Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help

Russian Federation President Vladimir (above) at the International military-technical forum “Army-2021” at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre, Moscow, August 2021. Putin ostensibly wants the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near Russia’s borders, are moving very close to a red line for him. Ostensibly to achieve that, he has massively built-up Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border with Ukraine. Some in the West believe Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Still, more appears to be involved here than Putin just being the Putin he has been over four US administrations. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of Putin, the person, will be briefly scratched a bit here.

Regarding the massive build-up of Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border of its neighbor, Ukraine, and alarming activities that may indicate those forces will invade it soon, Washington and Moscow continue to wave their fists at each other. Moscow has denied having any intention to attack Ukraine and has explained away its buildup of troops as being a defensive measure. By building up military forces near Ukraine, which is all he has actually done physically at this stage, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin ostensibly would like to cause the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as Russia), are moving very close to a red line for him. Putin insists that the US and its allies provide Russia with signed guarantees to refrain from expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia and limiting their military activity near Russia’s borders, particularly in and around Ukraine. However, some in the West believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Ukraine was a flashpoint during the administration of US President Barack Obama in February and March of 2014. It was then that Crimea, Ukraine, was quietly and orderly captured by Russian troops dubbed “the green men.” The Obama administration was similarly at odds with Russia over Syria, mutants mutandis.

Putin seems to enjoy being seen fighting the good fight against Russia’s old adversaries the US and its allies.On the other side of the coin, dealing with Russian moves, Russian aggression, has become more tiresome for US administrations and Western capitals as much as anything else. Yet, Putin has not challenged the US mainly as a result of some domestic political consideration, or even less likely boredom or some vanity. Putin did not move so many troops to Russia’s western border because that area is more commodious than the locations they were previously based. Assuredly, Putin harbors negative thoughts and feelings toward the US and choices made by decision-makers that concern Russia in a significant way. Asked to bend: retreat back away from a matter, it is unlikely that he would without acquiring “concessions” from the US and its allies. He has issued preconditions concerning an agreement on “NATO expansion” already. (Perhaps he did not issue preconditions before entering any talks because he even realized that would be going a bit too far.) One would imagine he entered into this venture thinking, hoping he could potentially get what he wanted without having Russian forces fire a shot. it does not appear that Putin and his advisers are not too far down the road to change course. However, greatcharlie agrees that he would probably go into Ukraine if at some moment he feels it is, as it likely would have been determined by him along with his advisors and war planners in advance, to be the right time to do so. One would do no more than justice to Putin by presuming he long contemplated his military moves before cutting orders to get them rolling. He is certainly not moving step by step in what might be described as a hot-headed manner. Still, the larger decision to act as he has regarding Ukraine may very well be the result of a miscalculation. It is the unsought, undesirable job of the West to help him see that.

Inquiry into the fruit of things requires consideration of how Putin may view the situation. Russia has been led by Putin and his thinking from the posts of president and prime minister since 2000. A positive relationship with Russia has not been maintained by the US. There are many patterns apparent in his repeated confrontations with the West. Some eyes in the West appear somewhat closed to what may be happening with the Russian Federation President from the inside. What currently plagues the relationship is more than Putin just being the Putin he has been over five US administrations. The threat of the use of force, even mutual destruction, underlies Washington’s diplomacy with Moscow. The idea being that a somewhat expansionist, yet plainly aggressive, Putin can be made to behave as desired by placing a club at the end of the path he is traveling. He is ostensibly put in a position to act reasonably before he reaches it. It would go a long way to explain the somewhat unbroken string of unsuccessful interactions of US administrations with him, if the problem is that no useful perspective of why Putin has responded so aggressively has been developed. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of the intractable Putin, the man, will be briefly scratched a bit here. New light is shed on the man by using a different lens. There may be something about his inner self repeatedly being manifested and must be looked at from the correct angle. The aim is not to shoot down other analyses, but hopefully to add to them in a way to figuratively help put the reticle of some analysts on the bulls-eye. Offering what may be a few missing links might create an improved understanding of Putin and his actions, lifting thinking on Putin, to a degree, up from the region of the commonplace. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

The Russians are coming! A mixed formation of Russian attack and transport helicopters moving toward their target during the Zapad 2021 military exercise. (above). If Putin decides to go into Ukraine, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly from sea assets, would likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

The Situation: What Could Russian Forces Do?

From what can be gathered about the situation, the US Intelligence Community has concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have already been deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border, too. Reportedly, online disinformation activity regarding Ukraine also has increased in the way it did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. According to the New York Times, the most evident scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be to conquer the entire country but to rush forces into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to drive all the way to the Dnieper River. Purportedly at the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined. Suffice it to say, Moscow calls such assessments of Russia’s intentions slanderous ravings. Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who unfortunately does not exactly have a watertight record for tying her statements to reality, laid it on thick in the newsmedia, alleging Western and Ukrainian talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.” It is really disempowering to put out such a message. 

If Putin decides to go in, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly the sea assets, would most likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Russian forces would most likely be deployed in a way to prevent the resurrection of Ukrainian forces in areas which Russian forces have captured. As for reinforcements or reserves, the rest of Russia’s armed forces would be right across the border in Russia. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

A stern fact is that the Ukrainians will hardly receive enough military aid from partners and friends fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of Javelin handheld anti-tank rockets, Stinger handheld antiaircraft rockets, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly surveil the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. As for an insurgency in captured areas after an invasion, doubtlessly Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Amat victoria curam. (Victory loves preparation. [Victory favors those who take pains.]) As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan, stratagem, to counter such steps short-term and long-term. Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych during the Orange Revolution, Putin likely feels more and more that he is being “rock souped.” Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront of Western expansion eastward. NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and the government in Kyiv is hopelessly pulled further away from Moscow’s reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that his logically reached perception has actually been fostered by Western actions.

Ukrainian troops training with the FGM-148 Javelin, a handheld, shoulder-fired precision missile system designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as hovering helicopters (above). The Ukrainians would hardly receive military aid from partners and friends fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to handle all aspects of that matter. As for a post-invasion insurgency, surely Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Admittedly, it is surprising how much Putin has done to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. However, there is surely an art that moves Putin’s mind. One might presume that as he initially staked the situation with regard to the US, almost nothing would be enough to compel the US to act as he wished. The potential use of military force could not exist as an abstraction, being left to the imagination of Western national leaders and their advisers. With a build-up military force, he could illustrate, convince US decisionmakers that the threat of military action was real.

Surely Moscow closely observed events as they developed in the border crisis between India and China. Although it has been repeated as of late that China backed down to India on the matter of the border crisis in which occasional gunfire was exchanged and lives were lost. The common wisdom is that the aggressive moves it made with ease against India placed China in a situation which in the long run would prove too consuming, too difficult to handle and contrary to national interest, particularly such an approach can have an impact economically. There was also too little gain for China both geostrategically or geopolitically as compared to the potential loss suffered from such an investment. 

An odd advantage that Putin has is that the US will act in a fairly predictable fashion. There is less for him to fear of some random, unexpected decision from the US than the US may fear about such a choice made by him. Placed in a trying position, which Putin surely hopes he has done, a certain reality would need to be faced by US decisionmakers. Conceivably, he would expect the top military officers and officials at the Pentagon (US Department of Defense) to see the situation straight. Indeed, he may be hoping the Pentagon would be the voice of reason, the source that will explain that the real possibility exists for the situation to get out of control if the US were to commit itself too heavily to Ukraine’s defense. That would seem especially true if US decisionmakers contemplated having to act if both Russia moved on Ukraine and China moved on Taiwan almost simultaneously. That is a real possibility despite how fanciful it may sound. Tremendous pressure would be placed on the available military resources of the US and its allies. It would seem unlikely to Putin that decisiommakers in Washington would sink themselves deeper into a situation in which only bad choices were left available. C’est comme ça! However, Putin still cannot be absolutely certain that Washington would parse out the situation as he has. He has the task of showing it this perspective and convincing it to acquiesce to at least most of his demands.

The clever bit for Putin would be to determine what military action by NATO, if any, would be taken to physically halt a Russian advance into Ukraine. To that extent, Putin may have assessed that with regard to Ukraine, as well with Taiwan, policies of past eras are no longer viable under current circumstances. The military forces of Russia have been transformed. Insofar as Putin is concerned, unless the US planned to transport the bulk of its armed forces into Ukraine and nearby, any challenge by the US and its allies that included military action would mean recklessly placing some small set of their forces in great peril. Russia would not back down once hostilities were initiated. Again, fighting along its own border would allow Russia countless advantages to bear on its prospective opponent. It would truly be absolute madness for Washington to commit its forces to the fight without some clear way to win or create some acceptable circumstance they could not have achieved without firing a shot. Ironically, in the name of global peace and security, to avoid a nuclear Armageddon, it would need to let its declared partners in Kyiv fall. Even though the US public today is uninterested in starting foreign wars, if the Biden administration commits the US to a fight that would have an uncertain purpose and outcome, it would garner great attention from the public and very likely fail to get its approval. To the extent that these considerations factor in Putin’s calculus, he would most likely find Washington’s stated position on Ukraine to be unrealistic and unreasonable. It only makes sense as long as Moscow does not act.

If efforts at peace fail, it is not completely clear to greatcharlie whether Putin would want all of Ukraine or just some of it: Donetsk and Luhansk for instance. If he wants more, his plans may likely include capturing Kyiv and establishing a new Ukrainian government. That would take up an enormous amount of time, resources, effort, and political capital. Putin seems too shrewd to rush into something as colossal as administering Ukraine. Still, no one is infallible. Putin has been known to miscalculate. It was a gross miscalculation to interfere with the US elections in 2016, an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented on by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. If Putin acts militarily in Ukraine and successfully captures enough territory to his content–at least on paper he should be able to with some ease, he would again be looked upon as a shining hero among supporters. The effort by NATO and the West in general to deter him would be depicted as a debacle. If he fails to make gains against the Ukrainians and capture sufficient territory, the failure would be an enormous defeat for Putin. It is possible that the rippling effect of such a prospective defeat would lay the groundwork for his departure as Russia’s leader.

US President Joe Biden (left center) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan to counter such steps short-term and long-term.

The View from the US

In remarks before meeting with his Infrastructure Implementation Task Force on January 20, 2022, US President Joe Biden laid out his position on a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Biden, who would not expect to speak idly on such a grave matter or any matter, for that case, stated: “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin.  He has no misunderstanding.  If any–any–assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.  But–and it would be met with severe and coordinated economic response that I’ve discussed in detail with our allies, as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin. But there is no doubt–let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price. It is also not the only scenario we need to be prepared for: Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression in paramilitary tactics, so-called “gray-zone” attacks, and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. Remember when they moved into the Donbas with “Little Green Men”?  They weren’t–they were dealing with those who were Russian sympathizers and said that Russia had no–nobody in there. Well, that includes “Little Green Men” in uniforms, as well as cyberattack. We have to be ready to respond to these as well–and decisively–in a united way, with a range of tools at our disposal.” Très, très fort!

During a two hour videolink call concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2022, Biden also warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine. Putin complained NATO is attempting to “develop” Ukrainian territory. He demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward. Although there were no breakthroughs, the two sides agreed upon continuing communications. In greatcharlie’s December 31, 2021 post entitled, “Infrequently Discussed Issues Regarding Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders,” it was explained that from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. Despite expressing concerns that Putin may invade Ukraine at any moment, there may still be some in Washington who assess and intuit, correctly or incorrectly, that since action has not been taken, with all of the tactical benefits such a surprise move would garner, it may not be taken. The delay In smashing into Ukraine may be a true lack of desire on the part of Putin to bear the burden of administering more of that country. There is the off chance that Putin may have some doubts about the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, it is possible, despite what greatcharlie has already suggested here on this matter, that Putin may be worried about economic retaliation from the West. (Russia does not have much to shield itself from economic retaliation as compared to China, bound to the West with its products and production capabilities. The energy it provides to Europe and Nord Stream 2 are the more meaningful cards for Moscow to play. With concern to that, during the administration of US President Donald Trump, the US offered Europ a fairly decent alternative source of energy worthy of consideration.)

Putin usually plays his cards close, making it difficult to know whether some resolution might be found through a more open dialogue. No doubt officials in Western capitals are mindful of being too attached to diplomacy in coping with Putin. Each is doubtlessly versed enough in history to hark back to this infamous statement which likely has an expected chilling effect on efforts to work with him: “As long as war has not begun, there is always hope. For the present I ask you to await as calmly as you can the events of the next few days. As long as war has not begun, there is always hope that it may be prevented, and you know that I am going to work for peace to the last moment.” These words were spoken by United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 27, 1938, during an address to the British people as concerns of war rose as negotiations between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and himself. The tragic outcome of that effort is well-known. 

For Washington, Moscow’s actions have far greater implications than the progress of US-Russian relations. As Blinken also explained during his January 8, 2022 CNN appearance: “There are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security.” He went on to note that the US is joined by international partners “to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated.” An additional step in knocking down the idea that this crisis stands as a problem between Washington and Moscow has already been taken by the US. On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated very clearly on CNN: “It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.” In effect, he expressed the view that despite intercession of the US and its allies, this matter remains Kyiv’s problem mainly. Looking at the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes, from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published as twelve short stories in the Strand Magazine (1891), was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy a readership made much distraught over his demise. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation. Moreover, Putin is a far more powerful opponent for Ukraine than Moriarty was to Holmes.

Putin (right) seated in a conference room at the Kremlin during a videolink call with Biden (on screen left). During a two hour videolink concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2022, There were no breakthroughs, but the two sides agreed to continue communications. From Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict draws near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. There is the off chance Putin may have some doubts as to the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, Putin may very well be worried about economic retaliation from the West.

Some Key Issues for Negotiation as the Situation Stands

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis for the moment would imaginably mean, in brief, crafting an agreement with Russia that will relax tensions, strengthen the sovereignty of Ukraine, enhance the security of Ukraine, and ensure Russia remains committed to whatever agreement is reached. Ukrainians must be allowed to enjoy full control and use of their own territory. Ukraine would retain self-determination as a sovereign state. If Ukraine wants to join NATO that wish will be protected. (Perhaps with some disagreeable yet necessary minor alteration in the short-term.) Russia would need to take action assented to in an agreement that would confirm it has no aggressive intention. Any action that may have prompted accusations by both sides that the other was moving back to the adversarial thinking of the Cold War and the paradigm of East-West spheres of influence of the past must be addressed. Lending some further context for Washington’s efforts to negotiate with Moscow on Ukraine, Blinken, also stated during his January 9, 2022 interview on CNN that, “It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions.” 

Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia. They would all doubtlessly agree they have no reason to give up anything they have. They are not bothering Russia and Russia should not be bothering them. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow that they could accept, they would want to know how Russia would be held to the terms of the signed document. They would be skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. Plus ça change! All would likely agree that force should not need to be relied upon to hold Moscow to it. There is the likelihood many NATO allies and neighboring countries to Russia might sign an agreement with Russia, but would be hesitant to do so. If the US sought some collective agreement concerning the situation with Ukraine, those countries may see it as too much to ask or a manifestation of naiveté by leading powers less threatened by Russia. Some capitals would likely respond to the suggestion with reproach. Even more, they may believe the constant struggles with Russia that have created their anxieties among them about negotiating with Moscow. US officials would be up against that sort of reception and more if it sought to create some consensus among the Europeans on constructing a comprehensive agreement with Russia. Perchance if the situation is approached with a degree of gentleness and patience–“with diplomacy”–their efforts may bear fruit.

Yet, given these and other considerations that would shape a diplomatic effort in this crisis, to get a firm handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Putin (center) flanked by Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu (right) and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (left). Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia regarding Ukraine. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow, all would remain skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. To get a handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Some Common Wisdom Regarding Putin

Many Western political leaders and senior foreign and national security policy officials have claimed to have the ability to look into Putin’s soul. The reviews of their skills have been mixed. US President George Bush provided the following statement on the matter on June 18, 2016: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.” However, given his former work in the intelligence industry, his decades of experience in politics and as a national leader, Putin is the one who has mastered such an art. While he is never publicly vocal with his findings concerning other national leaders he meets, his conclusions are best manifested by the actions he takes as they regard their interests.

Every US official Putin meets likely for him becomes the avatar of Western duplicity. He will always be distrustful, and will simply study the individual seeking to gain a sense from his or her words, the nature of the conversation among the most senior US officials on Ukraine. To this extent, each conversation informs his next move, not due to its content, but due to what he perceives to lie behind their words. In many ways times have changed for Russia, and more dramatically for Putin. Russia can not exactly match the US as a global power. It cannot exactly match the power of the US even militarily. However, its capabilities have increased and it can do more things in the world now than a decade or two ago. It would appear that Putin so badly wants to get that point across.

It was never the case that Putin could have been shaped into the Russian leader Washington wanted. Moreover, Putin was never a man to be trifled with. However, these were among many ideas about Putin perhaps carried over from the tail-end of the Clinton administration, over two decades ago, when the then young president was establishing himself both at home and abroad. Perhaps it accounts for the manner in which those officials in the Obama administration approached Putin, dismissing him to a degree as something akin to a potentate, a footnote in their dealing with a Russia that was a shadow of its former self during the Soviet era in nearly every respect. There is a popular saying among many in the younger generation that “to compete, one must compare.” Officials in the Obama administration saw no comparison between the power Russia had maintained following the Soviet Union’s collapse, and the US which was at the time, and remains, the preeminent power in the world. Putin would likely posit that Washington has done more than enough since the Obama administration to push him to act as he has.

It remains a trend to look at Putin superficially. Interestingly, it allows everyone to have an equal shot at analyzing him and his moves. To that extent, time is spent, near idly, discussing how bad a person he is. (One very senior US official referred to Putin as “a killer” In May 2021.) At the core of even such unremarkable analyses must be something about the whole authentic enough to give it true weight. Yet, aspects of such analyses are often not quite logical. It is fascinating to see how simple facts may go some way to explain what might be recognized at best as a charitable position. As seasoned analysts would tell, if that product is simulated, conclusions that result from it will be inauthentic. What is left to examine amounts to a mere perception of what is going on in Putin’s mind and in his camp as compared to the hard facts. Using conclusions that result from such analyses will never allow policymakers and other senior officials to approach him in the right way. Even logical opinions are not the equivalent of fact. Truth is not an opinion. In the defense of some analysts, adhering to such a limited, official approach to Putin could hardly be described as neglectful. Perhaps considerations outside of what is generally accepted are avoided in fear of being castigated for devoting time and effort to trivialities. There must be something stronger that lends an understanding of his state of mind

Another problem arises when such views, despite all that is wrong about them, are adopted unconsciously by senior policy officials or worm their way into analyses, and even worse, as a possible result of that contamination, more apposite aspects may fail to receive sufficient or any treatment. It is hardly deliberate. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions, too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a world class athlete.

The West’s position on Putin as it stands today is that Putin has a mind to have Russia serve as the follow-on to the Soviet Union and claim its status and glory as a power. The enterprise has faced some rough patches over the years, but has progressed nonetheless. Putin’s actions in countries formerly aligned with the Soviet Union or were under its influence decades ago have been his targets and he has managed to get the attention and response from the West led by the US, the adversary of the erstwhile Soviet Union. It sounds bad enough for his neighbors, the West, and all others interested in maintaining stability and security in their countries, regions, and the world. Yet, in taking that tack, he has to an extent guaranteed Russia would remain stuck, limited to being a only simulacrum of the Soviet Union, a shadow of the past. Granted, Russia may be seen as possessing formidable military forces, with new weapons developments and declarations of the intention to defend its territory and its interests, but not a country that was advancing politically, economically, or socially, seeking to elevate to something better. Not to offend, but perhaps that was the best he could ever expect from his people.

Putin (right) and US President Bill Clinton (left) at the G8 Summit in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in July 2000. When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

Missteps in Responding to Putin Somewhat Downplayed

The formal inclusion of the new Russian Federation in the high realms of international politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union was nobly attempted. A seat in the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was inherited from the erstwhile Communist state. As important, Russia began to engage in separate meetings with leaders of the intergovernmental group of the leading economic powers, the G7, in 1994 while Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was in office. Russia formally joined the group in 1997 at the invitation of US President Bill Clinton and United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair. This noble step was ostensibly taken in the name of international peace and security. Surely, inviting Russia to join the G7 was more than a friendly gesture and a fresh start. Membership would plug Russia into the international order, forestalling any burgeoning sense that if left isolated, control in Moscow might fall fully into the hands of organized crime groups, and so would Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Russia membership would more importantly plug the G7 countries vis-à-versa into Moscow in a structured way, creating an effective, stable line of communication and political and economic influence.

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

At the G8, national leaders would come to the big table committed to having a positive impact in not only economic affairs, but world affairs in general. The existing seven members–the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU–were bound by shared values as open, democratic and outward-looking societies. Russia was not a country completely devoid of desirable things, Russia possessed natural resources, particularly oil and gas which the energy industries of the other powers coveted. Certainly, Russia retained the power to destroy with its nuclear arsenal and the residue of the once powerful Soviet military. However, Russia was hardly developed enough to participate in that way as a member. 

As for Putin, he had not as yet grabbed all reins of power firmly in Russia, much as he tightly grips them today. It is not inconceivable that his political qualities were not fully scrutinized by any member state. However, more pertinently, Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though in his own way appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. For Putin to be satisfied, Russia would need to possess membership on his terms, legitimate terms. Further, within group meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would conclude that something akin to a schoolboy prank was being played on him and he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance. It may seem an odd thought, but it does not appear so fanciful when one considers how he currently perceives NATO. Perchance Putin could imagine, in the abstract, that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before. Perhaps such thinking could be said to have some validity given that such was essentially the case in early post-Soviet Russia. Putin had already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. That sensibility seemed to stick regardless of all else good that came his way through the G8. The whole G8 experience, overall, may have left a bad taste in his mouth. Other group leaders could not have guessed that outcome.

