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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Intelligence Under the Communist Party: The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inception of the Ministry of State Security

The story of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) began thoroughly in July 1983. That year, there was considerable frustration in the Communist Party of China with the high volume of secret information being leaked to the West. This was particularly true with regard to information about debates occurring within the Communist Party and reports of poor economic and social conditions within China. In reaction, counterespionage responsibilities were transferred from the MPS to the MSS. Known as the Guojia Anquanbu or Guoanbu, the MSS was stood up to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus. When the reorganization of the MPS was completed in 1983, it was temporarily left with only traditional police functions. Nevertheless, the change turned out to be quite positive as both organizations were allowed a new beginning so to speak. 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 exoanded vertically, taking over local public security bureaus or established subordinate municipal or County bureaus. The MSS policy of expanding representative offices in most major towns and cities was reversed in 1997. Nevertheless, when MSS minister Jia left in 1998 for the MPS, the MSS was a nationwide organization at every level. Presently, the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements. Interestingly, as MSS moved through each growth spurt, it did not ignite efforts to rename the organization, to divide it into pieces and parcel out some of its departments among other Chinese intelligence services, or to disband it altogether in the way CDSA and MPS suffered in the two previous decades. There seemed to be an understanding system wide that the need existed for a solid civilian foreign intelligence as well as counterintelligence capability.

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

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

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

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

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

Residual Impact of Soviet Intelligence Upon Chinese Intelligence?

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

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

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

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

How MSS Is Organized

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

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

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

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

Intelligence Targets of Today’s MSS

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

Deng Xiaoping and the Emphasis on Economic Espionage

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

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

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

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

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

Dimensions of MSS Intelligence Collection

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

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

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

Collection through Front Companies and Operatives

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

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

Technical Intelligence Collection and Cyber Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

MSS Human Intelligence Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selecting Prospective Recruits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MSS Informants: Motivations

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

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

On MSS Informants Overseas

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

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

Recruiting Spies for the Long-Run: MSS Style

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

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

Honey Traps

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences

Communist Party of China Headquarters (above). The Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic has been thoroughly questioned in the West, especially in the US. Beijing’s finger wagging in response has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. If Beijing stays on its current course, activities in support of the Party-line will surely intensify. Political warfare units and officers overseas of the Chinese intelligence services possess the know-how to propagate the Party-line and are being relied upon. A quiet sense of resentment has likely risen among Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats and professionals who seem to be increasingly tasked with making right turns on the truth and have watched as their legitimate work, to promote China’s policy interests, is regularly supplanted by intelligence efforts.

From the moment the coronavirus outbreak began, the People’s Republic of China was not able to overcome and resolve all challenges that beset it. Facing that reality appears to have shaken the psychological foundations of China’s Communist Movement to its core. Under the somewhat mechanical guiding principles of the Communist Movement reinvented by Chairman Mao Zedong insist that China must be forever driving upward and making progress. All efforts should be directed at pushing China to meet its destiny of taking a dominant position in the world. If China did not reach the top, it would remain a sheep not a shepherd. The volumes of collected concepts and quotes could not offer answers for Beijing to quickly and effectively contain the coronavirus, Having failed to meet the needs of its people, Beijing then failed to prevent a coronavirus outbreak worldwide which it must have come to term with by now. Thereby, any sense of failure has likely been intensified. Yet, Beijing has refused to give up the ghost and has continued to extol the virtues of its medical, scientific, and advanced technological capabilities. The identity of the Party is dependent on a certain worldview concerning the Communist Movement, the teachings of Mao, China’s greatness, and China’s world dominance in the future. When that worldview was threatened, the Party would only hold even more tightly to it and potentially double-down on that line of thinking. That possibility of doubling-down most likely led to the decision by Beijing to contain the virus in China as robustly as possible and contain any information just how bad the situation was. Certain medical approaches were approved and taken. Concern over what might have happened outside China was not given equal importance. and few real steps, if any, were taken that related to a concern over an outbreak. No alternative ideas concerning an almost certain outbreak from the discerning and wise in Beijing–academics, scientific scholars, any with relevant expertise–were investigated or allowed any light. Controversies were to be avoided. Those few who said anything contrary to the Communist Party of China line were effectively silenced.

Indisputably, the Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic clashes with the truth. It has been questioned in the West, especially in the US. Although finger wagging at the US in response may seem morally invigorating, it has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. It certainly has not improved relations with the US. In China, the Communist Party of China, the National Party Congress, and the State Council of China are the immediate sources of all the daily needs of the Chinese people, that certainly would include information. The government would like to convince the Chinese people that international affairs, it says what it has to say, does what it has to do, to lay up a future of world dominance for China. Given this, perchance Beijing has continued this course because it believes the rebuke of the US has served to assure the Chinese public that there is no ambiguity in what the Communist Party of China has determined are the facts. Beijing may believe it is helping Chinese citizens live their lives fully and clear because they are provided “the truth.” By now, though, a good number of Chinese citizens are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government.

In hac re ratio habenda est ut montio acerbitate. (Reason should be held to (applied) in this matter so that the admonition may be without harshness.) While greatcharlie would prefer to avoid being seen as providing advice to Beijing–which in reality would most likely have no interest in its meditations on the matter. Nonetheless, one might say out of academic interest, greatcharlie has sought to conceptualize what Beijing could have done on the world stage when the coronavirus epidemic began in China and offers some thoughts on what it could still do today to recurvate better present itself as “a leader” on the world stage. Related to that, greatcharlie also takes a brief look in the abstract at why any immediate change in the attitudes and behavior may not occur so quickly as its diplomatic tool, the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been going through a type of transition contrary to its purpose of building better relations with other countries.

As a net result of its ongoing tack concerning the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has thoroughly encased itself in the dreadful mistakes it made by unintendedly, yet repeatedly, shining light on what it did not do right and by its continuous attempts to muscle its way out a disastrous situation with words and actions cobbled together inconsistently in an unsuitable emergency public relations campaign. It would seem that in undertaking its current course, not one appropriate contingency has been considered.

If one were to allow Beijing a bit of latitude, purely out of academic interest, its response to the Western, particularly the US, may be the sense that Chinese leaders might have seared into their psyches over decades about Western perceptions of China. That sense might be informed by utterances of identifiable relics of bigotry from a bygone era to the effect that China is nothing for the West to worry about and the Chinese lack the intellectual power and scientific and technological know-how to ever match US capabilities. That was the case when former US Vice President Joe Biden stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” To that extent, Chinese leaders view their country a being wronged for too long and they endeavor to right that wrong. (Interestingly, in the administration of US President Barack Obama from which political leaders who have made such statements mostly emerge, a laissez faire attitude resulted in policies on China lost in the wilderness that failed to genuinely protect or promote US interests. The delinquency and lethargy of previous administrations also allowed for the steady progress of China versus US power and further advances in technology.)

Certainly, the moment for immediate action has passed. However, a better course than the one taken, to be brief, would have been to accept the reality of their situation, listening to those in their own country who presented the truth about the virus, and fully acknowledging all of the different developments as they happened, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most important would have been to be the very party that sounded the global alarm, proactively suggesting constructive precautions to all countries, interacting closely with those leading industrial powers which could have a real impact in stemming the problem worldwide while there was still at least a modicum of time for all countries to act, not just China. Beijing could have worked strenuously with international organizations to include the UN Security Council, fully alerting them that the threat that global pandemic may be in the making. Within those institutions, practical and promising forward-looking recommendations to forge a synergistic international response could have been formulated and promoted by China. The flurry of positive action, that would most noticeably include Beijing’s humble recognition of its errors, would have been an astonishing, powerful display of international leadership by Beijing, albeit over a crisis it caused. The fact that something akin to this approach was not undertaken, and perhaps not even considered, has been a sticking point for Trump.

If it so chose at this stage, Beijing could still direct energy and resources at pecking away at the shell in which they trapped themselves much as a chick breaking out an egg. Nuanced approaches requiring positive action by all relevant bureaucracies across the government to create a positive image and firm, favorable picture that a sanguine China is taking all affirmative steps possible should need to be developed. They would need to be finessed, reshaped continuously, to maximize impact upon viable opportunities to break out its self-inflicted shell the country’s earlier missteps. It would also require more humble cooperation with the rest of the world, not reckless antagonistic verbiage that has so far only triggered the never previously considered process of genuinely isolating China from the international community, international trade and political economy, that is slowly gaining momentum. Rather than experiment with anything new, thoughtful, and inspired, Beijing simply turned to the derivative tactics of locking down and concealing less-desirable and outright unpleasant developments. Disappointingly, the leadership of China appears to lack the reflexes, sensibilities, and sadly, the sophistication, to turn toward the more advanced notions required for positive cooperation. Perhaps, brooding leaders of the Communist Party of China have managed to convince themselves that the main front in all of this is a battle of wits between East and West, in which two disparate political and economic systems compete for dominance.

