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. Expectantly, 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.)

Trump Signs Russian Sanctions into Law: Tillerson Stands Side-by-Side with Him on the New Law and US Policy

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (above). When US President Donald Trump signed legislation on August 2, 2017 imposing sanctions on Russia, he asserted that the law included “clearly unconstitutional provisions.” Tillerson stated in complete solidarity with Trump that the law should not have been passed and will harm US foreign policy efforts. Tillerson’s fidelity to Trump is unquestionable. Yet, what will determine Tillerson’s success as Secretary of State is not only his loyalty but the many dimensions of his capabilities.

According to an August 2, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Trump Signs Russian Sanctions into Law, With Caveats”, US President Donald Trump signed legislation on August 2, 2017 imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, but asserted that the measure included “clearly unconstitutional provisions,” leaving open the possibility that he might not enforce them as lawmakers intended. The legislation reflected deep skepticism among Members of the US Congress from both parties about Trump’s congenial approach to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and ensure  Russia would not avoid consequences for its annexation of Crimea, military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, and intrusion into the 2016 US Presidential Election. Before Trump signed the measure, Russia retaliated for the seizure of two Russian diplomatic properties and expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats by the administration of US President Barack Obama by seizing two US diplomatic properties in Russia and reducing the US Embassy staff by 755 members. That action was deliberately taken before the bill was signed to ensure it would be seen as a response to Congress, not to Trump. After Trump signed the measure, the Kremlin’s reaction was mild. Kremlin Press Secretary, Dmitri Peskov, stated: “De facto, this changes nothing.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on August 1, 2017 stated in complete harmony with Trump saying that lawmakers should not have passed the sanctions legislation. He stated: “The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I are very happy about that.” He continued: “We were clear that we didn’t think it was going to be helpful to our efforts . . . .” Yet, Tillerson could accept the reality of the situation. He went on to state: “but that’s the decision they made. They made it in a very overwhelming way. I think the president accepts that.”

Those wishing the current administration success for the sake of the US and the sake of the world felt Trump hit the jackpot on December 12, 2016 when he announced Tillerson would serve as his Secretary of State. The 64 year old native of Texas had just rounded off a 41 year career at ExxonMobil as Chief Executive Officer. Critics rushed in to say Tillerson lacked diplomatic experience despite the global nature of his duties for ExxonMobil which among other tasks included: negotiating contracts; settling major disagreements with overseas clients and partners; overseeing operations; and managing emergencies. At this point, Tillerson has found his stride as Secretary of State. Initially, he tried to shield the foreign policy making process and get his efforts off to a great start by safeguarding his organization, and eliminating his mind from the disparagement, opprobrium, and destructive accusations being hurled at the administration.He would not say or do anything to involve himself in that fracas However, strenuous efforts were made by critics of the administration to tug Tillerson down into the web of intrigue. Remaining distant from all of that cacaphonous background noise proved to be impossible. Tillerson has accepted that reality, and has managed to cope with any unfounded and unwarranted ridicule. Moreover, he has had some success in allaying concerns of foreign leaders and counterparts with whom he has met by presenting them with a genuine, logical picture of Trump’s concepts and intent, and the administration’s foreign policy.

Indeed, Tillerson, through the strength of his character and the confidence he creates, has provided incentive for foreign leaders and his counterparts to recurvate away from any hastily and mistakenly devised adversarial approaches they may have considered taking with the US. What may determine the size of Tillerson’s footprint in the administration are certain traits he has shown as Secretary of State. Owing in part to his constancy and tremendous value to Trump, Tillerson will continue to receive his encouragement to make full use of the many dimensions of his capabilities along the lines of excellence in his post. For Tillerson, one important measure of success will be improving the way in which the US Department of State will perform its job in the future. With Trump’s backing, his plans to transform his organization will be realized. Vigilando, agendo, bene consulendo, prospera omnia cedunt. (By watching, by doing, by consulting well, these things yield all things prosperous.)

