Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking

Test launch by the  US Air Force Global Strike Command of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. In discussing the Ukraine crisis even prior to the Russian invasion, it has been greatcharlie’s near mantra that understanding what Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin thinks is critical to resolving the issue for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. There may be a possible nuclear dimension to his thinking that deserves greater attention. Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. At some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles being deployed to Cuba in October 1962. The nuclear issue regarding Ukraine should be brooked before events suddenly conspire to create a catastrophe. 

The people of the respective Western countries that support Ukraine during its present struggle have put much faith in their political leaders concerning the management of this very complicated situation. Much as their elected officials, they have applied hope against their fears that their world would not be enabled to regress back to a stage in which the evils as the quest for dominance, war, and tyranny would become norms of existence. As it was suggested in greatcharlie’s June 31, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War”, by training Ukrainian troops and providing them with an abundance of relatively cutting edge firepower assets and loads of other military gear along with financial assistance. Indeed, Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. Yet, at some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles that were being deployed in Cuba in October 1962. 

The honest choice would be to explain to their respective electorates that there is the possibility that the worst might be  the outcome of the Ukraine effort, nuclear war. However, they are also well-aware that mere talk of the use of nuclear weapons can bring strong images and feelings to the minds of their people. There are of course other huge concerns such as financial markets, international trade, commerce, and progress in general. Talk about thermonuclear war could truly have deleterious effects on such important things, and as such the mere mention of it would be a mistake. Perhaps with that in mind, putting the best face on the matter, aiding Ukraine’s potentially winnable ground war was settled upon as the course. If true, that would make it a case of deliberate short-sightedness. Waiting and then attempting to explain the dangers when things are hotting up will likely result in a considerable, unfavorable public reaction. The people would almost certainly ask what the devil their political leaders have been playing at. They would be angered that the efforts of their political leaders for landing them in such a terrifying situation. 

In preceding posts, greatcharlie has suggested that the matter with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin runs deeper, more subtle than many might suppose. Understanding what Putin thinks is critical to resolving the Ukraine matter for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. To that extent, for greatcharlie, providing thoughts on Putin’s pattern of decisionmaking on Ukraine and inferring from those patterns how Putin may perceive actions by the West and may respond to them has become a preoccupation. A possible nuclear dimension in his thinking, the greatest threat of all, deserves examination. It is certainly a issue that should be brooked before events conspire to create a catastrophe. Apparently, greatcharlie is not alone in thinking this. There has been greater visible discussion of this matter by well-experienced former military and diplomatic officials in the West presented within mainstream print and broadcast newsmedia houses. In an admirable essay published in the Sunday Times in August 2022 by retired British Army General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, very publicly brought the issue to the fore. Earlier in June 2022, the news website RealClearDefense.com provided a lucid report on Russia’s new threshold for the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and reinvigoration of its nuclear triad. Given this apparent rise in awareness, greatcharlie feels it can comfortably move on to cover other matters. However, before that happens, greatcharlie is compelled to figuratively gnaw at it once more.

Some readers might conclude the rather elementary suggestions made here appear too fanciful, too recherché. However greatcharlie’s aim and objective here is not to present something that resembles what has already been produced in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies as well as those of other Western governments, but to present novel ideas. ItsHow the War. Its ideas are designed to help ignite new lines of thought, new insights. Omnia non properanti clara certaque erunt; festinatio improvida est, et cæca. (All things will be clear and distinct to the man who does not hurry; haste is blind and improvident.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (center). Putin appointed Dvornikov commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: It has been alleged online, but not confirmed by Moscow, that he has been replaced.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Under Dvornikov, many Russian commanders have displayed skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation.

How Putin’s “Special Military Operation” Is “Progressing”

Fortunately for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who he appointed commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: There has been chatter online from the West and even from Russia alleging Dvornikov was replaced in June 2022 as the overall commander of the special military operation by an an officer subordinate in rank, Colonel-General Genady Zhidko, who was serving as director of Russia’s Military-Political Directorate at the time. The strongest argument offered in support of the alleged change has been that Dvornikov has been away from public view. The supposed change in command has been neither confirmed or denied by the Kremlin or Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Absent official notice of the change, one might safely accept Dvornikov most likely remains in command in Ukraine.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike. On the ground in Ukraine, he has breathed vigor into what was a thoroughly dismayed and disoriented force. Minus habeo quam speravi; sed fortasse plus speravi quam debui. (I have less than I had hoped for; but maybe I had hoped for more than I ought.)

To expound a bit more about events on the ground, Russian commanders displayed some skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation. That success early on convinced some military analysts in the West of the superiority of Ukrainian military leadership. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. Successfully protecting their units from the relatively slow-moving, low-flying threat of observation and attack drones and improving their units’ techniques of assaulting the opponents positions remain big issues for Russian commanders as losses from both continue to be abysmal.

If the Russian campaign is ever to become the fluid one originally envisioned, particularly by some experts in the West in which battalions would advanced hundreds of miles en masse, it must determine how to extricate their units from regional struggles east, southeast, and south, and attack west and north. Perhaps emphasizing the use of superior firepower, they might be able capture large swaths of territory and massing on decisive points, to include some large cities, in a formidable manner. Right now, Russian commanders do not appear to possess the forces in Ukraine or back in Russia necessary to do that and under current circumstances, may never be able to organize that capability. Additionally, such an offensive would need to be conducted before the spring, when the ground thaws, once frozen rivers and streams run faster and harder, and thick mud would positively hinder unit mobility.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, is Holovnokomanduvach Zbroynykh syl Ukrayiny or Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and is often mentioned with regard to the defense of Ukraine and foreign military assistance. However, Dvornikov’s main Ukrainian opponent in the field is Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov, commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. His more immediate boss is the commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Olexander Syrskiy, the masterful defender of Kyiv. When the war began, Ukraine’s strength in the JFO’s was 10 brigades and its soldier were considered among the best trained and equipped in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Zaluzhnyi’s opposite number is Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov.

Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones, stronger at least on paper. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”

The top field commanders of both Russia and Ukraine have likely become accustomed to having their respective political authorities on their backs concerning the very latest developments despite their respective victories and tactical accomplishments. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky–the latter having become visibly more mature and harder in his job via an unsought crash course in national leadership during wartime–do not appear to be men who have the time and inclination to hear unsolicited opinions of others. They have enough opinions of their own. Nevertheless, both are quite expectedly absolutely gripped by matters concerning the war. In the interest of being diligent, they would imaginably seek recommendations from their respective commanders on how to proceed and what they will need to win the war. Such a potential circumstance would actually work well for both Dvornikov and Moskaliov.  Doubtlessly both would like to have far more firepower, troops, useful drones, and greater, effective close air support to name a few things.  It would seem their respective political authorities are actually working hard to get them just that. 

 From what is presented in international newsmedia reports, with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor. To that extent, both Kyiv and Moscow have scrambled to reach out to allies and partners to request military assistance to the extent possible and ways to help them turn the tide sooner than later on the battlefield, to troops on the ground from mercenaries to units from their respective national armed forces.

Kyiv has genuine plans to raise a force of 1,000,000 soldiers to eradicate Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, to include the liberation of Crimea. Apparently, it is much more than an off-handed suggestion, but rather, an active pursuit. Indeed, Zelensky, still much lionized in Western capitals, has told the Ukrainian Armed Forces to retake coastal areas vital to the country’s economy, Ukrainian forces continued to engage in fierce fighting over control of the eastern Donbas region. Ukraine does not appear prepared as yet to mount any counteroffensive that could achieve decisive results. However, that, too, remains to be seen. The Ukrainians, as initially demonstrated in Kyiv, have often surprised observers by achieving what many might assess as unlikely.. Note that Ukrainian commanders have introduced US M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the United Kingdom’s M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) among their artillery units and are using that enhanced firepower in their operations. Thus, they may be prepared to do a lot of “big” things.

As for Ukrainie’s Western supporters, making certain Ukraine is able to take the fight to the Russians under current conditions has been challenging enough. An ailing global economy, limitations on the even the most feasible levels of military assistance from industrialized Western powers, Ukrainians available and ready to serve immediately in the military, resources for training both at home and abroad, and time available to make difference on the battlefield, to mention only a smattering of challenges facing the million man army plan, really puts the whole matter out of court. Before anyone might feel prompted to argue over what is possible or impossible for Ukraine to do based on what little is presented here, greatcharlie suggests one take also into consideration that Russian commanders will not wait around until Ukraine raises an army that would take the field and potentially overwhelm Russian battalions. Indeed, the Russians will have some say on how things turn out.

Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov (above), commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. The commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, his boss, is Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Olexander Syrskiy, the masterful defender of Kyiv. Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones.

In Moscow, Putin has ordered the Russian Federation Armed Forces to increase by another 137,000 troops starting January 1, 2023. The decree dated August 25, 2022 did not explain by what means Russian forces would be increased,, through expanded conscription, taking on more volunteer soldiers or some combination of both. Responding to concerns over a broader wartime mobilization among the Russian public, Moscow explained that only volunteer contract soldiers would  take part in the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Apparently, Putin’s hope is to increase the number of Russian Federation Armed Forces personnel to 2,039,758 overall, including 1,150,628 servicemen. Reportedly, a similar order in the past put Russia’s military strength at 1,902,758 and 1,013,628 respectively at the start of 2018.

Foreign fighters, who some might label mercenaries, they have been used on both sides of the conflict to bolster numbers and bring trained and well-experienced fighters immediately to the front. Foreign fighters for Russia are normally put under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU. 

Foreign fighters for Ukraine operate in units under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians have had some success taking foreign fighters on to the strength of their frontline units. Many foreign fighters serving with Ukrainian forces are from the armed forces of Member States of NATO. (One must pardon this digression, but at the mere mention of the words mercenaries, greatcharlie calls to mind Stanzas of the renowned 19th century British Romantic poet and satirist, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, known better as Lord Byron. In “When a Man Hath No Freedom To Fight for at Home” first published in Letters and Journals, November 5, 1830, ii, 337, Byron depicts the mercenary. The stanza’s jaunty lines were sent in a letter written to an associate, Thomas Moore, dated November 5, 1820. Byron writes: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home, / Let him combat for that of his neighbours; / Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome, / And get knock’d on the head for his labours. / To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan, / And, is always as nobly requited; / Then battle for freedom wherever you can, / And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted.)

Napoleon is quoted as saying: “In war, the moral element and public opinion are half the battle.” What has not been very useful to either commander are the respective political warfare operations. In their own way, both sides through political warfare have resorted to Babylonian methods: eye for an eye and that sort of thing. It has not directly led to any apparent boost in morale, shift in momentum, or a dramatic turn of the tide. The indications and implications of it are not clear. At best, it has been a distraction, particularly with respect to the videos produced by both sides showing their opponents’ troops being killed and injured. Those videos have shown the world just how horrible the war is.

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Yet, recall that Achilles took revenge over Patroclus’ killer, Hector, dealing with him in a positively merciless fashion. Putin, much in the same way as Achilles again, would surely try to act ferociously against the West following a hypothetical loss.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat,would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine.

Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside of Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. In his Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), the Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provides in Greek a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 BC through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In Book III, section 39, he writes the apposite passage: “The troubles which have come upon us always seem more serious than those which are only threatening.”

There was a Moravian born scholar who within a series of lectures between 1911 and 1915 expressed: “It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” That Moravian scholar was Sigmund Freud, the neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. In 1917, 28 of his aforementioned lectures were published in his book Introduction to Psychoanalysis or Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (German: Einführung in die Psychoanalyse). Pertinent to matters discussed here, Freud discusses the concepts of denial or abnegation–in German, Verleugnung or Verneinung, a psychological defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

One’s denial can take three forms according to Freud. The two seemingly more apposite in this situation are simple denial and minimization. 1) simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether; and, minimization: admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization). Let no ones heart be troubled as greatcharlie has no intention of getting involved in the business of psychoanalyzing anyone. Still, Freud’s luminous thoughts have helped to provide greatcharlie with insight into what, beyond political expediency, would lead to the insistence publicly that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine would lead to a favorable outcome for the West.

Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.” Barrons reminds readers that “Russia will have declared areas of occupied Ukraine part of the Russian state. So should an Ukrainian offensive roll over this new self-declared border, the use of nuclear weapons to break up the attack will be on the table. This is not unthinkable–it is only unpalatable.” He says that the type of nuclear weapon he has in mind is the Russian Iskander missile which has a range of 300 miles and can deliver a conventional or nuclear warhead of selected yield. He notes that it has already been used with a conventional warhead in Ukraine. Barrons makes the distinction between those weapons and the 1,000 kiloton weapons that might target Washington or London, and assures that he is in no way referring to the possible use of the latter. He concludes by stating: “These [nuclear] weapons exist for just the sort of circumstances the war in Ukraine may lead to, so nobody should claim total surprise if they are used. Events since 2014 have established that neither hope nor denial are sound approaches to dealing with Russia today.”

Russia’s mobile, short-range, nuclear capable, 9K720 Iskander ballistic missile system (above). Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.”

Barrons knows what he is saying. Given his impressive experience he is surely as experienced or more so to parse out this matter than many military analysts working an intelligence unit in any government focused on Ukraine. Reinforcing Barrons’ point of view is the current head of United Kingdom’s Strategic Command, British Army Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhul. In an interview with the BBC published August 12, 2022, Hockenhull stated that the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine may change if the battlefield dynamic shifts. Armies kill selectively and to that extent, a tactical nuclear weapon would be used on the battlefield to kill selectively. There is an odd rationality to it all. Still, greatcharlie states with immense respect for the well-considered views of these honorable men both of whom throughout their careers have spoken truth to power. that their depiction of Putin’s hypothetical nuclear response to the battlefield is a charitable one. 

Although the use of nuclear weapons remains a part of Russian military doctrine much as it was in the Soviet Army as both Barrons and Hockenhull point out, Dvornikov is fighting a conventional war without having some backup plan at his headquarters to use nuclear weapons if he is pushed up against Russia’s border. Putin would unlikely authorize him to use nuclear weapons. Putin would unlikely come to Dvornikov seeking a recommendation regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Taking such a hypothetical step in that direction would very likely be planned out in advance by Putin while doing “what ifs” before he launched his invasion.

Add to all of that, Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.”

Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons. What is immediately intriguing about the statement is that except to shape diplomacy as it had before the war, Moscow rarely explains its military plans and intentions. When it has done so, it has offered what were at best soupçons. Moscow is similarly reluctant to offer anything about its intelligence operations. Surely Shoigu does not believe Russia will lose the war. He is not expecting any pushback of Russian forces by the Ukrainians. Thus, in his mind there would hardly be any need to consider such a great step as to respond with nuclear weapons. Concerning what the international press has been saying about Russia, that long ago should have stopped being a concern of any loyal official in Moscow. If it has been a concern especially among top officials such as Shoigu, the indications and implications of his speech may be that the door is wide open for greater manipulation of them via the newsmedia. Perhaps the degree to which newsmedia reporting has already influenced thinking in Moscow has not been thoroughly appreciated in the West. 

On the other hand, perhaps deceptively, Shoigu wanted to relax Western capitals with regard to a nuclear end to the Ukraine War. Maybe he wanted to figuratively stir the pot by adding his words to the debate on Russian plans and intentions in Western foreign and national security policy circles. Absent any reason that might be remotely viable, Shoigu’s comments concerning Russia’s use of nuclear weapons could be considered superfluous. Still, it is unlikely that Shoigu would take the time and effort to make a public statement with the intention to speak superfluously or idly. Putin presumably green-lit his statement. Shoigu would not have formulated such an approach to nuclear weapons use on his own. Putin is still calling all the shots. To that extent, perhaps Shoigu’s statement should not be considered definitive. There must be something there. Whatever it is, it is not very apparent, but probably important.

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.” Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons.

The Ladder of Escalation

More than just having an impact on the battlefield, Russia’s use of nuclear weapons might become just an initial step up the ladder of nuclear escalation. Although members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response. 

Some national capitals in close proximity or actually bordering Russia are already very concerned, unnerved, over Putin’s potential plans and intentions for their respective countries. Presumably, protocols have already been established for such potentiality. Still, if frightened enough by the detonation of nuclear ordinance in Ukraine, there is no real knowing what a possible panicked response might be by political leaders in some governments. Perchance reactions to such an event may not be as orderly as NATO might have planned.

Putin may have already concluded that taking such an action would be akin to striking a hornets nest with a stick while in the nude. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. To that extent, nothing would be gained on the ground in Ukraine by using the weapons. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. 

Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely. Putin would probably be resigned to the fact that the West would hardly be able to back down after nuclear weapons hypothetically had been used in Ukraine. Domestic political considerations would make that nearly impossible Western national leaders. The respective countrymen would expect them to display strength, though groups of citizens may be formed that may insist peace be sought. It would not be prudent for Putin to apply any hope to what Moscow would likely view as “positive efforts”. 

Nullum est malum majus, quam non posse ferre malum. (There is no greater misfortune than not to be able to endure misfortune.) Some European leaders may panic when faced with a staggering crisis. When such a crisis arrives unexpectedly, it can unnerve one who might already be affected by chronic stress and might lack an identical or similar experience to draw from, it can happen to some of the best. (Although he was not one of the best, recall how in 1940, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was so shocked by German Reich Chancellor Adolph Hitler’s betrayal of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that he suffered a nervous breakdown and left a power vacuum for two days while German forces poured in the Soviet Union.)

To be certain, moderately armed NATO Members do not take orders from the more powerful ones or the one military superpower, but they are more inclined to see their point of view. As more time passes, Western leaders more assured of what is the right way forward will be able to gird the resolve of those leaders less certain of how to proceed through continuous communications and hastily arranged bilateral and multilateral talks at NATO headquarters and the Europa building. Unsteady leaders, in particular, would be given the time and opportunity to draw upon the energy of the stronger ones. In general, the Europeans would be given more time to prepare for whatever might come next. In Cyropaedia (“Education of Cyrus”), the renowned Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates, Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC), presents a partly fictional novel about Cyrus the Great, the founder of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire, but more so it was a tract on kingship and generalship addressed to the class of educated Greek commanders and potential leaders. Pertinent to the matter at hand, in Book I, Chapter 6, section 21, Xenophon writes: “[P]eople are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thought for their interests than they themselves do. And you might recognize that this is so in many instances but particularly in the case of the sick: how readily they call in those who are to prescribe what they must do; and at sea how cheerfully the passengers obey the captain; and how earnestly travellers desire not to get separated from those who they think are better acquainted with the road than they are. But when people think that they are going to get into trouble if they obey, they will neither yield very much for punishment nor will they be moved by gifts; for no one willingly accepts even a gift at the cost of trouble to himself.” People have not changed too much over a couple of millenia.

Among the number of national capitals that would normally take the lead in such a hypothetical crisis, some heed should be given to Xenophon’s words. According to a Pew Research Center survey published on June 22, 2022, the outlook is good so far. Overall ratings for the US were largely positive and stable. A median of 61% of the citizens across 17 countries in which surveys were conducted–not including the US–expressed a favorable view of the US, and large majorities in those countries viewed the US as a reliable partner to their country. Attitudes toward NATO, in contrast, are largely positive, and ratings for the alliance improved since 2021 among citizens surveyed in several of the 17 countries 

With the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of at least 27 countries plus the staff at NATO Headquarters working night and day to formulate favorable moves that would allow the West considerable advantage over his country, Putin also might find it too risky to get locked into a back and forth struggle, attempting to stay ahead in the action reaction cycle against the aggregate of their capabilities. Naturally, Putin would not be inclined to slow walk himself into any of that. There would just be too many possibilities to consider. The playing field would be a bit too level or even feel a bit one-sided toward the West, despite its positively Wagnerian proportions. He would want to retain, at least in his mind, his position above all of that. Equally naturally, while all of that was happening, Putin would need to keep a very close eye on what was happening politically in Moscow and around Russia and the reactions to each step he would take. Looking at matter from another angle, but still from Putin’s lens, despite the excellent assessments of former and current expert military practitioners, in the grander scheme of Putin’s world, using nuclear weapons on the battlefields of Ukraine would relatively amount to “bad behavior” and not the appropriate response. 

In the worst case scenario, Putin may feel he could truly steal a march on Western leaders by attacking them first, hitting them where it hurts strategically, and then see just how committed they were to a green future. His hope in that vain would be that enough Russians and enough of Russia would survive to a degree that his efforts would not have been in vain. Knowing how some often misconstrue statements to the extent they give them the wrong meaning, it must be noted that greatcharlie is not married to the idea that initiating a thermonuclear war following a loss in Ukraine. For greatcharlie, the outcome it has outlined here is completely undesirable. Going a step further, more so than stealing a march, if Russian forces were forced out of Ukraine, to include Crimea, Putin would know it would be his end at home and everywhere else, and he would likely have no compunction making it everyone’s end.

NATO Summit Meeting on February 17, 2022 (above). Although united as members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, other Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response to Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely.

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

In July 2022, President Vladimir Putin threatened to continue the war until the last Ukrainian man was standing and his Deputy Dmitri Medvedev suggested that “punishing” Russia over war crimes “potentially poses a threat to the existence of humanity.” Since 2007, nuclear threats have been commonplace among high level Russian officials but the current ones are clearly more extreme. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson once noted that Putin had personally made nuclear threats 35 or more times.

Putin’s June 2020 directive on nuclear deterrence made it clear the most alarming reports concerning the Russian nuclear first use threshold were accurate. Paragraph 19 (d) of President Putin’s June 2020 decree [translated] states concerning the conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation would inckude: “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Further, Paragraph 4 of Putin’s decree links nuclear weapons use to sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is potentially very permissive.

To briefly return back to the aforementioned statement by Shoigu, what should not be downplayed is his remark that “the main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack. Its use is limited to extraordinary circumstances.” Shoigu did not define what would qualify as “extraordinary circumstances.” That was an odd choice given his statement was ostensibly designed to provide clarity on the nuclear issue.

Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left), and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Putin’s Comfort-Level with Nuclear Weapons

Alterations of Moscow’s policy and posture concerning intermediate range nuclear forces have run near concurrently with its troublemaking in Ukraine. Many might remember, perhaps some a bit vaguely, how nuclear weapons were an all engrossing topic in Western capitals during the Cold War and their reduction became a primary aim of diplomacy among Western countries,  prariiy the US, and the Soviet Union. Reductions were achieved through the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  The INF Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. Regarding its basics, the treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 300 and 3,400 miles by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. By the deadline, the two countries had together destroyed a total of 2,692 short- and intermediate-range missiles: 1,846 Soviet missiles and 846 US missiles. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. Two protocols to the treaty established unprecedented procedures for observers from both countries to verify firsthand the other nation’s destruction of its missiles. 

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987, however, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier, reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict. The West sought to reason with the Russian leadership on what were seen as disturbing developments. The US initially first raised concern with Russia about the 9M729 missile system on May 23, 2013 without positive results. At NATO’s September 5, 2014 Summit in Wales, Member States called on Russia to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. That was after Russia had displayed heightened aggressiveness in February 2014 when its forces moved into the Crimean Peninsula and subsequently annexed the territory. At NATO’s Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, Members called on Russia to answer US charges and preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. In an somewhat mocking response, on December 9, 2017, Moscow finally admitted the 9M729 exists but claimed it is compliant with the INF Treaty.

Leaving little doubt as to its thinking, on February 5, 2018, the West received news via the Russian news agency RIA that the head of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament’s defense committee reported Iskander missile systems had been sent to Kaliningrad, Russian sovereign territory on the Baltic Sea. The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads. Moscow stated that previous deployments of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a slice of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania, were temporary and a response to the buildup of US forces in the Baltic region. In addition to having a destabilizing effect on NATO countries in the immediate area, US officials at that time expressed concern that the deployments appeared permanent.

In July 2018, NATO Members stated that after years of denials and obfuscation by the Russian Federation, and despite repeatedly raising their concerns, Russia had only recently acknowledged the existence of the missile system without providing the necessary transparency or explanation. Due to the absence of any credible answer from Russia on this new missile, the assessment was that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty. In December 2018, NATO Foreign Ministers supported the US finding that Russia was in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty and called on Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty.

NATO stood open to dialogue and welcomed engagement with Russia on its violation, to include a NATO-Russia Council meeting on January 25, 2019. However, Russia continued to deny its INF Treaty violations, failed to provide any credible response, and did not move a jot toward returning to full and verifiable compliance. Stating Russia’s continued non-compliance as the cause, on February 1, 2019, the US announced its decision to suspend its obligations under Article XV of the INF Treaty. On February 1, 2019, NATO Members stated that unless Russia honored its INF Treaty obligations through the verifiable destruction of all of its 9M729 weapon systems, thereby returning to full and verifiable compliance, Russia would bear sole responsibility for the end of the Treaty. Russia was entitled to return to compliance with the treaty in 6 months and thereby halt the US withdrawal and NATO Members repeatedly urged Moscow to do so, but it refused. On August 2, 2019, the US withdrawal took effect. On that day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.” NATO Members issued a statement fully supporting the US decision, and attributing “sole responsibility” for the INF Treaty’s termination to Russia. The statement made clear that NATO would respond in a “measured and responsible way” to the risks posed by Russia’s SSC-8 system, with a “balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures,” ensuring credible and effective deterrence and defence. Members also made clear their firm commitment to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. 

On August 18, 2022, near the time of this writing, the Russian Federation Armed Forces reported that it had deployed Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, to the Chkalovsk air base in Kaliningrad as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”

The fact that steps taken on policy concerning and deployments of nuclear weapons, with the exception of the deployment of MiG-31K jet armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles have all occurred outside the context of Ukraine or at least the circumstances appear to be such, should indicate that whatever Putin is saying or doing now regarding the is of far greater conception than the “special military operation.”

Certainly, it would be rather counterintuitive for Putin to continue to make statements that intensively would inform the West that there has been a shift in his thinking about nuclear weapons to the extent that he is now more prepared to use them if in his calculus the sovereignty of Russia were both endangered.  That stated, Putin, having had his expositions and entreaties on relatively lesser foreign and national security policy issues of concern to him dismissed consistently by the West, Putin should now be reasonably aware that his concerns regarding nuclear weapons will continue to be brushed aside as Western leaders neither want to consider the possibility of him using them, nor want his words on the issue to have any meaning.

