bloc operations against the US, particularly California, Nevada New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Reportedly, Agee contacted the CIA officer and told her that he was conducting a sensitive investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the CIA in Mexico City, possibly involving senior management. He asked for her help in carrying out a discreet investigation that would not alert the targets. Agee ordered her on behalf of the inspector general not to discuss his approach with anyone. He managed to elicit significant information from the young officer.

As far as recruiting DGI officers, Olson did not provide any information on such operations being successful. Rather, from another revelation by the DGI walk-in, Aspillaga, it was discovered that all 38 of the Cubans the CIA thought it had recruited over the previous 26 years were double agents, controlled and running  against the US by the DGI. This was a devastating indictment of CIA counterintelligence, one of the worst and most embarrassing compromises we ever had. Olson laments, “The DGI beat us–and beat us soundly.” According to Olson, the CIA’s damage assessment was long and painful. The intelligence that the CIA disseminated from  the bogus agents had to be recalled since it was all DGI-concocted disinformation. The CIA’s tradecraft handling the controlled agents had been completely exposed to the DGI, which later ridiculed the CIA in a TV special for the agency’s alleged amateurishness and sloppiness. The CIA lost all the clandestine equipment it had provided to the Cuban assets, including a then state-of-the-art burst satellite communications system. Olson also considers that the cash that the CIA paid to the Cuban doubles in salaries and bonuses, ended up in the DGI’s coffers.

In a rare expression of analysis in this segment of To Catch a Spy, Olson looks at how the CIA could have walked so far into the DGI’s counterintelligence trap. Olson pointed to the following factors. First, he explains that the CIA was so eager to have sources in Cuba that looked the other way when none of the agents produced any real intelligence of value. Many of the double agents reported that they were “on the verge” of meaningful access, but they never quite got there. The CIA settled for chicken feed. Second, intelligence officers always want their recruitment service to turn out well. They do not want to admit that they have been duped by a double agent. In their desire to succeed against the Cuban target, the CIA’s handling officers rationalised away the questionable reporting, anomalous behaviors, and ambiguous polygraph results of their agents. Third, the quality of counterintelligence at the CIA during much of this period was undermined by the poor leadership of James Jesus Angleton, whose obsessive focus on the KGB and overall paranoia blinded him to other counterintelligence threats. Fourth, the CIA grossly underestimated the skill and sophistication of the DGI.

A few low key remedies may have mitigated or capitalized on the possibility the CIA’s double agents were still working for the other side. Perhaps one might be added to what Olson offered by noting that there should have been an established practice of constantly interviewing agents, even in debriefings to collect intelligence and discuss requirements. It would put extra pressure on those controlling them to try to alleviate what may be concerns of fidelity, and either improve what is being offered to placate or across to board changes in methods of communicating indicating some central control exists for all that are active. The CIA could have suddenly asked that all active agents from DGI  produce information away from the area of an existing expressed interest and measure the timing it took each to deliver the information, the sources they used to gather the information, and interview the agents to discover what background they agents would use to assure the quality of the source and identify similarities that sounded more like a scripted story. It may not  immediately smoke out and identify who were  the double agents and who was true, and none were true in the Cuban case, but it might have gone a long way to encourage the CIA to consider the possibility of deception and that their double agents were fake. 

Perhaps to go a step further, the CIA needed to ensure that those handling agents were not biased pro or con toward the double agents, and were open minded to consider the possibility of deception in a way that would not color interactions with them. (That would recognizably have been less possible in a less socially conscious agency of the past.) In some cases, CIA officers perhaps could have very steadily, yet gradually sought to convince their double agents that they, themselves, might be open to recruitment by DGI. The task then would be to wait and see if there would be an effort by their double agents to manipulate and push them to some DGI operative or officer to size them up for recruitment or whether a DGI officer would simply step up out of nowhere to size them up for recruitment. That surely establishes the double agent’s loyalties, but may lead to the opening of an entirely new door to penetrate the DGI’s operations in the US. Potential must be seen in all directions when sources are limited as in the Cuban case then, and the China case now.

These three chapters are among those in which complaints arose over Olson’s decision not provide enough answers to, and copious insights on, the many “whys” of adversarial foreign intelligence activities, left gaps in understanding the reasoning behind them. For example, there is no discussion of how within not only the respective bureaucratic system, but also under the political systems in which those adversarial intelligence services work, unwavering parameters for operating are set. From that one might better conceptualize how ongoing and future operations of those services could be sorted and categorized from apples to nuts. From that analysis, antecedents in US counterintelligence would be better enabled to understand and effectively fashion operations to defeat in going and future efforts by those adversaries.

However, it must be reminded that Olson, as he reveals in his introductory Acknowledgements, submitted To Catch a Spy to his former employer, the CIA. The Publications Review Board surely stopped anything from going into the text  before it got too close to classified information. That preliminary screening might explain why some reviewers commented that the book reads at points much as a heavily redacted document

In Olson’s case, his former employer’s solemn warning of secrecy was increased with regard to the knowledge he retained as any information that would provide some nuance on how the US detects and catches spies would be of the utmost interest and importance to the foreign intelligence services of adversaries. To elaborate a bit more on how tricky ensuring a written work reveals no secrets, one might consider that facts are somewhat easy to judge as they may be classified and one can reasonably determine what their value might be to an adversary. Hypotheses and arguments are a bit more challenging to judge for security reasons as the facts that may support an argument, even if left out, can be said to a degree confirmed, as particular facts may alone be the solid basis upon which one might logically make an inference. Surely it would be helpful in developing any red team exercise by an adversary. Olson would hardly be the type to neglect any precaution, however, his former employer likely preferred to be safe, not sorry.

All of that being stated, greatcharlie would to some degree concur that the portraits Olson paints of the Russian, Cuban and Chinese intelligence services are somewhat two dimensional. Drawing a perspective from military science, recall that an opposing force should not be viewed as some inert, non thinking body, waiting to be acted upon. There is an aphorism trained into the minds of mid-level Army officers at the Command and General Staff College that “the enemy has a say.” It falls in line with a teaching of the 19th Century Prussian military thinker, Carl Von Clausewitz, that: one’s opponent (in just about any endeavor, not just war) is “a living force” and military plans must factor in that what is being planned is “the collision of two living forces.” One must have respect for what an opponent thinks to be successful. More specifically, one must objectively gauge what the opponent thinks and what the opponent can do. What greatcharlie would have preferred to read would be an exposition of his presence of mind, inspiring insights, written in a clear and elegant style that would make Marcus Aurelius proud and would fit in beautifully in Meditations or Epictetus’ Discourses. One might have expected that along with an insistence the novice US counterintelligence officers become and remain dedicated to improving themselves. Such will always be a worthy theme and purpose of an offering from the expert veteran to the junior worm.