Tillerson (right) and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi (left). Tillerson was initially declared a neophyte by critics. They proffered that he lacked sufficient experience in diplomacy to serve as Secretary of State. Tillerson has actually performed superbly as the chief US diplomat. In meetings with foreign leaders and counterparts, he digs beyond the surface to discern where stronger linkages can be established. Those insights have helped him develop resolutions to issues.

Becoming a Great Secretary of State

Every US Secretary of State in contemporary times has added his or her own touch to the job, creating something unique about their tenure. Nonetheless, there are a few things that cause certain chief diplomats to stand out from others according to Aaron David Miller in his renowned December 4, 2012 Bloomberg commentary, “Four Traits Make a Great Secretary of State.”

First among Miller’s four requisite traits, boiled down to the bones here, is having a negotiator’s mindset. Indeed, an effective Secretary of State can conduct negotiations, defuse crises and tackle issues that a reasonable person might consider intractable. The Secretary of State must know how to make a deal, to have a sense for timing and to know when an opportunity has revealed itself, and then know how to reach a final agreement.

Second, to the extent that it supports deal making, it is important for the Secretary of State to have a cogent, coherent worldview, ostensibly infused with the policies of the US administration.

Third, the Secretary of State must be assured of the president’s full support. Ostensibly, all presidents have supported their Secretaries of State, but that support can vary in degree. A Secretary of State must have support critical to success.  The renowned statesman, former US Secretary of State James Baker, once remarked that the Secretary must be “the president’s man at the State Department,” with real authority, power, and credibility.

Fourth, the president must indicate publicly and internationally, through words and deeds, that the Secretary of State is a trusted confidante. If an apparent gap exists in the relationship between Secretary of State and the president, or if it is clear that the Secretary of State has not been given the power to handle urgent and important issues, the power as the president’s chief diplomatic will be diminished.

Tillerson Has the Negotiatior’s Mindset; He Has Developed a Coherent Worldview

Virum mihi, Camena, insece versutum. (Tell me, O’ Muse, of the skillful man.) Tillerson approaches negotiations with foreign counterparts with a businesslike  pragmatism. He is very disciplined. He speaks frankly with a no-nonsense demeanor that might discomfit some. At the April 12, 2017 meeting with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,  Tillerson barely registered a reaction when he was initially greeted by Lavrov with remarks denouncing the US missile strike on Syria as illegal and the accusation that the US was behaving unpredictably. When later asked by a Russian reporter how he would characterize the talks, Lavrov replied with a hint of both satisfaction and curiosity: “The State Secretary did not threaten me with sanctions. He didn’t threaten me with anything, actually. We frankly discussed the questions which were on our agenda . . . .” In the actual talks, ideas jump from Tillerson’s head, Pallas-like, to shift their course in his favor. He conquers all obstacles seemingly by the shear force of his cerebration. Posside sapientiam, quia auro mellor est. (Possessing wisdom is better than owning gold.)

Searching the archives of US newsmedia houses for reports on the foreign policy of the Trump administration, one would already find a multitude of inequitable, negative assessments, against Tillerson. Those reports would typically explain that he is inexperienced in diplomacy. They essentially declare him a neophyte, lacking a background in diplomacy sufficient enough for him to serve as the chief US diplomat. It was proffered by some observers that without the labored reasonings of experts, Tillerson’s intuitions would be uninspired. Such assessments were made for more harsh by the fact that such experts had not yet been appointed to many senior positions at the State Department. Critics appeared assured that Tillerson would languish in inaction on the seventh floor of the State Department headquarters. As it has turned out, those grim conclusions have approximated to slander against Tillerson. While some critics, albeit, would immediately point to the fact that he is still seeking to fill all senior positions in his organization, Tillerson has performed superbly and admirably as Secretary of State. That is best evinced by the expressions of approval and appreciation he has received from the president.