If orders were to be given by Putin to the military to use nuclear weapons, instead of Dvornikov, the call would more likely go to Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the commander of Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation or the Strategic Missile Forces of the Russian Federation [literally Strategic Purpose Rocketry Troops]) or RVSN RF. The Rocket Forces are a branch of the Russian Armed Forces that control Russia’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In addition, the Aerospace Forces (VKS), as well as the Russian Navy’s Northern and Black Sea, and Pacific Fleets would be alerted. Commanders who are in control of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad would act in the manner prescribed respectively by political authorities. Any plans to use nuclear weapons would be of the utmost secrecy. Discussion of it would surely be limited to a handful of advisers.

US President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (right) signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. The treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (between 300 and 3,400 miles) by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. However, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier. reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict.

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

For those who might find it difficult to imagine Putin destroying the world over hypothetical defeat in Ukraine and that firing nuclear weapons is far short of setting off a conventional war, think again. A great conventional war involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers in these times was also extremely difficult for so many to imagine a few short months ago. The invasion of Ukraine and attending gross losses of Russian troops may serve as a proxy for understanding Putin and measuring his willingness to sacrifice human lives in pursuit of his goals. As mentioned earlier, Putin started the war. It was his decision to tear millions of people in Russia and much more so Ukraine from peace and cast them to a seeming foreverness of death and destruction, torment and anguish.

With regard to Russian casualties, according to the latest estimate by US intelligence and military officials, reportedly 500 troops are either killed or wounded every day. The casualty estimates of US officials are reportedly based on satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and on-the-ground media reports. The US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters at the Pentagon on August 12, 2022: “I think it’s safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70,000 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months.” The New York Times on August 12, 2022 reported that two US officials estimated that Russia’s losses included about 20,000 deaths. One confidentially explained further that about 5,000 from that number are believed to be fighters from the Wagner Group, and foreign fighters. US officials have gone as far as to assess that the progress of Russian forces in the Donbas became stalled in part due to high casualties. 

During his May 9, 2022 Victory Day address, Putin made a rare reference to casualties suffered by Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. With respect to casualties, Putin mentioned the “irreparable loss for relatives and friends.” He informed Russians then that support would be put in place for the children of the dead and for the wounded. Of course, one could say there is good reason for Putin to take this tack. It is a fairly elementary idea, but Napoleon expressed it in a succinct fashion: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” It may very well be the case that Putin is thoroughly disappointed by the heavy losses. He may even have strong personal feelings, and may in private appear somewhat emotional about it all. While that could be true, in public, he shows not a scintilla of interest in those losses. To a great degree, he has glossed over the losses with his words..

Still, readers might bear in mind that during an interview on June 7, 2015 the editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, then Luciano Fontana, asked Putin: “Mr. President is there one thing that you regret more than anything in your life, which you consider an error that you would never again want to repeat?” Reportedly, Putin adjusted himself in his chair, and his eyes suddenly seemed to sparkle. He remained silent for a few seconds, and then, according to the daily’s English transcription of the interview, stated: “I will be quite frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. By the grace of God, I have nothing to regret in my life.” In August 2022, perhaps Putin might offer another response to this question. On the other hand, it is more likely he would not alter his response in any way.. 

Putin as Epic Hero

Putin has a penchant for bringing to bear events in Russian and Soviet history in support of his arguments concerning both domestic and foreign, and national security policy issues. In April 2020, as Russia entered its first coronavirus lockdown, he compared the pandemic to 19th-century Turkic nomadic invasions of medieval Russia during a televised address to the nation. In July 2021, the Kremlin published an almost 7,000-word essay by Putin, entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided. Putin’s inclination for referring to history was apparent in his February 24, 2022 speech announcing the special military operation during which he again  provided a lesson on Ukraine’s historic connections to Russia.

In June 2022, Putin compared himself to the 18th-century Russian Tsar Peter the Great, drawing the following parallel: “Peter the Great waged the great northern war for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s].” Putin might humbly shun being labelled a history buff, but he certainly can be said to have retained innumerable facts on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. It may all appear quite puerile to some onlookers, but simply put, Putin’s predilection for making references may augur that in a very grave danger that may lie ahead in which Putin may view a situation from an historical perspective, not a pragmatic one for the here and now.

A part of Russia’s history and culture has been the creation and promulgation of tales about powerful mythical beings, whose behavior and actions supposedly account for the development of certain geological formations, aspects of Russian behavior, the Russian zeitgeist past and present, and a few place names in the country, to name a few things. Putin, who greatcharlie will go out on a limb and call an historian and recognize as an erudite on all things Russian, is doubtlessly familiar with such mythical heroes, and would surely be able to explain that everything which is most heroic and great about them, holds a place in the soul and spirit of all good Russians. Hearing those tales can reaffirm that. (It would be interesting to hear Putin speak on such matters.)

One of Russia’s greatest mythical heroes is Ural-batyr. His tale is popular particularly among ethnic Bashkirs who named their national epic poem after him. As the story goes, all his life, Ural-batyr (who for Putin might represent himself) selflessly fought against devs (demons), serpents, and dragons (who for Putin might represent the West), defending the human race (who for Putin might represent the Russian people). Also, he was kind and always showed forgiveness to his toxic and malevolent elder brother Shulgan (who for Putin might represent the national government in Kyiv, at least since Euromaidan), who associated with the devs, and responded to their demands that he destroy Ural-batyr and the humans. The people loved and extolled Ural-batyr as their hero and were proud to follow him. Defeating death was an aim and objective to which Ural-batyr dedicated himself. He wanted to allow his people to live forever and not have to die. One day, Ural-batyr encountered an immortal older man who was weary of life and explained to to the effect: “What we call Death and what we are accustomed to regard as evil are just the eternal order of things . . . There is only one thing in life that does not die and remains forever young – goodness.” The immortal’s words sowed within Ural-batyr an inner peace and happiness.

Ural-batyr, himself, would die performing an heroic act of self-sacrifice: He swallowed an entire lake in which devs, snakes, and evil spirits roamed to protect the people from them. The devs, snakes, and evil spirits gorged on Ural-batyr from the inside, thereby killing him. As he died, Ural-batyr tells his descendants not to accept evil in fellow travelers, always accept advice from elders and wise people, and to offer advice to the youth and assist them. By his example of self-sacrifice, Ural-batyr instructed the people to live by justice and peace. The people buried him high in mountains which they named in his honor, and were thereafter called Uralskiye gory: the Ural Mountains.

To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to find that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war that he might start, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Despite the expansive devastation around them, Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them. He would also sense he would be instructing them by action that they should place no limit on their will to fight for the survival and freedom of Russia or some lesson to that effect. Male facere qui vult numquam non causam invenit. (Those who would do evil never fail to find a reason.)

Putin center stage at a concert marking the 8th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea  in support of Russia’s on-going special military operation in Ukraine at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022. To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to determine that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them.

The Way Forward

Art Buchwald was a US columnist and humorist who delighted in the absurd, satirizing the follies of the rich, the famous and the powerful. In an interview from his hospital bed for the Associated Press on April 5, 2006, he stated: I don’t know what’s coming next and neither does anyone else. It’s something that we do have to face but the thing is that a lot of people don’t want to face it. And there’s denial. If somebody says it, like me, everybody feels a little better that they can discuss it.”

Finding a point to halt the war and seek peace without total victory by one side or the other seems remote. The ongoing fight could be best described as “bitter, relentless, and cruel.” Nevertheless, it may be the best possibility. Sometimes a solution that might be found can go beyond the physical boundaries of a struggle and include matters that at the moment seem remote from it, in order to provide a reasonably comfortable, sustainable peace for both sides. As aforementioned, for greatcharlie, there is little doubt Putin would not hesitate, in the normal sense, to launch a thermonuclear war in response to a theoretical defeat in Ukraine. In such an event, there would be little opportunity in the West for post mortems, who said what, when, and where. Assumptions are not conclusions, and can go only far with a good number of experienced hands. Expert individuals as them may feel there is no reason to make heavy weather of the issue as it seems so remote, at least at the moment.

Multo enim multoque seipsum quam hostem superare operosius est. (It is harder, much harder, to conquer yourself than it is to conquer your enemy.) As greatcharlie has mentioned in preceding posts, the idea that Putin would be willing to somewhat casually take an action that he knew could potentially lead to global annihilation is too difficult for many to fathom. It requires accepting a line of thinking which for them would be beyond the settled order of nature. It was once widely expressed by leaders in Western capitals that Putin was little more than a callous former executioner for the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. A return to that thinking is not really suited to the discussion on Ukraine right now. Numquam aliud natura, aliud sapientia dicit. (Never does nature say one thing and wisdom say another.)

Recently, the editor of greatcharlie was described as a polemicist by one of the blogs readers. The somewhat brusque remark was albeit intended as bon mot. While it is certainly a more preferable label than propagandist, polemicist seemed a bit too heavy a word to derive from the not too controversial scribblings of greatcharlie. There has scarcely been an argument with which greatcharlie has been so bound that it has sought to incite readers to peruse a post. If there is a need to define greatcharlie as one thing or another, perhaps it might help to point out that the words of Stephen Grellet, the early 19th century French-American Quaker missionary, have provided guidance in the writing of every post: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way

Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Optimistically, some juncture may soon be reached in the Ukraine matter at which Putin might be presented with the circumstance and space to conclude it is time to stop fighting. This may sound unrealistic. It may appear that nothing lies ahead except more death and destruction. The effort must be made to look at Putin and the Ukraine matter from different angles with the hope discovering an approach that will prove to be fruitful. Novel ways at looking at issues, recognizably up to a point, can better enable the astute to grasp what may on the right occasion be a viable line of thinking. Any thoughtful insight could become more relevant and valuable as conceivably in back rooms of Western countries’ foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, where planning and preparation for the contingency of negotiating with Putin over terms for peace in Ukraine may be underway. It is greatcharlie’s hope that the few insights presented here will have the potential to ignite a new line of analyses. Sometimes the smallest key can open the largest door. 

The opportunity to forge the best possible peace between Ukraine and the Russian Federation has long since been passed. That peace could been established before the killing began. However, Kyiv wanted the freedom to decide to join NATO and the EU. It rejected terms that it declare its neutrality. It response was a reasonable, but it could have only led to war with Russia under its current leadership. Much has been lost by both sides already but there remains the opportunity to create the framework for an evolving peace plan that will allow both sides to end hostilities. Optimistically, some juncture may soon be reached in the Ukraine matter at which Putin might be presented with the circumstance and space to conclude it is time to stop fighting. There must be a starting point for Ukrainians to rebuild, rejuvenate their country. This may sound unrealistic. It may appear that nothing lies ahead except more death and destruction. Even so, the effort must be made to look at Putin and the Ukraine matter from different angles with the hope discovering of an approach that will prove to be fruitful. Potiusque sero quam numquam. (It is better to do something late than never.)

Novel ways at looking at issues, recognizably up to a certain point, can better enable the astute to grasp what may on the right occasion be a viable line of thinking. Matters already reviewed and ostensibly settled could potentially be lifted from the region of the commonplace. Thoughtful insights could become more relevant and valuable as conceivably in back rooms of respective Western countries’ foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, where planning and preparation for the contingency of negotiating with Putin over terms for peace in Ukraine may be underway. However, as things are, insights proffered from unapproved sources outside the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies on what Putin “may think” on matter concerning Ukraine, the likely reasons for his choices, and what he sees as the way forward, are more often discounted by practicioners. Such judgments are left to the eye of the beholder. The most available justifications to mark them out are surely concerns quality and disagreement over analyses. Yet, in the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in perhaps every country, such appraisals are not completely objective. Additionally, as much of what Putin thinks is typically chalked up by experts as an expression of an ugly chip on his shoulder, his contempt for the West, spending time and effort diving deeper on the matter would likely be viewed upon as wasteful. 

Still, individuals as Putin with often have unique reasons for their choices, and no matter how unorthodox, disagreeable, or round the bend as they might seem, they must be applied in analyzing their decisionmaking process to have a chance at accurately predicting their moves. Perhaps greatcharlie marks itself as old fashioned but it believes even analyses of “unapproved outsiders” on what Putin thinks should not be looked upon as entirely unilluminating. At a minimum, many should be docketed for consideration later in its proper context. 

Later on, they may bring analysts to an understanding of those matters they had not held before. It is greatcharlie’s hope that the few insights presented here will have the potential to ignite a new line of investigation and analysis. It briefly highlights cause and effect, the interesting associations between things, yet avoids making too many charitable assumptions. Sometimes the smallest key can open the largest door. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities )

Putin’s problems with the West began long before the Ukraine crisis and subsequent invasion in February 2022. Although the reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine, for a second time in less than a decade, and taken a good portion of its sovereign territory, Putin insists Western capitals are the ones with covetous minds. He often points to what the “insidious” way in which the US and its Western friends in the EU rolled up to Russia’s border with NATO in tow despite earlier understandings reached that they would never do so. Within the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in Western capitals, his singular perspective was likely looked upon casually as one more of Putin’s pretensions. Seeing how the situation stands, with Russian forces controlling Crimea and the Donbas, it would appear that he is grabbing parts of Ukraine to enrich Russia. Except for his two daughters, each woman formidable in her own right, the only real family Putin has in that sense is Russia. Russia is his mother, his father, his home. Perhaps in part for this reason, it should not be so hard to understand why Putin had taken such a maximalist position on Ukraine, the need to invade, the West. and NATO prior to February 24, 2022.

Putin’s Feelings About the West: Brief Meditations

For Russia, the anticipated waltz through Ukraine became a national emergency and some policy analysts and newsmedia commentators began to say the invasion would ultimately be Putin’s last act. The Ukrainians were not supposed have a cat in hell’s chance of “winning” the war.” Yet, if not for lack of just about everything needed high-speed, high-empo, high-intensity maneuver operations except good soldiers and courage, it initially appeared to many after Russia’s Kyiv debacle that Ukrainian forces might have been able to deliver a crippling blow of Napoleonic proportions to their opponent and perhaps forced Moscow to negotiate terms for peace. Putin could not turn back so easily. He certainly cannot afford to lose. Once the situation began to look unsatisfactory for Russia on the ground, one could have gathered from Putin’s statements and actions on Ukraine that he felt he was in a fight for survival for both Russia and himself. He appears to view the fight in Ukraine as a climatic stand, their present-day version of the Malakoff Redoubt, Stalingrad, or the Neva Nickel. 

Luckily for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces after those relatively disastrous initial weeks of the special military operation. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. From what the international newsmedia mainly reports that with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor.

Despite the many challenges encountered as a result of his Ukraine venture, Putin leaves no doubt that he is doing what he feels must done for Russia and he believes he is on the right track. As it was illustrated in greatcharlie’s preceding, May 30, 2022 post entitled, “Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine” concerning war causation, there is an intellectual foundation to his choices. (There would be plenty of disagreement with that idea among those who loathe Putin as much due to bias than to sound argument.) 

Although the reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine, for a second time in less than a decade, and taken a good portion of its sovereign territory, Putin insists Western capitals are the ones with covetous minds. He often points to what the “insidious” way in which the US and its Western friends in the EU rolled up to Russia’s border with NATO in tow despite earlier understandings reached that they would never do so. Within the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in Western capitals, his singular perspective was likely looked upon casually as one more of Putin’s pretensions. Seeing how situation stands, with Russian forces controlling Crimea and the Donbas, it would reasonably appear that he is grabbing parts of Ukraine to enrich Russia. Doubtlessly, that was a planned attendant outcome of each occasion when Russia marched into Ukraine but not Putin’s priority. Except for his two daughters, each woman formidable in her own right, the only real family Putin has in that sense is Russia. Russia is his mother, his father, his home. Perhaps in part for this reason, it should not be so hard to understand why Putin had taken such a maximalist position on Ukraine, the need to invade, the West. and NATO prior to February 24, 2022.

Missteps with Putin

Putin’s problems with the West began long before the Ukraine crisis and subsequent invasion in February 2022. In its January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”, greatcharlie briefly discuss much of what was at the nub of the matter. Portions of that discussion are provided here.

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

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at what became the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run especially due to his personality then.

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

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

As a result of Euromaidan, power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced Western influence were taken. Putin responded robustly. The escalation of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, which at time was the sovereign territory of Ukraine and most national capitals say it still is. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8 and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all. Although Russia was suspended from the G8–once again the G7, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the group until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin allowed himself to retain a sense of  control over the situation, choosing when Russia would depart. He exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his at that time. It was an odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire then for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20. The Group of 20, G20, in essence is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets.

Body language can reveal plenty! Putin speaking (top left). Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the US and United Kingdom meeting at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit 17-18 June 2013. Within G8 meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea then that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance and dwell on lashing out in some big way. Perchance at some point Putin might have imagined that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage to lampoon Russia. He would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps in unconscious condescending behavior toward him, that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before.

Intriguingly, Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have had less meaning to him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. The memoirist, popular poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou for Beautifully Said Magazine (2012) stated: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Putin has an excellent memory. Putin believes he was treated badly, and knows he and Russia deserved better. However, at this point, Putin seems less interested in opinions of him in the West or his international audience for that matter. As far as he might be concerned, members of those organizations can have their way. Unlike the past, Putin made certain not leave the West with the ability to derail his plans, or give them the intellectually opening to disturb him. Coercive economic tools at their disposal are illusions of power that Putin would in time disintegrate by shining light on the realities they may have ignored. To that extent, indications are that Putin has instructed his officials not to tolerate any untoward behavior from those in the West with whom they may meet. It would be best for them to just walk away rather than subject themselves to mistreatment and outrageous calumny.

Dangling that which would most content the opposing party in order to compell its good behavior has been a method used to resolve disagreements and conflicts between empires, countries, city-states, and families for seemingly aeons. It can lubricate diplomatic exchanges and create favorable outcomes. It often resulted in sense of mutual tolerance and peace with honor between opposing parties. It all sounds quite transactional, because it is. Western political leaders are well-aware that Putin’s strongest interests lie in the province of developing commerce. As such, that interest could have been used as a lever in a well-considered, calibrated way the gain a handle on the Russian leader. Western powers could lend furtive or mildly acknowledged copious support that would enhance what the Russian President, himself, might recognize as weaknesses in his system in exchange for significant, immediate and long-term cooperation. Again, what would be most important is getting him to go along with whatever plan is developed. (Many might argue that this practice was used without shrewdness, without any real calibration, by the US in the construction of the Joint Comprehensive Plan on Action of 2016 concerning nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.) If lucky enough, the diplomacy of national leaders who would have engaged in such action in the earliest stages of the Ukraine crisis–pre-invasion–would have likely been able to offer a narrative in which they could have been seen as saving the day.

However, instead of any of this, awareness of that commercial interest in Western capitals has led to the targeting of it to cause his hurt, harm, and even pain and resultantly his ire and recalcitrance. (It has also been important for Putin to recognize the West is entitled to its share of ire and recalcitrance, and when a situation is moving favorably, he must also consider his actions with respect to Western reactions. There must be a commitment on all sides, including Russia,to the advancement of negotiations to secure a sustainable agreement. One might get the impression given his record that he has not reflected too much on that in recent times. Then again, perhaps he has.

It is unimaginable that Western political leaders decided to target that commercial interest unaware of its terrible importance personally to Putin, although that possibility cannot be completely dismissed. From what can be gathered, the choice to handle Putin in that way was made a while back. It was most apparent in the US when the US Congress passed the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (the Magnitsky Law) and subsequent Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which struck a nerve with Putin not only for economic reasons, but domestic political reasons as well. The Magnitsky Law,set precedent with regard to the manner in which the West would act to modify Putin’s behavior as well as that of other Russian officials and private citizens. Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt. (Also, omnia mala exempla orta sunt ex bonis initiis.) (Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.)

Putin (above) at work in the Kremlin. Western countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s corporate and financial system since it sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022. At this stage of the game, however, Russia hardly seems too deprived by coercive sanctions from the West. One might suggest the West’s moves against Putin and Russia became overplayed and predictable, and thereby anticipated and prepared for, to the greatest extent possible. Reportedly, in preparation for the US response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drastically curtailed Russia’s use of dollars, and thereby a degree of leverage the US might have had. Enormous currency reserves were stockpiled, and budgets were streamlined to keep the economy and government services going even under isolation. Putin also reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports.

Western Sanctions in Response to Ukraine’s Invasion

At this stage of the game, however, Russia hardly seems too deprived by coercive sanctions from the West. One might suggest the West’s moves against Putin and Russia became overplayed and predictable, and thereby anticipated and prepared for, to the greatest extent possible. Reportedly, in preparation for the US response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drastically curtailed Russia’s use of dollars, and thereby a degree of leverage the US might have had. Enormous currency reserves were stockpiled, and budgets were streamlined to keep the economy and government services going even under isolation. Putin also reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports. It is not greatcharlie’s intention spoil anyone’s appreciation of this essay by offering a regurgitation on the nuance of steps Putin has taken at home to better shield Russia from the harmful effects of Western sanctions. Economics is not greatcharlie’s area of expertise. Suffice it to say that nothing done by the West just before and following February 24, 2022 unsettled Putin.

Indeed, once the whole Ukraine crisis began in earnest, the West metaphorically began wielding an economic bullwhip of sanctions to back him up. Perhaps from the perspective of the West, all that Putin was being asked to do was to behave as a good chap on Ukraine because be knows he should, given the conventions on international law, international peace and security, and multilateral agreements Russia signed with Ukraine as the Budapest Memorandum design to preserve it from military threat. However, it is hard to see how they could ever have expected to get far with that mindset or that tack. When his invasion began in earnest, the West flailed him harder with the whip. However, no matter how hard the West lashed out, Putin would not respond. He would not even put his demands up for Dutch auction. Putin has recently declared Western sanctions have not had much impact on Russia’s economy and have done more to harm global trade and the international economic system. Putin certainly feels confident his measures to sanction-proof Russia worked to a great degree. Speaking on the state of Russia’s domestic economy on April 18, 2022, Putin explained that inflation was stabilizing and that retail demand in the country had normalzed.

In the past, Putin surely in an unintended way, would very likely have lent a helping hand to Western efforts to subdue Russia. He often allowed pride to overshadow good sense and discretion, and that often led to miscalculation and errors. It was a gross miscalculation to lash out at the US by interfering with the 2016 Presidential Elections. It is an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. Going after Kyiv, to knock out the Western oriented and Western supported government, early in the special military operation was an enormous mistake. Troops that would have been invaluable to the more militarily sensible operations of Russian forces in the Eastern and Southern Ukraine were needlessly lost with no gain. The whole world could see Putin had dropped a clanger. 

It is unlikely that Putin will make many more grand mistakes during the Ukraine campaign. Even if a real opportunity is set before Putin–the tiger and the tethered goat by the waterside scenario, he will very likely pass it up. Wrestling with this issue in a preceding post, greatcharlie supposed that at this point, a course has been set, calibrated by Russia’s best military, intelligence, diplomatic, and political minds, with all available and in-coming resources taken into consideration. There is probably little to no room for any sizable deviation from that path. Still, with all that being considered, almost anything is possible when it comes to Putin. All of this withstanding, there must be an answer, a way to initiate fruitful diplomacy even at this stage. One could get the impression given the record that finding a way to work with Putin, by creating some balance with which all would be reasonably satisfied, is just not a cross any Western capital would be unwilling to bear. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities.)

Putin (right) gestures during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron (left) in Moscow on February 7, 2022. At the foundation of thinking concerning an international order and international organizations created since the end of World War II is idea that members will be answerable to the group of countries they signed up to deliberate and act collectively with. The fact is Putin does not feel answerable to anyone in the world despite Russia’s multiple membership in international organizations as the UN, where it is Permanent 5 Members of the Security Council, and G20. The easy, less than thoughtful answer might be to eject Russia from the G20 or at least keep him teed up on the idea he will be removed. However, that would more than likely make matters worse. Rather than gain a further grip on Moscow’s behavior, parties insistent on doing such would only travel further along into unknown with Putin.

Likely Impact Recent Contacts with Western Leaders Have Had upon Putin

At the foundation of thinking concerning an international order and international organizations created since the end of World War II is idea that members will be answerable to the group of countries they signed up to deliberate and act collectively with. The fact is Putin does not feel answerable to anyone in the world, despite Russia’s multiple membership in international organizations as the UN, where it is Permanent 5 Members of the Security Council, and G20. The easy, less than thoughtful answer might be to eject Russia from the G20 or at least keep him teed up on the idea he will be removed. However, that would more than likely make matters worse. Rather than gain a further grip on Moscow’s behavior, parties insistent on doing such would only travel further along into unknown with Putin.

In a May 31, 2022 New York Times guest essay entitled “President Biden: What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine”, US President Joe Biden reminded that  President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said, ultimately this war “will only definitively end through diplomacy.” Conceivably, some may believe that with some tacit approval from all allied capitals, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have spoken with Putin, most recently on May 28, 2022, to reach some confidential arrangement for more fulsome peace talks or establish the basis for a proposa concerning a ceasefirel to present to him during their next contact. Impossible n’est pas français. They would also have likely sought to chinwag with Putin with the hope of finding and exploiting a sociability that lives in Putin that is surely part of human nature. That is what the noble Roman pagan, Tulius Cicero expressed in his discussion of the idea of commonwealth in De Republica (51 BC) with the words: naturalis quaedam hominim quasi congregation. European leaders have gone as far as to aggregate their efforts with Putin not only as a sign of unity but likely also with hope that acting together they might find the right convention, the right phrases to trigger him to respond favorably to an entreaty to talk.

Searching for some advantage by reflex, Putin might assess that the Western leaders, by acting in pairs or groups, even in their visits to Kyiv, are most concerned that if either their counterparts were to travel or make phone contact alone, they would act out of self-interest, placing the needs of their respective countries uppermost. One leader might not trust another to come toward Moscow empty handed. Some special deal particularly concerning energy resources might be sought. On the other end of their possible mutual suspicions, given what transpired with the February 10, 2022 meeting between United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, there may be a lingering fear that one might pick a fight with Putin, and all would in the end need to contend with the ramifications of that. (One might suppose Truss’ tack was likely agreed upon with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and foreign and national security counselors before she left for Moscow. The decision may have been to “pull out all of the stops.” Causa latet: vis est notissima. (The cause is hidden, but the result is known.)

