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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Dong Jingwei?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Was Reported on Dong’s Alleged Defection

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

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

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

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

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

Sources of the Hoax: Views on That in the Newsmedia

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

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

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

Other Suggestions

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

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

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

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

Xi Jinping’s Counterintelligence Concerns

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

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

Would Beijing Call It a US Counterintelligence Plot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thought about Future Defections by Foreign Intelligence to the US

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago

A most apparent sign of the presence of Chinese intelligence services in Hong Kong is this plaque outside the People’s Republic of China National Security Office there (above). This essay is as a companion piece to greatcharlie’s proceeding essays on Chinese intelligence services. For the scholar who is a regular reader of greatcharlie, the essay will hopefully be an interesting discussion on the function of intelligence services in China with respect to functions of services in the United Kingdom and the US. However, this essay has the additional purpose of serving as a vehicle to assist students. For students, this essay aims to ignite an inner-conversation of issues reviewed, in this case concerning intelligence, to promote their recognition of additional parallels and the development of further insights. Hopefully, students will evoke thoughts from their respective sources and lessons, but also from personal experience, and worldviews, and produce strong insights.

For a one man shop as greatcharlie, reviewing a voluminous quantity of sources in the preparation of the July 31, 2020 and August 31, 2020 posts 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 and 2 respectively), was, to a degree, an exercise in large data processing. Yet, while engaging in that consuming, yet satisfying process, the thoughts of greatcharlie’s founder and editor hearken back to an assignment received as an undergraduate at Columbia College, Columbia University in a course “The Politics of Policymaking.” The course instructor, Roger Hilsman (1919-2014), who was also the student advisor and mentor of greatcharlie’s editor, asked students to construct an essay or, as he dubbed it, a “thinkpiece,” in which they were required to present their “observations, meditations, ruminations, assumptions, and hypotheses” that billowed up after reading a primary or secondary source directly related to a foreign and national security policy topic covered in his class. (The source greatcharlie’s editor used, at the suggestion of Hilsman, was Glenn Paige’s The Korea Decision (June 24-30, 1950) (Macmillan, 1968).) However, Hilsman’s goal with the assignment was to encourage students to move away from simply regurgitating what was studied and writing the derivative college essay. Instead, he wanted students to evoke thoughts from their respective sources and lessons but also from personal experience, and their albeit youthful worldview, and draw from them their best insights on the topics they chose. For Hilsman, a phenomenal educator, the assignment was not founded upon some understanding of the requirements of analytical work in international affairs developed in the abstract, but rather, developed upon substantial experience preparing his own analyses and supervising and mentoring subordinates and colleagues in their analytical work in the US military, intelligence, and diplomatic arenas; real world! More specifically, Hilsman’s background included: studying at US Military Academy; service in Merrill’s Marauders and command of an Office of Strategic Services guerilla warfare battalion in Burma in World War II (Hilsman’s valorous service is superbly related in his memoir, American Guerilla: My War Behind Japanese Lines (Brassey’s, 1990)); his work as a military planner for NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe; service in the administration of US President John Kennedy as Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for the US Department of State; and, service as Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in the administration of US President Lyndon Johnson.

Hilsman would not only transmit his sagacity through his “The Politics of Policymaking” course, but through discussions on policymaking and analysis that he had with students during seminars held at his residence were marked not only by the inspiration and encouragement he would give to students in their research and career plans, but also by a frankness and realism that would give them a leg up in future endeavors. The reminiscences Hilsman would share directly with greatcharlie’s founder and editor during office hours were from those periods of his life that are perhaps the most intriguing in his biography. During lectures, he would always provide a riveting anecdote from his experiences during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to accompany his “pearls of wisdom.” The student-teacher relationship between Hilsman and greatcharlie’s founder and editor was mentioned in a March 8, 2016 greatcharlie post entitled, “An Look at Stephen Marrin’s ‘Improving Intelligence Studies as an Academic Discipline’ and Remembering a Professor and Friend, Roger Hilsman.”