In decision making, the renowned Greek scholar and philosopher, Socrates, would refer to an inner voice or his daimon. The devil works his way through people and events. Yet,  unlike the noble pagan Socrates, Tillerson is a religious man who worships one God: God the Father. As such, he is aware of truth beyond the secular scale. Using the intellect and the will, one makes decisions. They are happy decisions when one is certain of their goodness. One engages in moral behavior when acting upon the desire to create goodness. In the development of relations with other countries, Tillerson is using what could described as a calm acceleration. Tillerson will convey US positions in bilateral meetings with foreign leaders and counterparts, but he will also seek to understand his interlocutor’s positions in a granular way. Tillerson is aware of the need to dig beneath the surface to understand where new, stronger, linkages can be established. He encourages his interlocutors to be frank about their concerns. He wants to hear how things look through their lenses. Understandings resulting from direct contact have allowed Tillerson to develop greater insight into issues concerning countries. Those insights in turn facilitate the development resolutions to issues of mutual interest. Additionally, Tillerson understands how to keep discreet matters confidental. Resolutions to difficult or nagging issues are less likely be found if they are contested over publicly. Secrete amicos admone, lauda palam. (Admonish your friends in secret; praise [them] openly.)

Tillerson displays a much appreciated wit and savoir faire in meetings, telephone calls, and statements with foreign leaders and counterparts. He will demonstrate that can be engaged in constructive, mutually satisfying dialogue. He will try to get to know his interlocutor and try to develop an amicable relationship. Among some he meets, there is often a preexisting relationship resulting from business contacts he had with them while he worked for ExxonMobil. As a top US business leader, he would often interact with senior foreign officials on a level and in a way rarely enjoyed by even senior US diplomats. Foreign leaders, officials, and business giants as well, were typically more relaxed in conversations with Tillerson then, even telling him things discreetly that US diplomats never would have heard. Some of those relationships became somewhat personal. Those relationships could possibly serve now as foundations for building trust beyond written documents and treaties while he is Secretary of State. Such relationships could allow Tillerson and an interlocutor to relax and explore territory outside their formal negotiating positions; discuss certain assumptions, strategies, and even fears. However, Tillerson would never sacrifice his principles to save a personal relationship with an interlocutor. A personal relationship through past business interactions will never serve to sway Tillerson in any way in US decision making in favor of another country’s needs. Tillerson can of course recognize the difference between an hackneyed exhibition of “adoration” for him and adoration directed at the US pocketbook through him. Tillerson’s sole interests now is performing his duty to his country under the guidance of the Trump administration’s policies, serving the people of the US, and obeying the US Constitution. Tillerson undoubtedly makes that perfectly clear in meetings when necessary.

Tillerson has already travelled to all corners of the world as Secretary of State, serving as Trump’s emissary at all international forums, negotiating treaties and other international agreements, and conducting everyday, face-to-face diplomacy.  As of this point, Tillerson has traveled 93,207.5 miles, traveled 35 days, and visited 17 countries. Non viribus et celeritate corporum magna gerimus, sed sapientia et sententia et arte. (We accomplish important things not with the strength and quickness of our bodies, but by intelligence and thought and skill.)

Tillerson (left) and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (right). Through his contacts with foreign leaders and his counterparts, Tillerson has been able to transmit an authentic understanding of his thoughts and concerns on issues relevant to their countries, the policy positions of the US, and concepts and objectives of Trump to them. He encourages them to express their interests, share their concerns. He wants to hear how things look through their lenses.