To enlarge on that point, Truss’ heated, emotional outburst before the long-experienced Russian Foreign Minister, could be judged as being particularly inept given the need to develop some influence upon Moscow’s line of thinking during the tinderbox circumstances of the time. By her behavior, she merely advertised the limits she had. Indeed, she likely signalled to Moscow that London did not have any remarkable solutions, no good proposals to offer. She seemed to be revealing an angst that Moscow likely presumed to be prevalent among the United Kingdom’s foreign and national security policy decisionmaking officials. She appeared to express a sense of being trapped as lion in cage by the Ukraine situation. Truss’ behavior may have also indicated to Putin that there may be serious problems besetting Johnson’s Conservative Party as a whole, with cabinet members and Tory Members of Parliament feeling uncertain about their respective political futures. For the external audience, Truss may have amused some, but ultimately she did not enlighten or inspire and dismally failed move events forward in a positive way. No foreign official from any country should ever seek to do any of that in Moscow under any circumstance. Vacuum vas altius pleno vaso resonat. (An empty pot makes a deeper noise than a pot that is full.)

Putin doubtlessly feels that Western countries, other than the US, pose little real threat to Russia despite any noise they might make about the prowess of their respective armed forces. (It must be noted that the United Kingdom possesses an estimated 225 strategic warheads, of which an estimated 120 are deployed and 105 are in storage. Added to that deterrent is a total of four Vanguard-class Trident nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which together form its exclusively sea-based nuclear deterrent. As of January 2019, France was said to possess approximately 300 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with the remainder affixed to air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by strategic bombers.) To that extent,, Putin may believe there are many among certain foreign and national security policy circles in Western countries with a desire to emote more than do anything else such as find real answers to get Putin off Ukraine’s back and over to the negotiating table resolve matters.

United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) at their press conference in Moscow on February 10, 2022 moments before Ivanov walked out. Searching for some advantage by reflex, Putin might assess that the Western leaders, by acting in pairs or groups, even in their visits to Kyiv, are most concerned that if either their counterparts were to travel or make phone contact alone, they would act out of self-interest, placing the needs of their respective countries uppermost. One leader might not trust another to come toward Moscow empty handed. Some special deal particularly concerning energy resources might be sought. Additionally, given the torrid exchange that occurred between Truss and Lavrov during their February 10, 2022 meeting, there may be a lingering fear that one leader might pick a fight with Putin for whatever reason, and all would need to contend with the ramifications of that.

At the same time they tried come to some point of understanding with Putin, Western leaders also have publicly mocked him during multilateral gatherings. During the June 2022 G7 Summit in Schloss-Elmau, Germany they did so publicly on June 26th with regard to shirtless photos taken of Putin while horseback riding. One might not expect Western leaders to speak idly concerning Putin when matters concerning him are now so grave. That intriguing juxtaposition of the ideas of arming Putin’s opponents and mocking him yet contacting him hoping to stoke some goodwill and desire for peace is surely not lost upon Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin. Equally intriguing to Putin was the insistence of Western leaders that they committed to resolving the Ukraine conflict with diplomacy, while also arming the Ukrainians to the extent national budgets and the largess of their citizens–their electorates–will allow or tolerate

Putin might believe many of the national leaders with whom he has been dealing so far, will unlikely keep their jobs given what is likely perceived to be the constantly shifting direction of political winds and the fickle nature of the electorate of Western countries. Remaining the flavor de jure amongst fellow parliamentarians and the electorate is becoming more and more difficult for Western leaders to do. Putin may believe that as time marches on, those remaining in office will surely have greater, more pressing domestic issues to be seen working hard on. Conditions on the ground and terms for a diplomatic solution in which Moscow would have confidence at the negotiating table will be determined by Russia alone. Presumably for now, that is how Moscow most likely views the situation. Through Putin’s lens, the actions of Western leaders, in coming to him, might be best described, in the form of a metaphor, in the chorus of Charles Aznavour’s 1962 pop music hit, Les Comédiens”,: Viens voir les comédiens / Voir les musiciens / Voir les magiciens / Qui arrivent. (Come and see the actors, / See the musicians, / See the magicians, / Who are arriving.)

Nam neque quies gentium sine armis, neque arma sine stipendiis, neque stipendia sine tributis haberi queunt (For the quiet of nations cannot be maintained without arms, nor can arms be maintained without pay, nor pay without taxation.) Whether, the Europeans might be willing to stay the course on Ukraine, Putin might say it remains to be seen. As things begin to settle from the original smash of the war’s opening, the state of the global economy will become clearer, and the Europeans, among many other political factors, may not have the desire to remain so giving if they fail to see any progress by the Ukrainian allies on the ground as they had initially. Supporting Ukraine is one thing. Subordinating ones own country’s superior interests for those of Ukraine is another. On this point, perhaps Putin’s thoughts might be best metaphorically addressed by the final verse to the aforementioned Les Comédiens” sung by Aznavour.  He sings: Les comédiens ont démonté leurs tréteaux / Ils ont ôté leur estrade / Et plié les calicots / Ils laisseront au fond du cœur de chacun / Un peu de la sérénade / Et du bonheur d’Arlequin / Demain matin quand le soleil va se lever / Ils seront loin, et nous croirons avoir rêvé / Mais pour l’instant ils traversent dans la nuit / D’autres villages endormis, les comédiens. (The actors disassembled their boards. / They removed their rostrum / And folded the calicos. / They have left in the bottom of the hearts / A little bit of serenade / And harlequin happiness. / Tomorrow morning, when the sun rises / They will be far away, and we will think it was all a dream. / But for now, the actors are travelling through the night / Across other sleepy villages.)

As for the US specifically, Putin conceivably began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move against Ukraine. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. The nature of his interactions was discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s February 4, 2022 post entitled, “Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine”.

However, what Putin is hearing now from Washington, though far from unnerving him, has unlikely provided him with any comfort. In the same aforementioned May 31, 2022 New York Times commentary, Biden explained that the US does not seek a war between NATO and Russia, will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow. will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending US troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces, so long as the US or its allies are not attacked, He added: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.” He also stated: “The United States will continue to work to strengthen Ukraine and support its efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the conflict.” Having rallied to Ukraine’s side with unprecedented military, humanitarian and financial support, Biden explained: “We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression. Biden further explained: “Every negotiation reflects the facts on the ground. We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.”

As it would be as true for Russian forces, it would be true for Ukrainian forces that well-planned offensive action by them will determine whether a favorable position for Ukraine can be established. The military principle of offense prescribes that maintaining the initiative is the most effective and decisive way to dominate the battlefield. On the offensive, there must be an emphasis on the commander’s skilled combination of the elements of maneuver, firepower, protection, and intelligent leadership in a sound operational plan. The initiative must be retained. Moving forward, firepower, the allies’ greatest strength, must be used to its maximum advantage. Firepower can serve maneuver by creating openings in enemy defenses, but also destroy an enemy’s vital cohesion, his ability to fight, and effectively act. Indeed, one of the most important targets is the enemy’s mind. The allies should engage in actions that will sway moves by Russian forces to enhance the opportunities to destroy them.

To that extent, Biden stated: “That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine. Further explaining plans for assisting Ukraine militarily, Biden said: “We will continue cooperating with our allies and partners on Russian sanctions, the toughest ever imposed on a major economy. We will continue providing Ukraine with advanced weaponry, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger antiaircraft missiles, powerful artillery and precision rocket systems, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters and ammunition. 

Deep strike assets could be provided to Ukraine in order to allow its ground forces to rapidly put direct and indirect fires on Russian armor and mechanized forces inside Russia at their lines of departure, assembly areas, and follow-on units in marshaling yards, and even transport hubs as soon as Russian forces cross the border. They could target equipment and facilities. However, Putin’s commanders have will some say on their impact on the battlefield, especially if Russian forces could begin to move faster to capture territory and bring into Ukraine  systems to defeat any new weapons the US might provide. At Talavera during the Peninsular War (1809) of the Napoleonic Wars, Chestnut Troop Royal Horse Artillery attached to Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Brigade, which also included the elements of the 43rd Light Infantry, the 52nd Light Infantry and the 95th Rifles. The brigade remarkably traveled 40 miles in 26 hours, crossing mountain and river, to join the camp of then Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). Despite their outstanding feat of discipline and endurance, the guns of Chestnut Troop were unable to reach Talavera for the battle. However, even though they had just arrived, the entire Light Brigade had to march for another fifteen hours to secure the Almaraz Bridge, before French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces could take it, thereby keeping open communications with Lisbon. US assistance in the form of firepower will certainly improve Ukrainian forces still on the defensive, help them hold on to territory tenaciously, but there is no guarantee such assistance will arrive in time in sufficient quantities to be decisive in ejecting Russian forces from Ukraine.

With regard to Biden’s statements on military assistance overall, the indications and implications of that to Putin would doubtlessly be that the US seeks to establish Ukraine and as well-armed military power on Russia’s borders. For Putin that will never be acceptable. He will work with an untrimmed fervor to prevent that even if it means the unthinkable, the use of nuclear weapons. That is a hard saying.

Putin (right) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) in Paris on December 9, 2019. Putin and Zelensky had contact on only one occasion in Paris during a multilateral meeting on December 9, 2019 with French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The four leaders discussed what was at that time a six year fight in the Donbas between the Ukrainian government and ethnic-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts directly supported by Russia. One might wonder if there was anything so singular about their encounter then that may have led Putin to believe Ukraine could be his for the taking militarily.

What Putin Might Have To Say on the “Zelensky Factor”

As the story goes, Samuel Bernstein, the father of Leonard Bernstein who was among the most important conductors of his time. He was also the first conductor from the US to receive international acclaim. Samuel Bernstein actively discouraged his son from pursuing music. He wanted his son to inherit the hair and beauty supply business he had created. However, Leonard Bernstein became a professional musician. A few months following his famous Carnegie Hall last-minute debut on November 14, 1943, which made him famous overnight, a journalist asked Samuel Bernstein if it was true that he had refused to pay for his son’s piano lessons. Sam famously replied: “Well, how was I supposed to know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein?” No one knew Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would turn out to be Volodymyr Zelensky when the comedian and actor took office in May 2019. One might suggest that as an experienced stage artist, performing under pressure in center stage, reaching his audience, capturing their attention, is his metier. Nonetheless, he is burning more refulgently than any could have expected, and to a degree,, displaying the qualities often ascribed to great leaders. Aux innocents les mains pleines.

Indeed, likely due to the conviviality he displayed prior to the Russian invasion, Western officials were apparently caught surprised by the fact that Zelensky would be such a lion of a man, stalwart of the Ukrainian cause, and a force to be reckoned with during the actual invasion. To say the least, Western government officials and news media commentators alike would viewed Zelensky as having galvanized the Ukrainian people to resist Russia’s effort to swallow up their country. Zelensky also impressed with his entreaties to the world to come to the aid of his fellow countrymen in the best ways that they could. One might safely assume that his efforts influenced how countries with the wherewithal to respond to the Ukraine in its time of need, worked with him, and rapidly developed and implemented plans to provide considerable support for his country. Indeed, such positive perceptions of Zelensky, his impact, that brought aid groups, humanitarian volunteers, foreign fighters, helpful weapons, and financial support to Ukraine. Although Zelensky, spelled a variety of ways in the international newsmedia, is his name, it is one that to people around the world now know singularly refers to the resilient leader of Ukraine. To that extent, it has become a mononym similar to but not as familiar as Beyoncé or Adele

What Putin thinks of Zelensky is important just for the fact that it surely has some part in the development of his aims and objectives. Surely,at least in part that opinion shaped his concept and intent for the Ukraine campaign. Certainly understanding how Putin feels about Zelensky would determine how a negotiated peace would reached. Rather than have the two presidents talk one-on-one, as with their previous meeting in 2019, a multiparty approach, with presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors, could be utilized. Stepping out on shaky ground, greatcharlie hypothesizes on how Putin may view Zelensky and what has been dubbed the Zelensky factor. The thoughts of Putin suggested here are constructed in the abstract. There is no acid test for what is theorized. One can only wait to hear what Putin says and see how Putin acts. At the same time, each suggestion should prove to be more than something akin to the top five ideas of a brainstorming session. Each has the quality of being most likely. 

None of what is presented should be taken too much to heart by the Ukrainian government and its supporters. Lest we forget an apposite quote, used by greatcharlie previously, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay, “The Crack-Up”, published in the ”February 1936 edition of Esquire magazine: “Before I go on with this short history let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.”

Putin and Zelensky are oil and water as leaders of adversarial countries at war, but also oil and water intrinsically as people. Given what is understood about Putin’s thinking, his assessment of this novice adversary would hardly charitable. The world heard a bit of that view in Putin’s February 24, 2022 address on the special military operation when he stated the following: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers. Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people. I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders.” 

It  could not be said that Putin has a penchant for the abstruse. There were many lurid suggestions about Zelensky, with emphasis on his life-style, circulating long before the invasion that likely undecertainlyrlied Putin’s somewhat Delphic remarks with regard to how “the junta” was “humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin may be many things but he is not an anti-Semite. However, at the risk of casting aspersions upon Putin with regard his possible attempt to exploit intolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine, it may be fitting to note that upon taking office,  Zelenskiy promoted a tolerant culture, saying he stands for all people’s equality and freedom. A month after taking office, LGBTQ÷ Community in Ukraine celebrated “Pride Month” on Sunday, June 23, 2022 with a march in Kyiv. That celebration was unlikely widely approved of in Ukraine. According to a survey published six month beforehand by the independent think-tank Democratic Initiatives in which 1,998 people were interviewed, almost 47 percent of Ukrainians think that rights of sexual minorities should be limited while 37.5 percent are against restrictions, and 15.6 percent do not have an opinion. Perhaps Putin had information, maybe simply FSB 5th department pokery-jiggery, that attitudes had not softened or Ukrainians actually had become more intolerant over the last three years.

Interestingly, it was reported first in the Western newsmedia and later in more detail in Russia that much of what Putin was told about Zelensky and the government in Kyiv was the product of fabrications and falsehoods from some the Russian intelligence services, 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 Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. When asked to provide assessments on the situation there, it would appear some in those services sought to simply placate Putin, responding to his sentiments on Ukraine. In the reports of the FSB foreign intelligence department, the organization’s 5th department, there were allegedly many unproven torrid statements on the nature of Ukrainian society made concerning the destructive impact of the West on the culture, morality, spiritually, self-image of the people, ultranationalists, and the leadership in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian people’s willingness to stand fast against an invasion. Conceivably, the information provided in those reports on Zelensky was so satisfying to Putin that it managed to stick with him. 

Putin and Zelensky had contact on only one occasion on December 9, 2019 in Paris during a multilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The four leaders discussed what was at that time a six year fight in the Donbas between the Ukrainian government and ethnic-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts directly supported by Russia. One might wonder if there was anything so singular about their encounter then that may have led Putin to believe Ukraine could his for the taking militarily.

Zelensky (on screen) addresses the UN Security Council by video on April 5, 2022. Zelensky has become a bona fide superstar in the West, and as such, the main hope of his Western managers would likely be that his words grip audiences of the powerful and star-studded personalities in their respective societies. After gaining their support for the actions of their respective governments to assist Ukraine, those government would have an easier time convincing ordinary citizens their actions on the matter were all very necessary regardless of expense. Zelensky has moved from one high place to another, the US Congress, the United Kingdom Parliament, the French Parliament, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Bundestag along with other European national legislatures. He addressed the NATO Summit, the G7 Summit, the UN Security Council and even venues such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

Putin Likely Looked Upon Zelensky’s Recent Effort To Determine What Aid Ukraine Would Recieve with Some Fascination

From Putin’s lens, Zelensky has been allowed the chance by Western powers to be seated, at least temporarily, at their high tables to gain an even firmer handle on Zelensky’s fealty. Putin might say that Zelensky succumbed quickly to trappings of it all much as he would have expected of him. Putin knows the drill all too well as once the effort was made by the West to draw him into such a cabaret. As aforementioned, he was once the dernier cri and darling of Western powers. He at one time was entertained in similar ways as Zelensky by the West. That effort was ultimately unsuccessful.

Zelensky has become a bona fide superstar in the West, and as such, the main hope of his Western managers would likely be that his words grip audiences of the powerful and star-studded personalities in their respective societies. After gaining their support for the actions of their respective governments to assist Ukraine, those government would have an easier time convincing ordinary citizens their actions on the matter were all very necessary regardless of expense. Zelensky has moved from one high place to another, the US Congress, the United Kingdom Parliament, the French Parliament, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Bundestag along with other European national legislatures. He addressed the NATO Summit, the G7 Summit, the UN Security Council and even venues such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival. 

Doubtlessly from Putin’s lens, Zelensky behaved as if he had become a new member of the club of Western leaders, and was enjoying every minute of it. Of course, that is exactly how Western capitals want Zelensky to feel. Intriguingly from the start, Ukrainian political leaders oddly expressed an impression that something akin to what young people call a “ride or die” relationship exists between the West and their country. Yet, Putin would likely insist they have erred as the inexperienced would. He would surely suggest that enthusiasm over Zelensky’s popular appeal, interest in Ukraine’s fate, should not be mistaken for some newly established brotherhood between Ukraine and the West, especially now that Russia has made its interests and intentions absolutely clear. If the Russian forces can shape things in their favor, Putin likely believes that will take the shine off Zelensky and Kyiv significantly. Western support of Ukraine continue in considerable measure, but Zelensky, himself, might become quite passé; so Putin would surely predict and hope.

Putin might posit, cynically, that after Zelensky spoke to all of those grand audiences, more support was gained for the Ukrainian cause than might have been achieved without it all. Putin would insist that the West was the true engine behind everything the West had accomplished. He would perhaps say that Zelensky’s heightened image was an aspect of a Western directed, US led, political warfare campaign regarding Ukraine. A Russian intelligence doyen, Putin knows the routine. He doubtlessly could explain forensically exactly how that image by reviewing piles of newsworthy fabrications. some have been exclusives. Moscow has produced its fair share during the war. All in all, Putin would need to accept that if such a political warfare campaign, as he might allege, is being waged by the West, it has been very successful.

Putin could not have missed the fact that Zelensky, more than being just pleased, appeared a bit too confident and too comfortable interacting with Western capitals. There was something to that. When Western leaders deigned to ask him what Ukraine needed–they surely had their own assessments prepared by their respective military, intelligence, diplomatic, and international aid bureaucracies, Zelensky perhaps misconstrued respect and approbation for submissiveness. Recognizably not just to Putin but presumably to all involved at a certain point, Zelensky began behave somewhat spoiled. Most apparently, Zelensky moved a few octaves off the mark and began very publicly offering his “informed” suggestions on what the Western powers should be doing for him then making demands for a line of action to Washington. As part of an effort by officials in Kyiv to be as creative as possible when the war was in its initial stage, two novel ideas were birthed of establishing a no fly zone and obtaining Soviet era MiG-29 fighters from Poland for use by pilots trained to fly them. It is a relatively forgotten issue, but nonetheless very pertinent. The jets would not be excess articles, therefore, to restock the Polish arsenal, the US would provide F-16 fighters. Poland has suggested the re-training of Ukrainian pilots and absorption in their forces would be arranged in Germany. Zelensky’s behavior brings to mind the “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux” (“The Cantankerous Lover”) (1666), known popularly as The Misanthrope, one of his best-known dramas of 17th century French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In Act 1 Scene 1, Alceste a disgruntled older aristocrat speaking to his friend Philinte on authenticity, courtesies, and the good of adhering social norms, states: “Non, vous dis-je, on devrait châtier, sans pitié, / Ce commerce honteux de semblants d’amitié. / Je veux que l’on soit homme, et qu’en toute rencontre / Le fond de notre cœur dans nos discours se montre, / Que ce soit lui qui parle, et que nos sentiments / Ne se masquent jamais sous de vains compliments.” (No, I tell you. We ought mercilessly to punish that shameful interchange of hollow facilities. I like a man to be a man, and on all occasions to show depth.of his heart in his words. Let him speak openly and not hide his feelings beneath vain compliments.)

There are certain expectations in interactions, exchanges between countries. Convention requires a certain etiquette. courtesy, expression of respect when asserting ones opinions and beliefs and concerns and priorities. Whatever is discussed must be communicated with the aim of preserving and if possible enhancing the relationship. Zelensky has had learn about such by crash course. He did not have any experience equivalent to working alongside Western capitals at such a level, could hardly had little idea of what was appropriate or what things looked like from their lens or their intentions. Admittedly in the role of apologist in this case, greatcharlie suggests the former comedian and actor, being a novice in politics and on the world stage, had not been up in such rarified air long enough to understand a few important things. His advisers were unlikely much help in that regard. Zelensky could only respond as he knew how. He likely saw nothing but green lights everywhere. 

A tactless approach of a national leader, even of a novice, warrants reproach and rebuff. For Zelensky to believe that he was in any position to determine how other national governments should spend taxpayer dollars, pounds, and euros on Ukraine was daylight madness. Washington doubtlessly recognized that Zelensky has been given attention and has been both supported and admired. However, he should not have felt, as a result of thm respect and courtesies shown to him, entitled to dictate anything to Western governments. Surely, one might say the exigent circumstances that had beset his country made him desperate, even aggressive in his effort to garner as much assistance as possible from those he believed could help. Being 44-years-old at the time, Zelensky was still relatively young. Perhaps he had something to prove to himself or to the Ukrainian people. Interestingly enough, in Molière’s Misanthrope, in the same aforementioned act and scene, Philippe responded to Alceste’s remark by stating: “Il est bien des endroits où la pleine franchise / Deviendrait ridicule et serait peu permise; / Et parfois, n’en déplaise à votre austère honneur, / Il est bon de cacher ce qu’on a dans le cœur. / Serait-il à propos, et de la bienséance / De dire à mille gens tout ce que d’eux on pense? / Ét quand on a quelqu’un qu’on hait on qui déplait, / Lui doit-on déclarer la chose comme elle est?” (There are many circumstances in which plain speaking would become ridiculous, and could hardly be tolerated. And, with all due deference to your austere sense of honour, it is well sometimes to conceal our feelings. Would it be right or becoming to tell thousands of people what we think of them? And when there is somebody whom we hate or who displeased us, must we tell him openly that this is so?)

A couple of Polish Air Force Russian made MiG 29 fighter jets fly above and below two Polish Air Force US made F-16 fighter jets during the Air Show in Radom, Poland, on August 27, 2011 (above). As part of an effort by officials in Kyiv to be as creative as possible when the war was in its initial stage, two novel ideas were birthed of establishing a no fly zone and obtaining Soviet era MiG-29 fighters from Poland for use by pilots trained to fly them. It is a relatively forgotten issue, but nonetheless very pertinent. The jets would not be excess articles so to restock the Polish inventory, the US would provide F-16 fighters. Poland has suggested the re- training of Ukrainian pilots and absorption in their forces would be arranged in Germany. Surely, one might say the exigent circumstances that had beset his country made him desperate, even aggressive in his effort to garner as much assistance as possible from those he believed could help. Zelensky’s comments were not viewed as helpful in Washington.

Perhaps Putin considered Zelensky’s choice to approach the rich and powerful West in such a demanding way was impelled by something bubbling up from his subconscious. He likely Zelensky being what he always has been, a humorist, who by reflex, was making satire of the West and its wherewithal. Putin has a keen eye and taste for dry humor and crni humor. Zelensky may very well have given Putin cause to chuckle in the midst of all the bad that was happening on the ground in Ukraine for Russian forces. Putin probably imagined it all would eventually come to a head sooner than later.

Moreover, Putin perhaps viewed Zelensky’s behavior as being useful, distracting Western capitals, creating the primary narrative concerning Western support for Ukraine while he worked on getting Russian forces away from the horrid meat grinders in Kyiv and Kharkiv in redirected his forces in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Putin would likely go as far as to call Zelensky a convenient nuisance. As far as Putin was likely concerned, any attention and time placed on Zelensky’s behavior was time not spent increasing the strains they were trying to place on Russia. Zelensky, just as Putin, was willing to exploit any advantage he could find at that point. One aspect which is quite noticeable is that Zelensky seems to comfortably expect something for nothing as if it were the norm in this world. (Perchance Zelensky feels his country self-defense against Russia is the something in return for Western munificence.)

Washington surely was not amused at all by Zelensky’s no fly zone idea or his jet swap plan. Clearly, taking Zelensky’s proposed ideas would mean would only result in exchanging one bad situation for a worse one. Options such as Zelensky’s proposed no-fly zone and Polish MiG-29 transfer, supported by Warsaw, looked real, but they were nothing more than illusions. All illusions disintegrate when confronted by the light of reality. The possibility that US Air Force fighter jets might clash with Russia Federation fighters or bombers and invariably shoot down several of them put the whole matter out of court. Zelensky had to know the Biden administration has been emphatic about avoiding any violent exchanges between the US and Russia that could ignite a full-blown shooting war. It was unclear how the jets would enhance the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians already had MiG-29 fighters and others in its possession that were not being effectively utilized. It was unclear what would be the survivability of the MiG-29 over Russian controlled airspace and whether Ukrainian pilots would be able to contend with the Russians. Further any financial resources needed to bring such a plan into reality had already been earmarked for weapon systems that US military experts had determined would better suit Ukraine’s needs. Zelensky is receiving intelligence from the US and other Western powers. That intelligence has had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. It has lent confidence to decisionmaking in Kyiv. Still, Zelensky would never have all the facts, the big picture, to the extent western capitals do.

As experience, acumen, and the interests of the US dictated, Washington apparently moved fast to reign him in a bit via conversations with their respective countries senior officials and certain legislators. On April 24, 2022, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Zelensky in Kyiv. The trip by Blinken and Austin and Blinken was the highest-level US visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia invaded. In the meeting, Zelensky may have complained about feeling supervised as a president of a sovereign country. In response to such a likely perception and complaint, Austin and Blinken would surely make the greater point that the plans of the US must not be interfered with. Surely, they spoke without savaging him. An indication that Austin and Blinken likely set Zelensky straight was the fact that Zelensky did not engage in similar behavior concerning US assistance afterward. One can only imagine what might have come next from Zelensky if such a likely agreeable exchange might not have taken place.