Olson’s Ten Commandments 

Of interest to greatcharlie was Olson’s discussion of his Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence. Those commandments ostensibly reflect the general sensibilities, perspectives, strategies, and tactics of US counterintelligence services. In his conclusion of this chapter, Olson states: “These are my Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence. Other CI professionals will have their own priorities and exhortations and will disagree with mine. That is as it should be, because as a country and as a counterintelligence community, we need a vigorous debate on the future direction of US CI. Not everyone will agree with the specifics or the priorities. What we should all agree on, is that strong CI must be a national priority. He then proceeds to set out what he views as the Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence. Previously published in 2001 as an article in the CIA’s periodical, Studies in Intelligence, these commandments include such concepts as playing offense rather than defense, owning the street, paying attention to analysis, and not staying in the profession too long.

The 20th century French Algerian philosopher, author, and journalist. Albert Camus, in his Notebooks, 1935-1942 stated: “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” Olson is not attempting to promote such through his efforts at this point in To Catch A Spy. Indeed, at this point in the text, Olson presents future and novice counterintelligence officers a leg up by providing a heads up on what they might expect. Understood is his desire to prevail upon the novice to heed certain realities and precepts that would not be included in their initial training. Two issues are in play in Olson’s discussion of his commandments, competence and commitment. Looking at each issue covered by a commandment, he seeks to instruct and counsel in advance, but he wants officers to focus on being competent in their work and understand the commitment that counterintelligence work requires. This is all very handsome of Olson. Clearly, a fair and decent man of honorable intent. His scruple does him great honor.

A concern for greatcharlie however is that at no point in his discussion of his Ten Commandments does Olson offer a thought about innocent citizens caught in a US counterintelligence web. With so many investigations that can get underway when so many foreign intelligence services are working hard in the US, as indicated in Olson’s first three chapters concerning People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, and Cuban operations, innocent private US citizens can get caught in the mix erroneously with calamitous results for the citizen through no fault of their own. In a Constitutional republic, that is a grave error and greatcharlie believes such matters if utmost importance must be broached with those moving along in the counterintelligence track. Nil magnum nisi bonum. (Nothing is great unless it is good.)

Unpacking everything about Olson’s commandments here would require dedicating too much of this review’s analysis to it and shift its focus. It may be enough to say that greatcharlie found some disconcerting and a few exceedingly problematic. The information provided by Olson in his discussion of them sets off a kind of warning light that flashes “Beware” to free citizens of a Constitutional Republic. His commandments of particular note are: The Tenth Commandment; the Ninth Commandment; and, the Eighth Commandment. By focusing on these three of his ten commandments, the opportunity to understand and taste what creates concern is provided. They are presented in reverse order here to better illustrate the cascading development of Olson’s perspectives within them on some key matters.

Captured FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen (above). Olson states from the outset that it is a profession in which officers will go for months and even years without perceptible progress or accomplishments. Olson explains: “A typical CI [counterintelligence] investigation starts with a kernel, a fragment, or a hunch that is hard to grab onto but that demands attention. He further explains: “There is no statute of limitations on espionage, and we should not create one with our own inaction. Traitors should know that they will never be safe and will never have a peaceful night’s sleep.” Still, he calls attention to a misdirected investigation tied to the counterintelligence case against special agent Robert Hanssen that uncovered him as a Soviet spy, He notes that investigation went on longer than it should have because time and energy wasted on chasing an innocent man. Olson does not comment on how much harm and torment, the innocent man suffered as a result of the wrongful investigation of him as a spy. No matter how singular one’s percipience, until one personally suffers an injustice of a wrongful counterintelligence investigation, one cannot really fathom how damaging, even life changing, it can be.

In his “Tenth Commandment,” Olson explains that counterintelligence requires tenacity and persistence, and that is a slow, plodding process that rarely rewards its practitioners with instant gratification. He advises that one chooses to pursue a career in counterintelligence, one should know from the outset that it is a profession in which officers will go for months and even years without perceptible progress or accomplishments. Olson explains: “A typical CI [counterintelligence] investigation starts with a kernel, a fragment, or a hunch that is hard to grab onto but that demands attention. He lists what types of information qualifies as such. He then explains how counterintelligence investigations usually start with little and face an uphill fight.” He further explains: “There is no statute of limitations on espionage, and we should not create one with our own inaction. Traitors should know that they will never be safe and will never have a peaceful night’s sleep.” As for a rationale behind what could very well turn out to be Quixotic search for evidence that is not there against a target who may very well be innocent, Olson states: “If we keep a CI [counterintelligence] investigation alive and stay on it, the next defector, the next penetration, the next tip, the next piece of CI analysis, the next wiretap, the next surveillance report, the next communications intercept, i.e. the next four will break it for us. If US counterintelligence ever had a mascot, it should be the pit bull.” Readers must be reminded that this would all be done at taxpayers’ expense.

Hypotheses and conclusions should be predicated and driven by hard evidence, not appearances, presumptions, and surmisal, supporting a preconception of guilt. A type hubris ensnares and overwhelms the investigator much as the fisherman in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952). When moving into the realm of conjecture, anything becomes a possibility. In that realm, everyone is entitled to a hypothesis. Each one, within reason, is likely equally correct or incorrect. Less elevated reasons may have a familiar ring to some involved in counterintelligence: “Somethings got to be there because I can tell!”; “I know he is bad because I feel it!” To get an investigation of a subject where a counterintelligence officer wants it to be, the focus can shift from The actual matter at hand to a secondary search through extraneous matters–sifting through dust figuratively–for “good” information that is just not there. That will lead those officers to settle for something close enough to the truth that should never pass muster among somber and astute supervisors, but it could for others.

Preconception is abhorrent to the cold and precise mind. The pure objective truth must be the focus. It may be harder to find, but it is the true pathway to success in an investigation. True evidence must be there. Must be predicated only on a reasonable standard, logic, and the law. A thorough review of superiors, auditors is needed not simply to curtail but to provide another voice, extra eyes on the matter. Sometimes an ally looking into a matter to see and call attention to issue an investigator too close to it may overlook. The situation worsens when bent information, which can always be found or sought, may be used to support very wrong ideas. Intuition and hunches can be colored, or better yet poisoned, by extraneous matters. Before placing the full force of the powers of secret intelligence services upon a citizen to impinge on his or her rights, something more than a hunch or feeling must guide the pursuit. Tools available to US counterintelligence services for surveillance and investigation have become far more powerful and intrusive than the US Congress and even the federal courts could have imagined or conceptualized while promulgating laws on their use. A tragic consequence of a lack of strong supervision is that the punishing weight of government power that can potentially be placed on the subject with those tools, who may actually be innocent, can be harmful, damaging, and destructive. There must be constraint on the use of powerful, highly intrusive government tools to pursue a subject of an investigation. Knowing when to say when, especially since a human life is in the balance, is the mark of a true professional in any field. There must be an inner-voice or one from a supervisor that warns that an investigation could be going down a totally wrong path. In his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, 17th century French-born philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, Rene Descartes, explained: “The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt.”