Trump Supports His Secretary of State; Trump Insists Tillerson Is a Confidante

Quidquid dicendium est, libere dicam. (Whatever must be said, I shall say freely.) A quality that Trump liked about Tillerson when he selected him to be his Secretary of State is that he will roll over on his back and play nice in the face of controversy or challenges. To that extent, Tillerson has naturally had some disagreements with the White House over issues of importance to him. On those occasions, he does not speak in a roundabout way; he speaks directly. He chose his words carefully. They were proclamations of the truth meant to dispell wrong ideas and incorrect steps. For example, Tillerson voiced concern over being unable to make independent decisions about staffing at the State Department and about the organization in general. He reportedly expressed his displeasure with Johnny DeStefano, the head of the Office of Presidential Personnel, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment. Tillerson complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano’s office to “have any role in staffing” and “expressed frustration that anybody would know better” than he about who should work in his department–particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires, according to a senior White House aide familiar with the conversation.

Tillerson lobbied Trump to allow the US to remain a signatory to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,The 195-nation accord signed by US President Barack Obama set a goal of keeping the earth from warming by more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. Tillerson’s argument was that leaving the agreement would diminish US influence in encouraging other countries to reduce their emissions, aides said. He did not argue that it would affect efforts to reduce US emissions. Nonetheless, Trump acted against Tillerson’s advice on the agreement, believing the US would be able to broker a new new agreement that would not put US businesses and workers at a disadvantage with developing economies like China and India. The majority of other signatory countries rejected the idea of renegotiating the accord. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the chorus of leaders of countries that are allies, partners, and friends of the US, indeed spoke harshly about Trump’s decision to shun international consensus on the world’s most pressing issues and fanned fears that it was reflective of a greater US decision to abdicate its global leadership role. Journalists depicted Trump’s climate reversal as a challenge to Tillerson, who they alleged was very visibly trying to establish his credibility as the primary advocate of US foreign policy in the administration. Tillerson called Trump’s action a “policy decision.” He insisted the US could be proud of its “terrific record” in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, even before the Paris Agreement  took effect late last year. He tried to provide some perspective on the decision by stating: “I don’t think we’re going to change our ongoing efforts to reduce those emissions in the future.”

Tillerson had to contend with a very public coupe en deux pieces between the US Mission to the UN and the State Department. The statements of Trump administration’s US Permanent Representative to the UN,  Nikki Haley, a fellow Cabinet member, were deemed too far off message relative to other senior members of the administration. Other representatives on the UN Security Council began to view Haley as a source of authority on US policy. One foreign diplomat made the erroneous observation at the time that Haley had not only taken charge of determining what the administration’s posture would be at the UN, but broadened her responsibilities on a range of foreign policy issues. Their approaches to the US were being formulated based on her statements in that forum. It was all seen as a serious matter with the potential harm the US ability to implement steady policy in manner that would satisfy, and draw other governments to its points of view. An email sent from State Department diplomats to the Office of the US Permanent Representative to the UN urged the Mission to rely on “building blocks” written by the department to prepare remarks for Haley. Haley’s aides were also urged to ensure that her public remarks were “re-cleared with Washington,” especially if they were substantively different from the building blocks, or if they were on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or the North Korea.

Additionally, Tillerson has reportedly been a bit uneasy about Trump’s use of Twitter or a speech to establish foreign policy that is in variance with his best advice. Yet, all of that being stated, Tillerson’s fidelity to his president remains beyond question. No matter how the president might decide on an issue, Tillerson has stood side-by side with him. He never has backed away or tried to stand in the middle of road.

Tillerson has spent considerable time with Trump. He is confident of Trump’s support for him. Trump, has left no doubt that he is very satisfied with Tillerson. The day will very unlikely arrive when Tillerson will say his efforts have been futile and then abandon his post. In his years at ExxonMobil, Tillerson was never known to have left tasks unfinished. Tillerson has spoken publicly about his commitment to service and the call he heard to take on the role of chief diplomat. On July 21, 2017, Tillerson remarked:  “I’m still developing myself as a values-based servant leader, and this new opportunity that I have to serve our country has provided me with new ways of learning … so it gives me a chance to grow as a leader.” Having that mindset allows Tillerson to heal any exasperation,any sense of futility that he may feel. Vincit qui se vincit. (He conquers, who conquers himself.)