The mood of Zelensky and his advisers during the visit by Austin and Blinken was doubtlessly uplifted when they were informed that the US would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition. Despite the stresses that may have placed on Ukraine’s relationships in the West, he was fortunate none his benefactors handed him his hat, or turned to very blatantly using military assistance and training as a locus of control. Likely given their heavy focus on Putin they did not give up on the partnership, if they ever would have–which was presumably a card Zelensky felt he held. The true focus of the West was Putin and gaining a firm handle on him and his behavior. Zelensky was, and still is, a means to that end.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (center), April 24, 2022, in Kyiv. The juxtaposition between Zelensky’s “Sonny Jim” visage and the smiling faces of Austin and Blinken is stark and seemingly speaks volumes about the nature of the interaction and his attitude toward meeting his very important guests. Washington surely was not amused at all by Zelensky’s no fly zone idea or his jet swap plan. Clearly, taking Zelensky’s proposed ideas would only result in exchanging one bad situation for a worse one. The possibility that US Air Force fighter jets might clash with Russia Federation fighters or bombers and invariably shoot down several of them put the whole matter out of court. Zelensky had to know the Biden administration has been emphatic about avoiding any violent exchanges between the US and Russia that could ignite a full-blown shooting war. It was unclear how the jets would enhance the defensive or offensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Putin’s Likely View of Zelensky’s “Popular Appeal” in Ukraine

While Western analysts, officials, and news media commentators express the view that Zelensky has rallied his people despite what Ukainians themselves at best might say, it has worked out okay for Ukraine, Putin might argue that he has not actually gained their admiration. Putin’s statement about Zelensky’s government in his February 24, 2022 address on the special military operation was aforementioned. Still, Putin would need to admit that many Ukrainians appreciate the tireless efforts of Zelensky in the face of what is an existential crisis for their country. He can still distinguish between fact and the fanciful. Yet, with all intention to slight the Ukrainian President, Putin would likely state, and imaginably with some asperity, that the people of Ukraine more so view themselves as masters of their own will, independent and girded by their own sense of patriotism, of course inculcated from preceding decades as a society nurtured under the Soviet system. That sense of patriotism was transferred when they were presented, in Putin’s view errantly, with idea that they were living sovereign country, that  Ukraine was a real country. Further, the essence of their will and the spirit behind their sense to remain and defend what they were told was their country does not reside in one man. Such ideas about Ukraine being a country were repeatedly outlined by Putin well-before the February 24, 2022 address. C’est une idée bizarre, un peu folle.

Putin would possibly note somewhat accurately on this occasion tha in contemporary times, it is more difficult through news media reporting to distinguish popular leadership from celebrity and novel amusement. While Zelensky continues to say the right things–there creative suggestions–and is trying to do the right things for the Ukrainian people, the Russian Federation likely feels only time will tell whether he will take a place among the pantheon of great national leaders. Putin is aware that many men and women similar to Zelensky have fallen short and have already been forgotten.

Breaking Zelensky Down

From what is known publicly, it would not be accurate or appropriate to suggest Zelensky in any way at all has come round the twist. Nevertheless, Putin may be wondering what will be the breaking point for Zelensky. He has likely calculated from observing and intelligence reports ordered prepared by the SVR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, how much can the former actor stand and how long can he do his job before succumbing to chronic stress, the pressures and loneliness of leadership, how long he can he live with all that has transpired and the horrors he has witnessed, and how is he coping with the reality that his name is inextricably attached to every order that has resulted in lives being lost in the tens of thousands on both sides. When Zelensky sneezes, the SVR likely counts the decibels. A number of newsmedia outlets have pondered this issue, too, making comparisons between Zelensky and US President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. 

Though Putin is aware that the prosecution of the war is Zelensky’s priority, there remain countless political, economic, social, and other concerns on the domestic front that require his attention. Many of those concerns may pre-date the war and even transcend it but nevertheless are being impacted by it. Western advice and assistance has doubtlessly helped but it all has a cumulative effect on Zelensky who is harnessed in the seat of the presidency. Putin would certainly know about the many challenging aspects of national leadership as such has been his patch for the most part of two decades. Putin also knows tired presidents can make big mistakes. He might imagine one of Zelensky’s acolytes from the more aggressive security bureaucracies could find advantage in that at some point. An over-wound watch requires repair and Putin may suspect that the West has not been tending to Zelensky with diligence as the focus is on other priorities. Putin perhaps would like to know what he could do to bring him over the line. Maybe he has already been working hard on that front furtively

Despite all of the deficiencies he may very likely detect in Zelensky that make him something in his eyes far less than a force to be reckoned with, Putin would likely admit that it would be better if someone with less of a stage presence ascended to the top in Kyiv. Surely, if Zelensky left the helm in Kyiv, Putin would believe a big hitch would be put in the plans of the West. It was widely reported at one point that Putin sought to have him called to higher service. Perhaps he is still trying, but if so, he must have his people moving at deliberate speed. Ukrainian security services have surely sussing out the tiniest of rumors of a threat. Woe betide those in Ukraine who make a habit of telling the wrong sort of jokes or just uttering negative things about Zelensky. On this matter, there may be some pertinence in Falstaff’s utterance near death in Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play The First Part of Henry the Fourth: “Company, villanous company, hath been the spoil of me.” All of that being said, Putin’s threat to Zelensky’s well-being is a point upon which greatcharlie has no desire to enlarge. Its fervent hope is that this suggestion above all others is unlikely and no plan of the kind outlined is in play. Overall, if what is suggested here about Putin’s larger view of Zelensky proves to be true, one-on-one peace talks between the two leaders would be out of the question. At a minimum, It might be best to include a third party, a leader representing countries able to lend the type of support that could gird an agreement.

Zelensky’s expression (above) is not one of an actor using his talent harnessed by technique. It is the expression of a man managing torment, anguish, fatigue and chronic stress, pushing himself to the utter limit. Though Putin is aware that the prosecution of the war is Zelensky’s priority, there remain countless political, economic, social, and other concerns on the domestic front that require his attention. Many of those concerns may pre-date the war and even transcend it but nevertheless are being impacted by it. Western advice and assistance has doubtlessly helped but it all has a cumulative effect on Zelensky who is harnessed in the seat of the ppresidency. Putin would certainly know about the many challenging aspects of national leadership as such has been his patch for the most part of two decades. An over-wound watch requires repair and Putin may suspect that the West has not been tending to Zelensky with diligence as the focus is on other priorities. Putin perhaps would like to know what he could do to bring him over the line. Maybe he has already been working hard on that front furtively.

The Way Forward

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, political leaders and officials in not one Western capital believe that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will reach out to the West, humble and conciliatory, and seek terms for a full, unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine. Indeed, as a result of defeat, there would not be some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct. As any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very, very unlikely, it becomes more difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. This is not a situation that lends itself to the attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), which was the attitude of the the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army in 1870 which failed to discern and act upon signals that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. 

In Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell: A Lifelong Fight for Peace, Justice, and Truth in Letters to the Editor (Open Court Publishing, 2002), there is passage by Bertrand Russell that explains: “And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride.” Rebuffing the reality that their time on Earth is inconstant, they seek in conceit to shape it with a view to not just leaving their mark but to transforming the world so its will conform with their idea of what is best. As is the pattern, they would declare that they are using national values and interests as a yardstick. The degree and manner in which those respective national values and interests are applied is dependent on the nature of the officials involved in the drama. In a few years or less, their “high-minded” notions, as they generally appear in contemporary timeshare, are now and then rebuked by the reality of the impermanence of actions taken by them. Their deeds often fail the test of time. They may even hold success for a little moment, but fail ultimately to really change the course of anything as successfully as fate does. After they move on from their high offices, the ascent to which they skillfully navigated over a number of years, more often than not their names are forgotten or rarely spoken anywhere except in seminars and colloquiums at universities and respective family gatherings of their antecedents. It should be enough to do the right thing and appreciate the collateral effects of that. 

Still in all, these aforementioned decisionmakers are indeed only human, and must not be judged by idealistic or super-human standards. Admittedly, harshly judging the competencies of those in the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies is the old hobbyhorse of those watching from the outside. Whether this essay for some inside will cause a journey from a lack of clarity or curiosity to knowledge remains to be seen. Harkening back one last time to Molière’s Misanthrope, he writes pertinent to this matter in Act V, scene i: “Si de probité tout était revêtu, / Si tous les cœurs était francs, justes et dociles, / La plupart des vertus nous seraient inutiles, / Puisqu’on en met l’usage à pouvoir sans ennui / Supporter dans nos droits l’injustice d’autrui.” (If everyone were clothed with integrity, / If every heart were just, frank, kindly, / The other virtues would be well-nigh useless, / Since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience / The injustice of our fellows.) Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

China’s Operation Fox Hunt: Facts and Theories on How Missions Succeed and Flaws and Delinquencies Ripe for Exploitation (Part 2)

People’s Republic of China Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (above) Although the citizens sought by China are located overseas, identification and repatriation would be a task intrinsic to the mission of MPS. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records, and tracking down and identifying Chinese citizens is a honed and polished practice of its officers. For that reason, MPS may very well be pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities more often than may be presently conceived in the US and among its allies and partners. That same information about Chinese citizens is certainly of great interest to the Communist Party of China and in its hands via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that its present raison d’être and primary responsibility is to help the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

This post should be considered a continuation of the preceding one

(Brief Overview of the Essay: A bungled Operation Fox Hunt mission in New Jersey that began in 2016 has allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. From the New Jersey case, a few insights are drawn by greatcharlie on this particular case of Operation Fox Hunt that may provide a better understanding on what Chinese operatives are doing via the operation and how they are doing what they are doing. With the color and life of the investigative reports greatcharlie found most informative aggregated with the facts laid out plainly in the federal court document, a somewhat definitive account of the event can be constructed. By highlighting flaws in the development, planning, and execution based on available facts of that case, greatcharlie seeks to provide insight on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future Chinese identification and repatriation activities under Operation Fox Hunt or under some new operation launched by Beijing.)

Before boarding his April 12, 2017 flight to Shanghai, Zhu Feng was interviewed by US border and law enforcement officials. During the interview, Zhu identified a photograph of the defendant Tu. Zhu stated that she was a friend of his uncle and he had been Tu’s “tour guide” while she was in the US, that he did not know anything about her job other than that she traveled frequently, and that she did not ask him to do anything in particular on the flight back to China. Searching Zhu’s luggage, US border officials  discovered night vision goggles and associated accessories. When questioned about the equipment, Zhu said that the goggles belonged to Tu, and he was bringing them back to China for her. 

Opprobrium from the Communist Party of China or Observations?

One might presume law enforcement organizations federal state and municipal around the US may take issue with this statement as it feels too  near the bone, but it would seem the powers that be in Beijing assessed that investigators of those organizations often display varied levels of diligence, are often inattentive when visiting site, are rarely thorough and at time outrightly remiss when interviewing individuals of interest, display their insecurities in conversation, prone to bullying their own citizens without any professional cause, and are unprofessional often in dealing with recruited operatives, informants, and other contacts.

Shortly before boarding the flight to Shanghai on April 12, 2017, Zhu was interviewed by US border and law enforcement officials. During the interview, Zhu identified Tu in a photograph he was shown. Zhu falsely stated that she was a friend of his uncle and he had been Tu’s “tour guide” while she was in the US, that he did not know anything about her job other than that she traveled frequently, and that she did not ask him to do anything in particular on the flight back to China. A search of Zhu’s luggage by US border officials led to the discovery of night vision goggles–a device used for surveillance at night or in low-light conditions–and associated accessories. When questioned about the equipment, Zhu stated that the goggles belonged to Tu, and he was bringing them back to China for her. Tu had already departed and could not by reached by US authorities. However, more pertinent was the fact that Tu was a government official and too important to be captured. Zhu, though heavily rely upon on the mission, was expendable. It would not matter as much for him to be captured with the night vision goggles.

Following the border interview, the Zhu told Co-conspirator #2 to destroy any potential evidence: “Delete all of our chat record after reading this [message]. There are some problems. Someone in the US will be looking for you.” Zhu added: “The sooner the better”; “Delete all the chat record. Delete [a measuring application]. You are just a tour guide.”; and “Be careful of everything. If there is anything, use other phones to call. Your cell phone may be tracked.” Tu instructed Zhu on how to handle Xu’s father’s return to China before Zhu boarded his flight with Xu’s father. Tu, who attributed the instructions to Chinese Official #1, told Zhu to speak to Xu’s father about his travel posing as “staff of a travel agency.” Tu added warnings that Zhu should maintain secrecy and operational security, and should not use his own phone number to make any phone calls associated with Xu’s father. In the same series of messages, Tu instructed Zhu to hand Xu’s father to Li in Shanghai. However, during the flight, Zhu was unable to engage Xu’s father and reported that to Tu. As written in the federal court document, Zhu explained: “[John Doe #1’s] [Xu’s] father is very hostile to me and he was convinced that I was one of your young people and asked me again and again how I knew his location and travel plan and he talked to flight attendants repeatedly.” Zhu informed that the flight attendants in response to Xu’s father, forbade him from speaking with the elderly man. Zhu stated that Xu’s father expressed concern that “there is an informant on this flight.” Tu responded by instructing Zhu that he did not “need to take care of Xu’s father” and that he should “delete all the chat content” and to “leave by yourself.”

Michael McMahon, the team’s US-based private investigator, did not receive any warnings from anyone. The detective kept his emails and texts from the case which prove that. McMahon was also not made aware that Xu’s family had contacted the FBI. Still, the FBI saw clear evidence of McMahon’s alleged role in the conspiracy. Reportedly, McMahon emailed a newspaper article to himself on April 6, 2020 the day before Tu flew back to China, with the headline “Interpol Launches Global Dragnet for 100 Chinese Fugitives.” The article had photos of Xu and Liu and information about the Chinese government’s fugitive-apprehension programs. An FBI agent wrote in the criminal complaint: “Accordingly, I believe that McMahon was aware that” the couple “were Operation Fox Hunt targets,” 

As the federal court document indicates, when they believed there would be some benefit, Chinese operatives, with government authorization, have hired private investigators, some non-ethnic Chinese investigators as Michael McMahon, to assist in their effort. Ostensibly the work identification and repatriation teams would ask those investigators to do for them would be requested without informing those investigators of the true nature of the work. There was nothing on the surface so remarkably abnormal or abstruse about the Chinese investigators’ requests to alert McMahon. The Operation Fox Hunt mission planners surely designed the approach to any US private investigator to appear that way. One might suppose that because there was nothing odd, McMahon, despite becoming involved in a case tied to China, was never compelled to ask incisive questions about the purpose of the work he was contracted to do. Six FBI agents and two police officers arrested McMahon at his home in northern New Jersey at 6:00AM on October 28, 2019.

Private Investigators from the US

As the federal document indicates, when they believed there would be some benefit, Chinese operatives, with government authorization, have hired non-ethnic Chinese investigators to assist in their effort. Ostensibly the work identification and repatriation teams would ask those investigators to do for them ” nature of the work. Surely, Hu and other team leaders likely believed the private investigators would try their hardest to avoid disappointing their client as it was presumed they want to receive similar contracts of its kind from “Chinese companies” in the future.

While there appeared to be on each occasion–two well-discussed ones concerning this team–a more than sufficient amount of time and opportunity to make secure choices among private investigators available in the vicinities in which the identification and repatriation teams were operating, the selection, nevertheless, was rushed through. Diligence shown in other aspects of team, was non-existent on this point

Thereby, the private investigator, McMahon, was compromised by the fact that his Chinese client did not tell him everything or that his venal interests overcame requisite precaution when dealing with a foreign client who is a citizen or even merely closely associated with a country that is an adversary. Interestingly, his attorney alleges that he was only paid $5,017.98 for the many challenging tasks that he performed.

Truly, there is nothing on the surface so remarkably abnormal or abstruse about the Chinese investigators’ requests that greatcharlie can highlight. The Operation Fox Hunt mission planners surely designed the approach to any US private investigator to appear that way. One might suppose that because there was nothing odd, McMahon, despite becoming involved in a case tied to China, was never compelled to ask incisive questions about the purpose of the work he was contracted to do. What the Chinese may have believed in establishing this step was that the private investigators primary interest would be venal. However, the apparent failure to conduct a thorough background check of the private investigator, to include discovering his political and patriotic leanings, and the likely lack of due diligence in ensuring a private investigator in California would be motivated by payment and not just presume it was so, resulted in Hu’s team almost falling into a trap set by US counterintelligence officers and law enforcement. Hu and his identification and repatriation team were remiss with a key detail, which left a gaping hole in their security scheme, and nearly resulted in the capture of everyone involved. As it is, a number of the team’s members have been identified and indicted in federal court. Until that point, the identification and repatriation team had not been challenged in any way that halted or deterred their activities. Theirs had been la performance majuscule.

Michael McMahon and his wife (above). As the federal document indicates, when they believed there would be some benefit, Operation Fox Hunt team leaders, with government authorization, have hired private investigators, some non-ethnic Chinese as McMahon, to assist with their effort. Ostensibly the work identification and repatriation teams would ask those investigators to do for them would be requested without informing those investigators of the true nature of the work. There was nothing on the surface so remarkably abnormal or abstruse about the Chinese investigators’ requests. One might suppose that because there was nothing odd, McMahon, despite becoming involved in a case tied to China, was never compelled to ask incisive questions about the purpose of the work he was contracted to do. Interestingly, before setting up surveillance on a house in New Jersey. McMahon took the precaution of alerting local police to the surveillance presumably to prevent any misunderstandings if detected or reported by passers-by. At that point, McMahon demonstrated the willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Thereby, ample opportunity existed  for US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to enlist his assistance as an informant or operative. For reasons unknown, the opportunity was passed up.

The Noticeable Absence of the Theorized Countersurveillance 

One might say some empiric evidence of a likely withdrawal of support of greatcharlie’s theorized Chinese intelligence covert countersurveillance team ostensibly provided to Hu’s identification and repatriation team. The most obvious evidence is the fact that some team members were captured. It is unlikely that would have transpired so hurriedly if the theorized countersurveillance team had continued to provide overwatch for them. There would most likely be protocols in place concerning the activities the theorized countersurveillance support team during exigent circumstances. If an identification and repatriation team, or some other non intelligence related service operating in the US, has erred and misstepped or stumbled into situation that might result in its detection or capture, the countersurveillance team as a result of operating in its vicinity, would also face the prospect of being detected and captured. Thus, the countersurveillance team as a protocol would perhaps be authorized to immediately disengage and clear out. One might expect it to even terminate its support of the team in operation.

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” Maybe that is relevant here. Approximately seven months after departing the US, Zhu returned from China. Hu had warned Zhu to remain in China after he flew back with Xu’s father, but he did so nevertheless. Once on ground, on November 9, 2017 and November 10, 2017, Zhu participated in two voluntary interviews with FBI special agents. During the interviews, Zhu admitted to his involvement in the scheme to forcibly repatriate Xu to China. Zhu admitted that he was brought into the conspiracy by Hu, that in September 2016, he was tasked by Hu with several activities related to the planning and execution of the attempted repatriation of Xu, that on or around December 2016, Zhu met with Hu, PRC Official-1 and Tu to discuss the scheme, and in April 2017, Zhu traveled to the US with Tu and participated in the effort to coerce Xu’s return to China. Intriguingly, the FBI special agents let Zhu go following the two interviews. Not even an otiose explanation has been offered for that decision. Zhu returned to China the next year.

Breakaway Identification and Repatriation Team Member

The centrality of the Operation Fox Hunt story is the Communist Party of China and its willingness to brazenly violate international law, with the goal of maintaining its iron grip on its citizens. What also emerges, though, is a picture of a country of citizens, some of whom are loyal to it and their conviction that the path it has placed China will lead to great success and in the preeminent position in the world and conversely, those who loathe their government and see nothing good coming out of being led by the Communist Party of China. That was the apparent mix of thinking found among identification and repatriation team members.

Perhaps there was never a time when Zhu did not loathe the regime, much as the larger part of émigrés he assisted in pursuing. On the days he was interviewed by the FBI, he seemed suddenly struck by his true feelings about living under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party of China, and he chose to spill the beans to the FBI special agents on Operation Fox Hunt. (Admittedly, despite all that discussed here, the thought comes to mind that Hu and managers may have decided to use Zhu as a dangle, hoping US counterintelligence might recruit him to become something akin to a counterespionage agent inside Operation Fox Hunt. However, Operation Fox Hunt has had considerable success despite the New Jersey fiasco. To be frank, it may be the case that Operation Fox Hunt managers feel an effort specifically by MPS to penetrate a US counterintelligence service would not be worth the candle.)

FBI Interview of Key Identification and Repatriation Team Member

Interviews will always be the best way to get to understand an identification and repatriation team member. As was seen with the Fox Hunt caper, not every team member may be fully onboard with the operation and many other things. This perhaps may sound oversimplified, but what must be included in interviews of team members are casual yet personal questions. Among those on the list should be the following: “Have you had a chance to enjoy yourself while you have been in the US?” “Did you really come here at your own free will or have you been sent here and told to obey orders?”; “How are your relatives doing in China?; “Has a family member of yours been threatened with imprisonment or been imprisoned wrongfully?”; and eventually, “Would you ever consider staying in the US? It is critical to display real interest in mending what may be an individual’s broken soul. He or she may not take it, but they should be offered a chance at a better life. An explanation of how it would be made possible should be laid out.

Even if they considered making the jump to the other side, the more astute and mature team members would know the degree of China’s penetration into US national security bureaucracies, if any, and would hesitate and withdraw, feeling the move would not be safe for them on one hand and safe for their families on the other. It would seem best to limit effort placed on those team members who wholly reject anything positive discussed. Praise at unexpected points will keep him or her parsing out the interview. It may lead them to believe that they have a card to play in the future if need be. Try to open that door and wedge it open in the identification and repatriation team member’s mind.

Zheng Congying, hired muscle for the New Jersey mission (above). The identification and repatriation team leader Hu Ji gave Zhu Feng the task of overseeing operatives he had hired in the Chinese community in New York. Among them was Zheng Congying, the 25 year old Chinese citizen and a legal permanent resident of the US, resided in Brooklyn, New York. On September 4, 2018, Zheng and an Anonymous defendant in the federal court case,  drove to the New Jersey residence of Xu and Liu and pounded on the front door. Zheng and Anonymous tried to force open the door to the residence, before accessing the backyard, entering a raised outdoor deck and peering into the windows of the residence. After these efforts, Zheng and Anonymous left a handwritten note taped to the front door of the residence. Surveillance video and fingerprints led investigators to Zheng.

Harassment of the Daughter of Xu and Liu

Only weeks following the failed New Jersey scheme, Hu took a more aggressive approach. The Operation Fox Hunt campaign against Xu turned toward coordinated operations targeting his adult daughter living in northern California dubbed Jane Doe #2 in the federal court document. Indeed, the campaign reportedly next included: a surveillance operation conducted against Xu’s daughter from approximately May 2017 to July 2017, and, an online harassment campaign against her from approximately April 2018 to July 2018 related to the allegations levied by China against Xu. The operations against Xu’s daughter began shortly after the conclusion of April 2017 failed attempt to render Xu, himself. Xu’s daughter had arrived in the US as a child, studying at a private boarding school years before her parents fled China. She had earned an advanced degree at Stanford, had gotten married and made a life for herself far from her parents and their problems with the Chinese courts.

Around May 2017, Zhai Yongqiang directed an an individual based in the US, dubbed Co-conspirator #3 by the US prosecutor, to hire a private investigator to locate Xu’s daughter. Zhai provided Co-conspirator #3 with personal identification information belonging to Xu’s daughter, including her name, date of birth, Social Security Number, known addresses and academic history. According to the federal court document, Zhai told Co-conspirator #3 that if he were to locate Xu’s daughter, Zhai, himself, would receive a fee from a department in the People’s Republic of China’s prosecutor’s office. Zhai Yongqiang promised to split the fee with Co-conspirator #3.

It would appear that Conspirator #3 was actually Rong Jing, Hu’s point man in California. In May 2017, as instructed by Zhai, Rong hired a private investigator to stalk Xu’s daughter. Unfortunately for Rong, the privaye investigator was a confidential informant for the FBI. US officials did not disclose if or how they maneuvered the informant into place. However, after starting an investigation in New Jersey in early April, FBI special agents had been mapping the travel and contacts of the Fox Hunt team. For instance, according to interviews and court records, the FBI became aware that Hu had spent time in California. With a man inside Hu’s operation, the next step for the FBI was to try accomplish as much as possible with him. Negligentia semper habet infortuniam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.)

On May 22, Rong met for four hours with the private investigator-informant at a restaurant in Los Angeles. In a recorded conversation, Rong offered the private  detective $4,000 to investigate and videotape the daughter. If the team succeeded with the repatriation, he and the detective could split any reward money, Rong stated. Rong said the managers in Wuhan had not told him “what to do with” the daughter. It was possible they could ask him “to catch” her, he told the private detective. He explained that they might have to act as proxies for Chinese officers who “wouldn’t feel comfortable to arrest her” in the US. Rong went further to say that if there are “things they wouldn’t feel comfortable to do,” he continued, “we need to be there on their behalf.”

Rong asked whether the detective had a problem with removing someone from the country. “Say, if he wants us to bring him/her over, can you bring him/her over? Would this bring about any legal issues?” Step one for the private detective was to shoot video of Xu’s daughter. The next step would be to contact Xu and Liu and persuade them to return to China, Rong said. For the next few weeks, the private investigator went through the motions of shadowing the daughter, while actually being supervised by the FBI.

Reporting to Rong on July 14, 2018, the private detective discussed photos he had provided of the daughter and her home. Then he asked: “You don’t think they’ll do any harm to her, do you?” Rong’s reply was not reassuring. He said,, if the private detective got in trouble, they would both be in trouble, “If there was an accident,” he said, “in truth you [could claim that you] were just … investigating her.” At other moments, Rong sounded less menacing. She was “simply a daughter,” he said, emphasizing that the parents were the main targets.

A Hiring Pattern/Modus Operandi?

Hiring private investigators in the US was the closest anything the identification and repatriation teams did that resembled improvised and haphazard work. The choice to succumb to expediency errantly is often the point at which many plans fail  in all fields, and in the case of espionage and other crimes, it is the act from which investigators can often catch a big break in a case.

