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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Dong Jingwei?

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

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

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

As noted in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” the primary targets of the MSS hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the Russian Federation, Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes. In the countries of Eastern Europe, China has achieved some prominence in their space. China must equally measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. Taiwan, which Beijing declares is part of China, is a special case and a very important MSS target. The second rung of competitors would include India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Mongolia. India has doubtlessly garnered a bit more attention from MSS due to its ongoing border struggle with China. MSS has stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

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

The achievements of MSS in the US have certainly been no mean feat, and should not be underestimated. As discussed in the February 26, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled,”Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” the tide of essentially unchallenged Chinese espionage has lapped up so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under-developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating. One might speculate that having achieved countless victories with near impunity inside the US, Chinese foreign intelligence services now very likely conduct counterintelligence exercises in the field, likely in a nondisruptive way vis-a-vis ongoing operations, to ensure that in their present state, their intelligence networks are free from US counterintelligence detection and interference and that no intelligence service from anywhere could play havoc with them.

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

As with all other elements of the intelligence industry, counterintelligence work requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. It is not the nature of intelligence services to regularly use force and aggression to halt an opponent, shut down its networks, thwart its operations, and intercept its intelligence officers, operatives, and informants. The intellect is the tool used for doing so. It stands to reason that in order to be a successful vice minister for MSS counterintelligence. Dong must be a man who has a deep understanding of how people tick, how they fit in and feel where they live and work, and how they can get the ones they have targeted tangled up in their respective espionage enterprises.

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

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

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

What Was Reported on Dong’s Alleged Defection

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

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

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

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

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

Sources of the Hoax: Views on That in the Newsmedia

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

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

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

Other Suggestions

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

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

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

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

Xi Jinping’s Counterintelligence Concerns

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

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

Would Beijing Call It a US Counterintelligence Plot?

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

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

Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS doubtlessly understand the situation the US Intelligence Community has faced, scoring few victories and suffering many defeats in the intelligence struggle with China, and they very likely recognize that US foreign intelligence and services are anxious to turn the situation around and get some things going. They have likely concluded US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services are under stress and are bound to take risks to score a victory or win the whole ball game. 

To that extent, one might imagine it could plausibly be claimed within MSS headquarters that whole episode was a US counterintelligence artifice, designed to twinkle out Chinese intelligence service officers and operatives based on the their reactions by some the following: movements–attempt to leave US; communications–sending communiques by codes and encryption to provincial departments and municipal bureaus to confirm rumors and see instructions on next actions; contacts–reaching out to network managers in distress or panic; and, email, text, call, and meet other intelligence officers to parse out situation as reported. Alternatively, also with a counterintelligence purpose, the US could be said to have attempted to smoke out prospective defectors among those officers and operatives, attempting to convince them that some “tower moment” for Chinese intelligence service operations in US had occurred and the moment had arrived to choose to remain part of Communist Chinese system or seek refuge in the US. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thought about Future Defections by Foreign Intelligence to the US

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

The Way Forward

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

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

Revenons à nos moutons. The hope of US counterintelligence should be “simply” to come into positive contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit some leaning toward an idealistic vision of China as the dominant power and shape of the world for the future, but with reservations, serious reservations. Those sentiments would need to be worked on. The next best hope would be to find the officer, operative, or informant who is not doing things for an ideal, and whose reasons for turning on China would be venal. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Foreign Intelligence Versus US Counterintelligence

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

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

Olson’s Precepts from To Catch a Spy

On “Spreading disinformation”

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

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

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

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

Concerning “Identifying hostile intelligence officers”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding “Acquiring positive intelligence”

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

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

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

As to “Taking the oppositions money”

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

About “Discrediting the opposition”

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

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

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

Suggestions Drawn from Olson’s Precepts

Do Not Fume, Think!

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

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

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

Know Who Controls the Chinese Intelligence Networks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discover the Composition of Network Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Results

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

1. Displace

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

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

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

2. Neutralize

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

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

3. Intercept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In its review, greatcharlie, using its understanding of the subject as a nonpracticioner, observing from outside the bureaucracy, follows those aspects of the book closely. The last outcome greatcharlie wants is for its review to boil down to discussion of “Olson left this out. He left that out. He did not elaborate enough here or there.” Despite any concerns about what was missing in the text, in its review of To Catch a Spy, greatcharlie explores what one can appreciate and learn about Olson’s thinking process from what he does provide in the text. However, what is most impressive about To Catch a Spy to greatcharlie is the manner in which it stimulates thought on the issues presented. Books that can stir a fire inside the reader, and a passion for a subject, are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. To that extent, included in the review are greatcharlie’s own thoughts about counterintelligence topics covered by Olson which hopefully will assist some readers in better understanding what Olson is presenting to them. It is also hoped that thoughts shared by greatcharlie will encourage readers to weigh  their own impressions on those topics and develop of their own insights on them whether they may be actual intelligence practitioners or just enthusiasts. Additionally, greatcharlie offers its own thoughts on those topics to assist in giving context to the work of US counterintelligence to the US public, nonprofessional readers, in particular, and, in turn, offer some perspective to the counterintelligence professional on how the ave4age US citizen perceives his or her work. With any luck, what is presented will appropriately resonate among both sets of readers. Rationale enim animal est homo. (Man is a reasoning animal.)

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

Country Reports on the Main Adversaries of the US

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

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

China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Olson’s case, his former employer’s solemn warning of secrecy was increased with regard to the knowledge he retained as any information that would provide some nuance on how the US detects and catches spies would be of the utmost interest and importance to the foreign intelligence services of adversaries as well as allies. Facts are somewhat easy to judge as they may be classified and one can reasonably determine what their value might be to an adversary. Hypotheses and arguments are a bit more challenging to judge for security reasons as certain facts, even if left out, can be viewed as being confirmed by them, seeing that those facts might alone be the sole solid basis upon which a particular inference could logically be made. Surely those hypotheses and arguments might be helpful to an adversary in developing any Red Team exercise. To that extent, security considerations may be the main reason why Olson avoids drawing too many inferences and presenting too many theories in the text. Olson would hardly be the type to neglect any precaution. However, his former employer likely preferred to be safe, not sorry.

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

Olson’s Ten Commandments 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double-Agent Operations and Managing Double-Agent Operations

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

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

Case Studies

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

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

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

Ana Montes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By  Mark Edmond Clark

Commentary: There Is still the Need to Debunk the Yarn of Trump as “Russian Federation Spy”

The current director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Sergey Naryshkin (above). US President Donald Trump’s adversaries have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. Some in the opposition Democratic Party have gone as far as to offer dangerous fantasies that Trump and officials in his administration are operatives of the Russian Federation. The notion that Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers would not only approach, but even more, attempt to recruit Trump, is daylight madness. No one knows that better than Naryshkin and the directors of the other Russian Federation intelligence services. It is more than likely that in the 2020 US Presidential Election, the outcome will go Trump’s way. Unfortunately, many of the ludicrous allegations, having been propagated for so long and with prodigious intensity by his adversaries, will likely stick to some degree for some time.

From what has been observed, critics and detractors, actual adversaries of US President Donald Trump, within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have exhibited a practically collective mindset, determined to find wrong in him as President and as a person. His presidency was figuratively born in the captivity of such attitudes and behavior and they remain present among those same circles, four years later. Trump’s adversaries have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. Many of those engaged in such conduct have garnered considerable notoriety. Specific individuals will not be named here. When all is considered, however, those notables, in reality, have only left a record littered with moments of absolute absurdity. That record might break their own hearts, if they ever took a look over their shoulders. In developing their attacks on Trump, his adversaries have built whimsy upon whimsy, fantasy upon fantasy. One stunt that became quite popular was to make an angry insinuation of Trump’s guilt in one thing or another, and attach the pretense of knowing a lot more about the matter which they would reveal later, in an childlike effort to puff themselves up. Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.)

Of the many accusations, the worst was the claim, proffered with superfluity, that Trump and his 2016 US Presidential Campaign were somehow under the control of the Russian Federation and that he was the Kremlin’s spy. The entire conception, which developed into much more than a nasty rumor, a federal investigation to be exact, was daylight madness. (It is curious that anyone would be incautious enough to cavalierly prevaricate on hypothetical activities of the very dangerous and most ubiquitous Russian Federation foreign intelligence services in the first place.) Before the matter is possibly billowed up by Trump’s adversaries again in a desperate effort to negatively shape impressions about him, greatcharlie has made the humble effort to present a few insights on the matter that might help readers better appreciate the absolute fallaciousness of the spy allegation.

With regard to the yarn of Trump as Russian Federation spy, his adversaries sought to convince all that they were comfortable about accusing Trump of being such because they had the benefit of understanding all that was necessary about the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, and, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. However, it was frightfully obvious that the whole subject was well outside the province of those self-declared experts. Whenever they made statements concerning how Russian Federation foreign intelligence services operated, no doubt was left that they did not have a clue as to what they were talking about. It actually appeared that everything they knew about it all was gleaned from James Bond and Jason Bourne films, as well as streaming television programs about spying. That fact was made more surprising by the fact that Members of both chambers of the US Congress who were among Trump’s political adversaries actually can get facts about how everything works through briefings from the US Intelligence Community. They even have the ability to get questions answered about any related issue by holding committee hearings. Those on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, in particular, can get themselves read-in on a good amount of available intelligence on an issue. The words and actions of many political leaders leaves open the real possibility that they were intentionally telling mistruths about Trump with the goal of deceiving the US public. That would simply be depraved and indefensible. As one should reasonably expect, there are stark differences between the banal amusements of Hollywood and the truths about spying.

Imaginably as part of their grand delusion, Trump’s adversaries would claim the reason why Russian Federation foreign intelligence would want to recruit him would be to establish an extraordinary, unprecedented level of access to, and influence upon, US policymaking, decisionmaking, and top secret information. In considering how Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers would likely assess Trump as a recruitment prospect, purely out of academic interest, one of the first steps would be a genuine examination of his traits. Among the traits very likely to be ascribed to Trump that would obviate him as an intelligence recruitment target would include: his extroverted personality; his gregarious, talkative nature; his high energy; his desire to lead and be in command at all times; his oft reported combustible reactions to threats or moves against him, his family, or their interests; his strong intellect; his creativity; his curious, oftentimes accurate intuition; his devotion to the US; and his enormous sense of patriotism. To advance this point furthrr, if Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers were to theoretically ruminate on just these traits while trying to reach a decision on recruiting him, they would surely conclude that an effort to get him to betray his country would fail miserably. Indeed, they would very likely believe that an attempted recruitment would more than likely anger Trump. They would also have good reason to fear that he would immediately contact federal law enforcement and have the intelligence officers, who approached him, picked up posthaste. If any of the lurid negative information that his adversaries originally alleged was in the possession of the Russian Federation intelligence services–all which has since been totally debunked–were used by Russian Federation intelligence officers to coerce him, Trump might have been angered to the point of acting violently against them. (This is certainly not to state that Trump is ill-tempered. Rather, he has displayed calmness and authority in the most challenging situations in the past 4 years.) Whimsically, one could visualize Russian Federation intelligence officers hypothetically trying to coerce Trump, being immediately reported by him and picked up by services of the US Intelligence Community or federal law enfiecement, and then some unstable senior executives and managers in Yasenevo would go on to publicize any supposed embarassing information on him. That would surely place the hypothetical intercepted Russian Federation intelligence officers in far greater jeopardy with the US Department of Justice. They could surrender all hope of being sent home persona non grataCorna cervum a periculis defendunt. (Horns protect the stag from dangers.)

Perhaps academically, one might imagine the whole recruitment idea being greenlit by senior executives and managers of the Russian Federation foreign intelligence services despite its obvious deficiencies. Even if they could so recklessly throw caution to the wind, it would be beyond reason to believe that any experienced Russian Federation foreign intelligence officer would want to take on an assuredly career-ending, kamikaze mission of recruiting Trump and “running” him as part of some magical operation to control the US election and control the tools of US national power. As a practical matter, based on the traits mentioned here, no Russian Federation intelligence officer would have any cause to think that Trump could be put under his or her control. Not likely having a truly capable or experienced officer step forward to take on the case would make the inane plot Trump’s adversaries have speculated upon even less practicable. Hypothetically assigning some overzealous daredevil to the task who might not fully grasp the intricacies involved and the nuance required would be akin to programming his or her mission and the operation for failure. (Some of Trump’s adversaries declare loudly and repeat as orbiter dictum the ludicrous suggestion that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin was his intelligence “handler.” No one in the Russian Federation foreign intelligence mens sana in corpore sano, and as an existential matter, would ever suggest that Putin should involve himself in such an enterprise. The main reason for that being because he is Putin, and that means far more in the Russian Federation than outsiders might be able to comprehend.) One could go even a step further by pointing out that in order to make his adversaries’ notional plot work, Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers conceivably involved would need to determine how to provide Trump with plenty tutoring along the way given that Trump had no experience whatsoever with the work involved in the sort complicated conspiracy as his adversaries have envisioned. Such notional work would require the impossible, Trump’s “obedience,” and even more, plenty of covert contact, thereby greatly increasing the chance that any Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers involved would be noticed and caught.

Politically, for Russian Federation foreign intelligence service senior executives and managers, there will always be a reluctance to make new problems for the Kremlin. If proper Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers under this scenario were actually caught attempting to recruit Trump, US-Russian relations would be put in a far worse place than where they were before the theoretical operation was executed. If the matter of recruiting Trump were ever actually brought up at either SVR or GRU headquarters, it would imaginably be uttered only as an inappropriate witticism at a cocktail reception filled with jolly chatter or during some jovial late night bull session with plenty of good vodka on hand. Even under those circumstances, experienced professionals would surely quiet any talk about it right off. Unquestionably, few on Earth could be more certain that Trump was not a Russian Federation operative than the Russian Federation foreign intelligence services, themselves. For the Russians, watching shadowy elements of the US Intelligence Community work hard to destroy an innocent man, the President of the US nevertheless, must have been breathtaking.

Information that may appear to be evidence for those with preconceptions of a subject’s guilt very often turns out to be arbitrary. One would not be going out on shaky ground to suggest that a far higher threshold and a more finely graded measure should have been used by the US Intelligence Community to judge the actions of the President of the US before making the grave allegation that the country’s chief executive was functioning as a creature of a hostile foreign intelligence service. Initiating an impertinent federal investigation into whether the US President was a Russian Federation intelligence based primarily on a negative emotional response to the individual, and based attendantly on vacuous surmisals on what could be possible, was completely unwarranted, could reasonably be called unlawful, and perhaps even be called criminal. Evidence required would imaginably include some indicia, a bona fide trail of Russian Federation foreign intelligence tradecraft leading to Trump. The hypothetical case against him would have been fattened up a bit by figuratively scratching through the dust to track down certain snags, hitches, loose ends, and other tell-tale signs of both a Russian Federation foreign intelligence operation and presence around or linked to him.

To enlarge on that, it could be expected that an approach toward Trump by Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers under the scenario proffered by his adversaries most likely would have been tested before any actual move was made and authentic evidence of that initial effort would exist. Certain inducements that presumably would have been used to lure Trump would have already been identified and confirmed without a scintilla of doubt by US counterintelligence services and law enforcement as such. To suggest that one inducement might have been promising him an election victory, as his adversaries have generally done, is farcical. No reasonable or rational Republican or Democrat political operative in the US would ever be so imprudent as to offer the guarantee of an election victory to any candidate for any local, state, or national office. Recall how the good minds of so many US experts failed to bring victory to their 2016 Presidential candidates, to their 2018 midterm Congressional candidates, and to their 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates. Anyone who would believe that the Russian Federation Intelligence Community would be more certain and better able, to put a candidate into national office in the US than professional political operatives of the main political parties would surely be in the cradle intellectually. Martin Heidegger, the 20th century German philosopher in What Is Called Thinking? (1952), wrote: “Das Bedenklichste in unserer bedenklichen Zeit ist, dass wir noch nicht denken.” (The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.)

Trump came to the Oval Office somewhat contemptuous of orthodox ways of doing things in Washington. He referred to those elements of the system in Washington that were shackled to traditional, politically motivated ways of doing things as “the swamp.”  Trump said he would do things his way and “drain the swamp.” To an extent, as US President, that was his prerogative. Trump was new to not just politics in general, but specifically national politics, new to government, new to foreign policy and national security making, and new to government diplomacy. (This is certainly no longer the case with Trump for he has grown into the job fittingly.) For that reason, and as their patriotic duty, directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community should have better spent their time early on in Trump’s first term, developing effective ways of briefing the newly minted US President with digestible slices of information on the inherent problems and pitfalls of approaching matters in ways that might be too unorthodox. More effective paths to doing what he wanted could have been presented to him in a helpful way. With enormous budgets appropriated to their organizations by the US Congress, every now and then, some directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community will succumb to the temptation of engaging in what becomes a misadventure. If money had been short, it is doubtful that the idea of second guessing Trump’s allegiance would have even glimmered in their heads. Starting a questionable investigation would most likely have been judged as being not worth the candle.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s superlative sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, had occasion to state: “To a great mind, nothing is too little.” It should be noted that Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services almost certainly have kept their ears perked hoping to collect everything reported about the painstaking work of elements of the US Intelligence Community first to prevent, then to bring down, Trump’s Presidency. Indeed, they have doubtlessly taken maximum advantage of the opportunity to mine through a mass of open source information from investigative journalists, various investigations by the US Intelligence Community, the US Justice Department, and varied US Congressional committees, in order to learn more about how US counterintelligence services, in particular, operate. Strands of hard facts could be added to the existing heap of what Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services had already collected about the deplorable enterprise. Previous analyses prepared in the abstract on other matters were also very likely enhanced considerably by new facts. Indeed, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services very likely have been able to extrapolate, make inferences about, and more confidently conceptualize what was revealed to better their understanding of the activities of the US Intelligence Community in their own country, both past and present. Sadly, that may have helped to pose greater challenges and dangers for US intelligence officers, operatives, and informants.

The illustrious John Milton’s quip, “Where more is meant than meets the ear, “ from “Il Penseroso” published in his Poems (1645), aptly befits the manner in which words and statements are often analyzed in the intelligence industry. When those senior executives and managers formerly of the US Intelligence Community who were involved in the plot against Trump and are now commentators for broadcast news networks, offer their versions of the whole ugly matter on air, there is always something for Yasenevo to gain. Despite the best efforts of those former officials to be discreet during their multiple on air appearances, there have doubtlessly been one or more unguarded moments for each when a furtive tidbit that they wanted to keep concealed was revealed as they upbraided Trump. Moreover, their appearances on air have surely provided excellent opportunities to study those former officials and to better understand them and their sensibilities. Such information and observations doubtlessly have allowed Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services to flesh out psychological profiles constructed on them over the years. (Although it seems unlikely, some could potentially return to government in the future. It has been said that “Anything can happen in cricket and politics.”) Moreover, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services have also likely been allowed to use that information and observations, to put it in the bland language of espionage, as a means to better understand specific US intelligence and counterintelligence activities that took place during the years in which those errant US senior executives and managers involved in the plot against Trump were in their former positions.

To journey just a bit further on this point, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence additionally had a chance to better examine specific mistakes that they respectively made in their operations versus the US, using revelations from investigations into the plot against the Trump administration. That information would have most likely inspired audits in Yasenevo to better assess how closely its foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants have been monitored and how US counterintelligence has managed to see many Russian Federation efforts straight. Whether these and other lessons learned have shaped present, or will shape future, Russian Federation foreign intelligence operations in the US is unknown to greatcharlie. Suffice it to say that there were most likely some adjustments made.

Trump has absolutely no need to vindicate himself concerning the “hoax” that insisted he was in any way linked to the Russia Federation for it is just too barmy. Trump has the truth on his side. Nothing needs to be dressed-up. He has been forthright. Regarding the Russian Federation, Trump has stood against, pushed back on, and even defeated its efforts to advance an agenda against the US and its interests. Those who have tried to suggest otherwise are lying. The normative hope would be that Trump’s adversaries actually know the truth and for their own reasons are acting against it. In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad wrote: “No man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” It seems, however, that Trump’s adversaries, refusing to accept reality, have replaced it with a satisfying substitute reality by which they may never find the need to compromise their wrongful beliefs. In the US, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, has a right to due process, and upholding the rights of the citizen is paramount. For the most part, US citizens understand these ideas and are willing to defend those rights. As such, there has actually been a very poor reaction among US citizens toward the aggressive posture Trump adversaries have taken toward him. It is still a possibility that in the 2020 US Presidential Election, the outcome will go Trump’s way. Unfortunately, the many abominable, false stories of his wrongdoing will likely stick to him to some degree for some time. Opinionem quidem et famam eo loco habeamus, tamquam non ducere sed sequi debeat. (As for rumor and reputation let us consider them as matters that must follow not guide our actions.)