Further reflecting his hot and cold impressions about the other industrial powers, although Russia was suspended from the G8, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the G8 until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin retained control of that situation by choosing when Russia would depart and then exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his. It is an apparent odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20–the Group of 20, in essence a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets. As of 2021 there are 20 members in the group to include Putin’s erstwhile G8 partners, the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU, and also Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and his Russia. To all appearances, as a G20 member, Russia plausibly retains authority in world governance. 

Una idea perplexina. (The idea is strange to us.) Intriguingly,  Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have less meaning for him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness. (Hopefully, Putin was not feeling any real discomfort.) It was a small matter, a trifle, but perhaps it will later be discovered that it was small in the way that small movements of a needle would indicate an earthquake on a seismograph.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. 

One might go as far as to say apparently none of the negative perspectives, memories that Putin held regarding the West were revealed. He concealed them with sangfroid and equanimity. Yet, he likely thought of them by day and nursed them by night. Inclusion was not enough to stem those feelings or his responses to Western moves albeit in Russia’s direction. Once power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced US influence were taken, Putin responded robustly. The promotion of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, then the sovereign territory of Ukraine. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8–now once again the G7–and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all.

Putin (left) United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron (center) and US President Barack Obama (right) at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland in June 2013. Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. Perchance Putin could imagine that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him, He already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. The whole G8 experience may have left a bad taste in his mouth.

Putin from a Different Lens

What one might gather from this part of the story is that more than anxiety and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves, there is apparently a real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies. It has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Often, that sense of vulnerability has been exacerbated by efforts from Washington to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Note how every step taken eastward by the US in Europe, as innocuous as each may have appeared to Washington’s eyes, has led to hyper-vigilance–for example, increased intelligence and surveillance activity and aerial and naval incursions in the territory of NATO Members–and military action by Moscow. Though it has been listened to with skeptical ears in the West, Putin has said that US moves evoke his actions.

In a December 21, 2021 Washington Post opinion piece entitled, “Putin Wants Us To Negotiate over the Heads of Our Allies. Washington Shouldn’t Fall for It”, the former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul lists what he identifies as Russian actions and policies undermining European security. McFaul included the following on that list: Russia well-maintains troops and weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova; Russia has recognized the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries; Russia caotured and annexed Crimea and well-supports the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine; Russia has deployed SS-26 Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and maintains them in other deployment locations; Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad; Russia has engaged in assassination operations, such as those conducted in the European cities of London, Moscow, Salisbury, Berlin and Tomsk; and, Russia has aided remaining European dictators who kill and arrest Europeans exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. One can only imagine Putin’s inner-dialogue as he took each step.

Cast one’s mind back to Putin’s greatest expression of vulnerability in March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Conceivably, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time have truly rattled Putin and could potentially push him over the edge. That must always be considered. If the actual intention is to irritate Putin, then there will be no firm peace ever reached while he runs Russia.

Putin (above) in an office of the Senate Building at the Kremlin. In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, a reality is that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message.

What Might Be Done Regarding Putin To End This Crisis?

More than once has Putin associated himself with the ideas of “West German” Parliamentarian Egon Bahr on East-West competition. Discussing NATO in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and its allies as having broken their promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and doing only what is best for their own interest in the name of all countries. Putin told his interviewer: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have.”

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam. (Life’s short span forbids us to enter on far reaching hopes.) Whatever it is that Putin wants to achieve, he must move faster than time wastes life. Time is not on Putin’s side. National leaders and political figures in power now in the capital of those countries of the former Eastern bloc which Putin so dearly covets to develop Russian influence are individuals of the last generation that even briefly lived while the Soviet Union had considerable influence, sway in their countries. Coming generations will only know the Soviet Union from history books. They will unlikely as a pattern, by inertia, due to insouciance  simply seek as their predecessors seek to connect with Moscow. The benefits of connection to the West will be well understood by them. Relatives who in the past decades who immigrated West would likely have some influence on their understanding of those benefits. Russia simply will not compare, offer anything they would desperately want to invest in their future. Russia itself represents the past, and how bad things were, something no one should reasonably want to be like or be part of.

As greatcharlie ruminated on in its January 18, 2018 post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One,” Putin very likely has considered what Russia would be like after he, as one might presume he accepts, is “called to heaven” or perhaps elsewhere, goodness knows. It would seem that now while on Earth, he is on course regarding Ukraine to saddle future generations of Russians with a country or parts of it that are still economically, socially, and politically challenged that they will need to care for, to pay for. Future generations may not appreciate that. In Donetsk and Luhansk, future generations might abandon their homelands for “the other Ukraine” or points further West. They would unlikely pour into Russia for employment, a “better life.” In the future, a Russian leader might very well try to reverse whatever Putin seems to be attempting in Ukraine due to financial strains caused, or–not to be offensive–out of decency. Taking on Donetsk and Luhansk might very well be viewed in the future as a grave miscalculation, another step toward sealing Russia’s fate as a second tier superpower. It is greatcharlie’s assessment that future generations of Russians will not want to hold on to Ukraine as leaders of Putin’s generation, with an idea to reestablish Russia to resemble the Soviet Union. This reality may have value in negotiations with Putin. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting at Hotel Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. January 21, 2022. For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Washington and Moscow could engage in an exploratory dialogue during which suggestions could be sought on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be.

A Possible Way Ahead in Diplomacy

For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Engaging in what in essence would be an exploratory dialogue, transparent and frank, between Washington and Moscow on such matters would be the first step. In that dialogue, suggestions could also be sought from Moscow on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be. If the US and Russia can cooperate on matters concerning the International Space Station, surely they can cooperate on an Earthly matter as Ukraine. N’est-ce pas vrai?

In theory, enough compromise might result from the collective talks to result in an agreement that would satisfy hopes and mitigate fears on all sides. Perhaps it would become the paradigm for peace in Europe that would remain until that time a new generation of Russia leadership that would share the values of other open, democratic and outward-looking societies. After the agreement is reached, Putin would need to feel freer and be able to stand upright. The US and its allies, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the UN, and especially Ukraine would be on a long list of those who would need to be satisfied with the plan for negotiating with Russia and the resultant argument. Creating consensus and acquiring agreement across the board on everything negotiated with Russia will take time but that course must be taken. Besides, if one is to believe Putin, and accept that he has no plans to invade Ukraine, then there is no real need to rush.

In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, a reality is that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message. It could be a former US President, German Chancellor, or European President or Prime Minister that Putin seemed to favor. Perhaps a small multinational delegation of doyens rather than a single doyen could meet with Putin. He may appreciate that. The immediate task of whoever meets Putin would be agreement to cease actions threatening Ukraine and publicly making demands for that would require its government to surrender self-determination and freedom to associate with other countries as Kyiv saw fit. The appropriate alternative suggested would be to discuss all issues. Putin would need to be convinced that everything Moscow, he, might deem pertinent could be hashed out at the suggested multi-party talks. The theme of the conversation would essentially be “Let us do everything the right way this time.” Again, Putin may appreciate that.

As for any agreement reached through multi-party talks, if Putin accepts that approach to diplomacy, more than simple guarantees must be insisted upon. Apparently, Lavrov presented a rather one-sided draft treaty to Blinken when they met in Geneva on January 21, 2022. That will not do. It was a rather incommesurate and hasty approach to the situation given its enormity. The effort to maintain Ukraine’s security, Russia’s security, Europe’s security must not only be comprehensive, it must be a dynamic process. Not to get into too much detail,, but as a comprehensive agreement, a new agreement would supersede the existing Minsk Agreement, although its terms could be referenced. Reasonably, terms of a new agreement could be built upon terms of the Minsk Agreement when directly related. Of course, the decision on that, as with everything else, is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties. All issues concerning Crimea and existing sanctions could be disassociated from these talks. Those talks could continue in their current venue. Again, the choice there is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties.

The negotiation process might require parties to take some the following steps, among many others: construct detailed plans of action on every key area as mutually recognized, each issue of contention, must be formulated to ensure greater clarity not confusion; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for actions as reducing the number of destabilizing forces near border; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for the suspension for refraining from existing actions such as military exercises; reduce the scope and scale of military exercises near the Russia-Ukraine border despite perceptions of whether they are threatening or benign; establish liaison offices in the security zone on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border could be created staffed by Russian and Ukrainian officers and military advisers if desired by either party; organize limited but comprehensive aerial surveillance over the security zone would be organized and appropriately scheduled; establish multiple military and diplomatic committees each with responsibilities in key areas of the agreement and respectively staffed with appropriate expertise and authority could be created to review plans for action in key established under the main agreement or hash out nagging issues could possibly exist; organize and schedule direct Ukraine-Russia talks, in a multiparty forum, at the ministerial level and deputies just below to include NATO Members and non-NATO Members in European countries neighboring Ukraine can be created.

It would be crucial to eliminate all ambiguities at the negotiating table through multilayered agreements if necessary as the process moves along. Pull all loose threads detected at the negotiating table may include using scenarios and hypotheticals. Whether a negotiating path as suggested will create stability in Europe right away, greatly improve Ukraine’s security and remove Russia’s fears, perhaps even through some very creative steps, remains to be seen. Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus. (Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (center) visiting his country’s eastern frontline in December 2021 (center). On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the view on CNN that in the end, despite the vigorous efforts of the to correct the situation, this matter is mainly Kyiv’s problem and the Ukrainians have a Russian “gun to their head.” Viewing the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand Magazine that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy their readership. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation.

The Way Forward

Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.) Putin does not seek to make Russia first in Europe nor match the power and position of the US in the world. Russia lacks the wherewithal, the resources,, and a lot of other things required to accomplish such objectives. However, Putin does want to control what he claims to be in Russia’s “near abroad”: the former Soviet republics on its border. As the US and its European allies become more engaged with them, it becomes less likely that he will be able to accomplish that goal either. If the US and its allies were not enough trouble for Putin, his “friends” in Beijing have been knocking on the doors of those near abroad governments, making enticing, huge offers, which Moscow cannot match, to invest in their economies and support industrial and infrastructure development as a way to enhance ties–albeit perhaps not always in a legitimate way. Unfortunately for Putin, he was unable to shape Russia’s position in the world positively over the past two decades, by transforming the country to be a contributing member as an advanced industrialized, economic power, and present Russia as anything close to an alternative as a partner to its neighbors. Russia remained a country from which villainy of some sort was expected more than anything else. Unable to sway the capitals of bordering former Soviet republics to Russia’s camp, it would seem he made the decision a while back to use brute force. US decision-makers should not simply expect Putin to get a hold of himself, and get a grip concerning the use of greater military force in Ukraine. He already moved on Crimea, so for many, no points could be argued that would convince them that he would not do more. The capture of Crimea may have actually been only the first phase in a plan of far greater conception concerning Ukraine.

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis would likely mean crafting a sustainable agreement with Russia, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, and that is the rub. Some national leaders in Europe might go as far as to say aggression simply resides in Putin and it is too late for any worthwhile diplomacy with him. They may need to overcome an anxiety over the history of Russian behavior before altering their thinking on that. Still, at the same time, no responsible party involved in this matter wants war. Given how Putin thinks, more than aggression and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves inform his actions. A real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. That sense of vulnerability is intensified by Washington’s efforts to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Putin has actually said that US moves evoke his actions, which thereby are actually reactions. That is hardly something he, or any military commander, would want to admit or to accept.

As suggested here, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Some, despite everything presented here, albeit in brief, might contend that there is little obvious room for compromise from either side. However, the referee has not yet blown the whistle for full-time. It has always been greatcharlie’s contention that smart people are usually able with the appropriate amount of effort to find answers to problems. A posse ad esse. (From possibility to actuality.)

Infrequently Raised Issues Concerning Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders

Map of Taiwan (above). Note on the map that part of Taiwanese population lives on islands in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, perilously close to the shore of Mainland China. Despite being a tacit ally, and over the years occasionally directly declared one by some hardline US politicans, Taiwan is understood internationally to be part of China, and Beijing refers to it as a province. China says it has held claim over the island since 239 AD. There could be no greater insult to Beijing than to hear Washington come close in words to declaring Taiwan to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence falls within US interests. It is uncertain how much longer People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping and other Communist Party of China leaders will be able to stomach what they likely perceive as the shameful global image of their new China, after literally centuries of subservience to Western powers, still unable to claim its own sovereign territory from them. Examined here is how this sentiment and others infrequently broached likely influence Party and People’s Liberation Army decisionmaking on Taiwan.

It is uncertain whether the US and its allies through their words and actions have successfully mitigated the People’s Republic of China’s plans to take control of Taiwan or Beijing is simply approaching the task very methodically, on its own schedule, leaving no appearance of feeling rushed to act militarily. What is clear however, under both circumstances, it is clear that perceptions in Beijing on either will ultimately determine how China will act. What those perceptions may prove to be is of concern among the US public. An April 3, 2021 Pew research study found that 89 percent of adults in the US “consider China a competitor or enemy rather than a partner.” The percentage of those who harbored “cold” feelings toward China increased from 46 percent in 2018 to 67 percent in 2021. During the same interval, poll participants in the US who held “very cold” feelings toward China more than doubled, from 23 percent to 47 percent. More than a few foreign and national security policy officials in the US and its allies, likely hope the status quo will hold fast. Imaginably, enough simple facts could be aggregated that might go some way to explain and support that position, which might be reasonably recognized as charitable. A temper of the soul wants to live in illusion. However, it must be accepted that convincing Beijing to surrender what it declares to be its sovereignty over Taiwan, may be akin to convincing a devoted mother to surrender her child. The Communist Party of China may even say its lead by an even deeper sense of a rightful custody. This is a very dangerous business and it appears less than likely that some peaceful resolution will be found to satisfy Beijing regarding Taiwan given how both sides have staked their respective interests. Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.)

In attempting to inspire thinking beyond the typically raised geostrategic issues concerning US dominance in the Indo-Pacific and China’s challenge to that and the stature it has acquired as it continues to grow as a regional hegemon, and get beyond the geopolitical dynamics of East versus West, Chinese Communism versus capitalism, the eventual victory of the Communist Revolution worldwide, and so on, one might successfully discover that there are other aspects to consider in looking at key elements that drive the thinking of the Communist Party of China on Taiwan. Further thinking on matters is always possible.

The intent of greatcharlie with this essay is to offer a few new ideas that may stimulate others to peer more deeply into Beijing’s ongoing actions and intentions. Most were inspired following it’s reread of Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), on which greatcharlie posted a book review on November 30, 2021. It is unlikely that all readers will find what greatcharlie presents as agreeable, this is most likely possible in the portions of the discussion that concerns how China may approach Taiwan militarily and the discussion on the possible influence of race and history upon thinking on the US by Communist Party of China leaders. However, sometimes making the effort to stimulate new ideas requires stepping a bit onto what might be deemed shaky ground. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). There could be no greater standing insult to a more audacious and assertive China than to stand by while Washington declares Taiwan, China’s own province, to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence is in US interests. According to the facts as one knows them, the US and China since 1971 have had an implicit understanding that Washington would not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and China would take control of Taiwan by force. As the US since then has done as much as possible, short of recognition of Taiwan as an independent country, to provide support for the government in Taipei, one might reasonably sense that in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, the US, through its policy approaches toward the island, exercises its power over China. There is an art in the way Xi moves. If there is a way he can take control of Taiwan with acceptable loss by his calculus, he will very likely act.

Immediate Thoughts on US Regarding Taiwan That Likely Beat the Brains of Leaders in Beijing

Assessing the aggregate of sentiment expressed by the leadership of the Communist Party of China, one might posit that they believe their country’s stand, one-on-one with the US, which at one time for most of them appeared to be an indomitable power, is nothing less than heroic. At the same time, however, there is very likely some quiet recognition that Taiwan is a manifestation, a very apparent sign, of US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite being an tacit ally of the US, Taiwan is understood internationally to be part of China, and Beijing refers to it as a province. China says it has held claim over the island since 239 AD. There could be no greater insult to a more audacious and assertive China than to stand by while Washington comes close in words to declaring Taiwan to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence falls within US interests. The US approach on Taiwan has been conspicuously at variance to that taken toward China for decades on the economic front.

According to the facts as one knows them, the US and China have had an implicit understanding that Washington would not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and China would take control of Taiwan by force. It is an agreement that resulted from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing in 1971. As the authorized version of the story goes, during talks with the People’s Republic of China First Premier Zhou Enlai, Kissinger agreed the US would “recognize the government in Beijing, not Taipei, as the only legitimate China.” During a November 15, 2021 virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and Communist Party of China under People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, the issues of Taiwan’s status and security were broached. Reportedly, Biden underscored that the US was still committed to the “one China” policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. However, he also explained that the US was strongly opposed to any unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Given that the US for quite some time has been doing as much as possible, short of recognizing Taiwan as an independent country, to provide support for the government in Taipei, one might reasonably sense that in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, the US, through its policy approaches toward the island, exercises power over China. There may also be a belief within the Party that the US enjoys exercising that power. It is uncertain how much longer Xi and other Communist Party of China leaders will be able to stomach what they may likely perceive as the shameful image presented throughout the world of their new China, a supposed power, after literally centuries of subservience to Western powers, still unable to claim what is, by its own declarations, its own sovereign territory. All of China’s taunts of becoming the dominant power in the world appear to amount to nothing more than whistling in the wind. Certainly, regarding Taiwan, China does not display itself as the rising world power that it pretends to be. 

Surely, some foreign capitals have begun to believe Its military power and capabilities have been subject to hyperbole. Indeed, many in the world, watching it all transpire might be left with the impression that there is not a thing China can do about except lie back and take it, as unpleasurable as it may feel. An October 12, 2021 Newsweek article indicated that such feelings about the unlikelihood of China doing anything about Taiwan were recorded in a poll on the island. According to a public opinion survey released on September 29, 2021 by Taiwan’s opposition-run think tank, Intelligentsia Taipei, it was revealed that despite the apparent gathering shadows, 50.2 percent of respondents were little concerned about the prospect of war with China compared to 42.5 percent who were. Moreover, 58.8 percent believed a war with China was unlikely to happen in the next 10 years, compared to 17.6 percent who thought it was probable. A slender 2.2 percent were certain war was coming within this decade.

“Peace in Our Time”

Admirably discussed in Spalding’s Stealth War, are the matters of past US administrations’ blindness towards China’s actions and intentions and the importance of how Beijing assesses how Washington would respond to a move to retake Taiwan. In his search for a reason, a rationale, a purpose, for the current state of relations with China, Spalding, led by the data available to him explains it was the “errant” policy positions of former US administrations. At the core of those policies pursued, according to Spalding, was the misguided belief that economic development would lead the way to China’s transformation to a more democratic form of government and away from Communism. As he explains it, one is left to contemplate how such a horrifying blunder could continue on for so long. Attractive lies can worm their way into the intellect.

Regarding Beijing’s assessments on Washington’s most likely response to its taking control of Taiwan, pertinent is Spalding’s focus on how preceding US administrations perceived, constructed policies, and acted on China. It would appear that in current times, the way in which the US and its allies will respond to a move against Taiwan is how it will perceive China’s action toward its overall interests in the region. Despite what most might imagine, war may not be the obvious choice. Parsing out such concerning the US must be an ongoing process, an obsession, in Beijing at the moment. It would be part of the effort to determine how the US might react when presented with a situation as an assault on Taiwan.

Quod bellum oderunt, pro pace cum fide laborabant. (Because they hated war, they were working for peace with fidelity.) Presently from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. Hypothetically, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. The expectation is for senior policymakers to master the situation through their management of it. When this is the case, they can often be more precise, to an extent exact, in policy planning, formulation, and implementation. On the other hand, policymakers can sometimes be out of touch with the real situation and act on mere perceptions and perhaps faulty inferences. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

There remains the real possibility that a train of atrocious, unimaginable, grave events may come to such a head that it might be impossible to wait even an hour before taking the correct action. Fighting the type of war that the US might be required to prosecute, defeat China, thwart China’s ambitions, drive it off and forever away from Taiwan might not be characteristic of certain leaders. In taking that course, there would be the potential for millions to die in China, unacceptable losses on the side of the US and its allies. Additionally, as grotesque as the thought may be, China could potentially level an unexpected, crippling blow to US naval and air forces could also result. Indeed, what might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war attack launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. (Note that there is no intention by greatcharlie to put into question the personal qualities of the men and women who have honorably chosen to dutifully serve the people to the best of their abilities.) As noted in greatcharlie’s November 30, 2021 review of Stealth War, perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. If no such protocols exist, in the end, it will boil down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction. 

During the Cold War, US assessments of a possible conflict initiated by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites was a surprise attack across the Iron Curtain initiated with conventional weapons. As discussed in greatcharlie’s March 16, 2014 post entitled, “Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy; After Crimea Is Firmly Under Russian Control, Perhaps He Will”, Bernard Brodie explained in his renowned work on military affairs and statecraft, War and Politics (Macmillan, 1973): “The attack might be general along the line, intended to wipe out NATO and take over Western Europe to the Pyrenees.” However, Brodie also suggested that “there might be some variation in diminished form, like what became known as the ‘Hamburg grab.’  In the latter instance, the Soviet forces would slice around the important city of Hamburg and then leave it up to us to try to take it back—which without large conventional forces we obviously could not do unless we were prepared for a nuclear holocaust.” In contemporary times, the question of how the US and its NATO allies might respond when Russian Federation forces marched in Crimea which was the sovereign territory of a NATO partner–not a Member State–in 2014. The manner in which the US responded on the Crimean matter could possibly have enormous implications concerning Beijing’s thinking on Taiwan.

Lex talionis. (The law of retaliation.) As far as one knows, central to arguments made in Beijing to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, may very well be what was central to the argument on taking all available steps to subtly exploit the US investment in China’s possible development into a more democratic society; the character of the US political leadership. Indeed, as consideration of the character of US political leaders did much to place the US in the current challenging position with Beijing, it may influence a decision by Beijing to go to war. To that extent, the nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference.