Much as with the first private investigator in the US hired, Hu, the lead investigator wanted to establish an operational relationship with the one hired in California, dubbed by US prosecutors as P1 (Private Investigator 1). As far as one knows, hiring that second investigator felt right to him. There was apparently no reason for the lead investigator to question the private investigator’s intentions. Imaginably, the team’s lead investigator presumed his interest, first and foremost, was venal. Oddly enough, his word was presumed to be inviolate. Hu was also quite satisfied with that private investigator’s work, as was Tu. Whatever criteria caused them to tick the boxes that established confidence in the US private investigators may unlikely be the standard ever again. Yet, a trace as to whom the identification and repatriation teams may still prefer to hire might be found in any similarities in the private investigators’ backgrounds.

A Rare Glimpse Inside Operation Fox Hunt via a Braggart

Recordings of conversations that the private detective made with Rong provided a rare look inside Operation Fox Hunt. Imaginably, for the FBI, collecting those recordings was an accomplishment. As purported by Rong, he performed freelance missions under Operation Fox Hunt exclusively for Wuhan, receiving a fee for each repatriation. Rong spoke of teams of visiting “lobbyists.” He noted that they were salaried “civil servants” of the Chinese government who traveled on work visas under multiple identities. Their task was “persuading people” to return to China. In addition to being the target of surveillance efforts, Xu’s daughter was harassed via online communications from another conspirator, dubbed “Co-conspirator #4” by a US prosecutor, between April 2018 and July 2018, Co-conspirator #4 sent unsolicited and derogatory messages to Xu and Liu about their daughter. Similar messages were sent to Facebook “friends” of Xu’s daughter, as well as to Facebook friends of the spouse of Xu’s daughter.

On September 4, 2018, Zheng Congying and another unidentified co-conspirator allegedly taped a handwritten note in Chinese (above) on the front door of the home of Xu Jin and Liu Feng. The note read: ‘If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!’

Harassment of Xu Jin and Liu Feng at Their New Jersey Home

In September 2018, Xu and Liu were again harassed by members of the conspiracy, including Zheng Congying and Anonymous, among others. On September 4th, Zheng and Anonymous drove to the New Jersey residence of Xu and Liu and pounded on the front door. Zheng and Anonymous tried to force open the door to the residence, before accessing the backyard, entering a raised outdoor deck and peering into the windows of the residence. After these efforts, Zheng and Anonymous left a handwritten note taped to the front door of the residence. The note, written in simplified Chinese characters, threatened Xu: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter.”

Harassing Mailings to Xu Ji, Liu Feng, and a Relative of Liu

Seven months after the threats of September 2018, Xu and Liu were sent a package anonymously that contained a DVD. Over a song in Mandarin, a video showed images of their relatives in China, including the elderly father whom Hu’s team had brought to New Jersey. It was another “emotional bomb.” Xu’s father sat next to a desk where a book by Xi entitled, The Governance of China, was displayed. A FBI special agent wrote in the complaint: “I believe that this shot was deliberately staged to make [the son] aware that the Chinese government played a role in taking this picture and creating this video.” The special agent described the photo as a form of implicit coercion demonstrating “the government’s control over [the son’s] aged parents.” Reportedly, in the video, Xu’s sister pressured him to come back. She said their parents were sick, isolated and distraught. She went on to state: “When parents are alive, you can still call someplace a home,” She next said: “When parents are gone, you can only prepare for your own tomb.”

Beginning in or around February 2019, a relative of Liu who lives in the US (“Jane Doe #3”), an individual whose identity is known to the Grand Jury, received several unsolicited packages. The packages were from China, purportedly from Xu’s sister’s in China (“Jane Doe #4”), an individual whose identity is known to the Grand Jury,or Jane Doe #4’s husband. Between July 2016 and April 2017, and between April 2017 and December 2018, Jane Doe #4 was imprisoned by Chinese authorities as part of an effort to cause Xu to return to China. On or about April 22, 2019, Jane Doe #3 received a package containing a CD with two “mp4” video files titled “30 Family Letters.mp4” that included a slide show of still photographs depicting her husband’s aged parents, among other family members. Written Chinese text scrolled at the bottom of the video during the presentation. The text, styled as a letter from Jane Doe #4 to Xu, implored him to “come home” to China before his parents died. Among other things, the written text stated that Xu had a “duty as a child” to his parents and much as the letter sent directly to Xu from China, the line was written that “[w]hen parents are alive, you can still call someplace a home; when parents are gone, you can only prepare for your own tomb.” Included among photographs in the video was the same photograph of Xu’s father seated next to a desk featuring Xi’s book, The Governance of China.

The video file “A few words from [Jane Doe #4] to brother.mp4” contained a video of Jane Doe #4. An individual appearing to be her spoke on the video, stating: she was released from Chinese custody on November 4, 2018 after pleading guilty to a crime; Xu’s parents health was deteriorating, and they were suffering; she wanted Xu to return to China; the Chinese government was determined to fight against corruption; Xu should accept responsibility and admit to unspecified crimes; and, Xu should stop defying the Chinese and come back in order to receive leniency. All and all, the “emotional” performances contained in the videos surely would have disappointed Aeschylus.

Seven months after the threats of September 2018, Xu and Liu were sent a package anonymously that contained a DVD. Over a song in Mandarin, a video showed images of their relatives in China, including the elderly father whom Hu’s team had brought to New Jersey. It was another “emotional bomb.” Xu’s father sat next to a desk where a book by Xi entitled, The Governance of China, was displayed. A FBI special agent wrote in the complaint: “I believe that this shot was deliberately staged to make [the son] aware that the Chinese government played a role in taking this picture and creating this video.” The special agent described the photo as a form of implicit coercion demonstrating “the government’s control over [the son’s] aged parents.”

The Way Forward

Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.) An inspirational speech on what US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations in the US would likely include expressions to the effect that the time has long passed for them to get off the roundabout concerning Chinese clandestine and covert operations in the US. Beneath it lies a volcano which is being given the chance to erupt turning everything the worst and most destructive direction possible. However, approaching the matter realistically, it appears that a considerable journey lies ahead for law enforcement organizations around the US and US counterintelligence services when it comes to China. Compared to what China may bring on in the near future, what may seem to be a full workout with Chinese operators now will then seem as a mere warm up. The challenge of coping with Chinese operators in the US during a possible conflict was mentioned earlier. Whether they might achieve victories or not, the approaches of law enforcement organizations around the US and US counterintelligence services to China’s malign activities must transition with lessons learned from failures and recognized changes in the opponent’s practices. US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations around the US must accept that coping with China successfully will mean accepting the need to be in a state of perpetual evolution. The Chinese intelligence services and other invasive entities are not going to lend a helping hand to law enforcement organizations around the US and US counterintelligence services by waiting for them to catch up. The renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said: Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise losen, durch die sie entstanden sind.” (We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.)

The range and rigor of thinking must be widened. There will always be the basics, that which  is foundational, to each job. Still, as averred to earlier, senior executives and managers and field agents should take heed to opportunities that arise to look at situations, facts through a new lens and consider somewhat unorthodox postulations differently, may open eyes to constructive angles and real possibilities that may contribute mightily to fruitful outcomes. Dictum sapienti sat est. (Enough has been said for the wise.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perfidious Communist China”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Rely on Beijing’s Goodwill!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Displays of Beijing’s Tactfulness toward Foreign Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience Speaks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospective Problems Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

The Case of a NYPD Officer Allegedly Engaged in Intelligence Activities for China Spotlights the United Front Work Department

The People’s Republic Consulate in New York City (above). According to a US Department of Justice criminal complaint, New York City Police Department officer, Baimadajie Angwang, allegedly acted at the direction and control of officials at the People’s Republic Consulate in New York City.  Specifically, the NYPD officer allegedly reported on the activities of Chinese citizens in the New York area, spotted and assessed potential intelligence sources within the Tibetan community in New York and elsewhere, and provided Chinese officials with access to senior NYPD officials through invitations to official events. One of the Consulate staff members at whose direction Angwang allegedly acted, was an official from the “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,” a division of the People’s Republic of China United Front Work Department.

On September 21, 2020, the US Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint against Baimadajie Angwang, a naturalized American citizen who serves as a member of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the US Army Reserve has been charged with acting as an illegal agent of China. The criminal complaint explains that Angwang reportedly acted at the direction and control of officials at the People’s Republic Consulate in New York City.  Specifically, the NYPD officer reported on the activities of Chinese citizens in the New York area, spotted and assessed potential intelligence sources within the Tibetan community in New York and elsewhere, and provided Chinese officials with access to senior NYPD officials through invitations to official events.  One of the Consulate staff members at whose direction Angwang allegedly acted, was an official from the “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,” a division of the People’s Republic of China United Front Work Department. That department is responsible for, among other things, neutralizing potential opponents of the Chinese government and co-opting ethnic Chinese individuals living outside China. In their criminal complaint, prosecutors explain that Angwang was explicit about his motivations, telling his Chinese contact that he wanted to get promoted within the NYPD so that he could assist China and bring “glory to China.”  Further, Angwang told his contact that his superiors in Beijing “should be happy . . . because you have stretched your reach into the police.” In addition to being charged for acting as an illegal agent of China, Angwang was also charged with committing wire fraud, making material false statements and obstructing an official proceeding.  Reportedly, as part of his employment with the US Army Reserve, Angwang maintained a “SECRET”-level security clearance.  According to court documents, in 2019, Angwang completed and electronically submitted an SF-86C form for a background investigation.  On the form, Angwang lied by denying that he had contacts with a foreign government or its consulate and by denying that he had close and continuing contacts with foreign nationals, including his family members who live in China, some of whom were affiliated with the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army. In accord with the charges in the criminal complaint against Angwang, if convicted, he could face a maximum of 55 years imprisonment.

It appears that Angwang’s guilt was never in doubt to the US Department of Justice. It was apparently not an astounding challenge to pursue Angwang, based on what is reported in the US Department of Justice criminal complaint against him. Although a confession covering Angwang’s behavior was captured, enough incriminating evidence used against Angwang for the espionage charge was found in recordings of telephone conversations between him and an official of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. Yet, while on the surface, the case, intriguingly, did not reach some great proportions of espionage, with nefarious entanglements with sinister civilian or military Chinese foreign intelligence officers and daredevil thefts of information of the utmost importance, violent plots, or high speed chases, there is far more to it that meets the eye concerning a very dangerous threat to the national security of the US.

In a reappraisal of the espionage aspect of the case outlined in the US Department of Justice criminal complaint, greatcharlie brings to the fore the fact that case involves the seldom discussed activities of one of Communist Party of China’s largely unnoticed  intelligence organizations. In this particular instance, the organization identified was the United Front Work Department. The discussion of the United Front Work Department and its operations in the criminal complaint is limited.. As such, it does not allow for an understanding of how the United Front Work Department, despite its relative obscurity, has a high place within the Communist Party of China’s hierarchy. It fails to create a picture of the nature and scale of the operations of the organization and the Communist Party of China in general inside the US. From a discussion in the abstract, greatcharlie, provides a somewhat more detailed look at the organization, its intelligence role, and the important place it holds within the large-scale systematic plan of the Communist Party of China to become the world’s dominant power. Using the facts of Angwang’s activities in the criminal charge, greatcharlie then postulates on the possible interplay between Communist Party of China intelligence elements and civilian and military Chinese foreign intelligence services with specific regard to Angwang’s contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. In turn greatcharlie hypothesizes, absent any templates or manuals, on how those intelligence services likely interact on cases in diplomatic posts generally. The acts allegedly performed by Angwang on behalf of the United Front Work Department were not monumentous. However, the course of Angwang’s work as an operative for the organization and the actions of the organization’s official posted at the Consulate in New York with whom he was in contact, as reported in the criminal complaint, allow one to draw insights on the organization’s practices on a case with such circumstances. From those reports and insights, greatcharlie postulates, to a small degree, how the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of “regular” Chinese intelligence services compare and contrast from those of irregular Communist Party of China intelligence organs. Angwang’s case is made even more intriguing due to the many incongruities and outright oddities apparent in the activities of the parties involved in the matter. A number of them are given brief treatment.

Corruptio optimi pessima. (Corruption of the best is the worst.) In a US Department of Justice September 21, 2020 Press Release on the criminal charges leveled on Angwang, the fact that he was a NYPD officer involved in Chinese foreign intelligence activity was looked upon as a new, frightful phenomenon, which should put municipal police departments across the country on alert. However, what has really been put in the spotlight by the case is the reality that the United Front Work Department, essentially an intelligence organization promoted and well-supported by the very top of the Communist Party of China’s leadership, is very present and may eventually become more active in its unique ways in the US. Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they see.)

Police Officer Angwang in NYPD uniform (above). In a US Department of Justice September 21, 2020 Press Release on the criminal charges leveled on Angwang, it was noted that because he was a NYPD officer involved in Chinese foreign intelligence activity, his case should was looked upon as a possible  new, frightful phenomenon, that should put municipal police departments across the country on alert. However, what has truly been put in the spotlight by his case is the reality that the United Front Work Department, essentially an intelligence organization promoted and well-supported by the very top of the Communist Party of China’s leadership, is present in the US and may eventually become more active in its unique and nefarious ways in the country.

Developing New Perspectives

For greatcharlie, it is an absolute requirement to be careful before imputing reasons why one might engage in certain behavior on a matter without having all the hard facts about the individuals thinking at hand. Certainly, there was no psychological profile of Angwang included in the criminal complaint, and there very well should not have been. One could present multiple possibilities concerning the intent of Angwang’s behavior, each with certain ambiguities. The well-fashioned theory behind the criminal case of the US Department of Justice would be one among them. While prosecutors appear to have confidence in their case, even included in the US Department of Justice Press Release was a clearly explained caveat that the charges in the complaint are merely allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The NYPD officer’s defense attorneys surely intend to have a great say in how his case goes.

Looking at the whole matter simplistically, one might also make the argument that Angwang’s Consulate contact may have genuinely believed initially that his connection with the NYPD officer may have been simply collegial. Perchance he assumed that contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York had special meaning for Angwang. The may have also thought that for Angwang, interaction with the Consulate stirred a sense of importance or satisfaction within him that was unique to his sensibilities. Further, the Consulate official with whom Angwang had the most contact, may have simply been serving as a member of the Consulate who was engaged in outreach activities in the Tibetan community as part of his duties. For the official, it may have initially seemed a fortuitous wind fall that an NYPD officer,who metaphorically fell into his lap, was willing to use his own time and energy to help them with his outreach efforts. (He  would hardly view his interaction with Angwang a stroke of luck now.)

Stoicius noster, “Vitium,” in quite, “non est in rebus sed in animo.” (Our Stoic philosopher said, “Vice is not merely in one’s actions but in the mind itself.”) It is hard to discern what Angwang really hoped to achieve by working for the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York while serving as a NYPD officer. Although his antics had escaped detection, at least initially, for the reasonable, there could hardly have been any doubt that he would be caught given the intense scrutiny being placed upon China’s diplomatic stations by US counterintelligence services. As an NYPD officer, working with the Chinese diaspora, one would imagine he would have come across aspects and elements of the federal government’s close watch. One might theorize that for over two years, and during a three year period prior, he may have very well have immaturely believed that he was engaged in an ego-driven battle of wits, leveling his superior intellect upon a loyal servant of China’s Communist regime and his bosses ruling from Beijing. Indeed, Angwang may have believed that by insinuating himself into the Chinese government system, he would put himself in good stead with NYPD officials and top individuals in federal law enforcement and perhaps have value to them as a “counterespionage agent ” Under this scenario, the Angwang presumably would also want to believe that Consulate officials were in the dark about what he might have been cooking up against them. These respective scenarios for both Angwang and the officials of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, with whom he interacted, appear unlikely. Angwang’s legal defense would likely insist that one must not confuse the unlikely with the impossible. In the aggregate, the facts as presented by the US Department of Justice indicate the situation is far more complicated. To examine them, it becomes necessary to better understand the two parties involved in the case:

On Angwang

Laying out what the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had collected on Angwang, the criminal complaint reveals that at the time he was charged, he was 33 years old. Angwang is a native of Tibet. Tibet is an autonomous region in the PRC. The region has historically been the home to ethnic Tibetans, among others ethnic groups. It is the spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama. China  has long considered Tibet to be part of its historical empire. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region. Many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China and have pressed for independence. A Tibetan independence movement has been calling for the independence of Tibet and political separation from China. That independence movement is largely supported by the diaspora of ethnic Tibetans worldwide, to include the US. During periods of repression and martial law in the region, it is believed that the Chinese government has killed thousands of Tibetans. The Chinese government has referred to Tibetans as one of “the five poisons” threatening China’s stability. Interdum volgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat. (At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.)

Angwang initially traveled to the US on a cultural exchange visa. He overstayed a second visa, but eventually applied for asylum in the US on the basis that he had allegedly been arrested and tortured in the China due partly to this Tibetan ethnicity. While arguing against bail, prosecutors suggested in a court filing that Angwang secured his US citizenship under false pretenses. Interestingly enough, Angwang’s father is retired from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. His mother is a retired government official and also a member of the Communist Party. His brother serves as a PLA reservist. All three live in China.

Employed by the NYPD, Angwang reportedly was assigned to the 111th NYPD Precinct in the borough of Queens and worked there during his most recent period of contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. At the 111th Precinct, Angwang served as a patrol officer and member of the precinct’s crime prevention team. His latest assignment was in the community affairs unit in which his duties included serving as a liaison between the NYPD and the community that his precinct served, among other things. The only plausible reason for Angwang to have any connection with People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York as it relates to his work is that the Tibetan community in New York City which predominantly resides within the confines of the 111th NYPD Precinct in which Angwang worked. Angwang is also a member of the US Army Reserve in which he presently holds the rank of Staff Sergeant. He has been assigned to an Airborne Civil Affairs battalion based at Fort Dix, New Jersey. In his job as a Civil Affairs Specialist his duties and responsibilities include advising the command on the tactical and operational deployment of Civil Affairs teams. He also assisted in planning, training, advising and executing civil-military programs. In connection with his role in the US Army Reserve, as mentioned earlier, Angwang holds a “SECRET” level security clearance. Added to this record should have been information provided by the US Army that Angwang served on active duty in the US Marines from 2009 to 2014, and his deployment to Afghanistan from 2013 through 2014.

Angwang’s Consulate Contacts

According to the criminal complaint against Angwang, he received taskings from, and reported back to, officials at the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York via telephone conversations which were recorded by the FBI. Those telephone calls enabled the FBI to identify his most recent Consulate contact as an official from the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture. The criminal complaint explains that the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture is a division of China’s United Front Work Department (“UFWD”). Among the UFWD’s tasks is neutralizing sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of China. To achieve these goals abroad, the UFWD reportedly seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China. UFWD officials often meet with local association groups whose purpose is to, among other things, connect Chinese emigrants from common geographic areas and ethnic backgrounds. Ostensibly, their purpose in meeting with these groups is to secure political, moral and financial support for China and to maintain control over Tibetans and other so-called potentially problematic groups, such as religious and ethnic minorities.

From recorded conversations of Angwang and the UFWD official, a portion the transcripts of which were placed in the criminal complaint, the FBI has determined that Angwang received tasks from, and reported back to him. The FBI, in fact, identified the UFWD official as Angwang’s handler. Even more, FBI’s investigation has revealed that Angwang, while acting at the direction and control of PRC officials, had, among other things, (1) reported on the activities of ethnic Tibetans, and others, in the New York metropolitan area to the Consulate, (2) spotted and assessed potential ethnic Tibetan intelligence sources in the New York metropolitan area and beyond, and (3) used his official position in the NYPD to provide Consulate officials access to senior NYPD officials through invitations to official NYPD events. None of these activities fell within the scope of Angwang’s official duties and responsibilities with either the NYPD or the US Army Reserve. Angwang both called and texted a UFWD official’s cellular telephone on at least 55 occasions in or about and  between June 2018 through March 2020. While performing these activities, Angwang failed to provide the Attorney General with any notification that he was acting as an agent of China by registering as such. The US Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Unit has no records associated with Angwang.

Curiously, Angwang also had contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York from August 21, 2014, through August 11, 2017. Those contacts took place apparently without incident and failed to garner any significant interest from US counterintelligence services or the US Army Reserve. It must be reminded that occurred during a period of time prior to his becoming a NYPD officer. To that extent, it intriguingly was not an issue for the NYPD either. Indeed, the NYPD was likely unaware of those contacts, and Angwang apparently did not reveal them. At that time, Angwang reportedly called and texted the cellular telephone of a Consulate official, dubbed PRC [People’s Republic of China] Official-1, on at least 53 occasions. The criminal complaint’s discussion of Angwang’s contacts and activities connected to the Consulate then is limited. The period of his contacts with the Consulate from June 2018 through March 2020 is referred to in the criminal complaint as “the relevant time period.” The latest contacts have been severed from Angwang’s nearly three years of initial contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. That is quite interesting.

A Map of China. Tibet is in the country’s southwest (above).Tibet is an autonomous region in China. The region has historically been the home to ethnic Tibetans, among others ethnic groups. It is the spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama. China  has long considered Tibet to be part of its historical empire. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region. Many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China and have pressed for independence. A Tibetan independence movement has been calling for the independence of Tibet and political separation from China. That independence movement is largely supported by the diaspora of ethnic Tibetans worldwide, to include the US. During periods of repression and martial law in the region, it is believed that the Chinese government has killed thousands of Tibetans.

The narrative on Angwang in the criminal complaint provides a succinct summary of his background, particularly as it relates to his case. However, the narrative on the officials in People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York with whom Angwang was in contact, while making for an intriguing backstory, surely it does not provide the full picture of the organization in which at least one official supposedly worked, the UFWD. Indeed, the description of the UFWD in the criminal complaint is an underestimation of the organization to  a degree that it stands as a singular departure from the real UFWD. Yet, remarkably, what is provided in the criminal complaint is more than one might usually come across on the UFWD. The UFWD has not received an abundance of treatment in scholarly sources. Even those well-informed on Chinese affairs are not so attentive of the inconspicuous organization and its activities. In I.G. Smith’s and Nigel West’s reliable Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), the UFWD is only briefly and with frightfully scant detail referenced as a branch of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, responsible for links with non-Communist émigré groups and has been identified by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) as an espionage organization active among Chinese émigrés and engaged in psychological warfare in pursuit of policy goals set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What is left of the reference explains: “According CSIS analyst described the UFD’s [UFWD’s] role as ‘one of the compelling overseas Chinese to take part in economical and technical espionage, whether through patriotic appeals or simple threats.’“ As mentioned 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),” central to greatcharlie’s understanding of China’s intelligence services and their activities are the writings of Peter Mattis. Since leaving the Central Intelligence Agency 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. Primarily using sources published by Mattis, an effort is made here to provide a truer picture of the overlooked UFWD.

The Real UFWD

The UFWD holds a high place within the Communist Party of China’s hierarchy as a working organ of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, which is “the central administrative and decision-making body of leading party, state, and military officials.” The UFWD exerts influence inside and outside of China through sub-official contacts. Within China, the UFWD plays a vital policy development and coordination role, especially for ethnic and religious minorities. Outside of China, the UFWD has had a hand in developing political and business ties with overseas Chinese, bringing investment and research benefits, as well as helping the Communist Party of China shape foreign views of China. People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the UFWD to China’s rejuvenation. That has been evinced by Xi’s repeated urging that the Communist Party of China make use of the UFWD as a “magic weapon” to realize the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People. A bureaucratic reorganization that he has implemented lends further credence to this judgment that it is a tool of the utmost importance.

Looking at the UFWD a bit deeper, according to Mattis, the central element to understanding what the Communist Party of China is doing and why to shape the world outside the party is united front work. People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong described the purpose of this work as mobilizing the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies. In a more specific definition from a paper in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defined united front work as “a technique for controlling, mobilizing, and utilizing non-communist masses.” In other words, united front policy addresses the party’s relationship with and guidance of any social group outside the party. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work entails shaping those outside the party, and not simply the Chinese people or world outside the People’s Republic of China. United front work must also be a tool of political struggle. It is not confined to activities that we would call propaganda or public diplomacy. It is not limited to covert action. In 1939, Mao wrote: “Our eighteen years of experience show that the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy. The united front is a united front for carrying on armed struggle. And the Party is the heroic warrior wielding the two weapons, the united front and the armed struggle, to storm and shatter the enemy’s positions. That is how the three are related to each other.” That outline of united front work within the party’s toolbox by Mao stands as the core understanding within the Communist Party of China today. United front activities have aided the Communist Party of China in resolving several dilemmas of the post-Mao era. That was most apparent following the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the death of Chairman Deng Xiaoping.

The UFWD, as the executive and coordinating agency for united front work, operates at all levels of the party system from the center to the grassroots. You Quan, the former Communist Party of China secretary of Fujian Province and a member of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, was appointed UFWD head on November 7, 2017.  He heads the UFWD, assisted by seven deputy directors. The leadership also includes the leader for the Central Commission on Discipline Inspection for United Front Work Group. The UFWD’s specific areas of responsibility both at home and abroad include: Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan affairs; ethnic and religious affairs; domestic and external propaganda; entrepreneurs and non-party personages; intellectuals; and people-to-people exchanges. There are UFWD subordinate elements at the provincial and local levels. The department also takes the lead in establishing party committees in Chinese and foreign businesses. The UFWD is divided into offices, bureaus, and subordinate units, that is to say, mass organizations. The nine numbered Bureaus each specialize in either a particular facet of united front work or a geographic location. Bureaus three, six and nine, for example, cover Hong Kong, Taiwan, Overseas Chinese, Tibet and Xinjiang. However, it is unclear how different bureaus manage their consequently overlapping responsibilities. For instance, there is no clear guideline on how the Tibet Bureau, responsible for “harmonizing Tibetan socioeconomic development,” interacts with the Ethnic and Religious Work Bureau, and the Economics Bureau.