Commentary: Mueller’s Investigation Has Angered Putin, Not as It Concerns Trump, But as It Concerns Russia’s Intelligence Community

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (above). US President Donald Trump is not the only national leader greatly concerned over the Special Counsel’ Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is concerned, not over the investigation into collusion and obstruction, but for the considerable damage the investigation has done to Russia’s intelligence efforts in the US.

The important matter of interference by Russian Federation intelligence apparatus in the 2016 US Presidential Election and continued interference in the US election system at federal and state levels will continue to have primacy in the minds of all branches of the US government and in the US news media. The investigation of former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller’s Office of Special Counsel into the matter, to the extent that it includes an examination into possible collusion and obstruction by now US President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his White House, has been a source aggravation for the national leader. Trump insists that no wrongful activity at all has taken place, and any claims to the contrary are a hoax. However, Trump is not the only national leader greatly concerned over the investigation into Russia’s election interference. Indeed Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is concerned, less for the investigation into collusion and obstruction, which he certainly would know were valid or not, than for the significant damage the investigation has done to Russia’s intelligence efforts in the US.

Russia’s election interference, confirmed and revealed by the US intelligence community and political leaders on the national level. Perhaps the election gambit, a black operation conducted by Russian Federation intelligence, could be curiously viewed as an predictable move by Putin. The history of Putin’s earliest dabblings in politics indicate that he finds election meddling to be an anathema. It is likely in part for this reason that he saw it as the best weapon to use against the US as its government was being led by then US President Barack Obama, an individual that he unquestionably despised. However, the Kremlin has officially and vehemently denied any interference in the US elections. Officials, such as Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Presidential Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov, have gone as far as to say that the insistence from various US sources that the meddling took place is a manifestation of some mild form of hysteria or paranoia.

The election interference story has been kept in the eye of the US public due to a strong, steady drum beat of reports about it in the US news media. To Trump’s dismay, what has been publicly broadcast, printed, and posted about Trump has primarily sought to prove his alleged collaboration with Russian efforts. Indeed, there have been unprecedented explosions of chaotic hatred and bitterness in the daily discourse on Trump. Some critics and detractors not only allege, but go as far as to insist, that within the tangled mess of Russian interference, evidence exists that supports a prima facie case of collusion and obstruction by Trump. However, investigators have not given any hints that they believe evidence available serves as indicia of a crime committed by the US president.

The machine of unfettered media commentary has sucked anyone close enough into its vortex. Most recently, the ire of those dissatisfied with Trump, has turned on Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein, once a darling of Trump critics and detractors, was celebrated for, among other things, his appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate Russian election interference while he served as Acting Attorney General, his steadfast support of the work of the Office of Special Counsel, his refusal to terminate Mueller, and his insistence that he would remain and act impartially regarding the Mueller’s investigation in accord with Federal law. Then, surprisingly, extraordinary anti-Trump statements were attributed to him in the US news media. According to a September 21, 2018 New York Times article, Rosenstein suggested that he should secretly wear a device to record Trump in meetings to expose chaos in the White House. He is alleged to have contemplated asking members of the executive branch, Cabinet members, to be available to help invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution to remove Trump from office.

What is seen and understood by the US public is what is available. Except for reports from the administration itself, much of what is reported in print, on the air, and online is essentially the same. Nevertheless, there can be a resulting sense of separation from the what is happening in Washington, what the administration is doing. Polemic commentaries have found flaw and have thrown suspicion at the smallest efforts to the greatest efforts of the Trump campaign and sully the efforts, and damn the mere existence, of his administration. Positing views, opinions, judgments is not a wrong. Rather, in the US, free thinking is a right. Critics and detractors still get to say what they want to say, and Trump has been pounded harder by them than the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army in the Falaise Pocket in France during World War II. However, to use the platform of the news media to promote a singular view of the administration’s foreign policy is wrong. Opinion should never substitute for impartial, balanced reporting of the news, coloring what the the public reads, hears, and sees. It would seem that creating an incomplete impression of what Trump and his administration are doing on behalf of the people speaks to a negative quality of one’s heart.

Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters on May 17, 2017. For those who rejected Trump, Mueller became an instant hero. He was portrayed as a manly, dashing, and audacious guardian who wore a cloak of good deeds. It has been the hope of Trump’s critics and detractors that investigators and analysts are passionately moving methodically winding through some tortuous route that will land them on Trump’s doorstep. Mueller has a team of 17 lawyers.  In just under a year, his investigation has cost just under $16.7 million. From the start, Mueller was not interested in little pokes at the Trump administration. Every bite has had a lot of venom in it. Concerning Trump, himself, the Office of the Special Counsel had been happily bobbing through everything, looking for something that could potentially make itself available for wider exploitation. It is stuff for the investigators and analysts that compose that office to engage in such work.

Among its accomplishments, Mueller’s office has issued more than 100 criminal counts against 32 people. Those ensnared in the investigation include: Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI about conversations with a Russian ambassador; Paul Manafort, the former 2016 presidential campaign chairman for Trump, was convicted of financial fraud; Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign adviser, pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to the FBI; Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about conversations with Rick Gates; Sam Patten, a lobbyist linked to Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to failing to register to work for a foreign entity; George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with people he believed were working on behalf of Russians; Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and bank fraud; and, Richard Pinedo, who sold bank accounts online, pleaded guilty to identity fraud

There is hardly reason for Trump to apportion blame to himself for the completely independent actions of associates who were supposedly advising Trump and had committed their questionable actions on their own volition, to a greater extent long before joining the Trump campaign. Trump has hired a number of attorneys who have come and gone, each having ample opportunity to get their boots dirty in the mire created by the rather peculiar investigation. Those attorneys currently working with Trump, and those who have moved on, agree that there is nothing that would indicate Trump conspired with any Russian officials or otherwise to interfere with 2016 US Presidential Election and he has done nothing to obstruct the investigation at any point. They uniformly insist that all answers that Mueller might have about collusion or interference can be found in the interviews that his investigators have conducted with witnesses, including senior White House aides and Trump administration officials. They further state that the truth can be found in the more than 1.4 million documents turned over to the Office of Special Counsel by the White House.

On dit, to the satisfaction of the Trump administration, there may now be hope that those investigators and analysts are getting wise to the nature of the misadventure they have undertaken with regard to the “Trump Front.” The final report of the Office of Special Counsel may eventually indicate that  Trump was never enmeshed in the coils of anything wrongful, illegal, unpatriotic. Unfortunately he has had to suffer through the process of disproving a negative, a disgrace manufactured by his adversaries.

True, unless one is deeply involved in the work of the Office of Special Counsel, it is really impossible to know exactly what is genuinely being done within. Even Trump’s chief advisers, way above in the rarified air, have undoubtedly been left in the dark about what is happening. As they do not mix too much with the professionals, they are unlikely privy even to leaks or rumors about the investigation spoken within the rank and file of their organizations. Of the few authentic facts that have been revealed about the work of Mueller’s office is the degree of dissatisfaction that has come from chasing leads specifically concerning Trump that were actually concocted for the purposes of political rivals within the US, with the goal to discredit the Trump presidential campaign. Beyond the impact that the discovery of many new found truths on the attitudes, behavior, and purpose of actions by some in the US intelligence industry upon Mueller’s investigation, there have been terminations, redeployments, and decisions made by senior personnel not to remain in their respective services. A particularly high level of activity of this sort has been observed in the FBI.

Make no mistake, Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign and the White House is a big deal, nit only for the administration, but the US and the world. Yet, looking at some additional authentic facts about the work of the Office of Special Counsel made public, it seems that Mueller on the balance, may be less concerned with Trump than his erstwhile adversaries in the Russian Federation’s intelligence apparatus. The Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU; the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR; and, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, represent an unmistakable threat to the US. Much as many observers in the US note that Putin’s decisions and actions are likely influenced by his prior work in the intelligence industry, Mueller, too, may draw from his prior practice of hunting down Russian intelligence operatives in the US. Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but Mueller may have the intent to complete unfinished business in defeating their known capabilities to harm the US. All of this runs contrary to what big stories in the US news media contend about Mueller’s singular aim to bring down the US President.

Note that Included on the list of those charged by Mueller’s office are thirteen Russian nationals and three Russia related companies for conspiracy to defraud the US and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and identity theft. Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian Federation Army trained linguist and associate of Paul Manafort, has been charged with obstruction of justice. Additionally, twelve Russian Federation intelligence officers of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, have been charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the US, identity theft, conspiracy to launder money.

Mueller, the former FBI Director, knows that by putting focus on a “miracle operation” as the election interference in the US, which amounted to a direct act of provocation, he has placed great pressure on the GRU, SVR, and FSB operatives in the US as well as those acting against US interests inside Russia or in other overseas locations. Many of their bread and butter operations on the ground in the US were likely knocked out or toned down in the attempt to evade the prying eyes of Mueller’s office and any other entities on the prowl. Assuredly, Russian intelligence officers working on any portfolio even remotely connected with operations against the US, the number one target of Russian intelligence, are among the best of the best available. Every time such individuals are identified and neutralized, a devastating blow is leveled against Russia’s intelligence industry. Kleig lights have been figuratively directed at some very shadowy intelligence leaders. They were stripped of their anonymity before the whole world via indictments.

Mueller still has an opportunity to do more damage to Russian intelligence efforts in the US and strike in depth against the Russian intelligence apparatus. He is doing everything possible to exploit the Kremlin’s calamitous lack of moderation. The full reach of Mueller suspicions against Russian intelligence have not been made known. This subject is rarely broached in the news media. Perhaps many reporters have missed or have been unable to synthesise what has been occurring. That is curious, because in relative proportion, Mueller’s efforts against Russian intelligence have been far more devastating than what he truly accomplished against former members of the Trump campaign.

It is not all good news though. To the extent the something positive in defense of the US has been done, Mueller’s efforts can be appreciated in all political and foreign policy circles in Washington. Yet, the damage to the US psyche, the psychological damage to members of the administration, and blemish his effort placed on the Trump presidency has also been substantial.

Not that he considers the mostly freewheeling US news media as a useful overt source of intelligence, but Putin perhaps finds it a bit disconcerting that despite all of the chatter in the US news media about the Trump presidency marked for death as Mueller’s office is hot on his trail, it is his intelligence services are actually under far greater pursuit by the Office of Special Counsel. In news media interviews about the Mueller investigation, Putin has sought to subtly discredit the work of Mueller’s office by characterizing it as both illegal and illegitimate. When asked his opinion of what was going on with the Office of Special Counsel by Chris Wallace of Fox News just one day before the Helsinki Summit, Putin was clearly ready to speak. At first, he slyly expressed disinterest in what he described as an “operation.” However, he then explained that Mueller’s investigation simply amounted to internal political games of “dirty methods and political rivalry” in the US and that a nefarious effort was underway to make the US-Russian relations hostage to it. He then expressed the erroneous belief that the US Congress had appointed Mueller and not then Acting Attorney General Rosenstein. He would further incorrectly state: “It is for Congress that appointed him to do this, to assess his performance.” He then expressed the idea that a US court had declared the Mueller appointment as outside due process and an infringement on legislation. While Putin’s view has no bearing on how Mueller will proceed, he undoubtedly hopes that something might be done to defeat it before more damage is done to Russia’s intelligence operations in the US. Mueller’s efforts come on top of damage being done through the counterintelligence efforts of the FBI, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Cyber Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and others. Their work against Russia surely intensified once its election interference was detected.

When assigned the opera Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi, who was grieving from a set of very grave personal tragedies, felt impelled to compose its music after reading the sorrowful, haunting, and beautiful words of the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”: “Va, pensiero, sull’ali, dorate. (Fly, thought, on golden wings.)” The text expresses a people’s longing to return to a home that they know has been destroyed and pain that thinking of it caused. The longing of critics and detractors, beyond those who do not like Trump for personal, irrational, or other reasons, for a return to the type of presidency that they knew under Obama or a world in which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, consciously or unconsciously, colors their perspectives of Trump and his administration. For the most part, in the US news media, the apparent desire to return to the past or have different president in place, distorts reporting on the Mueller investigation. It has done so to the point that effective, balanced reporting of events has become atypical. Thoughts that blind critics and detractors to reality must be allowed to “fly away on golden wings.” If the case were different, the US public, rather than viewing Mueller’s investigation as an attack on Trump, would recognize that a good portion of the Office of Special Counsel’s efforts have envenomed the soil in which the Russian intelligence might of hoped to plant future operations, or resurrect old ones, in the US. Such work by Mueller’s team could be said to amount to defacto retribution for Russia’s election meddling. As stated earlier, Trump has good reason to be concerned for he would prefer not to have anything depict his administration in a bad light. That concern certainly goes beyond some ostensible vain interest over his legacy. Much more still will be heard from him, his legal team, and administration surrogates. In the end, to the considerable chagrin of many, final judgments on the matter will most likely be found in his favor.

Trump Says Putin Means It About Not Meddling: He Also Wants to Make Sure It Does Not Happen Again!

US President Donald Trump (above). After speaking in camera with Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Trump said that he had again asked Putin whether Russia meddled in the 2016 US Presidential Election, but his continued focus on the issue was insulting him. Although Trump faces attacks from critics due to perceived inaction, he has acted in a well-paced manner, taking calibrated steps to assure the defeat of any future election meddling, and make something positive out of a negative situation.

According to a November 11, 2017 New York Times article entitled “Trump Says Putin ‘Means It’ About Not Meddling”, US President Donald Trump expressed the view on Saturday, November 11th that he believed Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin was sincere in his denials of meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election. (A version of this article appears in print on November 12, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Putin’s Denials Of Interference Satisfy Trump.) The November 11th New York Times article suggested Trump felt Putin was sincere in his denials of Russia played any role in the US elections, and he called questions about Moscow’s meddling a politically motivated “hit job” that was hindering cooperation with Russia on life-or-death issues. After speaking in camera with Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Trump said that he had again asked whether Russia had meddled in the contest, but that the continued focus on the issue was insulting to Putin. Trump proffered that it was time to move past the issue so that the US and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, resolving the Syrian civil war and working together on Ukraine. Trump told reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for more meetings that he asked Putin again about meddling in the US elections. According to Trump, “He said he didn’t meddle.” He went on to state: “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

The New York Times reported that Trump did not answer a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denials in Danang. In response, the New York Times offered the surmisal that Trump indicated he was far more inclined to accept the Putin’s assertions than those of his own intelligence agencies which have concluded the Russian president directed an elaborate effort to interfere in the vote. The article pointed out that the FBI, CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all determined that Russia meddled in the election. The next day, however, the New York Times explained Trump seemed to walk his comments back a bit, saying that he did not dispute the assessment of the nation’s key intelligence agencies that Russia had intervened in the 2016 presidential election.Trump said at a news conference in Hanoi alongside Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang: “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership.”  He further stated: “I believe in our agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.”

Damnant quod non intellegent. (They condemn what they do not understand.) For critics to insist that Trump is malingering on the issue of Russia’s election meddling because he is not doing what they want him to do, is truly unfair. Trump is doing his job, and it would appear, certainly on foreign policy, that he is doing his job well, with a positive energy, and desire serve the US public. Critics who to demand for Trump to continually reproach and punish Putin over Russia’s election meddling have the luxury to do that away from the fray. They do not have the responsibilities of the president. Further, critics condemn him for having a somewhat nationalistic in tone. Yet, they turn away from the reality that if anyone would feel rage over the idea of another country interfering with the US election process, it would be him. As a responsibility of being US President, Trump must suppress those emotions and consider the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a way that it best serves US foreign policy. Despite any strong feelings, he must not engage in a vendetta to right a wrong, now past. Critics must accept that Trump does not intend to go to war with Russia over its election meddling. Moreover, he does not intend to pummel Russia with unending waves of sanctions, vengeful behavior which would best match the incessant cries of “foul” and figurative grunts and groans from critics due to the hurt the election meddling caused them. There is a foolhardiness to pursuing something that will lead to nothing. Trump would prefer to deal with the root causes of anger in Putin’s mind, in the minds of other senior Russian officials, that lead to a decision to undertake the risky operation in the first place. Trump understands that the true cure for the meddling problem and others is to develop a good relationship between Putin and himself and greatly improving relations between the US and Russia as a whole. Trump wants to work alongside certain countries, including Russia, to resolve urgent security issues such as North Korea, Syria, and Ukraine. On his recent foreign trip, Trump has kindled or strengthened his relationships with the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and secured deals with their countries to improve trade the conditions of trade with them. When one develops a viewpoint, there is nothing unusual about the individual expatiating on it. Yet, somehow in their world, removed from making actual decisions and taking action, some critics have gone a bit too far. They insist that Trump acted in collusion with Russia achieve a victory he would want to win on his own and could win on his own. The suggestion that there is an authentic, direct link between Trump and Russia concerning the 2016 US Presidential Election will likely prove to have been sheer caprice. It would be appropriate to take a look at what Trump has been doing on the election meddling issue.  Moreover, it also would be fitting to examine possible underlying reasons why critics, in the face of Trump’s rather efficacious efforts, questioning his performance and have been so certain and have behaved so harshly toward him over allegations of actions by him that remain unproven. Id bonum cura quod vetustate fit melius. (Take care of the good since it improves with age.)

Trump (left) and US National Security Adviser US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (right). Critics demand for Trump to continually reproach Putin over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. If anyone would feel rage over the idea of another country interfering with the US election process, it would be Trump. Yet, as a responsibility of being US President, Trump must suppress those emotions and consider Russia’s election meddling in a way that best serves US foreign policy.

Trump’s Quiet Approach to Defeating Election Meddling by Russia

As a reminder of what the issue of Russia’s election meddling is all about, from June 2015 to November 2016, Russian hackers penetrated Democratic Party computers in the US, and gained access to the personal emails of Democratic officials, which in turn were distributed to the global media by WikiLeaks. Both the CIA and the FBI report the intrusions were intended to undermine the US election. Cyber gives Russia a usable strategic capability. If benefits from its use appear great enough, Moscow may want to risk additional attacks. Indeed, the US Intelligence Community concluded that Moscow will apply lessons learned from its “Putin-ordered campaign” directed at the 2016 US Presidential Election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes. The report of the January 16, 2017 US Office of the Director of National Intelligence entitled, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Election” presents the best publicized assessment by the US Intelligence Community of the Russian cyber attack during the 2016 US Presidential Election. It stated: “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.” Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin.

The English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead stated: “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” Trump is doing just that. Although Trump faces attacks from critics due to perceived inaction, he has acted in a well-paced manner, taking calibrated steps, to eliminate the possibility of any future Russian election meddling, and to make something positive out of an extraordinarily negative situation. Trump is aware that there are many lines of approach Russia can take to reach the US public. By examining recent actions by Trump, one can infer what he and his national security team have most likely deemed as “decisive points” to focus on in order to be most effective in impacting Russian behavior and reduce the possibility of future meddling. The following six points are very likely part of a suite of preventative measures employed by the administration.

1. Trump Tries to Sit on Russian Cyber Activities Against the US

Adversus incendiary excubias, nocturnos vigilesque commentus est. (Against the dangers of fires, he conceived of the idea of nightguards and watchmen.) On July 9, 2017, when Trump broached the issue of the Russia’s hacking of the 2016 Presidential Election, Putin apparently became a bit scratchy. Putin’s denial of the facts presented most likely signalled to Trump that he would be engaged in a argument without end on the hacking. Trump had to either move away from the issue or move laterally on it in some way.  Surely, Trump did not want to abandon the matter. As an immediate response to Putin’s denials on the matter, Trump then proposed forming a cyber security unit. According to Reuters on July 9, 2017, Trump wrote in the actual tweet about the cyber security unit: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

The proposal for a joint cyber security unit did not simply materialize from thin air. On the one hand, it likely stemmed from Trump’s experience as a negotiator, his gaining of the conversation with his national security team, and his consideration of all the “what ifs” possible. It was also developed more during an intense discussion between Trump and Putin on how to remit Russian cyber warfare programs directed at the US and perhaps similar US programs aimed at Russia. It may have been the product of brainstorming by the two leaders. Trump’s proposal was never supposed to serve as a form retribution against Russia for its intrusions into the US democratic process. Surely, it was not created to be a final solution to the threat of hacking US election. Immediately after the bilateral meeting in Germany, it was revealed that forming such a joint cyber security unit with Russia was prohibited under US law. Yet, although creating an actual cyber security unit was out of bounds, the concept of bringing US and Russian cyber experts together in some way to talk about some cyber matters was not. Trump’s likely aim with the proposal was to create a situation in which US and Russian officials were talking about hacking. Ostensibly, those conversations would create goodwill, perhaps stimulate a more open discussion about the issue, and promote honest talks about the issue among senior officials. In that way, the proposal would have served as a confidence building measure.