People’s Liberation Army Ground Force General Li Zuocheng, Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (above). As far as one knows, central to arguments made in Beijing to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, may very well be what was central to the argument on taking all available steps to subtly exploit the US investment in China’s possible development into a more democratic society; the character of the US political leadership. Indeed, as consideration of the character of US political leaders did much to place the US in the current challenging position with Beijing, it may influence a decision by Beijing to go to war. To that extent, the nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference.

Begrudging Acceptance of a New Paradigm?

Tacit and explicit threats of a military response to an assault by China on Taiwan may with difficulty be recognized as a failed effort at deterrence. Domino theories and arguments based on the like predicting China’s systematic conquest of one US ally in the Indo-Pacific region after another may fail to gain traction among the most senior decision makers in Washington. That case would be made that all along it was recognized that Taiwan’s case was quite different from that of sovereign countries in the region. If anything, in the face of Taiwan being grabbed by a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) blitzkrieg, regional allies will need to strengthen their military partnerships and coordination with the US more than ever. In the capitals in which wisdom is exalted, leaders will immediately recognize that reality.

Though very aggressive statements may be made and every coercive tool other than war, particularly economic, would surely be used, military action that may lead to devastating attacks on regional allies, increasing the loss of life, may not be seen as the best way to establish a new dynamic with a relative world power. China in control of Taiwan might be albeit reluctantly accepted as a new paradigm.

Possible War with China over Taiwan

Forecasts of all types have been made on how a conflict between China and US and its allies will ignite. Perchance there may be points in each of some value. Perhaps some are worthy of great consideration. Still, in the end, they may prove to be in the aggregate, a mass of mistaken theories, indicating that there is no certitude or uniform position established on how the PLA will come at Taiwan. For long-time China watchers and the newly interested, the near deluge of newspapers, magazine, and broadcast and online reports up to journal articles and scholarly studies on Taiwan has left available a mass of diverse assessments, making the possibility of twinkling out the most likely scenario from the pack far more difficult. Ficta voluptatis causa sint proxima veris. (Fictions should approximate the truth in order to please.)

Reuters’ Predictions

Warplanners of the armed forces of the US and its allies surely without fail have established in their professional judgment what they believe to be the most viable. There is a fairly popular theory discussed in the US newsmedia that the PLA is waging so-called gray-zone warfare against Taiwan, lending support to the theory that China’s effort to retake the self-governed territory is already underway. Gray-zone warfare reportedly includes: an almost daily campaign of threatening military exercises, aerial and naval patrols, and all manner of surveillance. China has also used sand dredgers to swarm Taiwan’s outlying islands. In response, the US and its allies have accelerated, weapons sales to Taiwan, Taiwanese regular and reserve forces have improved readiness, stockpiled munitions, organize for asymmetric warfare: It disperses and conceals hundreds of lethal, long-range missiles capable of striking at the PLA’s superior force of warships, aircraft and targets inside Chinese have been dispersed. Further reports indicate that military planners in China, the US, Taiwan, Japan and Australia are expectedly gaming out scenarios for how an attack should launch, how the island’s defenders should act, and what the likely outcome will be. As the attacker, experts recognize that China has a range of options. Options suggested include seizing Taiwan’s outlying islands such as Quemoy and Matsu and the remote Pratas Islands, military and economic blockades, or least likely, invasion. 

An intriguing November 5, 2021 Reuters online report entitled, “Reuters Investigates T-Day: The Battle for Taiwan,” examined some of the conflict scenarios. It is based on interviews with close to a dozen military strategists and 15 current and former military officers from Taiwan, the US, Australia and Japan and drawing from articles in US, Chinese, and Taiwanese military and professional journals and official publications.

It is assessed by many of Reuters‘ military experts that top PLA.commanders would likely convince Xi that an invasion, even under the most volatile circumstances, would be the biggest and most complex amphibious landing ever attempted, and is beyond the PLA’s capabilities. The alternative they foresee is an effort by China to launch a devastating air and missile attack on the island’s defenses. The military objective would be to destroy Taiwan’s military, demoralize the population and force Taipei to the negotiating table before the US and its allies can intervene.

Four PLA Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missiles (above). The DF-46 missile is feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. It has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. In order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, a US aircraft carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. The sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships.

What Must Be Remembered from Stealth War

In Stealth War, Spalding tosses into the debate on the defense of Taiwan the reality that China has thousands of precision warheads tied to a sophisticated command and control system. He expounds on this by pointing out that the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile–46 feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. He gets across the idea that in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. Though noting that the US Navy has SM-6 interceptor missiles, thought to be capable of destroying the DF-26, Spalding leaves no doubt that the sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships. To that extent, he writes: “It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over.” That is a hard saying.

Gnawing on the subject a little bit more, Spalding explains that when assessed from an economIc standpoint, the PLA constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, in plain English he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, the wrong message may have been repeatedly sent at an exorbitant cost. Again, introspectively, the value of the option for the US and its allies is the opportunity to rehearse cooperation, display joint power, and appreciate benefits of US leadership. Other than that and attendant technical accomplishments, in deterring China the move is valueless. In fact, no matter how necessary some action, some display would be in the face of challenges presented by Beijing to Taiwan, no greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks within the leadership in the Communist Party of China under Xi, mustering for a national war with the US.

The Digital Battlefield: A Decisive Factor?

Information and the technology used to generate, transmit, process, store, and manipulate it, has well become the primary means of obtaining an offensive or defensive advantage. Perhaps readers can cast their minds back to the era when strategists, tacticians, and military analysts were exploring the many possibilities resulting from its use in warfare. One article that greatcharlie recalls was entitled “Information Warfare: Good News and Bad News,” published in 1997 by then US Army Major Keith D. Anthony in Military Intelligence. In the 25-year-old article–which greatcharlie fortuitously discovered online, posted by the Federation of American Scientists, the author explained that military history is replete with examples of how information has been used in conflicts. He stated, “It has always been sought; sometimes it has even been used effectively, and sometimes it has been vital. The common thread, though, has been that physical engagements were still necessary to impose one’s will upon the enemy. Information warfare changes the rules.”

In the 1997 Military Intelligence article included the discussion of a translated “Military Forum” column by Zhang Feng and Li Bingyan, “Historical Mission of Soldiers Straddling 21st Century Roundup of ‘Forum for Experts on Meeting Challenge of the World Military Revolution’,” in Beijing Jiefangjunm, 2 January 1996. It reveals that over 25 years ago, the two authors recognized that this significant change had occurred in the nature of warfare, even calling it a military revolution. To that extent, one author explained, information technology is the nucleus and foundation of this revolution, for it is information and knowledge that bring change to the old practice that the military strength of an army was measured simply by the number of its armored divisions, air force wings, and aircraft carrier groups. He further stated that today, a number of invisible forces need to be taken into consideration, which include the calculation capacity, the telecommunications volume, and the reliability and real-time reconnaissance ability of relevant systems.

In the aforementioned 1996 conference paper on the burgeoning role of information technology in warfare, the notion of a digital wing of the PLA or intelligence services was nominal, only conceptualized. However, it soon became a reality. As Spalding explains in Chapter 5: “The Digital Battlefield”, in Stealth War, in making it so, it was determined that the PLA, an official security wing of the Communist Party of China, would become more than a national army, in the traditional sense of the term. Spalding goes on to explain that an organization, designated Unit 6139, became the PLA’s massive cyber warfare division. He deems it a politically sanctioned hostile military force built to prey on the West day in and day out. To that end, the PLA engages in digital assaults to access data that are both destructive–entrapping and disrupting the West by setting off digital landmines, raids, and intelligence operations–and constructive. The results of these operations–covertly harvested data–have allowed China to amass influence and power. In a political warfare mode, the goal of such work is to obtain and use influence to force other countries to cede to its way of looking at the world–how to organize society, what rights citizens should have, and encourage economic decisions that will benefit China

Spalding writes that by 2008, several published reports indicated that the Chinese government was paying tens of thousands of citizens 50 Chinese cents–the equivalent of 7 US cents–each to write an independent post promoting Party policy. By 2013, China’s state-run media reported that the propaganda wing of the Communist Party of China had hired 2 million “public opinion analysts.” Spalding assesses that number has climbed since, aided by an estimated 10 million student volunteers, who also engage in monitoring and disinformation work, both at home and on foreign websites. Meanwhile, the PLA’s force of hackers, continued to wander with near impunity, hidden, putting US counterintelligence in their shade, and continues to bombard US companies, government agencies, and political parties today

Perhaps it is bitter thIs, but an assault on Taiwan will be the occasion that among the near countless pieces of secret information, intellectual property, and actual technologies collected by China’s intelligence services, there was everything needed to thwart a successful defense of Taiwan. For the those wretched citizens and legal permanent residents of the US, who were accepted and ascended to positions of importance enough in their government, corporate, high-tech, or academic institutions to be sought out by Chinese intelligence officers and due to venal, self-interest, ideology, conspiracy, or dispaysment and love of homeland, chose to betray their country, as well as their organizations, colleagues and fellow citizens, perhaps there will be satisfaction knowing their villainy led to a prospective tragedy. For those whose responsibility was to halt the capture of key information and technologies that may have led to some tragic outcome and intercept Chinese intelligence officers who encouraged betrayal, there would surely be, among those really interested, a great burden of failure and loss, guilt and regret, to bear which could potentially take a lifetime to heal, if ever

Xi (above) during an inspection of the command center of PLA’s Joint Battle Command. The battle-dress camouflage uniform indicates that he is Commander-in-Chief of the PLA’s supreme Joint Battle Command. Xi is the long-time Chairman of the Central Military Commission. How China manages to pull Taiwan back in its fold permanently may not be as important to Xi as just getting hold of the island. Securing the island quickly with as few losses in personnel and material as possible, may require something a far cry from using the operational art, and acting with combined arms decisively to conquer territory. That may require both the complete destruction of the military capacity of Taiwan, and the complete and total destruction of property and eradication of those living there. A strategy of this type is known in military terms as a “battle of annihilation.” PLA commanders and warplanners would surely be prepared to execute such.

Pertinent Concerning Thinking of Communist Party of China Leadership and PLA Commanders about Taiwan

How China manages “to pull Taiwan back in its fold permanently” may not be as important to Xi as just getting hold of the island, again, as it is what the Communist Party of China “knows” to be China’s sovereign territory. There are military options available for reclaiming Taiwan that take a turn toward the sinister. Securing the island quickly with as few losses in personnel and material as possible, may require something a far cry from using the operational art, and acting with combined arms decisively to conquer territory. Achieving that military objective may require both the complete destruction of the military capacity of Taiwan, and the complete and total destruction of property and eradication of those living there. A strategy of this type is known in military terms as a “battle of annihilation.” PLA commanders and warplanners would surely be prepared to execute such.

Such thinking should not be deemed too fanciful or alien. To keep the discussion of the postulation brief, a model to ponder in order to better understand such an approach could be measured against how China’s military partner, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), has made the complete destruction of the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), its most likely adversary, central to its defense. Indeed, it is well-accepted that North Korea has had an estimated 200,000 artillery pieces aimed at Seoul for quite some time. Ostensibly, the threat of the destruction of Seoul from the North Korean perspective was established as a deterrent to any thoughts the South Korea’s most powerful ally, the US, might have of invading and reuniting the island by force. Yet, from another perspective, the destruction of Seoul would avoid the need to capture it by ground assault. The decisionmakers and warplanners in Pyongyang have never been under any illusion that the government in Seoul would allow the North’s control of its capital and an urban battle similar to those witnessed during World War II in places such as Stalingrad (1942), Caen (1944), Manila (1945), Berlin (1945), to name only a few would delay offensive action and drain resources for initial attacks on other critical points as well as likely plans for decisive engagements in depth. With this in mind, it may not be as difficult to consider that thinking in Beijing concerning a PLA assault against Taiwan, mutatis mutandis, may be similar in concept to that of Pyongyang for Seoul. The destructive effort, of course, would be on a far larger scale. The defense of Taiwan will be ferocious. Its struggles against China’s opening attacks, however, would appear self-destructive and self-defeating. Ostensibly, the sheer weight and power of the PLA juggernaut as organized would overcome whatever defense Taiwan might have in place. On Taiwan, the scene would be nothing less than apocalyptic.

With regard to a likely decision to attack essentially all structures on Taiwan, it must be considered that the independently minded Taiwanese government falls into one of the categories of what the Communist Party of China declared to be the “five poisons.” Those five include: Uyghur advocates of the East Turkestan Independence Movement; Tibetan advocates of the Tibetan independence movement; believers of the Falun Gong; followers of China’s democracy movement; and, adherents of the Taiwan independence Movement. Looking at the matter from that angle, one might imagine leaders of the Communist Party of China long ago recognized that even if China captured the island and gained control of what remained of its civilian population, surely the work of re-education could far surpass the level of exertion put into the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and people of Hong Kong combined. Re-education indeed may have been assessed to be so difficult that it may not at all be a part of reconstruction and rejuvenation planning for the island. The sinister solution would be to mitigate the problem during the military assault. Those Taiwanese who might remain, the survivors, would most likely be relocated, probably dispersed. Far worse acts against the people–for instance the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–blaze on the pages of Communist China’s history. The Communist Party of China’s leaders would likely be concerned that spectacle of re-education camps on the island, following a destructive assault, would hinder any post-assault diplomatic efforts to create normalcy and do much to put China’s claim to a world in jeopardy, especially given the world’s reaction to camps in Xinjiang.. Imaginably, Xi would want to avoid that after the military assault

Among those in the world rightly concerned with the circumstances of ethnic and religious minorities in China, the moral fiber of Xi has certainly been looked upon darkly by. As aforementioned, the Uyghurs, Tibetans, as well as Falun Gong and Christians are roughly handled, pressured to uncouple from their culture and traditions, philosophies, and religious tenants and assimilate into culture and beliefs of Chinese Communism. If Xi can be viewed as contorted morally on those issues and just for being able to direct state security organs to act monstrously against his own citizens on mainland China in the name of preserving the integrity of the Communist Movement and the country, and putting counterrevolutionaries and reactionaries, and organized and individual criminals, there should little doubt that Xi would do whatever he thought was necessary to gain and retain control of Taiwan.

Ethnic Uyghurs standing in formation in a secured facility (above). China’s Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uyghurs, Turkic Muslim people by identity. In a report released on April 19, 2021, Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of engaging in a systematic campaign of human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country. Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to US officials and UN experts. One might imagine leaders of the Communist Party of China long ago recognized that even if China captured Taiwan and gained control of what remained of its civilian population, surely the work of re-education could far surpass the level of exertion put into the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and people of Hong Kong combined. Re-education indeed may have been assessed to be so difficult that it may not at all be a part of reconstruction and rejuvenation planning for the island when captured. The sinister solution would be to mitigate the problem during the military assault. Far worse acts against the people–for instance the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–blaze on the pages of Communist China’s history.

Taiwan Pummeled?

The prospective unending aerial and naval bombardments and a long range missile onslaught from mainland China would not resemble what may already be expected and planned for. As aforementioned, there is the belief that attacks with firepower will be used not only to weaken Taiwanese forces, but destroy morale on the island and force the Taipei government to the negotiating table. However, that would take a considerable amount of time to achieve. There is a line of thinking characteristic of analyses of what is likely to happen in the event of a Chinese assault on Taiwan that leaves time available for friendly action. Sentiment should never serve as a substitute for true feeling and fact. One could be assured that the lapse of time between a prospective Chinese assault on Taiwan and the movements of the US and its allies in response has been factored into any strategy developed by PLA commanders and warplanners. Within that interval, whatever calculation of that time and distance has been predicted by PLA warplanners for the movements of their opposition, would likely be the time frame set for successful action. It would be that anticipated time frame the Communist Party of China will expect Taiwan to fall into its hands.

The bombardment of Taiwan hypothesized here would be of a size that would exponentially surpass even those witnessed during the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. More structures would likely be destroyed on Taiwan in the initial hours of the attack than had been built in its first 50 years. The number of lives lost on the island after a pummeling as foreseen might possibly be qualified as Biblical. 

The situation that Taiwanese military and security forces face brings to mind the French song and military march, “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse” by Robert Planquette and Paul Cezano. The lyrics concern a regiment that battled the Austrians in 1794 to defend the emerging French Republic. The march was composed in 1870 in an effort to raise patriotic feelings within the French public following their country’s defeat during the Franco-Prussian War. “Sambre et Meuse” is the name of a former French province that is now part of Belgium. In the fourth verse, the lyrics state: “Le nombre eut raison du courage / Un soldat restait – le dernier! / Il se défendit avec rage / Mais bientôt fut fait prisonnier. / En voyant ce héros farouche / L’ennemi pleura sur son sort / Le héros prit une cartouche / Jura, puis se donna la mort.” (Numbers prevailed over bravery. / A soldier was left standing. The last one! / He defended himself furiously, / but soon was taken prisoner. / Seeing this fierce hero, / the enemy took pity of his fate. / The hero loaded a cartridge, / cursed, then took his own life.) There is ample reason to believe China would do its worst in an effort to take control of Taiwan. If it takes untrimmed, the drastic, destructive course described here, it is likely that much as the “Régiment de Sambre et Meuse,” Taiwan as it exists today, after its capture by China, would attain immortality in memory, and perhaps also go on living only in verse. C’est une situation extrêmement désagréable.

Taiwanese soldiers in training (above). The bombardment of Taiwan hypothesized here would be of a size that would exponentially surpass even those witnessed during the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. More structures would likely be destroyed on Taiwan in the initial hours of the attack than had been built in its first 50 years. The number of lives lost on the island after it was pummeled might possibly be qualified as Biblical. Both pleas and demands for China to halt its action as well as fierce protests and condemnation from capitals world-wide and international and regional bodies would surely be expected and most likely be disregarded. Beijing doubtlessly would have some plan formulated well in advance to deal with such matters after Taiwan was firmly in China’s hands.

Assessing Beijing’s Likely Thinking Correctly

In greatcharlie’s February 26, 2021 post entitled, “Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” included was an excerpt from an intriguing story by Clarice Lispector published in the Winter 2011 edition of the Paris Review, entitled, “A Story of Great Love.” Lispector writes a sentence that is conceptually germane as well 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 leaders of the Communist Party of China and PLA Joint Military Staff are certainly not hens. Still, the notion that deeper look into their respective thinking to include emotional concerns and reactions is surely valid, even if it requires giving room to intimations and “informed speculation” in the abstract. Here are a few thoughts on other ways in which Beijing may view the Taiwan matter through its lens.

Political and Economic Competition

Most often in US newsmedia commentary on China’s arguments on the difference between the US and itself, centrality is given to the difference in political systems. In a November 8, 2021 article in the Economist, it was explained that if all goes to plan for the Communist Party of China in 2022, political events in the US will ostensibly offer a study in contrasts that humiliates the US. The article suggests that China’s leaders, reading opinion polls, expect the Democratic Party to suffer a considerable set-back in the mid-term Congressional elections in November. Beijing hopes a divided government with all of its uncertainties, including gridlock, would be the possible result. If all of this transpired, supposedly China’s propaganda machine would be presented with a new chance to declare that “China enjoys order and prosperity thanks to one-party rule,” while US-style democracy “brings only chaos, dysfunction and decline.” Interestingly, if such is indeed their strategy, then the Communist Party of China’s propaganda wizards will likely find themselves moving down a blind alley. The outcome of this premeditated ideological collision would be nothing to signify.

If economics were the determining factor of a choice by the Communist Party of China to move on Taiwan, on its face there would be little chance of military action. Capitals world-wide and international and regional bodies would react harshly and the impact on China’s economy would be catastrophic. Recognizing that and hope Beijing could be brought back to reality, on the onset of an assault, both fiery demands for China to halt its action, some even accompanied by threats of military action. However, such would surely be expected and most likely be disregarded. Beijing doubtlessly would have formed a picture of what that period would look like and some plan formulated well in advance to deal with such matters after Taiwan was in China’s control. 

The Communist Party of China may calculate that China through its products and the production of those for others is sewn into the lives of nearly everyone in the world. Although foreign capitals, particularly those of highly industrialized countries, would strenuously condemn and do the maximum to isolate China, ensure its status as a pariah, they would not really want to do so. While they would take every measure possible to inflict pain and bring China to its knees, they would very unlikely cut themselves off from it for the long-term. Beijing would likely assess that political leaders in capitals world over would need to calculate what cutting their countries off from China would mean for their own economies, businesses, and institutions, as well as their own citizens’ pocketbooks. An improvement in relations sooner than later would be expected. Finely detailed plans for rejuvenating China’s economy have likely been formed and continuously updated and upgraded in case events move in the direction of war. However, until a positive change in relations got underway, the people of China would need to make do, but do so knowing that the Taiwan province was firmly in their hands.

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (center), and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left), in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. Communist Party of China leaders–though not being absolutely certain, greatcharlie will nevertheless go out on a slender thread here to ascribe the trait to Xi himself–appear to hold considerable animus toward the US. Of course, there have been waves of what has been dubbed anti-foreigner sentiment propagated by Communist Party of China leaders before. The primary case was China under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the issue of race as posited here is something different as the sentiment is not some political tool or mechanism for social control. It goes to self-esteem. self-worth, self-image. Indeed, an inner awareness, sentiment intérieur, of the racial dimension of China’s history with the US may attend Communist Party of China thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and passions, albeit very negative, toward it. To that extent, the impact on individual leaders, their attitudes and policies could possibly be strong.

Race and History

What is rarely broached is the Communist Party of China leadership’s thinking on the somewhat inviolable issue of race and history. Indeed, though seldom in the forefront of discussion and analyses, it may have a greater importance in thinking on China’s side than one might imagine. To that extent, it might influence decisionmaking on Taiwan as it concerns the US response. Further, it may influence the Party’s perceptions and actions in the face of rebuke and “punitive actions” from the US in the aftermath of Taiwan’s capture.