If no erosion of its current positions occurs, and Beijing stays on its current course, one can expect activities in support of them to intensify. Seemingly, the quondam Cold War era, in which such thinking held prominence is apparently not dead, at least not in the foreign affairs parlors of the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese intelligence services, particularly the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and to an extent, departments of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and intelligence elements of the Communist Party of China. The MSS, a civilian intelligence agency, comparable to some degree to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order. Since 1983, it has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes worldwide. With regard to China’s coronavirus crisis, MSS possesses the know-how through specially trained personnel in political warfare units and officers overseas who could engage in active measures, propagating the line of the Communist Party of China. So far, the apparent political warfare attack against the US, has not been the smashing success leaders of the Communist Party of China were hoping for. However, its effects are doubtlessly being felt throughout the foreign and national security policy apparatus of the Chinese government. With regard to the MFA, large swathes of activities concerning China’s foreign relations with other countries have been taken out of the hands of the diplomats and other professionals at the MFA and put in the hands of the intelligence services.

Materiam superabat opus. (The workmanship excelled the materials.) In the offices of the MFA, there is very likely a very quiet sense of resentment among professionals having chosen to represent China and promote its policy interests worldwide only to have their legitimate activities regularly superseded and supplanted by the machinations of the Chinese intelligence services at the behest of Communist Party of China. After decades of proudly engaging in complex, meaningful diplomatic work, mostly behind the scenes, with the goal of having China respected and reckoned as a power that can have a significant impact in international affairs by the international community, it is surely difficult for MFA diplomats and other professionals to watch as China, instead of further establishing its place among dominant powers, is now earning a reputation as an international pariah.

The purpose of diplomacy should be to prevent war. Bilateral and multilateral contacts with other countries, statements, press releases, and other messaging should not have the aim of antagonizing and raising the ire of leaders and other decisionmakers in foreign capitals. MFA diplomats and professionals would surely prefer to avoid a tit-for-tat situation with the US in which one act of retribution would lead to another from China. With every new act, the chance that a serious outbreak of violence increases.

As mentioned, MFA is ostensibly the primary government agency with a portfolio of implementing the foreign policy and managing diplomatic affairs of China, however the ministry now finds its diplomatic efforts with the US being increasingly supplanted by MSS efforts to conduct active measures such having journalist, academics, and other policy scholars promote the Communist Party of China’s hardline and by intensifying its efforts to steal a wide variety of technologies from US companies and universities. More recently, that nefarious work has included efforts to steal the fruits of money, time, and research into therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus. MFA diplomats may find themselves more and more dragged into MSS operations and those of other Chinese intelligence services as their efforts intensify. In a recent incident, it was discovered that a biology researcher at the University of California-Davis lied about her ties to the PLA. After being interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she sought refuge in China’s San Francisco consulate. While it has not been definitively established that she was engaged in intelligence work in the US, there is a high probability she was. The PLA would not knowingly deploy an officer to the US without tasking her with some intelligence function. MFA is a consumer of information from cloak and dagger work, and it’s diplomats would prefer not to be sacked into the business of obtaining it.

One might suppose that it was already enough for MFA diplomats to tolerate a policy generally understood to be in effect that has MSS personnel assigned to China’s embassies and other permanent diplomatic missions overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. Reportedly, in the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. When the accommodations to the MSS aforementioned are added to this, it most assuredly piles on to a heap of discontent that has been long standing.

To enlarge on the point of how MFA is intriguingly being utilized in the larger more belligerent approach of China toward the US, recall how early into the coronavirus crisis, the world witnessed the Department of Information of the MFA using a far sharper tone. As time moved on, it seemingly devolved into being simply a direct mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, providing some cover for the Party’s own offices. What was being declared about the US has been far from plausible, and apparently manifested anxieties, fears, over outcomes of grave errors made within China. Press briefings amplified those statements online with a bit more vigor. Spokespersons propagating the stronger line were abrupt in what is the approved Party fashion. Indeed, all MFA officials comported themselves publicly with an astringency which some regime critics would say uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Disinformation was also being spread from MFA sources through posts on Twitter. Those who are following this matter closely will hardly forget the shocking and incredulous tweet from Zhao Lijian, the Director of the Information Department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he tried to direct blame at US for the coronavirus epidemic in China. From @zlj517 on March 12, 2000, at 10:37 AM, Zhao wrote: “2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

The hallowed diplomatic doctrine of the MFA has been moderation in all things. Calmness and authority must be shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances. The more recent assertive approach has pulled MFA officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture. Reportedly, the transition in approach is due to something called “Wolf-Warrior diplomacy.” The name derives from high grossing, action films, “Wolf Warrior” and “Wolf Warrior II,” that feature Chinese special operations forces in battle against China’s adversaries. While the films present a false reality, the nationalistic ideas and ideals they  promote apparently cross-polinated with thinking of China’s leadership on real foreign and national security issues.

Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.) With good reason, somber and astute foreign policy analysts worldwide have found it difficult to believe that MFA diplomats and professionals are pleased to adhere to a policy that is named after and centered upon a banal amusement. There is some indication that the Wolf Warrior diplomacy is not novel, but rather has been in effect for a decade. However, the requirement that MFA diplomats and even officials of other government ministries take on a “fighting spirit” has really been something insisted upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Wolf Warrior diplomacy is all seen is a response by Beijing to highly biased perceptions of China presented especially in Western media. Recall, that notion was touched upon earlier here. Biases heard from overseas by China are often perceived not only as ideological but racist. There is also a prevalent perception in China that as the country has become more powerful on the world stage, other countries increasingly sense that it poses a threat to their respective interests.

The official position on the impact of Wolf Warrior diplomacy on Chinese diplomats and professionals is that it has raised their morale and encouraged a more assertive style. Yet more plausibly, MFA diplomats and professionals feel Wolf Warrior diplomacy is a load of bollocks, and they could mercilessly dissect the shortcomings of that diplomacy and anything produced under it. Intriguingly, expressions of traditional Chinese diplomacy and professionalism have been heard here and there. Comments of that nature made by the People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai about the anti-US declarations from Beijing were highlighted in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Reportedly, Cui told the HBO news program “Axios on HBO” that he stands by his belief that it’s “crazy” to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the US. Cui even called this exact conspiracy theory “crazy” more than a month ago on the CBS News program, “Face the Nation.” well before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs first began publicly promoting the conspiracy. However, despite such coruscating flashes of what could be called true MFA sensibilities, strong disagreements felt by diplomats and professionals are generally left at the door of their office buildings. At best a very cautious demarche should be attempted in house by the most secure diplomats in the face of decisions and policies of the leadership in an authoritarian, and arguably totalitarian, Communist state. That demarche should never be looked upon by outside observers as a fuite du courage, as much as a pragmatic, existential necessity.

Perchance, more MFA diplomats and professionals disagree with Communist Party of China line policies than one could imagine. No one hoping for the best for China would want to see good thinking officials engage in some une enterprise désespérée that could result in having them brutally weeded out of the system. At least for the time being, nothing that could relatively “bring down the house” should be uttered. Having been directed to promote policies based on the attributes of a fictitious character from an action film, MFA diplomats and professionals have done so without question both overseas and at home. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

At one time, the MFA had a clear cut choice between being a mediator and an enforcer of China’s foreign policy. Its diplomats displayed a certain style and nuance as they made offers and discussed the proposals to resolve issues with other countries. Wolf Warrior requires a hardline stand every time. Insights will not advance efforts, dogma will. In following, as time passes, the MFA will likely be forced to make half turns away from the truth, ensuring that it is never on the correct side of issues. As the MFA is used more and more as a tool to proclaim the aggressive message of the Communist Party of China, it places into question whether the ministry will even keep its main job of making peaceful entreaties with foreign governments. While diplomats might meet with the foreign diplomatic counterparts, there would be superficiality to those contacts. It would be diplomacy after a fashion, albeit in an unsatisfactory way. The work of MFA diplomats, as it once was, would be finished. Maliuolum solacii genus est turba miserorum. (A crowd of fellow suffers is miserable kind of comfort.)

