Commentary: The Hanoi Summit: What Kim Did Wrong and What Trump Is Doing Right

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). Before the Hanoi Summit, Trump insisted that if he became unsatisfied with the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That was precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not reach a common understanding with Trump in order to create a denuclearization agreement. Yet, regardless of what drove Kim, the question of what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point remains. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in Hanoi’s aftermath.

The strains placed on both US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in their February 27-28, 2019 meeting in Hanoi were quite significant. The intended outcome of the meeting, that primarily being an agreement on denuclearization and North Korea’s economic rejuvenation, would have been positive for both sides. Before Hanoi, Trump put considerable energy into considering the type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. He remained optimistic despite being bombarded by the voices of pessimism heard from naysayers and dream killers of all political stripes. For Kim, moving North Korea along a path toward the economic miracle that Trump proposed would require a well-planned, monumental project to restructure the only world he and his people have known. Surely, it was worth the candle for both Trump.and Kim to make a go at it. However, it may very well be that Kim did not fully understand that everything North Korea is, and everuthing it has, was actually at stake. To that extent, North Korea may not have been properly invested in the move toward denuclearization. It appears even Kim’s purported percipience of Trump and US foreign and national security policy making was also lacking. (Perhaps that knowledge was simply not being properly applied in practice.) .

Trump insisted before the Hanoi Summit, much as he had before negotiations with other national leaders on agreements, that if he became unsatisfied the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That is precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not to reach a common understanding with Trump and create a denuclearization agreement. Given Kim’s human rights record, some might suggest may have been influenced by ingenious telepathy from Hell. Sardonics aside, the talk’s outcome provides indicia to support a few reasonable theories. Thinking outside of the box in order to find causality for Kim’s decision, one might conclude on a basic level, that the whole negotiation soon became too rich for his blood and rather than take a giant step forward and risk making the wrong choice, he held pat on his position. On higher tier, one might assess that there may have been senior advisers in Pyongyang who convinced Kim that he could get Trump to eat out of his hand, and in a leap of faith, he tossed everything into an effort to twist Trump’s tail and get him to accept a deal shaped by North Korea’s terms. Additionally, there is the possibility that some self-doubt might have found a place in Kim’s thinking. Despite his leadership through iron rule, one might also politely conclude that Kim possesses a sort of 50-50 mentality. That would mean that Kim can see the potential of all arguments, even those made by the US. From that, it might be considered that he would typically need more time to reach a decision that would best suit North Korea long-term. In whatever way Kim may have been driven, the question now is what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in the aftermath of Hanoi. Having apparently gotten things mixed up in Hanoi, hopefully Kim will not mess things up from this point on with Trump. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

Is Kim Missing the Bigger Picture?

Right on the heels of the summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, essentially to explain why an agreement could not be reached. Trump told reporters that the crux of the matter was sanctions. In summarizing the situation, Trump stated Kim wanted sanctions lifted to a degree in which they would be rendered ineffective. In exchange, Kim would be willing to denuclearize portions of critical areas. Yet, Trump said those testing areas Kim was willing to break down were not the ones the US wanted. They were hardly enough to elicit the cessation of sanctions. Since Kim held firm to that position, Trump explained that there was little choice but to walk away from that proposal. However, Trump never indicated the conversation on the denuclearization had been exhausted.

Indeed, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome has not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.” As for how the parties might move forward with the diplomatic process following Hanoi, Trump explained: “In the meantime, we’ll be talking. Mike [Pompeo, US Secretary of State] will be speaking with his people. He’s also developed a very good relationship with the people — really, the people representing North Korea. I haven’t spoken to Prime Minister Abe yet. I haven’t spoken to President Moon of South Korea.  But we will, and we’ll tell them it’s a process and it’s moving along.”

