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 Headquarters of the Ministry of State Security (above). China’s primary civilian intelligence service engaged in the political warfare struggle against the US is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Yet, while fully involved in that work, MSS has adhered to its bread and butter mission of stealing national security and diplomatic secrets with specific regard to the US. It has also robustly enhanced another mission of grabbing intellectual property and an array of cutting-edge technologies from the US. This essay provides a few insights from outside the box on the MSS, the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, it believes, help to keep China secure and help to improve China’s capabilities and capacity to compete and struggle with the US.

There was a time not so long ago when discussion in US foreign policy circles concerning China centered on issues such as trade, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, North Korean denuclearization, and human rights. Now the primary focus of discussion is the coronavirus. China is where the virus originated and was surely ineptly handled, setting the stage for the current pandemic. How China has responded to the crisis turned pandemic has been a source of curiosity and absolute outrage globally. Despite preening about its own advances in science and medicine, China proved not to be up to the task of handling the outbreak that most experts agree more than likely began disastrously in a Wuhan laboratory. It is difficult to fully comprehend what on Earth went on in the minds of China’s leadership upon learning about their country’s coronavirus epidemic. Shutting down cities and restricting travel was among the means to control the spread among their own citizens but China’s government was quite derelict in ensuring the virus would not break out around the rest of the world. Worse, the Communist Party of China and the National Party Congress were unapologetic and frightfully defensive concerning all discussion of China’s role in what was happening. China very quickly became exercised with the US over the matter. They became particularly warm toward US President Donald Trump. The words of official spokespeople were certainly not seasoned in grace. Although it has found itself in an unpleasant, contentious relationship with the US as a result of its own doing, Beijing has nevertheless effectively doubled-down on the behavior that exacerbated the situation. China’s government spokespeople will most likely continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. At the same time around the world, the number of people infected by the coronavirus continues to increase, the death toll rises, and the financial loss is being calculated in the trillions. Hopefully, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping is well-aware of what is transpiring and has set some type of guidance on just how far this whole cabaret put on by Beijing should go. Numquam enim temeritas cum sapienta commiscetur. (For rashness is never mixed together with wisdom.)

The figurative hammer of the foreign and national security policy apparatus swung by the arm of the Communist Party of China against the US is China’s intelligence services. They are the ones on the front lines of the political warfare struggle. Among those intelligence services, the primary element engaged is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). The Ministry of State Security is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order and for years has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes. To that extent, the Communist Party of China has entrusted the defense of “their creation,” the modern Communist Chinese state, to this complex government organization. China has only offered soupçons about the MSS, and even less than that lately. Unless one is engaged in diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, MSS is an elements of the Chinese government with which most outsiders when engaged in their normal business related to China, whether inside the country, in a country near by, or even at home, will have contact, but will often be completely unaware. The ostensible purpose and task of MSS is to defend China against external as well as internal threats. By performing its mission of collecting vital information about China’s friends, allies, competitors and adversaries MSS gives the leadership of the Communist Party of China time to make decisions and space to take action. To that extent, the MSS has adhered to its bread and butter mission of stealing national security and diplomatic secrets with specific regard to the US. However, it has also robustly enhanced another mission of collecting intellectual property and an array of cutting-edge technologies from the US. The Communist Party of China is surely counting upon it to successfully take on China’s adversaries in a large way with a small footprint. Interestingly though, there has been far greater discernment worldwide of MSS political warfare activities than Beijing might have imagined. The immediate implication of that has been the infliction of considerable damage to China’s reputation as a world leader. Veritas nimis saepe laborat; exstinguitur numquam. (The truth too often labors (is too often hard pressed); it is never extinguished.)

This essay does not focus on the political warfare effort by MSS, the nuts and bolts of which are somewhat straight forward, and compressed into summary form in the March 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. It focuses on what the Ministry of State Security (MSS) is and what it does, day-to-day, for China. It is presented in two sections. This section, “Part 1,” provides greatcharlie’s insights from outside the box on the MSS and the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods it believes both help to keep China secure and help to improve China’s capabilities and capacity to compete and struggle with the US. That discussion is buttressed by a few celebrated and trusted sources. “Part 2” continues that discussion and, without an ax to grind, greatcharlie calls attention to how, over recent years, a number of less-familiar, self-inflicted wounds have hindered the prosecution of a successful campaign by US counterintelligence services against the MSS as well as other Chinese intelligence services. The extent to which those same issues concerning US counterintelligence services have impacted the Trump administration is also touched upon. Without pretension, greatcharlie states that there is no reason for it to believe policymakers and decisionmakers in the White House and among US foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations, would have a professional interest in its meditations on MSS intelligence operations in the US. However, it is greatcharlie’s hope that if given some attention, perhaps in some small way it might assist those who work on matters of gravity in this province improve their approach to defeating and displacing the MSS networks and operations as well as those of its sister organizations in the US. Bonus adiuvate, conservate popular Romanum. (Help the good (men) save (metaphorically in this case) the Roman people.)

People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong (left) and Kang Sheng (right). After the defeat of Imperial Japanese forces in China and prior to 1949, the Communust Party of China’s main intelligence institution was the Central Department of Socialism Affairs (CDSA). CDSA was placed under the control of Kang Sheng, a longtime political associate of Mao with a linkage from the past to Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. With the Communist Party’s victory over Chang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces, CDSA became one among a full array of government intelligence organizations that were created to supplement Party-based intelligence services. CDSA would draw information from foreign news agencies and open sources. It was hardly a very rewarding business.

Chinese Intelligence Under the Communist Party: The Beginning

The foundation of the Chinese intelligence services was laid during the revolutionary period in which the Communist Party of China sought to establish its rule. In the early 1930s, two intelligence services existed. One was centered in Shanghai and the Communist Party, the other was based in the Chinese Communist government that existed in Shaanxi where Mao Zedong established his base after the Long March. The later intelligence service proved to be the stronger of the two. By the late 1930s, it was replaced by a newly created Social Affairs Department (SAD) within the Communist Party. Within the years of struggle against Imperial Japanese forces in China, there was the Yan’an Rectification, from 1942 to 1944, in which Mao consolidated his paramount role in the Communist Party of China. Yan’an was also the part of the ten year period in which: Mao established his premier role in the Party; the Party’s Constitution, endorsing Marxist-Leninism and Maoist thought as its guiding ideologies, was adopted (Mao’s formal  deviation from the Soviet line and his determination to adapt Communism to Chinese conditions); and, the postwar Civil war between the Communists and the Kuomintang. Prior to 1949, the Communist Party of China’s main intelligence institution was the Central Department of Social Affairs (CDSA). CDSA was placed under the control of Kang Sheng, a longtime political associate of Mao with a linkage from the past to Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. With the Communist Party’s victory over Chang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces, CDSA became one among a full array of government intelligence organizations were created to supplement Party-based intelligence services. CDSA would draw information from foreign news agencies and open sources. It was hardly a very rewarding business.

The Ministry of Public Security was established as China’s principal intelligence service at the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It, too, was placed under the leadership of Kang Sheng. CDSA fell into the hands of Li Kenong, a deputy chief of staff to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) chief of staff Chou Enlai and a vice minister for foreign affairs. The main role of the MPS, as with all previous Chinese intelligence services, was to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China. However, as time passed, it was also officially given jurisdiction over counter subversion, counterintelligence, and conducting espionage in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Overseas during the 1950s, most Chinese diplomatic missions accommodated the MPS with an Investigation and Research Office for intelligence collection staffed by CDSA personnel, with analysis performed by the Eighth Bureau, publicly known in 1978 as the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. In 1953, CDSA became the Central Investigation Department (CID). In China, the MPS presence was nearly ubiquitous, as it kept a watchful eye on China’s population. It was energetically engaged in monitoring Chinese who returned from abroad. To cope with what it determined to be errant citizens, MPS ran labor reform camps. MPS personnel were known for behaving harshly among its own citizens. That behavior was said to be reflective of the violent mentality of its initial leader, Kang. Despite his alleged romance with Mao’s wife, Kang was far from a charming man. Rather, he was known for being an absolute brute. He would move on to become a member of the Communist Party of China Political Bureau, and Li Kenong moved up to take command there. In 1962, the decision was made to move Ministry of Public Security counterespionage functions over to the CID.

The 1960s were a volatile time for Chinese intelligence services as with all military institutions in China. Li Kenong died in 1962 and in 1966 he was succeeded by Luo Quinchang, who had been adopted by Kang in 1958 and ushered into the MPS. However, the MPS became involved in the power struggles that embroiled the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. Mao, feeling his power base was threatened mainly as a result of his failed Great Leap Forward, implemented the “Four Cleans Movement,” with the objective of purifying politics, economics, ideas, and organization of reactionaries, led by a one time ally, Luo Quinchang of MPS. His staff files were seized and mined for candidates for criticism and banishment to the lao jiao prison system.

Kang Sheng (above). The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) was established as China’s principal intelligence service at the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It, too, was placed under the leadership of Kang Sheng. The main role of the MPS, as with all previous Chinese intelligence services, was to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China. As time passed, it was also officially given jurisdiction over counter subversion, counterintelligence, and conducting espionage in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. MPS personnel were known for behaving harshly among its own citizens. That behavior was said to be reflective of the mentality of Kang, who was known for being an absolute brute.

Most of the leadership of the CID was sent to the countryside for reeducation and the organization, itself, was abolished for a time. Its activities and assets were absorbed by the Second Department of the PLA’s general staff taking over its duties. The Second Department oversaw human intelligence collection to include military attachés at Chinese embassies overseas clandestine collection agents sent to other countries to collect military information, and the analysis of overt sources of information. Mao turned to Kang to ensure that his ideological and security directives were implemented. Kang, Mao’s wife Jiang, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, Zhang Chunqiao, dubbed the “Gang of Four,” worked together in a campaign to renew China’s revolutionary spirit. With the assistance of the Red Guards, a mass student led paramilitary movement mobilized and guided by Mao from 1996 to 1967, the Gang of Four set out to destroy the “Four Olds” of society: old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas. The Red Guards were particularly disruptive. Apparent moral confusion caused the base student army to rise and nearly wreck China by attacking senior Communist Party leaders such as Deng Xiaoping and by conducting mass executions. There were reports that the Red Guards cadres had engaged in cannibalism, eating students. They destroyed approximately 66 percent of China’s famous temples, shrines, and heritage sites. These included nearly 7,000 priceless works of art in the Temple of Confucius alone. The Red Guards would face resistance in major cities. Often the PLA was forced to violently put down their destructive attacks. The organization having fully flown off the rails, Mao instructed leaders of the Red Guards to end their movement.

Meanwhile, Kang had returned to the intelligence service from on high to assume responsibility for the CID cadres that remained left in limbo. Eventually, a new organization, the Central Case Examination Group, composed of CID cadres under Kang was created. That organization was instrumental in the removal of Deng Xiaoping from power. The CID was reestablished in 1971 following the death of Lin Biao and then again became entangled in another power struggle as Hua Kuo-feng and Deng Xiaoping vied for control of the party. By then, Kang had receded into the distance, viewed as too connected to the untidiness of the Cultural Revolution.

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the new leadership under Hua Guofeng initially tried to return to the pre-Cultural Revolution years and strengthen the CID. When Hua Kuo-feng and Wang Dongxing assumed power in 1977, they tried to enlarge the CID and expand the Communist Party of China intelligence work as part of their more general effort to consolidate their leadership positions. However, their hopes and dreams met their fate. Deng Xiaoping, having steadily ascended within the leadership ranks of the Communist Party of China, was uncertain of CID loyalties and his opinion of it was unfavorable. Circumstances indicated that he should order the shut down of all Investigation Offices in Chinese embassies. Although it remained part of the Chinese intelligence services, the CID was officially downgraded. According to Anne-Marie Brady in Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), the impact of the CID’s downgrade was softened by the fact that its intelligence efforts  were being paralleled and to some degree occasionally outmatched by the extraordinarily secret International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, which became deeply involved in inciting and assisting international revolution by moving weapons, financial support, and other critical resources to numerous Communist and non-Communist insurgencies worldwide.

The emblem of the Ministry of State Security (above). In 1983, there was considerable frustration in the Communist Party of China with the high volume of secret information being leaked to the West. This was particularly true with regard to information about debates occurring within the Communist Party and reports of poor economic and social conditions within China. In reaction, counterespionage responsibilities were transferred from the MPS to the new Ministry of State Security (MSS). Known as the Guojia Anquanbu or Guoanbu, the MSS was stood up in July 1983 to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus.

The Inception of the Ministry of State Security

The story of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) began thoroughly in July 1983. That year, there was considerable frustration in the Communist Party of China with the high volume of secret information being leaked to the West. This was particularly true with regard to information about debates occurring within the Communist Party and reports of poor economic and social conditions within China. In reaction, counterespionage responsibilities were transferred from the MPS to the MSS. Known as the Guojia Anquanbu or Guoanbu, the MSS was stood up to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus. When the reorganization of the MPS was completed in 1983, it was temporarily left with only traditional police functions. Nevertheless, the change turned out to be quite positive as both organizations were allowed a new beginning so to speak. With its inception, MSS added new dimensions to China’s foreign intelligence scheme while freeing MPS to revamp existing capabilities and explore and adapt a new as well as more technological set of cards to play in the intelligence game so to speak. MSS represented a reimagination of the intelligence collection process abroad and the counterintelligence struggle against outside powers. The cleaning up of old ways of conducting its business, and a modernization of Chinese intelligence that was long overdue.

At its nascent stage, the ranks of the MSS were filled with longtime MPS who transferred over to the office. MSS provincial branches were often staffed with PLA and government retirees. Despite the declaration of its raison d’être as a foreign intelligence organization, the MSS was initially asked to do what its rank and file knew how to do best, which was to perform as police. For that reason, the most important task that it was given after its inception, focusing on students in both China and abroad after the Tiananmen Square protests, was a natural fit. Tiananmen Square, in addition to being frightfully embarrassing to the Communist Party of China leaders, caused them to remain greatly concerned over a possible follow on move by students. That concern was thoroughly evinced when Chinese authorities announced that some 200 Chinese had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union. One might say that the counterintelligence purpose of the assignment made giving it to the MSS plausible. However, MPS had the domestic counterintelligence mission covered. Redundantly taking on the assignment concerning the student–surely MPS was on it–was a turn in a wrong direction. The MSS would eventually develop into an authentic foreign intelligence service, but it would take time. It would be an evolutionary process.

An ocean of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in May 1989 (above). At its nascent stage, the ranks of the MSS were filled with longtime MPS who transferred over to the office. MSS provincial branches were often staffed with People’s Liberation Army and government retirees. Despite the declaration of its raison d’être as a foreign intelligence organization, the MSS was initially asked to do what its rank and file knew how to do best, which was police work. For that reason, the most important task that it was given after its inception, focusing on students in both China and abroad after the Tiananmen Square protests, was a natural fit. The protests, in addition to being frightfully embarrassing to the Communist Party of China leaders, caused them great concern regarding a possible follow-on move by students.

As aforementioned, a paucity of quality information exists publicly from the Chinese government about the present-day MSS in primary or secondary sources. No official Chinese government website exists for the intelligence organization. There have been no press releases distributed or press conferences held by the organization’s public relations department. Access to information from the organization is essentially nonexistent. No significant writings have been published  by security scholars in China on the MSS. Precious few defections from MSS have occurred, so little has been provided from an insider’s view. What is best known generally about MSS in the US has been superbly relayed in I.G. Smith’s and Nigel West’s celebrated Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).

The MSS headquarters is located in Beijing in a large compound in Xiyuan, on Eastern Chiang’an Avenue, close to Tiananmen Square. Within the security perimeter is snowing apartment block, Qian Men, where many of the MSS staff and their families live. The MSS is a civilian intelligence service and operates independently from the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Second and Third Departments, which also conduct military intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Although it has a central headquarters, the MSS actually was not built up as a centralized organization. It is composed of national, provincial, and local branches much as the MPS from which it sprang. Even the initial CDSA and later CID units of the MPS operated domestically under a decentralized and autonomous structure throughout China that was supported by the Communist Party of China. Their structure somewhat resembles that of the erstwhile regional and Soviet republic KGB bureaus. The provincial, and local branches receive directives from headquarters in Beijing and are financed by National Security Special Funds. Yet, only to the extent that provincial and local branches receive “administrative expenses,” could they be considered accountable to headquarters. They are largely autonomous in reality, reportedly acting as essential adjuncts to the local administration. The formal chief of the MSS holds the title Minister of State Security. As of this writing, the minister is Chen Wenqing. However, from the national level to the local levels, the MSS and its subordinate departments and bureaus report to a system of leading small groups, coordinating offices, and commissions to guide security work while lessening the risk of politicization on behalf of Communist Party of China leaders. Initially, the most important of these was the Political-Legal Commission (Zhongyang Guoja Anquan Weiyuanhui). The Political-Legal Commission was chaired by a Politburo member at the Central level with the title Secretary, who serves essentially as China’s security czar. There are Deputy Party Secretaries at the lower levels. The lower-level commissions oversee all state security, public security, prisons, and procuratorate (judicial) elements for their levels. Currently, there is a Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (Zhengfawei) who oversees China’s security apparatus and law enforcement institutions, also with power reaching into the courts, prosecution agencies, police forces, paramilitary forces, and intelligence organs  Xi announced the creation of the Central State Security Commission (CSSC) in the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2013. The CSSC held its first meeting on April 15, 2014. The purpose of this new commission was twofold. First, it was intended to balance internal political power created by the expansion of the security services and their capabilities in the 2000s. Second, the commission orient’s the MSS and other security forces toward planning and preempting threats to the party-state. At lower levels, provinces, counties, and municipalities have state security leading small groups (Guoja Anquan Lingdao Xiaozu). The political-legal Commissions and State Security leading small groups overlap in personnel but not perfectly. They combine with defense mobilizations committees and 610 offices to create a kind of system of systems that oversees local security and intelligence work. Headquarters is surely kept apprised of what the provincial and local branches are doing. Each level reports to the next MSS level up and the Political-Legal Committee at that level. This florid arrangement of horizontal and vertical relationships often creates bureaucratic competition that encourages pushing decisions upward while hiding information from elements of equal protocol rank.