Conducting a heavy-handed counterintelligence investigation of an individual not yet found guilty of anything in a court of law can ruin that individual’s life permanently. The damage counterintelligence services can do to a subject’s psyche is well understood to be grave and considerable. Use of surveillance methods of all kinds, invasion of privacy, discussing the subject with family, friends, work colleagues in a manner that skirts defamation or fully crosses the line, using informants among neighbors work colleagues, friends, as well as family, eliminating the possibility of normal human contact, and more, all ensures nothing normal with be left in the subject’s personal life. The soul and the spirit of the subject is typically seared. Reversing the damage, is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. The psychological capsule in which strong willed subjects will seek refuge in order to hold on to the remainder of themselves, to survive, is never easy to break open in an effort to find them. However, there seems to be little sensitivity with US counterintelligence services to the harm done to the innocent from wrongful investigations. Olson actually calls attention to a misdirected investigation tied to the FBI’s famed counterintelligence case against Special Agent Robert Hanssen that uncovered him as a Russian [Soviet] spy, He notes that investigation went on longer than it should have and essentially glosses over the fact that time and energy was wasted chasing an innocent man. Nowhere does he mention how much harm, how much torment, the innocent man suffered as a result of the wrongful investigation of him as a Soviet spy. That speaks volumes. No matter how singular one’s percipience, until one personally suffers an injustice of a wrongful counterintelligence investigation, one cannot really fathom how damaging, even life changing, it can be.

Habet aliquid ex iniquo omne magnum exemplum, quod contra singulos, utilitate publica rependitur. (Every great example of punishment has in it some tincture of injustice, but the wrong to individuals is compensated by the promotion of the public good.) The failure to practice what the US Constitution preaches regarding life and liberty and law is reflective of an individual engaged in an investigation going off the rails. However, that individual’s frustration or any other internal conflicts, must not allow for devaluation of the system, and a devolution that can comfortably lead US counterintelligence services to regularly mimic the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of an authoritarian security service as stated earlier. The way of life in the US, the country’s values and interests, are not being defended. Indeed, something very different would be happening. The US and liberal democracies must be different. Government actions are founded under laws that amplify morals, Judeo-Christian values of its founders. If all that Olson declares as essential to a counterintelligence investigation is permissible as a practice in a free society, a liberal democracy as US, it stands to reason the possibilities and capabilities make the potential for harsh behavior in search of enemies far worse in China’s authoritarian–arguably totalitarian–regime.

Olson begins the discussion of his Ninth Commandment in his purest tone with the statement: “Counterintelligence is a hazardous profession. There should be warning signs on the walls of CI [counterintelligence] offices around the intelligence community: ‘A steady diet of CI can be dangerous for your health.'” Following some interesting anecdotes about officers and senior executives in CI who seemed to lose themselves in the work, Olson explains: “I do not believe anyone should make an entire, uninterrupted career out of CI. All of us who have worked in counterintelligence have seen the old CI hand who has gone spooky. It is hard to immerse oneself daily in the arcane and twisted world of CI without falling prey to creeping paranoia, distortion, warping, and overzealousness in one’s thinking. It is precisely these traits that led to some of the worst CI disasters in our history.” In addition, Olson notes that following a lunch with a CIA colleague who had worked for a time in counterintelligence said: “Jim, after doing CI for two years I felt the occupational madness closing in on me. I had to move on and do something else before I lost my bearings.”

Olson argues that differences in sensibilities and approaches among CIA case officers, FBI special agents, and military intelligence officers are great/disparate enough that when working together on a case, insular thinking is mitigated. Thereby, he suggests officers from different US counterintelligence services should rotate among their offices to exploit the benefits cooperation can bring. However, despite some differences among the officers in some lines of thinking, they are all from the same national security bureaucracy and their collective thinking would more likely tend to manifest greater commonalities, more similarities, than differences, having been trained and functioning in the same system. That may not be as discernible from the inside. To be frank, but not impolitic, so far, in the case of Chinese intelligence efforts in the US, no marked positive impact has been evinced from the aggregated efforts of the services.

With all of the pearl clutching being done among senior executives in the US counterintelligence service about Chinese intelligence successes in their country, taking the approaches presented in those “Ten Commandments,” out of sort of desperation, overlooking, or turning a blind eye, to aberrant situations, prolonged investigations, “tabs” being kept on former operatives and informers for no logical reason or constructive reason, obsessive surveillance, use of dirty tricks, services ou les activités pour traquer ou nuire à autrui. They can often end up becoming huge expenditures with no constructive results, only destructive ones. Being able to claim that one is on the trail of some questionable former ally might achieve some meretricious effect in a meeting to review cases–the errant officer may want to create the appearance of being a sleuthhound with a never surrender attitude–but such efforts will typically accomplish nothing to protect the US from its adversaries or enhance the country’s national security. The dreadful consequences for those incorrectly targeted, would be, as has been, the recipe for disaster. US counterintelligence, not a foreign adversary, has, and will always be, harming innocent, private US citizens in those cases. 

Supervisors and those managers of US counterintelligence services close enough to the rank and file and their operations in the field must judge the actions of officers against US citizens based on the seriousness and dignity of the claim. If there are strong concerns, there may be other avenues along which the potential problem could be managed. Suffice it to say that an investigation of a private US citizen using tools designed for trained foreign intelligence officers and networks have no good reason to be used on a citizen in a Constitutional republic. That will always be a dangerous and destructive undertaking in terms of the well-being of the US citizen. (One wonders how inspired those US counterintelligence officers who are often anxious to spend so much time, energy, and especially money on chasing tenuous leads and entertaining the slender appearance of a private US citizen’s guilt or complicity, if money was short and was being appropriated from their personal accounts. Perhaps none!)

As for another pitfall reality that taking such a harsh, seemingly ego driven approach to counterintelligence in the present day, it could lead to self-inflicted walk down a garden path and into the hands of US adversaries. Newly minted MSS counterintelligence officers in “on the job training,” which is how they do it, may very well be actually working in the field, using decoys under their trainers direction as a type of net practice for gaining and retaining the attention of foreign counterintelligence services and luring their resources, energies, and time, into endless, fruitless pursuits. The indications and implications of what is provided in Olson’s, albeit well-meaning, “Ten Commandments” are that US counterintelligence services would be susceptible to such a ploy. MSS counterintelligence could surely offer just the right amount of chicken feed here and there to support a misguided belief that the perfect “kernel” of information will be found to make a case, it can effective distract, divert, and disrupt elements of US counterintelligence officers from engaging in more worthier pursuits against what may very well be in many cases, potentially vulnerable networks and operations of Chinese intelligence services in the US. (Interestingly, in public announcements by the US Department of Justice of a Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence,there is never mention of any plot to lure US intelligence services into a trap. Perchance, since they have been so successful, there is no reason, no impetus to play such games. In the eyes of senior executives and managers of the MSS and senior commanders of the PLA, US intelligence and counterintelligence services may no longer be worth the candle.)