Communist Party of China leaders–though not being absolutely certain, greatcharlie will nevertheless go out on a slender thread here to ascribe the trait to Xi himself–appear to hold considerable animus toward the US. Of course, there have been waves of what has been dubbed anti-foreigner sentiment propagated by Communist Party of China leaders before. The primary case was China under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s. Things foreign were purged. The foreigner was the enemy. However, the issue of race as posited here is something different as the sentiment is not some political tool or mechanism for social control. It goes to self-esteem. self-worth, self-image. Indeed, an inner awareness, sentiment intérieur, of the racial dimension of China’s history with the US may attend Communist Party of China thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and passions, albeit very negative, toward it. To that extent, the impact on individual leaders could possibly be strong.

Perchance, on some far deeper level, the leadership of the Party may want to leave no doubt that the men calling shots today in China are not little coolies who came to the old West to labor on the railroads sporting shaved heads and queues–ponytail first worn by the Jurchen and Manchu peoples of Manchuria, and later was required to be worn by male subjects of Qing Chinai–an indication of submission, who unfortunately suffered incalculable indignities at the hands of their exploiting hosts.

Party leaders likely want to leave no doubt that China’s military is not the same lesser-skilled and equipped, albeit courageous force, that suffered atrocious losses nearly a century later during the Korean War. China, then under Mao Zedong chose to go into North Korea to support the Communist Movement led by Kim Il-sung, providing far more than their partners in the Soviet Union. Apocalyptic size casualty lists resulted from frontal assaults, human wave attacks, on hilltops dubbed by US forces with names such as the Ice Cream Cone, Punchbowl, Heartbreak Ridge, Hill Triangle, Hill Eerie, Jane Russell, Old Baldy, T-Bone, and Pork Chop. Although these battles are long forgotten to the great majority in the US, are doubtlessly firm in the minds of Communist Party of China leaders and one might imagine stories of relatives lost are likely still told within a sizable number of families in China, too!

Party leaders likely want to leave no doubt that they are aware of, what they may believe are, prevailing images and impressions of the Asian male, particularly the Chinese male, are in the West. Statistics may show that some change has occurred and more positive, politically acceptable images of Asians in the US and the West in general are now the norm. According to a new Pew Research Center survey produced in this era of COVID-19, the vast majority of Asian adults (81%) also say violence against them is increasing, far surpassing the share of all US adults (56%) who say the same. To go further, it appears to be the case empirically that negative impressions of the Asian male, and most relevant here, the Chinese male, have seemed to stick. Suffice it to say they are still often portrayed appallingly in Western entertainment media as amusing little men, most often comedic, socially inept, even pathetic, stubborn and suspicious, brash and insufferable, and exuding scattered energy.

An awareness of Western impressions of the Asian male as noted here appears to factor into thinking, planning, and action at many levels in international affairs. As reported in greatcharlie’s May 24, 2021 post entitled, “Food for Thought for US Companies Maintaining Robust Operations in China despite Beijing’s Strained Relations with Washington”, during a bilateral meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021 between a US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi, there was a heated diplomatic exchange. As the story goes, Blinken started the meeting off by telling the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. However, Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US over what he described as its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies. Yang, as well as Wang when he spoke immediately after him, comported themselves with a certain astringency. Their words were unkind and ungenerous, ostensibly designed to embarrass the new administration in Washington.

A large part of communication comes down to tonality, how one sounds. The choice by Chinese officials to respond angrily was at the time explained by and large in the US newsmedia and foreign policy circles mainly to be a matter of expediency. Perhaps instead, the words of the Chinese officials reflect more what greatcharlie has previously described as the Communist Party of China’s unsheathed antipathy toward the US. One might not be going too far to state the words spoken by Yang, a senior member of the Communist Party of China. smacked of something more personal.

Sensibilities on race and history may also account in part for the popularity and acceptance of the Communist Party of China and the population in general of the recent compensating and repairing image of “Wolf Warrior” in the Chinese film industry. Released in 2015, “Wolf Warrior” presents the adventures of Leng Feng, a PLA special operations sniper who is as tough as nails, smart, and near invincible, who is also popular with females, including his special operations commander, the beautiful Long Xiaoyun. Its sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2,” released in 2017, was the highest grossing film of all time in China.

Stirring poster for the film “Wolf Warrior” (above). Sensibilities on race and history may also account in part for the popularity and acceptance of the Communist Party of China and the population in general of the recent compensating and repairing image of “Wolf Warrior” in the Chinese film industry. Released in 2015, “Wolf Warrior” presents the adventures of Leng Feng, a PLA special operations sniper who is as tough as nails, smart, and near invincible, who is also popular with females, including his special operations commander, the beautiful Long Xiaoyun. Its sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2,” released in 2017, was the highest grossing film of all time in China.

Perhaps the mere thought of these indignities, as well as others, super charges the desire among leaders of the Communist Party of China, at the far end of the spectrum of possibilities, to obliterate both the memory and the progenitors of the offenders, generally. As such, it might also be an attendant element of Xi thinking, it may not be too fanciful to believe that he would enthusiastically take on the West via an assault on Taiwan to do his part to forever wipe away the image of the little people of China who are available to be bullied and a country, despite its achievements is merely tolerated as a player on the international stage, and spoken of in foreign capitals as an annoyance or nuisance as much as anything else. Lessons of China’s Communist Movement perhaps suggest to him that the habit of a lifetime for many in the world of viewing the Chinese people in such a condescending way cannot be altered by anything except an appropriate display of force. Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.)

While one could imagine that thoughts of issues concerning race and history might often inflame even Xi’s sense with ardor to lash out with China’s newly minted military might. Yet, to the knowledge of greatcharlie, Xi is not at all known for being hotheaded or indiscreet when discussing national security issues or  foreign relations, at least not publicly. Surely, if such moments of madding fever have at all occurred, doubtlessly sangfroid and equanimity have prevailed over them. Any strong feelings are harnessed and redirected in calibrated ways in actions against the interests of what might be deemed in Beijing as the main opponent. From what has been presented publicly, it seems that national leaders who have talked with Xi have not encountered or have failed to discern any thinking or attitude of this kind. If he has been able to hold such within, perhaps it could be said that Xi, a complex man, perhaps has mastered the art of being all things to all people, but never at last to be a particular thing to anyone. What is also known publicly is that national leaders leave talks with Xi feeling they understand him and have handle on matters concerning China. Alas, they very seldom do. 

While the issue of race and history may be looked upon as a supposable issue and among those belonging to the far side of analyses on Communist Party of China thinking concerning a possible military assault on Taiwan or worse viewed to be of no-account. Some internationally may perceive this discussion as a projection of the dysfunction on race and ethnicity that has long-plagued the US. Nevertheless, race and history may indeed be a very impactful factor if the US hopes to negotiate an agreement with China that will help sustain the relative peace, slow the marshaling of forces and other requisite preparations on the mainland for an assault on Taiwan. The influence of thoughts about race and history, as partially outlined here, is surely within the bounds of possibility. Issues of race would not be some element alien to the consciousness and the decisionmaking of the leaders of the Communist Party of China. If one were only remotely aware of how the Communist Party of China has responded to the Tibetan, Uyghur, and other Muslims, as well as people of Christian faith and others, issues aforementioned in this essay, the claim could hardly be made that race would unlikely be an issue of concern to the Party’s leadership.

A fuller discussion or argument on these points will certainly not be presented here. Imaginably, there may be the urge among some reading what little has been discussed here to dismiss the matter as a possible peripheral issue, however, for all one knows the matter may very well factor into the thinking of the Communist Party of China leaders specifically on the Taiwan issue. That makes it worthy of consideration. All doors inside the thinking within the Communist Party of China leadership must be opened and the interiors that they open to must be fully examined.

A rare public expression of disapproval in Xi’s countenance (above). While one could imagine that thoughts of issues concerning race and history might often inflame even Xi’s sense with ardor to lash out with China’s newly minted military might. Yet, to the knowledge of greatcharlie, Xi is not at all known for being hotheaded or indiscreet when discussing national security issues or  foreign relations, at least not publicly. Surely, if such moments of madding fever have at all occurred, doubtlessly sangfroid and equanimity have prevailed during them. Any strong feelings are harnessed and redirected in calibrated ways in actions against the interests of what might be deemed in Beijing as the main opponent.

The Way Forward

Est tempus quando nihil, est tempus quando aliquid, nullum tamen est tempus in quo dicenda sunt omnia. (There is a time when nothing may be said, a time when something may be said, but no time when all things may be said.) While recognizing in current analyses that major challenges exist, it may be worth giving consideration to the idea that too much of what is intrinsic to the thinking of US policymakers and warplanners–at least on the surface for that cadre–is being projected on Xi, the Communist Party of China leadership, and the Chinese military command and warplanners. Perchance in Beijing, they would gladly accept that outcome as there would be nothing better than to have decision makers of their main opponent blind as beetles. They would relish discovering that those decision makers have been clouding and obscuring their own thinking and negating what may be a deeper awareness when the pieces of what is known are out together in the subconscious, absent thoughts of political leaders’ expectations. Of course, they indubitably hold themselves to the duty of speaking truth to power as Spalding has in Stealth War and throughout his military career, but they may be ignoring and obviating what may twinkle in their intuition and intimations, and as a result, some analyses perhaps are being driven in the wrong direction. There may be the chance that greatcharlie is ruminating on something here that some US warplanners may feel unable to say themselves under current circumstances. The odds are not enormously against this theory being a reality. Yet, entertaining a discussion of these issues would doubtlessly disrupt routine examinations and responses. That is a hard saying. Hopefully, there is currently no place for intransigence. Certainly, discernment is always required, but with regard to China, no precaution should be neglected.

In previous posts on Chinese intelligence operations in the US, greatcharlie has suggested that if firm understandings of how the Chinese operate in the US and lessons learned regularly are aggregated with thinking from outside he national security bureaucracies, new lines of sight may be opened into difficult problems by which old hands in the US counterintelligence services would surely find advantage by including in their analyses. Ostensibly, the thinking of those fromm the outside would not be biased by any existing theories and prescriptions. Perhaps a similar recommendation could be made on the matter of how China may move against Taiwan. Based on how things appear and continued lack of real success, it would seem greatcharlie’s cautious appeals for US counterintelligence services to seek assistance from certain recherché thinking individuals from outside the national security bureaucracies, who could possibly help to resolve the conundrum of the Chinese espionage storm, amounted to watering dead plants. One might reasonably get the impression the matter is just not a real emergency, not that important. Alas, with that track record as a measure, it seems unlikely there would be a belief that any step in the direction of seeking assistance from external sources on the Taiwan matter would accomplish anything greater. Somehow, left to their own devices, they may move from where they are to where they ought to be. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.)

Book Review: Robert Spalding, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019)

A B-2 “Spirit” Stealth Bomber (above). Though Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept bears the name of the exquisite machinery depicted, the book actually concerns something different. Stealth War refers to how China has quietly waged a six-front war on the economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure of the US, and has been winning. Spalding provides piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis both past and present. He has interestingly taken his own dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed the country in some danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how events are unfolding before the eyes of every US citizen.

As of late, there has been an altogether different spring in Beijing’s step. Without a shadow of doubt, Beijing now has a broader attitude towards Asia, a broader attitude towards the world, than it ever had before. Very convinced men and women in China awake each day invigorated with the idea that their country will soon be the dominant power in the world. Some might say it has been a long-standing perspective held among Chinese Communists. However, it would appear this view is being clinged to stronger now than ever. Long ago, Beijing formulated a long-term plan to eventually become the world’s dominant power. That plan has been underway without pause for decades. Few who planned it, lived to see the type satisfying results that have blossomed in recent years. Surely, People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping hopes that under his leadership, the long sought goal of dominance will be achieved. In statements and speeches, he has often assured the Chinese people that the hopes and dreams of the Party and the people will be manifested. Though the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The notion of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether its friend or foe.

US President Joe Biden recently reminded before a Joint Session of the US Congress that “Our greatest strength is the power of our example, not just the example of our power.” Perhaps many Asia observers and analysts would agree that such is not the case for China. Despite having the structure, a perceptible veneer to those unfamiliar with its ways, of being a multiparty system at the national level, for all intents and purposes, China is a single party, Communist, authoritarian state. The course of its leadership of the world might follow the same pattern as China’s censorship approach. Whatever China wanted would be dictated and punishment would closely follow behind its threats to those who disobey Beijing. The dynamics of relationships with cautious allies as the Russian Federation, for instance, would change, as China would likely want it at least to be tacitly understood that it was the “senior partner,” the leader. Discussion about China and its moves toward becoming the dominant world power is no longer outside the realm of even everyday conversation among the US public. If the people were provided with the full facts on China’s rise in competition with the US it would likely take the breath away of many. China stands convinced of the correctness of both its points of view and its actions.

The subject of this review, Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), has been promoted as a book which discusses how China has quietly waged a six-front war on America’s economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure, and has been winning. It might be enough for greatcharlie just to describe Spalding’s exceptional achievement with Stealth War as providing piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis, both past and present. However, Spalding, even more, has interestingly taken his dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed the country in some danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how atrocious events are unfolding right before the eyes of every US citizen.

Although packed with excellent suggestions, the book is not about moving from choppy waters to calmer times. It is about preparing the US, using all tools of its power, military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information (media) power, to best handle what is happening with China and the worst that will most likely, or will eventually, come from its direction. Have no doubt that as a retired US Air Force Brigadier General, Spalding is well up on how the US could take on China militarily, and win. Spalding has presented his findings and judgments in such a way to plant good, well-thought out, seeds with the hope they will take root well. It is difficult to see how policy analysts and policymakers in the US, Democrat or Republican, would not recognize that Spalding is largely in the right.

In this review of Stealth War, greatcharlie hopes it can demonstrate how those reading the book for the first time will be provided a full picture on the matter. Hopefully the review will spark their exploration of the book to see what they can draw from Spalding’s meditations. For those who have already read Stealth War, this review hopefully will provide an opportunity to consider perspectives not thought of during their first look. In this review, greatcharlie will not run through Stealth War chapter and verse as it typically has in preceding book reviews. While still offering what it may humbly call its well-considered opinions and commentary, greatcharlie will discuss what it feels is the essence of the work, how Spalding stirs the development of perceptions and insights through the manner in which he presents his facts. Admittedly, being somewhat assiduous over facts in reviews, greatcharlie has often been somewhat prolix. A conscious effort has been made by greatcharlie to avoid again presenting what one reader acidulously, and lyrically, described as “a typical edifying, yet verbose greatcharlie review.” There is no desire to create a challenge for some readers to stay onboard with a post until the end of the ride. (Despite our deeming it necessary to do so, greatcharlie apologies to all readers for severely curtailing the discussion of the text of Stealth War in this review. It is recognized that Stealth War is a book of such quality that some readers might view taking such a step as a sort of malfeasance.)

Acknowledged as the master of the heroic couplet and one of the primary tastemakers of the Augustan age, British writer Alexander Pope was a central figure in the Neoclassical movement of the early 18th century. In “An Essay on Criticism,” a didactic poem first published anonymously in 1711 when the author was 23 years old, in greatcharlie’s humble view superbly gets to heart of the reviewer’s mission, explaining: “But you who seek to give and merit fame, / And justly bear a critic’s noble name, / Be sure your self and your own reach to know, / How far your genius, taste, and learning go; / Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, / And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.”

The author of Stealth War, Robert Spalding (above), is by no means an outsider with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points, of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former US Air Force brigadier general, B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, among many other accomplishments, Spalding was a member of an unique, elite caste of military officers who are not quick to speak out, do not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, never fret over a perception without the full facts, would hardly speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in Stealth War. His scruple does him much honor.

The Author

Robert Spalding retired from the US Air Force as a brigadier general after more than 25 years of service. If US Air Force officers were listed by achievements–perhaps they are somewhere in the Pentagon, Spalding would surely be among the luminaries. His Air Force biography provides the best picture of the experience and knowledge he possess. Minus his list of educational accomplishments, it reads as follows: “General Spalding received his commission through Fresno State University’s ROTC program in 1991. He earned his doctorate in economics and mathematics from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 2007. The general attended undergraduate pilot training in 1993, and was subsequently assigned as a B-52 Stratofortress co-pilot in the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. He subsequently transitioned to the B-2 Spirit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. In 2001, he was selected as one of three Air Force Olmsted Scholars, and was a distinguished graduate of Mandarin Chinese language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Afterward, the general attended Tongji University in Shanghai as a graduate research student. He then returned to Whiteman Air Force Base as a B-2 evaluator pilot and assistant director of operations for the 393rd Bomb Squadron. The general was then assigned to the Office of Secretary of Defense’s Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office as the military assistant for the deputy assistant secretary of defense. During the Iraq surge in 2007, General Spalding deployed to Baghdad and directed the Personal Security Coordination Center. After a stint at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, he was reassigned to the B-2 at Whiteman Air Force Base. While at Whiteman Air Force Base, he was the chief of safety, operations group commander and vice wing commander. He was then selected as a Military Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. General Spalding then served as the chief China strategist for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Washington DC. His next assignment led him back to China as the Senior Defense Official and Defense Attache to China in Beijing, China. Prior to his current assignment he served at the White House as the Senior Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council, Washington D.C.”

Spalding is by no means an outsider, with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former US Air Force brigadier general, B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, among his many impressive accomplishments, Spalding was a member of an unique, elite caste of military officers who are not quick to speak out, do not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, never fret over a perception without the full facts, would hardly speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in Stealth War. His scruple does him much honor.

As of this writing, Spalding is set to publish a new book with Sentinel in April 2022, War Without Rules: China’s Playbook for Global Domination. In War Without Rules, readers are again presented with the perspectives and insights on US-China relations through the lens of a man with years of experience on such matters. Resolved that the Communist Party of China’s leaders believe that there is no sector of life outside the realm of war, Spalding illustrates how they have gone about that by use corporate espionage, global pandemics, and trade violations to achieve dominance. The ultimate goal of the Party is world dominance. Spalding provides insight into how US citizens can be made better aware of China’s tactics in order to mitigate its creeping influence.

Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian,” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders. In his noted work, The Histories, Polybius covers the period from 264 BC to 146 BC, focusing primarily on the years 220 BC to 167 BC, and detailing Ancient Rome’s conquest of Carthage, which allowed it to become the dominant force in the Mediterranean. Additionally in The Histories, Polybius offered what he believed were the process and traits required of a good historian. Among all things enumerated, he emphasized: “All available evidence must be collected, thoroughly sifted, soberly weighed, and, lastly, the historian must be animated by a sincere love of truth and a calm impartiality.”

Spalding’s book is far from a dispassionate clinical study of US-China relations. Spalding is not presenting Stealth War at any point in the book as an intermedial. If one is looking for a book written by such an author, Stealth War would be the wrong choice. Being that he is in every way a patriot, Spalding’s position concerning the US interests versus China or any other country for that matter is vigorously partisan for the US. Moreover, he is not reluctant to confide his thoughts on such matters either. Readers should expect his relative partisanship to be the dominant tone of the text. However, Spalding’s patriotic tone does not degrade into anything akin to jingoism or chauvinism. His partisanship does not impact the quality of Spalding’s analysis. He is in fact very critical of US decision making on China. To the extent that he vigorously engaged in the process of collecting relevant evidence and sought to present the absolute truth, Spalding demonstrates all of the traits that Polybius would likely agree qualifies him as a solid reporter of past events.

While Spalding puts readers in the full picture, at the same time, he does not attempt to squeeze every issue dry so to speak. What he does present, however, provides enough to leave no doubt as to China’s actions and intentions. It is his book, and his prerogative to preclose as his present the facts as he knows them.

As a read, the book is presented in a way by Spalding as not to be too heavy going. Often, analysis becomes more uncertain as it becomes more sophisticated. His examination admirably allows for safe passage on each occasion to the very heart of the matter. There are no exaggerated claims. There is nothing to debunk. Surely, China would insist and seek to create the impression that statements made by Spalding regarding election interference, cyberattack, espionage, theft of intellectual property are simply Innuendo and insinuation. The notion of a misunderstood China offends all of Spalding’s reasoning.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above) celebrating the Centennial of the Communist Party of China. Long ago, Beijing formulated a long-term plan to eventually become the world’s dominant power. That plan has been underway without pause for decades. Few who planned it, lived to see the type satisfying results that have blossomed in recent years. Surely, Xi hopes that under his leadership, the long sought goal of dominance will be achieved. In statements and speeches, he has often assured the Chinese people that the hopes and dreams of the Party and the people will be manifested. Though the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The notion of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether friend or foe.

A Courageous Act by Spalding

Spalding speaks independently with his own points of view. It should be reminded that when he published Stealth War in October 2019, few from the ranks of his fellow military commanders with his experience had effectively and successfully reached an audience with such perspectives on China. Much as the man standing on high rock in the painting, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The Traveler Contemplating a Sea of ​​Clouds) (1818) by the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The “Dean of Cold War Historians” and Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, John Lewis Gaddis, suggests that the position of the character above the precipice and in front of a tormented landscape is contradictory because “evoking the domination over a landscape but at the same time the insignificance of the individual who is included in it.” In greatcharlie’s interpretation, Spalding could be represented by the man standing as he sees dangers that his country faces at the present and tries to imagine and consider responses to those unknown that it may face in the future. He fiercely desires to mitigate them, and thereby allow the US public to rest more easily. 

The practice of understanding the competition between powers and the clashes that result in the establishment of a dominant power was well-demonstrated more than two millennia ago by the Athenian historian and general, Thucydides (c 460 – c. 400 BC)  . The primary focus of Thucydides’ studies was the burgeoning competition and eventual clash of Athens and Sparta. Sparta was the superpower in the region, particularly militarily. As the Athenian empire rapidly grew with determination, to Thucydides, it clearly was just a matter of time before the two powers would clash.

In his book, Greek Political Thought from Homer to the Sophists (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Michael Gagarin presents Thucydides explanation for the Peloponnesian War which states the following: “I will first write down an account of the disputes that explain their breaking the Peace, so that no one will ever wonder from what ground so great a war could arise among the Greeks. I believe, however, that the truest reason for the quarrel, though least evident in what was said at the time, was the growth of Athenian power, which put fear into the Spartans and so compelled them into war, while the explanations both sides gave in public for breaking the Peace and starting the war are as follows.” 