Intellect, will, and hard earned experience drove MSS leaders forward as they molded the MSS into a truly effective intelligence organization. What compelled the domestic focus of its initial work is further apparent in that process. The first two ministers, Ling Yun and Jia Chunwang, faced the challenge of turning a small Ministry with only a handful of outlying provincial departments into a nationwide security apparatus. The expansion occurred in four waves. In the first wave during MSS’ inaugural year, the municipal bureaus or provincial departments of state security for Beijing, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Liaoning, and Shanghai were created. A second wave appeared shortly thereafter between 1985 and 1988, including Chongqing, Gansu, Hainan, Henan, Shaanxi, Tianjin, and Zhejiang. The third wave from 1990 to 1995 completed the expansion of the Ministry across at the provincial levels, bringing in Anguilla, Hunan, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces. The fourth wave the provincial-level departments exoanded vertically, taking over local public security bureaus or established subordinate municipal or County bureaus. The MSS policy of expanding representative offices in most major towns and cities was reversed in 1997. Nevertheless, when MSS minister Jia left in 1998 for the MPS, the MSS was a nationwide organization at every level. Presently, the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements. Interestingly, as MSS moved through each growth spurt, it did not ignite efforts to rename the organization, to divide it into pieces and parcel out some of its departments among other Chinese intelligence services, or to disband it altogether in the way CDSA and MPS suffered in the two previous decades. There seemed to be an understanding system wide that the need existed for a solid civilian foreign intelligence as well as counterintelligence capability.

The Wuhan Hubei National Security Office in China, home of the provincial Ministry of State Security Bureau (above). The expansion of MSS provincial departments occurred in four waves.  In the first wave, during MSS’ inaugural year, the municipal bureaus or provincial departments of state security for Beijing, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Liaoning, and Shanghai were created. A second wave appeared shortly thereafter between 1985 and 1988, creating the Chongqing, Gansu, Hainan, Henan, Shaanxi, Tianjin, and Zhejiang bureaus. The third wave from 1990 to 1995 completed the expansion of the Ministry across at the provincial levels, bringing in Anguilla, Hunan, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces. The fourth wave the provincial-level departments expanded vertically, taking over local public security bureaus or established subordinate municipal or County bureaus. Presently, the MSS has thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements.

As relayed previously, MSS was initially staffed with personnel drawn largely from the MPS. Many local MPS officers transitioned overnight from being police to MSS officers. The MSS foreign intelligence capability was built up when intelligence cadres from the Communist Party of China were brought into its ranks. The new MSS was also funded in part by the MPS. The fact that MSS, in a similar way to MPS, established provincial offices, which operated under cover names, such as “Unit 8475,” has been completely uncloaked and was made fairly well-known courtesy of the Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence. To help MSS take on its mission, MPS passed some networks to the new organization. Yet, with some uncertainty that existed as to the political nature of MSS, MPS was reportedly reluctant to make such transfers. Weariness and disappointment was also apparently felt among some of the old MPS professionals who opted to move to the MSS. While there were far greater opportunities for foreign travel, the financial side-benefits of working closely with industry were no longer available to them.

Employment on the MSS staff continues to hold considerable social status and is generally thought of as a desirable career. MSS intelligence officers are usually recruited before or during their university education, and a large proportion are graduates of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the Beijing Institute of International Relations, the Jiangnan Social University, or the Zhejiang Police College. Those requiring technical skills usually attend the Beijing Electronic Specialist School. These establishments provide training for MSS recruits, who usually come from families with MSS links or otherwise are influential and beneficiaries of guanxi. Nevertheless, however well connected the candidates are, they will have to be dedicated and disciplined although not yet necessarily Party members. Guanxi is often exercised to facilitate entry into the MSS.

Promotions aee endorsed at both the bureau and headquarters levels. Senior branch positions require the approval of the local administration, although, in practice, the will of headquarters usually goes unchallenged. The quality of performance during the information war over the coronavirus pandemic will also likely play a considerable part in future promotion. Interestingly, although thoroughly part of the MSS, branch personnel are regarded as employees of the local government. More than half the MSS staff recruitment takes place in the region’s where the officers will be posted for the breath of their careers and where they have family links. Those family links are quite important. This structure enables the MSS to fulfill the increasingly large responsibility of ensuring social stability, considered a significant operational priority. There is no equivalent to this system in the West. Training takes place in the branches. There are no centralized, formal training academies, and new personnel are expected to learn their profession on the job by reading old and current operational files, by working with mentors, and attending occasional lecturers and conferences. Expectedly in the Communist country, during training, a heavy emphasis is placed on political indoctrination, and although probably less than 15 percent of MSS staff are women, they tend to be almost entirely Communist Party of China members. Internal transfers, and secondments are routine and occur mainly from the law and political departments of local government. There a tacit understanding that one could find a home in the MSS with all of the care and comfort imaginable during and after active service.

Mao (left) and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin (right). Immediately following Mao Zedong’s Communist forces defeat of General Chang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Nationalist forces, China and the Soviet Union stood as the two prominent Communist countries. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin saw the victory in terms of Soviet interests, however Mao, saw the Communist Revolution in China as an achievement of the Chinese people. Despite reservations, Mao welcomed assistance from Moscow in the form of physical aid but experts and advisers. Soviet intelligence officers assisted the burgeoning Chinese intelligence service with the intention of creating a capable, parallel organization in a “brother” Socialist country, with hope of exploiting it to the greatest degree possible. However, cooperation that was established between Chinese and Soviet intelligence services ended with the split between Chinese and Soviet leaders.

Residual Impact of Soviet Intelligence Upon Chinese Intelligence?

Naturally, the once significant impact and influence of the Soviet intelligence service on Chinese intelligence has faded more and more with the coming of each new generation into the system. Yet, fragments from that past past still remain. Immediately following Mao Zedong’s Communist forces defeat of General Chang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Nationalist forces, China and the Soviet Union stood as the two prominent Communist countries. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin saw the victory in terms of Soviet interests, however Mao, saw the Communist Revolution in China as an achievement of the Chinese people, and to that extent was only interested in formulating the best path to Socialism for China. Mao had held reservations about overlaying China with the Soviet model, but nonetheless welcomed assistance from Moscow in the form of physical aid but experts and advisers. Nevertheless, an agreement was established between Mao and Stalin to have a Soviet advisory mission providing physical aid and significant guidance and advice on nearly all aspects of government. Concerning intelligence, Chinese and Soviet services liaised significantly and comfortably. Soviet advisers used their own service as a model to structure the organization, staffing, training, intelligence operations, and resources of Chinese intelligence services. In the end, Chinese intelligence services mirrored those of the Soviets. It became an effective tool for China’s security. What happened with the Chinese also happened with intelligence services of Eastern Bloc and other Communist governments’ intelligence services in the late 1950s. However, also much as in the Eastern Bloc, Soviet intelligence officers assisted the burgeoning Chinese intelligence service with the intention of creating a capable, parallel organization in a “brother” Socialist country that Soviet intelligence could exploit to the greatest degree possible.

Consequently, for decades after World War II, the Chinese intelligence service, even without Soviet direction, evinced some organizational and operational aspects similar to those of the Soviet intelligence services of the past. To that extent, the KGB has remained a fully useful yardstick from which one could measure, understand, and conceptualize the structure and functions of the Chinese intelligence services as they evolved. Interestingly, the period in which Chinese intelligence services received advice and closely liaised the Soviet counterparts was also a period of evolution of Soviet intelligence. As soon as one intelligence organization was opened for business in the Soviet Union, it was replaced by another with added responsibilities. Those organizations included: Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) or NKVD; 1938-1946, Narodnyi Komissariat Gosudarstvennoe Bezopasnosti (People’s Commissariat for State Security) and Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) or NKGB-NKVD, placing police and security functions under one chief; and, 1946-1953, Ministerstvo Vnuirennikh Del (Ministry for Internal Affairs) and Ministerstvh Gosudarstvennoe Bezopasnosti (Ministry for State Security) or MVD-MGB. Eventually, in 1954, all of the non-military security functions were organized in what was dubbed the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or the KGB. It was under odd circumstances that Soviet intelligence services would identify themselves as models for those of other countries to follow. Interestingly enough, there was a lesson for the Chinese to take away from that period of the growing pains felt by Soviet intelligence services. In effect, the evolution of the Chinese intelligence services was inevitable if it was to meet the evolving needs of the leadership in a changing world. Without wanting to declare or insinuate some causality, or proffering that there was some curious act of imitation, it must be noted that Chinese intelligence services, following the years of close contacts with the Soviet counterparts, went through a similar period of near continuous organizational and name change.

Cooperation that was established between Chinese intelligence services and Soviet intelligence services could not survive the split between Chinese and Soviet leaders. The cause was gaping differences in outlook. Mao’s perception of the right relationship between the Soviet and Chinese Revolutions was influenced by his profound identification with the Chinese national tradition, which led him to reject conceptions and political lines not sufficiently suited to the mentality of the Chinese people and to their originality and creativity. Such were the sensibilities behind the “Great Leap Forward.” Not even quiet liaison through a virtual cross border masonry between field officers of the two intelligence services would have been allowed.  

Unlike its sister civilian intelligence service, the MPS, the MSS generally appears to have adhered to the non-politicization  of the service. MSS senior executives have evinced an acumen for being clever with politics. Occasionally, they have not been pristine in avoiding any mix up between their true task and purpose and extraneous political matters. Indeed, MSS elements, particularly at local levels, often have provided protection services for the business dealings of Communist Party of China officials or their well-connected friends. The purges of Beijing Party secretary Chen Xitong in 1995 and Shanghai Party secretary Chen Liangyu in 2006 were understood to have involved the ministry. Following the fall of Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, the Beijing State Security Bureau chief Fang Ke and Vice Minister Qiu Jin were ousted in rather widespread purges as a consequence of their use of MSS resources to support certain leaders in their political tussles.

How MSS Is Organized

In terms of operations and functional (administrative) duties, a common understanding has been that MSS is divided into bureaus, each assigned to a division with a broad directive and each bureau is given a specific task. On a Weibo account, reportedly associated with the MSS, a suitable outline of the first 11 bureaus was posted in November 2016. A description of that organizational structure of the MSS is easy enough to find online. The bureaus on that list, along with an additional six bureaus, was discovered on the common yet only moderately reliable source, the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia: Confidential Communication Division: Responsible for the management and administration of confidential communications; International Intelligence Division: Responsible for strategic international intelligence collection; Political and Economic Intelligence Division: Responsible for gathering political, economic, and scientific intelligence from various countries; Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau Division: Responsible for intelligence work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau; Intelligence Analysis Division: Responsible for analysing and reporting on intelligence and collecting guidance on how to handle intelligence matters; Operational Guidance Division: Responsible for directing and supervising the activities of provincial level MSS offices; Counterintelligence Division: Responsible for gathering counterintelligence information; Counterintelligence Division: Responsible for monitoring, investigating, and potentially detaining foreigners suspected of counterintelligence activities. This Bureau is reported to primarily cover and investigate diplomats, businessmen, and reporters; Internal Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Division: Responsible for protecting the MSS from infiltration by foreign entities by monitoring domestic reactionary organizations and foreign institutions; External Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Division: Responsible for monitoring students and institutions abroad in order to investigate international anti-communist activities; Information and Auditing Division: Responsible for the collection and management of intelligence materials; Social Research Division: Responsible for conducting public opinion polling and surveying the population; Science and Technology Investigative Division: Responsible for managing science and technology projects and conducting research and development; Science and Technology Investigative Division: Responsible for inspecting mail and telecommunications; Comprehensive Intelligence Analysis Division: Responsible for the analysis and interpretation of intelligence materials; Imaging Intelligence Division: Responsible for collecting and interpreting images of political, economic, and military targets in various countries through both traditional practices and through incorporation of satellite imagery technologies; and, Enterprises Division: Responsible for the operation and management of MSS owned front companies, enterprises, and other institutions. (Additionally, In 2009, the MSS was reported by a former official to have a Counterterrorism Bureau.)

Since leaving the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Peter Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Among a number of issues, Mattis expressed a view compatible with greatcharlie’s here in a 2012 article, “The Analytic Challenge of Understanding Chinese Intelligence Services” Studies in Intelligence Vol. 56, No. 3 (September 2012) 47, that “Protecting the integrity of US intelligence and policy processes is an important task for the US Intelligence Community, but clear understanding of Chinese intelligence serves more than the CI [counterintelligence] mission. At the core, analysis of Beijing’s intelligence institutions is about trying to understand systematically how the Chinese government uses information to inform its policy formulation, guidance to diplomats and security officials, and the execution of its policies.” Along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, Mattis published Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019), a book which is nothing less than brilliant. In covering the web of Chinese intelligence services that engage in intelligence operations, Mattis and Brazil present a great deal about the super secret MSS which one can be sure is cutting edge stuff. For many analysts in defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence worldwide, it presents nothing less than a treasure trove and should find a permanent place in syllabi in college and university courses worldwide for years to come. (Regular reference is made to Mattis’ writings in this essay.)

Mattis and Brazil share the view that MSS headquarters is organized into numbered bureaus. They further explain that it is spread across at least four compounds in Beijing. However, in their assessment, they believe MSS is organized a bit differently than in the outline of its departments aforementioned. They state that at the present, the MSS is believed to possess at least eighteen bureaus. Unlike the People’s Liberation Army  (PLA) where military unit cover designators offer a way to track units, MSS elements, they explain, are not so readily identified. In Mattis’ and Brazil’s own words, “The following designations are ones in which we possess a modicum of confidence”: First Bureau: “secret line” operations by MSS officers not under covers associated with Chinese government organizations; Second Bureau: “open line” operations by MSS officers using diplomatic, journalistic, or other government-related covers; Third Bureau: unknown; Fourth Bureau: Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau Bureau; Fifth Bureau: Report Analysis and Dissemination Bureau; Sixth Bureau: unknown; Seventh Bureau: Counterespionage Intelligence Bureau, gathers information and develops intelligence on hostile intelligence services inside and outside of China; Eighth Bureau: Counterespionage Investigation,  runs investigations to detect and apprehend foreign spies in China; Ninth Bureau: Internal Protection and Reconnaissance bureau, supervises and monitors foreign entities and reactionary organizations in China to prevent espionage; Tenth Bureau: Foreign Security and Reconnaissance Bureau, manages Chinese student organizations and other entities overseas and investigates activities of reactionary organizations abroad; Eleventh Bureau: China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations,  performs open source research, translation, and analysis. It’s analysts also meet regularly with foreign delegations and spend time abroad as visiting fellows; Twelfth Bureau: Social Affairs or Social Investigation Bureau, handles MSS contributions to the United front work system; Thirteenth Bureau: Network Security and Exploitation (also known as the China Information Technology Evaluations Center (Zhongguo Xinxi Anquan Ceping Zhongxin) may manage the research and development of other investigative equipment; Fourteenth Bureau: Technical Reconnaissance Bureau conducts mail inspection and telecommunications inspection and control; Fifteenth Bureau: Taiwan operations linked to the broader Taiwan Affairs work system. It’s public face in the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the China Academy of Social Sciences; Sixteenth Bureau: unknown; Seventeenth Bureau: unknown; and, Eighteenth Bureau: US Operations Bureau for conducting and managing clandestine intelligence operations against the US.

Chairman Deng Xiaoping (above). Under the Second Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Deng Xiaoping, China began authentic economic reform partially opening China to the global market. China’s economy grew rapidly soon afterwards. In a five-year economic plan 2006-2010, the Communist Party of China outlined that China must maintain fast and stable economic growth and support the building of a harmonious society. However, countries such as India and Vietnam had begun competing with China to offer cheap manufacturing bases for Western companies. Chinese industry needed to retain a competitive edge. Espionage has offered a relatively cheap, quick, and easy method to obtain information that could help Chinese companies remain competitive. Many of China’s largest companies are state owned, or have close linkages to the government. They receive intelligence collected by Chinese intelligence services. They undertake commercial espionage for their own benefit as well.

Intelligence Targets of Today’s MSS

Having created the space and acquiring the flexibility over the past few decades to allow the service to evolve into the elite, very capable intelligence service the Communist Party of China originally wanted it to be, it would seem MSS senior executives and managers have now figuratively declared “game on!” to China’s competitors and adversaries. The mission, as originally intended, has not changed much since 1983. Overall, it is now defined as collecting solid intelligence from the inner workings and the very top of foreign military, diplomatic, political, economic, financial, scientific, educational, media, communications, and social institutions. That is primarily what Beijing wants and that is what MSS is chasing after. Its tactics, techniques, procedures and methods are surely more refined. By conventional wisdom, one would proffer that as a priority, Chinese intelligence services target a broad range of US national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities. Infiltration of these operations by an adversary as China would certainly have far-reaching implications for US national security. Although the PLA would most interested in US military equities in its region and elsewhere in and around Asia, the MSS would expectedly support that work by collecting what it could on the instruments that the US uses to make conventional war and nuclear war. The intelligence threat China has posed to US national security further extends overseas, as China’s foreign intelligence service seeks to infiltrate the systems of US allies and partners. This particular aspect is seen as potentially having grave implications for US alliance stability and the security of US national defense information. Lately, the chief feature of the intelligence war between the US and China has been the economic front. Indeed, economic espionage, one might venture to say, holds perhaps a prominent place among the bread and butter activities of the MSS and is best known to industries around the world most of which could easily become one of its victims.

Deng Xiaoping and the Emphasis on Economic Espionage

Under the Second Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Deng Xiaoping, China began authentic economic reform partially opening China to the global market. China’s economy grew rapidly soon afterwards. In a five-year economic plan 2006-2010, the Communist Party of China outlined that China must maintain fast and stable economic growth and support the building of a harmonious society. The Communist Party of China’s aim was to raise the country’s gross domestic product by 7.5% annually for the next five years. In order to achieve such rapid economic growth, However, countries such as India and Vietnam had begun competing with China to offer cheap manufacturing bases for Western companies. Further, the increased demand for raw materials such as oil and iron ore, and new environmental and labor laws led to cost increases, making manufacturing in China more expensive which caused some factories to close. China sought to diversify its economy, for example, through the manufacture of better made high end products. However, that diversification of the economy required the Chinese to increase their knowledge of design and manufacturing processes. Espionage has offered a relatively cheap, quick, and easy method to obtain information that could help Chinese companies remain competitive. Many of China’s largest companies are state owned, or have close linkages to the government, and receive intelligence collected by Chinese intelligence services. Those firms have also proved to be capable of engaging in commercial espionage themselves.