Taking draconian steps against a US citizen for allegedly, presumptively, or imaginably being tied to a foreign intelligence service when that is in reality not the case could very well compound an already difficult situation with regard to recruiting adversarial intelligence officers, operatives, and informants. The rationale for making that representation is if a US counterintelligence service accused a US citizen of providing some assistance to a specific foreign intelligence service, and the assertion is false, no group other than that adversarial service would know for a fact that the accusation is false. Even more, observing the US counterintelligence service initiate some severe, intrusive investigation of the citizen, ostensibly to better understand US practices. Surely such behavior, such practices by some US counterintelligence services would create a decidedly negative impression of the US among members of an adversarial foreign intelligence service.

“Once upon a time” there was a near universal notion of the US being “the good guy,” known for its largesse. That reputation has become a bit tarnished over time quite possibly as result of such aggressive actions by a US counterintelligence service against their own innocent citizens. If a foreign intelligence officer, operative, or informant would ever consider what would befall him or her if they left their service and country and turned to the US, the individual would need to ask himself or herself: “If they treat their own people that way, how would they treat an adversary.” Through Olson’s compendium of US activities by adversaries and his case studies, one could infer that since the end of the Cold War, foreign intelligence officers were more likely to turn to the US only if they ran afoul of their own organizations after making some egregious, irreconcilable misstep on a professional or personal level, either by their own volition or through entrapment. Such individuals would prefer to save their skins in any way possible with an intelligence service willing to accept and protect them, rather than face their superiors. One might speculate on how many occasions the choice was made by a foreign intelligence officer to turn to another country’s intelligence service such as the United Kingdom’s Security Service or Secret Intelligence Service rather than walk-in into a US Embassy or Consulate to prostrate himself or herself. Perchance some venturous officer in a US counterintelligence service might want to apply a bit of the preceding logic to the Chinese intelligence conundrum.

Perhaps one should also consider that adversarial foreign intelligence officers may chalk up actions of US counterintelligence officers performed against them, such as monitoring an opponent’s telephone and electronic communications, surveilling their movements, or striking up clandestine conversations, as a matter of them simply doing their jobs. Such thinking would form the basis of a tacit, or even an explicitly agreed upon, modus vivendi. However, it is another thing altogether for US counterintelligence officers to use “dirty tricks” against adversarial foreign intelligence officers or their families and make their circumstances unviable in the US while deployed under official cover. Boiling it all down, there must be hope, even assurance, that there will be an intelligent connection for the one who defects not a bullying connection with a US counterintelligence officer. The one coming over of course wants help in doing so, needs help in betraying his own. Those individuals are the proverbial “bigger fish to fry.”

Infamous former chief of CIA Counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton (above). Olson initially mentions Angleton in Chapter 3 when he discusses how his obsessive focus on the KGB and overall paranoia blinded him to other counterintelligence threats. In his Ten Commandments, Olson makes note of the counterintelligence failures and abuses of Angleton, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, and their subordinates, reminding of the obsessive harassment of Martin Luther King in the 1950s and 1960s, Olson states “the practice of counterintelligence–whether in intelligence, law enforcement, the military, or corporate security–is highly susceptible to overzealousness. To take the discussion of such problems further, he notes: “Counterintelligence officers must be wary of what I call the ‘self-righteousness trap,’ that is, our objective cannot be so righteous and our motives so pure that we can justify inappropriate and illegal methods.”

In his explanation of his Eighth Commandment, Olson begins by reminding readers of what was mentioned in his “Second Commandment” that “some people in the intelligence business and elsewhere in the US government do not like counterintelligence officers.” He makes note of the counterintelligence failures and abuses of the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, and their subordinates and reminding of the obsessive harassment of Martin Luther King in the 1950s and 1960s, and then states “the practice of counterintelligence–whether in intelligence, law enforcement, the military, or corporate security–is highly susceptible to overzealousness. To take the discussion of such problems further, he notes: “Counterintelligence officers must be wary of what I call the ‘self-righteousness trap,’ that is, our objective cannot be so righteous and our motives so pure that we can justify inappropriate and illegal methods.”

To explain the reaction within the national security bureaucracy and among government contractors to counterintelligence officers, Olson simply states that case officers, special agents, commanders, and other managers have a natural tendency to resist counterintelligence scrutiny. As a rationale for that, Olson asserts that they believe that they are practicing good counterintelligence themselves and do not welcome being second guessed or told how to run their operations by so-called counterintelligence specialists who are not directly involved in the operation and not in the chain of command. He acknowledges that defense contractors and other civilian bureaucrats running sensitive US government programs have too often minimized counterintelligence threats and resisted professional counterintelligence intervention. As a rationale for that perspective, Olson says they view counterintelligence officers as only stirring up problems and overreacting to them. They perceive counterintelligence officers “success” in preventing problems as being invisible and their damage assessments after compromises as usually being overblown.

In the face of such resistance, Olson proffers that counterintelligence officers must act heroically, stating: “A counterintelligence officer worthy of the name must be prepared to speak unpopular truth to power, even at the potential cost of poor performance appraisals or missed promotions. It is not an exaggeration to say that a good CI [counterintelligence] officer must be a nag–and as we all know, imperious managers do not like persistent and vocal dissent.” Intriguingly, In this discussion, Olson leaves the reader with the impression that all counterintelligence investigators are first class individuals, straight as a dart. Across all of the US counterintelligence services, a majority probably are. However, in his Ninth Commandment, he clearly indicates personal problems among them are known to arise as a consequence of the work, to repeat  included:  creeping paranoia, distortion, warping, and overzealousness in one’s thinking.  To reiterate what he writes even in this “Eighth Commandment,” Olson mentions the “self-righteousness trap” and acknowledges: “the practice of counterintelligence–whether in intelligence, law enforcement, the military, or corporate security–is highly susceptible to overzealousness.” When Olson recalls from his experience how senior executives and managers in CIA shied away from acceptance of counterintelligence officers in their divisions and shops, surely he is fully aware that they could only express that choice through tidy, plausible and professional statements such as those. He also had to know that they were very likely aware of the same problems Olson, himself, indicated could exist among some counterintelligence officers. Not presuming or expecting to learn of a connection between stories of aberrant behavior by counterintelligence officers and concerns that raises among managers of departments and units, the issue may escape the impressions of many readers. To that extent, Olson, perhaps unconsciously, does say enough to invite such concerns to be among reader’s impressions either.

Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest; quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit. (Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.) With such problems among counterintelligence officers in mind, as a “good shepherd,” the goal of any attentive and prudent manager would be to keep a potential source of undue trouble from his flock. Letting counterintelligence officers in has really become a high stakes gamble. The slightest suggestion that a manager might refuse to receive a fellow officer due to unsubstantiated concerns that he or she may be potentially psychologically unfit to carry out his or her duties appropriately or concerns that he is she may be of questionable judgment–again, based on Olson’s own statement about problems that can arise among counterintelligence officers, it could always be a possibility–could lead to sanction from the top. Olson surely must have understood was likely a tad sympathetic to such underlying sensibilities among managers within the CIA and the other national security bureaucracies about counterintelligence. If there is so much concern within the federal bureaucracies over US counterintelligence, certainly the unsuspecting, unprotected citizen has far more to fear from it. Gnawing again at the subject of the “potential” abuse of power by US counterintelligence officers, as long as there is the actuation and potential for transgressions of innocent citizens’ rights exists, there may be less to fear about China expropriation of the US role as the dominant power in the world and its usurping of citizens rights, primarily through infiltration of elite circles and election interference, than the prospect of being torn to pieces as a result of the acts, benign or malicious, of a few trusted men and women in the intelligence services and law enforcement.

Very easily the innocent, with no connection to hideous business of a spy ring, can be caught in the same net as the guilty. It is among the innocent, carrying on by appearance  in the same manner as them, that the foreign intelligence officer, operative, and informant conceals himself or herself. Suppositions based on assumptions can result in an officer initiating a case green-lit with all the necessary approvals from the top. Sentimentality to the concept of beginning, middle, and end should not compel the endless pursuit of one who may upon informed consideration may equally be found innocent. Wrongs already done cannot be righted, but an energetic effort should be made to prevent future wrongs of the same kind. Pause for thought! 

Once the track to find an individual is guilty has been taken, no one among the officers in the shop will aim to prove the individual’s innocence. The individual’s innocence becomes by the by. In these matters, perception errantly means more than reality. That imbalance in thought unfortunately has likely served to allow all formulations based on available evidence, easing in tragic results. Surely adversarial foreign intelligence services would prefer US counterintelligence service would become immersed in an investigation of an innocent party than put their time and energy on any actual part of their networks. As discussed in somewhat greater detail in the August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 2),” it cannot be overemphasized that misidentifying an innocent citizen as an  agent of an adversarial foreign power engaged in espionage or some other act on its behalf by initiating an investigation against the individual, to include securing warrants for the most intrusive and egregious acts contrary to his or her First and Fourth Amendment Rights under the Constitution is a tragedy of unimaginable proportion and can have enormous consequences upon the life of the one mistakenly, even wrongfully targeted. 

In a December 1999 federal indictment, Wen Ho Lee was charged in 59 counts concerning the tampering, altering, concealing, and removing restricted data, the receipt of restricted data, the unlawful gathering of national defense information, and the unlawful retention of national defense information. As the investigation into his alleged espionage began, Lee was fired from his job at Los Alamos by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on March 8, 1990, under pressure from the US Department of Energy, which oversees the laboratory. The news media was informed of his dismissal by an unknown source and the stories were widely reported. While his alleged espionage was being reported, the FBI had determined that Lee could not plausibly have been the source of information on the W88 passed to China. The normative hope, yet perhaps a bit of an optimistic one given the players involved, would be that once exculpatory information is discovered that could prove one’s innocence, a FBI investigation would have been halted. However, the FBI moved forward with its investigation of Lee. Although the original espionage charge was dropped by the FBI, Lee was still charged with the improper handling of restricted data. In September 2000, Lee pled guilty to one count as a part of a plea bargain arrangement. The other 58 counts were dropped. Later, Lee filed a lawsuit against the US government and five news organizations–the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ABC NEWS, and the Associated Press–for leaking information that violated his privacy.

Lee and his supporters have argued that he was unfairly singled out for investigation because he was Chinese-American. Wen Ho Lee was not the enemy but has been called a victim of the blind, unfettered power of a few men with authority. That bit of humanity that should exist in each human heart was in such insufficient quantity in the counterintelligence special agents handling his case. In his book Securing the State, David Omand, former United Kingdom intelligence and security coordinator, wrote security intelligence operations—such as counterterrorism and counterintelligence—require cooperation between security officials and civilian populations among whom threats wish to hide. In the case of Chinese intelligence, this includes ethnic Chinese émigré communities, which, at least in the US, are now suspicious of the FBI. The botched investigation of Wen Ho Lee, in Ormand’s view, appeared to be politically (or racially) motivated witch hints rather than the serious security investigations they were. To Chinese-Americans, these suspicions and resulting investigations are the natural result of an unwillingness to analyze Chinese intelligence more rigorously on the basis of evidence.

Intelligence enthusiasts may find it interestingly that in a September 25, 1977 New York Times interview, John le Carré, the renowned espionage novelist of the United Kingdom who served in both MI5 and MI6, just after publishing The Honourable Schoolboy (Alfred L. Knopf, 1977), was asked about a view implied in his earlier works that no society was worth defending by the kind of methods he had set out to expose in his books. In reply, the author stated in part: “What I suppose I would wish to see is the cleaning of our own stable and the proper organization, as I understand it, and the sanitization, of the things that we stand for. I hope by that means and by those examples perhaps to avoid what I regard as so wrong with the Soviet Union.”

Double-Agent Operations and Managing Double-Agent Operations

Olson follows his commandments with a chapter on preventing counterintelligence incursions through the development of better workplace security. Improvement may be achieved, he explains, by following his “Three Principles of Workplace Counterintelligence”—careful hiring, proper supervision, and responsible promotions. Afterward, comes the chapters of To Catch a Spy that greatcharlie appreciated the most were “Chapter Six: Double-Agent Operations” and “Chapter Seven: Managing Double-Agent Operations.” In these two chapters, Olson finally presents a classical series of demonstrations. Indeed, in both chapters, Olson provides nothing less than a mini manual for precisely what the titles indicate. Readers are favored with many of the logical principles that Olson would practice and expound during training while working in CIA counterintelligence. He provides a list of benefits US counterintelligence seeks to gain from a double agent operations: spreading disinformation; determining the other side’s modus operandi; identifying hostile intelligence officers; learning the opposition’s intelligence collection requirements; acquiring positive intelligence; tying up the opposition’s operations; taking the oppositions money; discrediting the opposition; testing other countries; and, pitching the hostile case officer. Nihil est aliud magnum quam multa minuta. (Every great thing is composed of many things that are small.)

The tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US counterintelligence are laid out. Some portions are couched in anecdotes illustrating practices used in the past. Each to an extent is a display of the imagination possessed and creative ways in which double-agents were dangled to garner interest from the adversarial intelligence service, the transmission of chicken feed, ostensibly useful yet actually useless information, for the adversary to grab, and management of nuanced communications between the double agent and his handler. Olson does not indicate whether any among the practices discussed was used by him to achieve some crowning glory of his career. Again, for readers such as greatcharlie, what was presented in this chapter was meat and drink. None of the precepts included were beyond the understanding and the abilities of most readers who would be interested in the book. He tells it all in an apposite way.

Case Studies

In “Chapter Eight: Counterintelligence Case Studies,” Olson goes into some greater detail on the principles and methods of counterintelligence. Olson carefully avoids offering what may seem to some as a mere series of tales. However, it seems that Olson’s relaxed writing style, present throughout the text in fact, may distracted some previous reviewers’ attention away from the instructive nature of the discussion. In the 12 case studies he presents, Olson also illustrates the tradecraft of counterintelligence, and where counterintelligence breaks down or succeeds. He presents, to the extent that he could, how US counterintelligence officers became fully engaged on each matter. To some degree, Olson also looks at the other side of things and discusses why people spy against their country.