For student readers, this essay, divided into three segments, aims to ignite an inner-conversation of issues reviewed, in this case concerning intelligence, to promote their recognition of additional parallels, and to stimulate the development of further insights. Hopefully, by focusing on the topics discussed, students will evoke thoughts from their respective sources and lessons, but also from personal experience, and worldviews, and produce strong insights. The essay also aims to foster conscious critical reading of scholarly works by student readers. Some emphasis is placed on the sources themselves. Hopefully, reading about spies and spying makes this unsolicited bit of mentoring all the more interesting. For scholars who are regular readers of greatcharlie, the aim of the essay is to provide an edifying discussion on the function of intelligence in China relative to intelligence functions in the United Kingdom and the US. This essay also stands as a companion piece to greatcharlie’s preceding essays on Chinese intelligence services. While as a thinkpiece this essay may be limited in scope, greatcharlie surely has not touched bottom of its well of ideas on the subject of Chinese intelligence services. For greatcharlie, this “multipurpose” essay is only a part of its process of worming out the story of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. Rapiamus, amici, occasionem de die. (Friends, let us seize the opportunity from (of) the day.)

MPS officer finger-wags a warning to photographer in Beijing (above). Except for experienced hands on China policy and the Chinese intelligence services and national security via diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, most in the West have likely never heard of either. MPS is an organization under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence. MSS, also under the State Council, is responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well.

I. MPS and MSS: Keystones of Chinese Intelligence

Two relatively quiet but absolutely key elements of the Chinese government that impact its foreign and national security policies: the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Except for experienced hands on Chinese foreign and national security policy and Chinese intelligence services via diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, most in the West have likely never heard of either. MPS is an organization under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence. MSS, also under the State Council, responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems firstly through providing consumers in Beijing of analyzed information to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, government ministers, senior executives of relevant ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions. They additionally share what is collected and analyzed with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). At times, that information is also collected and analyzed with the help of the military. The impact of the MPS and MSS is also demonstrated through contacts their officers and operatives respectively have daily with officials and staff of foreign governments as well as personnel at all levels of Chinese and foreign businesses engaged in international trade, high-tech-firms, defense contractors, financial institutions, academia, and organizations from all fields in China and worldwide.

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

The Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS was established as China’s principal intelligence service at the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It, too, was placed under the leadership of Kang Sheng. CDSA fell into the hands of Li Kenong, a Deputy Chief of Staff to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of Staff Chou Enlai and a vice minister for foreign affairs. The main role of the MPS, as with all previous Chinese intelligence services, was to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China. According to Xuezhi Guo in China’s Security State: Philosophy, Evolution, and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2012), it took on the role of a security service in a manner based on Soviet and Eastern Bloc models. It eventually received responsibility for all aspects of security, from regular police work to intelligence, counterintelligence, and the suppression of anti-Communist political and social groups. That led to receiving  official jurisdiction over counter subversion, counterintelligence, and the conduct of espionage in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Overseas during the 1950s, most Chinese diplomatic missions accommodated the MPS with an Investigation and Research Office for intelligence collection staffed by CDSA personnel, with analysis performed by the Eighth Bureau, publicly known in 1978 as the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. In 1953, CDSA became the Central Investigation Department (CID). In China, the MPS presence was nearly ubiquitous, as it kept a watchful eye on China’s population. It was energetically engaged in monitoring Chinese who returned from abroad. To cope with what it determined to be errant citizens, MPS ran labor reform camps. MPS personnel were known for behaving harshly among its own citizens. 

MPS made its way through the turbulent 1960s with the Cultural Revolution and dynamic changes in politics in the 1970s with the loss of Mao and the coming of Chairman Deng Xiaoping. By 1983, there was considerable frustration within the Communist Party of China with the high volume of secret information being leaked to the West. This was particularly true with regard to information about debates occurring within the Communist Party and reports of poor economic and social conditions within China. In reaction, counterespionage responsibilities were transferred from the MPS to a new organization known as the Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS. The Communist Party of China’s first big mission for MSS was to place focus on students in both China and abroad. Students had left no doubt that there was reason for the Chinese leaders to hold such concern after the Tiananmen Square protests. Chinese leaders struggled to deal with fallout from it. The sense of danger that students posed to the country was promoted with the announcement by Chinese authorities that some 200 Chinese had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union. When the reorganization of MPS was completed in 1983, it was temporarily left with only traditional police functions. Nevertheless, the change turned out to be quite positive as both organizations were allowed a new beginning so to speak.