During the administration of US President Barack Obama, economic espionage by Chinese intelligence gained real traction. Startled US government officials began to sound the alarm particularly over the destructive impact of Chinese commercial espionage upon US national security. Intrusions by Chinese actors into US companies and other commercial institutions harm both the individual companies and the overall US economy, to the benefit of China. Indeed, in July 2015, Bill Evanina, who was the National Counterintelligence Executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and remains in that position as of this writing, stated point blank, “Economic security is national security.” Nevertheless, the vociferous statements of those tasked with China’s operations had no real effect on the Obama administration’s course and Chinese intelligence activities steadily intensified. The leadership of the Communist Party of China has not concealed the fact that they recognize the link between economic and national security, and its commercial and national security espionage efforts function in tandem to exploit it.

US Attorney General William Barr (above). The present US Attorney General William Barr is both troubled and angered by China’s espionage efforts against the US and he intended to defeat those efforts. Barr insists China is working to supplant the US as the leader in technology in all areas, by literally stealing away the future of the US. He explains that to accomplish that, China has continuously sought, through a variety of clandestine ways, to grab whatever about US technologies,  developmental practices, and manufacturing practices. Barr wants the US business community to accept these realities and become part of the answer. In making deals with China, US businesses are often selling out their own long-term viability of us companies sold out for short term gain. As dangerous, China has been able to cultivate relationships with their employees and recruit them for spying.

US Attorney General William Barr, in a June 21, 2020 interview on FOX NEWS “Sunday Morning Futures,” proffered that the US for decades has been a leader in technology. China would like to overcome US dominance in the field. To that end, China has been stealing all us technologies developmental practices, manufacturing practices. Barr stated: “The way I look at is, this is a fundamental challenge to the United States. Since the late 19th century, our opportunity and our growth, our prosperity as a country has come from our technological leadership. We have been the technological leader of the world. In the last decade or so, China has been putting on a great push to supplant us, explicitly. They want to be the leader in all the future technologies that are going to dominate the economy. And so what’s at stake is the economic opportunity of our children and our grandchildren, whether we can continue to be the technological leader of the world. The Chinese have embarked on a very aggressive program during this time of stealing and cheating in order to overtake us. They have stolen our intellectual property. When they steal our secrets about future technology, they’re stealing the future of the American people.”

Barr left no doubt that China was quite some distance from competing fairly. He insisted that it was the intention of the Trump administration to put a halt to China’s very open efforts at robbery. Barr explained: “The Chinese efforts run the gamut from more traditional espionage of recruiting people to work for them, explicitly, to cultivating relationships that they are then able to use. And the people frequently are not completely attuned to the fact that they are being used as essentially stooges for the Chinese. So, it runs the gamut of things. And, sometimes, some of these programs, high-sounding programs, are used to the advantage of the Chinese.” Barr expressed concern over how educational programs have been used by Chinese intelligence services to penetrate US academic institutions and take away the knowledge, training, and research offered for use in China’s efforts to overwhelm the competitive edge the US possesses. Barr explained: “We are clearly cracking down on researchers and others that are sent over here to get involved in our key technological programs. And, by the way, this is not just weapons systems. This is agriculture. This is medicine. This is robotics. This is artificial intelligence and so forth. It’s the whole gamut of important technologies going forward.”

Dimensions of MSS Intelligence Collection

In its intelligence campaign against the US, EU Member States, and other advanced industrialized countries, the MSS has taken a multidimensional approach. Three more apparent dimensions include: illicit technology procurement, technical collection (cyber attacks), and human intelligence collection. Assuredly, the illicit procurement of specific technology by MSS is executed through the use of Chinese front companies. It is a relatively soft approach to intelligence collection, but it has had a devastating impact. According to Mattis in his 2012 article, “The Analytic Challenge of Understanding Chinese Intelligence Services” cited earlier here, FBI analysts reported that over 3,200 such companies had been quietly set up as fronts for intelligence collection purposes. Other relative short-cuts in espionage included tasking scholars, and scientists to purchase information before they travelled to countries that possessed targeted technologies. MSS has also encouraged Chinese firms to buy up entire companies that already possessed the desired technology.

With regard to the cyber attack, it is perhaps the most prolific type of attack against industry in the US, EU, and within other advanced industrialized countries. This dimension of Chinese intelligence collection is perhaps the most aggressive, and hackers locate doors that they can rapidly pass through and grab whatever might be within reach. It is by no means a supplemental or mere attendant method of espionage relative to running human agents. It is simply another dimension of China’s campaign. Moreover, countries such as the US provide such a target rich environment for the MSS, if human intelligence were the only focus, constraints on manpower resources would always be a big problem to overcome.

By far, the most complex and risky dimension of MSS intelligence collection are its human intelligence operations. Least challenging are MSS operations in China. No resource constraints hinder the MSS in terms of both manpower to use against foreigners there. The efforts of foreign counterintelligence services typically face great limitations in terms of ways and resources to stem Chinese efforts against their foreign intelligence colleagues on the ground. The close proximity of other countries in the Far East would appear to make operating in these countries easier, too! Difficulties begin when tries to take a bite out of more advanced industrialized countries in the region. Japan, for example, has historically been a difficult country for Chinese intelligence services to operate within. Against Japanese targets, attempts to cultivate operatives and informants still occur, but a greater reliance is surely placed on technical collection by MSS. Outside of its region, in target rich US, EU Member States, and other advanced industrialized countries, even the Russian Federation, Chinese intelligence services as a whole initially some difficulty figuring out how to go about approaching a target using officers. They would also naturally be concerned over facing considerably stiffer resistance from more adept counterintelligence services such as those of Japan. Interestingly, as time went on, they managed to find a number of sweet spots from which, and methods with which, they could conduct human intelligence collection operations with some degree of success. Lately, it seems to have been easy enough for Chinese intelligence services to establish networks of operatives and informants, and reportedly even sleeper agents, in the US, placing them in locations from which they could do considerable harm.

Collection through Front Companies and Operatives

As mentioned, a very quiet approach to intelligence collection is ubiquitous and pernicious form of inteloigence collection operations in the US. Most US citizen can look direct at the activities of what appear to be benign companies and not observe or discern that it is firm of foreign attack against their country. With little threat of being discovered, Chinese front companies set up where they can best acquire companies, technologies, brain power in the form of students, and even intelligence operatives and informants. Some US firms that have unwittingly linked themselves to seemingly innocuous, but actually nefarious institutions in China, business, academic, scholarly, or otherwise, that are tied to the government, particularly the Chinese intelligence services, may often have Chinese intelligence operatives working out of them, thus providing a convenient cover for their activities. In July 2019, a federal grand jury in Chicago indicted Weiyun “Kelly” Huang, a Chinese citizen, on fraud charges, charging her with providing fake employment verifications. A grand jury indicted her two companies, Findream and Sinocontech, on charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. The two companies incorporated by Huang did not exist, except on paper. Federal authorities allege the Findream and Sinocontech were front companies used to provide false employment verification for Chinese students, convincing immigration officials that they were here legally. Huang made use of a website based in China, chineselookingforjob.com, and the China-based “WeChat” platform, as well as Job Hunters of North America, to recruit for her companies. Court records explain that over 2,600 Chinese students declared themselves as employees for either Findream or Sinocontech from September 2013 to April 2019. In a bungling oversight Huang claimed to have employed so many young people that according to a 2017 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement list, Findream and Sincocontech ranked among the top US-based companies that hired students under the federal Optional Practical Training program. Findream ranked number 10, just behind Facebook. Sinocontech ranked number 25, just behind Bank of America. Surely, that served to call some attention from US counterintelligence services to its activities. Tragically, on LinkedIn, it is indicated that great numbers of graduates from schools from around the country wrote in their online biographies that they were employed by either Findream or Sinocontech as data analysts, web developers, consultants and software engineers. Huang compiled approximately $2 million from the alleged fraud scheme. Prosecutors state that the citizen of the Communist China indulged herself lavishly in Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, Hermes, and other luxury retail stores.

In a September 2018 criminal complaint from the US Department of Justice, Ji Chaoqun, a Chinese citizen, was charged with one count of knowingly acting as an agent of a foreign power, China. While Ji was still in school in China, an intelligence officer from the Jiangsu State Security Department, a provincial bureau of the MSS, approached him at a recruitment fair. They recruited Ji and tasked him with gathering biographical information on eight naturalized, ethinc-Chinese, US citizens after he arrived in Chicago to begin his studies. Reportedly, Chinese intelligence wanted to recruit those individuals, most of whom “worked in or were recently retired from a career in the science and technology industry, including several individuals specializing in aerospace fields.” Ji performed the task of collecting the information. After graduating with a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2015, he remained in the US through a temporary work program known as Optional Practical Training. That program allows international students to stay for up to two extra years if they have earned degrees related to science, technology engineering and mathematics. After Ji graduated with a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 2015, he remained in the US through a temporary work program known as Optional Practical Training. The program allows international students to stay for up to two extra years if they have earned degrees related to science, technology engineering and mathematics. Ji stated that he was employeed as a software engineer for a company called Findream LLC. According to court records, Ji’s responsibilities included writing “well designed, testable, efficient code by using best software development practices.” Although Findream was advertised as a startup technology company based in Mountain View, California, the company did not exist, except on paper. In April and May of 2018, the FBI made clandestine contact with Ji via an undercover agent. During the May meeting, Ji revealed that he was first approached by the MSS. In October 2017, email and MSS messages exchanged between the MSS officer and Ji were uncovered by the FBI.

Technical Intelligence Collection and Cyber Attacks

MSS technical collection can include the use of high-tech tools covering phone calls and all forms of messaging to relatively low level actions against electronic equipment such as mobile phones and computer networks. While technical intelligence collection, cyber attacks by Chinese intelligence services upon targets in the US, have been deplorable, the skill displayed and their list of accomplishments has been impressive. What have essentially been standard targets of cyber attacks from Chinese intelligence services in recent years have been those levelled against US national security decision makers and government organizations, particularly during the Obama administration. The objective of that targeting has been to access any classified information they might possess. Through that information, MSS would surely hope to develop insight into highly sensitive US national security decision making processes. Several instances of such cyber attacks have been made public, among them: in 2010, China reportedly attempted to infiltrate the email accounts of top US national security officials, including then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead; in July 2015, the US Office of Personnel Management announced that hackers had extracted personnel records of roughly 22 million US citizens. The hackers were reportedly affiliated with the MSS. Some of the stolen files contained detailed personal information of federal workers and contractors who have applied for security clearances. Among the information extracted were the fingerprints of 5.6 million people, some of which could be used to identify undercover US government agents or to create duplicates of biometric data to obtain access to classified areas; and, in May 2016, the then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated there was indicia supporting a concern that foreign actors had targeted the 2016 US Presidential Campaigns with cyber operations. Those foreign actors plausibly included Chinese intelligence services, as well as actors in the Russian Federation and other countries. During the 2008 US Presidential Election, evidence existed that indicated China infiltrated information systems of the campaigns of then Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. The experience gained and the lessons learned by MSS in those cyber operations primarily against national security and political targets during the Obama administration allowed for a rapid development of the organization’s cyber warfare capabilities and capacity. Rather than figuratively apply the law of lex talionis and a bit more to knock MSS back on its heels, defensive actions and push back by the Obama administration was so slow and so frightfully slight that the MSS was allowed the space and the time to even ratchet up its cyber game. An indictment unsealed in October 2018 revealed that US was made aware of at least a portion of MSS directed cyber operations aimed at swallowing up technologies researched and developed by firms in the US and other advanced industrialized countries.

In October 2018, the US Department of Justice unsealed charges leveled on 10 Chinese nationals, alleging a persistent campaign by Chinese intelligence officers and their recruits to steal aerospace technology from companies in the US and France. In a thoroughly complex operation, from January 2010 to May 2015 a provincial bureau of the MSS, the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security (‘JSSD”), headquartered in Nanjing, China, conspired to steal sensitive commercial technological, aviation, and aerospace data by hacking into computers in the US and other advanced industrialized countries. According the indictment, MSS officers managing the operation included Zha Rong, a Division Director in the JSSD, Chai Meng, a JSSD Section Chief, and other MSS officers who were not named. Both Zha and Chai supervised and directed human intelligence and activities by one or more members of the conspiracy aimed at hacking into the computers of targeted firms that were used in and affecting interstate and foreign commerce and communications, and steal information, to includie intellectual property and confidential business data, and to use these companies’ computers to facilitate further computer intrusions into other companies.

As for their computer savvy MSS operatives, Zhang Zhang-Gui, a computer hacker who operated at the direction of the JSSD, tested spear phishing messages and established and maintained infrastructure used in multiple intrusions. Zhang also coordinated hacking activities and shared infrastructure with Liu Chunliang, a fellow computer hacker who operated at the direction of the JSSD, and coordinated the activities of other computer hackers and malware developers, including Gao Hong Kun, Ma Zhiqi, and an identified unindicted co-conspirator (‘UCC-1″). Among his activities, Liu established, maintained and paid for infrastructure used in multiple intrusions, deployed malware, and engaged in domain hijacking in connection with the intrusion of a San Diego-based technology company. The hacker Gao Hong, who operated at the direction of Liu and was an associate of Zhang, engaged in the computer intrusions into Capstone Turblne, a Los Angeles-based gas turbine manufacturer and an Arizona-based aerospace company. Ma Zhiqi, also mentioned, a computer hacker who operated at the direction of LIU, was a personal acquaintance of Liu and UCC-1 as well. Zhuang Xtaowei, a computer hacker and malware developer, who also operated at the direction of Liu, managed malware on an Oregon-based aerospace supplier’s systems and stole the firm’s data from no earlier than September 26, 2014, through May 1, 2015. On February 19, 2013, one or more members of the conspiracy hacked into a second French aerospace company’s server affiliated with Liu, using credentials Liu had provided to Ma on December 14, 20L2. Gu Gen, the Information Technology Infrastructure and Security Manager at the French aerospace manufacturer with an office in Suzhou initially mentioned, provided information to JSSD concerning the firm’s internal investigation into the computer intrusions carried out by members of the conspiracy while under the direction of an identified JSSD intelligence officer. Tjan Xi, an employee of the same French firm who also worked in its Suzhou office as a product manager, unlawfully installed Sakula malware on a computer of the firm at the behest of the same unidentified JSSD Intelligence Officer.

In July 2020, the US Justice Department indicted two Chinese nationals, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi (above), for participating in a decade-long cyber espionage campaign that targeted US defense contractors, COVID researchers and hundreds of other victims worldwide. Experience gained and the lessons learned by the MSS in those cyber operations primarily against national security and political targets during the Obama administration allowed for a rapid development of the organization’s cyber warfare capabilities and capacity. Rather than figuratively apply the law of lex talionis and a bit more to knock MSS back on its heels, defensive actions and push back by the Obama administration was so slow and so frightfully slight that the MSS was allowed the space and the time to even ratchet up its cyber game.

In July 2020, the US Justice Department indicted two Chinese nationals, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, for participating in a decade-long cyber espionage campaign that targeted US defense contractors, COVID researchers and hundreds of other victims worldwide, stealing terabytes of weapons designs, pharmaceutical research, software source code, and personal data from targets that included dissidents and Chinese opposition figures. The 27-page indictment alleges that both Li and Dong were contractors for the Guangdong State Security Department of the MSS. Prosecutors also allege that the MSS, prosecutors said, supplied the hackers with information into critical software vulnerabilities to penetrate targets and collect intelligence. The indictment mostly did not name any companies or individual targets, but The indictment indicated that as early as January 2020, the hackers sought to steal highly-valued COVID-19 vaccine research from a Massachusetts biotech firm. Officials said the probe was triggered when the hackers broke into a network belonging to the Hanford Site, a decommissioned US nuclear complex in eastern Washington state, in 2015. US Attorney William Hyslop in public statement on July 21, 2020 emphasized that there were “hundreds and hundreds of victims in the United States and worldwide.” Indeed, their victims were also located in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The MSS has been known to utilize contractors for its cyber espionage operations. Clearly, MSS is not adverse to putting its faith in the young hackers to compromise security and deeply penetrate US systems to steal untold amounts of information. Integrating contractors in its cyber espionage operations allows the MSS access a much desired wider pool of talent. Under China’s National Security Security Law, they obligated to serve the needs of the government of course with some remuneration, a point which will explained later in this essay. To some degree, it provides some plausible deniability of the hackers work against some countries, but as demonstrated by this case it provides MSS a limited shield from US capabilities. Li and Dong both studied computer application technologies at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, in Chengdu. As a modus operandi, Dong would research victims and find potential methods of remotely breaking into computer systems. Li would then compromise the networks and steal the information. The truth is rarely pure and never simple in the intelligence arena, so it remains uclear whether US counterintelligence, following the indentification of these hackers and their activities, has managed to neutralize them and set up satisfactory defenses to prevent further Interference by MSS hackers. Oddly enough, there was some benefit gained by Beijing, knowing or unknowningly the Communist Party of China, to the extent that the hackers are young and ingenious, making them relatable to contemporaries and even younger people fascinated by Internet technology inside and outside of China. Presumably, Li and Dong still reside safely in China.

MSS Human Intelligence Collection

As human intelligence collection in the field is perhaps the most complex dimension of MSS operations, it is presented here in greater detail than those aforementioned. It has been generally understood in the West for some time that the standard approach to human intelligence collection by MSS has been to co-opt low-profile Chinese nationals or Chinese-American civilians to engage in the acquisition of mid-level technology and data. Travellers businessmen, students, and visiting researchers are often approached to undertake intelligence tasks, and the MSS maintains control of them through inducements and personnel connections (guanxi) and the potential threat of alienation from the homeland. Members of the Chinese diaspora residing in Western countries, especially new émigrés, who possessed the requisite expertise and appropriate positions in a public or private organization and family members remaining in China, would be compelled to perform tasks and to steal information of interest that they came across for the intelligence services. This method of intelligence collection also followed the concept of keeping things simple. It is still being put to use.