Each case study is followed by a “lessons learned” section. Lessons learned are the pertinent qualities and deficiencies that Olson ascribes to each case pertinent to the ongoing work of US counterintelligence services. The lessons learned are given greater value for Olson selects only what he deems most pertinent from what he witnessed, experienced, and endured as is not presumed. Again, nothing presented in To Catch a Spy is considered in the abstract. Some might observe that absent again is the severe reasoning from cause to effect that helps to solve the case. Instead, he highlights a few points of interest in each and considerable focus is put into placing color and life into his discussion of them. Two good examples of his case studies are those concerning Ana Montes and Richard Miller.

Scott Carmichael (above) was the senior security and counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the lead agent on the successful spy hunt that led to Ana Montes. Concerning the Montes case, Olson does not deny the fact that the DGI had done the thing very completely. Of the lessons learned, the three most important to Olson appeared to be that the DIA was wrong not to require polygraph of its new employees. He applauded the DIA for having in place a policy that encouraged employees to come forward with any workplace counterintelligence concerns that they had. The report of Montes’ suspicious behavior in 1996 turned out to be inconclusive but still served the purpose of putting her on the counterintelligence radar of DIA investigator Scott Carmichael, who he heaps praise upon. Olson also notes that penetration is the best counterintelligence. Without the FBI source to raise the alarm and put Carmichael back on the scent, Olson says Montes might have stayed in place.

Ana Montes

Concerning the case of Ana Montes, which Olson touched upon in his country report on Cuba in Chapter 3, he leaves no doubt that it was a very complicated and abstruse case. He does not deny the fact that the DGI had done the thing very completely. Olson referred to Ana Montes as a classic spy. Montes worked for Cuban intelligence for sixteen years. She was indeed the embodiment of an ideological belief concerning US policy in Latin America and most of all, a pro-Cuba sentiment, as she carried out her espionage duties for the DGI diligently and effectively. Before the smash of her unmasking, Montes was believed to be a thoroughly trustworthy officer. When colleagues learned of Montes’ betrayal, it was a crushing blow to them.

Olson reports that Montes’ views against the US role in world affairs were hardened while she studied abroad in Spain as a student of the University of Virginia. Nevertheless she would eventually find employment in the US Department of Justice and receive a top secret security clearance required for her position. The espionage problem started outright when Montes, already a federal employee, began attending night courses at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Montes, likely spotted by someone working for Cuban intelligence once she was heard voicing her negative views toward US policy in Central America during the administration of US President Ronald Reagan. The Cubans, appreciative of her enthusiasm, Olson believes, Cuban intelligence insisted that she leave her job at the US Department of Justice and move to a national security organization. She secured a job with DIA. Starting as an analyst on El Salvador and Nicaragua, Montes rose to become the senior DIA analyst on Cuba.

As for her espionage work for the Cubans, Montes would memorize contents of documents she saw, summarized it at home, and encrypt the material on diskettes. She received instructions from Havana by shortwave radio broadcasts, which she deciphered on her Toshiba laptop using a special program the Cubans provided her. She would contact her handler by calling from a public phone booth and sending a coded message via her pager. She would have dinner with her handler once or twice a month with her Cuban handler in a Washington restaurant to provide him with the diskettes. Montes was lavished with praise but never accepted payment.

In 1996, an alert DIA employee, practicing good workplace counterintelligence, reported his concerns about Montes to DIA counterintelligence officer Scott Carmichael. The employee noted that Montes appeared sympathetic to the Cuban cause,  and inappropriately aggressive in seeking expanded access to sensitive intelligence on Cuba. Carmichael interviewed Montes and eventually dropped the matter. However, as Olson explained, he filed away his suspicions of her for future action. In 2000, Carmichael became aware that the FBI was looking for a Cuban mole inside the US intelligence community. Only soupçons were known about the identity of the spy, except that he or she was using a Toshiba laptop to communicate with Cuban intelligence. Carmichael immediately thought of Montes, but he had little evidence to support his suspicions against her that he had great difficulty in convincing the FBI to open an investigation.

Carmichael remained persistent in pushing the FBI to open an investigation (never give up), egged on by further aberrant pro-Cuban attitudes displayed by Montes, and his efforts finally succeeded. In May 2001, the FBI threw its notorious full court press at Montes, starting with extensive physical surveillance. It did not take long for the FBI to conclude that she was involved in illegal activity. First, she was obvious and amateurish in her surveillance detection routes, often entering a store by one door and quickly leaving by another. Second, she made a succession of one minute phone calls from public phone booths, even though she owned a car and carried a cellphone. Montes’ behavior was suspicious enough to the FBI that it was able to obtain a warrant for surreptitious entry of her apartment on May 28, 2001. She was away on a weekend trip with her boyfriend. The FBI knew that this entry would be particularly dicey if Montes was a Cuban trained spy, she could have trapped her apartment to determine the intrusion. There was, however, no evidence of trapping and the entry was successful. The FBI found a shortwave radio of the type used by spies to listen to encrypted broadcasts and a telltale Toshiba laptop. On the hard drive, which the FBI drained, were multiple messages from the Cubans to Montes on her intelligence reporting, giving her additional tasking requirements, and coaching her on her tradecraft. Olson says he is certain that the FBI computer experts chuckled when they read the instructions from the Cubans to Montes on how to erase everything incriminating from her hard drive. He further comments that she either did not follow the instructions or they did not work because the FBI recovered a treasure trove of espionage traffic. One message thanked Montes for identifying an undercover US intelligence officer who was being assigned to Cuba. It was later determined that she gave the Cubans the names of other US intelligence personnel in Cuba. She blew their cover and sabotaged their mission.

As the remainder of the story goes, the FBI continued its surveillance of Montes for another four months in hope of identifying her Cuban handler or handlers. That effort was not successful, but the FBI was able to search her purse when she was out of her DIA office to attend a meeting. Inside her purse the FBI found more incriminating material, including the page rhinestone number she used to send short corded messages to the Cubans. Olson said the fear was that if Montes detected the surveillance, she would flee. When Montes was about to gain access to US war planning for Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the FBI and DIA decided that they could wait no longer. Montes was arrested at DIA Headquarters on September 21, 2001. She pleaded guilty on October 16, 2002  and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

Of the lessons learned, the three most important to Olson appeared to be that the DIA was wrong not to require polygraphs of its new employees. He applauded the DIA for having in place a policy that encouraged employees to come forward with any workplace counterintelligence concerns that they had. The report of Montes’ suspicious behavior in 1996 turned out to be inconclusive but still served the purpose of putting her on Carmichael’s counterintelligence radar. Olson also notes that penetration is the best counterintelligence. Without the FBI source to raise the alarm and to put Carmichael back on the scent, Montes might still be in place. DGI’s activities in the US were really a mystery. Olson did well in presenting readers with a sense of the elusive nature of DGI operatives. 