The fact that the Chinese government initiated the ongoing coronavirus disaster cannot be credibly truthfully argued against. Sadly, Beijing so far has not demonstrated any interest in acting appropriately concerning the present matter of the coronavirus. It will most likely attempt to continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. Nevertheless, despite that having transpired, it is not too late to turn the situation around. China can put the present time to good use. The US, as the true dominant power in the world must maintain its poise. It must not react. It must act in a measured way using effective means, at a time and place of its choosing. Despite all the dissatisfaction and disappointment felt toward China, the US must interact as amiably as possible. Surely, the two countries are not at a point yet when the dark waters of despair have overwhelmed their leaders. When diplomats from both sides meet, they must approach each other with a certain buoyancy and hope. Consilio melius contendere atque vincere possumus quam ira. (We can compete and prevail better through wisdom than through anger.)

US-Led Military Strikes in Syria Were a Success: Was a Correlative Political Warfare Success Achieved, Too?

Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). Given all that transpired in Syria surrounding the US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes, Putin, Assad and their respective senior advisers may very well have begun to ask questions about future of relations between their countries. Relations between Moscow and Damascus may have begun moving in a new direction to the dissatisfaction and disappointment of Putin, and the dismay and anger of Assad.

Correlative effects can result from airstrikes, cruise missile strikes, drone strikes, and artillery attacks. Those effects could include damage to surrounding structures, or could mean unfortunate harm to civilians, in or near a target struck. Correlative effects can sometimes include shaping the attitude and behavior of an opponent targeted, his ability think, what he thinks, his ability to fight, and even his interactions with individuals with which he is allied or tenuously unified can be others. A correlative result of the April 13, 2018 US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes in Syria may have been a hard blow upon the ties between Russia and Syria. Indeed, perhaps far more was accomplished by that US-led coalition than the Trump administration could have imagined. On April 13, 2018, US military forces, acting in coordination with military forces from the United Kingdom and France, took decisive action against the chemical weapons infrastructure of the Syria Arab Republic. It was in response to an April 7, 2018 chemical weapons attack against his own citizens in Douma. According to the Trump administration, the US has vital national interests in averting a worsening catastrophe in Syria, and specifically deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons. The military strikes took out “the heart” of the Syrian chemical weapons enterprise, but there were other facilities that were not struck due to concerns about civilian casualties. He declined to say exactly how much of the chemical weapons program was taken out. US Defense Secretary James Mattis explained that the strikes were “a one-time shot.” US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, explained in an April 18, 2018 press conference at the Pentagon that the US carefully plotted out the strength, length of time, and target set of the strikes. Efforts were made to minimize the potential for chemical weapons to leak out of the facilities, with McKenzie saying “we believe we successfully mitigated” the risk. He explained that while it is possible that some material and people were moved from the site in the lead-up to the attack, there were certain pieces of equipment that the regime would not have been able to relocate. McKenzie acknowledged that the three sites did not represent the totality of the Syrian chemical weapons program known to the US. However, McKenzie and Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White emphasized that future strikes in the region could not be ruled out, saying that it is entirely up to the Assad regime. They went on to explain that the use of chemical weapons in the future could lead to more strikes.

After everything, Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad sits ostensibly in relative safety and comfort in Damascus as the leader of all of Syria, even though he only controls a small part of the country’s territory. He only holds on to that with the assistance of Russia and Iran. Even more, he wields as much power as Russia will grant him to wield. To observers, there appears to be a blindness in Moscow about Assad. Yet, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is well aware of his Syrian counterpart’s merits and deficits. He has an intellectual understanding of Assad, his habits, his ways. Indeed, at this point, Putin, with albeit some effort, very likely can track his thoughts, and likely has intimations about his moves whenever he thinks about Syria. For some, the optics of their interactions would support the idea that Assad is something akin to a ventriloquist’s dummy for Putin. Others would insist that they have a strong personal bond. Imdeed, there are Western foreign policy analysts and scholars would go as far as to say the relationship with Assad is indissoluble. Putin would likely assert that the two men simply have a better than average friendly rapport based on mutual interests and military, diplomatic, and economic arrangements. It would be practically impossible for the truly experienced not to see that in their relationship, Putin is the top, the leader, the senior party and Assad is the bottom, the follower, the junior party. Often, Putin displays choreographed support for Assad. When relationships are built on mutual interests and useful arrangements, and not a higher bond, sometimes conditions can change to such a degree that the relationship might be altered or ended.

Given all that transpired in Syria surrounding the US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes. Putin, Assad and their senior advisers may very well have begun to ask questions about future of relations between their countries. The interior thoughts, emotions officials in Moscow and Damascus play an important role in all that is happening with Syria. There was nothing but negative feedback for Assad regarding Putin. Assad likely had no doubt that Putin would stand with him against the West. Yet, as the Western military strikes were executed on April 13, 2018, Assad watched as Putin did nothing. The lesson for Assad was that he should not be so trusting of Russia and his other somewhat powerful allies. After all, when desires action from them, he has almost no way to aafely shape their behavior. While Assad did not publicly brood over what transpired on April 13th, he was likely resentful and bitter about it. Postulating that the military strikes in Syria were designed to have the effect of sowing seeds of mistrust and dissent between Russia and Syria would go a bit beyond conjecture. However, there may have been coincidental, correlative political warfare effects resulting from the April 13th military strikes. A glut of information about Assad is held by the intelligence services of the US, United Kingdom, and France. Amid what has been collected is undoubtedly information about the dynamics of Assad’s relationship with Putin. It may confirm that their relationship is now a bit different. The tons of information coming in from Syria may be at a constipation point. Information of that sort may not have been synthesised yet. Nothing has been made public or provided newsmedia reports on whether the April 13, 2018 military strikes had either a deliberate or correlative effect of rocking the boat between Moscow and Damascus has been produced. Still, one can ruminate, outside of the box, that a ball may have begun rolling in a new direction to the dissatisfaction and disappointment of Putin, and the dismay and anger of Assad. The possibility that the relationship may take a new direction is briefly examined here. Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (Time destroys the figments of the imagination, while confirming judgments of nature [God].)

Assad (left) and Putin (right). From all that is publicly known, scoring a political warfare victory was not part of the concept and intent of the US. Unless one was involved in the planning of the military strike, it would be impossible to posit with certainty that some consideration was given to how the military strikes would affect the Russia-Syria relationship. Still the features of a political warfare effort, even if coincidental, are discernible.

Detecting Political Warfare

Again, from all that is publicly known, scoring a political warfare victory was not part of the concept and intent of the US and did not factor into the planning of the military strikes in Syria. Unless one was involved in the planning of the military strike, it would be impossible to posit with certainty that some consideration was given to how the military strikes would affect the Russia-Syria relationship. Still the features of a political warfare effort, even if coincidental, are discernible. Under a definition offered by the RAND Corporation, political warfare consists of the international use of one or more of the implements of power–diplomatic, information, military, and economic–to affect the political composition of decision making within a state. Political warfare is often, yet not necessarily, carried out covertly, but must be carried out outside the context of traditional war. In the broadest sense, it could take the form of anything other than military operations. It could for example include: economic subversion; propaganda–not tied to the military effort; psychological warfare–as part of a military effort; conditional aid to a state; aid to political parties; aid to resistance groups; political accommodation; and, assassination. Brian Jenkins, a security affairs analyst at RAND has explained that political warfare reverses the famous dictum of the 19th century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz that “war is the extension of politics by other means,” political warfare is the extension of armed conflict by other means. Political warfare does not focus exclusively on enemies who are at large or end with their capture. It targets those on their way in to enemy ranks, those who might be persuaded to quit, and those in custody. Political warfare sees the enemy not as a monolithic force, but as a dynamic population of individuals whose grievances, sense of humiliation, and desire for revenge, honor, status, meaning, or mere adventure propel them into jihad and resistance. Political warfare accepts no foe as having irrevocably crossed a line, but sees enemy combatants as constantly calibrating and recalibrating their commitment. It sees every prisoner not merely as a source of operational intelligence, but as a potential convert. Political warfare is infinitely flexible and ferociously pragmatic. It accepts local accommodations to reduce violence, offers amnesties to induce divisions and defections, and cuts deals to co-opt enemies.