Trump (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) in Hamburg. Trump does not intend to pummel Russia with unending waves of sanctions, vengeful behavior which would best match the incessant cries of “foul” and figurative grunts and groans from critics due to the hurt the election meddling caused them. There is a foolhardiness to pursuing something that will lead to nothing. Trump would prefer to deal with the root causes of anger in Putin’s mind that lead to a decision to undertake the operation in the first place.

2. Enhancing the US Surveillance Capability

US has the ability to monitor activities of Russian Federation intelligence organizations operating on the ground in the US, to include: Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR; the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU; and, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. Undoubtedly, Putin also well aware of this now. This capability was made public by the administration of US President Barack Obama in a June 23, 2017 Washington Post article that included a leaked account of that administration’s reaction to reports about ongoing Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 US Presidential Election. That article indicated that Obama was in a dark mood over the intelligence findings about Russian activities. The approaching transfer of power gave urgency to his National Security Council’s deliberations on how to retaliate against Russia. By mid-December 2016, Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, was quoted as saying to senior national security officials: “We’re not talking anymore. We’re acting.” A senior national security official at the time told the Washington Post that Rice challenged them go to the “max of their comfort zones.” Economic sanctions, originally aimed only at the GRU were expanded to include the FSB. Four Russian intelligence officials and three companies with links to those services were also named as targets.

The Washington Post article, as an overt source to intelligences service worldwide, informed that the FBI had long lobbied to close two Russian compounds in the US–one in Maryland and another in New York–on the grounds that both were used for espionage and placed an enormous surveillance burden on the Bureau. The FBI was also responsible for generating a list of Russian operatives, that it had concluded, were working under diplomatic cover to expel, drawn from a roster the Bureau maintains of suspected Russian intelligence agents in the US. In the end, Rice submitted a plan to Obama calling for the seizure of both Russian facilities and the expulsion of 35 suspected spies. Obama signed off on the package and announced the punitive measures on December 29, 2016 while on vacation in Hawaii. Trump has undoubtedly increased FBI electronic and other technical monitoring and surveillance of Russian intelligence activities, and can increase it further. Interviews will invariably be conducted with senior leaders among Russian intelligence officers with official diplomatic cover. To the extent that it does not interfere with counterespionage operations, the FBI will conduct interviews with suspected Russian intelligence operatives working in the US with non-official cover.

3. Trump Seeks to Find Chemistry with Putin to Enhance Communication

Ad connectendas amicitias, tenacissimum vinculum, est morum smilitudo. (For cementing friendship, resemblance of manners is the strongest tie.) One must try to live a life based on a strong moral foundation. In foreign policy and diplomacy there must be some confidence in, some foundation of trust, among opposing parties that they are both trying to do the right thing. Diplomacy will not succeed, and relations will not flourish, if that is not the case. After his bilateral meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany during the G-20 Economic Summit, Trump emphasized that he raised allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election with Putin. Reuters reported on July 9, 2017 that Trump stated: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..” When Putin denied meddling, a US official at the time said that Trump expressed the view that both countries must agree to disagree on the issue and move on to other topics where they could work together. As mentioned earlier, after Trump spoke privately with Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Trump revealed he again asked Putin whether Russia had meddled in the contest, and that he gotten the impression that the continued focus on the issue was insulting to Putin. When Trump would ask Putin about Russia’s election meddling, he would likely speak to Putin with un fil di voce, a reserved voice, but with a power behind it that allows it be discerned in the balcony. Trump raised contentious issues with Putin, not to confront but show Putin that there was a need for the two to confide in one another about urgent and important issues if relations between the two countries were to transform. In terms of positive actions, this was a maximum effort.

Russian officials will normally vehemently deny launching cyber attacks. Russian officials almost never open up their covert intelligence operations. Putin has never publicly discussed them. Trump was undoubtedly advised of this fact by his national security team. Perhaps the best way to explain it all is to say that Putin’s denials are routine. Yet, among Trump’s critics, revelations about his response on Russian intelligence activities seems to overwhelm those who learn about it all. When Trump received Putin’s response, he was left with choices. Indeed, both he and Putin were aware of that. He could accept Putin’s denial, or create a hostile exchange by demanding he “tell the truth” as it is known in the US. Surely, there would be no positive or professional end to recreating the communication failures, diplomatic missteps, and delinquencies of the previous administration. Trump would most likely have stoked the same fires that led to a specious struggle of words between Obama and Putin and also ignited a miscalculated decision in Moscow to interfere with 2016 US Presidential Election which the US Intelligence Community assures took place. Actually, engaging in such actions would defy Trump’s own efforts to pull relations in a new direction and the action would best get described as counterintuitive. Trump has no intention of doing so. As the November 11, 2017 New York Times Trump said it was time to move past the issue so that the US and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, solving the Syrian civil war and working together on Ukraine.

On June 10, 2015, Putin was asked by the editor-in-chief of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, “Is there any action that you most regret in your life, something that you consider a mistake and wouldn’t want to repeat ever again.” Putin stated, “I’ll be totally frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. It appears that the Lord built my life in a way that I have nothing to regret.” While he may not have regrets, Putin may at least be rethinking, reevaluating the operation that stirred so much trouble for the Obama administration and could have potentially destroyed his relations with the new Trump administration before it even started. Trump wants Putin to give that consider. Further, Trump is offering Putin the opportunity to have a unique, intimate relationship with Trump. With Trump, good things are possible if that is what Putin truly wants. Things done together will lead to goodness for both. Opposition, and to an extent, competition, must be replaced by unity. In amicitia nihil fictum est, nihil simulatum, et quidquid est verum et voluntarium. (In friendship there is nothing fictitious, nothing is simulated, and it is in fact true and voluntary.)

Putin (left) with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right). Russian officials will normally vehemently deny launching cyber attacks. Russian officials almost never open up their covert intelligence operations. Putin has never publicly discussed them. Trump was undoubtedly advised of this fact by his national security team. Perhaps the best way to explain it all is to say that Putin’s denials are routine.

4. Trump Seeks to Obviate Russia’s Penchant for Being Manipulative

The Obama administration never put together the right recipe for working well with Putin. To an extent, it was simply bad chemistry between the two leaders. Trump feels he can find the solution. True, the meeting between Trump and Putin will unlikely be a catalytic moment when opponents of Trump, political or otherwise, will see the method in his madness and appreciate his accomplishment. Moreover, when Russia behaves in ways that tear others from peace, it must still face consequences. However, Trump’s efforts evince his desire not to isolate Russia, or allow engagement with it to fall off. He does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, is placed at risk. Much as a warrior with power and know-how, and interact with Putin eye-to-eye, head-to-head, brain-to-brain. Through both strength and understanding, Trump believes the US and Russia can be good neighbors on the same planet. Yet, in what seemed to an effort to instigate further troubles for Trump, senior Russian officials provided an alternative account of his meeting with Putin in Danang, Vietnam. Almost mockingly, they asserted that Trump had accepted Putin’s denial of election interference and even said that some in the US were “exaggerating” Moscow’s role without proof. Their efforts at burlesque were in considerable variance with Putin’s response to efforts to connect Russia with the 2016 US election. Putin, sought to avoid the issue altogether, dismissing revelations that Russians had contacts with Trump’s campaign team. After the summit meeting, the Russian news media quoted Putin as saying: “I think that everything connected with the so-called Russian dossier in the United States is a manifestation of a continuing domestic political struggle.”  Putin told reporters in Danang, “It’s important that we find an opportunity, with our teams, to sit down at the level of presidents and talk through our complex relations.” He continued: “Our relations are still in crisis. Russia is ready to turn the page and move on.” Putin also commented that Trump comported himself at meetings “with the highest level of goodwill and correctness,” adding, “He is a cultured person, and comfortable discussing matters related to work.”

Putin’s contacts with the US have certainly not been about shutting the door. Yet, although he may very well have recognized opportunities to create a more positive relationship with the US, his senior advisers seem to be focusing upon the atmosphere of pure hatred and rejection propagated by the “counter-Trump milieu.” (In the US, many journalists, think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the Obama administration, propagate a cult of ugliness directed at the US presidency. The mass of their combined efforts and the environment they create, is referred to by greatcharlie as the counter-Trump milieu.) They cannot help but recognize that there is an effort to separate Trump from the US public and create turmoil and frustration for him that Russia, for certain, does not have his hand in. They perhaps are suggesting to Putin that he should do nothing that might help Trump restore respect for the US presidency. A rationale for Putin advisers to take such a position is that it fits well with the idea of supporting their leader’s apparent desire of turning Russian into a simulacrum of the Soviet Union into more than a dream. It would accomplished through the capture of former Soviet republics that are now sovereign countries in Russia’s near abroad. The notion that Trump is a neophyte with regard to Washington politics may also be something they believe to be a tangible fact and perhaps even an advantage for Putin’s advisers to develop analyses of Trump’s thinking and action.

Fluctuat nec mergitur. (It is tossed by waves but it does not sink.) The reality is that Trump and his administration are in good nick. Putin might be genuinely engaged in a deliberate process of developing an amicable, constructive relationship with Trump. Trump never had a personal relationship with Putin before  he became US president. It is very clear that Putin is trying to understand his positions and his thinking in a granular way.  Putin’s adviser would do well to engage in a similar effort to develop greater insight on Trump. It would seem they have already run Trump through analyses for an uncongenial, combative relationship, as evinced by given words they expressed Danang. They should dig deeper than the surface, to understand where new linkages can be established. A conscious effort should be made to stay away from distortions propagated from the very emotional, often very irrational, counter-Trump milieu. Trump administration attempts to engage in confidence-building with Moscow should be viewed as perfect opportunities to discuss common ground that exists between the two countries from Moscow’s perspective. Advisers of the two leaders must have ongoing, frank discussions on the timing for presenting initiatives on issues before any bilateral talks. Such discussion would be the best way for them to inform their counterparts of rocky domestic political situations and other political obstacles, that may derail initiatives if not handled with precision. Additionally, discreet matters must be kept discreet. That is a key responsibility of both sides. Resolutions to issues are less likely be found if they are subtly expressed in condescending or patronizing way, even if it is simply an expression of crni humor or some other form of banal amusement. Gaining a perspective akin to that outlined here may demand the development of a duality in the thinking of Putin’s advisers, however, it would unlikely be deleterious to their efforts regarding the US. The more Trump pushes Russia in the right direction, the more Putin may push for better analyses, and better answers concerning the US. The more he pushes, the great chance Putin advisers may decide to see things in a way as discussed here. Intriguingly, although Trump’s approach toward Putin’s advisers is nonviolent, benign in fact, in military terms, it would be akin to “the attack in-depth.”

Trump (right) with Putin (left) in Danang. Trump understands that the true cure for the meddling problem and others is to develop a good relationship between Putin and himself and greatly improving relations between the US and Russia as a whole. Trump wants to work alongside certain countries, including Russia, to resolve urgent security issues such as North Korea, Syria, and Ukraine.

5. Trump Turns Refraining from Meddling into a Matter of Honor for Putin

Long before Putin became the President of the Russian Federation, he revealed that he both engaged in efforts to influence elections in other countries and personally felt the negative impact of election meddling in Russia. Putin outlined his experience influencing elections as a KGB officer in other countries Indeed, in Part 4 of his memoir, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000), Putin explains that in East Germany his work was “political intelligence,” which included obtaining information about political figures and the plans of the main opponent: NATO. (See greatcharlie’s book review of First Person.) In a precise statement of his intelligence activities, Putin intriguingly described them as follows: “The usual intelligence activities: recruiting sources of information, obtaining information, analyzing it, and sending it to Moscow. I looked for information about political parties, the tendencies inside those parties, their leaders. I examined today’s leaders and the possible leaders of tomorrow and the promotion of people to certain posts in the parties and the government. It was important to know who was doing what and how, what was going on in the foreign Ministry of a particular country, how they were constructing their policy on certain issues and in various areas of the world, and how our partners would react to disarmament talks. Of course, in order to obtain such information, you need sources. So recruitment of sources, procurement of information, and assessment and analysis were big parts of the job. It was very routine work.”

In Part 6 of First Person, Putin also goes into great detail about his work in the 1992 and 1996 mayoral elections in St. Petersburg following his resignation from the KGB. and a sense is provided of his acumen and instinct for work in the political sphere. In 1992, he played a definitive role in the election of his political mentor, Anatoly Sobchak, as the first popularly elected mayor of the city. Putin explains that as chair of the Leningrad City Council under an older system, Sobchak could have been removed by the council members at any moment. Putin felt Sobchak needed a more stable position. Sobchak finally agreed that the post of mayor had to be introduced. The decision to introduce the post of mayor was passed by the Leningrad City Council, by a margin of a single vote. However, from the experience of arranging Sobchak’s political victory, Putin was able to assess four years later that in order to win re-election, Sobchak would need “professional campaign managers and technicians–not just a guy who could finesse the deputies.” Putin saw that it was a whole new ball game. Campaign plans had to be adjusted to fit circumstances. Putin said that he told Sobchak right off, “You know, you’re on a completely different playing field now. You need specialists.” He agreed, but then he decided that he would conduct his own electoral campaign. He says: “You know, running a campaign, bringing in specialists–all of this costs money. And we didn’t have any. Sobchak had been under investigation for a year and a half on allegations that he had bought an apartment with city funds. But in fact, he did not have any money either for an apartment or for an election campaign. We were not extracting funds from the city budget. It never entered our heads to find the money we needed that way.” However, with regard to Sobchak’s opponent, Vladimir Anatolyevich Yakovlev, the former governor of Leningrad oblast (province), Putin said that he got the funds he needed at Moscow’s expense. He believed Yakovlev was supported by the very same people who orchestrated an ethics campaign against Sobchak. Putin described the critical junture in the campaign in the following way: “During the election campaign, someone sent an inquiry to the Prosecutor General’s office, asking whether Sobchak was involved in any criminal investigations. The very same day, the answer came back: Yes, three were two criminal cases under investigation. Naturally, they didn’t explain that he was a witness, not a suspect, in these cases. The reply from the Prosecutor General’s office was duplicated, and flyers were dropped over the city from a helicopter. The law enforcement agencies were interfering directly in a political contest.” The newly elected mayor of St. Petersburg, Yakovlev did not move Putin out of his office right away; but as soon as the presidential elections were over, he was asked rather harshly to free up the space. By that time, Putin had already turned down Yakolev’s offer to keep his post as deputy mayor. Putin said Yakolev made the offer through his people. Putin explained: “I thought it would be impossible to work with him.” However, Putin said what really made staying on a bad idea were attacks he against Yakolev during the campaign. Putin said: “I don’t remember the context now, but in a television interview, I had called him Judas. The word seemed to fit, and I used it.”

Trump knows Putin has personal experience in attempting to interfere with nation elections of other countries. He presumably knows this not only through First Person, but also reports provided by the US Intelligence Community, knows Putin disfavors such efforts given what happened to his mentor Sobchak. As mentioned earlier, Trump said, “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” Trump added: “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.” There are pitfalls to relying on ones own moral barometer in the performance of diplomacy. Trump appears to have courageously taken that tact regarding Putin and the issue of Russia’s election meddling. Trump has not said that he agrees with Putin’s view, nor has he  let Putin off the hook. He will not forget what transpired. Yet, by refusing to publicly reproach Putin for not being more forthcoming over the election meddling in the US when he questioned him, Trump demonstrated that he understands the tough situation Putin is in regarding the meddling, now well-exposed. It would appear that the covert operation of election meddling was supposedly crafted to be plausibly deniable, allowing and, perhaps under Russian codes, requiring Putin to gainsay its existence. Trump appears to be holding out hope that his decision to be tolerant of Putin’s response has appealed to Putin’s sense of honor. Indeed, he likely hopes that it will be a factor in future interactions with Putin. At the same time, however, Trump is actually cutting off Putin from possible equivocation and outright denials. Putin’s future actions would be gauged off of denials of interference. Many in US foreign policy circles have absolutely no faith Putin as an honest broker. Yet, Trump’s expectations appear to manifest his nature as a visionary, his sense of imagination. Along with the sense of expectation is an intuition that what is expected will be more vital than what exists. Trump has no intention of recreating the failures, delinquencies of the previous administration. There is no logical purpose in stoking the fires the led to a childlike struggle of words that also likely ignited an adversarial decision that led to an attempt to interfere with 2016 US Election which the US Intelligence Community has confirmed. 

Trump’s critics have not covered themselves in glory. Their performance, though overwhelming, has been disjointed. It is difficult to imagine how presidential historians will judge how critics’ hammered Trump over the manner in which he is handling Russia’s election meddling, and allegations that Trump worked with Putin to secure Russia’s assistance in winning the 2016 US Presidential Election.

6. Trump Offers Business Opportunities to Mitigate Putin’s Desire to Punish the West

Certainly, Trump cannot know exactly what is in Putin’s heart. Putin is a calculator. Various US policy analysts and academics have hypothesized over the causality for the Russia’s misunderstandings and crises with the West over Eastern Europe during the past 25 years. Putin, himself, explained at the 2007 Munich Security Conference and many times since that former NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner had guaranteed that NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Moreover, he has pointed to the statements of German parliamentarian Egon Bahr who explained on June 26, 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” In a Bild interview on January 11, 2016, Putin pointed to what he described as a very concrete suggestion by Bahr on how that danger could be averted: “the USA, the Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structures.” When the Bild interviewer pointed out to Putin that under NATO’s rules and self-understanding it can accept free countries as members if they want to be members and meet certain requirements.  Putin responded, “Nowhere is it written that NATO had to accept certain countries. All that would have been required to refrain from doing so was political will. But people didn’t not want to.” Putin declared the reason for NATO’s lack of restraint was “NATO and the USA wanted complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone.”  

Bis interimitur qui suis armis perit. (He is doubly destroyed who perishes by his own arms.) Putin’s penchant for acting in that direction lead to his capture of territory in Georgia, capture of Crimea, and investment in Eastern Ukraine. Interestingly enough, Georgia and Ukraine are not NATO members, but in 2008 had been explicitly and publicly assured that they would be granted Membership Action Plans. By occupying those countries Putin has assured they would never join NATO in the near term. Indeed, no country will ever join NATO while being partly occupied by Russia. To that extent, part of Putin’s grand strategy entails halting NATO expansion while securing more territory in countries in its near abroad. The near abroad is what Moscow refers to as the territory surrounding Russia’s borders. Recall that Napoleon Bonaparte, in an effort to unite Europe under his rule, took an inexorable path to destruction. He became morally myopic. To that extent, as Victor Hugo stated: “Napoleon embarrassed God.” For Putin, now is a time for reflection and resolve. This may be the moment to genuinely improve Russia’s relations with the US.