In the West, certainly the most significant, largest, and most powerful intelligence services reside in the US. However, the foundational intelligence services that was the model upon which the main US intelligence services have been based–as well as the services of many other countries–are those of the United Kingdom, namely the Security Service, known popularly as MI5, and the Secret Intelligence Service, known popularly as MI6. To provide a common point of reference regarding the type of intelligence services and activities performed by MPS and MSS, greatcharlie, perhaps going out on shaky ground, points to parallels between their roles in China and the roles of the Security Service and Special Intelligence Service MI6 for the United Kingdom. Before going forward with discussion here, it seems appropriate to at least broach some of more apparent distinctions between the services of the two countries. Two prominent works, central to the discussion here, are Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm (Knopf, 2009) and Stephen Dorril, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (Free Press, 2000). Both scholars undertook Herculean tasks respectively and managed to fulfill them marvelously and masterfully. Both texts respectively hold richly textured accounts of intelligence activities at home and around the world, the British Empire as it still was for a time in the 20th Century. Both are major contributions to the scholarship on intelligence in the United Kingdom.

A clear-cut comparison of MI5 and MI6 side-by-side with MPS and MSS is admittedly not possible. Plainly, there is no moral equivalence between MI5 and MI6 and their opposites, MPS and MSS. What the United Kingdom and Chinese intelligence services would call successful operations based on the respective goals of political authorities are quite disparate. Officers of the respective countries’ intelligence services are certainly not birds of a feather. Additionally, and importantly, MI5 and MI6 are the opponents of MPS and MSS, and visa-versa. Enlarging on the point of the political authorities they obey, the respective societies and political authorities, that the intelligence services of the United Kingdom and China serve, are considerably divergent, and founded on disparate philosophies. The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Despite having the structure, the veneer, of being a multiparty system at the national level, for all intents and purposes, China is a single party, Communist, police state. 

Quaeritur belli exitus, non causa. (Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.) At a basic level with regard to intelligence services, moral principle and philosophy, in this case whether recognized as being based on Judeo-Christian values, Liberalism, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Maoism, or otherwise, is not method. Method is method. Philosophy is philosophy. Moreover, in the intelligence industry, results are what matter most. To that extent, at the basic level, the work of the two services are going to have sufficient likenesses to suggest parallels and comparisons. It is on such a basic level that the parallels and comparisons have been made in the discussion here. With this in mind, hopefully scholars will be open to considerations presented.

Two MPS officers operating high-tech optical equipment in Beijing (above). To provide a common point of reference regarding the type of intelligence services and activities performed by MPS and MSS, greatcharlie, perhaps going out on shaky ground, points to parallels between their roles in China and the roles of the Security Service and Special Intelligence Service MI6 for the United Kingdom. Before going forward with discussion here, it seems appropriate to at least broach some of more apparent distinctions between the services of the two countries. A clear-cut comparison of MI5 and MI6 side-by-side with MPS and MSS is admittedly not possible. at the basic level, the work of the two services are going to have enough likenesses to suggest parallels and comparisons. It is on such a basic level that the parallels and comparisons have been made in the discussion here.

Using MI5 as a Yardstick to Gauge MPS and Its Activities

The Security Service, known informally and hereinafter referred to in this essay as MI5, is the United Kingdom’s government agency assigned with managing the country’s internal security. It is authorized to investigate any person or movement that might threaten the country’s security. Although MI5 is responsible for domestic counterespionage, it has no powers of arrest. MI5’s motto is: Regnum Defende (Defend the Realm). The Secret Intelligence Service, known informally and hereinafter referred to in this essay as MI6, is the United Kingdom’s government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of foreign intelligence. MI5 has only a few thousand employees. It is headquartered in London, at Thames House. MI5 is a component of a vast intelligence apparatus in the United Kingdom. Reportedly, command and control is directed via no less than four entities: the Central Intelligence Machinery, the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services, the Permanent Secretaries’ Committee on the Intelligence Services, and the Joint Intelligence Committee. Communications intelligence is the responsibility of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which works closely with the Communications Electronics Security Group, while a number of agencies manage military intelligence under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense. Even London’s Metropolitan Police, or Scotland Yard, has its own Special Branch concerned with intelligence.