In August 2020, Alexander Yuk Ching Ma (above), a 15-year veteran of the CIA and a former Chinese linguist in the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office, was charged with violating US espionage laws. It has been generally understood in the West for some time that the standard approach to human intelligence collection by MSS has been to co-opt low-profile Chinese nationals or Chinese-American civilians to engage in the acquisition of technology and data. This method of intelligence collection also followed the concept of keeping things simple. It is still being put to use.

In August 2020, Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, a 15-year veteran of the CIA and a former Chinese linguist in the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office, was charged with violating US espionage laws. According to court documents, twelve years after he retired from the CIA in 1989, Ma met with at least five MSS officers in a Hong Kong hotel room, where he “disclosed a substantial amount of highly classified national defense information,” including facts about the CIA’s internal organization, methods for communicating covertly, and the identities of CIA officers and human assets. After providing that information to MSS officers in March 2001, Ma and a relative that assisted him, also worked for the CIA, were paid $50,000. Prosecutors were not full aware of how much Ma was paid the MSS following the initial payment. They are aware, however, that Ma returned from one trip to China with $20,000 and a new set of golf clubs. In an effort to gain access additional sensitive information, Ma secured a position in 2004 as a contract Chinese linguist for the FBI. He used his new position and security clearance to copy or photograph classified documents related to guided missile and weapons systems and other US secrets and passed the information to his Chinese intelligence handlers. In 2006, Ma arranged for his wife to travel to Shanghai to meet with his MSS contacts and pass a laptop to them. (Interestingly, Mao’s wife was not named in the criminal complaint.) The FBI eventually saw Ma straight and according to court documents, special agents intercepted Ma using an undercover FBI employee posing an MSS officer conducting an audit of his case. The undercover operative also claimed to be tasked with looking “into how Ma had been treated, including the amount he had been compensated.” In a clandestine video recording a of a meeting with the FBI undercover operative, Ma is seen counting $2,000 in cash the operative gave his supposedly to acknowledge his work on behalf of China. Ma, who was born in Hong Kong, is recorded saying that he “wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed” and admitted that he provided classified information to the MSS and that he continued to work with some of the same intelligence officers who were at the 2001 meeting. Prosecutors stated that the relative of Ma, who assisted him, is now 85-years-old and suffers from “an advanced an debilitating cognitive disease.” Given that mitigating circumstance, he was not charged.

In February 2019, Zhao Qianli, a 20-year-old Chinese national, pleaded guilty in court for taking photos of the US Naval Air Station Key West in Florida. He received a sentence of one year in prison. Zhao came to the US as an exchange student, however, the record of his activities indicates that the young operative was not in the US to just brush up his English. When Zhao was actually arrested in September 2018, investigators discovered photos and videos of government buildings and an antenna field on his digital camera and smartphone. Eyewitnesses saw Zhao ignore a sign clearly indicating the area was restricted and walk directly toward the antenna field and take photos. Although Zhao had actually studied in a summer exchange program that ended in September 2018, his is visa had already expired when he was arrested. In his defense, Zhao alleged that he was just a tourist who got lost. By successfully denying that he was engaging in espionage, Zhao avoided being expelled from the US, persona non grata, but that did not prevent his prosecution for taking photos in a prohibited place. Court documents indicate none of the photos and videos found on his cell phone and digital cameras were of any tourist attraction sites in Key West. Reportedly, Zhao was in touch with Chinese intelligence officers inside the US before he took photographs at the base. During his interrogation, Zhao told the FBI that he was the son of a high-ranking Chinese military officer and that his mother worked for the Chinese government. The fact that the young spy was tasked to take photographs at an extremely high security location with the great risk of being detained perhaps meant that there was a certain urgency to collect the information. (With so many internal political squabbles remaining largely unknown, it seems odd that the young man would be sent on a near Kamikaze mission into the figurative dragon’s lair, knowing that there was better chance than not that he would be caught, very likely causing some embarrassment for his father and mother.)

In February 2019, Zhao Qianli, a 20-year-old Chinese national, pleaded guilty in court for taking photos of the US Naval Air Station Key West in Florida. He received a sentence of one year in prison. Zhao came to the US as an exchange student. Travellers businessmen, students, and visiting researchers are often approached to undertake intelligence tasks, and the MSS maintains control of them through inducements and personnel connections (guanxi) and the potential threat of alienation from the homeland. Particularly with regard to students, Chinese intelligence agencies often use the “flying swallow” plan, whereby overseas Chinese students who serve as spies work with a single contact in China—just as swallows pick up only one piece of mud at a time to build their nests. The students do not have their personal files inside China’s intelligence system, so if they are caught, there is little information to be revealed.

As this approach has resulted in a reasonable degree of success, and MSS officers could continue to capitalize on a cultural and language affinity, a preconception had actually developed in the minds of interested parties in the US that the MSS would continue to take that course. Support could also found for that view looking at the success of MSS in Taiwan, with its ethnic Chinese population. Most recently, in May 2020, Taiwanese authorities detained Major General Hsieh Chia-kang, and a retired colonel, Hsin Peng-sheng, for allegedly passing classified defense information to China. Hsieh once served as the deputy commander of the Matsu Defense Command and had overseen the Air Defense Command when apprehended. He reportedly had access to the specifications for the US-made Patriot missiles as well as the Taiwanese Tien-kung III and Hsiung-feng 2E cruise missiles. Reported, Chinese intelligence officers recruited Hsieh’s comrade  Hsin with all of stops out while he was in China, leading a Taiwanese tour group. Hsin, a former colleague, allegedly first approached Hsieh about working for Chinese intelligence. According to the prosecutors, Hsieh traveled to Malaysia and Thailand to meet his handlers. The indications and implications of Hsieh’s pattern of travel are that he may have been working for Chinese intelligence since 2009 or 2010. In addition to collecting and passing classified materials, both Hsieh and Hsin agreed to assist Chinese intelligence in spotting and recruiting other sources.

In March 2010, Wang Hung-ju, who was arrested because of his connections to an espionage case. Wang was a former official in the Special Service Command Center in the National Security Bureau, and served for a short period as the bodyguard for Taiwanese Vice President Annette Lu before retiring in 2003. The Taiwanese press repeatedly reported that Wang was uncovered as part of the investigation of a Taiwanese businessman, Ho Chih-chiang. MSS intelligence officers, plausibly from the MSS bureau in Tianjin, recruited Ho in 2007 and used him to approach Taiwanese intelligence officials. Ho’s handlers instructed and empowered him to offer money and other inducements to recruit serving officials. Supposedly, Ho was in contact with Wang, which led to his travelling to China where he was recruited by the Tianjin State Security Bureau. Wang reportedly attempted to recruit two friends into his intelligence network, including an officer in the Military Police Command. While the shift to recruiting a broad base of foreign recruits in China was an important step in the evolution of Chinese intelligence, the process still had its limitations. Nearly all foreign-born operatives were recruited within China, rather than their home countries or elsewhere.

Retired Taiwanese Major General Hsieh Chia-kang (center) MSS officers continue to capitalize on a cultural and language affinity in the recruitment of ethnic Chinese worldwide. Most recently, in May 2020, Taiwanese authorities detained Major General Hsieh Chia-kang, and a retired colonel, Hsin Peng-sheng, for allegedly passing classified defense information to China. Hsieh once served as the deputy commander of the Matsu Defense Command and had overseen the Air Defense Command when apprehended. He reportedly had access to the specifications for the US-made Patriot missiles as well as the Taiwanese Tien-kung III and Hsiung-feng 2E cruise missiles.

However, while ostensibly being a satisfactory solution, MSS found itself simply working on the margins targeting ethnic Chinese as a priority. It proved too reserved, too limiting. Not wanting to confine themselves to a small set of targets for recruitment, the logical next step was to attempt the recruitment of operatives and agents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. According to William C. Hannas, James Mulvenon, and Anna B. Puglisi in Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernization (Routledge, 2013), cases at the time of the book’s writing suggested that was exactly what Chinese intelligence services did as a whole. Tradecraft was observably broadened to include the recruitment non-ethnic-Chinese assets as well. MSS still uses this method. One can better estimate how active and well MSS officers and operatives are performing by who has been recently caught among their recruits and what they have been discovered doing.

In April 2020, Candace Claiborne, a former US Department of State employee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US. The criminal complaint against her alleges that Claiborne, having served in a number of posts overseas including China and having held a top-secret security clearance, failed to report contacts with suspected intelligence officers from a bureau of the MSS. Claiborne’s MSS handler used the cover of operating an import-export company with a spa and restaurant on the side. The MSS tasked with collecting and passing information on US economy policy deliberations and internal State Department reactions to talks with China. They more specifically told Clairborne that her reporting on US economic policy was “useful but it is also on the Internet. What they are looking for is what they cannot find on the Internet.” In accord with her instructions, prosecutors claim Claiborne provided copies of State Department documents and analysis. In return, Claiborne and a co-conspirator received “tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits,” including New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, fashion-school tuition, rent, and cash payments.

In May 2019, Kevin Mallory was charged under the Espionage Act with selling US secrets to China and convicted by a jury last spring. In May 2020, sentenced to 20 years in prison; his lawyers plan to appeal the conviction. Mallory’s troubles began in 2017 when his consulting business was failing and he was struggling financially. In early 2017, prosecutors said, he received a message on LinkedIn, where he had more than 500 connections. It had come from a Chinese recruiter with whom Mallory had five mutual connections. That recruiter, Michael Yang, according to the LinkedIn message, worked for a think tank in China, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and was interested in Mallory’s foreign-policy expertise. Mallory was deployed to China for part of his career and was fluent Mandarin. The message led to a phone call which led to Mallory boarding a plane for Shanghai to meet Yang. Mallory would later tell the FBI he suspected that Yang was not a think-tank employee, but a Chinese intelligence officer, which apparently was okay by him. Yang was an MSS intelligence officer. Mallory’s visit to China initiated an espionage relationship with the MSS by which he received $25,000 over two months in exchange for handing over government secrets. Reportedly, the FBI eventually caught him with a digital memory card containing eight secret and top-secret documents that held details of a still-classified spying operation.

Kevin Mallory (above). Mallory was charged in May 2019 under the Espionage Act with selling US secrets to China. In targeting ethnic-Chinese for recruitment, MSS found itself simply working on the margins. The method was too reserved, too limiting. Not wanting to confine themselves to a small set of targets for recruitment, the logical next step was to attempt the recruitment of operatives and agents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Tradecraft was observably broadened to include the recruitment non-ethnic-Chinese assets as well. In early 2017, prosecutors said,  Mallory received a message on Linkedin from a Chinese recruiter, who allegedly worked for the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and was interested in Mallory’s foreign-policy expertise. He was actually an MSS intelligence officer. Other communications led to Mallory’s visit to China and the creation of an espionage relationship with MSS. When the FBI eventually caught him, he possessed a digital memory card containing eight secret and top-secret documents with details of a still-classified spying operation.

In the wild kingdom, ambush predation, a behavior displayed by MSS officers in the instances just presented, works well instinctively for many animals, but it requires possessing an innate patience. The prey must enter a well-set trap of some kind. The haul of victories will be determined by how target rich the environment in which the trap set is with the prey the predator wants. Increasing the number of those targets would mean becoming proactive, going out a hunting that desired prey down. Thus, in the third and most recent step in the evolution of Chinese intelligence, MSS officers have become willing to recruit agents while abroad. The risk was greater, but the potential fruits would be greater, too! According to Mattis, the new approach was first identified by Sweden in 2008, when its intelligence services and law enforcement determined Chinese intelligence officers operating out of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Stockholm, had recruited a Uyghur émigré to spy on fellow émigrés inside as well as outside of Europe. German intelligence and counterintelligence services identified a second instance in 2009, alleging the existence of a spy ring controlled by a Chinese intelligence officer operating out of the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China in Munich.

Once determined to go after even a broader pool, MSS naturally thought strongly about collecting intelligence with might and main throughout the US. A smattering of examples MSS operations a decade later uncovered by US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement provides an ample sense of that. Fast forward three years and one will discover how successful Chinese human intelligence penetration has been at some of the finest academic institutions in the US: in January 2020, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Charles Lieber, was alleged to have violated federal law by failing to disclose his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan to Harvard administrators, who allegedly then passed along false information to the federal government. Lieber was reportedly paid more than $1 million by China in exchange for agreeing to publish articles, organize international conferences and apply for patents on behalf of a Chinese university; in December 2019, a Chinese Harvard-affiliated cancer researcher was caught with 21 vials of cells stolen from a laboratory at a Boston hospital; in August 2019, a Chinese professor conducting sensitive research at the University of Kansas was indicted on charges he cloaked his links to a university in China; and, in June 2019, a Chinese scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles was convicted of shipping banned missile technology to China. The National Counterintelligence Executive, Evanina, has explained, “A lot of our ideas, technology, research, innovation is incubated on those university campuses.” He further stated, “That’s where the science and technology originates–and that’s why it’s the most prime place to steal.” However, MSS does not limit itself to seeking big things from big places such as Harvard. Desired information on national security matters can be found just about anywhere in the US. Consider, in April 2016, a Florida woman was charged by the US Department of Justice, in an 18-count indictment for conspiracy to illegally export systems, components, and documents on un-manned underwater vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, and autonomous underwater vehicles to China.

Selecting Prospective Recruits

Visits to China by foreigners may be viewed by Ministry of Tourism as opportunity to display China’s cultural richness and advancements in all areas. The MSS would only characterize those visits by foreigners as intrusions into China. The foreigner, to them and their sister intelligence, counterintelligence and law enforcement organizations, will always represent a potential threat. MSS could only imagine exploiting the situation by seeing opportunities to recruit new operatives. Commonly acknowledged among experts in this province is that domestically, the MSS exercises responsibility for the surveillance and recruitment of foreign businessmen, researchers, and officials visiting from abroad. The MSS Investigation Department surveillance of dissidents and foreign journalists is often quite obvious. It is supported by more clandestine measures taken by state ministries, academic institutions, and the military industrial complex. The various Chinese intelligence services can identify foreigners of interest in China through a number of means such as trade fairs, exhibitions, and business visas. Once identified, an intelligence officer using a cover may try to develop a friendship or business friendship often using lavish hospitality and flattery. The Chinese intelligence services have also been known to exploit relationships such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressure individuals to cooperate with them. Sometimes efforts will be made via social media to spot potential recruits. A variety of ploys will be used to get to the target to travel to China where the meat and potatoes of the recruitment process will get underway.

In the current environment, US citizens especially will be closely investigated by a provincial MSS office. That kind of investigation would not be conducted with a view to recruit immediately. For the MSS, it was important to construct a psychological profile of a person, his political orientation, his attitude towards his home country and towards the country he was visiting for some reason. What is very clear about the recruitment of foreign operatives and informants by the MSS in China is that rigor is used in the selection process. The ostenibly way MSS to determine whether a foreign official should be targeted would be to investigate whether they ticked certain boxes through evaluating their actions and other information available. Among those boxes were likely the following examples: standing and influence within his organization, access to required information; standing and influence own people given position; standing and influence among specific people given position and access to decision making process and required information; and, the ability to provide secure access to information for MSS officers.

The likes and dislikes of the target and observed particular appetites of the target that may have left the door open to manipulation by seduction or blackmail are vigorously investogated. If a file secreted from the target organization can be collected by MSS agents in a position to grab it. It would be copied or stolen and included in the target’s file. A background that included an exceptional interest in China, left-leaning sympathies, and even affiliation with Socialist or Communist groups would make the target even more attractive for MSS to recruit for China’s case and the Communist Revolution. Particularly useless are observations and “insights” that merely verify generalizations, derivative, or even bigoted preconceived ideas about the target. After accumulating a sizable amount of material using plain observation, clandestine contacts and conversations, and use of a suite of technical tools for audio- and video-surveillance of the places of residence, all the information is analyzed and conclusions are reached on it. A decision is then made about transforming the investigation into a recruitment. The MSS officer who attempts the recruitment in China will exploit whatever has been collected about the target. Information acquired while the recruitment is underway will also be made available to the officer and his manager. The MSS officer will appeal to the target’s discretion. Ideally, the target wil be led to voluntarily agree to work for MSS. However, under exigent circumstances, compromising materials might be used, however, in this day and age it is hard to determine what behavior is recorded would qualify as compromising–”Goodness knows, anything goes!.”

The same rigorous selection process of operatives and informants would be used overseas as in China. By the time of their recruitment of a target, MSS would be fully aware of their recruits’ particulars. Productive operatives are a true sign of a successful recruitment. Sometimes, the prospective recruit will be asked to travel to another country where MSS officers will more formally bring in the target and introduce him or her to the world of espionage. Additionally as in China, the objective of an overseas recruitment may not always be collection. The goal can also be to educate a foreigner, conveying a favorable image of China and how it represents the best future for the world.

Within the Chinese intelligence services, the belief is that foreigners lack the strength of connection, patriotism, that Chinese have for their country is dogma. With ethnic Chinese émigrés, the belief is that the strength of their connection to China can be exploited. For decades the line emanating from Beijing has been that the people of the West for that matter are rich, sick, and filthy. With specific regard to the US, world’s chief superppwer, a guiding idea in China’s geopolitical and geostrategic struggle with it has been that the US is terminal empire. The belief that the US is collapsing from within flourishes despite the country’s decades long record of economic success and steady ascent. In current times, Beijing’s line has become nuanced to express the view that the US is spiraling downward under the weight of racism endemic to all institutions and neo-fascism. To that extent, the liberal democracy is suffocating on its own self-aggrandizement. China sees its quest for dominance over the US further aided by the fact that the US citizen, in the face of an ever encroaching China, would prefer to enjoy an easy life, a lazy existence, and would hardly be concerned with providing any resistence. So far, MSS has been able to add one successful recruitment after another to its tally.

The Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). The male MSS officer deployed from Beijing Headquarters or a provincial bureau who one might encounter in the US will not appear as a run of the mill joe. He or she will be well-spoken, well-mannered, well-minded, well-built, well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-knowledged, certainly leaving a target well-impressed. Their comportment resembles that of the MSS Minister Chen Wenqing, seen above. All of that is done to have an added impact among targets that they are dealing with someone special, becoming part of something special, and doing something special. However, shrewd MSS managers are aware that taking a “one size fits all” approach to doling out assignments to recruit and run agents in the field would be self-defeating. Managers, when resources are available will consider which officer on the team would best be able to recruit the target and complete the task at hand. While one target may respond well to the gun barrel straight male MSS officer with a commanding presence, another target may be assessed to be likely more responsive to a female officer with a lighter touch.

Some Specifics on How It Is Done: The MSS Officer on the Beat in the US

Based on information gleaned from defectors, MSS personnel are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. In most countries, the local MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. In the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. Having stated that, it is also very likely that far greater numbers of MSS officers as well as officers from the PLA and Communist Party of China intelligence units are operating without official cover throughout the West. Instead of embassies and consulates, they operate out of nongovernmental, decentralized stations. More often than not, they operate out of front companies created solely for intelligence missions or out of “friendly” companies overseas run by Chinese nationals, “cut outs“, who are willing to be more heavily involved with the work of MSS and other Chinese intelligence services than most Chinese citizens would ever want to be. This approach may be a residual effect of pollination with Soviet intelligence in the past. There is a common misunderstanding about the Soviet KGB Rezidentura. While it is generally believed that all intelligence activity by KGB in another country was centralized through the Rezidentura in the embassy or consulate, under a Rezident with an official cover, as fully explained by former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin in his memoir, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), there were also nonofficial Rezidenturas that operated away from Soviet diplomatic centers. Those nonofficial Rezidenturas had their own Rezident or chief of station, chain of command, missions, and lines of communication to Moscow. One might suppose that when the relationship during the Cold War was still congenial, had doubtlessly demonstrated to the Chinese, the benefits of operating two types of Rezidentura overseas, official and nonofficial.

Possunt quia posse videntur. (They are able because they appear able.) The MSS officer deployed from Beijing Headquarters or a provincial bureau who one might encounter in the US will not appear as a run of the mill joe. He or she will be well-spoken, well-mannered, well-minded, well-built, well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-knowledged, certainly leaving a target well-impressed. All of that is done to have an added impact among targets that they are dealing with someone special, becoming part of something special, and doing something special. MSS is results oriented, and that is always foremost in the minds of good managers. Actions taken will never be perfunctory, and situations should not be forced. In the field, operating against an opponent, nothing can be thought of as too trivial to disregard. After being read-in on reports, must let nothing escape a manager’s consideration. Every target for recruitment is unique, requiring some nuance. Thus, shrewd managers in MSS are aware that taking a “one size fits all” approach to doling out assignments to recruit and run agents in the field would be self-defeating and counterintuitive. Managers, when resources are available will consider which officer on the team would best be able to recruit the target and complete the task at hand. While one target may respond well to the gun barrel straight male MSS officer with a commanding presence, another target may be assessed to be likely more responsive to a female officer with a lighter touch. That might make the target more comfortable and easier to handle once the collection process begins. This is not any reference to sexual enticement or manipulation. Rather, the touch of a female officer may prove more effective. For some operatives, the female officer may be able to effectively take a “motherly approach,” comforting them and making them more responsive. Having stated that about female officers, in some cases, it may be discovered after the initial approach that a woman may prove to be, for a variety of reasons, too intimidating for a target and make the interaction difficult and likely unsuccessful. The target may simply hold a bias against women, and perhaps may find working for a woman disagreeable. Such are the realities of human interactions.

Among scientists, technicians and engineers, it may be the case that the target would be best approached by a more compatible, “bookwormish,” reserved and understanding officer, who can connect with the target not only on a professional level, being able to discuss technical details of information sought and the work in which the target may be engaged, but on a social level, perhaps having many of the same interests as the target. In every case though, the main pitch to the target would include something along the lines that Just as humanity has no nation, science has no nation. The line that would soon follow is how China would be the dominant power and be the country to lead humanity to excellence and so on.

As mentioned earlier, possessing a diverse team of male and female officers for operations is not likely to be the case for most MSS managers operating under either official cover or non-official cover. For this reason, it has become necessary for MSS to seek to the cooperation of scientists, technicians and engineers from other government branches or civilian enterprises who would be directed to attend lectures, conferences, conventions trade shows and the like, and make contact with targets and establish an interaction that could lead to passing the target of to an MSS officer or actually engaging in the tradecraft necessary to recruit the target and manage the target’s activities, use tradecraft to collect information procured and provide requirements collection and solutions to problems.

For an intelligence officer recruiting agents, speech is everything. Word choices must build confidence, create trust, console, assure, inspire, and comfort. To create compliant agents, the right word choice must be made every time. Some submission of operatives and informants to the words of the officer must take place, causing the operatives and informants to put aside what they may know or imagine and accept the new knowledge the officer puts before them. While of course in reality, all operatives and informants are being manipulated and corrupted by their foreign intelligence officer handlers, a relationship akin to a teacher and student or mentor and mentee is established in optimal cases. As in those sort of relationships, the operative or informant becomes the responsibility of the officer. Further, as in such relationships, it should be the hope of the officer that the operative or informant perfirms superbly and exceeds all expectations.

The less certain the recruit is about the objective truth, the more likely the individual will be drawn to a false reality. Many who are successfully recruited ultimately would believe that their actions were humanitarian contributions to peace. It is very unlikely that the operative will ever know the degree to which that furtive bit of information he or she is stealing will support any nefarious plans the officer and his country may have cooked up for the US or another country. That is always thrown into the bargain. The MSS officer’s relationship with the operative is only professional. Friendship is established due to necessity. All appearances will be false. Intriguingly, the intellects of the majority of recruits are unable to confound insincerity. Targets of MSS recruitment indeed often fail to realize that if it were not for the officer’s need to collect information from, or pass the Communist Party of China-line to, the operative, the officer would hardly have anything to do with anyone of such character that they would willingly betray their own homeland. The only reality for the recruit is that they are being molded, groomed to do nothing more than committing treason at the behest of a hostile intelligence service of a foreign country. It is all certainly not some childish parlor game. Quid est turplus quam ab aliquo illcieli? (What can be more shameful than to be deceived by someone?)

In a number of cases in the US in which economic espionage has occurred identified as having a Chinese nexus, indications were that nontraditional actors have been used in Chinese intelligence operations for quite some time. Just how many nontraditional actors are in a position and willing to serve the interests of the Chinese intelligence services could only be known based on intercepted information, informants working for US intelligence and counterintelligence and after they may be activated to collect information or materials. A conversation on the margins of a professional gathering that begins with innocuous banter. There could be a clandestine contact, an email or letter, sent to the target requesting to discuss a matter in the target’s field to assist with the writing of an article or book, to assist with academic or other scholarly research, or to discuss a grant or prize from an overseas nongovernmental organization of some type. The next contact, if any, might include leading comments or questions on technical matters or one’s work, might appear odd. That would be an almost sure sign that the inquisitive interlocutor, if not simply socially inept, was probing. If the target had even the slightest awareness of the efforts of Chinese intelligence services to recruit spies, it is at that point the individual should realize that he ir she is in a bad situatupion and break that contact immediately. If the MSS officer notices that the target realizes his or her the questions were compelled by more than a thirst for knowledge and does not run, the officer knows he may have hooked his fish.

As part of their tradecraft, MSS officers would prefer hole-in-corner meetings with prospective recruits in small, quiet locations such as cozy, dimly lit establishments, conversing over coffee or tea, perhaps a dash of brandy or even a bite to eat. It would be far better site for a furtive discussion than some crowded establishment or a spot nearby some busy thoroughfare. Other sites usually selected are hotel rooms, gardens, and parks. The MSS will also want to have an unobstructed view of passersby and other patrons to at least determine whether observable surveillance activity is being directed upon the meeting. The MSS officer will want to eliminate as many distractions as possible as he or she will want to focus wholly of communicating with the prospective recruit and have reciprocate with the same level of attention. The officer will want to analyze the individual close-up and personal and every response to his or her remarks. If a full-on recruitment effort is not made right away, everything will be done to establish a close association for the moment with the target. The figurative “contracted specialist,” will engage in similar activities, and much as the MSS officer, would also try to become a close associate of the prospective recruit. Much as an intelligence officer would be, the contracted agent would doubtlessly be placed under the close supervision of an MSS manager most likely operating under non-official cover, but potentially under officer cover. If a prospective “contracted specialist” left no doubt in the minds of MSS officer that he or she would be unable to perform the more hands-on job of recruiting operatives and informants, they might be called into service to “spot” experts at professional gatherings or even at their workplaces who MSS desires or to collect information from available databases and files there.

The Tianjin State Security Bureau (above). The thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements of the MSS more than likely possess most of the officers, operatives, and informants and conduct the lion’s share of the operations, taking into account that they perform mostly surveillance and domestic intelligence work. These provincial and municipal state security departments and bureaus are now essentially small-sized foreign intelligence services. They are given considerable leeway to pursue sources. In Mattis’ view, that independence accounts for variation across the MSS in terms of the quality of individual intelligence officers and operations.

Overseas Espionage by the Provincial Bureaus: A Dimension within the Human Intelligence Dimension

It is important point out that although the bureaucratic center of gravity may reside in its Beijing headquarters, in a July 9, 2017 National Review article entitled “Everything We Know about China’s Secretive State Security Bureau”, Mattis explains that the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements of MSS more than likely possess most of the officers, operatives, and informants and conduct the lion’s share of the operations, taking into account that they perform mostly surveillance and domestic intelligence work. These provincial state security departments and municipal state security bureaus are now essentially small-sized foreign intelligence services. They are given considerable leeway to pursue sources. In Mattis’ view, that independence accounts for variation across the MSS in terms of the quality of individual intelligence officers and operations. He further explains that unless specific units are referenced, reality will contradict general assessments. The indication and implication of this is that defeating MSS efforts in the US will require a broad-based strategy that accounts for the scale of the intelligence organization and compartmentation.

The Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB) has surfaced in several US espionage cases. The record its uncloaked operations leaves no doubt that SSSB is constantly looking for opportunities to collect foreign intelligence. It was actually SSSB intelligence officers that approached Clairborne and requested that she provide information on US economy policy deliberations and internal State Department reactions to talks with China. It was SSSB that recruited Mallory. It was SSSB that approached a freelance journalist focused on Asian affairs received SSSB requests for short, interview-based papers related to US policy in Burma, US contacts with North Korea, and US talks with Cambodia related to the South China Sea. Away from the US, in a case involving South Korean diplomats in Shanghai, a Chinese woman, in exchange for sex, requested and received telephone and contact information for senior South Korean government officials. Beyond government documents, the woman also used her influence to help Chinese citizens acquire expedited visa approvals to South Korea. SSSB reportedly blackmailed a Japanese code clerk working in the Japanese Consulate in Shanghai in 2003 and 2004 over his relationship with a prostitute. Allegedly, the illicit relationship began at a karaoke parlor that may have been owned by the SSSB and that catered to Japanese diplomats and businesspeople. Once the code clerk in the grips of the SSSB, its intelligence officers demanded background information on Japanese diplomats posted to the consulate and the schedule for diplomatic pouches going back to Tokyo. Counterintelligence plays a key role in SSSB efforts, too! When the SSSB blackmailed the Japanese code clerk, the organization reportedly asked him to name all of the Chinese contacts of the Japanese consulate in Shanghai.

Other evidence available indicates the SSSB is responsive to the global needs of the MSS and China’s central decision makers. A job announcement errantly circulated publicly around Shanghai universities in 2015, encouraged students who spoke English, Japanese, German, French, Russian, Taiwanese, or the languages of China’s recognized minorities to apply to the SSSB. Mattis proffers that the request for those specific language skills are suggestive of foreign-intelligence targets, counterintelligence coverage of foreigners inside China, and domestic intelligence work for monitoring the party-state’s internal enemies. The job announcement also emphasized that skills in information security, computer software programming and telecommunications as being desirable. In its recruitment efforts, SSSB benefits from a local pool that includes some of the best universities in China, including Fudan and Shanghai Jiao Tong. Shanghai’s universities, think tanks, businesses, and modern infrastructure draw a large, high-quality pool of foreigners from which the SSSB can recruit operatives. Shanghai Jiaotong University, one of China’s most prestigious universities, has been linked to military thefts in cyberspace, leaving open the possibility that such students also might seek work with state security. Admittedly, the job announcement did not describe whether such skills were required in technical support or operational positions. A recently-passed intelligence law prescribes “[combining] open work and secret work” in intelligence operations. Thus, SSSB capabilities very likely exceed human-intelligence operations to include computer network operations.

As the Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence revealed it to be the pattern within the provincial departments  and municipal bureaus, the SSSB leadership appears to come from within the bureau or at least the MSS. The current bureau director is Dong Weimin, who has run the organization since 2015. Unlike the Beijing State Security Bureau’s leadership, service in the SSSB unlikely provides for upward mobility to other parts of the MSS. The directors of the Beijing State Security Bureau regularly move into the MSS party committee and become vice ministers. The most notable among these are Qiu Jin and Ma Jian. The only example of an SSSB director promoted upward in recent memory seemingly is Cai Xumin. He led the SSSB from 2000 to 2004, when he was promoted to MSS vice minister. Cai would return to Shanghai to serve as the city’s deputy procurator in late 2006.

Away from the economic espionage and technology theft in particular, MSS officers regularly have operatives engage in something akin to a Hollywood depictions of “secret agent spying” by taking photographs of restricted areas, gaining entry into restricted areas, and collecting documents, materials, and other property from a restricted area. Those types of activities are perhaps more commonplace that most ordinary citizens might believe. It is only after an MSS officer is captured, or officer of another Chinese foreign intelligence service such as the Second Department of the PLA, that they are made aware that such activity is taking place. Greater awareness that is occurring is the only chance of thwarting suspicious activity when it occurs. When Chinese nationals engaged in such activity are occasionally captured, usually found in their possession is a cache of surveillance equipment. There is typically so much that it evinces the agent believed, with a high degree of confidence that he or she would be able to act without relative impunity in or around a targeted restricted area. It may also very well have been the precedence of previous success spying on the site that helped fashion that notion. Despite the regularity of such activity, the use of MSS officers to recruit agents to do the dirty work of spying has been a fruitful approach.

MSS Informants: Motivations

Attendant to any discussion of the use of actual research scientists across the spectrum of advanced technologies as operatives, as surrogates for MSS officers in the field, would be the discussion of civilian informants and responsibilities of Chinese citizens under China’s National Security law. In the West there usually would be a variety of motivations for citizens to more than likely violate their own Constitution to engage in surveillance and higher levels of activity on behalf of US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement. Against a foreigner, they might see it as a Patriotic duty. To surveil another citizen might cause pangs of dismay anxiety for there would be the real possibility of violating the 1st Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights of a fellow citizen under the US Constitution. Sadly the motivations of money ideology, conspiracy, and excitement, as well as a healthy dose of indifference will often cure any anxieties or nervousness about another citizens Constitutional rights. Different from Western democracies, however, for the Chinese citizen, such motivations do not factor in such a decision to come to call of their country’s intelligence services. The law requires them to do so. If any motivations at all could be said to factor in a Chinese citizen’s decision to obey the direction of the intelligence service, expectedly the Communist Party of China would list faith and adherence to the ideals of the Communist Revolution, the Communist Party of China, patriotism, the homeland. Supposedly, revolutionary zeal drives the heart of China as one beating heart so to speak.

The National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress declares under Article 9 that in maintenance of national security, priority shall be given to prevention, equal attention shall be paid to temporary and permanent solutions, specialized tasks shall be combined with reliance on the masses, the functions of specialized authorities and other relevant authorities in maintaining national security shall be maximized, and citizens and organizations shall be extensively mobilized to prevent, frustrate, and legally punish any conduct that compromises national security. Article 11 decrees that there will be no tolerance shown for the failure to meet one’s obligation to maintain national security. The article states: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China, state authorities, armed forces, political parties, people’s groups, enterprises, public institutions, and other social organizations shall have the responsibility and obligation to maintain national security.” Authorities in China understand that extraordinary powers are entrusted in the hands of many, such as MSS officers, who work on national security matters. Contractors, and even informants, who might work on their behalf are placed under the same scrutiny. Those who have attempted to cross the Chinese government have faced stiff reprisals. The shadow of sudden death can hang over the head of any individual arrested for such betrayal. As stated under Article 13: “Whoever as an employee of a state authority abuses power, neglects duty, practices favoritism, or makes falsification in national security work or any activity involving national security shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The article further declares: “Any individual or organization that fails to fulfill the obligation of maintaining national security or conducts any activity compromising national security in violation of this Law or any relevant law shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The furtive work of Chinese citizens at home and abroad under the direction of the MSS does not need to be without guerdon. As explained under Article 12: “The state shall commend and reward individuals and organizations that have made prominent contributions to maintaining national security.”

On MSS Informants Overseas

The immediate impression created when one learns that China regularly makes full use of Chinese nationals to support the intelligence collection process is the mind boggling prospect of a multitude of adults from China’s population, which according to the World Population Review as of this writing is put at nearly 1,439,239,000. While there may very well be several Chinese national informants moving around Western countries on a given day, that number is certainly not in the millions. Certainly, not every adult in China will be directly asked to be an informant overseas. Seasoned members of the service have decades of experience approaching young Chinese travelers. Usually prospective informants are approached just before travelling overseas for busuness or tourism or early in their overseas education or career. The younger the informant more time they might have in place and more likely they might be responsive to an MSS officer’s entreaties to take on the job. It is not a matter of taking anyone who comes along. MSS officers are looking for a safe pair of hands; those with cool heads, who can comfortably kick around foreign parts. They must be the very soul of discretion and not easily rattled.