There are several bargaining chips of differing value to both Trump and Putin. Trump managed to become US president doing what he wanted to do, having truly dominant knowledge of the desires of the majority of the US public and overall US political environment. He knows what he wants and what he can really do. Cooperation on counterterrorism, ISIS, climate change, and poverty may serve as a bargaining chips to get agreements on other issues. However, Greater bargaining chips might include: the return of Russia properties in the US, reconstruction assistance in Syria, peace-enforcement in Syria, making the Group of 7 the Group of 8 again with inclusion of Russia, economic sanctions, closing sanction loopholes, and lifting restrictions on the Exxon-Rosneft agreement through an exemption. Some of these actions may not appear plausible and could have a deleterious effect on the sanctions regime against Russia over it actions in Ukraine and create an uproar among the Europeans. However, Trump undoubtedly believes bold action, when appropriate, may be the very thing to turn situations around, modify Russian behavior, and get relations moving forward. When presidential action could immediately resolve matters, those issues may be hashed out at the table or it could be agreed to allow for  some additional consideration before giving a response. Trump must put “America First” but keep firmly in mind how his decisions and actions regarding Russia might impact European allies and partners. Given domestic political concerns, initial offerings from Putin may appear paltry. There is a real possibility that if he feels secure enough, Putin could offer much, particularly to loosen the US grip on Russia’s figurative economic throat. To date, a degree of good-faith bargaining and compromise between Washington and Moscow has occurred. There have been mutual peace offerings. However, refraining any interference with US elections cannot be part of any peace offering or any quid-pro-quo arrangement. Without any further inquiries about what exactly happened, Russia must stop engaging in such operations. If Russia crosses the line again, everything accomplished will be obliterated and all of the great possibilities will never be realized. Tragically, it would likely once again lock up the diplomatic process. Trump can assume that Putin knows this, too!

Trump (right) and Chinese President XI Jinping (left). On his recent foreign trip to Asia, Trump kindled or strengthened his relationships with the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and secured deals with their countries to improve trade the conditions of trade with them. He helped US companies arrange over $250 billion in business deals while in Beijing.

Causality for Critics’ Relentless Attacks on Trump Despite His Discernable Efforts

For those longing for an end to the Obama administration and the many vicissitudes it faced on foreign policy, were heard shout to the effect of “Blessed be the Trump administration and health to all its parts.” However, many critics deemed Trump unfit for the president even before his election victory. The words “not presidential” were heard every time Trump spoke. Eventually, moves by Trump of any kind would elicit a range of reactions by those engaged in the broad, piquant, counter-Trump discourse.

Custos morum. (Guardian of morals.) Some critics seem to believe that they are figurative hammers, designed to shape Trump into the instrument they want. While they may self-declare themselves repositories of the accumulated wisdom on US foreign policy, they are not. Moreover, they are not the stewards of US foreign policy. There other critics who apparently have found nothing desirable and everything loathsome about Trump. Oscillating, moving from one point to the other, critics of Trump have their own relentless logic. Whenever one of Trump’s efforts fail or whenever he makes a mistake, they were over the moon with joy. Short of pushing Trump out of office, it strikes one’s conscience to think that nothing would soothe them than to prescribe plunging Trump forevermore into the boiling cauldrons of Hell from the French playwright Mollière’s, École des femmes. Indeed, they seemed to have let their aggression toward Trump come alive inside of them. At times, admonitions and opprobrium expressed through all manner of writings, created the impression that some giant golem was struggling, fighting to escape their inner souls.

What is truly problematic is the reality that critics may have infiltrated and despoiled the psyche of many in the US, perhaps may have even destroyed the possibility for some to have confidence in future US administrations, both Republican and Democratic. Most of Trump’s critics are individuals with advanced degrees, apt to be eloquent enough on key issues concerning the purported “Trump threat.” The US public is open to eloquence. Further, the precept of being innocent until proven guilty has been forcefully pushed aside in the US newsmedia with regard to all matters related to Trump. Hopefully, in the end, the truth will be revealed to those who are confused and bewildered by it all, both among general the public and Trump’s critics. Certainly there were many personal reasons for critics to harbor such strong, negative opinions of Trump and efforts against him. Their efforts have inflamed passions globally. The administration might explain that concerns expressed about Trump’s approach to the presidency were a manifestation of critics’ own struggles to accept the change from the traditional to modernity. The old is replaced by Trump’s new way of doing things. It has been said that some attacks on Trump are being used to cultivate critics’ emotions on: US policies, Obama’s departure, and Hillary Clinton’s election loss. There is the possibility that their varied attacks may just be projections of character flaws that critics see in themselves. Even more, there is the notion that Trump’s victory has caused them so much emotional harm that there is a desire to strike back, to take vengeance. That is perhaps the idea most worthy of examination.

Trump (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe (right). Through meetings, Trump and Abe have kindled a good relationship. Seldom have Trump’s critics taken public inventory of themselves, and considered whether their thinking and actions are appropriate or representative of their own notions of good character. It would appear that even the most noble among them have not considered the impact of their attacks against Trump on US foreign policy.

Moral Responsibility and the Strike Back Emotion

There are many sources for the belief in moral responsibility. Many philosophy scholars today conclude that the deepest roots of our commitment to moral responsibility are found in powerful emotions. In The Stubborn System of Moral Responsibility (MIT Press, 2015), philosopher Bruce Waller at Youngstown State University explains this strike back emotion is one of the main sources of our strong belief in moral responsibility.

Indeed, human beings are a punitive species, and share the strike back emotion with other animals. It has been hypothesized that since humans are social animals, and engage with one another to achieve goals, humans are well-disposed to punish those who seek advantage over themselves and others. Wrongdoing stirs formidable emotions in humans, even when it is done to others. In social groups or in societies, anger and resentment is raised toward those who take benefits to which they are not entitled. It almost universally leads to some form of punishment. Culpam poena, premit comes. (Punishment closely follows crime as its’ companion.)

Revenge can seem sweet, and retribution may bring satisfaction, but those feelings are often short-lived. Moreover, the emotional source of moral responsibility, the strike back desire, can create problems with regard to given other desired ends, such as future safety, reconciliation, and moral formation. Most psychotherapists would explain that vengefulness, itself, generally is the manifestation of a serious pathology. Vengeful desires and behavior can ensnare an individual in a vicious cycle of hatred and prevent any resolution of the original harmful experience. Most vengeful actions are based on the misconception that harm to the self can be undone or at least mitigated by harming the perpetrator, when, in fact, undoing of what has already been done is impossible. Ones injuries, pain, and emotional distress is never relieved or obviated. Rather, vengeful action could cause those hurts to smoulder. Sometimes, when the sense of moral justification is high, and the desire for vengeance becomes strong enough, individuals can become willing to sacrifice, violate laws, sustain injury, or even self-destruct, in order to punish a perpetrator. The only permanent solution is working through those feelings, as well as feelings of powerlessness.

Trump (left) with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right). Trump knows the truth about his actions. While it should naturally disappoint him to hear critics shed doubt of the legitimacy of his election victory, he welcomes all light to shine brightly upon his campaign and election for the truth is stands in his corner. Trump’s critics at times have offered insufficient, inconsistent, or incongruous data, leaving huge gaps. At the same time, their efforts have inflamed passions globally.

Deciding that someone is responsible for an act, which is taken to be the conclusion of a judgment, is actually part of the process of assessing blame. If we start with a spontaneous negative reaction, then that can lead to hypothesizing that the source of the action is blameworthy and the start of an active desire to blame the perpetrator. That will shape ones interpretations of the available evidence to the extent that they support ones blame hypothesis. Evidence is highlighted that indicates negligence, recklessness, impure motives, or a faulty character. Any evidence that may contradict ones blame hypothesis is ignored. Rather than dispassionately judging whether someone is responsible, the spontaneous reaction of blameworthiness is validated. Trump’s critics display the reactive attitudes of resentment, indignation, blame, and moral anger toward: the results of the 2016 US Presidential Election; Trump as a person; and the litany of actions in which his campaign allegedly engaged to win the election.

Subjecting Trump to reactive attitudes should only be viewed as righteous and appropriate if Trump was found through Congressional oversight or the justice system to have committed some offense. So far, such evidence does not exist. Critics are only able to use purely backward-looking grounds to say their judgments, attitudes, or treatments are justified. There is a real possibility that critics will never find their legs in their efforts against Trump. In 2014, a set of 5 studies by Cory Clark and his colleagues found that a key factor promoting belief in free will, is a fundamental desire to blame and hold others morally responsible for their wrongful behaviors. In this respect, the many investigations underway in the US Congress, the Office of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, support the critics’ view that Trump is guilty and morally beneath them, and should be subjected to punishment. In the studies reported by Clark, evidence was found to suggest that greater belief in free will, is due to heightened punitive motivations. Interestingly, other researchers have found that ones moral evaluation of whether an action was deliberately done was impacted ones the like or dislike of the outcome of that action. Beyond that, there have also been studies that have found an “asymmetric understanding of the moral nature” of ones own actions and those of others, such that one judges ones own actions and motivations as morally superior to those of the average person. The Dutch philosopher Maureen Sie explained: “In cases of other people acting in morally wrong ways we tend to explain those wrongdoings in terms of the agent’s lack of virtue or morally bad character traits. We focus on those elements that allow us to blame agents for their moral wrongdoings. On the other hand, in cases where we ourselves act in morally reprehensible ways we tend to focus on exceptional elements of our situation, emphasizing the lack of room to do otherwise.” Seldom have Trump critics taken public inventory of themselves, and considered whether their thinking and actions are appropriate or representative of their notions of good character. It would appear that even the most noble among them have not considered the consequences of their attacks against Trump, particularly with regard to foreign policy.

Trump (left) with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang (right) The New York Times reported that Trump did not answer a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denials while traveling to Hanoi Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang. Oddly,  the newspaper later offered the surmisal that Trump was far more inclined to accept the Putin’s assertions than those of his own intelligence agencies. There must be more thoughtful assays in their stories on the US president.

The Situation Appears To Be Developing as Trump Hoped

On November 21, 2017, just before leaving the Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump spoke with Putin by telephone for more than one hour. According to the White House, Trump and Putin affirmed their support for the Joint Statement of the United States and the Russian Federation issued at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit on November 11, 2017. Trump and Putin emphasized the importance of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and supporting the UN-led Geneva Process to peacefully resolve the Syrian civil war, end the humanitarian crisis, allow displaced Syrians to return home, and ensure the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens. Both leaders also discussed how to implement a lasting peace in Ukraine, and the need to continue international pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear weapon and missile programs. Additionally, the two presidents affirmed the importance of fighting terrorism together throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and agreed to explore ways to further cooperate in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations. True to the original wish Trump expressed for improving relations with Russia, his engagement with Putin moved beyond talking over again about Russia’s election meddling. It has turned toward positive communication and cooperation.

Trump with his family on the White House lawn (above). On November 21, 2017, just before leaving the Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump spoke with Putin by telephone for more than one hour. They discussed how US and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, resolving the Syrian civil war, and working together on Ukraine. True to the wish he expressed for improving relations with Russia, Trump’s engagement with Putin has moved beyond Russia’s election meddling and is turning more toward cooperation.

The Way Forward

In Act III, Scene i of William Shakespeare’s Life of King Henry VIII, Queen Katherine is in her apartment when the arrival of Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius is announced. Wolsey says he has not come to accuse her but to learn her thoughts on the dissolution of her marriage to King Henry and to offer advice. Katharine does not believe that they are on an honorable errand. The cardinals request to speak with her in a private room. However, Katherine lets them know that her the conscience is clear, and she has no problem speaking about the matter in a public room. Katherine states: “Speak it here: There’s nothing I have done yet, o’ my conscience, Deserves a corner: would all other women Could speak this with as free a soul as I do! My lords, I care not, so much I am happy Above a number, if my actions Were tried by every tongue, every eye saw ’em, Envy and base opinion set against ’em, I know my life so even. If your business Seek me out, and that way I am wife in, Out with it boldly: truth loves open dealing. Trump knows the truth about his actions. While it should naturally disappoint him to hear critics shed doubt of the legitimacy of his election victory, he welcomes all light to shine brightly upon his campaign and election for the truth is stands in his corner. Trump’s critics have not covered themselves in glory. Their performance, though overwhelming, has been disjointed. They offer insufficient, inconsistent, or incongruous data, leaving huge gaps. It is difficult to imagine how presidential historians will judge how critics’ hammered Trump over the manner in which he is handling Russia’s election meddling, and allegations that Trump worked with Putin to secure Russia’s assistance in winning the 2016 US Presidential Election. As their attacks take flights of fancy in the face of a contradictory reality, the critics will likely reduce themselves to nothing more than supernumeraries in this drama. One may disagree with the hypothesized impact of the strike back emotion on the attitudes and behavior of critics. Yet, one still can extrapolate from that much that could be useful in understanding the actions of Trump’s critics and in interpreting what impels their efforts. For those with a bent against Trump, it is not too late to modify their efforts. Critics may be able get from where they are with regard to Trump to where they need to be. There must be more thoughtful assays and greater balance in their examinations of the US president. Pride and ego must be subdued. They must subjugate lower passions to a higher reality.

Gloriosum est iniurias oblivisci. (It is glorious to forget the injustice.) Trump has not dismissed the Russian election meddling issue. He has not been delinquent on it. Trump is doing his job. He has been quietly taking calibrated steps to make something positive out of an extraordinarily negative situation. Many of those steps can be discerned. Due in part to the election meddling, Trump’s relationship with Putin is not yet ready to move past its fledgling stage and become cemented. That is perhaps one of the more apparent consequences of the decision in Moscow to interfere. Any belief that Trump’s decision to move on from election meddling in diplomatic talks at least resembles an aggressive display of passivism could not be further from the truth. Trump is unthreatened, and unmoved by notions proffered about Putin to the effect that he serves all things evil.  Putin’s cravings for power and territory could reassert themselves at any moment. If Putin’s ultimate goal is to receive payment in full for a debt he says NATO has owed Russia for nearly three decades and to have the US submit to his will, Trump will not allow that to happen. It is not completely certain, perhaps even a bit unlikely, that Trump has completely forgiven Putin. To forgive is not easy. It is not simple. There is no reason to forgive anyone unless it can be done with enough humility to inspire humility in the one who is forgiven. That is essentially what Trump is hoping for. Putin once mentioned God in discussing how He built his life. Everyone is indebted to God, none of us has enough to pay the debt. God is willing to forgive the debt, but the condition of the absolution is that everyone grant it to those around us.

Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (above). First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000) recounts what can now be called Putin’s early years in the form of an oral history. Putin’s co-authors explained the book’s goal was to answer the complex question “Who is this Mr. Putin?” While it provides big pieces of the puzzle that is Putin in a historical context, one can also extrapolate from First Person much that would be useful in understanding Putin’s approach to the West and what guides his actions currently.

“He doth bestride the narrow world. Like a Colossus . . . .”  These words from Act I Scene iii of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar could certainly serve to describe a perspective that many in the West hold about Russian Federation President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Indeed, there is a certain sense of wonder about him, his power, his will. Western observers ranginging from think tank analysts, learned scholars, journalists, leaders and officials in national capitals, former diplomats with firsthand experience with the Russian president along with self-styled experts with a comparatively paltry knowledge of him, have engaged in endless examinations of Putin. Many are actually more akin to ruthless vivisections. So popular is the exercise of analyzing Putin and proffering views of him that the mixed bag of his observers are fashionably referred to as “Putinologists.” Many would argue that harsh criticism of Putin for his actions at home and abroad is deservedly meted out. Some very likely declare Putin’s decisions and actions unnecessary or unacceptable, desiring to sail with the prevailing wind. Yet, one might also intuit that the most ferocious attacks on Putin, typically spoken or written at great distance from Moscow, signal an almost inexorable fear of him. Uncertainty can breed fear. Surely, many things about Putin are difficult to understand, and, consequently, are misunderstood.

In First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000), Putin, with the assistance of journalists Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timokova, and Andrei Kolesnikov, recounts what can now be called his early years. The book takes the form of an oral history instead a memoir or autobiography. It does not simply provide a history of events, organizing them more or less along a timeline. Putin’s co-authors explained the book’s goal was to answer the complex question “Who is this Mr. Putin?,” or at least bring the reader a little bit closer to understanding Russia’s “new president.” Putin was interviewed by his three co-authors on six separate occasions for approximately four hours at a time. They discussed his life. Whenever questions proved to be uncomfortable, too invasive, he would ask them to turn off the tape recorder.  The co-authors also interview his family members and people who knew him well or played an important role in his destiny. The book includes only the interviewers’ questions and the responses of Putin and his relatives and colleagues. His co-authors recognized the book’s format was unusual.  If questions caused either Putin or his relatives to reminisce or ponder, they were never interrupted. No editorial lines were added to the text. The interviews generally occurred late at night, around the dinner table. Once they were conducted at Putin’s office at the Kremlin. The co-authors met with Putin’s wife and with two daughters at his dacha. The 208 page book has nine “parts.” Those parts are organized as follows: The Son; The School Boy; The University Student; The Young Specialists; The Spy; The Democrat; The Bureaucrat; The Family Man; and, The Politician. Included in the book are several extraordinary personal photos of Putin and his immediate family. Photos of Putin taken closest to the time of publication show him before he had the eyes of the experienced, battle-scarred leader. His eyes appear similar to those of the very best students of a fine university, watching and peering, learning and discerning constantly in order to best prepare himself to lead Russia into the future.

First Person did not have to compete with other texts on Putin at the time of its publication. There was a fog of uncertainty that hampered the ability of observers to view power players in Russia beyond Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin. Moreover, for a while after Yeltsin took power following the 1991 coup d’etat attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev by the Gang of Eight and the subsequent Second Russian Revolution, the selection process for officials in the Yeltsin government was a bit higgledy-piggledy at that stage. Officials in top positions would come and go. Putin’s name was among those that emerged in the midst of everything. He garnered modest media attention internationally. While it increased once he became acting president, it reached nothing close to his current prominence and celebrity. First Person was largely viewed in the West as a campaign biography. It was first published in the Russian newspaper Kommersant as such. A New York Times review of First Person stated, “The new Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who is 47, has been a bit of a mystery man. Outside of his former colleagues in the KGB and in St. Petersburg city government, few had heard of him.” Interestingly, a review of the book in Foreign Affairs stated, “He offers little hint of the direction in which he intends to lead probably because he does not know.” First Person may have garnered interest beyond Russia hands around the world, but it did not make any best seller lists. Other books providing a picture of Putin’s activities before and just after he became president have been published, but those texts only tell Putin’s story in the third person. First Person provides a “first person” account of those events. By delving deep into the book, greatcharlie found that it prefigured the world leader that Putin would become. Reading First Person, it might even seem to some that for cosmic, preternatural, or even divine reasons, Putin was prepared, expected, not put in place by coincidence. First Person is rarely mentioned in present-day commentaries about Putin. The book’s important information should not lay inert, unread. First Person provides big pieces of the puzzle that is Putin in a historical context. Yet, one can also extrapolate much from it that would be useful in understanding Putin’s actions and in interpreting what guides his current approach to relations with the West.

Who is the Russian Leader?

Before delving into details of this very unique and edifying book’s discussion, it is necessary to offer a bit more about the world renowned national leader who is its author. A succession of political positions were thrust upon Putin shortly after he left the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Once on the right path, he broke all sorts of records on his way to the top. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions. In 1998, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. Later that same year, he was named Secretary of the Security Council. In August 1999, he was made prime minister. It was Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin’s unexpected resignation on New Year’s Eve 1999 that resulted in Putin’s elevation to the Kremlin. He then won the 2000 Russian Federation Presidential Election much to the surprise of Western experts. Putin did not inherit an ideal situation in Russia when he became president. While on his way to the top of the political heap, Putin saw how mesmerising “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts drastically 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 the West, alarming statistics were reported for example on the rise of alcoholism, drug addiction, birth defects, HIV/AIDS, a decreased birth rate, and citizens living below the poverty line. Glum faces on Russian officials who apparently sensed that the society, all of its institutions, was sliding downward, moving closer to the darker days of the Soviet era. Putin recognized that along with the trials created by the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing economic hardships Russia suffered, came a loss of prestige and the image of power. That loss was made worse by newsmedia reports from Russia’s second war in Chechnya which was brutal and at times seemed unwinnable. As Russia’s privation was publicized internationally, perceptions of Russia changed for the worst worldwide. However, Putin saw no need for Russia to lose its dignity as a result of its large step backward. Putin believed Russia would rise again, and that some acceptable substitute for the Soviet Union might be created. He never lacked faith about that. (In later years, Putin would not hesitate to inform leaders of countries that were once Soviet republics of his intention to bring them back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military influence.) Putin was loyal and obedient while he served Yeltsin, but saw him tarry too long as Russia strained in a state of collapse.