There was no legitimate cause for any confusion in Pyongyang as to what Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. As one can see, progress made on some of these matters was mentioned by Trump during his Hanoi press conference. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure, sanctions, would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of North Korea. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense of where things stand in North Korea regarding denuclearization. There was also no ambiguity over the fact that the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Alas, at the table, the maximum that Kim could possibly collect about Trump, in order to make a good decision on the deal offered, was put before him, for all answers concerning the US position, concept and intent, ultimately resided in Trump, himself. Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang could not reasonably ask for anything more.

It would say much if Kim could not see that real empathy may have come from Trump, understanding how heavy a burden such a decision might be for the young leader. Previous deals with North Korea of great significance were last reached with his father, Kim Jong-un, and they crumbled under the insistent strain within North Korea, in Kim regime to pursue the goal of his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung of developing nuclear weapons. That goal has been achieved.  There may still be the strain within Kim to ignite an economic development akin, or even beyond, the Chollima Movement, as initiated by Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung. There is much that needs to done in North Korea, and as Trump has repeated, great potential exists within its workforce.

Trump’s critics and detractors insisted that Trump was out of court to even attempt to reach agreement with Kim that would meet the requirement of serving the interests of the US and its allies in the region. Surely, the Trump administration would never surrender  the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Those critics and detractors, upon discovering that Trump was unfazed by their persistent negative voices and was going to make the effort anyway, eventually turned to the standby criticism concerning any of Trump’s efforts on foreign and national security policy: he is unqualified. Further, they would also insist that behind everything Kim has done was a hostile DPRK plot, a “Red plot”, to lure Trump and the US to destruction.

The Snare of Insufficient Analysis

Attacks by critics and detractors of Trump have manifested more than elementary cynicism. The dark shadows of their machinations gathered as the Hanoi Summit came near. Their efforts did more more than serve to tear those in the US public who are supportive of Trump away from him. Despite claims from Trump’s political adversaries, and the usual critics and detractors that what was happening in Washington had no impact on what occurred in Hanoi, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it would seem that Pyongyang, unfortunately chose to do what was expedient. That meant believing Trump was stressed from the potential release of a final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters. There have been repeated insinuation that Trump faced the threat of investigations by the Deputy US Attorney for Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General. Pyongyang might have believed that Trump, caught in the wave of excitement concerning the 2020 US Presidential Campaign, mystifying reports of supposed gains by Democrats in polls versus Trump, and the reported mayhem that exists within the mainstream political parties. There may have been the belief that Kim could capitalize on some forecasted by the intelligence services on the impatience on the part of Trump. Reports commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media surely would have rung a bell for Kim’s aides and advisers and analysts in North Korea’s intelligence services. From that, it would follow that Trump’s political difficulties at home would likely distract him. If any of this was the case, it may explain why Pyongyang seemingly went all in on an effort to force Trump’s hand.

What Trump confidently knew, but Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang would have unlikely been able to discern clearly, was that the hearings of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives and in camera testimony before the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives in which Trump’s erstwhile attorney Michael Cohen testified, in essence amounted to vanity projects undertaken by political opponents of Trump in his rival Democratic Party. Although the hearings grabbed headlines in the US news media while Trump met with Kim in Hanoi, the new information gained from them was for the most part already widely known. As it has been repeatedly counseled by greatcharlie, reacting, and much worse, inferring how Trump’s mind moves on an issue from stories, iniquitous commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media. For the most part, US news media houses have done a complete job presenting themselves as Trump’s adversary, not simply critics and detractors. In either case, they are not playing the impartial watchdog role in which the fourth estate is supposed to serve.

Leaders often take unimaginable risks under stress. One could surmise that Kim must have been under some stress at home. Indeed, looking at Kim objectively, the question would be whether Kim was being ambitious or desperate in Hanoi. There is the possibility that in the intelligence services or the Workers’ Party of Korea, it may have posited that Trump could be manipulated into accepting a deal far less than he originally wanted. Lending support for the idea would be that Kim managed to secure a second meeting and that Kim was the actual master at the negotiation table with Trump, and he could take US President down whatever path he wanted. Although it may all sound like daylight madness, it is actually the sort of colorization of policy with delusional notions of an all powerful supreme leader that has underpinned many prior ham-handed decisions by Pyongyang. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Kim’s 50-50 Personality?