Glenn Duffie Shriver (above). Often in the recruitment of US operatives, as well as those of other countries, prospective targets will be approached who may not at the present time have much by way of an access but potentially could establish that access in time. The recruitment is conducted quietly and low-key to successfully avoid raising suspicion or pose concerns to anyone. The relationship between the MSS officer or contractor and the recruit, seemingly having no importance, will evolve gradually on a schedule set by observant, diligent, and patient MSS managers. A number of cases that conform to this type of recruitment have been made public. In a notable one, Glenn Duffie Shriver after graduating college decided to live in China after a short period of study there from 2002–2003. MSS officers convinced him to assist their efforts in the US for pay. Shriver reportedly received more than $70,000 from the Chinese intelligence to apply to the US Foreign Service and the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. In October 2010, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide US national defense information to the MSS.

Recruiting Spies for the Long-Run: MSS Style

Often in the recruitment of US operatives, as well as those of other countries, prospective targets will be approached who may not at the present time have much by way of an access but potentially could establish that access in time. This was also a method that Soviet intelligence was famous for. To that extent, the recruitment process is conducted quietly and low-key to successfully avoid raising suspicion or pose concerns to anyone. The relationship between the MSS officer or contractor and the recruit, seemingly having no importance, will evolve gradually on a schedule set by observant, diligent, and patient MSS managers. As for the recruit, the motivation is typically emotional, somewhat ideological. For example, from the moment of contact with the MSS, they may sense that they are able to shape the fate of the world through their furtive activities. If the recruitment takes long enough, the target will even be passed on to another officer for development. When the recruit “matures” to the point of getting into position in a business, think tank, government organization, academic institution, or some other targeted location, the MSS officer handling the individual will begin full-fledged tasking. All forms of espionage and active measures will get under way full throttle. All in all, the speed differential with other forms of recruitment is not as critical as the depth of penetration by the recruit. What MSS gets from the effort is a highly prepared mole buried deep within the US foreign and national security policy apparatus.

A number of cases that conform to this type of recruitment have made public. In a notable one, in October 2010, Glenn Duffie Shriver pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide US national defense information to SSSB intelligence officer. Shriver, a recent US college graduate decided to live in China after a short period of study there from 2002–2003. Apparently finding Shriver to be a viable target, Chinese intelligence officers successfully pitched him the idea of assisting their efforts in the US for pay. Shriver reportedly received more than $70,000 from the Chinese intelligence to apply to the US Foreign Service and the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. If he managed to be hired by either, he would have been obligated to communicate classified US national defense information to their organization. The apparent intent of the SSSB’s was to collect a stream of reporting on US foreign policy. It was seemingly inconsequential that only some of a portion of it would have been directly related to Asia and particularly China.

Honey Traps

As noted in the discussion on the overseas intelligence operations of MSS provincial bureaus, Chinese human Intelligence officers have also been known to exploit relationships such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressure individuals to cooperate with them. Indeed, a bog-standard method of snagging traveling businessmen is the honeytrap. As defined more specifically in Henry S. A. Becket, The Dictionary of Espionage: Spookspeak into English (Stein & Day, 1986), a honey trap is a method of sexual entrapment for intelligence purposes, usually to put a target [such as Kalugin] into a compromising position so that he or she can be blackmailed. The approach would be made once MSS intelligence or counterintelligence managers believed enough had collected enough about the target and the target’s activities, that they understood how the foreign national thought, and whether he would respond favorably to an effort to make that sort of clandestine contact with him, the approach is made by a selected female or make operative.

According to Kalugin in First Directorate, to further the KGB’s mission, he loosed those alluring qualities his personal appearance and attributes and those of other handsome males and females as weapons very effectively against Western officials and especially secretaries working in key offices in the US foreign and national security policy apparatus when he believed something considerable could be gained by doing so. If lucky, the target may already have become in contact with a woman from a house of elegant pleasure, and the recruitment of the prostitute is what is required. However, there are cases in which the prostitute may not have the background to engage the target in a way that is best for the MSS to establish appropriate level of contact to move forward toward effectual recruitment.

Prospective MSS intelligence officers?: Freshmen of Nanjing Campus of China Communications University in military training in 2015 (above). The MSS has been known to exploit relationships such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressure individuals to cooperate with them. It is a bog-standard method known as the honeytrap. While prostitutes and “contractors” are often used for this purpose, female officers may be put in a position to take on a honey trap role. Insisting that female officers surrender themselves to act as lures for potential targets for recruitment is surely not in line with that goal. MSS officers, particularly to young female officers, have been forced to choose whether to engage in such behavior to support the MSS mission. The question is posed, “Which comes first, love of self and honor or love of country and dedication to the Communist Revolution?”

The true humanist by the Marxist definition, seeks to understand human nature with the notion that all can be brought into an ideal Communist World. Insisting that female officers surrender themselves to act as lures for potential targets for recruitnent is surely not in line with that goal. Nevertheless, when MSS officers, particularly to young female officers, are forced to choose whether to engage in such behavior to support the MSS mission, the question is posed, “Which comes first, love of self and honor or love of country and dedication to the Communist Revolution?” The female officer would certainly need to consider what her family would say and what her community would say about her taking on such an assignment. The final answer would be founded on the officer’s own self-respect, dignity, self-worth, conscience. In a system where the desires of the individual must be subordinated to the needs of the state, the only answer is to give primacy to love of country and support the Communist Revolution. That being the case, for the majority of female officers, engaging such work would still be simply outside the realm of possibility. Ad turpia virum bonum nulla spies invitat. (No expectation can allure a good man to the commission of evil.)

Discussion will be extended in Part 2, to be published later

Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students

When Putin occasionally grieves publicly over the Soviet Union’s demise and expresses pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners worldwide. Putin, just being himself, certainly does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Still, he is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. A group of university students in the US inquired with greatcharlie on Putin’s expressions concerning the Soviet Union following a lively seminar debate. It was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to their inquiry. Hopefully, what is at the root of Putin’s stance on the Soviet Union has been figuratively dug up for them to see.

In late-May 2019, greatcharlie received an intriguing message from some undergraduate students of a university in the US concerning recurrent comments of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, lamenting the Soviet Union’s demise. There had apparently been a very lively debate in their political science seminar on Putin’s “often public lamentations over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, his insistence that it had many positive attributes and that as a superpower, it played a valuable role globally.” The students’ solicitation of greatcharlie’s thoughts on the matter was flattering. It was even more stirring to see them express great interest in international affairs and Russian politics in particular. Another subject was selected for greatcharlie’s June post.  However, rather than simply suggest a few books and journal articles to supplement their seminar debate, it was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to the students’ inquiry. Undergraduate and graduate students represent a significant portion of greatcharlie’s audience. The hope of greatcharlie is that by responding in this way, these intrepid students and others reading the blog will be encouraged to further pursue their international affairs studies and to continue reaching out beyond their classroom lessons to augment their knowledge base.

Confusion over one’s thinking can often issue from imprudently offering enthusiasms on a subject. When Putin occasionally offers pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners. Putin, just being himself, does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Yet, Putin is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. It would be counterintuitive not to accept that when Putin acts at any level, he does so with purpose and that purpose can be uncovered. What is at the root of Putin’s nostalgic, pro-Soviet position is figuratively dug up for them to see from this somewhat informal, multidirectional examination. Hopefully, it discusses a few valuable points perhaps not covered in the inquiring students’ seminar. Further, from this examination, insights were generated on the Russian Federation President’s intentions and actions that will contribute to the foreign policy debate internationally. Nulla tenaci invia est via. (For the tenacious no road is impassable.)

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was the very public nature of his expressions. Even in those dire initial days in office, Putin rarely offered comments off the cuff that could possibly produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as they related to feelings of patriotism were heard from him before. Still, he avoided uttering sentiments that stemmed from truly personal feelings. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Putin Has Said Some Interesting Things about the Soviet Union

When Putin first began publicly discussing his feelings about the Soviet Union, he provided a rare glimpse of how thoughts coalesced in his consciousness. Only a few years earlier Putin had become a full-fledged political man, a deputy mayor of St Petersburg, and then suddenly found himself at the very top, learning his way through the Kremlin jungle, domestic politics, and the larger world of global international affairs. Prior to his statements about the Soviet Union, Putin left no doubt that the essence of his thinking was akin to a “Russia First” concept. On August 16, 1999, the members of the State Duma, the Russian Federation’s Parliament, met to approve Putin’s candidacy of a prime minister. He was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months. In his speech to the Duma, Putin stated with spirit: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest . . . We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.” Being Yeltsin’s choice, Putin was dutifully confirmed as prime minister without much been made in support of, or against, his nationalistic stance. His strong patriotic tone was heard again in a statement made in Part 5, “The Spy” of Putin’s memoir First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000) page 80. One of the interviewers preparing the book, notes that she asked him, “Did you suffer when the Berlin Wall fell?”, he explained: “Actually, I thought the whole thing was inevitable. I only really regretted that the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe, although intellectually I understood that a position built on walls and dividers cannot last. But I wanted something different to rise in its place. And nothing different was proposed. That’s what hurt. They just dropped everything and went away.”

Even so, only after a few short months as acting president and as the elected president, Putin, with the apparent aim of keeping the Russian Federation a welcomed player on the international stage, began taking a nuanced approach in issuing statements. When Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin departed in 1999, he left his young, hand-picked successor, Putin, with a rather dire situation economically, socially, and politically. Through strenuous efforts, Putin managed to halt what was once the country’s downward spiral toward abject ruin. Yet, after leveling things off, he hoped to move forward with plans and programs to improve living standards for average Russians and conditions around the country as a whole. At Kremlin press conferences, official government meetings and events, political rallies,  presentations at universities, policy think tanks, scholarly journals, and other institutions, Putin expressed his desire to create something better for the Russian people. Reading through Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation on December 31, 1999, he clearly believed, boiled down to the bones, that the key to Russia’s progress would be a successful effort to maximize the performance potential of the Russian people. That became his stated aim. He would focus on those factors that have brought some level of success and advancement, and attempt to amplify them to create some change.

Putin also was interested in acquiring Western investment into his economically troubled country to provide the people with the support they needed. For a while, he seemed to stoke Western approval of the Russian Federation with his words. However, he also made a number of half-turns away from a pro-Western position that really evinced there was a duality in thinking. As an example, on March 5, 2000, Putin made a statement to the effect that he did not rule out having the Russian Federation join NATO. However, he stressed that it would only do so “when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.” After stating that he could not imagine Russia being isolated from Europe, Putin went further on NATO to state: “it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy.” Putin’s nuanced language was apparent, too, when very publicly broaching the issue of the Soviet Union’s fall. He remarked: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, whoever wants it back has no brain.” Putin’s efforts were successful to the extent that statements as these caused the West, if not to drop its guard, certainly to take a more relaxed view of him and his intentions. It would seem even then, that his true feelings and intentions would have readily identified him as a Russian nationalist. In that same vein, those pro-Western statements ran counter to the strong nature of his later statements of near adoration of the Soviet Union.

Soon enough, that nuanced bit of his statements that provided a touch of goodwill to the West was dropped. The collapse of the Soviet Union was publicly discussed by Russian Federation officials with the apparent goal of amplifying the message to world of how badly Russian people suffered as a result and that consideration might be given to increasing any efforts to invest in and generally assist their country. It also had the purpose of letting the Russian people know that their government was aware of their plight. No deception was being used then to hide deficiencies in the system which was the practice under Soviet rule. On April 25, 2005, Putin stated: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.” In process of repairing things, however, Putin encountered significant obstacles that primarily concerned the capabilities and capacity of the Russian people to get beyond only making changes here and there for the better, and get behind efforts at making real progress. The product of his efforts could be characterized as rather anemic. There was still an uneasiness in Russia when Putin began as president. Morale was low, fruitful activity was sparse, and new, useful ideas were absent. One might posit that faced with disappointment and discontent over immediate results of his own efforts over the years, he has been able to manage his greatest concern which is not to allow the country to roll backward. That was probably a nightmare that likely nearly suffocated him many nights at the time. In order to stabilize the situation, he apparently decided to turn toward something that felt familiar and safe. Eventually, Putin’s goal became to develop some simulacrum of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union. Sustainability was less likely a concern given the exigent circumstance of a need for immediate answers. On March 2, 2018, Putin issued his most direct comment to date about the Soviet collapse. Taking questions from supporters in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin was asked what Russian historical event he would like to change. Putin immediately answered, “The collapse of the Soviet Union.”

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was its very public nature. Putin has never been anything akin to some wandering preacher, expressing his convictions about matters. Even in those dire early days in office, Putin, who emerged from the secret world of Soviet intelligence, rarely offered comments off the cuff that could produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as it related to feelings of patriotism were certainly heard from Putin before. Still, Putin is a man who has typically avoided uttering sentiments genuinely stemming from personal feelings, which in this case was his grief over loss of the Soviet Union. If he ever slipped up and revealed blithely his inner feelings on a matter, he would have moved quickly to preserve the confidentiality of such statements. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was clearly because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated Western characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons.

The KGB Factor

An immediate impression of Putin’s words might reasonably be that he and most likely many others who were part of the Soviet apparat continued to adhere to their “unique reality” about the Soviet Union. Indeed, his statements were true to life with respect to the commitment to the Soviet system by hardline, old guard, former apparatchiks, which includes Communist Party functionaries or government bureaucrats, nomenklatura or high ranking management, and dead-enders among former rank and file Soviet citizens. For all those from the same water in which Putin swam, each time anyone referenced the Soviet Union in such a positive manner, there would doubtlessly be agreement that it was the full version. For them, such words from Putin likely ring patriotic bells. It strikes greatcharlie as hopelessly derivative to remind readers that Putin’s decisions and actions have been influenced by his life in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, initialized from Russian and better known as the KGB. It was Soviet agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Nonetheless, it is a reality and an important factor that should be examined first.

A seemingly infinite number of primary and secondary sources exist on the KGB. However, an intriguing Cold War era description of the KGB that greatcharlie has referred to often is a concise November 13, 1982 New York Times article entitled, “KGB Praised By Some Feared By Many”. The article explained that the KGB was the most widely feared instrument of the Soviet Government. It measured the strength of the KGB at 90,000 or so staff officers inside the Soviet Union to guard against internal security threats and run the political prisons. Along the country’s borders, 175,000 of border troops patrol its 41,800 miles of frontiers. Outside of the country, the article noted that its scientific-technical operatives sweep Western countries seeking the latest secret inventions, while its ”illegals” try to penetrate foreign intelligence operations. The article explains further that the first Communist secret service, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage, mainly referred to under the acronym Cheka, virtually copied the Czarist secret police organization and even co-opted some of its more capable officers. The Cheka’s founder, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, was quoted as saying, ”Trust is good, but control is better,” and, in 1918, ”We stand for organized terror.” In its earlier years, the article states, the Soviet secret police acquired a reputation as an instrument of mass terror: beginning in the 1920s as the organizer and supplier at home of huge concentration camps where millions perished; in the 1930s as Soviet Premier Josef Stalin’s executor of huge purges of the party and the Red Army officer corps; and, in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the perpetrator of assassinations of opponents abroad. The latter killings were performed by a group specialized in what Soviet intelligence reportedly  called ”wet affairs”. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death on March 5,1953, the KGB was accused of trying a coup in the Kremlin, using secret police troops. Its chief, Lavrenti P. Beria, was seized by his party comrades and executed. The article notes that it was not until 20 years later that the KGB recapture the degree of respect it once held in the Soviet Union when its director, Yuri Andropov, was elected to the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo.

Citing a common perspective of Western intelligence specialists then, the article states that the KGB, while retaining excellent abilities in traditional espionage was devoting greater resources to acquiring Western military and industrial technology. In fact, in the decade before the article was written, the KGB has acquired the plans of American spy satellites, advanced radar, computer source codes and conventional weapon innovations. It posits that those acquisitions could have been attributed to former KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov. It was under his supervision the KGB became a type of office for technology transfer from the West, in addition to its conventional tasks, such as penetrating the coderooms of the NATO alliance. The article further explains that the KGB, to the envy of foreign intelligence services, was able to retain key personnel for many decades, providing a kind of continuity particularly valuable in counterintelligence. The article quoted an assessment of the KGB by James J. Angleton, retired head of the CIA’s counterintelligence branch, a controversial figure, yet sacred cow US intelligence. Angleton simply stated: “I wish we had their continuity.”

Interestingly, the New York Times article’s treatment of the KGB had an almost prosecutorial tone. Still, there should not be any misunderstanding that among those who were or potentially could have been victims of the KGB in the Soviet Union and abroad, the organization was not by any means viewed as the “good guys”. its actions were not misunderstood. However, while it is a bit one-sided, the article manifests prevailing Western impressions of the KGB at the time, It hopefully allows one to gain a sense of the tension and tenor of the geopolitical struggle between East and West during the Cold War as late as the 1980s.

In First Person, Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Indications are that members of the KGB managed to skirt many of tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. He has great reason to be thankful to it.

On Putin’s KGB Perspective

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. (Into the truth through shadows and images.) Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. While embellished to a considerable degree, that remains the “commercialized”, Hollywood version of the KGB officer, popular in the West during the Cold War. It was certainly a great departure from reality. Essentially, for Putin, they paint a portrait of someone who does not exist. Some appear so satisfied seeing Putin as such, they do not seem interested in getting the picture straight. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons. A fair appraisal of Putin’s career would be that he was good at his work and that he well-impressed his colleagues and superiors alike. Certainly, he could be dashing and audacious when necessary, but moreover he was honorable and discreet, using his wits and memory. He progressed gradually and fruitfully with agents he recruited. As a result of his many successes, he received promotions up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Similar to most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered Putin a solid basis for believing that the Soviet system could be protected and sustained. The KGB, as a central organ of the government, ostensibly had the know-how and the resources to prevent the Soviet Union, and the contiguous countries of the Eastern bloc that it led, from falling into a chaotic condition.

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian noted: “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”  In his bildungsroman, First Person. Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. The officers of the KGB were the tried and true protectors of the Soviet Union. The organization was praised by the Communist leadership as the country’s ”sword and shield”. The KGB certainly had the trust of its customers. At the same time, the KGB, was an indispensable instrumentality of the government to the extent it was the means through which it subjected the Russian people to terrible conditions believing that there was little chance that those conditions would fully effect its members. Indications are that KGB officers managed to skirt many of the tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. For those reasons alone, he has great reason to be thankful to it. In Part 3, “The University Student” of First Person, Putin states about himself: “I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.” Ubi bene, ibi patria.  (Homeland is where your life is good.)

