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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perfidious Communist China”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Rely on Beijing’s Goodwill!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Displays of Beijing’s Tactfulness toward Foreign Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience Speaks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospective Problems Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Country Reports on the Main Adversaries of the US

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Olson’s case, his former employer’s solemn warning of secrecy was increased with regard to the knowledge he retained as any information that would provide some nuance on how the US detects and catches spies would be of the utmost interest and importance to the foreign intelligence services of adversaries. To elaborate a bit more on how tricky ensuring a written work reveals no secrets, one might consider that facts are somewhat easy to judge as they may be classified and one can reasonably determine what their value might be to an adversary. Hypotheses and arguments are a bit more challenging to judge for security reasons as the facts that may support an argument, even if left out, can be said to a degree confirmed, as particular facts may alone be the solid basis upon which one might logically make an inference. Surely it would be helpful in developing any red team exercise by an adversary. Olson would hardly be the type to neglect any precaution, however, his former employer likely preferred to be safe, not sorry.

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

Olson’s Ten Commandments 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double-Agent Operations and Managing Double-Agent Operations

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

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

Case Studies

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

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

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

Ana Montes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By  Mark Edmond Clark