One might theorize that Kim’s failure to return home with a constructive answer may not have driven as much by politics but by the possibility that he possesses a 50-50 personality. This is not intended as a disparagement or an affront. It is not to suggest that Kim is a mixed bag, or worse, indecisive. It does not mean Kim is regularly afflicted by the paralysis of analysis. The 50-50 personality is the one able to see beyond black and white to the grey areas of significance. Kim cannot be pegged as one extreme or the other. Kim’s trained ability to project calmness and authority in all circumstances publicly has little relation to what might be stirring within. In private, he may in reality be as much the introvert as the extrovert, he may entertain his sense of things as much as use a honed intuition. He may try to feel through issues and situations coupled with thinking them through ad infinitum. He may be willing to use his perception of matters taking into account his experience and much as making calibrated judgments based on available facts and methods of analysis.

New Problems or a Curious Attempt to Ignite Further Talks?

Kim has created an additional problem himself at this point. Reportedly, he has sought to reconstruct a disassembled testing facility for long range rockets at Tongchang-ri. On first blush, it certainly does seem there is nefarious purpose behind his actions. It is hard to see how anyone could view Kim as anything but an aggressor. Trump has invested in diplomacy to resolve matters in contention: North Korea’s nuclear program and its long range delivery systems. Tactical moves must have payoffs or they are useless exertions, often opening the door for opponent to act. Kim, having met Trump, should not be under any illusion that Trump would not respond fiercely to moves he might find aggressive and or threatening. Kim does not need to extrapolate and infer anything from overt or covert sources that his intelligence services may be relying upon to understand and predict Trump’s moves. The suspension of military exercises should not have signalled to Kim that Trump is not interested in a military option. As he indicated in words he has since set aside in the spirit of negotiating some resolution, North Korea’s aggression would met with “ fire and fury the world has never known!” Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but military exercises with conventional forces would hold less significance on the North Korea front if an attack conceived by Trump would include the use of scores of nuclear weapons.

Does Kim Really Know What Is Best for North Korea?

Even with the notion that he has a type of 50-50 mentality, and with all of his revolutionary zeal and his commitment to the Communist movement taken into consideration, Kim must realize that Trump’s deal was too good to pass on. Nevertheless, he did so. Looking at the matter purely from the perspective of an external observer, Kim made a big mistake. As a national leader concerned with his people’s real future and being much more than a functionary within the system, logic should have driven him toward it. One stands on shaky ground saying anything positive about Kim given the sensitivity of government agencies in the US to such comments, nonetheless, failing to engage Trump for a bit longer in Hanoi on the development of a fitting agreement for both parties was not a surprising error for a national leader who is new to such high stakes diplomacy. 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.)

A logical next step for Kim and his aides and advisers, if they are truly interested in, and dedicated to, this important diplomatic process, might be to try to get the toothpaste back into the tube. A sign that such an effort could already be underway might be official statements by the foreign ministry of North Korea insisting that there was a desire in Pyongyang for a partial denuclearization. Indeed, on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho explained that Kim’s regime sought only “partial” sanctions relief in return for dismantling the North’s main enrichment capabilities for fissile material. As for continued negotiations, Ri stated, “It is difficult to say whether there might be a better agreement than the one based on our proposal at current stage.” He continued authoritatively, “Our principal stance will remain invariable and our proposal will never be changed, even though US proposes negotiation again in the future.” Ri also confirmed that the North would be willing to “permanently dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities” at the main Yongbyon nuclear site and allow U.S. nuclear experts to observe. He went on to complain that North Korea had sought an end to “sanctions that hamper the civilian economy, and the livelihood of all people in particular,” citing five out of 11 sanctions packages imposed by the UN Security Council. As mentioned earlier, sanctions relief along those lines would have amounted to a significant easing of the pressure on North Korea.