Until recently, things have typically gone relatively well between Putin and Assad. There has rarely been reason for them to think too negatively of one another. However, as circumstances develop in which their perspectives grow in variance on matters of mutual concern. The atmosphere has already changed a bit. It will change even more if Assad decides to use chemical weapons again. Common wisdom in the West is that Assad would unlikely use chemical weapons again, not because his known chemical capability has been denigrated, not because he has been punished him excessively, but because Assad, according to Western thinking, Assad has already won the war with the assistance of Russia and Iran. Dropping more chemical weapons would have no strategic value any Western military analysts can think of. Moreover, it would not make sense to incur the wrath of the US and other Western powers as a result of using such weapons. All of that being stated, it appears the West must learn over and over again that Assad thinks differently than most national leaders, and military analysts as well. Assad has embraced his role as a tyrant. He is concerned mainly with holding power. In his conscious or unconscious mind, he may be haunted by the fear of facing retribution for violent acts ordered in defense of his power and atrocities committed against his own people. Everyone does not think the same and Assad is a perfect example of that. Putin, however, is certainly aware of how different Assad is.

The chief foreign linkage of Syria under Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad, before him, have been the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union, respectively. The present Assaf has been useful to Russia as a figurehead, a symbol of resistance to the Syrian opposition, ISIS and Islamic terrorist groups  and the West.  He is undoubtedly viewed in Moscow as Putin’s man, and his ball to play with. It was the strength and realities of those ties between Damascus and Moscow  that were poorly considered when the US injected itself in Syria in support of the anti-Assad opposition movement during the Arab Spring in 2011. By the Fall 2015, Assad appeared to lack the ability to remain in power against ISIS and perhaps US-backed Syrian Opposition forces. The military situation began recurvate after Russia, with the urging of Iran, moved its forces into Syria in September 2015 and supported Syrian military operations.

It is interesting how Putin and Assad, two men from desperate backgrounds have established a very positive relationship that goes beyond mutual courtesy and civility. Putin rose from humble beginnings, raised by a mother and father who respectively managed to survive the siege of Leningrad and violent battles during World War II. Assad, on the other hand, was the privileged, eldest son of the former President of Syria, General Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 to 2000. Putin completed his studies in law at Leningrad University before embarking on a successful career in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Along with the well-earned praise of his colleagues and positive evaluations from his superiors, he had a record of service that led others to support his rise to the pinnacle of power in Russia. Assad was educated as a doctor, trained as a surgeon, and lived a comforrable life in London before being called home to take the reigns in Syria after his father’s death. Indeed, one man, Putin, was self-made, with his knowledge and capabilities shaped and polished by every obstacle and adversity he managed to overcome. The other man, Assad, had everything in life laid out in front of him, and there were few character shaping struggles. Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros. (Fire provides proof of gold, misery, proof of strong men.)

In crafting a fruitful relationship with Assad, Putin seems to have handled him much as he would have handled an operative during his days in the intelligence industry. During his one-on-one contacts with Assad he has likely spent time motivating, befriending, briefing, advising, counselling, debriefing, and perhaps paying and welfaring him. It has served to establish the bridge between them. It is the sort of interaction to which Putin is attracted. It has helped to shape the dynamic and apparent congenial nature of their exchanges. It is likely that somewhere, Putin keeps notes that are part of a personal study of Assad. At age 65, Putin as a man and a leader, and in terms of capabilities and shrewdness, is far more advanced than Assad who is 52. For Putin, there certainly would be advantage in maintaining the relationship as is, if he can. There is an expediency in working with something, someone that you understand, who has been predictable. It is hard to imagine Putin might be overly concerned with Assad’s feelings. Yet, while Putin might only relate to other leaders much as strangers on a train, his relationship with Assad has been something more. In all the years until this point, whenever he met with Assad, they likely simply picked up wherever they leave off. Assad was granted a ticket to the high table international affairs by Putin. Contrarily, Assad cannot do much independently to enhance Putin’s life.

Putin (left) and Assad (right). In crafting a fruitful relationship with Assad, Putin seems to have handled him much as he would have handled an operative during his days in the intelligence industry. During his one-on-one contacts with Assad, he has likely spent time motivating, befriending, briefing, advising, counselling, debriefing, and perhaps paying him. It has served to establish a bridge between them.

Putin almost never fails to publicly cover Assad’s actions that reach the world’s gaze. He has supported Assad with strong words, diplomatic maneuvering at the UN and bilaterally with a handful of receptive countries, mostly it neighbors. He has of course, supported him by deploying Russian military forces to his country to protect his regime. Moscow’s initial response to the Assad’s chemical attacks in Douma was a grand denial that the Assad regime had anything to do with it. Russia, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, sought to fight fire with oil, giving credence to the idea that Assad did not and would not use chemical weapons and the entire matter was a hoax. This was made worse by Russia’s futile attempt make the investigation of the chemical attacks a joint venture in which Russia would work alongside the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at the site of the attack and in their research labs. It must not be forgotten that Assad should not have access to chemical weapons at all, but an intriguing diplomatic tact taken by Moscow in 2013 left the door open to that. On September 14, 2013, Moscow and Washington reached an agreement under which Russia guaranteed Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and all equipment for producing, mixing, and filing chemical weapons would be destroyed before the end of the first half of 2014. The OPCW would implement the agreement.  The genesis of the agreement was an August 21, 2013 chemical attack by the Assad regime against several towns of the Ghouta agricultural belt to the West and East of Damascus.  Reportedly the administration of US President Barack Obama was nearing a decision to launch US-led punitive strikes against Syria. A suggestion was made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry stated offhandedly at a press conference on September 9, 2013 that the US might not conduct military strikes if Assad placed Syria’s enture chemical weapons stockpile under international control within a week. Hours after that statement, Russian Federation Foreign Minister managed to have Syrian Arab Republic Foreign Minister Walid Muallem agree to the idea. On April 13, 2018, and back on April 6, 2017, the Trump administration, based on clear and convincing evidence took action against Assad contrary to decision of the Obama administration when it had the opportunity. Most importantly, however, action had to be taken because both Russia and Syria clearly failed to meet their responsibility under the 2013 agreement. There has been little no mention of the September 14, 2013 agreement by Moscow or Damascus after the April 13, 2018 chemical attacks. Moreover, rather expressing of concern over the use of chemical weapons, as could be expected, prevarications emanated from Moscow and Damascus concerning the attacks.

Moscow also made false claims that the majority of cruise missiles fired into Syria were shot down. Russian news outlets, as well as social media from the region, had claimed as many as 70 percent of coalition weapons were shot down by Syrian or Russian air defenses. But the Russian systems did not attempt to intercept the incoming weaponry, and the Syrian system launched around 40 surface to air missiles after the last targeted weapon hit its target, Referring to this type of activity by Moscow as information warfare perhaps gives it too much respectability as its purpose is to position it as master of the mob: anti-US, anti-EU, anti-West, and pro-Russian elements worldwide. Even Moscow must realize that in each case, all of its falsehoods would be overcome by the truth over time. Assad clearly had no concern over having frightful clouds hang over himself for atrocities committed before and during the Syrian War. There is not much that could further vulgarize his reputation. From experience of the Soviet Union as well as that of their own Russian Federation, officials in Moscow should have learned that the wounds Russia’s image suffers from such antics are all self-inflicted, deleterious, and all very unnecessary. Russia is reduced to a level akin to a “Fourth World” dictatorship, a so-called “Banana Republic”, when it prevaricates on matters concerning the US.

Every time Moscow distorts the truth, it confirms the worst about itself. The ugly image many policy makers, decision makers, and analyst in the West long since have had seared in their minds about Russia are reinforced. Few anywhere in the world can be confident what’ Moscow says is true, except those willing to be deceived. When Putin and his officials make claims on other occasions to the effect that Russia is a land of the mind, this questionable behavior, along with a lot of other things, puts that notion in doubt.

Intriguingly, Moscow puts significant effort into improving its image as a world leader, yet undermines that effort by backing Assad and destroying its image in the minds of many. There are consequences to the way one lives. He who walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will be destroyed. On April 11, 2018, Trump wrote on Twitter: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad. Assad, by his actions, has repeatedly immobilized Putin. He is left unable to smoothly move on to better things. If there are future chemical attacks by Assad, it is uncertain what the future of his relationship with Putin will be. A number possible scenarios exist based on questions Putin and Assad might ask themselves as well as steps they might take as the situation between them develops. Those steps would likely fall under the category of political warfare.

US President Donald Trump (above). It is intriguing to observe Moscow put significant effort into improving its image as a world leader, and then undermine that effort by lending unwavering support to Assad after he has acted against the norms of civilized world. On April 11, 2018, Trump wrote on Twitter: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”, referring to Moscow’s tie with Assad. By his actions, Assad immobilizes Putin, leaving him unable to move on to better things.