While MI5 is the agency responsible for the internal security of the United Kingdom, it primarily provides security services and intelligence operations within England and Wales. Its current role was best expressed by the Crown Minister in 1945, with regard to its postwar raison d’être: “The purpose of the Security Service is defense of the Realm and nothing else.” MI5 reports to the Home Secretary of the Home Office. It may be confused as being a domestic law enforcement organization, but it is far from that. To perform the internal security function, MI5’s activities include: domestic counterintelligence; counterespionage; counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and cyber work within the country and protective details for many top government officials. Its officers do not have authority to arrest citizens. When needed, MI5 will work in close cooperation with London’s Metropolitan Police Service (headquartered at New Scotland Yard) and other local police agencies within England and Wales. This is especially when it concerns their efforts to fight domestic terrorism. MI5 may also interface with MI6 when foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence activities intersect.

It cannot be overemphasized that MI5 is a secretive organization. Well back in 1931, the firm instruction to a new employee was: “No one, not even our own families, should be told where we worked or for whom.”  The existence of MI5 was not acknowledged officially until 1979, when Mrs Thatcher unmasked Sir Anthony Blunt as the Fourth Man in a statement to the House of Commons. Its head was publicly named for the first time in 1991. It was also at that time when some previously classified information about MI5, such as the number of its employees and its organizational structure, was made public. During the past three decades, MI5 worked its way through a number of scandals–to include incessant hunts for apparently nonexistent moles–that further tarnished its reputation in many circles. Reflective of British culture, members of the intelligence services, from top to bottom, were unwilling to display any disappointment or hurt and never looked to cry on anyone’s shoulder. They remained reticent about attitudes toward them and placid, straightforward, as they performed their work. Somewhere along the line, a solution was found. The decision was made to release their stories, not to drain themselves out, but let little bit find its ways into the public marketplace to unmask appearances public relations-wise. Through the use of surrogate voices, a sudden fracture in the marble reveals the interior. The inner life. Studies were commissioned to tell their stories, to the extent possible.

Most relevant in Andrew’s Defend the Realm to the examination of MI5 in this essay, are anecdotes loaded with insights on events that were in their time of the utmost importance. Those cases chronicalized, carefully selected from MI5’s storied past, and detailed the complex nature of MI5’s modern day work is revealed. Additionally, from Andrew’s work, one receives a picture of MI5 as a tightly-knit institution, in which many officers keep body and soul together, and others actually thrive, in its atmosphere of secrecy. Based on what has been made public, in an investigation of a threat to the United Kingdom, MI5 officers will usually seek to gather covert intelligence directly. Often, they operate openly and declare themselves as representatives of foreign intelligence services to their host country. The methods used by MI5 officers vary widely, and are often limited only by their ingenuity. Armed with a suite of the latest high-tech tools for surveillance, they will use it to eavesdrop, tap telephone calls and communicate secretly. Normally, MI5 officers will recruit spies to obtain intelligence on their behalf. 

More formally, a spy working for MI5 is known as a “covert human intelligence source,” but in the United Kingdom, spies are more commonly referred to as agents (Interestingly, in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a covert human intelligence source is called an “informant” rather than an “agent.” Such agents have been consistently referred to as operatives by greatcharlie.) MI5 agents will do far more than just inform about people and events. Agents secretly provide private information to which few or no others might have access, as well as classified information to an officer. An agent will probably not be a professional “spy” but an MI5 intelligence officer will usually provide them with some basic instruction in tradecraft, espionage methods. The human relationship between intelligence officers and their agents remains a key element of espionage.