Although some somber and astute analysts might reach the conclusion that the foreign ministry’s bold, inaccurate statements, with their familiar antagonistic cadence, was simply a pretension, one more dramatic expression of Pyongyang. The odd hope of it all would appear to be influencing opinion among senior officials of the Workers Party of Korea and other elites of business circles of the society that Trump was not sincere about sanctions relief and he failed to respond to what is likely extolled in Pyongyang as Kim’s “generous offer”. It may very well have been the case that Pyongyang had the foreign ministry’s statement “locked and cocked” even before Kim left by train for Hanoi in the event that Trump would not accept the terms he planned to offer him.

The Agony of Negotiating with North Korea

It is interesting how North Korean officials have spoken so obstinately of Trump’s openhandedness toward their country. Perhaps Pyongyang has forgotten that Kim is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. (That is unlikely something anyone in Pyongyang would ever say in Kim’s presence.) Among industrialized countries, ruling out the Russian Federation and China, few governments hold a favorable opinion of North Korea. Pyongyang should rest assured that a number of capable US allies have likely suggested in confidence that Trump should move on from diplomacy and simply use military force on North Korea and indicated the willingness to join that effort. Trump, the one that North Korean Foreign Ministry officials now criticize, is the national leader who truly has the military power to destroy North Korea, yet he has given it a chance to prove its positive intentions to the world. Trump has sought to create the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work well with it. Trump’s description of his contacts and communications with Kim and public statements about his friendship and chemistry with him, have made him far less the threat that deservedly made headlines with angry words and aggressive moves in 2017 when the administration began. Trump kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way as he has become the administration’s talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. More than half way through his term as of this writing, Trump has amassed a record of making things happen; getting things done.

Not under any circumstances would the reconstruction of the testing site fall under the category of a benign act. It would hard to see where Pyongyang, having had two bites at the diplomacy apple, might hope to have some understanding of its move to reconstruct it’s long-range rocket testing site in a positive way in Washington or anywhere in the US for that matter. In reconstructing the testing site, Kim is doing precisely what Trump said he did not want North Korea to do. Nonetheless, taking a second look purely out of academic interest and with a dose of optimism at the matter of Kim’s move to reconstruct the testing site from another angle, one could say that the effort, albeit poorly conceived, was designed to create a position of perceived strength and encourage Trump to talk with Kim again. After all, that step was less threatening than other available options to garner immediate attention, create urgency. Kim could have begun reconstruction on a shuttered nuclear facility or begun building a new one. Kim could have made unsubstantiated public claims of possessing new nuclear technologies to enrich uranium for weapons such as the ability to separate isotopes through laser excitation (“SILEX”). (Note, this is just a hypothetical. There is no effort here to suggest that North Korea possesses such capabilities.) For Pyongyang, the danger in engaging in such tricky stuff is that the wrong signal may be sent to Washington. By and large, Pyongyang has asked the Trump administration to be patient and to recognize that on the world stage, North Korea is going to display a lack of sophistication, savoir faire, and present itself as the isolated, authoritarian “hermit kingdom” it has always been. While it may have hoped to move things in a specific way, it is possible that what might be intended through such moves could be lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps even unknowingly, Pyongyang has placed its best hope in Trump’s willingness to interpret its moves in a somewhat positive way and view the diplomatic effort as being worth the trouble.

It is apparent that Trump along with those foreign and national security policy officials who were optimistic about a deal being reached on denuclearization with North Korea, reasoned that it would be worth giving Kim the benefit of doubt.  However, one could never be completely clear on how denuclearization would fit into the worldview of the Workers’ Party of Korea or Kim’s inner thinking. Shots have not been fired at anger across the border. There has been no testing over nuclear devices and no testing of long-range or short-range rockets. If a chance might be taken in the name of finding a peaceful agreement, right now is certainly the time to take them. It certainly would be a ashame if the positive spirit which had been discern in the White House from Kim’s thoughts, words, and deeds from Singapore until Hanoi, was simply imputed by the administration to greater degree than warranted. Admittedly, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would at this point, hope for peace while reconstructing a testing facility for long-range rockets.