The UFWD is actually one of 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. The other three include the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the super secret and malignant International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department. According to the organization’s website, the CPPCC is “an organization in the patriotic united front of the Chinese people, an important organ for multiparty cooperation and political consultation.” The advisory body mediates between important social groups and the party apparatus. The CPPCC is the place where all the relevant united front actors inside and outside the party come together: party elders, intelligence officers, diplomats, propagandists, military officers and political commissars, united front workers, academics, and businesspeople. They are gathered to receive instruction in the proper propaganda lines and ways to characterize Beijing’s policies to both domestic and foreign audiences. Many of these individuals, particularly if they hold government positions, are known for their people-handling skills and have reputations for being smooth operators. CPPCC membership offers access to political circles, political protection for business, and minor perquisites like expedited immigration. The CPPCC standing committee includes twenty or so vice chair people who have a protocol rank roughly equivalent to a provincial party secretary. At the central level, the CPPCC includes more than 2,200 members, but the provincial and local levels include another 615,000.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). The UFWD holds a high place within the Communist Party of China’s hierarchy as a working organ of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee. Outside of China, the UFWD has had a hand in developing political and business ties with overseas Chinese, bringing investment and research benefits, as well as helping the Communist Party of China shape foreign views of China. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the UFWD to China’s rejuvenation. That has been evinced by Xi’s repeated urging that the Communist Party of China make use of the UFWD as a “magic weapon” to realize the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People. The bureaucratic reorganization that he has implemented lends further credence to this judgment that it is a tool of the utmost importance.

The International (Liaison) Department, founded in 1951, is the party’s diplomatic arm, handling relationships with more than 600 political parties and organizations as well as individual, primarily political, elites. The department previously handled the Communist Party of China’s relationships between fraternal Communist parties and cultivated splinter factions of Moscow-dominated Communist parties after the Sino-Soviet split. The activist bent of the International Department disappeared as the department began re-establishing itself from 1970 to 1971 following the tumultuous early years of the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, in the 1970s, as Anne-Marie Brady explained in Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), the International (Liaison) Department’s intelligence efforts often surpassed and even outmatched those of regular Chinese intelligence services. It became deeply involved in inciting and assisting international revolution by moving weapons, financial support, and other critical resources to numerous Communist and non-Communist insurgencies and guerrilla movements worldwide. Interestingly, the department originated as an UFWD bureau before being carved out into an independent entity.

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur. (The world wants to be deceived so let be deceived.) The Propaganda Department has been a core part of the Communist Party of China since 1924. The official description of its duties includes conducting the party’s theoretical research; guiding public opinion; guiding and coordinating the work of the central news agencies, including Xinhua and the People’s Daily; guiding the propaganda and cultural systems; and administering the Cyberspace Administration of China and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television. Much as the UFWD, the Propaganda Department has subordinate elements at the provincial and local levels. The Propaganda Department cannot be regarded as an entirely internal organization that broadcasts outward to the extent that it is involved in influence-building abroad. For example, China Radio International developed in the 2000s a covert international network of radio stations to hide the Communist Party of China’s direct role in broadcasting Chinese-language propaganda inside target countries. The Propaganda Department presumably also plays a role in the cooptation, intimidation, and purchase of Chinese-language print media outside China.

The State Council ministries and many other organizations with a party committee also conduct united front work. These organizations all offer unique platforms and capabilities that the united front policy system can draw upon for operational purposes. Below are a few of the examples of the organizations outside the party that perform united front work or have united front work departments attached to their party committee: Ministry of State Security; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Civil Affairs; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Culture and Tourism; Chinese Academy of Sciences; China Baowu Steel Group; China National Overseas Oil Corporation (CNOOC); and, State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC). While the Communist Party of China employs many means through which it seeks foreign intelligence, the UFWD is distinct from other organizations in its overt and benign appearance. United Front organizations abroad often operate in the open, some with names that allude to “peaceful reunification” (which is understood to be code for Taiwan work) or include “friendship association.” Included on that list is likely the name “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,” the organization in which the UFWD official, with whom Angwang interacted “in the relevant time period,” was employed.

Evaluated on the basis of the united front policy system, the Communist Party of China’s management of political influence operations runs to the very top of the party, involving senior leaders directly. It is in this way that the policy system tangibly extends through the party’s hierarchy and spills over into China’s government ministries as well as other state-owned and state-administered organizations. Indeed, united front work is conducted wherever the party is present. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work is not really some “influence operation” or a campaign. It is the day-to-day work of the party. At the leadership level, there is a Politburo Standing Committee Member (PBSC) oversees united front work. The senior-most united front official is the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) chairman, who is the fourth-ranking PBSC member. Leaders who have held the CPPCC chairmanship have included Mao and Deng, as well as Zhou Enlai and Li Xiannian. The State Council Vice Premier has a United Front Portfolio. The vice premier position also serves as the link between the party center and the State Council ministries. The vice premier provides prestige to the united front system as well as a necessary position of authority to direct and coordinate the ministries’ united front activities. The position often looks as though the portfolio covers education and culture, because of the overlap with united front work. At meetings of the united front policy system, this vice premier appears in protocol order between the CPPCC chairman and the United Front Work Department director. Included are two Members of the Central Secretariat who have united front policy roles. The directors of the UFWD and Propaganda Department serve on both the Politburo and the Secretariat of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Since the Politburo does not meet regularly, the secretariat is empowered to make day-to-day decisions related to policy that has already been settled. This group is also responsible for moving paperwork among the central leaders and coordinating the party’s actions.

The Calibrated Interactions between Angwang and His Alleged UFWD “Handler”

Given what is presented here about the UFWD, and given the official account of the UFWD official’s interactions with Angwang provided in the criminal complaint, the UFWD official certainly suppressed far much more about his organization and its activities in their conversations than he exposed. Even in his discussions with Angwang, the UFWD official never offered specifics as to why his organization would be interested in working with him. He never discussed the names or titles of the UFWD officials over which Angwang probed him. Interestingly, the UFWD official assumedly never offered Angwang many specifics about his job with the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture in the Consulate or its link to UFWD. Moreover, the UFWD official never explained that UFWD was his association’s parent organization and what the larger picture and aims of his parent organization were. It is unknown whether the UFWD official asked Angwang directly about his interest in keeping contact with him. Angwang offered the attenuated explanation about love for his homeland, bringing glory to China, and making the official “look good” in Beijing.

Major ignotarum rerum est terror. (Apprehensions are greater in proportion as things are unknown.) Out of abundance of caution, the first impression that the UFWD official had of Angwang might reasonably have been more negative than positive. In the US, it is understood that the majority of the members of the Tibetan diaspora harbor unfavorable, even hostile attitudes toward China. As a native Tibetan who reached a position of relative authority in New York as an NYPD officer, his intentions for reestablishing contact with a Chinese official could not be accepted as benign on face value. (Little is offered in the criminal complaint on his first contact.) Given the harm done to countless Tibetan families in China, it would be fair to assume Angwang could have held some idée fixe against Chinese government and was in some odd way seeking revenge. In fact, according to the criminal complaint, though Angwang first traveled from China to the US on a cultural exchange visa, he would seek, after receiving a second visa, asylum on the basis that he had been arrested and tortured in mainland China because of his Tibetan ethnicity. (That story apparently cannot be confirmed, and the US Department of Justice says it is doubtful.) As a NYPD officer, he surely had sufficient training and access to tools to pose a considerable threat to the UFWD official and other staff at the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. After the UFWD official maintained contact with Angwang for a time, possible concerns about him may have slowly relaxed.

Based on his own words, as recorded by the FBI, Angwang fully intended on, and was satisfied with, establishing contact with the UFWD official to support China’s intelligence efforts in the US. He approached the UFWD official under the veneer of being an important, well-placed, and well-connected officer in the NYPD, but it was likely discerned by the UFWD official that Angwang was somewhat isolated. The presumption could plausibly have been made by the UFWD official that Angwang’s conversations and contacts with the officials at the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York surely transgressed the NYPD’s code of behavior. A NYPD officer under normal circumstances, surely would not have been allowed such a long leash as to be able to negatively influence, harm US relations with China. The fact that his activities escaped the curiosity of onlookers perhaps misled Angwang into believing that he was free and clear of scrutiny. He possibly could not have imagined at the onset the upheaval that would eventually derailed him. Yet, he was under investigation by the FBI and apparently was blissfully unaware that his contacts and conversations with Chinese officials were being monitored. There was a display of flurried ambition and energy in Angwang’s actions, all of which was misdirected. To that extent, on first blush, UFWD official may have considered whether Angwang was excited by his own actions, and thereby he may have made an assessment of whether he was a sensation seeker.

A ruthless disregard of anything but self-interest is a common trait among individuals involved in espionage cases. However, Angwang seemed to strain in his effort to demonstrate that he was not focused on self-interest to gain approval. Apparently, in a further effort to prove that he was focused on the well-being and success of the Consulate officials in which he was in contact, as well as the Consulate and China, Angwang made certain statements seemingly in an effort to prove that he knew all the ends and outs, the inside baseball of the Chinese government. In an account of a telephone conversation on or about October 30, 2018 between Angwang and the UFWD official, again dubbed as “PRC Official-2,” that was only recounted by the FBI in the criminal complaint, the UFWD official reportedly told Angwang that he was busy writing mandatory year-end reports. Angwang replied that UFWD official had done great work and, accordingly, there should be a lot to write in the report. Prying, Angwang also inquired if the reports written by officials within the Consulate were the same type of reports written by China based officials, to which the UFWD official stated that they were. Reportedly, Angwang stated that he was familiar with these reports because his mother used to write similar reports in China.

Perhaps going a bit too far in direction demonstrating what he knew, Angwang was willing to offer a judgment on every aspect of the Consulate staff member’s community outreach work, and he severely judged it at that. Boiled down, it appeared at point that Angwang was communicating: “You do not know your job as well as I do. Let me show you. I can help you do your job so much better that your superiors in Beijing will be impressed and reward you!” Reportedly, on or about November 19, 2018, UFWD official, dubbed “PRC Official-2” in the criminal complaint, called Angwang. (It is unknown whether he was actually returning a call from Angwang.) During the call, as recounted by the FBI, Angwang asked the UFWD official whether he wanted to attend NYPD events “to raise our country’s soft power” and also elevate the official’s position within the People’s Republic of China community. It was additionally recounted and interpreted by the FBI that the UFWD official expressed interest. Angwang then offered: “The Consulate does not know too clearly the workings and operations within the police department. And then because of the sensitivity of a diplomat’s position . . . then this, now, if it’s like this, I’m thinking of how to, how to use this opportunity, to use our er . . . one is to let the consulate to feel like us before . . . the wishes are the same as my wishes.” As interpreted by the FBI, Angwang was informing the UFWD official that he could provide non-public information regarding the internal operations of the NYPD. In the same call, it is reported in the criminal complaint that Angwang indicated that he wanted UFWD official to advance to a position of prominence.

Curiously, from what is available in the transcripts included in the criminal complaint, Angwang would never humble himself. When the Consulate official humbled himself, Angwang seemed to view it as an occasion to seek greater dominance in the conversation and in the relationship. During certain telephone contacts, he appeared to demand that the UFWD official humble himself to him. Angwang did not seem to recognize or respond to the fact that UFWD official was likely making an effort to remain tolerant of his repeated overstep of cultural and professional boundaries. He just seemed to want to have control. On or about October 30, 2018, Angwang called the UFWD official, again, dubbed as PRC Official-2 in the criminal complaint. During that call, as recounted by the FBI, Angwang advised UFWD official about a new Tibetan community center located in Queens. Angwang suggested that he and the UFWD official should visit the community center together. As recounted by the FBI, the UFWD expressed concern, but Angwang stated, “if it’s good or not, you need to know about this for your work’s sake. They are the biggest venue for activities right now. If they are involved with politics, then in the future more than half of the meetings might take place there.”

It is very possible that taking what was an abrupt, energetic approach, was an odd way for Angwang to gain the UFWD official’s approval. He perhaps was attempting to  show them how knowledgeable he was about the inner workings of their system. Moreover, he likely sought to bedazzle the UFWD official. In his mind, he may have believed the UFWD official was a flutter at his every word. Yet, it was rarely the case that anything Angwang said appeared to enlighten the UFWD official in any appreciable way. Veritatis simplex oratio est. (The language of truth is simple.)

Even beyond the issue of his contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, it is generally mistake for one, as an outsider, to try to convince those inside an organization, particularly a tight-knit organization, that one knows more about its inner workings and activities, than one actually does. Those inside will generally become suspicious of the outsider’s intentions which would most likely confound any effort to build confidence and establish trust. For whatever reasons he had, the attitude and behavior displayed by Angwang, in part, may have played a role in the undoing of his efforts. If Angwang authentically wanted to connect with the UFWD official and his superiors in Beijing, then the apparent tact the NYPD officer’s took could surely be judged as a grand blunder.

With specific regard to Angwang’s oft uttered remark that he wanted to make the UFWD official look good before his superiors in Beijing, that faux pax actually betrayed his misunderstanding of how the Chinese system worked. Those selected for deployment to the sort of diplomatic post he held are usually taken from the top of a short list of the most qualified officials in a particular organization. Thus, if the UFWD official had not already proved himself to his superiors, he would not have received the privilege of being posted to the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. It is very  likely that Angwang may have appeared to him to be dramatic and theatrical, yet at the same time boorish. With no intent to insult, nothing displayed in the transcripts provided would have left the impression that Angwang was a masterful thinker. It may have very well been the case that the UFWD official’s intellectual powers far surpassed the duties of New York post. His encounters with Angwang might serve as evidence of that. Yet, while he was likely studying and judging Angwang, and surely masquerading as an humble, august representative of the People’s Republic of China, the UFWD official was in reality a functionary of an organization that would certainly be willing to burn down the rest of world if it meant promoting the interests and goals of the Communist Party of China.

You Quan, head of the UFWD (above). You Quan was appointed United Front Work Department (UFWD) head on November 7, 2017. You directs the UFWD, assisted by seven deputy directors. The leadership also includes the leader for the Central Commission on Discipline Inspection for United Front Work Group. The UFWD is divided into offices, bureaus, and subordinate units, that is to say, mass organizations. The nine numbered Bureaus each specialize in either a particular facet of united front work or a geographic location. While the Communist Party of China employs many means through which it seeks foreign intelligence, the UFWD is distinct from other organizations in its overt and benign appearance. United Front organizations abroad often operate in the open, some with names that allude to “peaceful reunification” or include “friendship association.” Surely included on that list is the “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture.”

To the extent that it might concern his UFWD mission in New York, the UFWD official’s opinion of Angwang  may not have been as relevant to his superiors in Beijing as Angwang might have believed. Whether Angwang was vacuous or not, if UFWD officials in Beijing wanted their Consulate official to work with Angwang, that is what he would do. Senior executives and managers of the UFWD in Beijing would collate and validate intelligence, evaluating the reliability of sources and credibility of information, use various analytical techniques to assess and interpret any intelligence data, and liaise and collaborate with colleagues to gather further information, which may help to piece together the whole picture. They would determine whether a target had genuine potential to be an operative. As it so happened, It appears that in Beijing, approval of him was likely lukewarm. To the extent that might be accurate, it might be the reason why the UFWD Consulate official appeared to keep his relationship with Angwang limited in scope. The fact that they spoke on the phone and did not appear to meet in person may have been a very visible demonstration that the UFWD official wanted to  keep Angwang at arms length. After two years, it does seem that Angwang did little more than figuratively tread water. He was never able to cement a solid link to the UFWD official that would lead to additional contacts with UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing. Angwang’s true value, despite his decent background of accomplishments as a Tibetan émigré, may have been viewed as very low by  UFWD senior officials as everything that he offered to provide could very likely have been collected at far less risk and anxiety from other sources.

Looking at the matter more carefully, the whole notion of Angwang providing access to senior NYPD officials not only failed to make sense or even be plausible, it also seems to be something the UFWD offical would hardly find desirable. It is very difficult to imagine how any senior officials of the NYPD, to whom Angwang claimed to have had the ability to provide access, would be of any use to the UFWD. The Consul General and his top subordinates in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York had sufficient ways to communicate with the NYPD in a manner officially approved by Beijing. The UFWD official would surely have been well out of his lane if he had met with such NYPD higher ups from his position, and more than likely disturb the bigger picture of People’s Republic of China Consular affairs in New York. It is hard to image why the UFWD official would want to have contact with senior NYPD officials with far more experience than Angwang, make them very aware of the UFWD official’s presence in the Consulate and the city, and bring to bear the impressions of those senior NYPD officials of himself, the UFWD, Angwang’s odd history of contacts with the Consulate, and Angwang, himself. Indeed, more senior NYPD officials would surely see the UFWD official straight. Unlike Angwang, who jumped in twice to have contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, top officials in the NYPD, possessing far more experience and being undoubtedly more mature and savvy than him–Angwang at the time had scarcely marked two years of service in the department–would more than likely have concluded that becoming entangled with the Consulate and especially getting involved with a UFWD official, would neither be wise nor sound. They very likely would have become terribly alarmed by the request. Using good sense, they may have demanded that Angwang, himself, break all contact. Then, they might have thrown a huge spotlight on the UFWD official and informed not only their superiors and the NYPD Intelligence Division, but also US counterintelligence services everything they knew about his presence and the direct attempt via Angwang to contact them. As for Angwang, his NYPD career would very likely have seen dark times. Additionally, no matter what level of relationship and confidence any senior NYPD official might have had in Angwang that might have led the neophyte NYPD officer to reason that he could arrange some one-on-one interaction between that official and his UFWD contact, the reality is that, even for personal reasons, no senior NYPD official would ever put his or her career at risk with any unofficial, unauthorized contacts with officials of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York and the UFWD. Senior NYPD officials often retire from the department and acquire very rewarding senior positions in the corporate world. To errantly follow the neophyte Angwang’s recommendation and put themselves in contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York and the UFWD, could have very likely resulted in their records being blemished, making any future corporate position unattainable. Given their rather neat situations, doing anything Angwang might have suggested would have been a singular act of stupidity.

One might go as far as to theorize that by all appearances, Angwang may have actually been rejected by UFWD. Relative to what the UFWD may have asked of someone they might have been eager to work with, his contacts were rather prosaic. He was a volunteer of his own making, ostensibly possessing no training in tradecraft, no direct instructions. For “the relevant time period,” there was overt expression of Angwang in general through payments of some type. Indeed, there is no word of payments, no mention of recompense in the form of gifts. Apparently, there was nothing asked for in trade. Angwang was not encouraged, yet not discouraged from continuing on with his volunteer work. It is not clear cut that the UFWD official ever insisted that Angwang do anything. If it ever appeared that he was giving him any directions, it took the form of giving a begrudging nod to something Angwang had both suggested and volunteered to do. Nothing that Angwang did was of any momentous consequence in the end. Whatever efforts Angwang made, were activities well-off on the margins, having a diminutive impact on the UFWD mission and the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York’s overall mission. In fact, his activities actually fell somewhat outside of the primary purpose of UFWD activities.

As explained in greatcharlie’s discussion of UFWD here, unlike Chinese intelligence services as the Ministry of State Security and the Intelligence Bureau of the PLA’s Joint Staff Department, the organization is not as interested in those who can do a little this and a little that for the Communist Party of China. The UFWD is most interested in finding agitators and destroyers, who could open the way for the organization to shape the political picture in the targeted country, and eventually ease the way for the Communist Party of China then level its influence full bore and pull the country in China’s direction. As aforementioned, that is what united front work is all about. In part, through that method, China hopes to become the dominant power in the world. Even pushing out the Communist Party of China-line is not as important for an operative recruited by UFWD as being a disruptive force in his society, or having the ability to facilitate the destructive activities of radicals and anarchists. To that extent, Angwang inherently would not have much value to the organization as a member of the NYPD. It is hard to imagine any radicals or anarchists making the quantum leap to trust a NYPD officer. If Angwang had indeed revealed some oddly arrived at ties to such organizations or suggested ways to support them, he would have been far more valuable to the UFWD. As for being a native Tibetan relating to an Chinese official in an organization ostensibly concerning Tibet, it was de minimus, nearly irrelevant in this situation.

It may have also been the case that Angwang was ignored by the Ministry of State Security, the People’s Liberation Army, or other Communist Party of China intelligence services that potentially could have been lurking about in the Consulate. Perchance the thinking at UFWD and other Chinese intelligence services was in harmony as it pertained to his case. Perhaps all on the Chinese side would have been satisfied to see Angwang simply wear himself out and fall away quietly.

Angwang’s UFWD Linkage May Have Concerned Intelligence, but Was Espionage Actually Involved?

Angwang’s “renewed” contact with the Consulate was indeed a dangerous undertaking from all sides, He eventually discovered that. With the advantage of hindsight, one might make the argument that Angwang foolishly entered into a milieu in which was completely unknown to him, yet he perilously travelled down a path that was his undoing. As mentioned initially, among the charges made against Angwang by the US Department of Justice, he reported on the activity of Chinese citizens located in the New York region, identified and gauged possible intelligence sources in the Tibetan community and made access to NYPD officials via invitations to events available to his UFWD contact at the New York Consulate. Angwang’s attorneys will no doubt argue that charging Angwang with anything close to espionage was somewhat of a liberty. However, they would have some difficulty arguing in defense of Angwang’s actions.

In Henry S. A. Becket, The Dictionary of Espionage: Spookspeak into English (Stein & Day, 1986), “Persons who volunteer themselves to an espionage agency” are defined as “walk-ins.” A quote from a former CIA officer added to the definition that explains: “’It’s the walk-in trade that keeps the shop open’ is one of the first bits of operation wisdom that is impressed on newcomers to the business.” (While the author of The Dictionary of Espionage, published under the pseudonym “Henry S. A. Beckett,” was revealed as Joseph Goulden, and the book was republished in April 2013  by the under the authors true identity name by the Courier Corporation, greatcharlie prefers to use the original text published during the 1980s Cold War and intelligence agencies worldwide struggled to solve the puzzle of the author’s name.)

When Angwang went into the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, he reportedly did so, in his own words to help his “motherland achieve glory.” He was a walk-in. Angwang did not say outrightly that he wanted to spy according to the criminal complaint, however, the document indicates that it was Angwang in an October 30, 2018 telephone call who broached the idea in conversation with the the UFWD official at the Consulate that he might have some value, as the FBI interpreted his words, with regard to intelligence.

Added to his legal defense’s problems is the fact that, as mentioned earlier, UFWD is an organization that engages in intelligence work. The UFWD is absolutely one of the tools the Communist Party of China employs to engage in foreign intelligence. The UFWD is distinct from regular civilian and military Chinese foreign intelligence services, given its overt and benign appearance. As was also mentioned earlier, UFWD organizations abroad often operate in the open, using names as the “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture.”

By directing his comments to the UFWD official, the indications and the implications for one line of thinking, particularly that of the FBI, are that Angwang likely believed that he was a foreign intelligence officer or that he could put him in contact with an intelligence officer from the Chinese foreign intelligence services. By offering to provide services in support of the intelligence work of  Chinese intelligence services, as the FBI suggests, Angwang opened himself up to accusations of espionage. Cast one’s mind back to Angwang’s November 19, 2018 telephone conversation with UFWD official during which he suggested to the UFWD official that they should visit a  community center together. The FBI assessed that the purpose of a proposed visit to the community center was twofold: (1) Angwang  was advising UFWD official to visit the community center in order to maintain visibility on the activities of ethnic Tibetans in the New York area; and (2) Angwang was advising the UFWD official that visiting the community center would assist in spotting and assessing potential intelligence recruits or sources within the Tibetan community.

Certainly, in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, it would hardly be the case that the foreign intelligence officers, on one side of the house, if they were in fact there, would be unaware of what diplomats and officials on the other side of the house, were doing, especially when it concerned a contact as unusual as one  with an NYPD official of any rank. The behavior of this particular NYPD officer, Angwang, was so unusual that it could have drawn the attention of officers of any of the civilian and military Chinese intelligence services posted within the Consulate. Officers of those Chinese intelligence services might have been expected to take some interest in Angwang, particularly given his position, alleged capabilities to reach into the Tibetan community, and access to senior NYPD officials. Recall also that he had been in contact with the Consulate before and they likely possessed a dossier on him. Still, in a possible scenario, nothing might have led civilian and military Chinese foreign intelligence service officers assumedly posted in the Consulate to find interest in Angwang for their purposes and on the outset they might have decided not to become involved with him. Beijing, too, may have received reports about Angwang, yet no great urgency may have been generated by what they read. Angwang may have been viewed not as a walk-in with potential, but merely an unsolicited contact, albeit a local police officer and “a son of the motherland” who had a familial connection to Tibet.

While they probably had a good chance to look Angwang over during his first flap of contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, in his second go around with the diplomatic post, Chinese counterintelligence services presumably there would surely be concerned that the unusual contact with the NYPD officer might be an effort to compel the UFWD officer to defect, and even worse, engage in espionage on behalf of US foreign intelligence services.

Additionally, having a member of the Consulate staff fall into a US counterintelligence trap would have spelled disaster for UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the all of the officials working in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. They would not want anything to transpire that might have embarrassed the Communist Party of China and people of China. They also wanted to avoid anything that might put their situations in jeopardy as well. Once the Communist Party of China leadership in Beijing got wind of the troubles, they would become difficult to console. The UFWD official and others in the Consulate could have been sacked and called home or their records would have been severely damaged at the very least. The decision was most likely made from the start to contain the NYPD officer’s attempts to connect with the UFWD official. To that extent, although he remained in contact with Angwang for two years, the UFWD official, according to the portion of the transcripts of recorded conversations placed in the criminal complaint, appeared to be a methodical individual, taking every precaution with the NYPD officer, measuring every statement and response, not knowing how events might turn.

As of this writing, Angwang, is the one who now faces possible punishment from the US Department of Justice and the NYPD. The names of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York officials involved with him, to include the UFWD official, were not mentioned in the criminal complaint, which is the norm in a federal espionage case.

Detained Tibetan Bhuddist monks paraded while wearing demeaning placards (above). Officers of Chinese intelligence services might have been expected to take some interest in Angwang, particularly given his position, alleged capabilities to reach into the Tibetan community, and access to senior officials in the NYPD. Still, in a possible scenario, nothing might have led civilian and military Chinese foreign intelligence service officers assumedly posted in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York to find interest in Angwang for their purposes and on the outset they might have decided not to become involved with him. Beijing, too, may have received reports about Angwang, yet no great urgency may have been generated by what they read. Angwang may have been viewed not as a walk-in with potential, but merely an unsolicited contact, albeit a local police officer and “a son of the motherland” who had a familial connection to Tibet.