MI5’s earliest precursor was a secret service formed in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham, who later became secretary of state to Elizabeth I. What came to be called MI5 was formed in 1909 under the leadership of Vernon Kell, then a captain in the British army, to identify and counteract German spies then working in the United Kingdom. It performed that task with great effect. MI5 originally stood for “Military Intelligence [Department] 5.” (In fact, there were a number of departments within the Directorate of Military Intelligence–MI1 through MI19–which dealt with a range of issues. MI1, for instance, was responsible for code-breaking, and MI2 handled Russian and Scandinavian intelligence. The responsibilities of these departments were either discontinued or absorbed into The War Office, MI5 and MI6 and, later, the Government Communications Headquarters.) After World War I, MI5 remained in place as part of the United Kingdom’s effort to centralize control of intelligence functions. In 1931, MI5 was renamed the Security Service, but was still commonly known as MI5 then as it is today. About the time it was renamed, MI5 was paired with MI6, under the Defence Ministry and functioned with a “combined staff” of only two men. Kell, MI5 founder, remained in charge of the agency until 1940. During World War II, with far more staff, MI5 enjoyed a considerable number of successes. One was the Double-Cross System, which fed disinformation to Nazi Germany. For the most part, however, it is recognizably difficult to measure MI5’s success, since it can only be judged by things which do not happen, such as the prevention of sabotage. 

There was initial period of confusion at the start of World War II as a MI5 was inundated with work and had too few staff at all levels to handle it. Missteps led to “life-saving” reforms with the coming of Sir David Petrie in April 1941. MI5 is better known in the war as having achieved great success in uncovering Nazi agents in the United Kingdom. Captured Nazi records studied after 1945 indicated almost all of the Nazi agents working against the United Kingdom were captured. The exception was ine the committed suicide. MI5 managed to recruit a number of the enemy agents to become counterespionage agents for the service and fed false information to the enemy concerning military strategy during the war. MI5 executed the famous “Double Cross” system which was a deception that supported the success of the D-Day Invasion at Normandy in 1944. A proud episode for MI5 was its defense of Gibraltar from enemy agents and saboteurs throughout the war.

MI5 engaged in a hard fought struggle with Soviet, Eastern Bloc and Chinese espionage efforts in the United Kingdom. The situation was made more difficult was the rise in IRA terrorism during the Troubles. One MI5 renowned victories was its uncovering of Soviet Union’s most valuable agents was exposed. However, MI5’s record during the Cold War, actually was mixed. There were a number of widely publicized blunders during that period. The Soviet Union was found to have deeply penetrated MI5, as well as MI6 which reportedly undermined the public’s confidence in the organization.

Low morale reportedly plagued MI5 after the end of the Cold War and the Good Friday agreement of 1998, which led to massive cutbacks. The agency’s focus would eventually shift after the Cold War from counter-espionage and counter-subversion to counterterrorism. That shift was given greater emphasis following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, and counterterrorism became a role of the utmost importance following the July 7, 2005 and July 11, 2005 terrorist bombings in the United Kingdom. MI5’s ranks were filled out rapidly, and within it was a renewed sense of purpose. Today, counterterrorism operations still account for much of MI5’s activities. 

Not all of the anecdotes that Andrew offers spotlight the valor of its officers. There are some of the rather lurid intrigues. They include a cast of cheats, schemers, supplanters, unsavory allegiances, and unimaginable acquaintances. One dare not imagine the sensibilities of the errant individuals behind them. In the discussion of the work done within the analytical shops of MI5, the finer shades of analysis and deduction are spotlighted. Information was looked upon pathologically as the source of motives, clues, indications, and implications. With that analyzed information, MI5 leaders would speak truth other power, whatever it came upon, no matter how offensive, it was told straight.

Zhao Kezhi, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and the Minister and Party Committee Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security, with the top police officer rank of Police Commissioner General (above). MPS senior executives are influential members of the Communist Party of China senior ranks, What often compels the Communist Party of China to select requirements and direction for Chinese Intelligence is not necessarily based on Maoist thought as much as political expedience, necessity, and personal interests. As a consequence, finding the truth is not always the main goal of MPS in its intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement pursuits. That is the type of relation that Chinese intelligence services have with the Communist Party from their very beginning.