It is worth noting that in a more forceful, less grateful statement than Ri’s on February 28, 2019, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, explained: “The impression I got observing this summit from the side was that our chairman seems to have difficulty understanding the US way of reckoning.” Choe, offering her own assessment, declared: “I felt that our chairman has lost the will to engage in dealmaking, with the US saying that even a partial lifting of sanctions for the civilian economy is hard.” Conditions surely will not change through diplomacy if Pyongyang refuses to negotiate. If anything positive could be gleaned from Choe’s statement, itself, it is the fact that the harshest words were delivered by a vice foreign minister, not Kim or a very senior Workers’ Party of Korea official. That may have left the door open for Kim or a senior officials to walk back from those words, making diplomacy with the hope that cobbling together a denuclearization agreement might still be viable. Apparently, Trump mercifully brushed off pretentious statements by DPRK’s officials on their country’s power relative to that of the US, and the great disproportion between them with reality. It is difficult to determine how long Trump’s patience will last though. Given a third chance, Kim might goof again.

Trump certainly has not indicated that he feels the time has come to tie things off. It may be that Trump is more concerned with the prospect of millions of lives being lost if he does not give it every chance. When asked in Hanoi whether the bridge could be gapped between Kim’s desire to have all or a significant portion of sanctions removed and his desire to more significant denuclearization, he responded: “With time.  It’ll be bridged, I think, at a certain point.  But there is a gap.  We have to have sanctions.  And he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want.  We know that — we know the country very well, believe it or not.  We know every inch of that country.  And we have to get what we have to get, because that’s a big — that’s a big give.” Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat. (I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.)

Book Review: Raymond Batvinis, Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies: FBI Counterespionage During World War II (University Press of Kansas, 2014)

In 2010, US counterintelligence and counterespionage efforts resulted in the take down of 10 Russian “sleeper agents” from the “S” Department of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). As Raymond Batvinis discusses in Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies, the foundation of present US counterintelligence capabilities was laid 70 years before.

Outstanding spy novels tell exciting tales of spy rings, secret and double agents, surveillance, codes and ciphers, wiretaps, microdots, deception, disinformation, and even use of invisible ink!  That is what a reader would expect from the works of John le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, or Tom Clancy.  In Hoover’s Secret War Against the Axis: FBI Counterespionage During World War II (University Press of Kansas, 2014), Raymond Batvinis recounts equally thrilling stories of international intrigue as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), working alongside other US government elements and allies, sought to overcome Germany’s efforts to disrupt and defeat its war effort in the US before and during the war.  They will transfix the reader to the book’s pages much as the writings of the great spy novelists.  However, unlike the novelists’ works, Batvinis’ accounts are not amusements, but discussions of real cases of a struggle between adversaries filled with lessons on counter-intelligence (spycatching) as well as counterespionage (turning enemy agents against their spymasters).  The stories present the thought provoking, sometimes absurd, and often horrifying realities of spycatching and turning spies into double-agents. The history is not presented as nostalgia, but as a text on a unique aspect of the intelligence war against Germany, and to a lesser extent, Japan, from which valuable lessons can be drawn.  It is not by chance Batvinis’ book would be presented in this fashion.  The work is a product of painstaking, detail oriented research, and the benefit of his experience as a former FBI special agent.