There is a sense, a feeling, within the pages of Stealth War that Spalding believes the unwanted crisis, war between the US and China, will come. To that extent, he wants the US to be best prepared to fight that war and to win. There is a definite materiality in what he presents. Specific points of China’s attack on the US and suggestions on responses are clearly laid out by Spalding in the 11 chapters of his book’s 256 pages They are organized and titled as follows: Chapter 1: “Unrestricted Warfare”; Chapter 2: “How We Got Here”; Chapter 3: “Economy”; Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis”; Chapter 5: “The Digital Battlefield”; Chapter 6: “Modern Warrior 5.0: The 5G Future”; Chapter 7: “Politics and Diplomacy”; Chapter 8: “Stealing Intellectual Property”; Chapter 9: “World Domination via Infrastructure”; Chapter 10: “Sino Solutions: How to Combat and Stop China’s Stealth War”; and, Chapter 11: “Beating China at Its Own Game”. In his discussion of each issue, Spalding first looks from within, taking a deeper dive into impressions of the situation that he has developed over years of immersion in all aspects of the matter. His discussion of issues reflects the realist, the pragmatic thinker that he is. 

Support for Spalding’s pragmatic approach to examining China’s behavior vis-a-via the US, and the world, appears to have been provided more than two millennia ago by the aforementioned Thucydides. Thucydides is sometimes credited with founding of what is known as”political realism.” It is unknown to greatcharlie whether Spalding actually does or does not associate himself with the world of political realism, and it would go out on shaky ground to claim either was the case. Yet, Spalding’s discussion of China’s ambitions appears to manifest aspects of that theory. Central to political realism is the assumption that humans, deep down, are selfish, fearful, ambitious, and self-interested. As for countries, they are driven to safeguard national interests. To that extent, the tragic choice to go to war stand as indispensable tools in the management of state affairs and diplomacy: statecraft. As a result, the world has become a place in which each country may find themselves in conflict with competitors with similar interests, ambitions, and goals (targets charted by time).

In his search for a reason, a rationale, a purpose, for the current state of relations with China, Spalding, led by data available to him, explains it was the errant policy positions of former US administrations. At the core of those policies pursued, according to Spalding, was the misguided belief that economic development would lead the way to China’s transformation to a more democratic form of government and away from Communism. Given the manner in which he explains it, readers are left to contemplate how such a horrifying blunder could continue on for so long.

Even when the First Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong (left) was offering his olive branch to US President Richard Nixon (right), he reportedly regarded the US as the enemy, and that Chinese documents “likened it to Hitler.” Spalding notes Pillsbury recounts how People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, proclaimed “America is the ba.” The Chinese interpreter rendered this statement as “America is the leader.” That was a blatant mistranslation: “ba,” as used in most political language, means “tyrant.” When the translator was later asked why he softened Zhou’s language to Kissinger, he said, “It would have upset him.” At the time, US policymakers and decisionmakers were too interested in embracing a policy of helping China in order to destabilize the Soviet Union to concern themselves with the Communust Party of China’s hostile attitudes toward their country.

China Well Exploited Pro-China Policies of the Past

Providing some framework for understanding the approach China took toward the situation, Spalding explains that war between countries in the 21st century looks much different than war in the 19th and 20th centuries. He notes that instead of bombs and bullets, it is about “ones and zeros and dollars and cents: economics, finance, data-information, manufacturing, infrastructure and communications.” He insists that today if one controls those fronts, “you can win a war without firing a shot.” Spalding calls it a simple logical strategy that leaders in the West have been very slow to grasp. To provide a taste from the text, Spalding elaborates further on matter in Chapter 1: “Unrestricted Warfare” on page 14: “Military might is only one way to express aggression, only one of many ways to attain power. In China’s view, economic power strengthens all the fields of potential engagement. In other words, money bolsters the military but also bolsters every other sphere of engagement imaginable. It can be used to influence and sway political leaders in foreign countries, silence ideas, and purchase or steal technology. It can be used to manufacture goods at dirt cheap prices and drive competitors out of business, or weaken rival economies. It can be used to create an army of academics, who fan out to gather scientific, technological, and engineering intelligence that can be used to further other goals.” 

To that extent, Spalding goes on to clarify the matter by stating that perhaps one of the most important and revealing documents of the Communist Party of China is a 1999 work entitled Unrestricted Warfare. Written by two senior colonels in the PLA, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, it discloses a number of prospective strategies that could possibly shift the balance of power throughout the world in China’s favor. Spalding insists that Unrestricted Warfare should be required reading for all branches of the US government and for business leaders because it outlines the strategy at the root of China’s policies in the world. He quotes a passage of the document that states: “The new principles of war are no longer ‘using armed force to compel the enemy to submit to one’s will,’ but rather are ‘using all means, including armed force and non-armed force, military and non-military, lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests’.”

Past US Administrations: Blind as Beetles

Given what Spalding reports, it seems at one point, opinion in nearly all foreign policy circles in the US were adverse to the suggestion of an aggressive China that would challenge the US position as a the world’s leader, or as Chinese government spokespersons and Communist Party of China leaders refer to as US dominance in the world. It is to go out on shaky ground to ask readers to remember that sentiment was heard during the 2020 US Presidential Campaign when then Presidential candidate Joe Biden referring to China stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.”

Spalding notes that in The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt and Co, 2015), China observer Michael Pillsbury discloses that even when the First Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong offered his olive branch to US President Richard Nixon, he regarded the US as the enemy, and that Chinese documents “likened it to Hitler.” Spalding notes Pillsbury recounts how People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, proclaimed “America is the ba.” The Chinese interpreter rendered this statement as “America is the leader.” Pillsbury said that was a  blatant mistranslation: “ba,” as used in most political language, means “tyrant.” When the translator was later asked why he softened Zhou’s language to Kissinger, he said, “It would have upset him.” At the time, US policymakers and decisionmakers were too interested in embracing a policy of helping China in order to destabilize the Soviet Union to concern themselves with the Communust Party of China’s hostile attitudes toward their country.

US President Bill Clinton (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Jiang Zemin (right). From 1993 and 1998, there were several meetings between Clinton and Jiang. One the surface, US-China relations were mostly positive, a situation Spalding would explain was due to a desire in Washington to satisfy Beijing. Clinton signed a law passed by Congress establishing permanent normal trade relations with China. With the relationship codified, US investor confidence soared, as did business. China’s economy roared forward, too, due to a confluence of events: China was then accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, Apple unveiled the iPod, and an eruption of digital goods turned into a stampede of international investment. Spalding makes the acidulous remark that many policy makers and business investors then, as well as years before, seemed to assume capitalism has special powers that could melt away authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Yet, despite China’s exponential growth, Spalding notes, as predicted by James Mann in his book, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China, the Communist Party of China only honed its brand of authoritarian capitalism.

Spalding remarks acidulously that many policy makers and business investors of the past seemed to assume capitalism has special powers that could melt away authoritarianism and totalitarianism. He goes on to discuss James Mann’s book, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (Viking Adult, 2007), in which the author calls the West’s idea that China will morph into a liberal democratic society “the Soothing Scenario,” Mann summarizes the logic this way: “The country’s rapid economic growth will lead to far reaching political change as well. Eventually, increasing trade and prosperity will bring liberalization and democracy to China.” Spalding also points to Mann’s discussion of the opposite of the Soothing Scenario: “The Upheaval Scenario,” in which doubters envision China collapsing as a result of economic chaos or some kind of mass revolution. The result is turmoil and chaos. Spalding explains that Mann was way ahead of the curve when he wrote his book in 2007–a time when China was literally exploding with commerce and manufacturing. Six years earlier, then US President Bill Clinton signed a law passed by Congress establishing permanent normal trade relations with China. With the relationship codified, US investor confidence soared, as did business. China’s economy roared forward, too, due to a confluence of events: China was then accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, Apple unveiled the iPod, and an eruption of digital goods turned into a stampede of international investment. Yet, despite China’s exponential growth, Spalding notes, Mann did not adhere to either the Soothing or Upheaval scenario. For Mann, all signs indicated that the Communist Party of China would continue to hone its brand of authoritarian capitalism.

There was not simply a gap between a perception of Chinese actions and intentions with a perception exemplar of the political realism school of thought as that of Spalding. Moreover, there appeared to be a gap between perception and reality on China among US political leaders and policy makers. They saw no urgency in responding effectively to what Beijing has been doing. The reality was hardly missed in Beijing that it would not be possible to simply rise to the mantle of the world’s dominant power. In order to possess the title of the world’s dominant power, China had to dispossess the US of it.

Spalding presents the subtle differences between logic and lunacy in expressing the actions of US political leaders and policymakers coddling a China determined to surpass the US, a thought many within policy circles and the general public in the US might still find difficult to wrap their heads around. Yet, Spalding curiously manages to forge an intriguing link for the US public, and imaginably the world at large, to what once quietly resided in the hearts and minds of senior military decision makers on China as well as what may generally reside in them now.

To that extent, the book has become, and will likely remain for some time, a stimulus to the discourse on US-China relations for a broader audience than other books on the subject. As awareness increases on the realities of that relationship, there has been an albeit gradual shift in perspectives on China. In foreign policy circles, it has been a gradual turn. In business circles, it has been an even slower transition, but somewhat steady. As he insists upon immediate change in response to developments, Spalding, himself, notes that “Some critics will accuse me of being alarmist or sensationalist.” Perhaps it will turn out in the end that the necessary change in thinking occurred too slowly.

Though not felt within the society as a whole but more so among a finite set of those in the national security bureaucracies whose responsibility is to keep an eye on China, there is a sense of foreboding similar to that which characterized the Cold War era when it was in full gallop during the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, they are plenty worried. Many are worried enough to express their own concerns, if able, if permissible, in books after leaving the respective services, military, diplomatic, intelligence, sounding the claxson loudly on China’s moves much as Spalding had already done with Stealth War. In Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear (Penguin Classics, 2005) is found the line: “He had been frightened and so he had been vehement.”

Indeed, since the time Spalding published Stealth War, more have joined him in shining increased sunlight China’s activities, not just on the coronavirus disaster or in the realm of national security, but a multitude of other actions, all, nonetheless, malign. Included among those actions would be: predatory investment scams directed against trusting governments of often small and less industrialized countries; intrusion of sovereign waters for mass fishing; intellectual property theft from companies and research labs that have invested millions in research and development into that which was stolen; and, demands of censorship insisted upon of those in any arena who have received funding from, or are doing business with, China, concerning anything the Communist Party of China does not want discussed. Beijing must accept that as a result of such actions, impressions of China have not exactly been positive worldwide.

The Key Chapter at the Moment: Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis

Spalding states on page 43 in Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis”, “Fortunately, for the moment, China has no interest in engaging in a ground war, or any kind of war that entails actual violence and physical destruction.” Nevertheless, it is a coming war between the US and its allies against China which haunts the story that Spalding tells and has kept many readers turning the book’s pages to find clues as to why and how it will all come about. Though Spalding admirably discussed the issue of a possible war between the US and China, he explained the situation as it existed at the time he wrote Stealth War. It appears that the problem has metastasized a bit on the diplomatic and economic front since. 

No doubt, the Communist Party of China is not expending enormous financial and material resources only to pose a potential threat to Taiwan’s self-rule and somewhat attenuated sovereignty out of academic interest or worse, some banal amusement; far from it. It is not Spalding’s message, but after aggregating what he explains with more recent events, what becomes clear can be stated in simple words for political leaders in Washington and Taipei: “The Red Chinese are coming!” If this assessment is in error, and upon greatcharlie proved, better news could not be reported for the sake of international peace and security, and humanity itself.

In the top senior policymaking offices of the civilian leadership of US and its Western and Eastern allies, officials surely believe uniformly that a show of force is the most effective option to respond to and deter: China’s territorial ambitions particularly regarding Taiwan and the waters of the Western Pacific, China’s displays of naval and air power and China’s threatening words in rebuff to US leadership and dominance in the region and the world. The most formidable show of force policymakers have used is joint exercises between US Navy aircraft carrier battlegroups and aircraft carriers of its allies and having US warships transit the Taiwan Straits. In addition to being a show of force, such deployments also serve as an excellent opportunity for the US and its allies to project joint power and demonstrate their commitment to collective defense, rehearse cooperation, and particularly allow allies to appreciate the benefits of US leadership. Based on what Spalding explains, some readers might conclude that such displays of force by the US and its allies more satisfy the need for some ostensibly strong action and serve more to soothe international concerns, provide a display of leadership, and domestic consumption. In reality, the aircraft carrier battlegroups, as mighty as they are, present themselves as easy prey for Chinese missiles.

Spalding explains that China has thousands of precision warheads tied to a sophisticated command and control system. He expounds on this by pointing out that the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile–46 feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. In the specific context of defending Taiwan,, he gets across the idea that in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. Though noting that the US Navy has SM-6 interceptor missiles, thought to be capable of destroying the DF-26, Spalding leaves no doubt that the sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships. To that extent, he writes: “It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over.” That is a hard saying.

Gnawing on the subject a little bit more, Spalding explains that assessed from an economIc standpoint, the PLA constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, in plain English he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, having US and allied aircraft carriers sail within the range of the DF-26 may repeatedly send the wrong message at an exorbitant cost. In terms of deterring China regarding Taiwan, the move may have repeatedly demonstrated that the US and its allies would be unable to act in a way to halt an assault on the island while at the same time avoiding unacceptable losses. No greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks the leadership in the Communist Party of China under Xi, clamoring for an assault on Taiwan sooner than later.

China’s Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile (above) was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. So do the math: in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. The sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal under a sophisticated command and control system, and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to our ships. Spalding says It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over. It is a hard saying.

Following up on Spalding’s statement in Chapter 4 that the US cannot fight a ground war with China, he expounds on that point by stating products from China are crucial for the production and operations of much of the US military’s weapon systems and gear. He states directly that “the amount of goods that have been shipped and continue to be shipped from China for military use is mind-boggling.” Spalding goes into detail somewhat by offering examples of the daunting amount of military equipment that contain components made in China. He says the propellant that fires out Hellfire missiles, which are launched from helicopters, jets, and drones, is imported from China. He points the glass in night-vision goggles contains a metal called lanthanum, a large majority of which comes from China. He also points to computers that US military and naval officers write plans and reports and print them on come from China predominantly. Instructional videos are watched on screens made in China.

Spalding reminds that there are laws mandating that the US military buy goods that are made in the US. However, he believes that the US has gone too far with outsourcing and has reached a point where it is unable to defend itself and its interests without Chinese manufacturing and logistical support. If supply lines were cut from China, or even if a trade war broke out with embargoes, Spalding predicts the US military would have a nightmare sourcing its needs and getting them to the battlefield. Spalding quotes a 2015 essay by retired US Army General John Adams which states: “Our almost complete dependence on China and other countries for telecommunications equipment presents potentially catastrophic battlefield vulnerabilities.”

The Nuclear Dimension

On China’s nuclear capabilities, on page 201 in Chapter 10: “Sino Solutions: How to Combat and Stipop China’s Stealth War”, Spalding revealed that his greatest concern was that as the US seeks to balance our economic relationship, the PLA will continue to be left unrestricted. Spalding explains that unfortunately as a consequence, the US needs the threat of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. Spalding says the assumption is if course that these bombs will never be used. Nevertheless, he feels that “invoking fear of the unthinkable–the madman or Wildman theory of negotiation–often works.”

Delving a bit into the realm of conjecture, it is conceivable that warplanners in China may assess that they do not have the time to develop nuclear parity with US in order to offset the massive advantage the US has with its nuclear arsenal and that Washington would likely use as leverage to impact China’s choices in a conflict  However, they may have assessed that it might be feasible to create a sufficient nuclear counterbalance to threaten a rapid response retaliatory nuclear strike or sufficient first strike to convince the US that some resolution might be best to avoid incurring unacceptable losses of people and property.

From background to foreground: USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense) JS Ise (DDH-182), HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). Spalding explained that from an economIc standpoint, the PLA with the DF-26 constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, having US and allied aircraft carriers sail within the range of the DF-26 may repeatedly send the wrong message at an exorbitant cost. Other than providing the US and its allies the opportunity to rehearse cooperation, display joint power, and appreciate benefits of US leadership, in terms of deterring China, the move may have demonstrated that the US and its allies are unable to act in a way to halt an assault on Taiwan while at the same time avoiding unacceptable losses. No greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks within the Communist Party of China’s leadership, clamoring for an assault on Taiwan sooner than later.

Other Thoughts That Billowed Up in This Reader on Taiwan Via Spalding’s Dialectic Ladle

In the end, central to the argument to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, is what was central to arguments on how the US managed to place itself in such a challenging position with Beijing: the character of US political leaders. That is stated not to put into question the personal qualities of the men and women who have honorably and admirably chosen to dutifully serve the people to the best of their abilities.  Rather, it is to suggest that fighting the type of war that the US might be required to prosecute, defeat China, thwart China’s ambitions, drive it off and forever away from Taiwan might not be characteristic of certain leaders. In taking that course, there would be the potential for millions to die in China, unacceptable losses on the side of the US and its allies, and as grotesque as the thought may be, China could potentially level an unexpected, crippling blow to US naval and air forces could also result. What might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. The nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference. Perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. In the end, it boils down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction.

Post factum nullum consilium. (Counsel is of no effect after the fact.) To race well, a jockey and horse must be one animal. The horse must be superbly harnessed. When a horse does not run well, it is typically considered that it may have a poor jockey. On China, military capabilities and resources, state diplomacy to include economic and public diplomacy, and policymaking must also function together as one figurative animal. The expectation is for senior policymakers to master the situation through their management of it. When this is the case, they can often be more precise, to an extent exact, in policy planning , formulation, and implementation. Evidence of that can be found in the fact that their figurative brush strokes will appear finer.

Policies that seem to be too far off from the realities of military capabilities and resources, military power, and awkward diplomatic exchanges and pursuits of inconsequential inroads may evince to competitors and opponents that policymakers are out of touch with the real situation and acting on mere perceptions and perhaps surmisal. Parsing out such concerning the US must be an ongoing process, an obsession, in Beijing at the moment. It would be part of the effort to determine how the US might react when presented with a situation as an assault on Taiwan.

In the US, producing the very best answers to situations is made more difficult because there are a variety of views and interests within the national security bureaucracies that must be balanced when policy is being made. if decisionmaking were directed, controlled by a single source, as in China under the Communist Party of China, under the command of Xi, a magician may seem to be somewhere in the mix who is clearly aware of what to do and how to do it in a way that keeps China a step or more ahead of its main competitor or opponent. Perhaps that is Xi, himself. On the other hand, some policy analysts perceive that for too long there has been a blindness to the best interests of the US that borders on madness. A sense is given off by them–to include Spalding it seems–that it may be too late to really change the course of things by implementing new approaches.

What might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. The nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference. Perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. In the end, it boils down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction.

At the outset of the review, greatcharlie explained that the book would not be broken down to the fullest extent possible, but hopefully enough so to raise interest in readers to take a look at the book. There is so much more to discover in Stealth War. The book is a steady flow of information, data, and expressions from beginning to end. Spalding is the purveyor of a foundation upon which an honest discussion can be had on US-China relations or simply the China Threat at all levels, from the senior government policymaker to the average US citizen.

There nothing that greatcharlie appreciates more than a book that stirs 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 Stealth War is. It is assured that after the first reading Stealth War, one would most likely go back to the book and engage in that stimulating process again and again. There is no telling what insights and how many might be brewed up from within readers after they have had a chance to read through it. Too much pleasure has been lost whilst abstaining from this delightful book. As greatcharlie suggested earlier here, those reading this review who have already read Stealth War would do well to go through the book again. 

Perhaps needless to say but it is nonetheless stated, with absolute conviction and relish, greatcharlie unequivocally recommends Spalding’s Stealth War to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

The Defection That Never Was: Meditations on the Dong Jingwei Defection Hoax

People’s Republic of China Vice Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei (above). Beginning in February 2021, Dong became the subject of a rumor alleging that he, along with his daughter, defected to the US. The possible implications of his supposed defection were staggering. It was eventually revealed and proved that the rumor was pure fiction.  Never before has Dong’s name, or any other Chinese counterintelligence official’s name, been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in the manner it has been lately. An attempt is made by greatcharlie to some degree how this all came about and what was the purpose of it all.

Rumors of the alleged defection of Dong Jingwei, a vice minister of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of State Security–China’s relative equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency, were the subject of intense discussion in the US newsmedia and social media particularly in June 2021. Allegedly, Dong fled China in February 2021 and handed himself over to US intelligence officials. Dong would have been one of the highest-ranking officers from China’s Intelligence Community, and the Chinese government in general ever to defect to the US. Yet, alas, the rumored defection never occurred.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, is now highly selective, positively picky, about those who serve in national security positions in his government. Considering what would be the most likely nature of the man or woman who would be able to serve as his Vice Minister at MSS for counterintelligence, it is hard to form a mental picture of where the rumor that Dong had defected to the US with his daughter, or who, or better, what organization, may have actually given it wings. It is harder to understand how those who ignited the rumor of Dong’s defection intended to benefit from its formulation and promotion. It is hardest to envision who among those with any knowledge of the Chinese government and the national security apparatus would believe, would ever consider defecting to the US no matter what the circumstances may be within the Communist Party of China or in his personal life. One could imagine Dong would be a deadender, sticking with the Party and his country until the rattle. There is always the possibility–though there are absolutely zero newsmedia reports anywhere that suggested some proceeding mental health episode had befallen him–that Dong may have been overwhelmed by some cacoethes. Barring that, there was no earthly reason to believe that he would defect, and to the US nonetheless. The puzzle now having been “resolved”–the whole truth is out there somewhere, greatcharlie gives a go at parsing out some of these issues hoping it does not come off as l’esprit de l’escalier. In that process, greatcharlie, albeit, steps out on shaky ground to present some unsolicited–and hopefully not unwanted–suggestions on how similar false reports in the future might be given appropriate consideration. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Some might conclude after noting the topic of this post that this is one more by greatcharlie on Chinese espionage in the US. Some, perhaps duly, might also grumble to the effect: “Now greatcharlie is all China, all the time!” While greatcharlie approaches the defection that did not happen out of academic interest, this examination, much as those of proceeding posts, is part of an ongoing effort by greatcharlie to give consideration of what it could offer to contribute to development more effective approaches to such hostile intelligence collection efforts against the US. Indeed, 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. Readers will likely discern facts are interpreted from that perspective. However, no information is skewed or bent with preconceived ideas or bias.