As it turned out, the case did not reach its optimal potential for counterintelligence officers engaged in the investigation were unable to use available information to track down and capture Montes’ handlers or any other elements of the Cuban espionage network of which she was a part. In his investigation, the DIA counterintelligence officer, Carmichael, was able to observe, reflect, and intuit connections based.on facts not conjure a false reality based merely on appearances. Again, it is always a capital mistake to theorize in advance of hard facts. Nevertheless, it is a common errant practice. With hard facts, one is better enabled to grasp the truth.

With regard to Olson’s suggestion that the FBI computer experts likely chuckled over the failure of Montes to eliminate incriminating evidence from her Toshiba laptop, a concern is raised. Perhaps some in US counterintelligence services may feel greatcharlie is making the whole matter seem more urgent and important than it really is, but the proper comportment, displayed and demanded by supervisors and line managers, would instead have been to remain collected and aplomb with noses to the grindstone in the squad, knowing that an unexpected opportunity to exploit a failing on the part of the adversary has shown itself. It may signal that other missteps by the adversary may be present that will allow counterintelligence officers to net an even greater quarry of foreign intelligence prey. Recognizably, stresses can cause attention to shift. (Take charge of your emotions!) However, there is the need to concentrate solely on performing the duty of the moment as best as possible. Once the case is resolved, there would be time then to reflect on its many aspects. The reputation of US counterintelligence services will not suffer shipwreck over this particular matter. Olson surely did not view at all out of order as he freely revealed it in the text.

When Montes’ handlers and the managers of her undiscovered network evaded capture, they took with them all their lessons learned. (Recall her activities were not a small matter in the DGI as the informative walk-in Olson dealt with in Prague, Lombard, was read-in on her fruitful work while he was posted in Vienna.) One could have no doubt that meant it would certainly be decidedly more difficult, after the DGI presumably made necessary corrections, to uncover their activities of officers, operatives, and informants in their networks on later occasions. Surely, they would be back. (Rather than display any good humor about the matter, it should have been handled from start to finish with solemnity, especially given the indications and implications of the case.)

KGB operative Svetlana Ogorodnikov (above). As described by Olson, Richard Miller was a disaster as a counterintelligence officer, and an FBI special agent in general. However, that aspect is key to understanding the lessons the case presents not only to senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, but among the rank and file of each organization. Working out of the Los Angeles FBI Office, Miller was tasked to monitor the Russisn émigré community in Los Angeles. In May 1984, a well-known member of the Russisn émigré community called Miller suggesting that they meet. It turned out the caller, Svetlana Ogorodnikov, was a KGB operative dispatched in 1973 to infiltrate the Russian emigre community in Los Angeles. She got her hooks into Miller. Miller, figuratively tied to a tether right in front of the KGB, was exactly the type of FBI Special Sgent that an adversarial foreign intelligence officer would look for.

Richard Miller

As described by Olson, Richard Miller was a disaster as a counterintelligence officer, and an FBI special agent in general. However, that aspect is key to understanding the lessons the case presents not only to senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, but among the rank and file of each organization. Miller was a door left open that an adversarial foreign intelligence service, in this instance the KGB, was happy to walk through, and one could expect in similar circumstances that will almost always be the case.

Olson notes that Miller was hired by the FBI in 1964. After having spent time in a number of FBI field offices, Miller landed in the Los Angeles FBI Field Office where he should have found peace. However, as Olson explains, Miller, as a result of his own incompetence did not find a happy home in that office. Olson leaves no doubt that Miller was a disaster as an FBI special agent. He was a laughingstock at the office. His FBI colleagues scratched their heads in disbelief that he had been hired in the first place. In the buttoned down world of the FBI, he was totally out of place. He was poorly dressed and noticeably careless with his grooming. His weight and physical fitness did not meet the FBI’s rigorous standards. At 5’9″ tall and weighing as much as 250 pounds, he never came close to matching the stereotypical profile of the trim and athletic FBI special agent. 

To make matters worse, Miller was hopelessly incompetent. Olson says Miller begged his FBI colleagues to give him assets because he was incapable of developing any on his own. At various times, he lost his FBI credentials, gun, and office keys. His performance reviews were consistently bad, but somehow his career chugged on. In Olson’s own words, Miller was part of the FBI culture that did not turn on its own, even at the cost of carrying dead weight. With eight children, on a special agents salary, Miller was always on the lookout for extra income. Reportedly, he stole money from his uncle in a far fetched invention scam. He pocketed money that was supposed to pay assets. He ran license plates for a private investigator. He sold Amway products out of the trunk of his office FBI vehicle. He even bought an avocado farm to profit from but it went under. Miller would eventually be excommunicated from the Church of Latter Day Saints for adultery and divorced while serving in Los Angeles.

Miller’s initial work in the Los Angeles FBI Field Office was in criminal work but he was unsuccessful at that. He was transferred to goreign counterintelligence where it was ostensibly though he would receive vlossr supervision and mentorship from the Gordian counterintelligence chief. Olson notes that additionally, foreign counterintelligence was considered a dumping ground for under performing employees Counterintelligence was not highly regarded and the best people stayed away.

In foreign counterintelligence, Miller was given the job to monitor the large Russian émigré community in Los Angeles. To do that job he was expected to mingle with the émigrés and develop contacts inside that community who could keep him informed of any indications of Russian espionage. It was not hard to imagine how Miller was perceived by the Russians with whom he came in vintage. There is no indication that Miller did anything significant during that period. His career and personal life was still spiraling downward. He would later tell estimators he sometimes took three hour lunches at a 7-Eleven store reading comic books and eating shoplifter candy bars. Viewing Miller’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic he was counseled by his supervisor and sent in for a mental health assessment. Although found emotionally unstable, and subsequently suspended for being overweight, Miller was krot pn at foreign counterintelligence. He was allowed to hang on until he reached retirement age of 50.

In May 1984, one of the well-known members of the Russisn émigré community called Miller suggesting that they meet. The caller,, Svetlana Ogorodnikov, immigrated from the Soviet Union in 1973 with her husband Nikolai. She worked as a low level source for the FBI at one point but dropped out. Her husband worked as a meatpacker. It turned out that Svetlana was a KGB operative, dispatched in 1973 to infiltrate the Russisn emigre community in Los Angeles, and if possible, assess and develop US citizens gir recruitment. She was known to make trips to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco which the FBI would later assess were occasions when she met her KGB contact.