Indeed, during his 25 years as an FBI special agent, Batvinis focused on counterintelligence and counterespionage cases.  His assignments included work out of the Washington Field Office and the FBI Intelligence Division’s Training Unit at FBI Headquaters.  As a Supervisory Special Agent, in the Baltimore Division, Batvinis managed the espionage investigations of Ronald Pelton (a spy for the Soviet Union), John Walker and Michael Walker (spies for the Soviet Union), Thomas Dolce (a spy for South Africa), and Daniel Richardson (caught attempting to spy for the Soviet Union).  After the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, Batvinis came out of retirement and returned to the FBI for three years in order to manage a team of former FBI special agents and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officers who taught the Basic Counterintelligence Course at the FBI Academy.  With a continued desire to contribute to US national security efforts, Batvinis went on to teach a “Lessons Learned” course for counterintelligence personnel at FBI field offices throughout the US for two years.  Exploiting his doctoral studies in American History, Batvinis has lectured at George Washington University and has written several articles on counterintelligence.  Prior to writing Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies, he published The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence (University Press of Kansas, 2007).

Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies was designed to pick up where The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence finished.  Origins was an in-depth look at the FBI’s development in the 1930s from a small law enforcement organization to a counterespionage service.  The need for change was made stark in 1938 with the bungled handling of the long-running investigation of the Guenther Rumrich espionage ring.  A series of missteps allowed dozens of German agents from Abwehr (German military intelligence) to step out of the US and reach Europe safely.  The Interdepartmental Information Conference in 1939 brought all elements of the burgeoning US intelligence community together for the first time, to discuss creating a structure to handle the espionage threat to the US.  Rather than fight like a sack of wildcats, new linkages were created between the FBI and the US military, and partnerships were established with foreign services such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as Mexican and British intelligence officials.  The FBI’s General Intelligence Division was established to manage foreign counterintelligence and other intelligence investigations.  In 1940, US President Franklin Roosevelt signed a Presidential order allowing FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to begin wiretapping embassies and consulates.  The Rumrich failure, the new initiatives, and FBI’s education in managing the intricate details of counterespionage matters resulted in the surprise arrest of 33 German agents in 1941, effectively breaking the back of German military intelligence in the US.

Although the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) of the FBI (whose evolution and expansion into Europe, Latin America and Africa Batvinis discusses), was already engaged in foreign intelligence in the prewar years, in 1941 Roosevelt created a new foreign intelligence office under a Coordinator of Information (COI).  By the end of the year, COI’s director, William Donovan, managed 600 personnel.  Hoover and Donovan had a mutual dislike of each other that was over nearly 20 years old.  Hoover sensed the COI as an effort by Donovan to supplant SIS, and as both viewed the Oval Office as their turf.  Their poor relationship hampered coordination between their services. In 1942, the COI transformed from a civilian agency to a military intelligence service known as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency

In extending his discussion beyond The Origins of FBI Counterintelligence , Batvinis relates the story of how William Stephenson of British Security Coordination (BSC), the center of MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Service) operations in the US, ran afoul of Hoover. Hoover railed on Stephenson for what he viewed as BSC’s rumor mongering and mischief.  Without spoiling this amazing segment of the book, it is enough to say MI6 personnel and MI5 (British Security Service) personnel also had a shaky relationship. Hoover skillfully managed to bypass MI6 and its BSC in the US to reach MI5 in London.  As result, the FBI gained access to Ultra, the British code name for its capability to intercept and decipher encoded German communications from the Enigma system.

Batvinis is at his best in Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies in his discussion of the Double Cross System.  Although known historically as a British success during the war, Batvinis explains that achievements through Double Cross were the result of joint Allied efforts.  That includes the handling of the double-agent, Spanish pacifist Juan Pujol—codenamed “Garbo”—who deceived the Germans into believing the Normandy invasion would not occur, and then convinced them that the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings were a mere diversion for a larger invasion soon to come.  Double Cross began to make use of US based turned German agents after the British, with some difficulty, convinced the US there was great value in counterespionage work.  The very persuasive Ewen Montagu, from Bletchley Park, home of the Ultra secret, was brought into the fray to bring Hoover. Hoover and the FBI hoped through counterespionage, further control could be gained over German intelligence activities.