Is Assad Worth the Trouble?: Scenario for Putin

Due to flaws in his government, his own deficiencies as a leader, and perhaps a lack of empathy, Assad failed to spare the people of the old ills of war and crime. Without the support of Putin and Russia, one could reasonably conclude that Assad would have been brushed aside awhile ago. Indeed, in 2015, Assad appeared to lack the ability to remain in power against both ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups and the US-backed Syrian Opposition forces. Policy makers and decision makers in Moscow and Tehran doubted Assad could hold on to power in Damascus without assistance. They mainly feared the real possibility that Syria would fall in the hands of ISIS. One could only imagine what would have been needed to regain and retain control of the country if ISIS had forced the regime out of Damascus. Putin provided a rational for Russia’s intervention in Syria in a speech at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe Tajikistan, on September 15, 2015. In response to Western criticism of Russia’s move, Putin explained, “We support the government of Syria in its opposition to terrorist aggression. We have provided and will provide necessary military and technical support and call on other nations to join us.” Putin noted the exodus of refugees toward Europe and the crisis in Syria was a result of the support foreign powers provided the Syria opposition rebels. He said, “I would like to note that people are fleeing Syria because of the military actions that were largely imposed externally by deliveries of weapons and other special equipment. People are fleeing to escape the atrocities committed by terrorists.” Putin went on to state, “[The refugees] are fleeing from radicals, above all. And if Russia had not supported Syria, the situation in this country would have been worse than in Libya, and the stream of refugees would have been even greater.”

Speaking to Western and Arab capitals, Putin declared, “We must sideline geopolitical ambitions, refrain from so-called double standards, from the policy of direct use of separate terrorist groups to achieve opportunistic goals, including the change of governments and regime that may be disagreeable to whomever.” Concerning Assad, Putin relayed that he might be willing to enter a power-sharing agreement with opposition but that the fight against terrorism was the priority. To that extent, Putin explained, “The Islamic State is providing ideological indoctrination and training to fighters from different countries including, unfortunately European countries and the Russian Federation, and many former Soviet republics. And of course, we are worried with the possibility of them returning to our territories.” As explained in a December 30, 2015 greatcharlie post, commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces reportedly believed the military objective of any ground operations in Syria should first be to create a regime stronghold in what is referred to as “Useful Syria” (Suriya al-Mufida) from Damascus up to Aleppo through Homs. That would require Russia and its allies to sweep up the Western part of Syria. The objective was to take pressure off Latakia, a pro-Assad, Alawite heartland and locale of an important airfield and take pressure off Tartus, a long-time Soviet Naval port passed on to the Russian Federation Navy. It is key for the delivery of military material to Russian and Syrian forces and important for the conduct of military operations in support of Syria. After reaching Latakia, Russia and its allies would turn toward Idlib. Part of the force could have pushed farther north to gain control of the Syrian-Turkish border west of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) territory, blocking the US coalition and ISIS from access to it. In an additional phase of their offensive, Russia and its allies would press eastward. A key objective was to take Palmyra from ISIS and the oil and gas resources around it. Russia began to gain control of the situation on the ground in Syria soon after deploying significant forces there in September 2015. At this point, the fight to secure “Useful Syria” has essentially been won. Syria, however, is still reliant upon a military and security umbilical cord tied from Moscow to Damascus.

Discord obtains when things get mixed up. Assad would likely disagree with any assessment that described him as a follower, or stated that his existence is contingent upon Russian power. He would likely describe himself as partner with Putin and other leaders and that Syria is working jointly with its allies. It is imaginable that Assad believes he is delegating part of the job of using military power to defeat Syria’s enemies to Russia and others. For Assad, all arrows point his way, for he almost always thinks and acts in terms of self-interest. Assad would likely proffer that Syria in the aggregate has the capability and capacity fend off threats to its security. Trouble comes when Assad sets out to confirm his thinking with heinous acts of violence, such as the chemical weapons attacks, which he knows are antithetical to norms of the civilized world, counter international law, and in defiance of demands made of his regime by the UN Security Council through resolutions. Assad apparently has much to prove to his fellow countryman, to other regional leaders, to his allies such as Russia, and the rest of the world. When he has lashed out, and he has done so regularly during the war, he proves that he is truly a despot. Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum. (To err is human, to persist in it, is diabolical.)

Assad (left), Putin (center), and Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right). Commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces reportedly believed the military objective of any ground operations in Syria should first be to create a regime stronghold in what is referred to as “Useful Syria.” Once Russian forces moved into Syria in September 2015, the military situation began to recurvate. The fight to secure “Useful Syria” has essentially been won. Syria, however, is still reliant upon a military and security umbilical cord with Russia.

In Syria, the Assad regime, through an unending propaganda campaign, projects an image of its president in a way in which he is in firm control. That image also serves to assure the Syrian people that they still live in a sovereign state and that they have control over their own destiny. That image is completely inaccurate. Yet, there is little in Syria to interfere with that imaginative process as the government has strict control over media. True, Syrians can see that Putin has provided thousands of Russian advisers, troops and airmen who are engaged in daily operations to fend off and destroy the regimes adversaries. Yet, Syrians supportive of the Assad regime would likely assure that the tie between their leader and Putin was unbreakable. Rather than feel threatened, they, in fact, welcome Russia’s presence and taken refuge in the umbrella of the added security provided by the Russians. They are happy to believe they need not fear for their survival as long Putin and Russia are working hand in hand with their country. Simultaneously, those same Syrian’s would argue that Assad is still the real power in Syria. Moreover, they are likely ignorant or unconcerned with the problems Assad’s actions have caused Russia. Vivit et est vitae nescius ipse suae. (Man lives in ignorance of his own life.)

Assad very likely believes his self-crafted, virtual image truly mirrors his real life. Looking at newsmedia video clips of Assad in Damascus, one might be bemused by the artificial size of his life. Syria is an authoritarian regime ruled by Assad much as, but albeit far less orderly and competently than his father before him. Politically, Syria is an odd hybrid, a quasi-national socialist, Islamic state. Assad is accepted by his beloved Alawites as well as elites from his own Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, other like-minded political groupings, business leaders, and leadership of the Armed forces and the security services. The People’s Council–the national legislature of Syria–and the Syrian judicial system cannot even provide a fig leaf of democracy for Assad regime. Syria’s elites appear satisfied with conditions in “Useful Syria”. It is something akin to a kingdom of gold for them. The coffers of Syria have serve the purposes of the elites and Assad. It is a type of larceny Assad inherited from his father. Those in Syria who have money, power are celebrities, heroes of the society, having what the majority can never attain. The Presidential Palace on Mount Mezzah is emblematic of Assad’s efforts to provide a venir of prosperity and power over a broken country in unimaginable suffering has visited countless homes.

None could doubt at this point that the life, happiness of the common man means nothing in Assad’s Syria. Assad does not have the type of government that elevates human beings. Assad has never used his words or events in the outside world to encourage Syrian to raise themselves up, to be more, to accomplish more. Assad uses words to stimulate nationalism, to cause Syrians to accept that the source of their country’s problems is the aggressive, greedy, external world, the West as opposed to any cause that comes from within, such as himself. An appropriate understanding among all Syrians about of what is happening in Syria will never be obtained as long as they are fed contradictory or insufficient facts. Even if the “have nots” in proximity of elites demanded some changes, an almost inexhaustible number of agencies among the security services would subdue them, punish those who do not revere the masters of their society. When the war is over, Syrians who can, would like to love the simpler lives they had once before. Syrians want to return to Assad’s version of peace and tranquility: the peace of submission to the regime; the tranquility of working in a secure position within the narrow confines of the regime’s dictates. Assad’s vision for future of Syria is most likely based on self-interest, his own well-being. The hope that anchors him is that he will remain in power, and the problems that have seized him since the civil war in Syria began in 2011 would eventually go away. Est enim unum ius quo deuincta est hominum societas et quod lex constituit una, quae lex est recta ratio imperandi atque prohibendi. Quam qui ignorat, is est iniusta s, siue est illa scripta uspiam siue nusquam. (For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.)