The English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead stated “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order. When Putin took power, the West expected him to give it nothing less than his unequivocal cooperation in a manner similar to his predecessor. Western capitals also expected Putin to be a bit wobbly taking on so much responsibility at a relatively early age. Yet, Putin knew his shoulders could bear the burden. He had no desire to be just a man of the moment in Russia. Much as Yeltsin, Putin, too, showed patience toward the West for a while, but he did not procrastinate. He took on the mission of breathing fresh breath into a country that was dying. He pushed ahead with plans “to save” Russia from disintegration and frustrate what he sensed were Western efforts to weaken it. Indeed, Putin did not believe congenial relations with the West were authentic given the many years of geopolitical struggle. Putin believed then, and believes now, that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He believes Western governments are driven to create disorder in Russia and make it dependent of Western technologies. Still, Putin has shown that would prefer to outthink his rivals in the West rather than fight them. That notion has influenced his responses in contentious situations. It also accounts for the sustained peace with the US. In a September 11, 2013 New York Times op-ed, Putin took umbrage over the idea of “American exceptionalism.”  Putin is unlikely thrilled by the slogan “Make America Great Again,” or the concept “America First.” surely, the West is not Putin’s only concern, but relations with it affects Russia’s prestige and ability to act globally.

Putin was proactive as he tried to get a real handle on things. His challenges of the West were timed, calculated risks. Still, despite being measured in his approaches, in a few cases, he did gamble a bit. Former US President Calvin Coolidge explained plainly: “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments, requires the severe discipline of hard work and tempering heat of experience and maturity. There is a chorus of Putinologist who have proclaimed Putin’s style of management was shaped by his career as an officer in the KGB. For some time, greatcharlie agreed with that assessment. The KGB certainly had an impact on him. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin’s experience as a KGB officer was also valuable in planning policy approaches and doing things as effectively as they were done at the tactical level in the field. Yet, through a reread of First Person, greatcharlie recognized as Putin admitted in the book, that his seven years of experience working the local government of St. Petersburg was good learning experience for both administrative and managerial work. To the extent that his civilian work experience in St. Petersburg and KGB service coalesced, as president, Putin has sought the assistance of a small group of men who served alongside him in St. Petersburg during his KGB career. As chief executive, Putin proved skillful in the handling the day to day operations of the government. He managed to shape his environment by developing approaches for issues such as combating terrorism, combating and controlling organized crime, curbing foreign influences, improving public safety, improving public health, business reform, invigorating industries, controlling oligarchs. To use a soft metaphor, Putin tilled the soil so that he could plant his plans and programs for Russia’s future with certainty that they would grow. He had a hand in everything, and his touch was heavy. Putin’s decisions were always well-informed, not by reading reports handed to him, but through his own research on anything in which he had an interest, and in international affairs, through good use of streams of intelligence. However, Putin also made good use of his intuition to discern his opponents’ thinking, and has paid heed to his intimations about their courses of action. More often than not, he hits the mark. Putin sought to take on qualified ministers, directors, and other officials to handle specialties. That effort was hampered to an extent during Putin’s early years in power given the need to respond to the wishes of certain patrons. Still, Putin never hesitated to fire those foisted upon him or his handpicked hires, whether former KGB or not, when they failed to perform. Putin has known what advice, prognostication, and proposals to accept in order to promote his efforts at home and internationally and develop a coherent set of policies. Since he brings his “A-game” to his office everyday, striving for perfection and hungering for improvement, and he expects the same from his cabinet. There are never any spectators, passengers along for the ride. All must be able to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of issues they cover, because that is what Putin will ask for. At the present, Putin is probably working with the best cabinet he has ever crafted both in terms of the quality of their work and chemistry.

On domestic matters, Putin, when necessary, proved well-equipped to control, manipulate, and strong arm, seemingly endless groupings of aggressive political opponents. Indeed, early on as president, Putin effectively dealt with challenges posed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the extreme right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party of Russia. The challenges posed by them lessened every year afterward. With the support of allies, Putin eventually changed Russia’s direction and, to a degree, transformed it. Russia got back into the big power game, and began to take active measures to protect what was viewed in Moscow as its interests. Currently, public opinion on Putin in Russia is extraordinarily high. Polling from the Levada Center in September 2016 put him at an 82 percent approval rating. Initial efforts made by Putin in 2000 to secure Russia and improve its well-being were appreciated by fewer Russians. The cause, in part, was a skepticism about the intentions of national leaders, believing there was an imbalance in their thinking impelling them to tilt toward corruption as opposed to serving the national interest, which was their charge under the constitution. Convinced of the corrupt nature of national leaders, perhaps they would go as far as to say such behavior was immutable, and would accept the Western label “kleptocracy” to describe Russia. Some might also agree that the baneful shroud of tyranny has covered the country since the Soviet era. Although Putin restored order from turmoil in Russia, many in the West and in Russia’s opposition movement would say he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. They would certainly point to the deaths of the statesman, politician, journalist, and opposition political leader, Boris Nemtsov; journalist Anna Politkovskaya; and, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. Attention might also be directed to the deaths of 36 generals and admirals from 2001 to 2016. No clear effort has made to dilute such reports, but in the majority of cases, the causes of death listed were listed as suicides, heart attacks, or unknown. Among those who died are former Russian Federation National Security Adviser and Army Major General Vladimir Lebed and the Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Russian Federation Army Colonel-General Igor Sergun. Yet, no matter what Putin may be doing domestically or internationally, in his mind, he is always honest to himself and justified as he performing the duty entrusted to him. On June 10, 2015, Putin was asked by the editor in chief of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, “Is there any action that you most regret in your life, something that you consider a mistake and wouldn’t want to repeat ever again.” Putin stated, “I’ll be totally frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. It appears that the Lord built my life in a way that I have nothing to regret.”

Patriotism permeates everything Putin does. It is hard to imagine how he would think any other way, given ideas on sacrifice for the motherland that Putin acquired from his parents, grandparents, and other family members. Yet, much of what he learned of his family’s valor was caught by him, not taught. He said: “when relatives would come to visit them in St. Petersburg, there would be long chats around the table, and I would catch some snatches, so many fragments of the conversation.” Putin’s grandfather was a cook for Josef Stalin and his father served gallantly in a NKVD battalion during World War II.

A Taste of What Lies within First Person

First Person does not simply provide a history of events, organizing them more or less on a timeline. What is most intriguing and very unique about First Person is what each chapter reveals about Putin’s thinking; what is in his mind. One is also provided with a cultural context in which to examine how Putin moved, lived during the years covered.

Putin: In the Beginning

In reading Part 1, one can begin to understand why patriotism permeates everything Putin does. However, given ideas on sacrifice for Mother Russia that Putin acquired from his parents, grandparents, and other relatives, it is hard to imagine how he would think any other way. According to Putin, much of what he learned about his family’s valor was caught by him and not taught directly to him. Indeed, he explains: “My parents didn’t talk much about the past, either. People generally didn’t, back then. But when relatives would come to visit them in St. Petersburg, there would be long chats around the table, and I would catch some snatches, so many fragments of the conversation.” Putin’s grandfather, whose name was Spiridon Ivanovich Putin, was a cook. However, after World War I he was offered a job in The Hills district on the outskirts of Moscow, where Vladimir Lenin and the whole Ulynov family lived. When Lenin died, his grandfather was transferred to one of Josef Stalin’s dachas. He worked there for a long period. It is assumed by many that due to his close proximity to Stalin, he was a member of the infamous state security apparatus, the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (Peoples Commissariat of Internal Affairs) or NKVD. Putin notes his grandfather who came through the purges unscathed although few people who spent much time around Stalin did so. Putin also notes that his grandfather outlived Stalin, and in his later, retirement years, he was a cook at the Moscow City Party Committee sanatorium in Ilinskoye. As for Putin’s mother, Mariya Ivanovna Putina, née Shelomova, during the war, she refused to leave St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad) as the Germans were blockading it, but was eventually taken out to Smolny by her brother when it became impossible for her to remain. Under gunfire and bombs, he extracted her and her baby, Albert, Putin’s brother, out. She put the baby in a shelter for children, which is where he came down with diphtheria and died. (Note that in the 1930s, Putin’s mother lost another son, Viktor, a few months after birth. Putin’s mother nearly died from starvation. In fact, when she fainted from hunger, people thought she had died, and laid her out with the corpses. With God’s grace, she awoke and began moaning. She managed to live through the entire blockade of Leningrad. It was nearly a decade later, on October 7, 1952 that she gave birth to the Russian President. (Note that the two names for Putin’s hometown, St. Petersburg and Leningrad, were used interchangeably by Putin during his interviews.)

It was also noted by Putin in Part 1 that his mother attended church and had him baptised when he was born. She kept his baptism a secret from his father, who was a party member and secretary of a party organization in his factory shop. Putin relates a story concerning her faith as well as his own in Part 1’s final paragraph. He explains: “In 1993, when I worked on the Leningrad City Council, I went to Israel as part of an official delegation. Mama gave me my baptismal cross to get it blessed at the Lord’s Tomb. I did as she said and then put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.”

Putin’s mother, Mariya Ivanovna Putina, née Shelomova (above). Putin’s mother attended church and had him baptised when he was born. She kept it a secret from his father, who was a party member and secretary of a party organization in his factory shop. During World War II, her baby son came down with diphtheria and died, and she nearly died as well from starvation. She managed to live through the entire German blockade of Leningrad.

As for Putin’s father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, he was on the battlefield, serving in a NKVD demolitions battalion, engaged in sabotage behind the German lines. There were 28 members in his group. Recounting a couple of experiences during the war that his father shared with him, Putin explains that on one occasion after being dropped into Kingisepp, engaging in reconnaissance, and blowing up a munitions depot, the unit was surrounded by Germans. According to Putin, a small group that included his father, managed to break out. The Germans pursued the fighters and more men were lost. The remaining men decided to split up. When the Germans neared Putin’s father, he jumped into a swamp over his head and breathed through a hollow reed until the dogs had passed by. Only 4 of the 28 men in his NKVD unit returned home. Upon his return, Putin’s father was ordered right back into combat. He was sent to the Neva Nickel. Putin says the small, circular area can be seen, “If you stand with your back to Lake Ladroga, it’s on the left bank of the Neva River.” In his account of the fight, Putin explains German forces had seized everything except for this small plot of land, and Russian forces had managed to hold on to that plot of land during the long blockade. He suggests the Russians believed it would play a role in the final breakthrough. As the Germans kept trying to capture it, a fantastic number of bombs were dropped on nearly every part of Neva Nickel, resulting in a “monstrous massacre.” That considered, Putin explains that the Neva Nickel played an important role in the end. Dire necessitas. (Dire necessity.)

Putin was asked by an interviewer if he thought “we paid too high a price for that little piece of land?” Putin replied: “I think that there are always a lot of mistakes made in war. That’s inevitable. But when you are fighting, if you keep thinking that everybody around you is always making mistakes, you’ll never win. You have to take a pragmatic attitude. And you ave to keep thinking of victory. And they were thinking of victory then.” Victoria natura est insulens et superba. (Victory is by nature superb and insulting.)

Putin’s father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin (above).  Putin’s father engaged in sabotage behind the German lines in World War II. In First Person, Putin recounts a couple of stories about his father’s experiences during the war. Putin tells that on one occasion after being dropped into Kingisepp, engaging in reconnaissance, and blowing up a munitions depot, his father’s unit was surrounded by Germans. Less than 15 percent of its men returned to Russian lines. His father also fought at the Neva Nickel, described most often as a “monstrous massacre.”

Putin and the Martial Arts

Parva scintilla saepe magnam flamam excitat. (The sparkle often initiates a large flame.) In Part 2, readers learn from Putin he was not the best student in elementary school. By fifth grade he was known for acting out, preferring to spend more time playing in a courtyard behind his home than anything else. In his own words: “I was a hooligan.” “I really was a bad boy.” However, his teacher in elementary school, Vera Dimitrieva Gurevich, saw great promise in him. While he was receiving C grades, he could do much better. Indeed, she looked upon him as a classic underachiever who needed encouragement and a goal to focus on. He had to discover the connection between effort and achievement. Recounting a conversation with Putin’s father, she recalls saying to his father: “You have to have a talk with him. Let’s work on him together, you at home and I at school. He could be getting better than C’s. He catches everything on the fly.” Interestingly, Putin’s focus and performance in school improved and his bad behavior was more or less extinguished once he was introduced to the martial arts. Putin notes that he became involved with sports when I was 10 or 11, “As soon as it became clear that my pugnacious nature was not going to keep me king of the courtyard or school grounds.” He first tried boxing, but in his words “didn’t last long there,” quickly getting his nose broken. After losing his “boxing bug,” he tried samba, a Soviet combination of judo and wrestling. He attended a class near his home. It was a very plain gym owned by the Trud athletic club. His trainer was Anatoly Semyonovich Rakhlin, a man who devoted his whole life to his art. Putin said Semyonovich played a decisive role in Putin’s life, believing that if he had not become involved in sports, he cannot say for certain how his life would have turned out.  At first Putin studied samba, then he moved to judo. Semyonovich had decided all the students would study it. Putin’s description of judo in the book manifests his love for the art. He explains: “Judo is not just a sport, you know. It’s a philosophy. It’s respect for your elders and for your opponent. It’s not for weaklings. Everything in judo has an instructive aspect. You come out onto the mat, you bow to one another, you follow ritual. It could be done differently, you know. Instead of bowing to your opponent, you could jab him in the forehead.”

Putin’s focus and performance in school improved and his bad behavior was more or less extinguished once he was introduced to the martial arts, more specifically, judo. Putin notes that he became involved with sports when he was 10 or 11.  His trainer was Anatoly Semyonovich Rakhlin, a man who devoted his whole life to his art. Putin said Semyonovich played a decisive role in his life, believing that if he had not become involved in sports, he could not say for certain how his life would have turned out.

Putin’s involvement in the martial arts had a direct impact on his lifestyle. While admitting that prior to studying judo he tried smoking a couple of times, but “ruled it out” when once he became engaged in sports. Putin says initially worked out every other day, then every day.  He says he soon had no time available for anything else. Regarding his thinking at the time, he explains: “I had other priorities; I had to prove myself in sports, achieve something for. I set goals. Sports really had a strong influence on me.” Qui studet optatam cursu contingere metam multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit abstinuit Venere et Baccho. (He who wants to achieve his desired career goals, as a child must endure and do a lot of things, sweat a lot, and experience harsh cold, and refrain from Venus [goddess of love] and Bacchus [god of wine].)

However, his time training in the martial arts also allowed him to learn lessons about life and about people. In recounting one episode during his training that left a lasting impression on him, Putin explains: “Once we went to the gym with Leonid Ionovich, the senior coach from Trud. The karate kids were working out on the mat, although it was our turn. Leonid went up to their trainer and told him it was time for our class. The karate trainer didn’t even look his way–as if to say, get lost. Then Leonid, without saying a word, flipped him, squeezed him lightly, and dragged him off the mat. He had lost consciousness. Then Leonid turned to us and said “Go on in and take your places.” Putin said it was a manifestation of an attitude toward karate, but he could not help but learn from that one must have the will and the power to protect one’s interest, to take what is rightfully yours. The judo team was scheduled to use the mat and the coach made certain they did so. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

Putin’s KGB Dream

In Part 2, Putin reveals that at an early age, he wanted to serve in intelligence. The genesis of the idea were books and spy movies such as Sword and the Shield. His prior interest as a youth was to become a pilot. That interest similarly stirred through the reading of literature and a subscription to an aviation journal. He became focused on attending the Academy of Civil Aviation. Even before he wanted to become a pilot, Putin desired to be a sailor. However, his desire to serve in intelligence was a bit different. Putin explained: “What amazed me most of all was how one man’s effort could achieve what whole armies could not. One spy could decide the fate of thousands of people. At least, that’s the way I understood it.”  His family was dismayed, but not shattered by his decision. His father, given his experience, was aware of the grave nature of work in that field. Until they fully understood, his ambition, the strength of his will to achieve that goal, his parents discouraged Putin from pursuing his goal. Putin’s martial arts coach, Semyonovich, had gone to see them and told them that as an athlete, he could get into an Institute practically without passing exams. That led his parents to push him into going into an Institute. His agreed. He could not fathom  why Putin resisted. Another coach from the Trud Club, Leonid Ionovich, came to visit. As Putin explained it, “He was a clever guy.” Recounting an exchange with Ionovich over his career choice, Putin said the following: “‘Well,’ he [Ionovich] said to me, ‘Where are you going?’ Of course he already knew. He was just acting sly. I said, “To university.” “Oh, that’s great, good for you,” he said, “in what department?” Putin replied, “The law school.” Then coach Ionovich roared: “What? To catch people? What are you doing? You’ll be a cop. Do you understand?” Insulted, Putin yelled back, “I’m not going to be a cop” The use of his intellect to make a determination on his future, and will to push ahead on that track, his tenacity, would become the hallmarks of Putin’s approach to matters and how he sought to achieve objectives. Putin took “active measures” in the effort to reach his goal of joining the intelligence service. Remarkably, around the beginning of the ninth grade, Putin went into the office of the KGB Directorate to investigate the possibility of working there. He explains that employee came out to hear what he had to say. Putin says he told him, “I want to get a job with you.” The employee said: “That’s terrific, but there are several issues. First, we don’t take people who come to us on their own initiative. Second, you can come to us only after the Army or after some type of civilian higher education.” Putin inquired, “What kind of higher education?” “Any!” he said. Putin says he surmised the man probably wanted to get rid of me, but he nevertheless asked further “But what kind is preferred?” The man responded “Law school.” For Putin, “that was that.” He said: “From that moment on, I began to prepare for the law faculty of Leningrad University. And nobody could stop me.”

File photo of Putin as a young KGB officer (above). Putin reveals that at an early age, he wanted to serve in intelligence. The genesis of the idea were books and spy movies. Putin explained: “What amazed me most of all was how one man’s effort could achieve what whole armies could not. One spy could decide the fate of thousands of people.” His mother and father, with the help of his coaches tried to dissuade him from his career choice to no avail. In ninth grade, Putin visited the KGB Directorate’s office to investigate the possibility of working there. A few years later, his dream surprisingly became a reality.

Putin’s KGB Recruitment

Grata superveniet, quae non sperabitur hora. (Welcome will arrive at the hour that was not hoped for.) In Part 4, Putin outlines his recruitment into the KGB and the initial activities in which he was engaged for the service. Putin admits that during all his years in university, he actually waited for the man at the KGB office to contact him. Alackaday, he began to give up hope. As Putin says he reasoned at the time: “It seemed that he had forgotten about me. After all, I had gone to see him as a school kid. Who would have thought that I could have such spunk? But I recalled that they didn’t like people to show their own initiative, so I didn’t make myself known. I kept quiet. Four years passed. Nothing happened. I decided that the case was closed, and I began to work out different options for finding employment either in the special prosecutor’s office or as an attorney. Both are prestigious fields.” However, when he was in his fourth year of university, a man came and asked Putin to meet with him. Putin said the man did not say who he was, but he immediately figured it out, because he said “I need to talk to you about your career assignment. I wouldn’t like to specify what it is yet.” Putin said he reasoned at the time: “If they didn’t want to say where, that meant it was there.”  Putin’s story about his recruitment goes on: “We agreed to meet right in the faculty vestibule. He was late. I waited for about 20 minutes. Well, I thought, what a swine! Or someone was playing a prank on me? And I decided to leave. Then suddenly he ran up, all out of breath. “I’m sorry,” he said. Putin notes that he liked that. Then Putin heard what must had been magical words: “It’s all arranged.” He went on to state: “Volodya [Close friends used the diminutives Volodya or Vovka instead of Vladimir when speaking to Putin], there is still a lot of time, but how would you feel if you were invited to work in the agencies?” Putin interestingly remarked: “I didn’t tell him that I had dreamed of this moment since I was a schoolboy. I didn’t tell him, because I remembered my conversation in the KGB office long ago: ‘We don’t take people who come in on their own initiative.’” Despite what was said that day in the vestibule, Putin heard nothing more. The man disappeared. Then, there was the odd day when Putin received a phone call; an invitation to the university’s personnel department. However, when Putin arrived at the employment commission there was some confusion. Putin explains that when reached his name, a representative from the department of law said, “Yes, we’re taking him into the bar.” Then an agent sitting in a corner of the room who was monitoring the students’ assignments suddenly awoke and said, “Oh, no.”  He went on to say: “That question has already been decided. We’re hiring Putin to work in the agencies of the KGB.”  Putin claims the agent said it out loud in front of the jobs assignment commission. Nevertheless, days later Putin was completing several application forms and papers. Ad posse, ad esse. (From possibility to reality.)