Tillerson (left) and Trump (right). Tillerson has spent considerable time with Trump. He is confident of Trump’s support for him. Trump, has left no doubt that he is very satisfied with Tillerson. Tillerson will unlikely say one day that his efforts have been futile and then abandon his post. In his years at ExxonMobil, Tillerson was never known to have left tasks unfinished. Tillerson has spoken publicly about his commitment to service and the call he heard to take on the job of Secretary of State.

Coping with the Unparalleled Criticism of the Administration and Himself

Quid enim est stultius quam incerta pro certis habere, falsa pro veris? (What, indeed, is more foolish than to consider uncertainties as certain, falsehoods as truths?) Even before Trump was sworn in as president, stories swirled in the newsmedia about alleged lurid activities of administration officials to gain Russia’s assistance in order to defeat Trump’s main competitor in the 2016 US Presidential Election, former Senator Hillary Clinton. Those allegations set off a number of official investigations of former campaign staff and a few administration officials. There was a Congressional investigation open to public view; an investigation by a Special Counsel appointed by the US Department of Justice which closed even to Trump; and assays were very likely initiated by certain watchdog organizations within the US intelligence community. Trump has stirred the pot a bit on the investigations through his use of Twitter and teasing voracious journalists, hungry for every morsel of news about his thinking and the inner working of the White House on the Russia matter. He once hinted about possessing recordings of important conversations on the matter with a very senior law enforcement. He later admitted that did no such recordings existed As time has passed, many public allegations made against Trump were also collapsed by the truth.

Tillerson wanted to avoid that whole cabaret. He took a few temporary steps in order to protect his serenity of mind and put all his attention on the sizable responsibilities of his new job. Tillerson stayed far from the limelight. He had no desire to be the man of the moment. He did not appear in front of both reporters and TV cameras to confirm his place as the nation’s chief diplomat unlike many of his predecessors during the past 6 decades, or spend much time with journalist before or after meetings with foreign leaders and counterparts. Journalists were surprised when they were told by the State Department they would not be allowed onboard his plane during a diplomatic trip to Japan, South Korea, and China. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who met with Tillerson over lunch during the first week of March 2017 acknowledged: “The normal tendency when you come into that job [Secretary of State] is to increase your visibility and to show that you are present and in charge.” Kissinger went on to explain: “He [Tillerson] wanted to first inform himself of all the nuances. I was impressed by the confidence and self-assurance that he showed.” Ultimately, Tillerson could not avoid, and was certainly not spared from, disharmonious contacts with the US newsmedia similar to those that other Cabinet members and White House officials were encountering. Critics were aflutter at Tillerson’s every move during the first few months of his tenure. They would often report that he was absent at meetings with foreign leaders at the White House.

Before Trump was inaugurated, stories swirled in the newsmedia about alleged activities of campaign staff and administration officials to gain Russia’s assistance to defeat Trump’s rival in the 2016 US Presidential Election. He took a few steps to protect his serenity of mind and fix his attention on his new job’s responsibilities. He did not appear in front of journalists and TV cameras to confirm his place as chief diplomat. Ultimately, he could not avoid difficult newsmedia contacts.