Perhaps it would not be judged as a fair comparison, but compared with countries in the West, Syria could hardly be viewed as a normal, functioning, sovereign country. A sovereign country that cannot defend its borders is not authentically sovereign. Moreover, Syria could be labelled derelict given the condition of most of its towns and cities. To Putin, who, unlike Assad, is thinking realistically about the future of Syria, it is very apparent that reconstruction in Syria will be another huge hurdle to overcome. The bellwether of Syria’s future condition can be observed in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Lacking any significant resources from the US and the rest of the international community to rebuild, that would be the only viable long-term condition that Syria could reach with Moscow’s assistance alone. Syria would simply become a larger version of those political, economic, and social disasters. Few other countries or international organizations appear willing to dive in to help Syria with signigicant financial assistance or investment. Few countries are in a rush to reopen or fully staff their embassies in Syria. They most lilely believe there would no benefit, but only difficulties in working with Assad. As a result, the Syrian people are shut off from those in the rest of the world who might be able to truly help them.

Optimists would hold out some hope that the situation would improve. However, no international conference, no guarantees from Russia to keep him in check, no surgical procedure even, could make Assad palatable to the West at this point, or to any government in the Middle East other than Iran. Manipulations that might ordinarily knock things back on track with Assad would likely have been exhausted or be seen as useless. It may be safe to say the Assad will never develop, never change. Luckily for Moscow, Assad is actually at its disposition. Given the strong influence Russia has on the Assad regime’s main elements of his power, the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and the security services, at the very least, the effort might be made to remder Assad’s presidency symbolic. In a more virile approach, Russia, perhaps in sync with Syria’s foreign benefactors, might seek to replace Assad with a leader who would be more acceptable among the Syrians, more palatable for themselves. As far as Assad’s well-being was concerned, the basing arrangements for Russian naval, air, and ground forces, and the relationship developed with Putin would no longer have meaning.

Assad would likely disagree with any assessment that would describe him as a follower, or that his existence is contingent upon Russian power. He would likely describe himself as partner with Putin and other leaders and that Syria is working jointly with its allies. It is imaginable that Assad believes he is delegating part of the job of using military power to defeat Syria’s enemies to Russia and others. For Assad, all arrows point his way, as he nearly always thinks and acts in self-interest.

Keep the Status Quo or Assert Himself?: Scenario re Assad

So far, Assad has been able to have his cake and eat it, too! He has defiantly launched chemical weapons against his own people, while savoring the general protection and support of Russia and others. How long this situation will last is uncertain. Surely, the Russians will have a say in that. There are still a lot of hand shakes and pats on the back from Putin meant to encourage. Yet, a handshake or pat on the back cannot supplant rejection. It cannot correct a problem or resolve a serious disagreement.

If Assad were to sense an undercurrent of dissention toward him inside Syria, he would undoubtedly physically thin out the ranks of those he would deem potential plotters and replace them immediately with a more loyal sort. He would do so taking care not disturb the defined ecosystem of power elites, sending the message that he demands loyalty but avoid starting another uprising particularly among those who have supported him.

Such events would certainly catch the attention of the Russians. Assad might conclude that Moscow may see some benefit in aiding an group of Syrian elites willing to remove him. An “organic rebellion” that could remove Assad would be more agreeable to Putin and elites in Russia who might have already concluded that his removal will lead to more beneficial outcome of Russia’s investment there. He may fear that removing him under such conditions might be more understandable to tyrants in rogue regimes worldwide who may also rely upon Russia to back them with military force, some level of economic wherewithal or payments. However, Assad would not willingly step aside for a successor albeit selected by friendly, outside power, even if he had some say in who would replace him. He surely would not sit idly by as the plot developed to put his reign to an end.

Looking at the US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes in the aggregate, it somewhat understandable that some analysts doubt that Assad and his advisers in Damascus would be so spun up by them. The US-led coalition has conducted airstrikes in Syria against ISIS and targets threatening coalition ground forces for many months. The Israeli Air Force has conducted regular strikes in Syria so precise and effective and with impunity, that one could say with some humor that the Israelis were using parts of Syria as a bombing range. The issue is that the military strikes of April 13th were the second time the US has deliberately attacked Syrian targets and the second time Russia did not act. That is the rub. Prior to the Western military strikes, Russia urged the US to avoid taking military action in response to an alleged chemical attack in Syria. On April 10, 2018, the Russian Federation Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzia stated: “I would once again beseech you to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing.” He warned Washington that it will “bear responsibility” for any “illegal military adventure.” A threat from Moscow to down US missiles came from the Russian Federation’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, who said his comments were based on previous statements by Putin and the Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Valery Gerasimov. The Russian Federation Armed Forces stated on March 13, 2018, that it would respond to any US strike on Syria by targeting any missiles and launchers involved. However, Russian air defense systems did not attempt to intercept the incoming weaponry, and the Syrian system launched around 40 surface to air missiles after the last targeted weapon hit its target, according to the Pentagon. The Pentagon noted that the S-400 systems were not turned off, simply not activated, leaving open the option their radar systems were used to tracking incoming threats but the weapons systems were not fired. The fact that those systems were active but not used may serve as evidence that the deconfliction line between the US and Russia, which was used to urge Russia not to escalate the situation, had been effective.

Within his own close circle in Damascus, it may very well be that Assad’s grievances are well-expressed. There may be lung busting exertions of his sense of being betrayed once again by Putin, driven by a nagging sense at this juncture that his relationship with him does not have much future. Assad may wish to take matters into his own hands. Seeing Assad interact with Russian emissaries in Damascus, he left little evidence of being riled emotionally by actions by his benefactors. The Interfax News Agency quoted Natalya Komarova, governor of Russia’s autonomous Khanty-Mansiysk district, made it a point to state: “President Assad was in absolutely positive spirits. He is in a good mood.,” To date, Assad has not publicly proffered any fevered dreams of conspiracy about the military strikes. His own officials and advisers are likely impressed by a type of controlled schizophrenia he displays. Nevertheless, the April 13th military strikes, and events surrounding them, may have set the stage for counteractions by Assad. It may very well be that Assad will launch additional chemical attacks to demonstrate that his regime does not feel threatened by US power, prove to himself that he is not being led by the nose by Putin, and ironically to pull Russia deeper into the situation as it has sought to full back by failing to act April 13th. To foreign policy and military analyst, it may all seem irrational, and that would be a reasonable response. Still, everyone does not think the same. Assad, the trained surgeon, has done so much that would be deemed improbable, it would seem counterintuitive to assume he will act in accord within any norms in the future. Scenarios for other ways in which Assad might seek retribution might include the following:

1) Assad might decide to establish some simulacrum of the US Lend-Lease arrangements of World War with China. Under it, China could possibly build its own military base or port. Assad could receive guarantees of significant assistance from China in Syria’s reconstruction efforts. China could also agree to provide Syria advanced command, control, communication and surveillance systems and agree to allow Syrian forces create garrisons and store Syrian military hardware on its new bases. Assad’s goal in that hypothetical situation would not be to allow a build-up in Syria by China that would establish it as a counterbalance to Russian military power. Assad’s goal in allowing a enough of a build-up that would lead Putin to better the value and importance of his ties to Syria. A decision by Assad to reach out to China might be viewed as injudicious given the possible consequences. Chinese ambitions in Syria might be difficult for Damascus to tame. The opportunity to build bases so close to Europe would present an I exhaustive list of possibilities for Chinese military planners. Putin may overreact to the decision and strongly suggest that Assad to rescind the invitation to China creating a genuine, visible rift between the two countries. Under circumstance, for Assad it would simply be a existential choice to create some counterbalance to Russia power in his country or at least convince Putin that he was willing to do so in order to better position himself with the Russian leader.

2) Assad may attempt to strike US or other Western troops with chemical weapons. Assad may seek to do this even if a suicide mission is required. While he and his advisers may view the operation as risky. Yet, they may also wrongfully believe that as long as the US-led coalition’s response does not result in a direct attack against him,  they may view it as a calculated risk. If Russia decides not to respond in defense of it ally, Syria, Assad might be able to convince himself that he has proved at least to the Syrian people in Useful Syria that he is strong and that he can do powerful things. The US has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, supporting the ongoing US-led Coalition mission to defeat ISIS militants that remain in the region. The April 13th military strikes have created some concern at the Pentagon that those troops could be vulnerable to retaliation from Syrian forces. Efforts by Assad to put his forces in a position near US-led coalition ground forces must be scrutinized and keep in the coalition’s cross-hairs. If multiple streams of intelligence indicate those forces pose a danger, they should be pushed back or destroyed. There is always the possibility and the danger of miscalculation by Assad. As long as Assad thinks rationally, logically, this scenario could never materialize, as he would be deterred by the thought that an attack on US or another coalition ground forces would be met by an immediate, devastating military response. The targets of the US attacks would hardly be limited to the forces that launched them. Attempts at deconfliction for such attacks might be made, but they would take place regardless of whose forces might be nearby or mixed in with Syrian forces. Depending the response of Russia if its forces were caught in the middle of it all, Assad might manage to drag Moscow into what was likely the worst nightmare it thought of when it deployed its forces to Syria.