At first the KGB assigned Putin to the Secretariat of the Directorate, and then to the counterintelligence division, where he worked for about five months. When asked by the interviewers if work in the KGB was what he imagined it would be or what he was expecting, Putin said: “No, of course it wasn’t what I had imagined. I had just come from university, after all. And suddenly I was surrounded by old men who had been in their jobs during those unforgettable times. Some of them were just about to go into retirement.”  For Putin, as with most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered 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. As a novice at the KGB, Putin’s intent was to be honest in his own convictions within the parameters of his mission. However, actual work with longtime agents put his beliefs to the test. Putin mentions one occasion of that. He explains: “One time a group was drafting a scenario. I was invited to join the meeting. I don’t remember the details, but one of the veteran agents said that the plan should be followed in such-and such a way. And I piped up: “No, that’s not right.” “What do you mean?” he said, turning to me. “It’s against the law,” I said. He was taken aback. “What law?” I cited the law, “But we have instructions,” he said. Once again I cited the law. The men in the room didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. Without a trace of irony, the old fellow said, “For us, instructions are the main law.” And that was that. That’s how they were raised and that’s how they worked. But I simply couldn’t do things that way and it wasn’t just me. Practically all my peers felt the same way.” Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret. (Nothing deters a good man from the performance of his duties.)

Putin in the GDR (above). When asked by the interviewers if work in the KGB was what he imagined it would be or what he was expecting, Putin said: “No, of course it wasn’t what I had imagined. I had just come from university, after all. And suddenly I was surrounded by old men who had been in their jobs during those unforgettable times. Some of them were just about to go into retirement.” As a novice at the KGB, Putin’s intent was to be honest in his own convictions within the parameters of his mission. However, actual work with longtime agents put his beliefs to the test.

As for the remaining stages of Putin’s training, he explains in Part 4 that for several months, he “went through the formalities and knocked off some cases.” He was sent to agent training for six months. Putin noted that the school in Leningrad was not too exceptional. Once his superiors believed he had mastered the basics, Putin was sent to Moscow for field preparation. After completing his studies in Moscow, Putin returned to Leningrad and worked about six months in the counterintelligence division. In Part 5, Putin expounds on the type of work in which he was engaged for the greater part of his KGB career. He said that during his counterintelligence training,  officers from foreign intelligence began to notice him. He recounts: “They wanted to talk. First one conversation, then another, then a third and a fourth . . . Intelligence is always looking for more people for themselves, including people from the security agencies. They took people who were young and had certain appropriate qualities.” Putin was very pleased by their actions because he, just as everyone else, desired to work in foreign intelligence. It meant travel abroad under the conditions of the Soviet Union, and espionage was considered the white collar job in the agencies. Putin admitted that there were many people who exploited their positions in order to trade in foreign goods. It was an unfortunate fact. Without hesitation, Putin agreed to go into intelligence. He was sent for special training in Moscow for one year. He then returned to Leningrad and worked in the “first department.” The first chief directorate is intelligence. It had subdivisions in all the large cities of the Soviet Union, including Leningrad. He worked there for approximately four and a half years, and then went to Moscow for training at the Andropov Red Banner Institute, which is now called the Academy of Foreign Intelligence.

Putin recognized from the start at the Red Banner that he was being prepared for Germany. It became especially clear once faculty began pushing him to study German. He said it was just a question of where: the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Putin explained that there were prerequisites for working in the FRG. An agent had to work in the appropriate department of the central office of the KGB. He had to languish there for one to three years. It was based on the individual. If an agent wanted to go to the GDR, he could go immediately. Putin chose the later. What might be of special interest of readers would be Putin’s description of his work in the GDR, particularly as it relates to NATO and political figures and political activities in the West. Putin said, “The work was political intelligence,” obtaining information about political figures and the plans of the main opponent: NATO. Interestingly, Putin says he never travelled  to the FRG to perform his tasks. In a more precise statement of his intelligence activities he intriguingly described them as follows: “The usual intelligence activities: recruiting sources of information, obtaining information, analyzing it, and sending it to Moscow. I looked for information about political parties, the tendencies inside those parties, their leaders. I examined today’s leaders and the possible leaders of tomorrow and the promotion of people to certain posts in the parties and the government. It was important to know who was doing what and how, what was going on in the foreign Ministry of a particular country, how they were constructing their policy on certain issues and in various areas of the world, and how our partners would react to disarmament talks. Of course, in order to obtain such information, you need sources. So recruitment of sources, procurement of information, and assessment and analysis were big parts of the job. It was very routine work.” Putin makes it all sound so routine, while in the West today, revelations about such intelligence activities by Russia tend to overwhelm those who are just learning about it all.

Putin described his work in the GDR as political intelligence: obtaining information about political figures and the plans of NATO. He sought information on political parties, tendencies within them, and their leaders. He examined: today’s leaders and the possible leaders of tomorrow; the promotion of people to certain posts, who was doing what and how, what was going on in a country’s Foreign Ministry; how it was constructing policy on key issues and regions globally; and, likely reactions of partners to the disarmament talks.

Putin’s Political Mentor: Anatoly Sobchak

Quidquid ages, prudenter agas et respice finem! (Whatever you do, do cautiously, and look to the end!) In Part 6, Putin reviews the intriguing course of events that led him to leave his beloved KGB and work in the local government of St. Petersburg. Putin had become somewhat disturbed by his fellow countrymen’s insouciance toward the decay of both order and humanism in the Soviet State when returned home from the GDR. He was offered a job in the central office in Moscow, but he turned it down. Putin explained to the interviewers: “I knew that there was no future to the system. The country didn’t have a future. And it would have been very difficult to sit inside the system and wait for it all to collapse around me.” At that time, the work, in which Putin and his colleagues were engaged, did appear no longer necessary given how he described it. Putin remarked: “What was the point of writing, recruiting, and procuring information? Nobody at Moscow Center was reading our reports. Didn’t we warn them about what was coming? Didn’t we provide them with recommendations on how to act? There was no reaction. Who wants to work for nothing? To spend years of your life–What for–just to get paid?” Putin went on further with examples: “Let’s say, for example, that my friends in the scientific and technical intelligence paid several million dollars for some information about an important scientific discovery. It would have cost our country billions of dollars to independently develop the same project. My friends could procure the information and send it to the Center. People there would look at it and say ‘Wonderful. Great information. Thanks. Kisses. We’ll recommend you guys for medals.’ But then they would not use the intelligence. They wouldn’t even try, because the technical level of our industry simply didn’t allow for it.” Putin admits that when he returned from the GDR in January 1990, he continued to work in the agencies, but he quietly considered a backup plan. In the forefront of his thinking was his two children, and his need to support them. After a few interesting turns, his fortune improved a bit after he was asked to go “undercover” at Leningrad State University (LGU). It was an assignment Putin was happy to take, as it would allow him to write his doctoral dissertation in international law, become familiar with LGU, and perhaps help him get a position there. In following, in 1990, he became the assistant for international liaison to Stanislav Petrovich Merkuriev, the president of LGU, and someone Putin described as a good man and brilliant academic. Putin was able to reestablish contact with many old friends from the law faculty. Several of them had stayed on there, defended their dissertations, and became instructors and professors. One of them asked him to help Anatoly Aleksandrovich Sobchak, the chair of the Leningrad City Council. Putin explained his thinking on the matter: “Sobchak needed someone good on his team. Apparently, he was surrounded by crooks. Would I go and work for him? “You know, I have to think about it,” I said. “I’m a KGB personnel officer, after all. And he doesn’t know that. I could compromise.” As for his KGB status, Putin was placed in the active reserves. He explains elsewhere in the book that it was in the reserves that he reached the rank of full colonel. “Just talk to him,” his university friend reportedly said. Sobchak was already a famous and popular person that Putin admitted to  observing what he did and said with great interest. He confessed that he did not like everything he saw, but Sobchak had gained his respect. Putin revealed that when Sobchak was a teacher at LGU, he had social connections to him. Putin said people had written that he was practically Sobchak’s favorite student. He dismisses that, saying he was just one of Sobchak’s lecturers for one or two semesters.

When Putin met Sobchak at his office in the Leningrad City Council, he explained the cause for his visit. Putin tells: “He was an impressive man, and said to me right off: ‘I’ll speak to Stanislav Petrovich Merkuriev. Come to work starting Monday. That’s it. We’ll make the agreement right now, and you’ll be transferred.” Putin told him that he would be would be happy to do that, but explained that he was not just an assistant to the president, and that he was also a staff officer of the KGB. Putin recalls, “He thought and thought, and then suddenly he said, ‘Well, screw it.’” Sobchak told Putin, “I need an assistant. Frankly, I’m afraid of going into the reception area. I don’t know who those people are.” Putin fully understood. Putin confirmed what he said his university friend had initially told him: “The people in Sobchak outer office–his cohorts–were harsh and rude in the best traditions of the Komsomol, the Soviet school. This disturbed the city council deputies and led to a conflict between Sobchak and the city council.” Putin then told Sobchak that he would be happy to come to work for him, but that I would first need to inform his managers at the KGB and resign from my post at LGU. Putin recognizes this as a delicate moment for it would be difficult to tell his managers of his intent to change jobs. As Putin recounts it: “I went to my boss and said, ‘Anatoly Aleksandrovich is proposing that I leave the university and go to work for him. If it’s impossible, I am ready to resign.’ They replied: ‘No. Why? Go and work there. There is no question about it.’” That surprised Putin. He surmised that his managers, “who were fairly subtle people and understood the situation,” did not impose any conditions on him. He remained formally listed in the security agencies, although he hardly set foot in the directorate building.

Putin (left) had become somewhat disturbed by his fellow countrymen’s insouciance toward the decay of both order and humanism in the Soviet State when returned home from the GDR. He was offered a job in the central office in Moscow, but I turned it down. Putin’s acceptance of an “undercover” assignment at Leningrad State University led to his entry into Russia’s political milieu via Anatoly Aleksandrovich Sobchak (right), the chair of the Leningrad City Council, and to his resignation from the KGB due to political pressures.

Recta conscientia traversum unguem non oportet discedere. (It is not advisable to move away from your conscience even the width of a fingernail.) Putin was also intrigued by the fact his managers never once tried to use him for operations. He says he thought they understood it would have been pointless. However, on one occasion my colleagues from the agencies tried to exploit Putin’s proximity to Sobchak. According to Putin, Sobchak would go on business trips and was frequently out of town. He would leave Putin in charge of the office. One day, he was in a big rush before a trip, and his signature was needed on a document that was incomplete. Sobchak could not wait for it. Sobchak then took three clean sheets of paper, put his signature at the bottom, and gave them to me, saying ‘Finish it up’ and left. That same evening, Putin recalls, his colleagues from the KGB came to see him. Putin explains: “We spoke about this and that, and then they mentioned how great it would be to have Sobchak’s signature on a certain document. Couldn’t we discuss it? But I was a seasoned person–I had survived so many years without a slip-up–and I sized up the situation right away. I took out the folder and showed them the blank sheets of paper with Sobchak signature. And they and I understood that this was testimony to the great degree of trust Sobchak had in me. ‘Can’t you see that this man trusts me?’ They immediately backed off. ‘No more questions,’ they said. ‘Sorry.’ And everything was nipped in the bud.” Putin noted that the situation was abnormal, and amusingly explained the salary he continued receiving from the KGB was greater than what he was receiving from the city council.

However, circumstances arose that forced Putin to consider writing a letter of resignation. Eventhough his experience with Russian politicians was brief, he learned fast. He understood that relations with the deputies in the city council would often turn down a bumpy road when they were lobbying were someone’s interests. Putin says he eventually had the following experience: “Once a deputy came up to me and said, ‘You know, we have to help so-and so. Could you do such and such?’ I had already put them off several times. One day he said to me, ‘There are bad people here–all sorts of enemies–and they’re sniffed out that you’re a KGB agent. You have to foil them. I’m prepared to help you, but you have to do me a favor.’” Putin realized that they would not leave him alone. To avoid what could have become endless attempts at manipulation, he made the difficult decision to write his letter of resignation. He was just sick and tired of that brazen blackmail. Difficile est longum subito deponere amorem. (It is difficult to suddenly give up a long love.)

In Part 6, Putin also goes into great detail about his work in the 1992 and 1996 mayoral elections in St. Petersburg and a sense is provided of his acumen and instinct for work in the political sphere. In 1992, he played a definitive role in Sobchak’s election as the first popularly elected mayor of the city. As chair of the Leningrad City Council under the old system, Sobchak could have been removed by the council members at any moment. He needed a more stable position. Sobchak finally agreed that the post of mayor had to be introduced. However, Putin explains that because he had fair conflictual relations with the majority of deputies on the council, it was not certain that the proposition would pass. Meanwhile, his public popularity was very high. Putin told the interviewers that the deputies knew that Sobchak would be elected mayor if they voted to introduce the post, and they did not want that. They liked the fact that they could always keep Sobchak on a hook. Putin says that he was directly involved in active measures to convince some of the deputies that it would be best for the city if it had a mayoral post. Putin says he also managed to mobilize the heads of the city districts. He notes that they did not have the right to vote, but they could influence their deputies. In the end, the objective was achieved through hard work. The decision to introduce the post of mayor was passed by the Leningrad City Council, by a margin of a single vote. Putin was also able to assess four years later after taking inventory of the his team’s capabilities and possibilities for success that in order to win re-election, Sobchak would need “professional campaign managers and technicians–not just a guy who could finesse the deputies.” Putin saw that it was a whole new ball game. Campaign plans had to be adjusted to fit circumstances.

Et monere et moneri proprium est verae amicitae. (It is a characteristic of true friendship to give advice and to receive it.) Putin said that he told Sobchak right off, “You know, you’re on a completely different playing field now. You need specialists.” He agreed, but then he decided that he would conduct his own electoral campaign. When interviewers asked Putin if overconfidence guided Sobchak’s decision, Putin said money could have been a factor. He says: “You know, running a campaign, bringing in specialists–all of this costs money. And we didn’t have any. Sobchak had been under investigation for a year and a half on allegations that he had bought an apartment with city funds. But in fact, he did not have any money either for an apartment or for an election campaign. We were not extracting funds from the city budget. It never entered our heads to find the money we needed that way.” However, with regard to Sobchak’s opponent, Vladimir Anatolyevich Yakovlev, the former governor of Leningrad oblast (province), Putin said that he got the funds he needed at Moscow’s expense. He believed Yakovlev was supported by the very same people who orchestrated the ethics campaign against Sobchak. Putin said at the time that Aleksandrovich Vasilyevich Korzhakov, who had been removed as head of the Presidential Security Service in 1996, played an active role against Sobchak. That was in accord to the information that Sobchak’s campaign had, as well as Oleg Nikolayevich Soskovets on Yeltsin’s 1996 Presidential Campaign. Putin said: “The law enforcement agencies were brought in later. They play very dirty.”  Putin outlines one of techniques used against Sobchak: “About a year and a half before elections, a commission came to St. Petersburg from Moscow. The commission had been appointed by the heads of three agencies: the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and the prosecutor’s office. They opened up real criminal cases and made Sobchak a witness in two of them. During the election campaign, someone sent an inquiry to the Prosecutor General’s office, asking whether Sobchak was involved in any criminal investigations. The very same day, the answer came back: Yes, there were two criminal cases under investigation. Naturally, they didn’t explain that he was a witness, not a suspect, in these cases. The reply from the Prosecutor General’s office was duplicated, and flyers were dropped over the city from a helicopter. The law enforcement agencies were interfering directly in a political contest.”

Putin goes into great detail about his work in the 1992 and 1996 mayoral elections in St. Petersburg. One gets a sense of his acumen and instinct for work in the political sphere. In 1992, he played a definitive role in Sobchak’s election as the first popularly elected mayor of the city. In 1996, Putin assessed that in order to win re-election, Sobchak would need professional campaign managers and technicians. He recognized it was a “whole new ballgame.” However, Sobchak decided to run his own campaign office. There were many missteps, and he lost the election.

Nihil æ grius quam disciplinam accipimus. (We receive nothing with so much reluctance as instruction.) After Sobchak decided to run his own campaign office, Putin says Sobchak’s wife, Lyudmila Borisovna, got involved. Sobchak pronounced her campaign manager. Putin said the campaign team tried to talk both of them out of this, because they were not convinced that everyone in the campaign office would be willing to take orders from her. A lot of time was lost debating who should run the campaign. Another Sobchak deputy,  Aleksei [Alexei] Kudrin, got involved. Sobchak asked Putin to continue to work in city affairs, leaving him to manage the economic activity of a city with a population of five million citizens during that period. At the last minute, between the first and second rounds, Kudrin and I tried to jump into the election fray, but it was hopeless. Putin says: “We really blew it on the election.”

For some time after Sobchak’s defeat in the mayoral elections, Putin says he stayed in his office in Smolny. The second round of presidential elections was underway, and he was working for the St. Petersburg headquarters of Yeltsin’s campaign. The newly elected mayor of St. Petersburg, Yakovlev did not move Putin out of his office right away; but as soon as the presidential elections were over, he was asked rather harshly to free up the space. By that time, Putin had already turned down Yakolev offer to keep my post as deputy mayor. Putin said he made the offer through his people. Putin explained: “I thought it would be impossible to work with him, and I conveyed that to him. Besides, during the campaign, I was the one who had initiated a statement signed by all the officials in the mayor’s office that we would all leave Smolny if Sobchak lost. It was important to express our solidarity, so that all the people who worked with Anatoly Aleksandrovich and his administration would realize that his defeat would be a defeat for them, too. It was a good stimulus to get the all involved in the struggle.” Moreover, Putin recalls: “We called a press conference and made a public statement, which I read. So, it was impossible for me to remain behind in the mayor’s office after Sobchak lost.”  However, Putin said what really made staying on with Yakovlev a bad idea was his attacks on him during the campaign. Putin said: “I don’t remember the context now, but in a television interview, I had called him Judas. The word seemed to fit, and I used it.” Western newsmedia headlines currently point to Putin’s alleged efforts to influence elections in their countries, including the US. However, Putin leaves no doubt that he was disgusted with Yakovlev due to his role in the grand effort to influence the election against Sobchak. It was a sound educational experience that Putin would never forget. In amicitia nihil fictum est, nihil quisquid est, id est verum et voluntarium. (In friendship there is nothing fictitious, nothing simulated, and it is in fact true and voluntary.)

After serving in the city government of St. Petersburg, and coping with a period of unemployment, Putin dashed to the top.  He served as head of the Main Control Directorate in 1997. He was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions. He served as director of the Russian Federation Federal Security Service and then was named Secretary of the Security Council in 1998. In August 1999, he was made prime minister. It was Yeltsin’s unexpected resignation on New Year’s Eve 1999 that elevated Putin to Acting President of Russia.

In Part 7, Putin explains that he was unemployed for a few months after Sobchak lost the St. Petersburg elections. This was a big problem for Putin  especially since he had a family.  He explains: “The situation had to be resolved, one way or another. But the signals from Moscow were mixed; first they were asking me to come to work, then they weren’t.” It was at this point that Aleksei Alekseyevich Bolshakov, first deputy to the then Prime Minister of Russia, Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin, and fellow St. Petersburger, stepped forward to help Putin. He convinced Yeltsin’s Chief of Staff Pavel Pavlovich Borodin to bring Putin into the presidential administration. It was the first step in Putin’s rise upward toward the presidency. That part of the story is told in other pages of First Person. Indeed, one will find much more about Putin in the book.

All things considered, one could safely state that Putin is not everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, what he presents about himself in First Person is intriguing, exciting, surprising, distressing, edifying, and enlightening. It is a book that takes the reader on a journey through the halls of power in Moscow. It is a story of intrigue and excitement as much as family values and humility. It discusses people and ideas that have moved events forward in Russia in the past and the present, all from Putin’s perspective. It is hard to imagine that Putin would ever write a remarkably detailed memoir of this type today. That remains to be seen, but we still have First Person to enjoy right now. Some of our readers may have came across First Person in syllabi during their undergraduate or graduate studies or in the libraries of their organizations. However, whether our readers have already read the book or never heard of it before, greatcharlie urges all to grab a copy and examine it using the prism of present day events. It will not disappoint.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Russia Is Top US National Security Threat Says General Dunford; That Should Make It the Top Priority for US Diplomacy

Pictured are Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (left), Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko (2nd left), and the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov.  Putin, rejects any criticism over Russia’s actions in Ukraine or anything else. He says Russia was targeted by the West with sanctions and he had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.