It must be mentioned that Karen Dawisha, in Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Shuster, 2014), insists that there was more than an emotional connection between former KGB officers and the Soviet Union. Dawisha explains that in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Chekists were asked to take control of the currency that the Communist Party had accumulated. There were Central Committee decrees ordering such activity. Dawisha cites an August 23, 1990 decree which authorized: “urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the party” and laying out the need for an autonomous channel into the Party cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of invisible party economics . . . a very narrow circle of people have been allowed access to this structure . . . .”  Dawisha makes the connection between this period when KGB officers heard the clarion call of the Communist Party to loot state coffers and Putin’s start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a job he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Grabbing money became their métier, and they worked hard at it. In St. Petersburg, Putin obeyed his patrons and proved himself to be reliable.  He also gained a solid understanding of the linkages between organized crime, which is of a special breed in Russia, bureaucrats, and former KGB officials. (While in St. Petersburg, he befriended an attorney named Dmitry Medvedev.) When his boss, Alexander Sobchak lost his bid for reelection as St. Petersburg’s mayor, Putin was out of a job. Yet, in the course of less than two years though, Putin rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months after that, he was Russian Federation President. On April 2, 2015, greatcharlie posted a review of Putin’s Kleptocracy. There is far too much to follow along that argument to unpack here. However, Dawisha does an excellent job of providing evidence to support her thesis. It could very well be an important part of the larger picture of Putin, the KGB, and governance in the Russian Federation.

Why a KGB Veteran Is Likely to Follow His Former Institution’s Line of Thinking

Surely, those who joined the KGB would say that they had answered the call to serve their nation in the security service. Some likely found a home, that offered employment security, a steady salary a place to belong to, a place where they will be taken care of, and an ordered life. That would not be considered irregular. The same could be said of those who have sought military careers or foreign service careers. Yet, as a result of more than a “collective consciousness” about defending the homeland, and given the unique nature of their work, a bond would form among KGB personnel and their families to the extent that a sort of mini society existed in the service. There may be some evidence that KGB officers, having an innate sense for being discreet, were mainly repressed people. Unable to express love within family or in close circles, the repressed have a habit of investing emotionally into larger organizations. Their love can be put into an institution, which in the case of Putin and his colleagues, was the KGB. The intelligence service, that closed off part of the intelligence officer’s life, becomes his family. For some, it becomes their raison d’etre. That type of linkage can lead to difficulties upon retirement and separation from organization. That makes associations of retired intelligence professional all the more important by creating links to the organization in which they served. The more contentment officers found in the KGB, the more settled and satisfied they became with their lives. Through the KGB, they got the picture of their lives straight.

Putin rose meteorically through the newly formed Russian Federation Government under Yeltsin almost as if his life had been mapped out by providence. He found support and guidance from former KGB colleagues from St. Petersburg which is both his hometown and where got his start in politics at the local level. Many have since become officials in Putin’s government, political leaders, and key business leaders with whom Putin remains in close contact. In the KGB, these former officers are affectionately referred to as Chekists. They come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Among the aforementioned cadre of government officials, political leaders, and business leaders with whom Putin has surrounded himself are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg were mostly Cheka. Putin’s own Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was in fact raised in the Chekisty (Chekists) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. With a loyal and effective team, Putin could stay ahead of troublesome political and business leaders that would disrupt his plans more often than not to the extent they would enable themselves to achieve their own self-aggrandizing, short term goals. However, by surrounding himself with like-minded Chekists of his “KGB family”, retaining his prevailing Chekist beliefs that aspects of the Soviet Union provides a good model for Russia to itself build upon has been made easier for Putin.

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, were not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. Those who were not privileged seem to discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. According to a December 19, 2018 Levada Center poll, more Russians regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union then than at any other time since 2004.

Is Putin in Touch with His Fellow Russians Regarding the Soviet Union?

His KGB life aside, Putin must be able recall that the Soviet Union was not satisfying for all Russians. Even in First Person, Putin admits that housing conditions for his family in St. Petersburg were far less than perfect, nevertheless, they still lived better than many. For those not so enthusiastic with the Soviet system, Putin’s pro-Soviet sentiments likely reminded of the ugliness of a not so distant past. The majority of Russians were unable to obtain positions equivalent in prominence and power as Putin held. Surely, they did enjoy the relatively staid and secure life that came with it. While it was more “democratic” to claim that Soviet citizens had equal access to education, opportunity, housing, sustenance, health care, social welfare, and other programs, efforts by the Soviet system in that direction were more cosmetic than consequential in establishing the type of society to which they made claim. All of those services, while satisfying when made available and were of appropriate quality, hardly reflected an effort by the Soviet government to respond to the will of the people.

Under the authorized description of the Soviet system, it was a so-called classless society. However, it assuredly was economically stratified, and could be visualized in terms of concentric circles. The quality of life for citizens in the society would degrade sharply as one looks outward from the center all the way to those circles at the end where citizens struggled daily to survive. Those who occupied the center circle were the nomenklatura, the country’s leaders and power elites at the top. Those moguls lived in luxury relative to other citizens, and enjoyed the best things that Russia had to offer. Outside of the nomenklatura, the standard of living was passable for Soviet citizens from what would approximate “middle-class”. Those were usually the apparatchiks of the Soviet system, full-size functionaries of the Communist Party or the Soviet government apparat (apparatus). Apparatchiks were also those who worked in any bureaucratic  position or position of political responsibility. In many cases, they were lucky enough to be employed under the “self-management” concept positions, which required employees to evaluate the quality of their own productivity. However, that virtual middle-class was never completely comfortable for they , too, could suffer the effects of housing shortages, rationing, corruption, and other inconveniences. In some cases, they had to pay their superiors in order to keep their positions. This was even true in some parts of the military

Russian citizens living under a lower standard encountered those same problems and more with far greater intensity. They often suffered periods of rationing and privation. Some fell into a state of penury, a reality that the Soviet system desperately sought to conceal. They were forced to make the most of nothing. Those citizens emerged from the Soviet system holding a worldview, infiltrated by pessimism. They fully experienced the self-serving, self-enriching, behavior of national leaders for whom they were simply statistics.

Of the many Russians émigrés who escaped the Soviet Union during the Cold War, some who were activists or associated with activist organizations, were labelled anti-social elements when they lived there, and the Soviet government was likely happy to rid the country of them. There were some defectors, and some who managed to immigrate in order to take advantage of Western educational and professional training programs, getting away from the Soviet Union. What these groups typically had in common though, was the manner in which they spoke with disdain about of the Soviet system once they arrived overseas. They generally told stories with unmitigated rancor of an abominable government security apparatus that abused power, had neighbors spy on neighbors, obliterated all aspects of privacy, and made freedom something that could only be enjoyed in dreams. They could vividly recount their difficult lives in a manner that would bring the walls down. Very often, Soviet intelligence services would troll émigré communities in the West, to recruit and develop agents abroad using the threat of harming family members still living in the Soviet Union if cooperation was not provided.

Immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse, tens of thousands of detailed facts, intriguing anecdotes, and classified debriefings collected on furtive actions taken by the KGB were collected from the archives (vaults) of what was once called 2 Fellx Dzerzhinsky Square Moscow, the headquarters and prison of the KGB. With that information, and insights such those discussed here, there is enough to assess today, as it had been at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, that the inability of the government to find an efficacious way to meet its all important responsibility to provide for and ensure the well-being of its citizenry, that led to the country’s downfall. Despite all of the alleged promise and dogma uttered about the “great socialist system”, the results confirmed that the Soviet concept was never viable. Despite all appearances, the country for years was slowly being strangled by many ills from within. While not easily stirred by the transfer from one national leader to another, at some level, Russians surely had expected that the rather shrewd, worldly-wise young ex-KGB man, Putin, might be the elixir their country needed. Many may have hoped that he would be able to present a concept for change to overcome what was before. It certainly would not have expected that Putin main focus would be to use Russia as a platform from which the supposed splendor and the power of the Soviet Union could be reestablished

As Putin, himself, acknowledged, the average Russian citizen had little idea beyond the US and the European Union to find examples of what they quietly wanted to be after the Soviet Union collapsed. Even in that case, they had absolutely no idea what it would really take to reach such heights. They also had little knowledge of how to discern what would indicate a political leader has the qualifications or capabilities to put the country on a path to advance there successfully. Steps in that direction were made. Russia was made a member of what became the G8 and G20. It would become the key member of NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It participated in UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions mandated by resolutions. After the 1990s, there was the image of Russia acquiring a place at the main table with the top industrialized countries despite its precarious situation economically, socially, politically, and militarily. As a policy, Russia sought to incorporate itself into the international system of regulating foreign economic operations, particularly the World Trade Organization. However, paying careful attention to Putin’s words when he was acting President, the impression is created that finding a true path toward comity with the West was not actually on his mind. Putin explained in his very revealing essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”: “Russia will not become a second edition of say the US or Britain, where liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary, it is a source of order and the main driving force of any change.”

Do Russians Want to Go Back to Soviet Days?

In the West, one might expect that concerns or fears would be so universal among all Russian citizens over any wording that would even hint some form of the Soviet Union would be reanimated in Russia. That uneasiness clearly would not be based on unreason and paranoia, but rather upon the experience of having lived so shabbily under its system. Conceivably as a result of the experience many Russians had enduring dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union and living with the limitations and inconveniences of daily life in the Russian Federation, they had become expert in keeping a sense of proportion. The follow-on to the Soviet system was supposed to be the great Russian liberalization. However, that was not the case.

There are occasionally some significant grumblings about Putin’s governance. Protest rallies become considerably more intense than perambulating demonstrators near election dates. Flaps of clashes with police and the security services by more politically active segments of the population have been predicted by Western experts, and reported in the Western media, as spelling the beginning of the end for Putin. Nevertheless, Putin remains. Interestingly, Putin has been ridiculed and denounced in the news media. Further, there has been television programming in the Russian Federation that has lampooned Putin much to his dissatisfaction. However, he hardly dealt with any problems of considerable intensity from his core constituency or, relatively, from the majority of Russians countrywide. They have not really exhorted Putin to try harder. They keep within the margins. Perhaps the old adage “go with what you know” could be applied, for it best suits the situation for the Russian people regarding their country’s path and its leadership. To the extent that they will continue have any order in their country, average Russians believe that they can at best rely upon Putin. That begrudging sense of being somewhat satisfied has been just enough to bring Putin victory in election after election. One might say therein lies a sort of duplicity on their part. Still, in an even bigger way, the Russian people are really gambling on Putin’s mortality. The possibilities of who might come to power from other powerful political forces in Russia is hair raising. Via trita, via tuta. (Beaten path, safe path.)

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, typically are not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. That is quite intriguing because those who were not privileged seemingly discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. They are the dead-enders. It is posited here that in some cases, such pro-Soviet elements apparently focus upon and magnify aspects of Soviet life that they may have enjoyed from the totality of their experiences and then determined that it was as a result of the benefits of being Soviet. To be more precise, it appears that as a result of some psychological transference, what defined their private existence somehow became what universally defined their existence under the Soviet system. Those positive, pleasant aspects of Soviet life may actually have been things such as good times had among family, friends and colleagues that in reality are common to people all over the world, transcending citizenship or nationality. Perhaps in Soviet terms, it could be chalked up to humanism. While being a Soviet citizen may have been a common experience, what they had even more in common was their humanity. It was the US philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey, who stated: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

Statistical evidence of such pro-Soviet thinking among former rank and file Soviet citizens was provided by a poll published on December 19, 2019 by the Levada Center, a Russian independent, nongovernmental polling and sociological research organization. According to that poll, more Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union at that moment in time more so than any other since 2004. The poll was conducted between November 18, 2018 and November 28, 2018, surveyed 1,600 people nationwide. When asked whether they regret the 1991 Soviet collapse, 66 percent of respondents answered “yes”. That represented an increase of 58 percent from 2017, and is the highest proportion since 2004, the last year of Putin’s first term. Reportedly, 25 percent of respondents said they did not regret the Soviet breakup, the lowest proportion since 2005, and 9 percent said they could not answer. Interestingly, Levada found that Russians’ concerns about their economic security today were among the main reasons for the increase in the number voicing regret. Indeed, a Levada pollster explained that 52 percent of respondents named the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “single economic system” as the main thing they regretted. The peak of regret over the Soviet collapse came in 2000, when 75 percent of Russian polled by Levada answered “yes” to the same question. At the same time, 36 percent said they miss the “feeling of belonging to a great power,” and 31 percent lamented mistrust and cruelty in society.

US and Soviet armor units face-off at Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin October 27-28, 1961 (above) For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against efforts by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West always emphasized its moral superiority, but that never needed to be done in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West through newsmedia stories, spoke for itself.

The World Does Not Miss the Soviet Union

An examination of the Soviet Union’s position in the world cannot be made by only weighing how the government administered the domestic affairs of the country against the preferences of quondam citizens. Those who speak nostalgically before the world about their own positive version of the Soviet Union, such as Putin, typically engage in an act of omission by airbrushing its realities. The impression is given that its collapse was the result of some benign decision among its republics to succeed to pursue their own aims. They omit, albeit intentionally, that the failed country not only posed problems for its own citizenry, but particularly after World War II, it posed a threat to the world. To be frank, the history of Soviet behavior is atrocious. The people of countries that stand just outside of its sphere of influence but close enough to feel threatened, and the people of border countries that are former Soviet republics, many of which in some way have been victimized by Russian Federation transgression, would unlikely ever think or say anything positive about the Soviet Union. The haunting spectre of the departed Soviet Union has helped to form negative impressions of the Russian Federation. Surely, one should not, using a broad brush, condemn the people of a country for the acts of their government. It was the Soviet government that ruled by fear and terror and was the anathema. As for the Soviet people, they were most often appreciated around the world. Many significant contributions were made by the Soviet people to the arts, mathematics, sciences, engineering, philosophy,  that were remarkable. Some space could reasonably be granted for former Soviet citizens wax about the loss of a homeland and those good days that existed. Still, looking at the pertinent facts, the greater realities about the Soviet Union cannot be denied.

Running through the basics of the Cold War, one would learn that in the postwar period, the Soviet Union essentially replaced Germany as occupiers large areas of Eastern Europe, to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In a very powerful speech in Fulton, Missouri in March 5,1946, the then former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill would say that those countries were locked behind an “Iron Curtain.” In those countries, a process of “Sovietization” began. Soviets operatives worked behind the scenes to establish puppet governments that would serve as an extension of Moscow’s rule. These governments had the initial appearance of being democratic but in reality were not. Local Communists were gathered into a coalition party then handed power, usually after coups or rigged elections. All political parties, other than the Communist Party, were dissolved. Leaders of the Soviet-dominated countries would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their societies. As a result of Soviet efforts, an “Eastern Bloc” and “Soviet Bloc” had been established. US officials agreed that the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “Containment” formulated by the US diplomat George Kennan. In his famous February 22, 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow outlining the policy, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi [agreement between parties that disagree]”; as a result, the only choice for the US was the “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” US President Harry Truman agreed with Kennan and stated before the US  Congress on March 12,1947, “It [Containment] must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation . . . by outside pressures.” In his speech, Truman also asked Congress for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey to counter Soviet meddling in those countries. The Containment Policy would shape US foreign policy for the next four decades.

Direct confrontation came when the Soviet Union cut all road and rail links to West Berlin, allegedly in response to a decision by the US, the United Kingdom, and France to merge their occupation sectors of the city. With no access to any sustenance, the US and United Kingdom flew in tons of food and supplies by air transports in what was known as the Berlin Airlift. Elsewhere in the world, North Korean forces, trained, equipped, and supported by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. Led by the US, UN forces collectively responded. The fighting was halted on July 27, 1953. Pro-Soviet Russians, might point to the fact that actions taken by Russia in the period capsulated here were the result of Stalin, who many Russians decry as a corrupt despot who sullied the grand ideals of the revolution. However, in the years that followed his death in 1953, the commitment of Moscow to the revolutionary and expansionist paradigm continued. Under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union, despite calls for peaceful coexistence and desire to reopen ties with the West, firmed the Soviet Union’s grip over its empire and increased its support of Third World Communist movements. On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The military alliance was named the Warsaw Pact because the treaty was signed in Warsaw. Warsaw Pact countries included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members. Similar to NATO, by treaty, Warsaw Pact members were required to come to the defense of any member attacked by an outside force. The force was initially set up a unified military command under Soviet Army Marshal Ivan Konev.

Soviet efforts to maintain a tight grip over its empire were highlighted by the quelling of protests against Communist rule in 1956 culminating with Soviet tanks successfully taking control of Budapest on November 10, 1956. On August 15, 1961, the Soviet Union initiated the construction of a wall between East Berlin under Soviet control and West Berlin under US, United Kingdom, and French control. The border between East and West Germany were also sealed by fencing. A decision by Khrushchev to construct a Soviet intermediate range nuclear armed missile base in Cuba, led to a blockade of the island country and strenuous demands from US President John Kennedy that the missile be removed. As the US prepared to invade Cuba, negotiations between Khrushchev and Kennedy, initially through back channels, led to an October 28, 1962 agreement to remove the weapons.

Khrushchev legacy was not one of diplomacy, but rather brinkmanship the nearly led more than once to nuclear war. On October 15, 1964, Khrushchev was removed from office. His successor Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for nearly two decades. Brezhnev also wanted to launch a new era of negotiation with the West, labeled détente by US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the administration of US President Richard Nixon. However, under his leadership, the Soviet Union never ceased its military buildup and pressed its efforts to expand Communism into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. From July 1965 to April 1975, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam and the Communist Viet Cong in South Vietnam with everything from rifles to fighter jets in war against the South Vietnamese government which the US and its Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies supported with troops and materiél. The result was the intensification of fighting and prolonging the wreckage of human lives. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed efforts by Czech President Alexander Dubcek to initiate reform programs, known as the “Prague Spring”. Dubcek was arrested when he refused to halt his efforts. On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On December 30, 1980, the Solidarność (Solidarity) Movement in Poland was crushed with the imposition of Martial Law. It was finally under Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who in attempting to reform the Soviet Union under perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), destabilized it to the point of collapse.