Among the several Double Cross counterespionage cases Batvinis discusses are that of: a flamboyant playboy who was also a central figure in the dispute between Hoover and Stephenson; a world renown French flyer, who had orders to infiltrate the US aircraft industry; and a lecherous Dutchman, who was deemed useless as an agent and whose activities in the US were fabricated for his spymasters while he remained bottled up in London.  Batvinis takes the reader to school, brilliantly teaching about the fundamental nature and “nuts and bolts” of counterintelligence and counterespionage in a manner understandable for both the intelligence and law enforcement professional and the laity right in the midst of his exhilarating storytelling.  To help readers understand the type of enemy the FBI faced, Batvinis explains how Germany acquired the often involuntary service from German expatriates as agents and their very capable and somewhat ingenious handling of them.  In Chapter 11 entitled “The Count from New York,” Batvinis discusses the case of Wilhelm Rautter, a scion of German aristocracy, who was recruited into the German military intelligence without choice, and tacit threat to his well-being and that of his family and property.  As Batvinis magnificently recounts, Rautter, searching for employment, was invited to interview at Remy and Company, by its owner Hans Blum. After a month at the company, during which he established a very cordial relationship with the owner, Rautter was abruptly interrupted in the midst of perfunctory business chatter when Blum said, “German military intelligence had investigated him, found him acceptable, and wished to use him for collecting information in the United States.”  Blum downplayed the request in a friendly, soft-spoken and reassuring, but subtly betraying a sinister, threatening tone indicating that he would not accept “no” for an answer.

Almost immediately, Rautter began training at Blum’s company’s in secret writing, radio construction, transmitting, receiving, coding, and decoding cabled messages using a standard work of fiction.  He was directed to recruit an experienced operator to handle transmissions once he reached New York City.  Rautter was given the address of a mail drop on Manhattan’s Upper Westside, and rented an apartment in Brooklyn near the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was provided a contact, Heinrich Stuhl, whose home, also in Brooklyn, offered easy observation of Brooklyn and Manhattan piers where merchant ships routinely lined up to load cargo bound for Great Britain.  Rautter was given a catalogue of requirements to monitor shipping bound for Europe by riding the Brooklyn-Staten Island ferry.  He would use Blum’s business contacts to travel throughout the East coast of the US, to observe factory facilities of US Steel, Remington Arms Corporation, and twelve leading aircraft companies such as the Douglas and Boeing companies.  He also was directed to pick up intelligence in local bars and restaurants about troop strength, unit designations, military equipment, and specifics on armament production.  To evade capture, Rautter would vary the means of communication with Germany.  The unexpected collapse of the FBI’s capability to intercept radio transmissions also managed to temporarily thwart its counterintelligence effort.  Nevertheless, in 1944, Rautter was identified and waylaid by the US government as the outcome of some incredible investigative work by the FBI, along with the US Customs Service, comparing German handwriting samples with tens of thousands of baggage declarations of travelers going to Europe and British censors on Bermuda, sifting through mail to Europe.