Olson assesses due to the timing of Ogorodnikov’s call, she likely was aware from her contact in the community that Miller was in trouble at the FBI and his personal life had become a shambles. Olson also supposes that the KGB green-lit her call after they were satisfied with an assessment of him. After traveling to the Soviet Union, where Olson believes she met with the KGB to discuss Miller, Ogorodnikov returned to the US and continued contact with him in August. She promised him cash for secrets and Miller agreed. He supplied her with secret FBI documents to prove his bona fides. Miller then met with a KGB officer. Olson explained that the KGB was not immediately satisfied with Miller. He gave his FBI credentials to Ogorodnikov who presented them to heathen  contacts in the San Francisco Consulate. The KGB wanted Miller to travel to Vienna with Ogorodnikov to meet with more intelligence officials. However, the FBI never allowed that to happen; other special agents became aware of Miller’s unauthorized relationship with Ogorodnikov. Miller was placed under surveillance by use of wiretaps, bugs, and operatives on the street.

Olson assumes Miller detected the surveillance. On September 27, 1984, he tried to convince the FBI that he was engaged in his own effort to catch Ogorodnikov. However, while being polygraphed he admitted to his malign activities. He gave Ogorodnikov a secret document. He then started keeping several other documents in his home and was prepared to present them to the KGB. Miller and the Ogorodnikovs plead guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage on October 3, 1984.

In his lessons learned, Olson focuses on the decision of Miller’s FBI superiors to keep Miller in place. He does not fault the other special agents in the office for not reporting him because Miller’s situation was well-known in the office. Olson, to some extent in the role of apologist, offers reasons for such behavior among Miller’s colleagues. Misfortune can easily come at the hands of an evil influence such as alcohol. Miller had a weakening nature to which his supervisors should have responded. Perhaps they figured they had to stretch a point in favor of a man who served for so long. However, by keeping Miller on the job, his supervisors and managers, surely inadvertently compounded the problem. They went too far to screen his many disqualifications from their own superiors, presumably to allow him to reach retirement. Miller seemingly marked his zero point when he was approached by the KGB. It stands to reason that an astute counterintelligence officer may often discover weaknesses and blind spots in himself or herself. An effort to correct the deficiency would then be in order. However, Miller was different. By all appearances, he was spent, no longer qualified to serve, but he was kept on.

On reflection, the matter seems almost ridiculous. Miller was exactly the type of FBI special agent that an adversarial foreign intelligence officer would look for. He was not a dangle, nor was he really on the prowl. He was simply a door left open to the achievement of some success by the KGB, figuratively tied to a tether right in front of them. Perhaps at the time their agents presented him as a prospect, in Moscow, they could hardly believe their luck. The opportunity was there, and the KGB operatives among the émigrés supplied the audacity to take advantage of it. 

Through his own insufficient and perhaps sympathetic investigation, he discovered no one and nothing significant among the émigrés. Anyone getting involved with an émigré community as part of a counterintelligence investigation must gird one’s loins, for with some certitude adversarial foreign intelligence services will very.likely be quietly operating among both suspicious and unwitting émigrés. The powers of such officers or operatives may seem far superior to opportunities that may present themselves, but they are deployed among the émigrés nonetheless. The erstwhile KGB and DGI, and current SVR and MSS, each organized special departments for such work. Indeed, an emigre community can very often be a milieu for spies. Perhaps Miller’s FBI superiors thought he would unlikely find trouble in the Russian émigré community, and Miller had effectively been sent to some empty corner of the room. However, they confused the unlikely with the impossible. By their experience and instincts, his supervisors should have been against Miller’s conclusions. Nevertheless, they were satisfied with his totally erroneous conclusions.

Given his history of behavior, it is very likely that during his contacts with the Russian émigré community, Miller betrayed himself with an indiscretion or two. Whatever it may have been, it was clearly significant enough to cause KGB operatives–who he was unable to detect as tasked under his original counterintelligence mission–to seize upon him as their prey. The case highlights the KGB’s–and presumably now the SVR’s–ability to figuratively pick up the scent of blood much as a shark, and recognizing there can be a good soup in an old chicken. Even more relevant to the discussion in proceeding parts of this review, it illustrated the real possibility for errant officers ro exist in plainview within the rank and file of other hardworking, diligent counterintelligence officers. Such license could only lead to some great evil. The KGB Rezident at the time would have been derelict of his duties if he had not recruited Miller, a wayward FBI special agent, who due to that errant choice made by his superiors, was placed in counterintelligence. And, given his deficiencies, it would have been a serious blunder for the KGB not to exploit all possibilities with Miller to the maximum extent.

It is likely that any other KGB comrades, who may have concealed themselves in the same roost among émigrés in which Svetlana and her confederate had set themselves and had perhaps taken to their heels once they learned those two and Miller were captured, is unclear. Further, it is unclear whether any concern was raised that there was any increased concern that other KGB operatives had continued to secrete themselves among Soviet emigre groups throughout the US. For whatever reason, Olson does not go into such details on what would have been legitimate counterintelligence concerns.

No one should imagine that this review, or any other for that matter, fully covers what Olson offers in To Catch a Spy. It presents the essence of the book, but there is so much more to discover. As humbly noted when the review started off, there nothing that greatcharlie appreciates more about such a book than its ability to stir the readers curiosity, inquiry into the author’s judgments, greater consideration of their own views on the matter, and elicits fresh insights based on what is presented. That is exactly the type of book that To Catch a Spy is. One can ascribe these positive aspects to it and many others. What one finds in To Catch a Spy is of the considerable quality. The book remains steady from beginning to end. Readers are also enabled to see the world through the lens of a man with years of experience in the world and a thorough understanding of humanity.

Whenever greatcharlie feels so enthusiastic over a book, the concern is raised that its review may be written off as an oleagic encomium. However, that is not the case, and readers will understand once they sit with the book. Despite concerns about what To Catch a Spy is missing, it would be worth reading to see what appears to lie at the base of such positions and take one’s own deeper look into Olson’s discussion. Having engaged in that process itself, greatcharlie found it thoroughly edifying. It is assured that after the first reading To Catch a Spy in this manner, one would most likely go back to the book and engage in that stimulating process again and again.

With To Catch a Spy, Olson confirmed his reputation as an excellent writer in the genre of intelligence studies. The book will also likely serve for years as an inspiration to future author’s on the subject of counterintelligence. As aforementioned, the book will surely be consulted as a reference for intelligence professionals and prompting new ideas and insights among intelligence professionals, law enforcement officers, other professional investigators, and scholars. The rudiments of counterintelligence tactics, techniques and procedures, and methods offered by Olson, to some degree, may also serve as a source for guidance Indeed, much of what is within can aptly serve as a foundation upon which they will construct new approaches. 

Further, both by what he includes and ironically by what he omits in the text, became the supplier/purveyor of a foundation upon which an honest discussion can be had among people inside and outside of counterintelligence services in free societies–well-known constitutional republics and liberal democracies in particular–can look at themselves and their organization’s work relative to the rights and interests of the citizens of the respective countries they defend. It is a conversation to which greatcharlie believes To Catch a Spy can lend support. It is a conversation in current times, especially within the US, that many citizens greatly desire to have. Without hesitation, greatcharlie recommends To Catch a Spy to its readers.

By  Mark Edmond Clark