If Assad wants to maintain conditions that will allow the march of time to move forward in his favor, he should be reluctant to bother Putin about matters surrounding the April 13th chemical attacks. Doing so would very likely raise even greater concern in Putin. Assad’s circumspection itself may have already awakened Putin’s curiosity. Putin, after all, is super observant. It is a quality that stirs admiration from some and or elicits terror in others. If any one could detect a hint of anger or dissention in the eyes, in mannerisms, in bearing and deportment, in the words of another, it would be Putin. If he manages to discern a new uneasiness in Assad, that might trigger Putin to take steps against him or at least begin peering into the regime with a nearly zoological interest in its main players, searching for a plot against its main ally. Yet again, it may be that Assad is not worried at all about Putin’s reaction. Rather, Assad’s primary concern may be managing Putin’s behavior. Assad may believe that he has been successfully doing that. A mistake in that possible “management effort”, however, would be to attempt to convince Putin that he can count on him. It would be an even bigger mistake for Assad to try to get the pulse of Putin, to find out what he is thinking about him. No one should ever ask Putin if he loves them. The answer in nearly every case would be “No!”

If Assad wants to maintain conditions that will allow the march of time to move forward in his favor, he should be reluctant to bother Putin about matters surrounding the April 13th chemical attacks. Doing so would very likely raise even greater concern in Putin. Assad’s circumspection itself may have already garnered Putin’s curiosity. Putin, after all, is super observant. If he manages to discern a new uneasiness in Assad, intimate trouble, it might cause him to take steps against him.

Is It Time to Wrap Things Up with Assad?: Scenario re Putin

Fata volentem, ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Destiny carries the willing man, and drags the unwilling.) Moscow entered into all of its deals with Assad, strengthened links to him, with its eyes open. Putin would unlikely have engaged with Assad in a search for areas of common ground on handling chemical weapons. Putin is not conciliatory. He very likely set rules for Assad on the matter. However, leaving the door open for Assad somehow to use the weapons has come back to haunt him. Given what has transpired, Putin surely can reasonably be viewed as being complicit in Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Yet, while Putin may find Assad’s attitude toward those in the West, in the Middle East, and in his own country who oppose him to be understandable, he may also view his approach as reckless.

Syria is broken, and with someone such as Assad at its helm, hardly any outside of the country, capable of supporting its reconstruction, would be willing to do so. In Moscow, there must be some authenticity in its examination of Assad and what it will be able to do with him in the future. Putin most likely sees that there is nothing about Assad that would indicate he can be transformative, creative, or productive. After the April 2017 cruise missile strikes by the Trump administration, a discourse should have been initiated in Moscow on how to better handle the remnants of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal and how to defeat their use against Russian Federation Armed Forces in Syria. If Putin can truly discern what billows in Assad’s mind, he may have already made the decision to move against him. Finding a leader or group of very senior leaders among elements of power in Syria may not be too difficult. Most in Damascus who are in the best position to know what is happening in Syria understand they live in privileged times. They may not speak of, or whisper, about being called on to be part of a change in leadership. Still, they may be considering where they will stand and how they will act if the situation arose.

To this point, nothing has been stated to indicate that there was anything time sensitive about Putin’s relationship with Assad. Syria’s standing internationally has not been good to say the least. Assad has not used any time or exploited any opportunities to make improvements in his situation. It is unknown whether Assad is ignorant, willfully ignores, or perhaps even suppresses thoughts about reconstruction, something Russia, by jumping into Syria may have committed itself to as a duty. Assad does not appear emotionally devastated by what has befallen his country. This was observed in his very congenial newsmedia appearances the day after the April 13, 2018 military strikes.

Assad is not a shy man, and is unlikely frozen in fear contemplating what Putin might respond the fact that he has rocked the boat so thoroughly. Even if only unconsciously, though, he likely has felt an elevated level of concern over his future since April 7, 2018 chemical attacks. Putting himself in Assad’s shoes, perhaps Putin could imagine that Assad is feeling a bit betrayed by his unwillingness to deter or defeat the Western military strikes in Syria, no matter how unreasonable that would have been. Putin can be sure Assad knows him well enough to realize that expressing his disappointment through impotent snarling will accomplished nothing useful or good. Yet, he also may sense that in the long run that Assad may not be truly able to move on. Putin might consider that when one is angry for a long time, one in a way becomes comfortable with that anger. Soon that anger becomes so familiar that the individual forgets feeling any other way. Assad is a calculator, although he albeit uses an odd calculus. Sed tamen ira procul absit, cum qua nihil recte fiery nec, considerate potest. (But still anger ought be far from us, for nothing is able to be done rightly not judiciously with anger.)

Putting himself in Assad’s shoes, perhaps Putin could imagine that Assad is feeling a bit betrayed by his unwillingness to deter or defeat the Western military strikes in Syria, no matter how unreasonable that would have been. Putin can be sure Assad knows him well enough to realize that expressing his disappointment through impotent snarling would have accomplished nothing useful or good.

Putin may eventually need to make a decision if Assad cannot restrain himself from using chemical weapons again. As mentioned earlier, It is possible that Putin has already has plan for responding to Assad’s future actions. Big issues likely remaining are exactly when and how to set things up. It is also possible that given the gravity of the decision to remove Assad from power, he has not made a final decision. He may prefer to mull things over until he is left with no choice. To decide exactly how to proceed, Putin would unlikely need to refer to any notes or look among huge piles of information collected from Syria to find pieces that answered his questions. He would only need his knowledge, experience, insights, intuition, and instincts. Putin would review what Russia really wants with Syria, what its goals are. He would then need to thoroughly consider how exactly removing Assad will better able Russia to reach those goals. Putin may decide to give Assad the benefit of doubt. He knows the margin between being very clever and being very stupid is very thin. If in some odd way, alien to most reasonable thinkers, the goal of Assad’s behavior only been to strengthen his position with Putin and ensure Russia’s investment and commitment to his well-being and the well-being of the country.

However, if Assad seems to be on the road to doing something spectacular, going astray and lashing out against its long time ally, Putin would invariably choose to act first and decisively. Assad would not have any lobby available to advocate for him in the Kremlin. Money is short in Russia. Decision makers would hardly sign on to allowing Syria to languish without end in a difficult and dangerous situation given the moves of its leadership. While Assad created an image of himself as a strong leader in Damascus, in Moscow, a portrait has most likely been painted that depicts him a being bad for the long-term interests of Russia and Syria. Russia never had the intention of sacrificing its own image to make Assad look good. As mentioned earlier, Assad has no problem with acting in a way that makes Russia look bad. Among likely steps Putin would consider are the following three:

1) After some convincing, have Assad voluntary depart Syria to begin exile somewhere in Russia. The Syrian people would be informed via a video recording that Assad is completely fine and well-aware for, and it was necessary to move him to Russia due to an imminent threat from Western powers to capture him and usher him to the Hague for War Crimes trial. Once, in Russia, it could be said Assad would never be surrendered to anyone and, that he would indeed be returned to Syria once Russia resolves the matter. In the meantime, the Syrian people would have an interim, acting president. In fact, Assad would never return to Syria. If Putin were to ask Assad to leave Damascus, he would have no need to ask twice. Damascus would become a far more dangerous place for him if he does not go.

2) Through a coup de main, Putin could have Assad suddenly captured and relocated to an undisclosed site in Russia. This would be done after making appropriate arrangements furtively with Syrian military officers, security service officials, and other elites in Damascus. Again, he could be brought to an undisclosed location in Russia. After some He would be strongly encouraged to made a video recording for broadcast in Syria indicating that he is safe, doing well, and was brought to Syria’s main ally, Russia, temporarily for his own safety. The specific threat Assad would not need to be disclosed. For security reasons, the source of the information would not revealed. Forcing Assad to leave would be an alternative to having him eliminated.