Intelligence Work of MPS

If one placed the history of Chinese intelligence alongside that of the United Kingdom, one would find that the craft of intelligence was studied in China long before the idea of formally organizing intelligence activity was manifested in 16th century England. The most illustrious expressions of intelligence concepts and methods in China was in Chapter 13 of The Art of War, a treatise dating from the 5th century by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. Chapter 13 focused on the importance of developing good information sources, and identified five specific types of intelligence sources along with ways to best manage each. However, the lineage of modern Chinese intelligence services,  as noted earlier, have more recent beginnings in the era of Mao. Similarities between MPS and MI5 exist insomuch that it is the Chinese intelligence service charged with internal security and domestic counterintelligence activities of China. It investigates and acts against any person or movement that might threaten China’s security, but unlike MI5, its officers have the power to arrest. In addition to its performing those standard domestic functions as an intelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to maintain control of the population and maintain the Communist order. To that extent, it has remained obedient to the ever shifting requests and requirements the Party issues to it. To be more specific concerning the responsibilities of MPS, they include: preventing, stopping and investigating criminal activities; fighting against terrorist activities; maintaining stability and order; administering to transport, fire fighting and dangerous objects; administering to household registration, identification cards, nationality as well as entry, status and exit of Chinese and foreign nationals; maintaining border security; protecting persons, venues and facilities as designated by the state; managing gatherings, parades and demonstrations; supervising public information networks; supervising security concerning state organizations, social organizations, enterprises, institutions, and large construction sites; and, guiding community security commissions.

The Communist Party of China has hardly proven to be pristine in practicing what it preaches. What often compels the Communist Party of China to select requirements and direction for Chinese Intelligence is not necessarily based on Maoist thought as much as political expedience, necessity, and personal interests. As a consequence, finding the truth is not always the main goal of MPS in its intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement pursuits. Normally, finding the truth is sine qua non among intelligence and counterintelligence services, and law enforcement. To fail to find the truth, well-aware that one holds a paucity of facts, information and data, is to fail oneself. Naturally, being aware of the existence of information that contradicts one’s initial hypothesis and doing nothing to dig deeper is counterintuitive.  Having stated that, in the intelligence industry, the slightest deviation from the course ordered on an investigation to satisfy the requirements of the powers that be throw the rules out of the window. However, when tasked directly by the Communist Party of China, the truth lies in what the Party says the truth is. If MPS officers were to present findings from an investigation that held information contradicting the truth as declared by the Communist Party of China, they would unlikely garner understanding from their respective national provincial, or municipal senior executives and managers. In the best case scenario, the ironic admonition might come from on high to stick with the primary problem instead of rooting around at “extraneous matters.” That is the type of relationship that Chinese intelligence services have had with the Communist Party from their very beginning. They are charged with the responsibility for ensuring the tranquility of order. From outside of China, one can freely call the well-experienced intelligence officers who fill the ranks of MPS as tragedians, specializing in a very tragic role for their country.

Manifestations of Political Pushes from Behind in MI5’s Past

In examining MPS, it cannot be stressed enough that it is a political creature of the Communist Party of China. MI5’s circumstances are not remotely similar. MI5 is not an organization designed intrinsically to service the political interests of political authorities. However, there have been occasions when political authorities have misused the vital security arm by using pressure to influence its actions, for purposes that were questionable. Shockingly, the MI5 carried out secret surveillance of the colonial delegations which came to London to discuss terms for independence in the 1950s and 1960s. Andrew gives a disturbing account of the stealthy gathering of intelligence on the delegates attending conferences which negotiated the independence of Cyprus and Kenya. The Home Secretary, Rab Butler, cynically condoned these operations on the grounds that “obviously the product was of great importance and of great value to the government negotiators”.

In most of the British Empire, claims Andrew, MI5 contributed to a smooth transfer of power through the work of its liaison officers. However in Guyana, where United Kingdom Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill wanted to “break the Communist teeth,” a shameful exception was witnessed. MI5 obediently provided support for the United Kingdom and US covert action to oust the democratically-elected Cheddi Jagan from power. Andrew claims that the dominant intelligence agency in the years leading up to Guyana’s independence in 1966 was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However,  MI5, and thereby the government of the United Kingdom, nevertheless had a hand in the affair. 

In the present day, such outcomes are certainly not intended in MI5, an organization tasked and trusted to protect and serve the United Kingdom. To ensure that remains so, the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services exercises regular ongoing oversight of intelligence activities. Through this committee, the Prime Minister, with the assistance of the Secretary of the Cabinet, exercises authority over the daily operations of the British intelligence and security communities as a whole. The Home Secretary oversees MI5, as well as the National Criminal Intelligence Service and Scotland Yard. To the extent that there is always the need for such a degree of oversight from above, one must never overlook the shadowy side of the business. It is at the core of intelligence work. There is a reality that by doing the dirty work, the people of the United Kingdom are allowed to sleep peacefully at night. When the situation is dire and urgent enough, use has been made of agent provocateurs who may take direct action to maintain their bona fides within their groups for the organization’s purposes.