To understand how the FBI handlers engaged in counterespionage operations against Germany, Batvinis illustrated how they concerned themselves with things that the average person might very well assume was minutiae or too esoteric, to matter.  Among the tactics, techniques, and procedures used, the FBI would first closely watch a German agent to determine his susceptibility for neutralization and recruitment before intercepting him.  Particular attention would be placed on his movements and behavior patterns.  The target’s mail and cable traffic would be copied and read, his contacts were identified, and his accommodations would be searched.  Once the turned agent was activated by the FBI, his reports to Germany were designed to match his trained capabilities and the degree of the agent’s access to information.  For example, if stationed in New York City, an agent from the marine branch of German intelligence would be expected to easily identify all types of Allied ships from specific combat vessels to cargo ships and tankers entering and departing the port.  Allowing a turned agent to remain positioned near a port or shipyard might require the FBI to sacrifice too much vital information about US activities, to legitimize his efforts, in exchange for a tentative counterintelligence reward. Moreover, the US Navy would never clear information on the departure of such convoys, and it would be difficult for a double-agent to explain the failure to collect such information to his intelligence principals in Germany.  The counterespionage agent would need to be placed in a plausible new post, such as Washington, which would allow for a mixture of valuable information, rumors, and other pieces of information picked up from soldiers and sailors in local bars and from senior military and military officials on the Washington cocktail party circuit.  A persona had to be established for counterespionage agents that would typically present them as being fiercely loyal and well-placed, making the most of access to important military secrets, but greatly concerned about being discovered by the FBI.  In one case, a counterespionage agent’s persona was spiced up with emphasis on his struggle with communications equipment and transmission problems, coupled with encoding and decoding errors.  When transmitting messages for a turned German agent, a painstaking effort would be put into mimicking his distinctive transmission style through the study of recordings.

In Chapter 13, entitled, “Peasant,” Batvinis explains that one case, to copy the style of a very inexperienced radio operator, his FBI substitute filled his messages with errors common to amateurs.  Further, by using his left hand, with the radio key placed on the edge of a table so that the hand and arm had no support, the technician found that he could easily produce scores of unintentional and intentional errors.  The FBI categorized messages from counterespionage agents to Germany as “A” or “B.” “A” messages held a blend of accurate and fabricated information, created by Joint Security Control (JSC) of the Military Intelligence Division, established in 1941.  JSC had a central deception staff to its portfolio of both the Army and the Navy to plan measures for disguising or concealing an operation against the enemy that would encourage enemy action on a belief that something true was actually false. “B” messages, developed by FBI special agents of the Washington Field Office from open sources were sent in the form of suggested messages with the actual source of information actually identified.  All “A” and “B” messages were first discussed with translators of the FBI’s Cryptanalytic Section, which helped assure that German intelligence service radio operators made no mistake in deciphering the information.  The reader will find many more comparable lessons in Batvinis’ book.

There is some discussion of FBI efforts against Japan.  One segment concerns German efforts to gather and transmit important information on B-29 bomber manufacturing, other war production relevant to the Pacific Theater of Operations, the increase in conscription in the US in 1945, and war plans.  The extent to which the FBI tried put Double Cross measures in play against the Japanese is discussed in Chapter 12 entitled “Japs, Aspirin, and Pep.”  Although Batvinis relays how the FBI had little success in positioning double agents among Japanese targets, he also uses this aspect of the history of US counterintelligence and counterespionage in World War II to explain how best to manage an effort when “That dog don’t hunt.”

Organizing the US counterintelligence effort was not based on a vain desire by the FBI to take on a new capability on top of its well-known criminal investigation work.  There was no other service fully engaged in counterintelligence work, and as the war drew close to the US, it became an absolute necessity.  There was no guarantee of success. The German intelligence service, and the various departments of German military intelligence were up and running full speed with well-trained and very capable agents spreading out worldwide.  Nevertheless, it was anticipated that through the right organization, appropriate preparation, and diligent work, as well as engagement with allies, the effort would be effective and possibilities for success would increase.  The FBI learned quickly that the fight against Germany was not taking place in some “war over yonder” but already underway in US.  Despite the difficulties the FBI had with the OSS, and its counterparts in Britain, those obstacles were overcome, and it was able to protect the US public and US interests from harm.

There is a breath-taking amount of amazing information on counterintelligence and counterespionage to learn from Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies.  There is also much to that can be learned from the history it provides on US relations with Great Britain and other nations on national security issues. Batvinis’ book is also a real page turner, and one that will be difficult to pull away from.  Without reservations, greatcharlie.com provides its highest recommendation to Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies to its readers. They are guaranteed to read at it over and over again.  Given the timeless value of its information, for some practicioners, it may even serve as a reference.  It is a book everyone will appreciate.

By Mark Edmond Clark