3) There is the possibility that after appropriate arrangements have been made again with Syrian military officers, security service officials, and other elites, Assad might be assassinated. Russia would be the arbiter of the matter with likely nods from Iran and Turkey,

With Assad removed, Putin would move quickly to install his successor. It would be necessary for Russia to have a central figure, a strongman, one in charge in Syria to assure it has a central conduit through which it could impose its will. Assad’s successor, certainly an Alawite, would be enabled to hold a degree of power similar to that Assad held as long as Russia remains in strength in Syria, and is willing to mitigate pressure placed on the regime from Islamic extremist groups as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the battered and tattered Syria Opposition forces as well. The change, no matter how necessary or expected, would be traumatizing to many in Damascus and in every capital that has supported him. It would be the end of a sad story concerning the misuse of power, the poor stewardship of a country. Moscow would likely dub the successor’s acting presidency as a caretaker government. Only with the insistence of the US and other P5 Members, would new elections be held.to replace him.  The acting Leader’s presidency would be tainted by the irregular nature of his installment. At the UN Security Council, there would be reminders of Resolution 2254 (2015) concerning free and fair elections in Syria. Moscow would dance around it claiming there that new constitution had not been drafted as also required under the resolution. Moreover, Moscow would explain that conditions were not right for elections as the war was not over. Meanwhile, it would argue Syria was on the right path and seek aid for its reconstruction.

A more tense relationship may eventually ensue if possible future military strikes from a US-led coalition, or even Israel, are met with inaction by Russia. If Assad is able to detect real trouble from his benefactor, he might draw back, and walk back any statements. However, if he fears for his life, anything is possible.

Will He Bite the Hand That Saved Him?: Scenario re Assad

Although Putin has not heard grumblings from Mount Mezzah, he surely recognizes that his relationship with Assad has not been not perfect since the April 13th missile strikes. Putin cannot be sure that Assad accepts that he is concerned with him or Syria or that he has any real compassion for what has befallen his regime. Putin knows that he too would feel somewhat betrayed by any ally who promised to stand by him against an adversary, yet did nothing during an attack. Putin may sense that Assad, after constantly hearing rhetoric from Moscow about curbing the power and defeating its adversary, the US, has not seen any significant efforts in that direction even when opportunities present themselves, such as the April 13th military strikes. Putin cannot deny that he completely and correctly, abandoned his ally in the face of US diplomatic pressure and military power. Under such circumstances, Putin’s promise after the April 13th missile strikes to provide Assad with new, high performance weapons amounted to a bromide. It could not resolve problems facing the Russia-Syria relationship.

It seems unlikely that Assad will remain quiet if there were future Western military strikes in response to his further use of chemical weapons or other dark moves, and as on April 13th, Russia fails to act. Conspiracy theories are an element as ubiquitous as rumors in statements of officials and common conversation among citizens within rogue, authoritarian regimes. It is a corrupted version of thinking out of box preferred mostly because it typically points to behavior of external elements, enemies and false friends, as causality for a regimes disappointments and failures. Assad and his advisers may be discussing whether Russia even considered defending Syria from the military strikes of the US, the United Kingdom, and France. Some might postulate in confidential meetings that Russia may have been hoping the US would destroy Syria’s remaining chemical weapons inventory. Assad and his advisers know that Moscow was in contact with Washington in the days and hours before the military strike. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USMC General James Dunford explained that normal deconfliction channels were used to deconflict the airspace that we were using. Dunford further explained that the US did not coordinate targets or any plans with the Russians. Yet, in Moscow, the head of a Russian parliamentary defense committee, Vladimir Shamanov, said Russia was in direct contact with the US Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation. Hearing this view from Russia would likely satisfy Damascus as it would support surmisals there that Russia assisted the US in identifying targets as the Russians certainly did not use any countermeasures interfere with US efforts to target sites. In an inner monologue, Assad may ponder whether the failure of Russia to act may mean that there was some truth to expressions made by Moscow and Washington in 2017 that there was a new, cooperative era in US-Russia relations. That would contradict what Russia insists in private, and what is strongly hinted public statements, that the US is its adversary. Assad could conclude that in the crafting of the April 13th military strikes, Russia had a figurative vote!

A more tense relationship may eventually ensue if possible future military strikes are met with more inaction by Russia. It is in that environment that Putin would very likely consider moving against Assad. He would most likely act without warning. If Assad is able to detect trouble, he would draw back, and walk back any statements. However, if he fears for his life, he will likely act. Indeed, there could be a final demonstration of his power. He will make a stand or lash out with vigor before he goes. His concealed stockpiles of chemical weapons might even allow him to strike any erstwhile allies with some effect.

Surely, Assad comprehends that Russia commands great power. However, Assad may also feel that there are limits to Putin’s ability to respond to his aggressive moves. Putin would be remiss not to explore whether that is Assad’s thinking. Assad may believe even now that as long as he has chemical weapons and has demonstrated a willingness to use them, he can deter the few allies he has from turning against him. People with the most absolute power in history have tried to hold on by their fingernails knowing when they let go, all will be gone. They have often self-destructed. Misused power is always built upon lies. Tyrannical figures redefine what exists into projections of their egos. There are no noble thoughts. They become wrapped up in themselves. Assad seems to find pleasure in what is evil. As time goes on, the more tragic he becomes as a figure.

Surely, Assad comprehends that Russia commands great power. However, Assad may also feel that there are limits to Putin’s ability to respond to his aggressive moves. Assad may believe that as long as he has and has demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, he can deter the allies he has from turning against him. He could also use them in a final self-destructive act. Putin would be remiss not to consider that possibility.

The Way Forward

In Act I, scene iv, of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Generals Macbeth and Banquo have already defeated two separate invading armies, from Ireland and Norway. Following that, they encounter three witches as they cross a moor. The witches prophecy that Macbeth will be made thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland, and Banquo, will beget a line of Scottish kings. Once the witches vanish, Macbeth and Banquo speak skeptically of their prophecies. However, some of King Duncan’s men arrive to thank the generals for their victories and tell Macbeth, just as the witches prophesized, that he has been named thane of Cawdor. The previous thane was executed for betraying Scotland by fighting for the Norwegians. Arriving at King Duncan’s castle, Macbeth and Banquo profess their loyalty and gratitude toward him. King Duncan announces Malcolm will be named heir to his throne. Macbeth declares his joy but notes to himself that Malcolm, the Prince of Cumberland, stood between him and the crown the witches also said he would have. Standing aside, Macbeth says to himself: “The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires: The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.” Regarding the military strikes from the US, United Kingdom, and France, the most effective way for Assad to deal with the matter and maintain the status quo is accept that what happened, has happened, and no matter how upsetting it might be, it cannot be changed. Retribution is not a reasonable or rational option. Creating difficulties in Syria’s relationship with Russia by advancing the idea will only lead to additional problems  does not need. Negative feedback from the Assad regime’s experience when it fought alone in Syria without Russia assistance may have helped convinced Assad not to make waves. Still, as the situation on the ground has changed somewhat with the US-led coalition’s efforts against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other Islamic militant groups, he may feel that regime forces are in a better position to do more by themselves. Syrian elites and some average citizens may be welcoming, supportive of the Russian partnership and presence at the moment. However, after observing the effects of few months of rain and wind on the ruins of cities and towns, they may eventually recognize that Moscow cannot support “Useful Syria” in a way that would allow for its rebuilding. The situation would only worsen if pressure was placed on Russia over Syria through future sanctions.

If Assad continues launching chemical attacks, Russia will need to keep justifying his actions and its failure to control him. It may very well be that Putin has developed a negative outlook on Assad, particularly concerning his reliability and trustworthiness. Given Assad’s nature, perhaps Putin has foreseen that the time will come to wrap things up with him. Assad’s wrongs have been too big to successfully cover up using the usual public relations methods. His inadequacies have become stark. Russia is not dealing with a brush fires in Syria, but a serial arsonist in Assad. Syria exists in a condition that the Syrian people would not have too much difficulty moving forward and getting past Assad’s loss. They have been doing that for seven years now. They have faced one tragedy after another. Many Syrians may have been concerned about Assad’s safety after the April 13th military strikes. They only knew he was safe when they saw him on national television the next morning. If the Syrian people were to learn that Assad was gone, those outside of the regime’s good graces in Syria, those displaced, and those who live as refugees worldwide would likely roar and dance in celebration. Those in Useful Syria would be very likely be disappointed, distraught, and likely some in the North Mezzah and Ar Rabwah neighborhoods where he has resided, would be devastated. Still, the old, Assad, would be replaced by the new. With little choice otherwise, all Syrians would move on to the next phase. Omnia autem quae secundum naturam fiunt sunt habenda in bonis. (Whatever befalls in accordance with Nature [God’s will] should be accounted good.)