According to a July 9, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Russia Is Top US National Security Threat: Gen. Dunford,” US Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford says Russia is at the top of the list of security concerns for the US. Dunford was speaking at his US Senate confirmation hearing to become the next US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reuters quoted Dunford as saying, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it is nothing short of alarming.” Relations between Russia and the West have taken a sharp turn downward since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Political leaders among the NATO Allies are uncertain of what Putin is trying to achieve with his actions in Ukraine, his moves in the Baltic States, positioning of Russian rocket forces near Poland, or his considerable military build-up. The Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (the military commander of NATO), US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told a US Congressional Committee in April 2015, “We cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent.” Breedlove further stated, “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.” NATO conducted several exercises to show Putin its intent to respond to aggression.

Sanctions from the US and Europeans have put relations between Russia and the West, built largely on economic cooperation, at considerable risk and pose a serious economic threat to Russia despite any heroic claims otherwise by Putin. Repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU could prompt Putin to consider means to shift the power equation. He may eventually feel his back is against the wall and do more than put his forces on parade or use his forces covertly despite his denials of doing so. The escalating war of words between US and Russian officials is also problematic. Words of anger, mockery, hate, and aggression, do damage that can be difficult to repair. The world has witnessed the vicissitudes faced by the Obama administration in foreign policy. The administration often fails to acknowledge how dire problems really are. It tends to settle upon bromides, with a seductive kind of superficiality, to very challenging situations, which later prove to be shallow entrapments. Some resolution must be found to current problems in relations with Russia. In order to respond diplomatically to Putin, the genuine motivation for his actions must be uncovered. Formal diplomatic talks could be established between the US and EU with Russia not in an attempt to mollify him, but provide opportunities for all sides to “clear the air” on those issues and others and work together to mutually satisfy interests. Negotiations can be based on the relative strengths of the positions and capabilities of all sides. The peace that can be achieved must be the focus not how much each side can destroy through warfare. In the US and in the EU, all other elements of foreign and defense policy must serve to effectively support that diplomacy. Good use must be made of time available before situations change. The door to opportunity might remain open for a brief period. O si sic omnia! (Oh would that all had been done or said thus!)

Whenever Putin now hears NATO threaten to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, he responds with an enigmatic face. Even though NATO took steps such as maneuvers or force redeployments were taken in response to Crimea or ostensibly a perceived Russian threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin likely expected NATO Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their military commitments.

Putin’s Response to the West

Putin and his advisers have heard explanations from the US and EU that sanctions were a means to halt its annexation of Crimea, its activities in Ukraine, a response to the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight MH117, and as a means to push all parties to the negotiating table. Putin, however, rejects any criticism of Russia’s actions over Ukraine or anything else. He explains that the deterioration of relations with the West was “not our choice.” He has proffered. “It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.”

Having been a P5+1 partner with China as well as the main Western powers that levied sanctions against it, the US, United Kingdom, France, and Germany during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Putin and his advisers have undoubtedly learned how to more effectively handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin can likely better predict Western responses in certain situations. Beyond what Russia gleaned from the Iran talks, Putin has looked deeply at the US and Europe, discerning many flaws, weaknesses in the transatlantic defense. He has watched it decay due to Western political leaders’ lack the will to maintain it. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that faced no threat. Putin tested NATO, acting unabashedly in the face of the alliance by moving against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Whenever NATO threatens to use force against Russia now, albeit defensively, Putin responds with an enigmatic face. Even though maneuvers and force redeployments were made and sanctions were imposed in response to Russian moves as in Crimea or a perceived threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin expected Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their NATO military commitments.

Tanquam ex ungue leonem! (From the claw we may judge a lion.) Since 2011, uniformed military manpower has declined in every Western nation, but Russian military manpower has increased by 25 percent to 850,000 between 2011 and mid-2014. Russia supposedly has about 2.5 million active reservists out of a total population of 143 million. It ranks second, behind the US, on the list of countries with conventional warfighting capabilities. Expenditures on defense, and the related category of national security and law enforcement, accounts for 34 percent of Russia’s budget which is more than twice in comparison with 2010. The US only spent 18 percent, or $615 billion of its budget in 2014 on defense and international security. Explaining his concept for achieving this growth, Putin told senior military commanders and defense industry executives at a meeting in Sochi on May 12, 2015, “We can and must do for the defense industry what we did for Sochi.” Putin was referring to the $50 billion spent in to host the 2014 Winter Olympics there. He went on to state, “All questions relating to adequate resource allocation have been resolved.” Putin has a penchant to display power. Most recently it has been lurid. With its conventional forces rejuvenated, Russia is on the march again, seizing territory in albeit a piecemeal fashion. Putin has likely assessed war with Russia is the last thing US and EU political leaders want. He has seemingly gauged his moves sensing just how far he can go with them. He may believe he can later legitimize acquisitions via talks with the West.

Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies. To Putin, only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Aspects surrounding his career in the Soviet Union’s KGB certainly reinforced that perspective.

Confabulating on Putin

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has been the authentic face of the Russian government. Putin restored order in his country after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies.  To Putin,  only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Given its approach to Putin, there is every indication that many in the West believed positive relations with Russia would endure despite pushing Western demands its leaders. Putin style of management was undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer from 1975 to 1991 in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. However, his style was not shaped in terms of his use of KGB tradecraft. It was shaped as a result of his continued close association with a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career, particularly a few who served in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with him. They are called siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. At the pinnacle are men among them who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. These men 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. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was raised in the Chekisty (Chekist) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. That left an imprint on him. Putin got his start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a post he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Putin rose to deputy-mayor, but his work in St. Petersburg was halted after six years when his boss lost his bid for reelection. Yet, in two years, he rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months later, he was Russian Federation President.

Chekists 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. Putin says that he is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He also wants to bring the independent states of the former Soviet Union back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence. Putin does not hesitate to let the leaders of those states know his intentions either. Although Putin managed to restore order from turmoil in Russia, many would note that he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. There is a significant opposition movement to Putin in Russia, lead by individuals such as the slain statesman and politician, Boris Nemtsov. Yet, Putin’s words have also resonated with many Russians. Convinced Russia is in a struggle with the US, the Economist states 81 percent of Russians see the US as a threat. The EU is also viewed as such.

When Putin began his third term as Russian Federation President, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were the neophyte, not a seasoned leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced and news ones arose. A series of deliberate public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further. Putin’s anger metastasized. Soon enough, regular intrusions by Russian military aircraft in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters began.

The Downturn in Relations Began Well Before Ukraine

Dimitry Medvedev was Russian Federation President when Obama came to office. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. Senior Russia analysts in the US government could have confirmed that Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. Yet, that truth was given little consideration. Instead, Putin was treated by Obama as the “odd man out”. Little was done to build a relationship with him. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced, and new ones arose, to include: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin was still fuming over Operation Unified Protector, during which in 2011, multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. The world recognized how poor the relationship between Obama and Putin was after observing their body language during a June 17, 2013 meeting in Northern Ireland. A spate of public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further.

Positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with Medvedev likely gave administration officials the idea that Putin would also consider proposals on it. Putin firmly expressed disinterest, but administration officials smugly insisted that Putin agree to reductions in both nations’ nuclear arsenals. Putin then out rightly rejected their proposals. Obama administration officials were unprepared to receive Putin’s final rejection of the proposals and reacted poorly. Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his decision on its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, the White House cancelled a September summit meeting in Moscow for Obama and Putin. It was a trite, and amateurish response. Administration’s officials explained their decision to cancel behind lightweight rhetoric regarding the effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Commenting on his rejection of the proposal, Putin was likened to l’enfant terrible. An unidentified source told for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Putin and his advisers were further convinced that the US and EU did not respect Russia as a power, even militarily. Aching to be taking seriously in the US public, among other reasons, Putin soon after wrote a September 11, 2013, op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “A Plea for Caution”. He challenged popular views on foreign policy and national-identity held in the US.

There were other public affronts. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. US officials were highly critical of security measures taken by the Russians for the Games and the level of cooperation officials from Russian security service officials showed toward counterparts from US security organizations. There were endless dalliances into clairvoyance evinced by predictions of terrorist attacks. It smacked more of fear mongering than anything else. Obama administration and other US officials knew the Winter Olympics would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. Sochi provided Putin the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. The Russian people would have the opportunity to tap into the power of Russia’s renewed greatness. Putin displayed great patience in the face of mordant criticisms leveled against the Games’ organization and even personal rebuffs to him. Putin achieved his objective, and Sochi was safe and secure. However, what occurred was not forgotten. Empta dolore experientia docet! (Experience teaches when bought with pain!)

By 2014, Putin’s anger toward the US as well as the Europeans metastasized. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin enumerated some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Soon, there were regular incursions of Russian bombers and fighters in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters.

No Immediate Military Solution

At the NATO Defense Ministers Meetings on June 24, 2015, participants decided on air, maritime, and special forces components of an enhanced 40,000 strong NATO Response Force (NRF). Ministers took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Ministers approved a new concept of advance planning. They also finalized details on the six small headquarters being set up in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “They will each consist of around 40 people, and will play a key role in planning, exercises, and assisting potential reinforcement.” Ministers additionally decided to establish a new Joint Logistics Headquarters, to facilitate the rapid movement of forces when necessary.  Directly on Russia, Stoltenberg stated, “We are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities.” He added that NATO is working on how to deal with hybrid threats, including through close cooperation with the European Union. To avoid misperceptions of NATO’s actions, Stoltenberg explained, “We do not seek confrontation, and we do not want a new arms race.” He stressed, “we want to keep our countries safe… this is our job.”

However, despite promises, Allies must have the requisite political will to give meaning to those words and any plans. The reality is that US outlays on security are three times that of the other 27 partners combined, even though the US gross domestic product (GDP) is smaller than their total GDP. The disparity in burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion and capability—and ultimately, both European and transatlantic security. Since Washington has decided to cut 40,000 troops from the US Army’s ranks by 2017, the US will not be able to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength without earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Although the NRF is now 40,000 strong, the political will of NATO Allies to use it to block or engage Russian forces must exist. While a Baltic state or Ukraine may face the eminent threat of a Russian attack, the NRF may only be poised for “sitzkrieg”, taking no aggressive action and making no effort to even deter potential Russian action. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, overwhelming in size and power to the NRF, to attack a target, it might be futile for the NRF to try to halt it, even with the maximum amount of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance available. The NRF might try to survive against the Russian leviathan until more NATO forces arrived to reinforce it and ideally expel Russia from the country under attack. However, Russia would not make reaching the NRF easy. A Normandy style landing to reinforce the NRF would hardly be possible. NATO air power might be able to stave off the Russian force, but air, land, and sea elements could mass from bases in Russia and use powerful conventional weapons to destroy forces engaged and reinforcements.

The path to the repair of US-Russian relations perhaps can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. Both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving ties. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

The Way Forward

This is not greatcharlie’s first descant on Putin. Unlike other handschuhschneeballwerfer who have scrutinized Putin from a safe distance, the intent here is not to abuse. The goal has been to objectively examine thinking behind Putin’s actions to construct ways to engage with him. If what Putin says is true, and his continued aggressive moves have been spurred by Western responses, there may be room for the resolution of this dispute. Negotiating with Putin certainly would not be an indication of timidity, fear, or duplicity. Indeed, when speaking to Putin, the US and EU must demand respect for their positions and the rights of sovereign states. However, the views and rights of Russia must also be equally acknowledged and respected. Equity and some degree of equanimity among all sides to any talks must be promoted. There must be the will to act fairly and justly toward each other, to include an immediate cessation of hostile acts. That would mean halting Russian intrusions into NATO airspace, flyovers and buzzing by military jets, interceptions at sea and other harassing actions in NATO waters. Further deployments of NATO land forces must be paused. Negotiating requires setting aside anger over what has transpired, but does not obviate the need to discern one another’s actions to avoid deceit or trickery.

Some European leaders have made contact with Putin and tried to resolve some issues with him, but they have had little success. There have been intermittent congenial contacts between Obama and Putin. For example, on July 4, 2015, Putin called Obama to mark Independence Day and express his confidence in US-Russia relations. On June 25, 2015, Putin called Obama reportedly to discuss the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Obama also voiced concern over Russia’s support for separatists operating in eastern Ukraine. On February 10, 2015, Obama called Putin to urge him to accept a diplomatic peace plan for Ukraine presented by France and Germany in Belarus. Nevertheless, a more substantial contact between the US and Russia occurred on May 12, 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry held four hours of talks with Putin in addition to four hours talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  In what Kerry characterized as a “frank meeting” with Putin, the Russian president gave detailed explanations of Russia’s positions. Their talks covered Iran, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The eight hours of talks were a welcome development. It was Kerry’s first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in early 2014. Kerry stated on Twitter, “it was important to keep the lines of communication open between the US and Russia as we address important global issues such as Syria and Iran.” Lavrov said the talks helped Russia and the US improve mutual understanding.  Perhaps a path to repairing relations can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. There is no intrinsic guarantee diplomacy will work. However, both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving US-Russia relations, and Russia’s overall relationship with the West. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have also formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than Ever to Historic Nuclear Deal: Putin Has Learned Much from This Process

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center) with Russian Federation Defense Minister and General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left) and the commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov (right). Through Russia’s participation in the Iran Talks, Putin learned much about decision making among the Western powers from the inside and likely feels better able to deal with them diplomatically and militarily.

According to an April 27, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than ever to Historic Nuclear Deal,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told the 191 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at conference at the UN that the P5+1 was very near to a deal with Iran that would end a 12-year-old stand-off.   Kerry was quoted as saying on April 27th, “We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good, comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.” He stated further, “If finalized and implemented, [an agreement] will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.” Yet, despite progress made, Kerry emphasized “the hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved.”

Such sober comments underlining the considerable amount of negotiating still required to reach a final nuclear deal have come as a reality check for many following the April 2, 2015 announcements by parties to the talks, with flourish, that parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program were agreed upon. The appearance of reaching a nuclear deal was as potent as actually reaching a final concordance for some. This was particularly true in Iran where ordinary citizens celebrated in the streets after the framework nuclear deal was reached. Public reaction within P5+1 nations was imperceptible. However, there was a significant reaction among foreign and defense policy analysts and others interested in the talks. Their comments were kind of lush, a bit soupy. Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association declared, “The parameters agreed upon by the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany with the Islamic Republic of Iran promises to lead to one of the most consequential and far reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades.” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirmed, “[T]he proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time . . . It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas.” Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund proclaimed, “The agreement does three things. It blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It imposes tough inspections to catch Iran should it try to break out, sneak out or creep out of the deal. And it keeps our coalition united to enforce the deal. Under this deal, Iran has agreed to rip out two-thirds of its centrifuges and cut its stockpile of uranium gas by 97 percent. It will not be able to make any uranium or plutonium for a bomb. Many of the restrictions in the agreement continue for 25 years and some . . . last forever.”

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) Every step toward a final deal has brought US President Barack Obama closer to the legacy-defining foreign policy achievement he has sought. Obama’s desire to establish his legacy during his second term office has been a subject regularly discussed among White House officials and US political pundits. Yet, it is uncertain whether a final agreement can be reached and whether it would hold. The notion of how the P5+1, particularly the US, would likely respond to a violation of the treaty by Iran has gone through a transformation process during the negotiations. It was once understood that the US would inevitably decide to stop Iran from moving closer to developing a nuclear warhead by force of arms. Senior Obama administration foreign and defense policy officials made it clear that military intervention was “on the table.” Threats of regime change and of imposing a US form of democracy on Iran by the administration of US President George W. Bush were still ringing in Iranian leaders’ ears when the Iran Talks began. The idea of being attacked by the US became engrained in the psyche of Iran’s leadership, offsetting any idea Obama lacked the will to take military action following the Syria gas attacks debacle. Tehran’s views have changed since then.

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. (It is right to learn even from an enemy.) The P5+1 has served to present a united front to cope with the common danger of a nuclear armed Iran. However, the coalition has not been truly united. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has actually exploited the comity between Russia and its P5+1 partners to protect Russian interests. (The other P5+1 partners may very likely be aware of this.) Putin did not want the P5+1 to take military action against Iran, Russia’s strongest Middle East partner. During the Iran Talks, Russia and Iran made unilateral deals on matters from agriculture to weapon systems. The talks have helped Moscow better understand how Western powers approach issues as Iran’s nuclear program, making Russia better able to handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Russia, as Iran, is coping with Western economic sanctions. Putin has heard many threats to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, through NATO. However, Putin responds to such threats with an enigmatic face. Putin has Russia on the march, seizing territory in a piecemeal fashion, but he undoubtedly has a sense of how far he can go. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin likely believes military action against a capable opponent is the last thing Western political leaders want. (It is the last thing he wants, too!) To that extent, he also likely believes that after he has acquired enough, he will be able to legitimize Russia’s acquisitions through talks.

Initial Russian Concerns about Possible US Military Strikes in Iran

As a Member of the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Russia’s role as a party to the nuclear negotiation was essential, but it was also rather extraordinary given its ties to Iran. Russia had a very positive, congenial relationship with Iran unlike Western states in the P5+1. Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated “Iran and Russia are able to confront the expansionist intervention and greed of the US through cooperation, synergy and actuating strategic potential capacities.” When the Iran Talks began, Russia was actually working closely with Iran in support of its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Western members of the P5+1 opposed. However, despite Iran’s close business and economic ties or ongoing military cooperation with Russia, albeit limited, could not guarantee the US would refrain from moving against its strongest partner in the Middle East. For that reason, Putin likely had genuine concern that Iran would become a target of massive US military action if the Iran Talks did not succeed when they began. Putin had not forgotten that close cooperation between Russia and authorities in Tripoli and Damascus did not deter the Obama administration from promoting and supporting insurrection against them. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, multinational forces under NATO command went beyond imposing a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi as part of Operation Unified Protector. Gaddafi’s regime fell and he was killed. In Syria, the Obama administration responded in support of the Syria Opposition Movement which bloomed during the so-called Arab Spring. The removal of Assad and his regime was the Obama administration’s goal.

Moreover, before the Iran Talks began and during the negotiations, Obama and officials in his administration were unambiguous about plans to act militarily against Iran over its nuclear program. According to a March 14, 2013 article in the Times of Israel, Obama explained that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in just over a year and diplomatic efforts have just less than that to halt Iran’s drive to the bomb. The Times of Israel determined Obama was intimating that if diplomatic efforts failed this year or early next year, the US would be forced to carry out military action against Iran. Obama also reportedly explained that he had been “crystal clear” that a nuclear-armed Iran was a “red-line,” and that the US was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with which it could threaten Israel or trigger a regional arms race. In a September 15, 2013 article in the Guardian, Obama sought to shore up the potency of US deterrence against Iran warning that he was still prepared to take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, which he described as “much closer to our core interests” than Syria’s chemical weapons. A February 26, 2014, Reuters article reported Kerry told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action. Kerry also left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks broke down. The Reuters article further explained that when Obama stated all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, he was using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.

During the talks, urgency was placed on having Iran allow rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place to ensure any movement toward a nuclear weapon would be detected and the West could intervene. If Iran could be kept from moving close to a nuclear weapon, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond militarily to its existence.

Western Allies Prefer Sanctions Over US-Led Military Action

As the nuclear negotiations progressed, it became more apparent to Putin and Russian foreign and defense policy officials that despite their insecurities about US intentions, the threat of military action was a fiction. Russia’s European counterparts in the P5+1 coalition began expressing doubts about the willingness of the US to use military force against Iran. The French were perhaps the first to publicly appraise Obama as unwilling to use military action to respond to Iran’s nuclear program. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tried to outline what he thought were the reasons for Obama’s tack in a 2013 speech. He stated: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest.” He suggested this explained “the non-response by strikes to the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, whatever the red lines set a year earlier.” Fabius stated further that a redirection of US interests may be a manifestation of the “heavy trauma of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and what he perceived as the current “rather isolationist tendency” in American public opinion. Fabius lamented that without US engagement, the world would find “major crises left to themselves,” and “a strategic void could be created in the Middle East,” with widespread perception of “Western indecision” in a world less multipolar than “zero-polar.” According to a May 2, 2014 Reuters article German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program must be given a chance, but she also said “If Iran does not meet its obligations, or does not meet them adequately, we remain ready to take back the current limited suspension of sanctions.” Merkel’s statement diverged considerably from those of Obama and Kerry who indicated a US readiness to act militarily if negotiations failed. The reluctance of Germany to support US military action sent a message to Russia that there was no unity in the West on it. Sanctions remain the greatest threat European leaders alone can pose to Iran if the talks failed. Only the US can effectively act with force against a nuclear capable Iran, but Obama would never want to go it alone against Iran.