Critics tried to drag Tillerson into the Russia matter. They wildly assert that while serving as Chief Executive Officer at ExxonMobil, he developed unusually close ties to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Those ostensibly could have allowed him to garner Russia’s assistance for Trump. Attempts to substantiate the nature of the alleged relationship focused on Putin’s decision to award Tillerson the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors a foreigner can be bestowed by Russia. In reality, the medal awarded on June 21, 2013 was in appreciation for efforts Tillerson made as Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil to broker a deal between the company and the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft. Tillerson was presented with the medal in St. Petersburg, Russia on the same dais with the Chairman of ENI, an Italian multinational oil and gas company. Such accusations are simply surmisals reflective of a blinding, uncontrollable anger found within a counter-Trump milieu. It is a discourse, not formally organized but possessing defined elements (e.g.,  certain TV news programs and editorial sections of newspapers and magazines, websites, blogs, chat rooms, and podcasts) in which participants, observers of the administration, direct rage at anything pertaining to Trump. It originated in the US but is now engaged in globally. It becomes exhausting to watch from the outside. In fairness, it may very well be that those who develop such reports about Tillerson on the Russia matter are ostensibly not driven by the intention to do harm. However, that benignancy is often difficult to detect. Within reason, one could more easily perceive it all as an ominous effort to neutralize a senior member of the US diplomatic, political, military, and economic decision making apparatus. By mid-2017, allegations about links between Tillerson and the Russia matter faded a bit. Despite the unpleasantness of it all, Tillerson was not left appearing cold and muddled. He remained sanguine. He kept his dignity intact. Superanda omnis fortuna ferendo est. (Every misfortune is to be subdued by patience.)

About 6 months into his job, when Tillerson decided to spend 6 days–July 21-July 26, 2017–out of the public view, certain news media houses, very likely hoping for a news splash, propagated stories about Tillerson’s coming resignation. US State Department Bureau of Public Affairs Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that he was, “taking a little time off.” She continued, “He does have the ability to go away for a few days on his own … just taking a little time off.” She also said: “He’s got a lot of work. He just came back from that mega-trip from overseas–as you all well know, many of you were there for the G-20, and his other travel as well, so he’s entitled to taking a few days himself.”

The attention of the US newsmedia would then shift from the idea that Tillerson was tendering his resignation to the possibility that he had taken time off to réfléchir, think it over. Reports that Tillerson planned to resign, like a vampire, rose again after his short holiday. The State Department tried to push back on them. At a department’s briefing on July 25, 2017,  Spokesperson Heather Nauert said “That is false,” when asked about the rumors.  Nauert continued by saying: “The secretary has been very clear: He intends to stay here at the State Department. We have a lot of work that is left to be done ahead of us. He recognizes that. He’s deeply engaged in that work.” She added: “He does, however, serve at the pleasure of the president, just as any Cabinet official.”

However, the magnitude and tempo of misleading reports of Tillerson’s dissatisfaction and desire to resign reached a crescendo loud enough that on July 26, 2017, he was driven to respond to the issue.  Normally, Tillerson would consider responding to the newsmedia over such a matter as counterproductive. However, he no doubt recognized that the broadcasting and publishing of surmisals about his plans would soon begin to have chilling effect on his relationships with foreign leaders and his counterparts and impact US foreign policy efforts in general. It would only be natural for foreign capitals to wonder what it was ithat the US newsmedia knew that they did not know. When asked by reporters at the State Department whether he was considering leaving his post, Tillerson declared, “I’m not going anywhere.”  When pressed with the follow-up question of how long he would stay on, Tillerson turned and smiled, saying, “As long as the president lets me.” Asked about his relationship with President Donald Trump, Tillerson said simply, “Good.”

Tillerson (left), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (center), and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford (right) It may be that those who develop false and contemptuous reports about Tillerson on the Russia matter have no intention to do harm, but that benignancy is often difficult to detect. One could also view it as an effort to neutralize a senior member of the US diplomatic, political, military, and economic decision making apparatus.

With Trump’s Support, Tillerson Will Make His Mark

In Ulysses, Alfred Lloyd Tennyson wrote: “Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven,that which we are, we are, One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Ahead of this nascent period of the administration, into what may be the first of possibly two terms for Trump, Tillerson would like to introduce some considerable changes to the organization that he leads. The personal and working relationship between Trump and Tillerson will determine whether the Secretary of State will be able to execute an ambitious plan to revamp his department; a significant effort that will viewed as an important part of Trump’s legacy as president. Tillerson announced his plans to restructure the US organism for diplomacy during his May 3, 2017 presentation to the rank and file of the department in its Dean Acheson Auditorium. He explained his desire to make the department a more agile, collaborative workplace. It would become a more diverse landscape of ideas and solutions.