For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. Its defense against those Soviet ideals was simply referred to as anti-Communism. Societies in the West were somewhat disparate, with loosely associated forms of freedom, and democracy in most of its countries must have appeared disorderly from the East, with up roars over government decisions and actions, demands for justice and social progress, and political rivalries that played out publicly. Yet, they still took on an amiable form. Moreover, it was well-accepted by those in the West that their world and way of life was worthy of protecting. Militarily, the means was collective defense. Those who were part of that struggle, using the white hat black hat symbolism of the Western film genre of the 20th century, saw themselves as the white hats representing all that was good, admirable, and honorable and viewed the Soviet and Soviet Bloc operators as the black hats, the villains. One was either on the right side or the wrong side. Using familiar terms of today concerning human interactions in societies to explain Communism, it posed a threat to individual freedom, inclusiveness, and tolerance. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West’s moral superiority was always emphasized, but it never needed to be presented in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West when occasional newmedia stories told what was happening there, really spoke for itself. US President Ronald Reagan, getting to the root of the differences between East and West in his renowned June 12, 1987 “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate” explained: “The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship and affront.” (Attempting to boil down to the bones the Cold War to provide an accurate, comprehensive summary of ideas and events felt a bit Sisyphean. Too much occurred. There were too many episodes, too many flaps of diplomacy and periods of aggression and war, to synthesize. If a sense for the monumental geopolitical struggle was created, this synopsis has served its purpose. Hopefully, the information has also provided some factual counterbalance to pro-Soviet statements recounted here.)

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Russians have never seen the coming of a new day, but rather an ongoing dark night, a black void they have stared into for decades.

What Has Putin Established in Russia?

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens countrywide. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Indeed, it would not be out of court to say that despite what one might perceive at first blush, Putin seems, in practice, oblivious to the economic realities those conversations revealed. If the Russian people were to take a careful look over their shoulders today, they undoubtedly might recognize that nothing spectacular has been accomplished at home on their behalf by his government. There is no interest in disparaging any of Putin’s exertions, but many Western analysts and other observers would agree that Russians never seen the coming of a new day in their country, but rather just the ongoing dark night, a black void which they have stared into for decades. It might be stated with confidence that in a general sense they are not content. The reality that their lives have hovered in an endless limbo seems to be suppressed by most.

It may very well be that by the time Putin reached the top of the power pyramid, such people skills, his ability to understand others he is not associated with became a bit seared. Perhaps proper focus has not been placed on the people’s thinking and the ability to perceive their needs. Even his intuition regarding experiences of other Russians and where many were at a given moment seem darkened from disuse. A gentleman must always adapt to his circumstances. To a great degree, what has emerged in the Russian Federation is indeed Putin’s version of the Soviet Union. Although the struggle to establish global Communism is absent, Putin certainly has included imagery from the Soviet Union in his new Russia. It would seem that some methods well-used during the Soviet era to maintain social order and population control, were implemented by Putin in response to the fragility of the society and that the Russian Federation remains vulnerable to collapse. It is also assured that many of Putin’s former KGB colleagues would find ample opportunities to make use of their dark and unusual skill sets.

Once again, the old adage “go with what you know” seems to fit well, in this case with the Putin’s thinking. Of course, such explanations do not provide an excuse or a defense for his actions. The following list includes only a few of those elements: utilization of prison camps, “gulags”, in Eastern Russia, to detain reactionaries and other undesirable elements; the suppression of political opposition; assassinations of political opposition leaders; assassinations of journalists; the padlocking of media houses, newspapers the broadcast, publish, and post stories exposing what they perceive as questionable or even corrupt activities of Putin’s administration; and, the expulsion of “undesirable organizations” such as foreign and international religious, human rights, and civil society organizations and termination of their programs. There are also: massive military parades before the Russian Federation’s leadership; fiery anti-Western speeches at rallies; military deployments into other countries (e.g., Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus) the occupation and annexation of the territories of sovereign neighboring countries; the sudden death, murders, suicides of senior diplomats, senior military officers, senior intelligence officials, senior law enforcement officials, and senior officials of other security related services; the arrest and prosecution of Russians who are international business elites, known better as oligarchs, who have fallen into disfavor with the Kremlin; regularly renaming and repeating policy conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions of technology created to highlight Russian intellect, ingenuity, and advancements; the hosting international amateur sporting tournaments in Russia as a means to showcase the country; and, reported violations by Russian Federation national sports teams of rules and regulations of international sporting associations, including the International Olympic Committee. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos fixa et mutari nescia. (Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable)

Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has doubtlessly been a considerable psychic drain along with the stresses and anxieties of other matters in which he has been engaged daily. He may never have publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live, yet as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them.

Putin Knows How Much Progress Is Really Possible in the Russian Federation

There is rarely a single reason for anything, and that certainly applies to Putin’s claims about the Soviet Union. With no intention of being whimsical, it might be worthwhile to consider that theories on what may have influenced Putin other than his KGB background, can also be joined by others built on his additional dimensions. It should not be thought that analysis from another direction might even compromise theories already proffered on Putin’s pro-Soviet comments. After all, the hope and primary goal of this examination remains reaching the actual state of the matter. Putin may not necessarily be so dedicated to other foreign and domestic matters that he has not tried to develop a clearer vision for Russia and has not sought to respond at all to the echoes of those suffering economically in his country. It might be reasonable to doubt that Putin would be completely unable to see the world through the prism of average Russians. That would run counter to expectations of what should be among the suite of skills possessed by a KGB officer in the field. Interestingly, in Part 3, “The University Student”, a close friend notes that he once asked Putin about his work in the KGB. Putin cleverly replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.”

Putin might very likely reject the idea that being in the intelligence service of the KGB seared his conscience and left him indifferent toward the situation of fellow Russians or cause him to disregard their well-known plight. Moreover, he would most likely reject the idea that members of the KGB thought to help the Soviet government subject the Russian people to “unappealing conditions.” It may very well be that a heartbreaking value judgment was made. Putin may have viewed it as unconstructive to turn his attention fully in the direction of the troubled state of affairs of the Russian people because his ability to be fruitful has been simply too limited. From the start, he knew that the job of Russian Federation President involved achieving monumental tasks. So much wrong had to be made right. Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness of leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union at this point might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has been beyond peradventure a considerable psychic drain in tandem with the stresses and anxieties caused by other matters in which he has been engaged daily. Psychologically, the aggregate disappointment and agony could have become so magnified in his mind and everything would become unmanageable. Being the true professional that he is, Putin knows that he needs to stay focused on the larger picture. He must avoid losing himself in the labyrinth. He must not allow himself to be over matched by difficulties. He has never publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live. However, as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them

The Russian Federation government’s limited capabilities and capacity to resolve those domestic problems for some time, in fact, is not necessarily the result of Putin’s leadership being remiss. Certain inadequacies that have harmed output, seem to be intrinsic to the Russian system. Among them are included: unreliable governance at the republic, krai, and oblast levels, poor execution of economic policies, banking and financial disarray, low moral in the workplace, alcoholism, drug abuse, mismanagement, corruption, and criminality. With focus has been placed on Putin’s efforts to extol cherry picked “virtues” of the Soviet Union, little attention is given to other comments that he made during his first months of service as a national leader. He often spoke the truth about the ills of collapsed superpower, and often explained that lingering problems from the Soviet era made getting the Russian Federation moving forward very difficult, if not impossible. A statement to this effect from Putin can also be found in his December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”. He stated: “We had to pay for the Soviet economy’s excessive focus on the development of the raw materials and defence industries, which negatively affected the development of consumer production and services. We are paying for the Soviet neglect of such key sectors as information science, electronics and communications. We are paying for the absence of competition between producers and industries, which hindered scientific and technological progress and prevented the Russian economy from being competitive in the world markets. This is the cost of the brakes and the bans put on Russian initiatives and enterprises and their personnel. Today we are reaping the bitter fruit, both material and mental, of the past decades.” It is hypothesized in a January 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One”, that the type of success Putin really wants for Russia out of his reach, not by some fault of his own, but rather because it’s problems are so heavy, and may run too deep. He may have run out of real answers to put the Russian Federation on real upward trajectory given the capabilities and possibilities of the country using all tools available to him.

Even militarily, Russian Federation efforts to create an aura of technological modernity have fallen short. Its latest high tech, 5th generation fighters and hypersonic missile reflect the measure up only to the latest developments in the West nearly two decades past. The US move to lasers, 6th generation fighters that hardly resemble anything the world has seen before, and hypersonic systems that it has already has been developing almost the point of deployment, ensure that the Russian arsenal will pale in comparison with the US for some time to come.

Given all of that, it is very likely that Putin arrived at the conclusion that he had little choice but to simply do things as he saw fit with available resources to create the best circumstances possible. Unable to move steadily and safely in a new direction, Putin apparently saw the best option as creating a copy old order with all of its power and prestige. As aforementioned, sustainability was not at issue. He likely took this step originally as a temporary measure, to allow him time to chisel something better. That would certainly be in following with Putin’s modus operandi. However, in the end, in spite of many improvements, the country moved so much in the direction of the old order, the familiar for the Russian people, that it became figuratively “heavier” and more difficult way of being to transition from. If Putin learned anything from his KGB work, it was that sacrifice is required in nearly every endeavor. Many Russians have failed to benefit from his efforts. Indeed, there is a tendency for some to suffer while others benefit. Yet, those who continually fail to benefit have unlikely been forgotten. Imputing the best intentions on Putin, he will eventually use his full powers as president to make amends to them at some point, if time and opportunity will allow. Though the people may very well be uplifted at that point in the future, until then, they will be left twisting in the wind. 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.)

US President Donald Trump (left) and Putin (right) in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. The vengeful thinking which prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration likely initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation had clearly changed. Trump explained that he wanted to work with Putin to achieve things globally that could best be done jointly. In response, Putin has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US mirroring the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. He has promoted what greatcharlie has labeled un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration.

Troubling Manifestations

It is important here to point out a unique aspect of Putin’s KGB world. Enlarging on a point made earlier about Chekists, they share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Fully xenophobe and suspicious, Putin was determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he saw as enemies that might weaken it. In many respects, Putin has conformed to what might be expected of a Chekist. Although he would seem to be much more than average, he appeared to have been poured into same mold as all the others. Putin has actually stated publicly that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. While on his way to the top of the political heap in the new Russian Federation, Putin saw how mesmerising “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.”

Some Have Said Putin’s US Policy Manifests His Revanchist Mindset

When character and behavior are brought together, one uncovers motivation. In the summer of 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on members of the EU Eastern Partnership, countries with association agreements with the EU. In 2012, the EU accounted for 52 percent of Russia’s exports, 68 percent of which consisted of fuel and energy. Following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the EU suspended virtually all cooperation. Still, Putin’s thinking on the EU was not positive even before the Ukraine crisis. Putin saw the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Certain Russian actions, to include election meddling, indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries joining it. Joint projects with European countries reportedly allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. As much as making money, a goal of such efforts has been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, for instance, has provided Putin with the means to disrupt, and potentially weaken, European unity. A murmur exists in Europe that solidarity ends at the frontiers of some countries.

Regarding NATO, in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted West German Parliamentarian Egon Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putin further stated: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. (Fortunate is he who understands the causes of things.)

Putin did not stand by while the EU and NATO expanded. One might agree with the supposition that Putin has a revanchist mindset, his decision to attempt to pull independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit would surely support that idea. To accomplish that, Putin had to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually began with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space is carved out of a country, Putin gains a base from which he can exert his influence in that country.

A greater part of the foreign policy matters upon which Putin, seemingly in revanchist mode, felt cause to be laser focused was the geostrategic competition with the US. By the time his third term as Russian Federation President began, Putin left little doubt that the Russian Federation would assert itself in the world and he would ensure that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations. Hostile feelings toward the US seemingly came to a head during the administration of US President Barack Obama. The details that contentious period are too sizable to unpack here (The most recent posts in which greatcharlie has outlined those many episodes in detail include: “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”; Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage; “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him”; and “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”.) Crimea was likely just the first step among what would likely have been far worse actions leading even to war had the interregnum between Democrat and Republican administrations had not occurred in 2016.

Un Grand Défi

One might theorize that the sort of vengeful thinking which prevailed during the Russian Federation’s struggles with the Obama administration, initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation clearly changed with the arrival of the Trump administration. Putin and his aides and advisers should have recognized that. It was never the stated intention of the Trump administration to engage in a protracted, geostrategic competition with Russia. That is still the case despite the entreaties of some advisers. It was the expressed intention of candidate Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign to improve relations with Russia. As US President, Trump made it clear that he wanted to try to work with Putin and achieve things globally that could best be accomplished jointly. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them.

Clearly, the Russian Federation has not been threatened by any unprovoked aggressive or outright hostile offensive actions on the geostrategic landscape by the Trump administration. In reality, with the current political environment in the US, sounding the alarm over what might be identified as revanchist behavior by Putin might have served Trump well in at least an attempt to mollify critics and detractors. Nonetheless, without such provocation, Putin, has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US that would mirror the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. Accordingly, he has propagated what greatcharlie is labeling un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration. The benefit from un grand défi that Putin stands to gain is that it helps him create the appearance that the Russia Federation is a world leader and superpower. Indeed, despite all of Putin’s other maneuverings, the Russian Federation is only able to seen as a superpower when it is interacting with the US or measured against it. Correspondingly, as long as the Russian Federation is competing geostrategically in a discernable form of rivalry with the US, it can retain a strong place for itself at the grand table of military superpowers, although it stands a far off second to the US. Further, from what is detectable, that military tie in Putin’s mind also allows the Russian Federation, by a slender thread, to set a place for itself among the world’s economic powers, although it is not one. (As a measure of goodwill from the West, Russia was once welcomed on the G7. Putin wrecked that by conquering Crimea.) Alas, any unvarnished assessment would confirm that without tying itself to the US, any claims by Moscow of being a true world leader would simply appear self-styled, and could not be substantiated. Unless there is something or someone who could change Putin’s mind otherwise, doubtlessly as a matter of policy, he will continue to create a competitive environment with the US, leaving US Presidents with little choice but to meet any challenges posed by the Russian Federation. Curiously, it may very well be that Putin, living the Judo Ichidai, likely appreciates being in a “struggle” with the US. Odimus accipitrem quia semper vivit in armis. (We hate the hawk because he always lives in arms.)

Thus far, Putin has shown himself to be very intelligent man. All of the factors pulling him away from positive relations with the US seem to have caused Putin to metaphorically miss his exit along the road of diplomacy. The truth about the Trump administration and its good intentions should have reached Putin and made an impression, if only subconsciously. It is difficult to believe that Putin genuinely does not understand what Trump has been doing and that he does not recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia do some good in the world. By now it should be clear to Putin that Trump will not rise to grab the bait and begun some contentious back and forth between Washington and Moscow. As a consequence of  un grand défi he purposefully designed and promoted to compete as a soi-disant “superpower” with the Trump administration, Putin must contend with the missed opportunities for progress and advancement of the Russian people by insisting the two countries remain essentially divorced from each other. Those realities seemingly make Putin’s own effort at keeping Russia on top both counterintuitive and somewhat Quixotic.

It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image.

The Way Forward

By approaching the matter of Putin’s nostalgia romanticising of the Soviet era from a couple different directions and arguing matters from varied angles, it is hoped that the undergraduates who contacted greatcharlie, it has provided an edifying journey of exploration on their inquiry. It is also hoped that this essay was also satisfying for greatcharlie’s other regular readers. The purpose of greatcharlie’s examination was to simply consider Putin’s reiterative statements of praise for the Soviet Union. It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image. Patriotism, national identity, national pride, history, and culture are powerful ideas to organize a country’s population around. Focus upon them, often allows tricky leaders to distract from the internal with external The argument is made that the cause of Russia’s problems is the outside world, not internal difficulties, lack of capabilities, mismanagement, corruption, criminality, and so on. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. (Of mortal men, none is wise at all times.)

For the past two decades, great wells of anger have stored up among Putin and senior Kremlin officials toward the US for a variety of reasons. That has made finding a moderate path more difficult.  At the same time, as a practical matter, the Russian Federation’s contentious interactions with the US create a tie to it that could imaginably support the claim that a superpower competition exists. As greatcharlie posits here, without interacting with the US or being measured against it on a geopolitical matter for example, the Russian Federation would simply appear as a self-styled superpower, unable to substantiate the title in any way except by ostensibly harkening back to historical examples of the superpower rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russian Federation can only steal a modicum of the “superpower light” radiating from the US. It has precious little ability to generate any light of its own in that respect. Thereby, negative interactions need to be regularized and promoted by Putin. Under such circumstances, engaging positive interactions with the Russian Federation will prove very difficult for the Trump administration. However, Putin should not believe that he has found some sweet spot from which he can take on the US without any real consequences. There are also inherent dangers that stem from un grand défi Putin has inflicted upon the US. It could very well open the door to unmanageable disagreements and potential clashes. Fortunately, the Trump administration has shown little interest in rising to take Putin’s unappetizing bait. Whenever Trump feels he needs to act in response to Putin’s moves, it will be at a time, at a place, in a manner of his choosing, most likely with some degree of impunity, and when necessary covertly with plausible deniability. In that respect, although he has promoted un grand défi, Putin has in reality only established pas de problème, or no problem at all.

Things could certainly be better for the Russian people. The “golden mean”, a middle way, could very likely be found to create positive relations with the US that would bring real benefits to the Russian Federation. Moving in that direction would certainly mean doing more than just putting a toe in the water. Still, as long as the Russian people are satisfied, as a few polls and studies indicate, attempting to judge from the outside what would be best for them seems unmerited. Putin’s actions appear to illicit some uniquely Russian reactions. Putin does not need to turn back the clock and resurrect the Soviet Union because it has not really moved too far away from what was in a functional sense. Actions that have resulted in economic sanctions and have prevented the Russian economy from participating in competitive world markets, attendantly hinder genuine scientific and technological progress. The potential of Russian enterprises and people consequently remains locked in. It is almost assured that bitter fruit will be reaped in the future by moving forward in such a troubled way. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.)