In sessions leading to April 2, 2015, urgency was placed on having Iran agree to keep rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place not just throughout the long duration of the agreement but even after the core limits of the agreement expire. That would ensure any movement toward nuclear weapons will be detected and providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There was an apparent belief that if Iran was kept from moving secretly toward a nuclear bomb, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond to its existence. As long as Obama was uncertain military action would achieve all objectives based on his concepts, Putin could imagine Obama refusing to go to war.

Israeli F-16 jets flying in formation. US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israel’s diplomatic reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She explained “the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” For Putin, Sherman’s words ended all guessing on US intentions with Iran.

Military Action Is Sidelined

Ultra vires! (Beyond ones powers!) Guessing over US intentions ended when Putin and his foreign and defense policy officials heard US officials confirm that in which Moscow could not be certain. On April 13, 2015, Haaretz reported US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israeli reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She stated, “A military strike by Israel or the US would only set back the nuclear program by two years.” She said further, “You can’t bomb their nuclear know-how, and they will rebuild everything. The alternatives are there but the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” She noted, “There is no difference [between the US and Israel] on the concern about the Iranian nuclear program but on the way to deal with it.” Despite fears expressed in 2013 that Iran would soon have a nuclear weapons, Sherman explained that the US and Israeli intelligence communities agree Iran is not close to producing one and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has made no decision to produce one. Sherman said, “They don’t have enough fissile material and don’t have delivery system or weapon per se.” She proffered, “It would take them a considerable period of time to get all that.”

Even the tone in the US Congress softened. Congress drafted a bill that would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner stated “Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal.” He explained further, “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, which appears to want a deal at any cost.” The focus of most observers was the fact that the bill would halt the lifting of sanctions pending a thirty day Congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of sanctions imposed by Congress in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Actually, if Congress rejects the final agreement, Obama could still veto its legislation. It would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail. However, what was most important about the bill for Putin was that Congress accepted more sanctions as means to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not war.

Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and likely views that as a weakness. Putin undoubtedly wants to find ways to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term.

Reality Check Concerning Putin

Unlike the diverse group of cabinet-level officials and policy makers and analysts that advise Obama, Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. In thinking about Obama, Putin undoubtedly recognizes his US counterpart wants to be an honest broker. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and operates under the notion that issues in foreign affairs can be resolved at the negotiating table. Given that, Putin and his advisers undoubtedly view Obama in a way akin to renowned United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “boneless wonder.” Putin very likely hopes to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term. Putin and Obama are very different men. After the Soviet Union’s collapse and internal chaos of the 1990s, Putin restored order in Russia by reestablishing the power of the state some might say with little regard for human and political rights. Putin’s style of management was shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are referred to as siloviki (power men). At the pinnacle were those who came from a community of families in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg whose “roots” go back to first political police of the Communist Party known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He went to schools and a university Chekisty (Chekist) community progeny typically attended.

Chekists 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 on 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 Putin has noted in public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. In a March 18, 2014 speech, Putin enumerated some actions taken by the West that have fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally.

Paradoxically, the aggressive behavior Putin attributes to the US has been displayed by him time and again. In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. In November 2014, Putin signed a Russia-Abkhazia Treaty of Alliance and Integration which meant in practice Moscow is responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the separatist republic. In March 2015, Putin signed the Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration which has similar terms. Georgia has no chance of regaining its territories. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort a deal Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. When the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea. Such moves legitimize NATO’s worries.

Putin’s uncongenial attitude toward the West was very apparent while the Iran Talks were still underway. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers (as the one shown above) in US and European airspace prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russia also sold its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.

Lessons Learned Through the Iran Talks Putin May Be Applying

This uncongenial attitude Putin has harbored toward the West was apparent during the Iran Talks. Perhaps he was testing his P5+1 partners. In August 2014, Russia signed a deal with Iran that undermined Western-led sanctions against the two countries. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments envisaged wider economic cooperation to include closer ties in the oil and gas sector, construction and rebuilding of generating capacity, development of a power supply network infrastructure, machinery, consumer goods, and agriculture. It laid the foundation for a multi-billion dollar deal between Moscow and Tehran, the so-called oil-for-goods contract. In addition to that contract, there was the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile to Iran. The S-300 would neutralize any possibility that Israel could take unilateral action against Iran. That would remain the case until the Israeli Air Force receives F-35 fighters from the US. Only the US Air Force’s small fleet of B-2 stealth bombers would have a chance of hitting Iranian targets properly now. If the US and Europe repeatedly threaten and levy sanctions, Putin and his advisers may take audacious steps. Sensing his back is up against the wall, and unable to project strength otherwise, Putin might seek to deter further Western action by making extraordinary threats to use Russian military power. The Russian Ambassador to Denmark threatened that the Danes would become a target of Russian nuclear weapons if they participated in any missile defense program. Danish jets scrambled 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft. Russian strategic nuclear bombers also conducted numerous incursions into northwestern US air defense identification zones. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers and intelligence-gathering jets in US and European airspace have prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russian military aircraft have been flying without transponders over Europe close to civilian aircraft. Putin warned Russia was developing new strategic nuclear weapons that would catch the West by surprise. Russia has moved Iskandar ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave between Lithuania and Poland and long-range, nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea.

An April 18, 2015 Reuters article stated Putin recently softened his anti-US rhetoric only a week after accusing the US of trying to dominate world affairs and saying what it wanted was “not allies, but vassals.” Putin reportedly said on April 18th, “We have disagreements on several issues on the international agenda. But at the same time there is something that unites us, that forces us to work together.” He then stated, “I mean general efforts directed at making the world economy more democratic, measured, and bilateral, so that the world order is more democratic. We have a common agenda.” Similarly, the BBC reported that on March 6, 2014, after seizing Crimea, Putin told Obama by telephone that US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems.” Regarding Crimea, Putin said Russia could not “ignore calls for help and acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.” Given Obama’s record on the use of force, and what Russia observed during the Iran Talks, Putin may have calculated he has pushed hard enough, and he now can reap a negotiated resolution from Obama. Perhaps Putin assessed that as with Iran, talks might provide him with the chance to achieve many objectives.

The Way Forward

Fene libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (Men readily believe what they want to believe.) The decay of Europe’s defense came as a result of a lack of commitment of the European countries, and to an extent the US, to the stewardship of NATO, militarily. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that did not face an apparent threat. There was no change in thinking despite Putin’s aggressive stance and actions against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” To surmount the impact of what the Western capitals were seeing, they ignored what they saw, made massive military cuts, and failed to meet their military commitments to NATO.

Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis! (Not for you, not for me, but for us!) Meetings between NATO allies can no longer simply amount to rhetorical conversations about collective security in Europe, pledges to do more, and proposals to rearrange the meager military resources currently available to face the vast, mobile, hard-hitting Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Decisions must be made now on what will done in the face of a confrontation with Russia over future aggressive moves against Ukraine or any other sovereign state in Europe. Too many ambiguous political speeches and statements on US military power have already been made to create doubt over whether the US might respond at all. There must be clear discussions on a mutually acceptable political rationale for military action, despite its difficulties and horrors, must be established between the US and the Europe. US and European leaders must confirm now what they will commit and exactly how they will act together militarily. In a manner loud enough for Putin to hear, Obama, in particular, must continually confirm at the UN, in NATO, and in its members’ respective capitals that Europe can count on US support if a military confrontation becomes imminent.

Russia Tells Iraq It’s “Ready” to Support Fight Against ISIS; But Russia Must Take “Direct Action” in Iraq and Syria for the Sake of Its Own Security

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin greets members of Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center (Alpha Group). Russia has pledged to support Iraq and Syria in the fight against ISIS and other Islamic militant groups. However, the threat to Russian security posed by Russian citizens in those groups makes action by Putin in those countries imperative.

According to a September 26, 2014 NBCNews.com report entitled, “Russia Tells Iraq It’s ‘Ready’ to Support Fight Against ISIS”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the pledge to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York that Russia would help support Iraqi in the fight against ISIS. The Russian Foreign Ministry stated through the Itar-Tass state-run news agency that “During the meeting, Lavrov confirmed Russia’s support for Iraq’s independence, territory integrity, and sovereignty.” The Russian Foreign Ministry further stated “Moscow is ready to continue supporting Iraq in its efforts in fighting the terrorist threat, and, first of all, the one from the Islamic State.” On September 19th, Ilya Rogachev, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for New Challenges and Threats, told the Interfax news agency that Russia still declines to participate in the US-led effort against Islamic militant groups in Iraq or Syria. However, Russia pledges to continue its aid to Iraq, Syria, and other nations that are fighting terrorists. Indeed, in the form of a sillitude he explained, “The anti-ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant used interchangeably with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)] coalition is not a club party—we do not expect any invitations and we are not going to buy tickets.” Apparently, the Russian government has not amended its position even though the first round of US-led airstrikes on Islamic militant groups that began on September 23rd obviated its contention that the air strikes would be used as a pretext to attack the armed forces or any other elements of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The air strikes actually hit a range of target including leaders, command and control centers, communications facilities, training camps, and supply depots of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the Al-Qaeda linked Khorasan Group, and its parent organization, the Al-Nusra Front. While the US executed the majority of the strikes from bombers, fighters, cruise missiles, and drones, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar in the second and third wave of attacks in the strike formation and through reconnaissance flights. The US began air strikes against ISIS in Iraq on August 8th.

The Khorasan Group, a collection of seasoned Al-Qaeda operatives, that the West feels poses a direct threat to targets in Europe and the US, should be of particular interest to Russia. Its members include several fighters from Chechnya, as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen are included among its members. Khorasan’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, fought against Russian forces in Chechnya and was trained there in the use of firearms, anti-aircraft weapons, and explosive.

Since the initial days of the Syrian conflict, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he had no plans to intervene on the ground in Syria with Russian forces. At the same time, he made it clear last year that he was following the movement of Russians and Europeans to Syria very closely, and was concerned about their capabilities and possibilities for action against Russia. Surely, the conscience of the Russian people has been struck while watching the Islamic militants move through Syria as well as Iraq. Some may recall the ruthlessness of Nazi forces in the rear areas as they moved through Russia during World War II. Unlike some Western countries, Putin has not been compelled to respond with force to the anguish and outrage of Russian citizens, after witnessing a public execution of a Russian citizen by extremist Islamic militants in Syria or Iraq. Putin wants Russia to look strong, but sitting on the sidelines and relying on the US to manage the entire situation does not allow Russia to look strong. Interestingly, standing aside practically amounts to a conceit that US leadership and support for countries, militarily, financially, or politically can ensure positive things are accomplished internationally, and that the importance of the US is unmatched on the world stage. That is precisely the perspective of the US that Putin has tried so hard to knock down in speeches and published statements. It is also a gamble. ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, and its off-shoot, Khorasan pose a genuine threat to the Russian homeland. They have declared that. Only force will have a sustained impact and strong educational effect on these groups. Some of Putin’s advisers may counsel that using force in Iraq and Syria would prove ineffective and pointless. Others may reject the idea fearing Western condemnation and retribution over unilateral intervention by Russia. Yet, if a search and destroy operation by Russian military or other security organizations against Russian elements in Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria will make Russia more secure, it should be undertaken. Virtus tentamine gaudet! (Strength welcomes the challenge!) 

Russia and Islamic Militant Groups

Putin has been continuously engaged in an effective fight against Islamic militant groups in Russia. Counter-terrorism has been a key aspect of Russia’s national security policy for many years due in great part to longstanding security problems the government has faced from the Islamic insurgency near the Caucasus Mountains. The insurgency, organized into a loose alliance of rebel groups known as Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate), has been simmering more than a decade after it drove separatists from power in the North Caucasus province of Chechnya during Putin’s first term. They seek to carve an Islamic state out known as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria from a swath of southern Russia. That group posed the greatest threat to the Olympic Games in Sochi.

The possibility that Russian fighters from these groups that have fought in Iraq and Syria may return home to engage in terrorist activities remains one of Putin’s greatest concerns. Back in June 21, 2013, at a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Putin made the claim that 600 Russians and Europeans were within the Syrian opposition fighters’ ranks. While the US and European intelligence services expressed concern over the viability of vetting Syrian opposition fighters to discover who among them are Islamic militants, the Russian intelligence service apparently already possessed files on the identities of a considerable number of Syrian opposition fighters. The London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization estimates that the number of Russian fighters in Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria, including those in the field now and those that have returned home, is around 800. Putin has not provided any new estimates publicly. 

In his September 11, 2013 New York Times Op-Ed, Putin discussed the danger posed to international peace and security by Islamic militant groups in Syria. Putin explained, “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.”

Taking Action

Assad and Abadi would most likely give their consent for Russia to conduct operations in their countries and provide Russia valuable support in its efforts. Finding Russian citizens in Iraq and Syria among reportedly over 30,000 fighters of ISIS may be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Yet again, the potential benefit of thwarting potential attacks in Russia by extremists Islamic militants underscores the efficacy of such an undertaking. Given the degree of difficulty involved, Russia should use special forces units from the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center (Alpha Group) and Directorate V of the FSB Special Purpose Center (Vympel) groups. Russia could also employ Zaslon (Barrier), a special services group of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Of the many special service groups established in Russia, Alpha Group and Vympel are the most well-known and respected. Alpha Group, an elite stand alone sub unit of Russia’s special services, is a dedicated counter-terrorism task force of the FSB. It primarily prevents and responds to violent acts in public transportation and buildings. Vympel is officially tasked with protecting Russia’s strategic installations, however it is also available for extended police duties, paramilitary applications, and covert operations in Russia or abroad. The profile and capabilities of both units have increased, and they have taken over and consolidated roles and personnel from other organizations. Over many years, Alpha Group has acquired a reputation for using ruthless methods in response to terrorist acts. Zaslon has not been publicly recognized by the Russian government. Zaslon personnel are said to be former spetsnaz troops and serve under the sole command of Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) headquarters in Yasenevo, on the outskirts of Moscow. In his book Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces Since 1991 (Osprey, 2013), Mark Galeotti, of NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, explains that Zaslon has been linked with everything from assassinations abroad to gathering up documents and technology that the Russian government did not want the US to seize when Baghdad fell. In Syria, Galeotti suspects Zaslon may be providing additional support for Russian military and diplomatic personnel, and is likely already earmarked to extract people, documents, or technologies Russia would not want to share if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began to collapse.

Air strikes should continue to disperse ISIS fighters as they try to avoid certain death from US bombs and cruise missiles. Perhaps operating as mixed “combined special groups” (svodnye spetsialnye gruppy (mixed special groups) or SSGs, Russian special operations forces could go into ISIS and Al-Nusra Front controlled areas and kill Russian elements or when the opportunity presents itself, collect prisoners. If ordered by Putin to present a plan for such an operation, senior Russian special services’ planners will more than likely produce something that displays a high level of acumen and creativity, utilizing advanced technologies in a manner that neither analysts nor the potential opponent could foresee. In Syria, for example, Russia special services’ efforts might entail some of the following steps. Russian special services should exploit all of its intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to assist in locating rouge Russian elements on the ground in Syria. FSB and other Russian intelligence and security services apparently already possessed files on the identities of Russians who have traveled to Syria. Support from FSB operating in areas of Russia from which the suspected nationals originate will also support Alpha Group, Vympel, and Zaslon operations. With assistance from the Syrian military intelligence services, Mukhabarat, Russian special services could interact with Syrian citizens to collect granular information on the Islamic militant groups including the size of specific units, the locations of its fighters, the backgrounds of individual fighters and commanders, unit capabilities, and its combat and nonlethal resources. Russian special services may benefit from liasing with elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force. From that work, an effective operational plan can be developed. Russian special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance means would be used to monitor the locations, daily movements, and activities of the hostile Islamic militant groups. Leaders, arms, supply lines and depots, and financial support would be targeted. All entry points of Islamic militants could be identified and placed under special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance. Penetrating the Islamic militant groups, if Russia’s SVR has not already done so, would unlikely be helpful and would place any assets engaged in that effort at risk, especially once direct action is taken against those groups. All of that would be done while trying not to cross paths with US-led air assets.

Eventual strikes against Russian targets in the Islamic militant groups must be executed swiftly and covertly. Retired US General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command, has offered hints on how to exploit situational awareness which were summarized in the January 7, 2014 greatcharlie.com post entitled, “Obama, Putin discuss Olympics Security in Call; Putin Has Got It Covered and He Will Keep His Promise to the Terrorists, Too!” When striking at a terrorist group’s network, the goal is to paralyze its nervous system. Hitting it intermittently, or every other night, allows the opponent to become stronger, having become accustomed to resurrecting itself. However, McChrystal explains that if you strike at enough targets simultaneously, taking down key leaders, the group will be thrown into chaos and confusion and have a difficult time “regenerating.” That will allow for decisive effects.

Units also can be better utilized as a result of excellent situational awareness. As McChrystal explained “Traditionally, if we did a raid and we thought we were going to need 20 commandos, to actually be on the target, we might take 120, because we had to put security around the site to protect it from enemy reinforcements, and we might have to put a support section and a command and control section there because you need all those things to account for the unexpected. But when you have very good situational awareness and good communications, you only send the 20, because your security comes from being able to see, and then you can maneuver forces if you need them. So suddenly, the 120 commandos aren’t doing one raid; their doing six raids, simultaneously, and you start to get the ability to do 300 raids a month.”

To speed the process and achieve a high level of success, the Russians could adapt a form of “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze” (F3EA) developed by McChrystal. Under the concept, security forces would understand who or what is a target, locate it, capture or kill it, take what intelligence one can from people and documents, analyze that, then go back out execute the same cycle again. If Russian security services want to act at a speed as fast as US special operators in Iraq under McChrystal ‘s command, decision-making would need to be de-centralized because of the high number of raids. Subordinate elements must be allowed to operate quickly. It is very likely that FSB has been using sophisticated technical means to monitor the movements and activities of individuals and groups, likely to engage in terrorist acts, has been on-going. Such surveillance efforts could also be used to develop leads for the operation.

Assessment

On September 11, 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated on a Voice of America radio broadcast that the administration of US President Barack Obama was disappointed by Russia’s initial reaction to the president’s speech on ISIS, which indicated the group represented a direct threat to Russia itself. Kerry explained in his view Russia must join the international fight against ISIS. Prompting by the Obama administration will unlikely cause Putin change his position and join the multinational effort against Islamic militants groups in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, it would more likely cause him to turn away from it. Yet, clear headed, practical choices must be made on Iraq and Syria in the Kremlin. As a result of US-led air strikes, there are opportunities being created for Russia in Iraq and Syria to enhance its security. Putin, his military commanders, and senior security officials know the capabilities of specific individuals and units in Russia, the effectiveness of their weapons systems, and what the real possibility for success of any given operation would be. They must also recognize the real possibility for success in enhancing Russia’s security if Russian special services acted in Iraq and Syria against Russian targets.

Of course, if Putin targeted Russian members of Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria, he would be contributing immensely to the international effort against those groups. Indeed, in addition to the Chechen members of Khorasan, a number of the senior leaders of ISIS are Chechen. An ethnic Chechen named Omar al-Shishani is one of ISIS’ most prominent commanders and at one point was the face of the group. Putin demands that Russia should be recognized as a world power, but Russia also must act in a manner consistent with that title. While he has shown a willingness to intervene in the former Soviet republics bordering Russia, Putin has certainly not had Russian forces gallivanting outside of its region, attempting to secure Russian interests. Taking action in Iraq and Syria as proposed here would be more about establishing Russia’s security than posturing. Yet, as result of the action, Putin would demonstrate not only to the Russian people, but to the world, he is a leader who is able to respond effectively to security issues. Putin would be able to show the Russian people and the world, that Russia is a global power.