Tillerson remarked that the Department of State was the first cabinet created and chartered under the Constitution, and the Secretary of State was the first cabinet position chartered and created under the Constitution. He assured the department’s rank and file that during his tenure, they would carve out their increment of the department’s living history. Tillerson understands that in planning this transformation, he should not try make circumstances fit plans, but rather plans should be developed to fit circumstances. Tillerson explained that he had no preconceived notions of the outcome of this effort. He was not bringing a solution to the department. His plan is not to tear things down but craft ways to improve on what is already being done. Tillerson explained that once he acquired an understanding of how work is effectively done at the department and then put an organizational structure in place to support that process. Verum et factum convertuntur. (The true and the made are interchangeable. [One can know with certainty only what he has created himself.])

Tillerson at the Acheson Auditorium at the State Department (above). Tillerson would like to introduce some changes to the organization that he leads. The personal and working relationship between Trump and Tillerson will determine whether he will be able to execute his ambitious plan to revamp his department; an audacious effort that will be seen as an important part of Trump’s legacy. His plan is not tear down, but improve on what is being done.

The Way Forward

In Act V, Scene vii of William Shakespeare’s play, The Life of King Henry the Fifth, events surrounding King Henry’s invasion of France have reached their climax. Having captured the town of Harfleur, the English force prepares for a decisive battle at Agincourt. King Henry and one of his captains, Fluellen, reminisce about how the King’s great uncle, Edward the Black Prince, once defeated the French nearby. Fluellen reminds the King that just as he, his birthplace was in Wales and declares his pride over being the King’s fellow countryman. Fluellen states: “By Jeshu, I am your majesty’s countryman, I care not who know it; I will confess it to all the ‘orld: I need not to be ashamed of your majesty, praised be God, so long as your majesty is an honest man.” Tillerson respects his president and is loyal to him. He likes his job and is striving to perform it successfully. Through his contacts with foreign leaders and his counterparts, Tillerson has been able to convey his thoughts and concerns on issues relevant to both countries, the policy positions of the US, and Trump’s concepts and intent. He encourages them to express their interests and share their concerns. What is voiced does not lie inert in some report. Tillerson uses it to formulate policy approaches to those countries and develop resolution to issues. Following direct contact with Tillerson, foreign leaders and officials, who have undoubtedly sought to keep themselves au courant with the public discourse in the US on Trump, would realize that they have acquired almost nothing useful from reports developed from the abstract that were laced with inferred and interpolated information, conceptualizations, and fabrications from the counter-Trump milieu. They undobtedly ignore, or give far less weight to reporting of identifiable critics toward the Trump administration. That very likely has already had the effect of facilitating their efforts to sort out issues of mutual concern with the US and making them more comfortable in their dealings with the Trump administration. Illa argumenta visa sunt et gravia et certa. (Those arguments seemed both weighty and reliable.)

Tillerson learned many things in 41 years as he moved up the ranks in ExxonMobil. One thing Tillerson learned well was how to be a team player. His approach is not, in a parochial way, to elbow a better position for his organization on a policy matter, but rather to garner acknowledgement of his organization’s responsibility for US diplomacy and its primary role in formulating and implementing US foreign policy. His approach is not designed to merely better the aesthetics of his organization. An interior designer could best do that. Tillerson would like to enhance capabilities department wide and heighten its prestige globally as the premier foreign policy establishment. Correlatively, the department’s heightened prestige will be a reflection of its accomplishments.  The State Department will not be on the sidelines in the Trump administration and it will not retreat from diplomatic challenges because previous administrations have called them intractable or conundrums. Resolutions to issues will be found by Tillerson’s people. Ad utilitatem vitae omnia consilia factaque nobis regenda sunt. (All our plans and actions must be directed by us to the benefit of our life.)