Who Is Dong Jingwei?

Dong was born on November 18, 1963. He is presently 57 years old. In China it would be of some significance to note that he is of Han nationality. As for his studies, he has earned a master of science degree. The only publicly reported member of Dong’s family is his daughter, Yang–also known as Dong HuaHua on social media, who as part of the defection hoax was said to have allegedly fled China with him. She is the ex-wife of Alibaba executive Jiang Fan, who now heads the company’s powerful e-commerce platforms, Tmall and Taobao. 

Dong is a member of the Communist Party of China. Highlights of his career include service as the Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the State Security Department of Hebei Province. He is a Member of the Party Committee and, of course, Vice Minister of the Ministry of State Security. With some reluctance, greatcharlie calls attention to the reporting of the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Referencing Intelligence Online, Wikipedia explains that heading the State Security Department in Hebei was significant for Dong because it was a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles, and accolades as much, provided to Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, where Dong is vice minister, is an intelligence service responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems mainly from providing consumers in Beijing to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, and ministers and senior executives of appropriate ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions.

As noted 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),” the primary targets of the MSS hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the Russian Federation, Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes. In the countries of Eastern Europe, China has achieved some prominence in their space. China must equally measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. Taiwan, which Beijing declares is part of China, is a special case and a very important MSS target. The second rung of competitors would include India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Mongolia. India has doubtlessly garnered a bit more attention from MSS due to its ongoing border struggle with China. MSS has stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

In defining counterintelligence, James Olson, the former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency and author of To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), which greatcharlie reviewed for its January 2021 post, states that it “consists of all the measures a nation takes to protect its citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies.” The primary mission of MSS counterintelligence is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide. MSS shares the counterintelligence role with Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS. MPS is an intelligence service under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence.

The achievements of MSS in the US have certainly been no mean feat, and should not be underestimated. As discussed in the February 26, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled,”Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” the tide of essentially unchallenged Chinese espionage has lapped up so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under-developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating. 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.

Dong (above)  once headed the State Security Department in Hebei, a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles held by Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

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 force and aggression 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. It stands to reason that in order to be a successful vice minister for MSS counterintelligence. Dong must be a man who has 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.

In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Dong given his role at MSS, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, the few traits listed here along with a reliable intuition and challenging experiences within his own intelligence organization may very well have enabled Dong to perceive likely thinking, decision making, planned approaches, and actions within adversarial intelligence services. These same traits perhaps have also assisted Dong in successfully navigating the top rung of China’s national security apparatus and to perform well at the side of leaders of the Communist Party of China.

One might first postulate that Dong possesses the traits of clarity, purpose, and focus. Surely, Dong puts his intentions forward for the best outcome possible. Clarity would allow Dong to concentrate with intention on what is ahead, on what needs to be done. One might expect that Dong believes by now that serving in MSS, performing executive duties for counterintelligence is his purpose. To that extent, purpose was likely revealed to Dong when he discovered the ability to use intuition to understand what may be clear to others. He would be able to focus on what truly matters, and understand what needs to be avoided, such as anything that might frustrate, seriously inconvenience, hamper, or inevitably destroy his organization’s efforts

Dong would be an intelligence officer and political leader of great energy,enthusiasm, and creativity. That energy is transmitted through the MSS. In the US, it would be transmitted not only to officers in the field but to errant citizens and Chinese émigrés recruited to serve the purposes of the intelligence service. He would exude a positive attitude that encourages officers, operatives, and informants to do their utmost in the field. He would be able to find unlocked potential in situations and determine ways to uncover what may be hidden away

What Was Reported on Dong’s Alleged Defection

Relate retero. (I tell what I have been told.) Some simple falsehoods went some way to explain and support what was from the outset a questionable story. From what can be gathered about the episode, stories about Dong’s alleged defection initially emanated from conservative websites in the US. Newsweek points decidedly to a June 4, 2021 report from the conservative political commentary website, RedState, as a source of the rumor. Discussion within conservative circles reportedly became even more intense as days passed. There was considerable discourse on Dong’s defection found in Chinese-language, anti-Communist newsmedia outlets in the US and on Twitter.

Among those who reported on the defection, there was general acceptance of the sequence of events. The defection scheme as laid out was indeed mad-capped. Dong allegedly defected in mid-February, flying from Hong Kong to the US with his daughter, Dong Yang. Dong supposedly provided the US government with information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that allegedly impacted the position of the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Han Lianchao, a former People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who defected in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Dong’s defection was raised by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the US-China Summit in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. On June 16, 2021, Han, citing an anonymous source, alleged that in Anchorage, Yang and Wang demanded that the US return Dong to China, but US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refused. Subsequent reports, coupled with analyses by China specialists continued as Dong’s precise whereabouts remained unknown. Speculation had even reached Chinese social media threads after Dong had not been seen or photographed for several weeks.

While preparing a story on the alleged defection, SpyTalk, an online news site offering reports on national security topics, with an emphasis on US intelligence operations, had sought comment from the State Department last week, however, it did not respond. In the first public clarification put out by the US government on the affair, a US official, speaking anonymously, “reached out” to say reports of Dong’s defection were not true. With regard to Dong’s whereabouts, he stated “We can’t confirm or deny where he is exactly,” but hinted he remained in China. The official refused to go any further. When SpyTalk asked why the Biden-Harris administration sought to knock down rumors of such a high level defection, an ultra-sensitive issue, the official reportedly stated, “that’s more of a policy question”and referred SpyTalk to the White House. Reportedly, the National Security Council did not respond to SpyTalk’s request for comment.

Notably, Newsweek reported on June 22, 2021 it was informed by a US government official that the reports about Dong’s defection “are not accurate,” without elaborating. A second US government source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rumors were “absolutely untrue.” Yet, such reporting still did not cause those insisting on the defection to retreat back, away from the issue. It is always a capital mistake to reach conclusions before having all of the facts on a point at issue.

The Chinese government, itself, delayed publicly addressing the stories about his alleged defection. Then on June 23, 2021, officials of the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington informed that Dong made a recent public appearance despite rumors that he had defected to the US four months ago. According to minutes released by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Dong was among five Chinese officials who attended the 16th meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Member States on June 23, 2021 Reports of the meeting were also shared on Weibo, China’s largest social media service.

Sources of the Hoax: Views on That in the Newsmedia

The Daily Beast quoted Robert Manning, a former top Asia specialist in both Republican and and Democratic administrations for more than 30 years as saying the decision of the Biden-Harris administration’s willingness to address such a normally highly secretive issue was “to excise an unnecessary additional irritant in the still downward-spiraling bilateral relationship” between the US and China. The Daily Beast also reported another possible motive was to beat back a Republican campaign to deflect blame for the COVID-19 pandemic in the US from the erstwhile administration of US President Donald Trump to China’s Wuhan Virology Lab and, by extension, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been critical of the former president’s response to the disease. In the same vein that the motivation may be domestic politics, the Daily Beast reported that a leading China watcher suggested the objective was to head off Republican accusations that the Biden-Harris administration was “hiding a defector who has info on the lab leak or [other] embarrassing stuff.” Essentially amplifying what was aforementioned here, the Daily Beast explained reports of Dong’s defection originated in conservative circles here and abroad that have been critical of the scientific consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic was transmitted from animals in Wuhan’s “wet market.”

On June 4, former Fox News reporter Adam Housley tweeted that “US intelligence has a Chinese defector with Wuhan info. and China is trying to produce variants that suggest it came from bats to cover up that coronavirus originally came from a lab.” Housley’s report was referenced by RedState, which alleged that “a person believed to be among the highest-ranking defectors ever to the United States from the People’s Republic of China has been working with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for months.” Citing anonymous sources “inside the intelligence community,” The Daily Beast further reported that Red State cautiously claimed “the defector has direct knowledge of special weapons programs in China, including bioweapons programs,” and that the alleged information had created “a sudden crisis of confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

In a June 24, 2021 Washington Times story, it was suggested by a former National Security Agency counterspy that the defection rumors were “part of a Chinese disinformation effort to distract attention from growing international concern over reports the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory.” If that intriguing possibility is true, it would seem that the other shoe dropped when Dong was seen at a meeting with the head of MPS later in the month. It might be said the some in the US newsmedia are so expectant and desirous of good news for the US on the Chinese espionage front, that some outlets were even ready to jump at a contrived one. he US Intelligence Community did not flinch in response to the defection reports at any point until,  as aforementioned, one US official spoke “just looking to correct the record.” 

Other Suggestions

One can only imagine–if he was actually unaware that the fiction of his defection, would be laid on so thick in the newsmedia worldwide–what Dong’s immediate reaction was when he received news that he was the subject of a farce that put his loyalty and honor in question. Dong was imaginably a little put out. It may have also caused him some embarrassment, some loss of honor. While the truth of Dong’s loyalty to the Communist Party of China and his country would eventually be made very clear, he would surely recognize that once his name was associated with he would indubitably feel was a damnable rumor, that taint would still stick, even if only to some small degree, long afterward. 

 Perchance that the defection rumor was contrived by MSS, then it would be accepted honorably as an unavoidable sacrifice he had to make with the aim of protecting China. Perhaps some monitoring should be done to see if somewhere along the line in the near future, there is some sudden mention of Dong awarded some high honor for his “service” from the Communist Party of China. Perhaps he would receive the award from Xi, himself. That may very well signal, and could help support the idea, that the defection story was indeed part of some nefarious MSS scheme.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. (Who watches the watchmen.) Dong has unlikely gotten lost in any hurt. Yet, one might speculate that perhaps somewhere, someone believes Dong pretends to have an inner strength, nerve, that he actually lacks. Though the true source remains publicly unknown, so far to greatcharlie’s knowledge, no one has been denounced at least publicly in China for having responsibility for igniting the rumor against Dong. One could hypothesize that if the source of the rumor was actually in China, it may have been the case that Dong recognized attempting to establish blame among any rivals for the episode would only be corrosive, and trying to reconcile with some sense his own guilt for leaving himself open to the of such a rumor would be self-defeating. In such a hypothetical case, an expression of such acrimony within days of the celebrations of the Centennial of the Communist Party of China taking place in Beijing on July 1, 2021, would unlikely be of any benefit to Dong politically, professionally, or personally. To that extent, in the eyes of Communist Party of China leaders, he likely would do himself much honor by deciding to hold his tongue at this time, if he even needed or desired to speak out at all.

Arthur Conan Doyle in “Adventure IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery” of his twelve short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in the Strand Magazine (1891) had his main character, the damnably good detective Holmes, state the following which is apposite here: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”

Xi Jinping’s Counterintelligence Concerns

Xi has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. In his address at the ceremony, Xi lauded the major contributions made by the Chinese police to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests, He called them a mighty force that can be fully trusted by the Party and the people, and spoke highly of the major contributions made by the Chinese security forces to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests. Xi also called upon the security forces to uphold the Party’s absolute leadership.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above) has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. Clearly, Dong has been mindful of Xi’s concept and intent and obedient to the new counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021.

Would Beijing Call It a US Counterintelligence Plot?

As discussed already here by greatcharlie and in previous posts, little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but it seems too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan US observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage.

Dong’s team and counterintelligence executives and managers of the other Chinese intelligence services surely study the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. They would seek to better understand and prepare for expectant future attempts to covertly insinuate operatives into the Chinese foreign and national security apparatus, including particularly both the clandestine posts and covert networks of civilian and military Chinese intelligence services and Communist Party of China organs operating overseas.

Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS doubtlessly understand the situation the US Intelligence Community has faced, scoring few victories and suffering many defeats in the intelligence struggle with China, and they very likely recognize that US foreign intelligence and services are anxious to turn the situation around and get some things going. They 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, one might imagine it could plausibly be claimed within MSS headquarters that whole episode was a US counterintelligence artifice, designed to twinkle out Chinese intelligence service officers and operatives based on the their reactions by some the following: movements–attempt to leave US; communications–sending communiques by codes and encryption to provincial departments and municipal bureaus to confirm rumors and see instructions on next actions; contacts–reaching out to network managers in distress or panic; and, email, text, call, and meet other intelligence officers to parse out situation as reported. Alternatively, also with a counterintelligence purpose, the US could be said to have attempted to smoke out prospective defectors among those officers and operatives, attempting to convince them that some “tower moment” for Chinese intelligence service operations in US had occurred and the moment had arrived to choose to remain part of Communist Chinese system or seek refuge in the US. 

Dong and his manager further parsing out the matter might have speculated that beginning in February 2021, he may have been out of pocket for an extended period or on medical leave for some illness. Such speculation could go further to suggest the US Intelligence Community became aware of the situation, which would have been a chilling prospect in itself for MSS counterintelligence, and sought to capitalize on it 

What might cause Dong and his managers some discomfort even though the whole defection story was revealed as a hoax, and if it was the actual source of the hoax, is that for a while at least there appeared to be good news about success against China. Even if proven false, it would be good to have such positive news reach the ears of the US public, and Beijing would not want that. Further, even though the truth is out, the belief may exist among many in the US public that the “super secret” US Intelligence Community may have truly scored the specified success, and now, for reasons unknown, want to conceal it. Among conspiracy theorists in the US, the imagination may have also been given fuel to run wild and the whole matter of the defection will linger for a while. Chinese intelligence services would likely hope that some sense of discouragement might reach into the psyche of the US public over how Chinese espionage in their country appears unstoppable, even though it may be an issue somewhat outside of the average citizen’s day-to-day concerns.

As for the Communist Party of China, propaganda elements might eventually seek to use the whole circumstance to an advantage against the US. The goal would be to embarrass the US by making it appear as if the US Intelligence Community conjured up a story of defection because that has had no real successes at all against China. What would then perhaps be called “the big US lie” or something to that effect would doubtlessly be denigrated by Beijing through declaring it as being too contrived, unsubtle, poorly executed, and further evidence of how little the US Intelligence Community knows about the Chinese intelligence services. Then again, there may just be silence from Beijing.

A Novel MSS Counterintelligence Tactic to Smoke Out “Disloyalty in the Ranks?”

It would appear Dong may have actually been expecting to face something out of the ordinary from US and other foreign counterintelligence services much as discussed here, and it factored into MSS calculations on operations against the US. According to a story in the June 18, 2021 edition of the South China Morning Post, a report on a seminar on a counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021 was posted on Changanjian, the social media account operated by China’s top law enforcement agency, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China. At the seminar, Dong urged the country’s intelligence officers to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces. A read-out from the seminar quoted Dong as explaining: “The promulgation of such regulations provides us, the principal agents responsible for counter-espionage work, with the legal means to prevent, stop and combat criminal activities that would jeopardize our national security.” Dong went on to state: “This will reinforce our responsibility in counter-espionage work, and enable us to do a better job in organising and mobilising all social forces in waging ‘people’s warfare’ against espionage activities.”

In addition to Dong’s expressions on catching foreign spies, the actual report as posted stated that the intelligence officers must also go after “insiders” and “people who bankroll their activities behind the scene.” On that point, the report additionally noted: “At present, infiltration and spying activities by foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces have increased significantly.” It went on to say, “In particular, there are individuals who have willingly become ‘insiders’ colluding with foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces and engaging in anti-China activities.” The South China Morning Post story lastly noted the insistence in the report that “All state security agencies must stand firm … deepen and carry out our various counter-espionage work to safeguard our national security.”

Given what was stated by Dong at the June 18th seminar on the counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April and the report on the event, it may be grotesquely improbable, yet all the same conceivable, that the defection hoax was actually an MSS loyalty test on a grand scale to as was suggested, to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces.

Attempting to look at thinking in MSS from the outside, trying to put moments and trifles from recent events in order and give them a deeper meaning, greatcharlie hypothesizes that Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS could not be certain of how the US Intelligence Community, and other foreign intelligence services for that matter, might apply pressure to its officers and operatives. For them, that is always the pinch. To do something more than just study the matter, they may have created a scenario that would likely shock MSS personnel in the field: the defection of the MSS Vice Minister, for counterintelligence nonetheless. That might explain why Dong’s good name was thrown into the mix of something so repugnant. Dong and his managers could test what may have been a working theory on the likely causality of some occurrence, in this case it would have been collusion with anti-China forces, and see if it could be confirmed by facts through investigation. Indeed, Dong and his managers would have wanted to see for themselves how officers and operatives in the field would respond to a very deceptive approach that perchance in their minds could have plausibly been attempted by US counterintelligence.

Many of the MSS foreign intelligence networks and operations in the US, and elsewhere overseas, are run by MSS Provincial departments and municipal bureaus. It would most likely be the case that foreign intelligence and counterintelligence managers of those departments and bureaus would have understood that there would be no reason to leave their locations or try to leave the US in the case of such a defection. It would stand to reason that their identities as spies would likely remain unknown for the time being and everything would be handled by Beijing to prevent their capture and keep them safe. That would likely be instilled in training and before deployments. Expectedly, as a result of training, loyalty and dedication, equanimity and sangfroid would be displayed by officers and operatives. However, through experience one might postulate Dong could have felt that there are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. An unexpected blow to the MSS leadership as a defection of its chief of counterintelligence, which they depended upon for their very lives, might surprisingly elicit inordinate behavior among trained officers and operatives.

Dong might have conceptualized further that if one of his officers or operatives had even considered going over “to the other side” or perhaps might have already been in “friendly contact” with so-called “anti-China” force, the former might fear of being uncovered by an alleged defecting chief of MSS counterintelligence might impel them to act, the latter might want to use the situation to capitalize on the connection already made and go to the other side. (After reading what is presented here, perhaps some may accuse greatcharlie of having too much imagination, others may say, too little.)

A Thought about Future Defections by Foreign Intelligence to the US

As expressed in previous posts by greatcharlie, how the US handles every defection will surely shape decisions by officials to defect in the future.What US counterintelligence services do with defector would certainly have value for MSS to the extent that it could be used to discourage, plant in minds of officers and operatives that turning to the US would not be a wise choice. What prospective defectors might gather from the whole Dong business is that his or her defection could easily become a very public matter, very quickly in the US and eventually worldwide. It could be imagined by them that facts concerning who or what, when, where, how, and why would somehow be leaked to the news media. Rather than a serious concern, their defection might be presented and looked upon at least among some in the US as a banal amusement. Bookmakers in Las Vegas may very well have been taking bets on the outcome of it all: “Did he or did he not defect?, and “Will he stay in the US or be returned to China for one of our spies?” Regardless of the rank or position a prospective defector might be, he or she would hardly get the impression that the way Dong’s name was tossed about was nothing to signify, but rather unseemly. They would perhaps recognize that they would have little cause to expect any better treatment for themselves. None of this should be looked upon as exaggeration or fanciful if the Dong episode might be considered at all instructive. Using the backdrop of this episode as a gauge, one can only imagine what would go through the mind of an intelligence officer of adversarial country, wanting to defect when thinking about the treatment and well-being of his or her family members and himself or herself, how seriously their situation would be taken by the US, and what would be their final disposition. That may not portend well for the US Intelligence Community or prospective defectors. Hopefully, that will not be the case.

The Way Forward

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Despite pronouncements of Communist precepts that are designed to allow the society to evolve socially, economically, and politically, declarations to maintain an orderly society though a system of justice demanding obedience and assurances from the Communist Party of China on the smooth running of the state and conduct of government affairs aimed at supporting a high quality of life for the people, visible and publicly released reports of scientific achievements in the medical field to high-tech, greater endeavor in the vast ocean and into space, and the notices of accomplishments externally on foreign affairs and guaranteed that the country cannot be threatened, bullied, or taken advantage of ever again, China is nonetheless a nontransparent society. What one knows about China is what Beijing says is true. Independent observations that defy its realities are anathema in Beijing, and can be responded to harshly. There is plenty of secrecy. The frugal release of information on the Wuhan virus is the latest best example of that. Beijing, without fail, will double down further in secrecy when it comes to national security. Yet, to discerning eyes, what the world observes China doing also speaks volumes about what is highly likely being decided behind the scene. That was especially true in this case when ostensibly a man viewed widely in the Communist Party of China as one of the country’s most loyal and dedicated servants, was accused of what could be called the unthinkable. 

While Dong’s name has never been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in any way close to the manner it has been in just days before thus writing. For those somewhat familiar with such matters, greatcharlie’s editor, himself, being simply an enthusiast and nonpracticioner, well-separate from the intelligence world, the notion that that he of all people in Chinese intelligence would defect would be a bombshell neatly as big if Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, was said to have defected instead. That is simply unimaginable. 

Revenons à nos moutons. The hope of US counterintelligence should be “simply” to come into positive contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit some leaning toward an 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. 

Given the peculiarities of the world of intelligence, this analysis should not be considered too extravagant. The desire of greatcharlie is that nothing in this post would be deemed too fanciful by readers and a bit of their curiosity on the topic at hand would be satisfied. Admittedly, it would be doubly satisfying to know what is presented here might  resonate with a few in US counterintelligence services grappling with the Chinese espionage conundrum. However, if greatcharlie has not achieved the latter, the 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, sums up its sentiment in Poème sur la Loi naturelle (1756), Quatrième partie: Je n’en dirai pas plus sur ces points délicats. / Le ciel ne m’a point fait pour régir les États, / Pour conseiller les rois, pour enseigner les sages.” (I will not say more on these delicate points./ heaven made me not to govern states, / To counsel kings, to teach wise men. Spero melior. (I hope for better things.)