If Chinese Intelligence Services Had an Interest in Angwang, What Could It Have Been?

Recall from the initial discussion of the UFWD here that some State Council ministries and many other organizations with a party committee also conduct united front work. These organizations all offer unique platforms and capabilities that the united front policy system can draw upon for operational purposes. The Ministry of State Security, although outside of the Communist Party of China, is one of those organizations. Attached to its party committee is a united front work department. Its resources and personnel of the Ministry of State Security can be called upon to perform united front work. One can imagine the interplay between UFWD officials and Ministry of State Security foreign intelligence officers in overseas diplomatic posts. However, standard civilian or military Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers possibly posted to the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, just as those of every country, had the understanding drummed into their heads by trainers and managers was to avoid traps of all kind and to thoroughly evaluate a potential target first with the guidance of Beijing or in the case of the MSS departments and bureau, back to provincial or local from which they were deployed.

Chinese intelligence services, hypothetically characterizing Angwang as a walk-in in this scenario, might have reasoned that he should be allowed to do a little this and little that in the interests of China. However, it would also seem logical that senior executives and managers, much as the UFWD, may have believed that for the most part, Angwang should be kept figuratively on ice to see how events surrounding him would develop.  would be the best tack. If that theory were actually the case, then the US Department of Justice could very well have acted a bit impatiently to indict him. If one could progress in thinking to a follow on theory, one might also be willing to suppose that Angwang, much as Chinese counterintelligence officers were likely to believe, may have actually been serving as a counterespionage operative for US counterintelligence. Theoretically, the objective of that work would have been to insinuate himself within any active foreign intelligence network of China in New York he might come upon.

Alternatively, in following the theory of the US Department of Justice, that Angwang was under the firm control of Chinese intelligence, it is possible that Chinese intelligence services may have actually been considering him for handling by non resident foreign intelligence officers in New York. However, no proof of this has been made public.

Lastly, it is possible that other elements of the Communist Party of China, similar to the UFWD, such as the furtive yet prodiguous International (Liaison) Department and the Propaganda Department, might have been closely monitoring activities of what it would “dangerous influences” abroad concerning Tibet, and thereby may have taken at least a passive interest in the Angwang situation that never materialised into anything.

Radix malorum est cupiditas. (Greed is the root of evil.) There were a number of aspects of Angwangs’ approach to the UFWD official that would have made Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers very likely in the Consulate or senior executives and managers in Beijing that would make them highly suspicious of unsolicited contacts in the current environment. First and foremost, quite different from the majority of federal criminal cases against US citizens incepted while engaging in espionage for China, Angwang was apparently driven by the spirit of grab and greed. Angwang certainly never created that impression. As it was already mentioned in the discussion here, according to what was reported in the criminal complaint, the issue of payments for the work done was never broached by the Consulate staff member. Even more unusual, the matter of payments was never broached by Angwang either. Chinese counterintelligence, if involved, would have believed that US counterintelligence services were well aware that no money had been exchanged because if the UFWD officer had raised the matter of payments, it absolutely would have been in the criminal complaint. Interestingly, according to that document, Angwang, in 2016, wired a total of $150,000 to accounts in China controlled by his brother and another individual. It was also emphasized that Angwang had “also received multiple substantial wire transfers from the PRC [People’s Republic of China].” The matter was explained in the criminal complaint using examples in the following manner: “On or about May 23, 2016, a US bank account held in Angwang’s name received $49,985 from an account held in the name of Angwang’s brother in China Moreover, on or about January 29, 2014, a US bank account jointly held in the name of Angwang and Angwang’s wife received separate credits of $50,000 and $20,000 from an account held in the name of an individual at the Bank of China in New York.” None of this banking activity was said to have occurred during “the relevant time period.”

The matter of payments takes on even higher meaning with regard to counterintelligence. Chinese counterintelligence officers, in particular, would recognize that profit gives an act such as espionage purpose. Rarely will one come across an act of espionage that is purposeless. Without an exchange of money, payments, it is hard to see what was the purpose of Angwang’s desire to work for the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, and why anyone might insist the UFWD official was directing Angwang without any apparent means to encourage or reward activity. Savvy counterintelligence officers know that clever operatives may attempt to put investigators off the scent by laying out their actions with cunning and plausibility. Counterintelligence officers, as part of their tradecraft, look for consistency. Where there is a want of it, one must suspect deception. If an imaginable “virtual profit” were to be gained on the side of Angwang, in the minds of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers possibly in the Consulate or senior executives and managers in Beijing it would have been to lay the groundwork to potentially initiate a counterintelligence case against the UFWD official and presumably seek to infiltrate his imaginable organization to bag officers and other operatives in the what may have been theorized by US counterintelligence to be an espionage network.

Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.) According to the criminal complaint, on or about February 13, 2019, Angwang called the UFWD official, dubbed as “PRC Official-2,” and greeted him as “Boss.” Using that term “boss,” would indicate to some that the UFWD official was in some capacity had Angwang in his employ, albeit as an intelligence operative in this case. On November 14, 2019, Angwang called the UFWD official, and in addition to referring to the UFWD official as “boss” again, Angwang sought permission from him to participate in an interview with New Tang Dynasty Television. (New Tang Dynasty Television is run by the Falungong, an anti-PRC spiritual group that China banned in 1999 and declared an “evil cult.”)  In almost a protective way, recognizing Angwang’s desire to be connected with China, the UFWD told Angwang during their telephone exchange, “I think you absolutely shouldn’t do it.” Angwang responded: “It’s is better to avoid it, right?” The UFWD official, beginning to explain himself uttered: “This message this . . . the cost is too high.” Angwang seemingly pleased to respond to his inquiry stated, “Yes, yes. However, in further explaining the reason for his opinion, the UFWD, further stated: “Because NTD [New Tang Dynasty Television], China is totally against it. Angwang seemingly urging further comment said: “Yes, yes.” The UFWD beginning to offer more stated: “Their people [unintelligible] on the list.” Angwang then interjects, “Yes, yes,” but the UFWD official continues: “In the future, if you want to go back or something, it will have an enormous impact.” Thus, he was warning Angwang that by going on New Tang Dynasty Television, he would hurt his chances of ever traveling back to China again, but he did not command him not to go forward with the idea from a position of employer to an employee, although some may conclude that was such. Chinese counterintelligence officers, hypothetically observing the contact with Angwang develop, would likely recognize that it was completely possible that US counterintelligence services would portray these interactions as proof that the UFWD official was providing directing Angwang. To the extent that it is at all possible, such Chinese counterintelligence officers would likely be satisfied as the criminal complaint actually evinces, that there was no indication word for word that any instructions for action were issued to Angwang. What Angwang really did on this matter was advertise the limits he had. He should have been able to discern the liabilities of such an action on his own.

Chinese counterintelligence officers, hypothetically observing the contact with Angwang develop, would also likely be satisfied by the fact that throughout his contacts with Angwang, the UFWD official simply collected what he shared with him and accepted services as if they were benign gifts. It may very well be that in missing segments of the transcripts, the UFWD officer could be found explicitly giving instructions to Angwang to act on the Consulate’s behalf. Chinese counterintelligence officers would likely be convinced no espionage charge could possibly be leveled against the UFWD official because Angwang, would be seen in their eyes, as operating under a type of self-management on his own time and at his own expense.

Senior Executives and Managers of UFWD and Chinese Intelligence Services Were Likely Shaken but Not Stirred by Angwang

Interestingly, in one of Angwang’s conversations with the UFWD official about November 19, 2018, Angwang said that he wanted him, as aforementioned dubbed as “PRC Official-2” in the criminal complaint, to advance to a position of prominence “in Beijing” and that he would “wait for your [the UFWD official’s] invitation.” Angwang reiterated: “It’s true. In the future–in the future, after you get a whatever position in Beijing, I will wait for your invitation.” However, the UFWD official demurred stating, “Beijing, that place is too awesome.” Pushing further, Angwang confidently stated: “You, you do well here, gradually, gradually you will move up, when the time comes. The UFWD official responded: “It’s not that easy. Beijing, that place, smart people there indeed.” It must be reiterated here that in selecting diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Liberation Army Military Liaison officers, Ministry of State Security foreign intelligence officers and officials of front organizations for Communist Party of China intelligence groups such as China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture, only the very best are selected. China puts its best foot forward. While it appears the UFWD official had some difficulty verbalizing what he wanted to say in English, his intellect would still shine through his words. The indications and implications of that last statement made by the UFWD official may have been that Angwang should not be so confident that anything more than collegial contacts would be permitted. In that Delphic statement, the UFWD official may have possibly been expressing to Angwang that there may be some concerns in Beijing about him that his case was being considered by experienced and cautious senior executives and managers would be able sort out whether he was legitimate or not. Further, in that same statement, UFWD official also seemed to blandly express to Angwang that he was not giving Beijing much credit for its singular faculties of deduction and logical synthesis. At the same time, he may have possibly been having a little fun with Angwang, knowing it was very likely that he could not decipher what was being hinted at.

In an assessment of Angwang for possible recruitment, senior executives and managers in the Chinese intelligence services would surely look for what might be beneficial for them in order to twinkle out what was right. His contact was presumably regularly reviewed and assessed. It may very well be that much about Angwang was found to be questionable early on, and there was little interest afterward to exploit anything he might have had to offer. To work with an operative, there must be some assurance of behavior and desired outcomes of tasking. Given Angwang’s discordant behavior, in the long run, one could only imagine random results from his work. Expectation otherwise from such characters based on optimism typical walk hand in hand with an intelligence officer’s doom.

Seemingly none the wiser to such a possibility, Angwang continued to market himself to UFWD official. According to the criminal complaint, in an October 30, 2018 telephone call, the fact that Angwang was being assessed appeared to have been revealed. In the conversation with Angwang, the UFWD official, dubbed PRC Official-2 in the criminal complaint, complimented him concerning his promotion within the NYPD. Angwang informed UFWD official that he was preparing to take a promotional exam and that he was “taking [the exam] . . . for the people back home.” The UFWD official reportedly agreed and then made a very Dadealian yet telling remark  that “there’s a whole bunch of people looking at you.” Curiously, Angwang simply spoke past that weighty statement and went on to state rather egotistically that his position within the NYPD was valuable to China because from it, he could provide NYPD information to the Consulate.

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.” Reading federal indictments, criminal complaints, and judgments of those caught engaging in espionage for MSS over the past decade, one develops a picture of US counterintelligence while having some success intercepting Chinese intelligence officers, operatives and informants, it is usually only after they had for years delivered a considerable amount of classified information concerning US national security equities, projects, strategies, operations, and policies, US tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods and US defenses against foreign intelligence penetration, and of course, cutting-edge technologies had been put in MSS officers’ hands. According to what was reported in the criminal complaint, one could hypothesize that Angwang seemingly sought to fit the mold of individuals spotted and recruited to be Chinese foreign intelligence operatives and informants who had been intercepted by US counterintelligence. The traits and aspects of the individual spotted and recruited to work for Chinese foreign intelligence services were surely better understood from those cases. If Angwang had been operating under the direction of US counterintelligence services as Beijing may have presumed, the information from any cases would likely have been used to assist Angwang in shaping himself to become as attractive a target possible for recruitment. (Not to go too far out on shaky ground, but it appears, intriguingly, that everything Angwang offered, or claimed to have access to, essentially mirrored what the UFWD would supposedly desire in support of its activities and he, himself, ostensibly matched the sort that UFWD would likely have a proclivity to recruit based on the FBI’s description of the organization in the criminal complaint.)

Yet, all in all, it appears that the risks were too high for regular civilian or military Chinese intelligence officers to approach him, especially knowing the priority given to US counterintelligence to score victories against Chinese foreign intelligence services. Chinese spy networks have run roughshod through political, economic, military, diplomatic, intelligence, academic, social, mass communications industries in the US, seemingly stealing information with impunity.

Chinese Intelligence Services Have Been Doing Well Enough That They Could Pass on Angwang

Under the circumstances alleged in the criminal complaint of the US Department of Justice, if there was interest in recruiting Angwang, Beijing was going to reason with the facts, not odd suppositions that might be primed by Angwang’s statements. If there were any doubts about the bona fides or the authenticity of anything Angwang was saying, the matter had to be studied.

Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. (We have great notions of everything unknown.) Senior executives and managers of Chinese intelligence services observing from Beijing when considering the big picture surely took into consideration the predicament in which US counterintelligence services found themselves. They imaginably recognized that US counterintelligence services surely want to accomplish a lot against them, but they have had great difficulty in devising ways to deter, disrupt, and destroy the intelligence efforts of Chinese intelligence services. When they achieve any victories against a Chinese intelligence operative or informant, and the occasional intelligence officer, they come only after massive amounts of secret government information of the utmost importance or intellectual property of private firms and academic institutions that is the product of intense and gifted research and development work has been stolen. US counterintelligence services would prefer that Chinese foreign intelligence recruitment efforts would lead over and over to traps. Information stolen should only that which is cooked and valueless. They would like to regularly penetrate Chinese intelligence networks and roll them up in waves at times and places of their choosing. They would like to infiltrate ongoing and developing Chinese intelligence operations and use them as conduits to push disinformation back to China. Doubtlessly, they wish they had a way to identify all Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants and at least intercept, neutralize, and recruit a few as counterespionage agents.

To the extent any of that is plausible, Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers, hypothetically may have looked upon Angwang as a potential counterespionage agent of the US, they would have most likely classified him as a dangle. As defined more specifically in the earlier referenced Dictionary of Espionage, a dangle is “a person who approaches an intelligence agency in such a manner that he is asking to be recruited as an agent to spy against his own country.” It is further explained that in some cases a dangle will engage in efforts to interest an intelligence service in his or her intelligence potential, or actually begin to provide services on his or her own initiative. Accordingly, senior executives and managers of Chinese intelligence services observing from Beijing may have suspected Angwang was being dangled before the UFWD official with the hope that he would in turn be passed on to Chinese foreign intelligence officers in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York and consequently gobbled up. With regard to that, Chinese intelligence services are not so desperate at the moment that they would have jumped at the odd native Tibetan NYPD officer dropped at their Consulate door step teeming with the right bona fides, attempting to say all the right words. As aforementioned, senior executives and managers in all of the  Chinese intelligence services know that their opposite numbers in US counterintelligence services are the desperate ones. Attempting to ensnare officers Chinese foreign intelligence services–or a UFWD official in this case–with such an over the top lure may have been presumed to be more of a reflection of the desperation of US counterintelligence services. To that extent, it could be viewed as a projection of their own concerns and anxieties.

With no intention by greatcharlie to be insulting or impolitic, but quite frankly, repeating what was mentioned a bit before, there was truly very little authentically impressive about Angwang as a potential espionage operative for any Chinese foreign intelligence service to consider. Chinese foreign intelligence services have actually been doing well enough so far at spotting their own targets, recruiting their own way, and running their operatives and informants with their tactics, techniques, procedures and methods. It is estimated that their 25,000 officers on the ground in the US show little fear as they steal US technologies and secret information and data of all kinds. Again, with things going so well for Chinese intelligence services in the US so far, that would be a catastrophe.

If a decision had been made to place Angwang under the control of Chinese intelligence services, the last thing China would want would be to see its whole US enterprise come crashing down, much as a wall. Attendantly, Chinese intelligence services would not  want to see a resident intelligence officer or a member of his team hypothetically posted to the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York caught under the debris or associated in any way with the problem. They could be certain that US counterintelligence services would make a disturbance greater than bedlam if they could make a case against them.

It is highly unlikely that the UFWD official with whom Angwang was in contact, was an foreign intelligence officer from the Ministry of State Security who was simply using the UFWD’s creature, the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture as a cover. He failed to tick enough required boxes to even be considered such. In describing Chinese foreign intelligence officers, the renowned expert on the subject, Mattis, explained in a July 9, 2017 article in the National Interest entitled “Everything We Know about China’s Secretive State Security Bureau And it’s not much,” there are apparent signs that one is dealing with genuine officer of the Ministry of State Security. A Chinese diplomatic official who wears a tailored suit and speaks  with idiomatic English is one sign. A businessman working from a sketchy consulting outfit, with a few faked LinkedIn profiles, that does not own the domain it claims, is another. Reviewing the word-for word conversations, the UFWD official could only converse with Angwang, to use the vernacular, in “broken English.”

Maintaining a low profile means preventing one’s activities from becoming anything passively noticeable, inquired about by the suspicious, reported to authorities by the dutiful, and written about by reporters. As part of their tradecraft, Ministry of State Security officers would prefer hole-in-corner meetings with prospective recruits in small, quiet locations such as cozy, dimly lit establishments, conversing over coffee or tea, perhaps a dash of brandy or even a bite to eat. Such would be a far better site for a furtive discussion than some crowded establishment or a spot nearby some busy thoroughfare. Other sites usually selected are hotel rooms, gardens, and parks. Most of Angwang’s contacts with the UFWD official and another Consulate official were by telephone.

Further with regard to the telephone calls, unless they had worked out some elaborate code for communicating, nothing was hidden. The UFWD official surely had received more than one security briefing about telephone conversations in the US and the likelihood of being monitored by US counterintelligence. Chinese intelligence services have been aware of such capabilities for some time. In public statements, Chinese officials have expressed concerns about US capabilities to intercept telephone conversations of its government personnel. In the end, the telephone conversations were intercepted and declared by the FBI as the means used by the UFWD official to issue instruction to Angwang.

Equally, even if the UFWD officer, in the very unlikely case, was completely free from anything nefarious and not involved at all in any standard united front work, doubtlessly he would still be very aware and concerned that his conversations with Angwang were being monitored and assessed by Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers. His career would be put on the line with every word he spoke even though it was his job to speak to contacts in the Tibetan community as Angwang.

Learning by Observation

In his novel, Siddhartha (1922), the German born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter, Hermann Hesse, the words are written: “I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” It is possible that after a period of contact with Angwang, senior executives and managers of the UFWD in Beijing, in akin to the judgment of senior executives and managers of civilian and military Chinese intelligence services, as greatcharlie hypothesized, may have instructed their official in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York to observe him for his reactions in response to statements he should make under their direction. Using reports from the UFWD official in the Consulate, they might hypothetically choose to  study Angwang much as a rat in a Skinner box. Whatever might have been of interest in his comments and inquiries was mined potentially to help create a template for how US counterintelligence operatives might respond when placed in certain situations. Most certainly from the get-go, the UFWD official would most likely have been weaponized with questions to ask Angwang and instructions on how to relate to him so that Beijing could be better gauge him for potential recruitment.

Incongruities

Multum in parvo. (Much in little. (Small but significant.)) Closely reviewing the criminal complaint, Angwang’s case is made even more intriguing given the many incongruities and outright oddities apparent in the activities of the parties involved in the matter. Each fact is suggestive of itself. Together, they have a cumulative force.

It is hard to imagine, but not exactly improbable, that in selecting an official of the UFWD, to send to New York as a representative of the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,  UFWD senior executive and managers would choose someone who lacked proficiency in English. It would be doubly hard to imagine that of all the choices, Beijing would send someone who was also not proficient in Tibetan. After all, it even noted in the criminal complaint, among the department’s tasks is to engage with ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China. Without proficiency in Tibetan, the UFWD official could not possibly have been expected to converse in the native language of the community in which he was ostensibly assigned to engage in outreach. Lacking proficiency in Tibetan would also mean vacuously surrendering the opportunity to establish an immediate basis of commonality with those in the Tibetan diaspora in New York who might have been willing to interact with him. (Perhaps some would say his walk-in NYPD informant defied that reality.) It would be counterintuitive to do so.  Standard Tibetan, along with Mandarin Chinese, is an official language of the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. Some schools in Tibet teach all subjects in Chinese, especially in areas where most students are ethnic Chinese. As Standard Tibetan is a widely spoken form of the Tibetic languages that has many commonalities with the speech of Lhasa, an Ü-Tsang (Central Tibetan) dialect. Standard Tibetan is often referred to as Lhasa Tibetan.

According to the criminal complaint, Angwang and both UFWD officials conversed in English, although presumably at least Angwang and the UFWD official could comfortably speak in Tibetan. Tibetan is in fact Angwang’s native language, but he repeatedly spoke with the UFWD official in English. He continued to do so, despite what could be inferred from the transcript segments in the criminal complaint, the difficulty that he was having in verbalizing what he wanted to say. It was, indeed, one more instance in which Angwang failed to humble himself, and actually a moment when he was decidedly rude.

The failure of Angwang to avail himself of the opportunity to speak in Tibetan may have raised eyebrows of UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing who were very likely monitoring the progress of the contact. To them, the odds would stand against this being a coincidence. Indeed, Angwang who professed a love of his motherland, China, preferred to speak English rather than speak his native language. As a Communist Party of China loyalist might express it, Angwang further “subordinated” himself and their conversation to the language of a foreign land and an adversary. Culturally, Angwang may have been criticized in Beijing for failing to be humble and display respect for before an official, albeit low level, of the People’s Republic of China. It may have very well been viewed in Beijing also as ungracious and shameful. One might speculate that some grumblings might have even been heard in the meetings of UFWD senior executives and managers about Angwang that perhaps it was really a manifestation of his true mental attitude to his homeland.

Angwang’s repeated efforts to speak with the UFWD official in English, hypothetically may have led UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing monitoring the contact to theorize that if US counterintelligence services were using their would be informant as an clandestine operative against the UFWD official, having Angwang discuss everything in English would serve to ensure that any direct, incriminating statements made by the Consulate staff member would be taken exactly as stated and his statements would not be later declared as part of a legal defense as having been subject to poor translation or completely misconstrued due to misinterpretation.

UFWD senior executives and managers of Chinese intelligence services observing from Beijing may have made the assumption that If US counterintelligence services were operating against the UFWD official posted to the Consulate, they could have potentially insisted that their operative, who they would imaginably could have assumed Angwang was, spoke in English as a manifestation of poor tradecraft. It would be a dreadful missed opportunity to enhance the comfort zone between their operative and the target, in this case the UFWD official, and establish more firmly establish a commonality between them. (To that extent, the criminal complaint does not indicate that the UFWD official had suggested to Angwang that he speak English.

Further, UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing as well as  Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers possibly working out of the New York Consulate who were experienced with the modus operandi of US counterintelligence, might have presumed Angwang’s unwillingness to speak to native language of the motherland that he claimed to have loved so much as possible act of laziness by US counterintelligence service, who might have insisted that their operative spoke English in order to avoid having to later engage in the extra step of translating transcripts of their conversations, as witnessed in previous cases.

Lastly on the language issue, Angwang desire to speak in English with the UFWD official may have also raised concerns among UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing monitoring the contact because Madarin was also langyage in which both men could converse. Relatedly, in a December 11, 2019 telephone conversation, reported in the criminal complaint, with the UFWD official, dubbed PRC Official-2 within, Angwang asked for advice on the creation of his official NYPD business cards. Angwang stated that the card should indicate that he spoke Chinese. To that end, Angwang asked the UFWD official if his business card should state that he speaks “Chinese,” or more specifically the Mandarin dialect. The UFWD official responded that the card should read “Chinese.” Later in the call, Angwang and the UFWD official mutually decided that the card should reflect his fluency in “Chinese, Tibetan.”

Tibetans detained by Chinese security forces (above). It is possible that after a period of contact with Angwang, senior executives and managers of the UFWD in Beijing may have instructed their official in the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York to observe him for his reactions in response to statements he should make under their direction. Using reports from the UFWD official in the Consulate, they might hypothetically choose to  study Angwang much as a rat in a Skinner box. Whatever might have been of interest in his comments and inquiries was mined potentially to help create a template for how suspected US counterintelligence operatives might respond when placed in certain situations. Most certainly from the get-go, the UFWD official would most likely have been weaponized with questions to ask Angwang and instructions on how to relate to him so that Beijing could better gauge him for potential recruitment.

Oddities

According to a September 21, 2020 CNBC report, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, in a detention memo, said that an investigation found that “Angwang has traveled back to the PRC [People’s Republic of China] on numerous occasions since his asylum application was granted.” UFWD senior executives and managers closely following from Beijing Angwang’s moves, may have found it curious that Angwang’s oft professed love of his motherland had not already led him to request help from the UFWD official in securing a visit to China, to meet with the managers and colleagues of the official, to see his family, and “examine conditions in Tibet,” as part of a government sponsored cultural program. True, in a November 19, 2018 telephone conversation, he mentioned that he would wait for an invitation from the UFWD official to presumably go to Beijing once the official attained some position of influence there. However, he otherwise showed no interest in speaking with other officials at the Consulate, with the imprimatur of the UFWD official, who would have the ability to facilitate his travel to China, perhaps even on a state sponsored visit. All Angwang seemed interested concerning Beijing, was urging the UFWD official to verbalize some linkage back to his superiors there or to reveal some business or personal contact with senior executives of his organization, or otherwise, senior members of the Communist Party of China who were associated with it. As mentioned earlier, the criminal complaint clearly indicates that the UFWD official never even creeped in that direction in conversations. Angwang seemed determined to ignite a discussion with the UFWD official on his  impressions of his superiors in Beijing and their hopes of what he might achieve from his post. He repeated his inquiries similar to a skipping compact disc. Angwang also seemed to have a strong interest in what would satisfy the UFWD official’s Beijing superiors in terms of the collection of information and activities in which he, Angwang, might engage.

In a large, populous city as New York City, with so much activity tied to the diverse cultures of its many diaspora communities, contacts by NYPD community liaison officers with diplomatic representatives of the home countries from which one of the diverse communities of citizens and residents originate, would likely be given scarce attention. With regard to the officers actions as an official representative of the NYPD and City of New York, and the decidedly aberrant nature of his behavior, it is hard to understand how NYPD senior executives and managers had not been made aware of the errant behavior of the officer. One might think that his repeated contacts would have roused some suspicion or the curiosity of a single fellow officer. If NYPD senior executives and managers were aware of what he was doing, given how odd it was, he should have been ordered to cease and desist and to break contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York immediately. Based on the absence of anything to the contrary in the criminal complaint, one must presume this was the case. It appears that no heed was paid by the NYPD to his two year long perilous entanglement with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York and the UFWD.