Food for Thought for US Companies Maintaining Robust Operations in China despite Beijing’s Strained Relations with Washington

The Great Wall of China (above) actually consists of numerous walls built over two millennia across northern China and southern Mongolia. The most extensive version of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty. Despite the Great Wall’s construction, China has always been relatively open to contact and trade with foreigners. The Communist Party of China would explain that due to such openness, in more recent times, China was the victim of Western “imperialist,” “capitalist” countries that reaped huge benefits from it. Many foreign companies currently operate in China, but their host, quite different from the past, is a world power. The Communist Party calls China’s success the vindication of an ancient civilization after a ‘century of humiliation.” China desires to take the title of the dominant power in the world and in its quest has created a challenging situation with the US. US companies in China must closely watch how US-China relations “progress,” and well-consider what prospective outcomes could mean for them.

Many in the US government’s foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing apparently do not want to tell too much about its actions and intentions and what its intelligence services are doing against the US, possibly for fear of metaphorically frightening the horses,  the US public. The Communist Party of China has at least demonstrated to itself that it had all the cleverness to outwit, outmaneuver, and surpass some preceding US administrations in its quest to establish the People’s Republic as the world’s dominant power. China’s accomplishments in that direction are now recognized by many policy experts as being far more significant than once realized. Relatively recent, popular books on US-China relations cut to the foundation of that which was perhaps previously satisfying and assuring in US policy circles about Beijing’s actions and intentions. While is far from exhaustive, among list of such books that greatcharlie has read or reread on the matter are: Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt and Company, 2015); Steven Mosher, Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order (Regnery Publishing, 2017); Robert Spalding, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019); and, Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019). Those with a keen interest in what has popularly been called “The China Threat” surely possess copies of one or more of these texts and likely have frequently made a long arm for copies in their libraries for reference. Though recognizing their popularity, greatcharlie would not dare hint at some rank or order of them for it would only open the door to judgments of its choices which is beside the matter. For its April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed Gertz’s Deceiving the Sky. Of course, a treasure trove of excellent, recent academic books on US-China relations have been presented by university press and think tank publishers, which includes a few greatcharlie has appreciated and recommends: Michael E. O’Hanlon and James Steinberg, A Glass Half Full?: Rebalance, Reassurance, and Resolve in the U.S.-China Strategic Relationship (Brookings Institution Press, 2017); Elizabeth Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the Chinese State (Oxford University Press, 2018); Clyde Prestowitz, The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership (Yale University Press, 2021); and, Ryan Hass, Stronger: Adapting America’s China Strategy in an Age of Competitive Interdependence (Yale University Press, 2021).

Despite readily discernible differences of each text, their respective discussions harmonize on the point that China is in the midst of implementing a strategy to supplant the US as the world’s dominant power. Some say the deadline for this takeover is 2049, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, but others believe it may come earlier. (Some policy circles in the US have assessed dispiritedly that it has happened already.) To that extent, on an additional common point, the authors explain how preceding US administrations, with an apparent tinge of romanticism, misguidedly believed that the US could somehow guide and manage China’s industrialization, trade and overall economic development and thereby impact its political and social development. They also explain how, in some instances, the US government has unwittingly assisted China in achieving its goal of world dominance. In fact, each author essentially declares that China is a national security challenge for the US and its allies. China has made that very clear by building island seabases to secure claims of sovereignty over waters in the South China Sea, conduct overflights of the airspace and naval incursions into the waters of US allies in the region, regularly organize parades of their latest weapon systems, and marches of tens of thousands of men, stupefying to the eyes. The authors by in large suggest that the US should implement a more competitive strategy toward China, as it really is, to get a handle on it, by using all instruments of national power and urging US allies in Asia and outside to do the same. The efforts of the aforementioned authors, and many authors of notable books not discussed here, to expose China for the danger they believe it poses is driven not by antipathy but rather by evidence. There is materiality on the balance of negative probabilities which they have dug up in their research and revealed in their works. 

Given what generally presented, it would appear that China may not be the safest country for US companies to operate in at the present. Being steeped in matters concerning China, and they certainly are, one might presume that senior executives of firms there have already formed positions. Perhaps the best answer for senior executives of US companies is to consider moving their operations to a country that presents no risk or at a minimum, far less risk than China at the moment while the opportunity still exists. Yet, as many US companies are operating robustly in China, clearly moving out is not the course that all senior executives would agree upon. With un fil di voce, greatcharlie, cautiously takes on the task of shining some light on why they would continue operating in China despite problems their firms could face as a result of a collapse in US-China relations or even conflict between the two countries. Some not so subtle changes in attitudes and behaviors of Chinese officials toward the US in recent times are examined to develop insights on specific reactions that should be expected from Beijing. The possibility is considered that Beijing may have plans to make their companies targets of its wrath in the event such dark days come. Simply with the possibility of trouble on the horizon, it would seem their respective companies will soon become targets of China’s public security and intelligence services in very apparent ways. Along with think tank scholars, academics, policy analysts, and military and diplomatic officials, journalists, and students that would hopefully be an interested audience for this essay, greatcharlie would hope that senior executives of US companies with considerable operations in China, might take note as it directly concerns their efforts. Absent from the discussion is any mention of the identities of companies that have placed themselves in, or may have in some way fallen into, a somewhat precarious position in China as greatcharlie believes that information is immaterial, away from the heart of the matter. As for the senior executives of US companies, they are only referred to in the third person as the sole goal here is to touch upon the likely prospective broad range of thinking among them, not to throw the spotlight upon anyone. Make no mistake, greatcharlie is not offering any business advice to anyone. It is stated without pretension that such would be out of its province, and any impressions of the kind caused by this writing should not be given flight. The aim is to provide a look at some important issues from a new angle, provoke thought, and contribute to the greater discourse on the matter at hand. Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.)

People’s Liberation Army forces on parade in Beijing (above). In the past, US administrations believed the US could somehow guide and manage China’s industrialization, trade and overall economic development and thereby impact its political and social development. Some scholars assert that in certain instances, the US government unwittingly assisted China in achieving its goal of becoming the world’s dominant power. China is surely a national security challenge for the US and its allies now. It has made that very clear by building island seabases to secure claims of sovereignty over waters in the South China Sea, conduct overflights of the airspace and naval incursions into the waters of US allies in the region, regularly organize, parades of their latest weapon systems, and marches of tens of thousands of men, stupefying to the eyes.

“Perfidious Communist China”

“Perfidious Albion” is the nickname that French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte would use to acidulously refer to his arch rival Great Britain, which he considered to be treacherous in international affairs, distrustful of foreigners, and had a knack for frustrating his plans. Albion is a literary or poetic term most often used for Britain or England of Ancient or historical times. The term, “Le perfid Albion,” was said to have been first used by Augustin-Louis, Marquis de Ximenès, the 18th century French poet and playwright. In the same vain that the term, “Perfidious Albion,” was used by Napoleon, perhaps the term, “Perfidious Communist China,” could be used in Washington in reference to China as US leaders must remain suspicious and distrustful of it. Leaders of the Communist Party of China do not leave any room for doubt that they are determined to bring down the US in order to claim the title of dominant power in the world. Moreover, they are clearly willing to use whatever jiggery-pokery it takes and use, so far within tolerable limits, the aggression needed to achieve that goal. 

Becoming the world’s dominant power may not seem to some as a worthy pursuit for a developed, industrialized country. The US essentially fell into the role and has held it as a matter of events, fate, and necessity, though arguably some political leaders in the early years of the 20th century, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, envisioned the country reaching the top. Many countries and national leaders in the past two centuries that sought the mantle can now be found upon what former US President Ronald Reagan in 1982 referred to as the “ash heap of history.” Yet, it is the Communist Party of China’s pursuit nonetheless, and Beijing seems to be moving inexorably toward that goal. The strategy to reach its objective apparently from the start was far larger in conception than some in US foreign and defense policy and business circles still appear willing to consider. 

The words of the Chinese officials have begun to reflect the Communist Party of China’s unsheathed antipathy toward the US. The Party, itself, might explain the words of the Chinese officials rightfully manifest the tone of a country once victimized, yet not demoralized by Western “imperialist,” “capitalist” countries that reaped benefits from it. (Truth be told, by the late 1800s, China was “carved up like a melon” by foreign powers competing for spheres of influence over trade and territory.)  The Party line is that China’s success is the vindication of an ancient civilization after a “century of humiliation.” Their words have the flavor of officials from a country that has been executing a clearly defined strategy to unseat the US as the world’s dominant power. It often smacks of something personal for members of the Communist Party of China. With regard to the officials and diplomats of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this behavior was briefly discussed in the June 30, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences.”

Such qualities in Chinese officials words could be ascribed to those expressed by the People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at bilateral meeting with a US delegation in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. The US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. Blinken, indeed, started the meeting off by telling the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. However, Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US over what he described as its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies.

Yang’s words of reproach and his demeanor were completely out of character for an opening statement, particularly a very public one, for a bilateral meeting between industrialized powers. If the matter were not so serious and the prospects for improved relations between the two countries so grim, it might have been characterized as satire and marked down as a response. Needless to say concerning the speeches given by the two senior officials of the Chinese delegation in Anchorage, bon mot, they were not! Previously, there was an apparent Chinese doctrine of moderation in talks with other countries. Calmness and authority was once shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances by officials. This more assertive approach as of late has pulled Chinese officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture.

Overall, Yang, as well as Wang when he spoke immediately after him, comported themselves with an astringency which some critics would agree uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Certainly, as discussed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2021 post, one could not help but get the impression by the vexatious words used lately by Chinese negotiators that all talks and perhaps the overall situation with the US, something even more is going on with Beijing’s thinking. It may very well be that leaders of the Communist Party of China have been satisfied enough with its accomplishments and ongoing progress towards surpassing the US that they have approved behavior by officials in interactions with foreign counterparts that would indicate the transition of power has already occurred. In the New American Bible, it is written in Luke 6:45: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

In its April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie also postulates that the Chinese officials appear to be presenting themselves as symbols of national resistance to US power. The Chinese officials wanted not just the US delegation, but the world to pay heed to their exhortations concerning the US. Such public behavior is part of what is known as united front work under Communist Party of China. During the current rule of the People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, united front work calls for the never-ending, enthusiastic promotion of the Communust Movement, the Communist Party of China, Xi, and the People’s Republic, and a lot of other things. The Communist Party of China is happy to foster animus toward the US wherever it may be found in the world as well as cause foment over such where it can. James Baldwin, the 20th century US novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, rightly recognized in his fascinating September 23, 1979 New York Times interview: “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

The future situation is not entirely clear. One might reasonably suspect that while Beijing wants a peaceful resolution to the most stressing geopolitical issues it faces with regard to the US, it is uncertain whether they would even imagine accepting a balanced one. Real success for Beijing may very likely mean achieving some major advantages across issues in contention with the US. Looking at the extreme alternative, measuring what it might lose against what it might gain in some limited use of force, its judgments are likely balanced on perceptions of the will of the US to act and to sacrifice in such a way to actually protect its interests and allies in the region. Another factor included in the forecasts of Beijing’s moves would perhaps be the temperament of Xi. Conflict of any kind would have a dreadful impact on US companies in China. The lead up to any turn for the worse would likely mean problems for their operations and their employees in-country. As would be expected, some US companies have moved out or have expressed plans to move out. Other companies appear to be tiptoeing in the same direction. Still, there are those firms that are not just reluctant, but unwilling to take a new course. 

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). In an April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie postulates that the Chinese officials appear to be presenting themselves on the world stage as symbols of national resistance to US power. That was apparent during a bilateral meeting in Anchorage , Alaska in March 2021. Chinese officials wanted not just the US delegation, but the world to pay heed to their exhortations concerning the US. Such public behavior is part of what is known as united front work. Under the current rule of the People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, Chinese officials appear required to engage in a never-ending, enthusiastic promotion of the Communust Movement, the Communist Party of China, Xi, and the People’s Republic, and a lot of other things.

Do Not Rely on Beijing’s Goodwill!

Knowing what is wrong is not as great as knowing how to fix the problem. Moreover, one must accept there is a problem and be willing to fix it. In his philosophical and autobiographical treatise, “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences” (1637), the renowned 17th French philosopher René Descartes wrote: “And thus, the actions of life often not allow any delay, it is a truth very certain that, when it is not in our power to determine the most true opinions we ought to follow the most probable.” In the small hours of the morning, one might imagine US executives look within to find the truest answer to how to proceed given all that they have been informed of respectively. 

What greatcharlie has discovered in its own research and the voluminous scholarly sources that support the view that danger lies ahead is that from the aggregate of respective discussions in recent books and other publications in this vein, this idea can be confidently drawn by business executives in question, too! More so, executives sophisticated enough to create a successful space for their companies in China have sufficient information available to them even beyond what outside experts offer, to include reports from the US government, that would allow them to grasp the potential impact of decisions they might make. Undoubtedly, capable and diligent regional specialists in their own companies have collected and presented similar information on the dangers of remaining in China. Everything asserted about the threat Beijing poses to US companies can be substantiated by a history of necessary commiserations between company senior executives and decision-makers of the Communist Party of China.

Yet, while it is most apparent that China’s recent past clearly is not without stain, that fact appears to be by the by to those senior executives of US companies working robustly in China who choose to remain. They will not allow their minds to be biased by theories and suspicions suggested by those who do not have the type of investment at stake in China as their respective companies. They are unwilling to condescend to what they would call fear mongering about the Communist Party of China. China appears to have won many of them and those in that number will hear nothing against it. In this discussion, greatcharlie leaves aside any suggestion that the continued investment by US companies in China is the result of some urge among their senior executives to act in a knowingly dangerous way, l’appel du vide. What those business executives may believe is that in their own assessments of Beijing, they have the advantage of being well informed through what they might characterize as their own most informative, “regular” contacts and “substantive” conversations with officials of Chinese government bureaucracies and leaders of the Communist Party of China. They may believe their relationships with them are strong, bien entretenue. Many appear willing and some comforted by refusing to look beyond what Beijing presents about itself. In that respect, some have become metaphorically tone deaf to warnings concerning all urgent matters now underway. It was expressed by Aristophanes in Clouds (423 BC): “To invoke solely the weaker arguments and yet triumph is a talent worth more than a hundred thousand drachmae.”

As for Beijing’s guile and maneuvering, some of the senior executives even at this point would doubtlessly declare that the evidence that has publicly presented on its malign actions and intentions as something akin to an albeit a peculiar rag bag of singular happenings. Ironically, they might sarcastically note that some new wrinkle of China’s malevolence comes to light practically “every ten seconds” as the 20th century US humorist Sam Levenson might remark to defuse the tension caused by the subject.

In A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Elena Gorokhova recounts growing up under the Communist government of the Soviet Union in the 1960s, and tells of her discovery of the hidden truths about adulthood and her country’s profound, brazen lies. Gorokhova recounts: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying but they keep lying anyway, and we keep pretending to believe them.” The regime in Communist China operates in a similar deceitful fashion both at home and abroad. There are doubtlessly many more aspects of Beijing’s thinking and behavior that have not as yet been discerned or at least publicly reported. They may become known only after a situation literally blows up. One might state that within the Communist Party of China, the powers of evil are exalted, anything negative is possible. 

The latest word from the US Intelligence Community is that the US supply chain from China now faces real threat. There are a few normal factors that can affect US supply chains, including production shortages, trade disruptions and natural disasters. However, the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) has warned that “actions by foreign adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities in US supply chains pose unique counterintelligence and security threats.” According to the NCSC, foreign adversaries are increasingly using companies and trusted suppliers as “attack vectors” against the US for espionage, information theft and sabotage. Officials warned that those actions compromise the products and services that “underpin America’s government and industry” and warned of the effects–“lost intellectual property, jobs, economic advantage, and reduced military strength.”

What is shared by the US government on Beijing’s plans and intention toward companies foreign working in China should be fully heeded by US companies. Beijing would of course become indignant claiming Western arrogance would lead accusers to say an idea was stolen. Perhaps Chinese government spokespersons would rely upon words similar to those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes, who in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” the third story of 13 in the The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), stated: “What one man can invent, another can discover.” 

Simple facts can go some way to explain what might be recognized as a charitable position. To that extent, distortions of truth from Beijing or other trusted or favored sources are far more satisfying as a result of an infatuation with a present preoccupation. In arguments, the business executives will mistakenly grab the nearest evidence to hand that would uniquely support their perspective. What they might characterize as the “stirring of alarm” would likely be inexplicable to those who have not abandoned the idea that China acts in goodwill. They would likely assert that China’s sense of a rivalry between itself and the US is natural given geopolitical, geostrategic, economic considerations alone. Indeed, among those reluctant to accept what present evidence insists upon, one might find that almost every decision to carry on with their current business plans in China is likely founded upon a mix of reality and imagination.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2021, in the weeks that surrounded the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese leaders waged an information campaign aimed at the US business community. It included a flurry of speeches, letters and announcements. Of special note was a February 2021 speech by the Communist Party of China’s  foreign policy director, Yang, to a virtual audience of US business leaders and former government officials. Initially laying out a very positive situation for investment and trade opportunities in China, he then offered the stern warning that Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan are “red lines” that anyone from the US should remain silent about. He also made the demand that the business community lobby the new Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump administration policies toward China which he excoriated. 

Without the intent of being folsom, greatcharlie states that there are highly qualified individuals that serve as senior executives at companies. In their respective fields, these professionals are generally known and admired for their astute judgments, being steady and reliable, and having keen minds and the laudable capacity to reason. Finding answers to such situations were what the executives were hired for. Being incommoded by the regulations of China’s bureaucracies would by no means be new to them and they would expect to find a way to work around any problems. Their thoughts would remain focused on optimizing their respective companies’ investments in China. That would be the vintage way of thinking, so to speak.

One might go as far as to suppose that some US business executives may feel that if accomplishing that meant being under some recherché obligation to Beijing, they would accept that. They doubtlessly would expect to gain additional favor from the Communist Party of China through such loyalty. As a bonus of taking such a step, they might believe they would be taking the steps that would allow them to avoid a serious dilemma in the near future. (Such would hardly be a schema Beijing would feel obligated to follow, and indeed, something one should not plan for.) One might expect to occasionally hear expressions of appreciation from US companies to the most senior leaders of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people for their “magnanimity.” In fact, they have been heard. Those companies could do no greater service for Beijing than to take such a course. Those in the US outraged by China’s overall behavior toward the US and its allies would very likely call it a perverse allegiance.

Perhaps conditions for some companies were never idyllic to start, and any new circumstances that arise are just one more hurdle to overcome. One might suppose that for senior executives of US companies in China, navigating any problems that have arisen so far has been a bit similar to white water rafting. It is a challenge, but in the end overall satisfying. To speak more in metaphors, senior executives of most US companies still operating in China likely feel that they successfully managed the disturbed sea of those relations by monitoring essential currents and will achieve further success by navigating them intelligently. Indeed, in many cases having spent years inveigling their way into many meetings with Communist Party of China leaders and government officials they likely feel that have created links with them near equal to those that exist between those same Party leaders and officials that the executives of China’s state-run companies. They are likely confident that as a result of those linkages, their companies’ investments In China are to the greatest extent possible shielded from any possible troubles in relations between Beijing and Washington. In corporate conference rooms and meetings with Communist Party of China or other government officials, any dark imaginings of Beijing’s behavior evaporate fastest. Conceivably, ideas and attitudes expressed In those same conference rooms of US companies are very likely encapsulated with the quip: “I will believe it when I see it.” There may very well be companies planning to simply carry on even under the worst circumstances should it come to that. 

Yet, many have doubtlessly assessed that contrary to the reports of experts, they have so far had no reason to regret, nor do they believe they shall have any reason to regret their speculation in China. Until they are caused to accept anything to the contrary, one could imagine certain senior executives of US companies would happily seek to remain in their offices in China. The claim that Beijing could turn against them in some profound way may simply be a counterfactual. Perchance senior executives still engaged in robust operations in China believe Beijing’s intentions are the best and would refer to all of the negative talk of Beijing’s intentions as slander. Presumably, senior executives of US companies, having minimized in their own minds the danger that China presents, might suggest to other senior executives whose companies are similarly invested in China, that no one should get ahead of oneself in reaction to what they may have heard or observed of those companies that have moved out. Perhaps the retention of that mindset, a certain stubbornness among some, may be a prime obstacle in convincing them to open their eyes. Assuming that all have the best intentions at heart, one might believe that differences in thinking among senior executives of US companies are mostly a matter of clarification 

There are situations in which even the most accomplished business executives might find themselves helpless. No US firm should count upon the goodwill of Beijing to help see them through the storm of greatly deteriorated relations, or the catastrophe of a clash, between the US and China. Beijing time and again has proven that it is unworthy of such trust. Most US companies operating in China or have an extremely close relationship with Party leaders and government officials, they should not expect that they would be able to just carry-on as they have been no matter what. By the mere fact that they are Western companies representing Western capitalism, there would be a fairly good chance that they would fall afoul of the Communist regime in Beijing. That has been a reality all along.

To be as frank as possible, the Communist Party of China has no love for them. Without a shadow of doubt, many Party leaders yearn to reach that day in the future when China can show its true colors, declare broad powers over all foreign companies and severely alter terms of any signed agreements to immensely favor its own interests, if a firm is allowed to remain in China at all. Surely they believe there would be more than one parallel Chinese firm of its respective industry to replace just about every foreign entity, except those as the National Basketball Association (NBA), and could take on their markets even in the US.

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (above). In the weeks that surrounded the inauguration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese leaders waged an information campaign aimed at the US business community. It included a flurry of speeches, letters and announcements. Of special note was a February 2021 speech by the Communist Party of China’s foreign policy director, Yang, to a virtual audience of US business leaders and former government officials. Initially laying out a very positive situation for investment and trade opportunities in China, he then offered the stern warning that Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan are “red lines” that anyone from the US should remain silent about. He also made the demand that the business community lobby the new Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump administration policies toward China which he excoriated.