Nimia illæc licentia profecto evadet in aliquod magnum malum. (This excessive license will most certainly eventuate in some great evil.) Being aware of that and the dangers security-wise that interactions with People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York would pose for an officer who might come in contact which such “dark elements” there, one might expect Angwang’s immediate superiors in the Community Liaison Department or at the 111th Precinct  would put some impetus into getting the officer as far away from that place. In the end, he became mixed up with the UFWD, which in many ways might be considered a far worse outcome than running into any in house spies.  have been  especially given the type of exchanges with a Consulate staff member in which he was engaged. If Angwang had been forewarned about being in contact with the Consulate by his superiors, yet then persisted in maintaining contact with officials there, the circumstances would be completely different.

After Angwang was charged, among his fellow police officers, there may very well be some grumblings to the effect that if at higher levels in the NYPD, there was an awareness of the dangerous waters was sailing into not simply by being in contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, and worse being contact with an acknowledged official of the UFWD, consideration should have been to perhaps given to providing Angwang with the opportunity to jump to safety. That opportunity could have taken the form of a stern warning or even a reprimand with regard to those contacts as well as his activities from a supervisor. Sometimes one needs to hear the perspective of others to understand how far off course one has traveled. It is unimaginable that anyone kindly mentoring the NYPD officer was encouraging his interactions with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. Imaginably, the NYPD Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the police officers’ union, may have something to say about how things panned out, too! Although the matter is now laden with national security implications and it is a federal criminal case, imaginably the PBA might have had something to say about how far the NYPD allowed the officer to stay if his superiors actually had been made aware of what he was doing. However, a PBA spokesman said the union would not be representing Angwang in the criminal case. It is stated with no interest insult or to condescend, that the majority of NYPD officers are neither steeped in international affairs and US foreign policy nor familiar enough with diplomatic arts to fully understand the implications of such contact with the local Chinese diplomatic post that garners great attention from the US Intelligence Community.

In view of how Angwang was operating with an extraordinary amount of autonomy with regard to contacts-as a local government employee–with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. Experienced senior executives and managers in UFWD might have wondered whether the NYPD officer was being supervised and whether he was reporting any of his contacts with, and activities on behalf of, the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. Senior executives and managers in UFWD would want to know why no superior officer in the errant officer’s precinct chain of command did not order him to break contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York. One might assume that the Consulate had a fully complemented suite of foreign intelligence officers, likely from more than one service, to include Communist Party of China intelligence elements.

Once Angwang’s activities were discovered, one might have expected senior executive from the NYPD, out of an abundance of caution, to approach the Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in New York and inform the official that it was not the interest or intent of the NYPD to have its community liaison officers probe Consulate officials about the inner workings of their government. Further, one might expect that the NYPD would make it clear that it was not permissible to allow its officers, essentially in the role of agents, to perform community liaison tasks for their Consulate or any foreign government Consulate for that matter.

Interesting Behavior by the Chinese Government

On the other side of the coin, the People’s Republic of China Consul General of New York did not contact the NYPD about the probing, officer with his telephone calls, comments concerning evaluations of Consulate staff by senior officials in the Chinese government, and his efforts to insinuate himself in the activities of Consulate staff member by engaging, by his own admission, in a self-managed efforts promote a staff member with superiors in Beijing. As aforementioned, the officer’s pushy, boorish nature and peculiar efforts were hardly what a Consulate official from any country would want to cope with under normal circumstances.

What compelled the Consulate to actually let it all continue is difficult to discern. That decision surely has leaves the door open to consider the decision from a different angle than simply engaging in typical Consulate activities such as supporting China’s diplomacy with the US, handle legal matters, and foster business, educational, cultural, travel, social, and community relations in the New York Metropolitan Area and to that extent, the US. There are many possibilities.

As for the response of the Chinese government, a People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, stated at a daily briefing on September 22, 2020: “The relevant accusations made by the US side are pure fabrication.” Interestingly using the word “plot,” he explained: “The US plot to discredit the Chinese consulate and personnel in the United States will not succeed.” Wenbin continued by curiously stating that the indictment against Angwang was full of hedging terms such as “seems” and “possibly,” giving the appearance that prosecutors were straining to make their case. From this particular statement, one can get a better sense of how, as postulated in the discussion here, Communist Party of China organs involved in this case, that publicly being the UFWD, and Chinese government bureaucracies interested in it, that being the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, surely examined the criminal complaint against Angwang closely. Both bureaucracies have the responsibility to support united front work. As presumed in this discussion also, certainly all information pertaining to Angwang’s contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York was carefully scrutinized by them. Perchance, as hypothesized by greatcharlie, for responsible senior executives and managers of the UFWD and also most likely among interested Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services of the Ministry of State Security, sufficient indicia existed to suspect that Angwang’s second set of contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York and the UFWD official were most likely inauthentic.

To that extent and without a great leap of thought, it becomes more likely the case that the two year period of Angwang’s second contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, which included numerous contacts with the UFWD official, was used in a curious way by UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing to study, from arms length and with sufficient safety measures in place, 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, as UFWD. As aforementioned, they 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. Whether there is any merit to this theory that in Beijing relevant Communist Party of China elements and government bureaucracies viewed the whole matter in this way, remains to be seen. Given the peculiarities of the world of intelligence, this analysis should not be deemed too extravagant.

Angwang in his Community Affairs role (above). Communist Party of China organs involved in this case, that publicly being the UFWD, and Chinese government bureaucracies interested in it, that being the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, surely examined the criminal complaint against Angwang closely. As presumed in this discussion also, certainly all information pertaining to Angwang’s contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York was carefully scrutinized by them. Perchance, for responsible senior executives and managers of the UFWD and also most likely among interested Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services of the Ministry of State Security, sufficient indicia existed to conclude that Angwang’s second set of contacts with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York and the UFWD official were most likely inauthentic.

The Way Forward

There is no intention to remotely question the actions of the US Department of Justice on the Angwang matter. With an interest in better understanding the counterintelligence case that resulted in Angwang’s indictment, greatcharlie has taken a deeper dive into facts made available. Along these lines, it has provided a reappraisal based on what it has found. It is greatcharlie’s hope that if given some attention, perhaps in some small way it might assist those who work on matters of gravity in this province improve their approach to defeating and displacing adversarial foreign intelligence services operating against the US.

John Milton, the renowned English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell, wrote in Comus (1634): “He that has light within his own clear breast May sit in the centre, and enjoy bright day: But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself his own dungeon.” Angwang’s behavior might only be explained by some mystery in his life. Left unknown to the public, it is possible to say. What stands out from the criminal complaint is that whenever Angwang involved himself in things, to include immigration, the US Army Reserve, and the NYPD, he has displayed an inclination to approach them in a way that was usually a bit off-kilter. For that reason, perhaps it can be estimated that Angwang’s aberrant and purportedly illicit choices in this case were the result of long habit. Indeed, this episode may be one more, but perhaps the most unfortunate, of a collection of odd instances in his life. To the degree that he was involved with a UFWD official, as laid out clearly in the criminal complaint, Angwang had provided him services, albeit seemingly voluntarily and arguably without direct instructions from that contact. He left no doubt that he wanted to promote what he apparently believed were the goals of UFWD official and his organization. When individuals turn their brains to misanthropy and wrongdoing, the world becomes more wicked. For certain, the FBI interprets Angwang’s services for the UFWD official as being aimed at supporting intelligence activities. As of this writing, the public has yet to hear a recounting of Angwang’s experiences in this case in his own words.

Angwang may very well be an isolated phenomenon within the NYPD ranks, and among municipal police departments around the US. However, the presence and activities of the array of Chinese intelligence services both of the government and the Communist Party of China must not be underestimated. It appears to be growing in intensity. Keen observers of China policy must appreciate the predicament of US counterintelligence services as Chinese intelligence services seek to further exploit it. There is a handle. As suggested in previous greatcharlie posts, new thinkers, from outside of the bureaucracy, may rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. They would surely look at issues from other angles, moving away from the usual track, and thereby most likely peel back surface layers, figuratively, to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. 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 in some cases might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside thinker.

Hiring such outside thinkers could be done with delicacy. There should be an exactness about the selection process. Those sought should be already known and possess the ability to present what may be unorthodox innovative, forward-looking perspectives. The projects on which such individuals would work on would be very compartmentalized and limited in scope and duration. Their attention could be directed to  special cases that may be exceptionally difficult to crack. Some senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, determined to stand as solid pillars of conventional thinking and behavior that will not be blown down by the winds of change, may not brook the idea of bringing in outsiders to handle sensitive matters. However, the tide of 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 those possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, might grow on the idea. Ratio et consilium propriae ducis arte. (Reason and deliberation are the proper skills of a general.)

China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Intelligence Under the Communist Party: The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inception of the Ministry of State Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary: Border Protection and National Security: Will a Border Wall Be Useful or Useless?

Graphic of US President Donald Trump’s vision of a “physical barrier” for the Southern Border (above). Trump has requested additional funds for its overall approach to border security, to include $5.7 billion for a wall. The wall would serve as an impediment to people and vehicles moving north. Its steel bars, embedded deep in concrete, making it relatively impervious to demolition and hindering excavation. Pointed heads on its steel bars would allow it to function in much as an abbatis. To Congressional Democrats, a physical barrier across the entire border is expensive and ineffective, and insist they will never fund it. The result has been an awful muddle.

While greatcharlie has kept abreast of the debate in the US on building a wall along the US-Mexico border, the matter had not found its way on our radar until it was labelled a national security issue. The matter has been discussed so often and for so long in the US news media that the landscape is already familiar to most. US President Donald Trump, being thoroughly convinced of the need for a “border wall”  or “physical barrier”, is insisting on $5.7 billion for its completion. With his eyes wide open, he leaped into a  protracted struggle with Democratic Congressional leaders, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and  Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, to get that funding. To encourage them to take that step, as of this writing, Trump has allowed a segment of the government to shut down for over a month by refusing to sign any spending bill that would keep it open unless funding for the wall was included in it. Congressional Democrats have refused to provide that funding. As a result, over 800,000 federal employees have either furloughed or have continued working without their salaries. Congressional Democrats paint a picture that is very black on “Trump’s Wall.” They have abrasively called the idea of a physical barrier across the entire border expensive and ineffective, and insist that they will never fund it. They believe an authentic solution to problems on the Southern Border would involve more personnel, drones, and detection technology.

The result has been an awful muddle. Although both sides apportion blame, and responsibility for any ensuing consequences, to one another. One side will eventually need to face the music. On January 4, 2019, President Donald Trump first publicly mentioned using executive authority to build the border wall. That has become a real possibility. It is not an affectation to state that in discussing this matter, greatcharlie does not seek to admire or condemn one side or the other. What is here will hopefully provide, not in an immodest way, some brief, additional facts and ideas deprived from popular public arguments. If it contributes in some way to the policy debate on the border wall, greatcharlie would be satisfied.

During his January 8, 2019 speech from the Oval Office, Trump provided statistics in support of his belief that a worsening problem at the Southern Border was a humanitarian crisis that is now relevant to US national security. In his “Address to the Nation on the Crisis at the Border” on the evening of January 8, 2019, Trump explained that 2,000 inadmissible migrants arrive at our border every day and overwhelm our immigration system. Countries of the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Central America which include Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have shown a significant spike in illegal immigration to the US. Reportedly, many families from the Northern Triangle have rushed from countries with significant levels of violent crime. Data indicates that in 2016, El Salvador had the world’s highest murder rate (82.8 homicides per 10,000 people), followed by Honduras (at a rate of 56.5). Guatemala was 10th (at 27.3), according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Another motivating force for migration from Northern Triangle countries is poverty. Those countries are among the poorest in Latin America. Some reportedly have seen a reduction of extreme poverty in recent years, however, large numbers of their populations live on less than $2 a day (the international poverty line is $1.90).

Indeed terms of impact, Trump pointed out in his January 8, 2019 address that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has arrested 266,000 aliens with criminal records in the last two years. He indicated that statistic includes aliens charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, nearly 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Reports from the Pew Research Center show that among ICE arrestees in 2017 with prior convictions, the most common criminal conviction category was driving under the influence of alcohol (59,985 convictions, or 16% of the total), followed by possessing or selling “dangerous drugs” such as opioids (57,438, or 15%). Immigration offenses, which include illegal entry or false claim to US citizenship, were the third-most common crime type (52,128 convictions, or 14%). Apparently, those arrested can have more than one type of conviction or pending charge so the total number of charges and convictions is greater than the total number of arrestees; ICE counts an immigrant with a prior criminal conviction and pending criminal charges only in the criminal conviction category. Regarding drug trafficking, Trump explained deadly drugs are flowing across our borders, taking far too many US citizens: 300 die every week from heroin, 90% of which comes across our Southern Border. According to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, the largest share of heroin and methamphetamine comes across the border in trucks and personal vehicles, using secret compartments or hiding the drugs amidst legitimate products.

Trump further explained in his address that the US does not have the resources needed to hold migrant entering the US illegally, and legal loopholes and activist court rulings prevent authorities from promptly returning them. He pointed to Immigration courts are overwhelmed, with a backlog of over 800,000 cases. With the goal of securing the Southern Border, to protect US communities, the Trump Administration has requested additional funds relative to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. Within that request for funds as part of an overall approach to border security, Trump stated: “Law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.”

Remedium irae est mora. (The cure for anger is delay.) Despite their polemic, Trump does not necessarily see Congressional Democrats as misguided or worse, amoral. He feels that they are engaged in the unfortunate game of political brinkmanship, they, too, are allowing the portions of the government to remain closed. He senses that they are presenting an artificial side of themselves by rebuffing his plans for a border wall, and presenting what is simply a preferred position on the matter. As of this writing, Trump hopes Congressional Democrats will eventually face up to how injudicious their choice is and come to his way of thinking given that the national security, even more the sovereignty of the country is at stake. He believes political expediency and private emotion will obey reason and public duty. Still, though his preference is negotiation, Trump may eventually find cause the use his authority as president to declare the situation at the border a national emergency and seek funding for the wall through that process. Trump’s patience has its limits.

Given that they are well-seasoned political figures, it is very difficult to discern whether their arguments against the border wall proffered by Congressional Democratic leaders are allowed to be misleading through an act of omission, whether they simply do not understanding how the wall fits in to the broader picture of border security and purely believe in the rectitude of their argument. One might ascribe greater possibility to the later given how they handled their own efforts to create a wall on the Southern Border through the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As a result of considerable deal making among Congressional Democrats and Republicans, $1.2 million was authorized to construct 700 miles of “border fencing” along the Southern Border. It was the only option at the time, but certainly not the best approach. As a result of the authorization, the US has 649 miles of various types of walls and fences along the border. Some of it to keep pedestrians from crossing, with others meant to stop vehicles. To protect the habitat of the last North American jaguars, an endangered species, barriers are absent on a portion of the border. A good portion of the border is delineated by the Rio Grande with its canyons and bluffs and also lacks barriers. However, the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico is nearly 2000 miles long. Much of the border, where barriers could serve the purpose of thwarting penetration, was left unprotected.

On walls and fixed fortifications, the renowned US commander in World War II, US General George Patton, explained in his memoir published posthumously in 1947, War As I Knew It: “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, anything made by man can overcome.” In Appendix D of the memoir, he added: “. . . Study the Siegfried and Maginot Line, remembering that these defenses were forced; that Troy fell; that the wall of Hadrian succumbed; that the Great Wall of China was futile . . . .” The gaping holes in the 649 mile wall that Congressional Democrats were willing to sponsor certainly left the door wide open to penetration by opponents. The limited “border fencing” concept failed miserably. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report concluded that despite 649 miles of completed fencing, the “the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics.” Perhaps their understanding of the utility of a wall is greatly informed by their own unsatisfactory efforts. Yet, engaging in the symbolic act of simply raising a wall, as they did, is not the equivalent of using a wall as an obstacle and part of a larger plan for an active defense against an opponent’s continued effort to penetrate US territory. Ideally, a wall of sufficient, properly placed, should create physically and as well symbolically, a nonpermissive environment for opponents. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Looking from another angle, unacknowledged and undiscussed by Congressional Democrats is the actuality that their approach to securing the Southern Border is a limited approach to managing difficulties there. Implementation of a limited approach to combating problems at the border may very likely lead to limited results. Surely, some truly comprehensive approach to coping with problems at the border would be an considerable challenge. Such an effort might include working effectually with governments of the Northern Triangle to stem the tide of migrants and illegal activities of organized crime from migrant smuggling to human trafficking, much as they cooperate on counter narcotics operations in the Drug War, would be an important element of a plan.  It would means attacking in depth at the root of the problems, such as poverty, crime, and disillusionment at home. One might even consider the starry-eyed notion of Initiating a Marshall Plan type of investment in Central America. The goal would be to economically revitalize countries and to mitigate much of the economic hardship people in them face. Steps might include eliminate financial and other resource deficiencies that have beset national, state, and local governments, hindering their capability and capacity to satisfactorily provide services to their people. There might be efforts to invest in rebuilding infrastructure, available industries, and trade, to tackle housing needs, to improve health and sanitary conditions, and to assure clean water and other natural resources serve the needs of the people. The social justice systems of those countries in the region would be revamped, and civil rights and human rights discrepancies would be addressed. These steps, indeed, only touch the surface of what would need to be done. However, with their plates already piled high with issues, selling the idea of remaking Central America will not be the agenda of any political party in the US any time soon. If securing authorization for the funding of a border wall has been difficult, one can only imagine what trying to secure funds for such a comprehensive development plan would look like. The alternative is combat the problem in a way that makes activities from illegal entry and the establishment of sequitous routes of border penetration.

The Southern Border will unlikely be completely sanitized of illegal activities, but those fighting the problem may be able to make such activities by making them unprofitable with a suite of undefeatable measures and insurmountable obstacles. The identification and neutralization of the varied illegal activities doubtlessly will require the development of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods against the known capabilities and capacities of opponents and those forecast for future. The approach to the opponents should evolve as they invariably will shift their tactics. Use of sophisticated technologies to detect opponents’ efforts will provide border security units with greater abilities to complete their defined, enumerated tasks. Still, while technology may create greater opportunities for success, what is new will work most likely better when it is married to what is tried and true.

Congressional Democrats might argue that the border wall as envisioned by Trump would simply be a supersized obstacle. One must agree that on its face, the border wall is an obstacle. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an obstacle as a thing that blocks ones way or prevents or hinders progress. As a physical barrier, obstacles are typically used by military forces and law enforcement to impede the movement of an opponent on foot or by vehicles to prevent the achievement of their objectives or goals. Among the types of obstacles, those most relevant to discussion of the border wall are constructed obstacles and natural obstacles. The greater part of the wall would be a constructed obstacle, and much as those prepared by the military, it would serve as an impediment to people moving north on foot or in vehicles. The steel bars, embedded deep in concrete, would make the wall relatively impervious to demolition and prevent or at least greatly hinder excavation. The pointed heads of its steel bars would allow the wall to function in a way similar to an abbatis. Natural obstacles such as the Rio Grande, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico, are terrain features that severely limit the movement of people on foot and halt the movement of vehicles transporting people and contraband.

Sciant quae optima sunt esse communia. (The best ideas are common property.) A more substantial discussion on the effective use of obstacles in a military fashion is provided by the US Army. For its purposes, obstacles are part of a commander’s larger plan for offensive or defensive operations. Obstacles do far more than just blocking an opponent’s movement on its axis pf advance. Stated as plainly as possible, obstacles serve to disrupt an opponent, turning the opponent into other areas where effective ways and means can be used attack it. The obstacles used for this variety of purposes are integrated into the course of action for an operation as determined by the commander. Field Manual 3-0, Operations (FM 3-0), provides doctrine on how US Army forces, as part of a joint team, conduct sustained, large-scale combat operations with current force structure and capabilities against a regional peer. In terms of opponents, the doctrine focuses on the current Russian threat against which large-scale ground combat operations are possible. To that extent, the manual explains that the Russians integrate the use of obstacles in their operational plans, too! FM 3-0 states, “The enemy typically attempts to slow and disrupt friendly forces with a combination of obstacles, prepared positions, and favorable terrain so that they can be destroyed with massed fires [to include direct and indirect artillery and rockets].”

To simply build a border wall believing the structure itself will perfectly serve to thwart an opponent’s entry onto US territory would be both misguided and foolhardy. Surely, it would be quickly overcome by the opponent’s often unexpected ingenuity, although the border wall is an obstacle, its raison d’être is not serve solely as a static defense against opponents’ efforts. There is a broader picture of a dynamic defense of the Southern Border of which the new wall, the most visible symbol of that defense, would be a part. Indeed, the wall would integrated into the defense in a way that would perfectly support the considerable ongoing operations of law enforcement and military elements protecting the Southern Border. Indeed, the border wall will have a multiplier effect upon those operations.With regard to better supporting those operations, the Trump administration has requested: $211 million to hire 750 additional Border Patrol agents for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP); $571 million for 2,000 additional ICE personnel; $4.2 billion for 52,000 detention beds, personnel, transportation, and detention alternatives; and, $563 million for 75 additional immigration judges and support staff. Law enforcement and military elements at the Southern Border will be enabled to focus on new ways to defeat opponents’ from new angles and do more things to defeat their efforts.

Rather than suggest anyone rely solely on a few offstage meditations and considerations, historical support for some of the ideas posited here can be found from the great military commanders of the past. The world renowned military commander, Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte had a point of view on approaching a struggle with a mindset of limiting ones’ efforts: “If you wage war, do it energetically and with severity. This is the only way to make it shorter and consequently less inhuman.” While the border wall might be characterized as a huge expenditure, that will make little improvement in the struggle at the border, Congressional Democrats might discover that such small things make a big difference as the situation. As the situation on the border evolves, as the criminal elements and other opponent move the goal post for defending the border, the border wall will continue to limit and eliminate their options for movement, action.

Napoleon also explained that when resources are available and they can make difference in the field, one must deprive themselves of them. One must mass upon the opponent in order to optimize chances for success, and victory. Napoleon stated: “When you have resolved to fight a battle, collect your whole force. Dispense with nothing. A single battalion sometimes decides the day.” Using a truncated approach to border security, driven perhaps by back room political horse trading along the way, that cavalierly subtracts available elements from ones operations will nearly ensure an equivalent or worse subtraction from potential success. The problem at the border may never be mitigated. As opponents there constantly shift their strategies and tactics, and many innovative approaches to penetrating the border are revealed, the struggle may prove to be a long hard slog. Continuing with an unsatisfying tack in the face of a proven imaginative opponent, will result in both wasted energy and effort and slow spiral downward toward defeat. There may be no light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, it is always possible that any momentum toward success could shift from the US Government in favor of border opponents who are absolutely determined to succeed, attempting to overwhelm via their efforts, never satisfied with achieving some stalemate with the US Government. They would like to find a sustainable way to make US Government efforts futile.

Given how the desire to thoroughly countering the activities of opponents across the Southern Border have shaped by the Trump administration for the border wall, interesting parallels in the concepts of the King of Prussia Frederick the Great for the use of such an obstacle. Regarding European warfare, Frederick the Great is recognized in the world of military science as the master of forming defenses. While the wordimg may sound somewhat strange to the modern ear, his comcepts were well-outlined in his work entitled: “The King of Prussia’s Military Instruction to His Generals.” Through a late 18th century translation by Lieutenant Colonel T. Foster, in “Article VIII. Of Camps”, Frederick the Great conveyed: “We entrenched a camp, when it is our intention . . . to defend a difficult pass, and supply the defects of the situation by throwing up works so as to be secure from every insult on the part of the enemy.” Expounding on using barriers and walls, Frederick explained: “In camps that are intended to cover a country, [in this case would refer to the positioning of CBP, ICE, law enforcement of border states, local law enforcement and the military on the border] the strength of the place itself is not the object of attention, but those points which are liable to attack, and by means of which the enemy may penetrate. These should all be surrounded by the camp. Not that it is necessary to occupy every opening by which the enemy may advance upon us, but that one only which would lead to his desired point, and that situation which affords us security, and from which we have it in our power to alarm him. In short, we should occupy that post, which will oblige the enemy to take circuitous routes, and enable us, by small movements, to disconcert his projects.”

With regard to discovering as much as possible about an opponent before determining how to effectively employ an obstacle such as the Southern Border wall, Frederick imparted: “The army of the enemy [which in the present case would include the drug cartels, organized crime groups, smugglers, foreign intelligence operatives, economic refugees, and others attempting illegal entry] should be the chief object of our attention, it’s designs must be discovered, and opposed as vigorously as possible.” Similar to the way US border protection elements want those crossing the border to travel to designated points of entry, Frederick stated: “Intelligent generals are well informed how to oblige the enemy to attack those points where the work is made strongest by the ditch being widened, deepened, and lined with pallisadoes, chevaux de frize placed at the entrances, the parapet made cannon-proof, and pits dug in the places that are most exposed.” With regard to the design of a barrier on the Southern Border, Frederick explained: “The rules which a general has to observe in the formation of all entrenchments are, to take advantage of every marsh, river, inundation, and abbatis which may serve to render the extent of his entrenchments more difficult.” Additionally, Frederick continued by making an important point relevant to the nature of any barrier built on the border;  “ . . . The progress of the enemy is not checked by the entrenchments themselves, but by the troops who defend them.”

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. (I shall either find a way or make one.) In the present case concerning the border wall, figuratively,  generals of varied qualifications, insist on implementing their respective plans to win the battle on the Southern Border, when one general, with one set of ends and ways must suffice. Resources authorized will be dependent on who prevails in that struggle at headquarters. Congressional Democrats failed in their border security efforts in the past, and insist that Trump administration efforts will be futile. Still, the synergistic integration of the wall and new technologies, and strengthening the capabilities and capacity of those manning the border, as the Trump administration may actually be far better for the interests of the US. Fresh ideas, that have the potential to yield results are better than old, derivative ones. The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

It is difficult to gauge how the US public likely views all of this. Some may believe they are observing the system of checks and balances in their government at work or  other may feel they are witnessing Washington as an erratic bipolar world in which their political leaders bicker incessantly. What is certain to all is that the border security of US matters. If anything, through this debate, or impasse, the Trump administration has sent that message worldwide.