Recent Displays of Beijing’s Tactfulness toward Foreign Companies

The renowned English philosopher and physician, John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), wrote: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” There have been a few  fresh events in China concerning foreign companies operating there over the grave issue of members of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far west, being used as forced labor in factories. They may provide some clues as to the sort of subterfuge and sophistry senior executives of US companies still operating in China should expect, and perhaps things even more intense. (In citing news articles concerning these events, greatcharlie felt some reluctance given a few US companies are directly mentioned in them and that information is central to understanding the events that occurred. However, to the extent that these incidents were well-supported in the news media, the sense that anything fresh about the firms was being revealed was mitigated.)

In an extensive new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think-tank founded by Australia’s government, between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government relocated at least 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang in western China to factories across the country where they work “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.” The report further explains that the manufacturers using these transported Uyghurs supply at least 83 international companies making everything from footwear to electronics. Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.” 

Beijing has denied all of these claims, declaring them to be unjust aspersions. It has stated that rather than running forced labor camps, it is providing vocational training, and that its measures are needed to fight extremism. Recall that Xinjiang was an issue broached by Blinken at the bilateral talks in Anchorage. In January, Washington had banned Xinjiang cotton used widely by clothing producers for Western markets. The US, the European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang in March 2020. . China retaliated with sanctions on European lawmakers and institutions.

According to a March 27, 2021 Bloomberg report, Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), the Swedish multinational, expressed the view in March 2021 statements that it’s “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities.” It was a risky move for H&M given that China is one of the five biggest markets for the company in terms of revenue with 5.2% of the group’s total sales in 2020. The company had opened 505 stores in China as of November 30, 2020. The company’s access to China, the Communist Party of China, and to customers was put on the line. Almost immediately, H&M encountered what was characterized as backlash over its statements from the company concerning issues surrounding Xinjiang. The company quickly removed its statement on Xinjiang from its website, on a separate link on its homepage expressing the same stance on Xinjiang cotton remained active.

Authors of the news story notably recognized that China’s response to H&M was markedly stronger than its previous pushback when foreign brands crossed political lines. Xi had already set a red line on the issue of China’s human rights record, and foreign companies surely understood at that point that addressing the issue in any way would mean picking a side. In a briefing in Beijing, Gao Feng, a spokesman for the Chinese Commerce Ministry, essentially proscribed H&M’s statements as slanderous ravings. He reportedly said: “We can’t tolerate any forces bringing shame on and tarnishing the pure and flawless Xinjiang cotton.” He went on to state: “Chinese consumers have acted in response to the so-called business decisions made by some companies based on false information. We hope the relevant companies will respect market laws, correct wrong practices, and avoid the politicization of commercial issues.”

As would be expected, H&M’s statement was blasted by organizations such as the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on social media. However, there was also rising outcry and calls for a boycott on Chinese social media against an undated H&M statement over its website that also expressed concern about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang. At least six stores in the lower-tiered cities of Urumqi, Yinchuan, Changchun and Lianyunang have been shut down by the owners of the properties, according to mall operators in those areas who were contacted by Bloomberg. Local media have reported more closures and pictures showing H&M’s brand billboards being removedThe global clothing retailer’s outlets have also vanished on Apple Maps and Baidu Maps searches.

Adverse effects from the H&M’s statement about forced labor in the contentious region of Xinjiang have spread to other Western brands that have voiced their views on the matter. DW News noted that the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) declared in October 2020 that it was suspending cotton sourced from Xinjiang for the 2020-2021 fashion season, also citing concerns over that region’s human rights. BCI, formed in 2009 and based in Geneva, Switzerland  states that it was formed to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. Its goal is to transform cotton production worldwide by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. Members include US-based Nike, Germany-based Adidas, Japan-based Fast Retailing, as well as China-based ANTA. Certainly, BCI members would not comment idly on such a grave matter or any matter for that case.

As foreign companies speak out concerning Xinjiang and forced labor, they are being targeted for treatment. China’s government-aligned English language newspaper the Global Times cited Burberry and New Balance as having made “cutting remarks” about Xinjiang cotton two years ago. It also cited the brand Zara as having expressed a “zero-tolerance approach towards forced labor.” ANTA, a Chinese shoe brand announced it was quitting BCI and would continue buying Xinjiang cotton–prompting a spike in its share prices on Hong Kong’s Han Seng Index.

Chinese social media users expressed umbrage against Western sanctions over alleged abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province by ostracizing further global clothing and footwear brands. DW News quoted one “netizen” as stating: “If you boycott Xinjiang cotton, we’ll boycott you. Either Adidas quits BCI, or get out of China.” Social media posts in China have reportedly also mentioned the Japanese and US brands Uniqlo and Gap but it was unclear whether the people posting messages were private citizens or government plants online. Two popular Chinese television stars, Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun, reportedly said they would end promotional work for Nike over remarks it made in 2020. China’s People’s Daily newspaper began a social media campaign via the microblog Weibo, using a slogan translating as “I support Xinjiang cotton. Citing Reuters, DW News explained many Chinese online users said they would instead support local Asian brands such as Li Ning and ANTA, prompting share price surges in Hong Kong. The US government has called attention to China’s state-run social media campaign and boycott against foreign companies that refuse to use cotton from Xinjiang. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter stated that tactic amounts to a state-run “corporate and consumer boycott.”

Taking a closer look at what has been directed at Nike, according Reuters it faces rather a singular social media storm in China over its statement concerning Xinjiang Indeed, anger with Nike reportedly erupted on Chinese social media late immediately after China’s netizens spotted a statement from the sporting goods giant saying it was “concerned” about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang and that it does not use cotton from the region. There is a well-known love affair among the Chinese people and basketball shoes worn by NBA players. It was no small matter. 

Topics around the Nike statement were among the highest trending on China’s Twitter-like social media Weibo the day it was revealed and the social media backlash had a wider fallout. It was in direct response to Nike’s statement concerning Xinjiang and social media criticism on social media, that the agency representing actor Wang Yibo stated on Weibo that he has terminated his contract as a representative for Nike. It was not apparent when exactly Nike had put out the statement. It did not have a date on it. Nike explained in the statement: “We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).” It also stated: “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.” To prevent further interference, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times urged Western companies to be “highly cautious” and not to “suppress China’s Xinjiang” in a social media post. To do so, Hu anticipated, would “undoubtedly arouse the anger of the Chinese public,” he added. He did not single out any companies.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher, writer, and co)mposer of the then independent Calvinist city-state of Geneva, explained in The Social Contract (1762): “Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves.” Naturally, foreign companies operating in China will attempt ameliorate and perhaps resolve Xinjiang controversy or any other with Beijing, senior executives of those companies be assured that the Communist Party of China’s memory of even temporary disrespectful acts and what its leaders may perceive as betrayal through declarations of concerns on what are in reality documented human rights abuses, substantiated by Western government sources, will be long.

A heavily secured industrial park in Xinjiang, China (above). In a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government relocated at least 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang in western China to factories across the country where they work “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.” The report also explains that manufacturers using these transported Uyghurs supply at least 83 international companies making everything from footwear to electronics. The Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps. Beijing has denied such claims.

Experience Speaks?

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) As aforementioned, with consideration of a full range of facts on the current situation between the US-China, to include many discussed here, as well as other key business considerations, some US companies have accepted that the risks are too great to remain and rather than wait for a crisis to arise. To the senior executives of those companies, China’s true, malevolent nature appears to be self-evident. Aware of those practices first-hand, they watch likely in horror as other US companies confidently stroll into the Chinese tangles from which they avoided or feel they escaped. Hope undoubtedly remains even among those companies that have already left that Xi and the Communist Party of China are not intending anything tragic. Any positive prospects for their future reinvestment in China surely rest upon what comes next with Xi and the Biden-Harris administration.

Those with a turn of mind to commit themselves to a defense of China’s behavior as a “competitor” of the US, and commit to even greater investment there, may eventually find themselves obliged to be a bit more obedient to Beijing’s wishes if events cause the authoritarian Chinese government to make its true self clear to them. If that day comes, the sense of the scale of its malignant being and purpose will likely be overwhelming. Those dead-enders, though they would hardly see themselves as such, will discover just how masterful Beijing has been at deception, offering satisfying explanations and signing agreements that really had no meaning. 

Some senior executives whose companies remain in China may already fear doing anything to subvert Beijing and incurring its wrath upon their respective interests. Others will perhaps be paralyzed to act in a crisis having been sufficiently instilled with fearfulness over a perception that the Chinese government will become noisy and rough. Even then, reaching a low point but not yet bottom, it would not be too late to accept the loss, as wise business executives sometimes must do, and move out.

Fallaces sunt rerum species. (The appearances of things are deceptive.) The security of US companies, all foreign companies, working in China, is a subject greatcharlie previously broached on the individual employees of those companies might face. Certainly, security offices of any US companies whose executives and staff frequently visit China should have long since arranged opportunities to brief those employees on problems they could possibly face in China. Such briefings might include the discussion of ways to subtly execute defensive measures to defeat Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), PLA Joint Staff Department human intelligence groups, and any Communist Party of China intelligence organs (e.g., the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the super secret and malignant International (Liaison) Department, the United Front Work Department, and the Propaganda Department) from capturing information that meets their organizations’ immediate intelligence requirements as well as whatever information that managers of those spy organizations may deem useful otherwise.

What was presented in the discussion of the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago” on security precautions employees of foreign companies must take in China seems worthy of review as background. The discussion is preclosed here. Only the more apposite points are presented.

As discussed, the foreign visitor is always a potential target for province and municipal offices of MPS and MSS. The capability of Chinese authorities to use technological means to keep a close eye on foreigners and detect, apprehend, and deal with those who protest and oppose the government has been enhanced immensely. Two sensational articles in the New York Times, “A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers” dated December 17, 2019, and “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras,” dated July 8, 2018, well lay out the increased use of technology in MPS and MSS surveillance efforts. Reportedly, as part of Xi’s effort to have the security services take on a greater role in China, he has launched a major upgrade of their surveillance capabilities. China, as a result, has become the world’s largest market for security and surveillance technology. It is reported that almost 300 million cameras have been installed in the country. Government contracts are supporting research and development into technologies that track faces, clothing and even a person’s gait. MPS officers on the beat have been observed using experimental gadgets such as facial-recognition glasses. In Zhengzhou, police and security services can use software to create lists of people. They can create virtual alerts when a targeted  individual approaches a specific location. They can acquire updates on people every hour or every day, and monitor anyone with whom those people have met, particularly if there exists a report that one or both individuals have committed an infraction.  Yet, while the new technology may ostensibly provide police and security services with a way to track criminals, it also improves their means to crack down on sympathizers of the protest movement in Hong Kong, critics of the Communist Party of China, and critics of the police and security services, themselves. Worse, it better enables the police and security services to target migrant workers who travel from the countryside to fill China’s factories and ethnic minority groups as the Uyghurs.

On the street, the surveillance of foreigners will typically be relatively light, calibrated to ensure utilization of an optimal number of officers and informants in the role of surveillance operatives in the field. Doing so also facilitates the monitoring process. The more surveillance one uses the more reports that must be reviewed to find one aggregate picture of what occurred. MPS counterintelligence officers will regularly collect and closely review reports on a foreigner’s behavior via informants among neighbors in the vicinity of their residence and locals among colleagues at work. They would be interested in knowing if they have engaged in behaviors that would make them open to recruitment. Their attitudes toward China and its system would be important. The friendships they have made would be of interest. From the reports of informants and technical surveillance, assessments of what type of temptations could be used, if necessary, to bring them to China’s side based on observations of the foreigner’s lifestyle. 

In its December 13th post, greatcharlie additionally cites Articles 9, 11, 12, and 13 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress to explain that for citizens of the People’s Republic of China, the motivations of money ideology, conspiracy, and excitement do not factor in such a decision to come to call of their country’s intelligence services. The law requires them to do so. If any motivations at all could be said to factor in a Chinese citizen’s decision to obey the direction of an intelligence service, expectedly the Communist Party of China would list faith and adherence to the ideals of the Communist Revolution, the Communist Party of China, patriotism, and the homeland. Supposedly, revolutionary zeal drives the heart of China as “one beating heart.”

Since that writing, the NCSC provided, on Twitter, three articles from China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017, Cybersecurity Law of 2016, and, National Security Law of 2015. NCSC explained its aim in doing so was to help those entering an agreement with a company based in China better understand the legal landscape and that Chinese companies will provide data they obtain or information stored on their networks to China’s state security apparatus upon request. More directly, the NCSC wants US citizens to better understand by its message that Chinese companies and citizens are required to assist in intelligence efforts against them by law. Under Article 7 of the PRC’s National Intelligence Law (2017), NCSC cites: “All organizations and citizens SHALL support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law, and shall protect national work secrets they are aware of.” Under Article 28 of the PRC’s Cybersecurity Law (2016), it cites, “Network operators SHALL provide technical support and assistance to public security and national security organs that are safeguarding and investigating criminal activities in accordance with the law.” Under Article 77 of the PRC’s National Security Law (2015), it cites, “Citizens and organizations SHALL provide the following obligations for safeguarding national security,” and then cites section specifically (5), which instructs: “Provide national security authorities, public security authorities, and military authorities with needed support and assistance.”

The foreign businessman, scientist, engineer, academic or any other type of professional  working closely with a Chinese counterpart in China may not be aware that he or she is being monitored by that same friendly colleague. It should be expected. When told, it may be so emotionally shocking to outsiders  that it may very well be near impossible to believe. Perhaps refusing to accept that reality is the only way a foreigner can continue to function comfortably in China. In any event, it is the responsibility of the Chinese citizen to engage in such activity under the National Security law. To that extent, friendship with Chinese colleagues may never be authentic as there is an element to the interaction between the foreigner and the Chinese citizen that is cloaked. China comes first. The foreigner is inconsequential to that reality. Ordinary people doing a little this and a little that for the MPS as well as the MSS is a norm.

Although it has not as yet become a commonplace problem, if a foreigner visiting China for the purpose of business or tourism, accepts  documents, notebooks, and books, the traveler might discover quite surprisingly that he or she is carrying items that contain sensitive data the possession of which could be considered criminal. Those illicit materials would have been presented to the traveler intentionally, perhaps even by a Chinese citizen with whom the traveler may have a positive personal relationship, almost certainly at the behest of MPS or MSS. It was said somewhere that it is terrible to find an enemy in a friend, but it is much worse not to find a friend in a friend. (Given the uncertainty of what may result from contact with Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence units, ordinary Chinese citizens typically will not seek out contact with them nor independently engage in activity with foreigners outside of the workplace on matters related to their work. They will focus on true personal relationships on personal matters, human interests.)

One must also be very cautious about accepting recording devices or recorded materials, or any devices, thumb drives, dvds, or materials that may include video or audio recordings unless one can be absolutely certain as to their contents. Documents contained in any of these media may prove to be government documents concerning confidential matters, and not any run-of-the-mill confidential matters at that. One must immediately open the documents and read them before those who presented them using a laptop or tablet. The review of the recordings posthaste could be passed off as an affected display of ebullience and appreciation of the gift and wonderment about what it holds. 

As things stand, from year to year, the situation has not gotten better in terms of stability and safety. If troubles between the US and China ever begin to arise with regularity, such as detainments of employees of US companies, one might expect some form of ransom will be discreetly demanded by Chinese officials with a warning not to acknowledge their villainy to the world. More than just an aggressive act, it would be an expression of Beijing’s power over those companies, designed to work in the psyche of the US business executives. If a US companies is resolute about remaining in China, it would to be willing to accept that the situation could change rapidly for the worse, new ground rules could be put in for operating in a flash, and it would know without doubt who is really in charge. They would need to accept that ties back to the US would have little meaning to Beijing. The Communist Party of China would surely delight in exercising such power over Western “capitalist” guests. The door opening in that direction of what is outlined here can already be heard creaking.

President Xi in his People’s Liberation Army uniform on parade (above). It would be more than likely that if a military conflict between the US and China arose on the greater world stage, Beijing would lash out at available US targets right at home such as US companies and their employees. Indeed, when leaders of Communist Party of China are exhausted of tricks and manipulations, they often turn to the cane. If US companies were to face such a situation, the matter would need to be put right by senior executives of those companies at the crisis point, if at all possible.

Prospective Problems Ahead

ata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.) As US companies, by their own devices, continue to entangle themselves in meshes with Beijing, they may be grooming themselves to become subject to its machinations. An impregnable collection of evidence already indicates that Beijing’s desire to control Western business communities attitudes and behavior toward nearly anything Chinese. Perhaps one day US companies will awaken to the true character of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government after it is too late. Once any extraordinary conduct is exhibited by Beijing toward one or more US companies  it would be almost impossible for the US government to chuck itself in the mix in a calibrated way that mitigates such steps as opposed to exacerbating the situation.

As it was explained in the 14th century by the English lawyer, author, and statesman, Saint Thomas More, “What is deferred is not avoided.” Caught in such a conundrum, it would be best if US companies had already laid plans to respond to such a contingency well in advance of it. It would be the only way to have a fighting chance of getting some handle on it. Complete consideration of Beijing’s immoral side must be part of that assessment. Exactly how business executives might intend to put the matter right on their side under such circumstances is unknown. In spite of contingency planning, it is hard to see from greatcharlie’s vantage point what cards US business executives could realistically play to sway Beijing in such a crisis. They would be in a weak position to negotiate relief from Beijing. Perhaps it was in the process of planning for such a contingency, that senior executives of such companies along with their security offices recognized that it was time to leave.

Conceivably, the senior executives of some US companies in China might hold the idea that they might serve as “go-betweens,” neutral emissaries, who, while loyal to their US homeland, are also loyal and responsive to their Chinese hosts, and assist in finding some settlement between the US and China during a conflict. The idea would unlikely interest Beijing in wartime. Despite any notions senior executives might have of their ties to China and relationship with leaders of the Communist Party of China, during a war, they would most certainly be tagged as enemy aliens, perhaps dangerous enemy aliens, and handled with due care by MPS and Party security organs. In an atrocious yet very possible scenario, they may be tasked to perform high profile duties against their will for the Party’s Propaganda Department. United Work Department and International Department operatives might force them without compunction to any point resembling a front line of the conflict to demonstrate the senior executives recognition that China was on the correct side of the struggle and any of its actions against the US were righteous. Chinese security services might force them to visit foreign capitals, accompanied of course, to give speeches on how the US allegedly may have wrongfully threatened China’s interest and caused the conflict. One could imagine a hundred possibilities and none of them would be good for the senior executives. At about that point, the business executives will have the truest and fullest understanding of the Communist Party of China.

Interestingly enough, any decision by Beijing  to take steps against one or more US companies would undoubtedly be a measure decided upon in its own contingency planning in the event of a sudden ratcheting up of contentious relations with Washington. To that extent, what might happen to US companies stranded in China in such circumstances would assuredly be a fixed fate. Leaders of the Communist Party of China, under such circumstances, would hardly be inveigled by the platitudes of foreign business executives to be more lenient toward their companies. Any Party leaders would feel both angered and shamed if that perception was created about them within the Party’s membership. It is imaginable that such a bargaining effort would be responded to violently.

Essentially, any breakdown in relations between the US and China, or worse, a military conflict, would have an unfortunate effect upon the position of US companies operating there. More than likely, it would cause Beijing to lash out at available US targets right at home such as those US companies and their employees. Indeed, when the brains of the leadership of Communist Party of China are exhausted of tricks and manipulations, they have often turned to the cane. If US companies were to face such a situation, the matter would need to be put right by senior executives of those companies at the crisis point, if at all possible.

The Way Forward

Aligning the suppositions offered here on thinking over remaining in China with specific senior executives of US companies operating in China undoubtedly would not be too difficult for numerous investigative journalists if they preferred to do so. Yet, as mentioned on the outset of this post, their identities are immaterial with regard to the objective here which was to provide a picture of the challenging circumstances that those business executives face particularly from China’s public security and intelligence services, shed light upon what they are likely discussing among their counsels, and present insights on the decisions they have reached given the paths they have taken.

If credit might be given to their line of thinking of those US business executives resolute about remaining in China, it might be provided by F. Scott Fitzgerald in a February 1936 Esquire magazine essay entitled, “The Crack-Up.” Fitzgerald explains: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.” However, it cannot be denied that those executives are placing their respective companies’ interests in a vulnerable position by remaining on the ground in China. Some might call that a calculated risk. 

Worrisome is the possibility that some may be unable to fully grasp the effect of their own actions. If placed in a trying position by external events as a collapse in US-China relations or a military conflict between the two, it is hard to imagine how US business executives would preserve their respective companies’ operations in China or more generally, how they would actually act. They may very well be placing themselves in what could become a serious dilemma. Concerning those executives laser focused on the bottomline–some might say they should be, they might do better to employ their minds on the matter of the well-being of their employees and equities in China before there is some tumultuous event. Perhaps some would say greatcharlie is over-egging the pudding here. However, greatcharlie hopes only to be of some material assistance.

The world exists in an ordered universe and one expects everything to follow that design. There are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. Illusion must never be chosen over fact. Any senior executive of a US firm operating in China should have already been sufficiently aware of how Beijing is acting. Sentiment is a poor substitute for true feeling and fact. Ignorance more often than not dissolves into tragedy. While they are in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so while there is still time available. Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.)

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 Delphic 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.” Expectedly, 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 houses, 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 representatives, 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 able 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. Assuredly, impatience in any US operation would be 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 a 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 copies of To Catch a Spy, that 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 disconcert 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 assist some readers in better understanding what Olson is presenting to them. It is also hoped that thoughts shared by greatcharlie will encourage readers to weigh  their own impressions on those topics and 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 the US public, nonprofessional readers, in particular, and, in turn, offer some perspective to the counterintelligence professional on how the ave4age US citizen perceives 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 as well as allies. 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 certain facts, even if left out, can be viewed as being confirmed by them, seeing that those facts might alone be the sole solid basis upon which a particular inference could logically be made. Surely those hypotheses and arguments might be helpful to an adversary in developing any Red Team exercise. To that extent, security considerations may be the main reason why Olson avoids drawing too many inferences and presenting too many theories in the text. 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. Such an effort could effectively 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 operation being cracked or disrupted, there is never mention of any apparent plot to lure US intelligence services into a trap. Perchance, since Chinese intelligence services have been so successful in the US, 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 the 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