Today, officers join and serve MI5 with the belief that its work has much to do with the wider good. As the targets of MI5 efforts are the terrorists or the war criminals or the nuclear proliferators. There is an understanding how the need to approach a matter of the utmost importance with the most effective method available can subordinate all else. Whether or not exigent circumstances permit, there at least exists the earnest aim among them to defend the values of the United Kingdom’s liberal democracy. Unlike its counterpart in the Chinese intelligence services, MPS, causing harm to the free people of their own country, who are living within the law, is never the intended purpose of MI5. Indeed, while also ostensibly tasked and trusted to protect and serve the people of their country. MPS keeps a boot not only to the neck of criminals and true threats within China, but of groups of innocent citizens labeled as undesirable by the Communist Party of China, and doing that appalling work at the Party’s behest, to be frank, could be ascribed as an essential part of their raison d’etre.

Other Ugly Truths

As long as humans are involved in an organization and its plans and activities, rarely will outcomes be perfect. It could be expected to be imperfect shaped by mistakes, misjudgments, biases, and emotions. To that extent, there is no purpose here to establish MI5 as a paragon of moral behavior. In its history, mistakes were made. Pointing to them means admitting to the truth. (Interestingly, the historical record indicates the nearly contemporary national intelligence service has suffered from its share of mistakes.) What can be greatly appreciated in Defend the Realm is that Andrew tells the MI5 story straight. The ugly truth as told, creates some disappointment, yet from it, lessons were certainly made available that would allow for the organization’s improvement. According to Andrew, recruitment within MI5 was perhaps the most outward expression of inward thinking in the organization. It was surely not acceptable by today’s standards intellectually, morally, ethically, and professionally. Indeed, within the organization itself, MI5, a public service, did not advertise openly for recruits before 1997. Up to that point, recruitment was based on personal recommendation. This was a narrow social group, many of whom had served in India or elsewhere in the Empire. To that extent, the organization was sure to recruit “from good Anglo-Saxon stock.” Reportedly, male officers listed their recreations as cricket and hunting, while female officers were graduates of elite schools and universities

Right up to the mid-1970s, the post-war Security Service refused to recruit Jews on the grounds that a dual loyalty to both Israel and the United Kingdom might create a conflict of interest. This was “inexcusable,” Andrew rightly observes. There was also a very disturbing attitude taken toward Blacks interested in joining the Security Service. In 1949, then Deputy Director General Guy Liddell told the Joint Intelligence Committee: “It was true that niggers coming here often went to the C[ommunist] P[arty].” That fact that he held such appalling racist views were reinforced when he explained there was no doubt in his mind that “West African natives are wholly unfitted for self-rule.” There was a sour spirit to it all. Yet, that was the spirit of the moment. A sort of “pigs in clover” self-satisfaction influenced and distorted thinking in the world of that past era.

While MI5 was busy keeping some citizens out of its intelligence service, its rank and file was surprised to discover who they had let in. In 1951, as the result of the decrypted telegram of the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, that any of the Cambridge Five–then current or former all MI5 or MI6 employees, who were recruited as spies by the Soviets in the 1930s when they were young misguided Communists at Cambridge University–were identified. The bombshell revelation sent shock waves through the halls of MI5. In response, MI5 initiated an investigation that lasted 30 years in order to get to the bottom of the matter.

Among other unfortunate episodes for MI5 was the “Wilson plot” of the 1970s in which United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Wilson was accused of being a Soviet agent–the information came from the CIA’s Counterintelligence Division, James Jesus Angleton based on claims of questionable source. MI5 investigated the claims and found them to be false. There was also the “Death on the Rock” case in 1988 in which MI5 with Spanish authorities were alarmed about three members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) Belfast Brigade who travelled to Spain. It was presumed that they planned an attack against British troops in Gibraltar. MI5 intended to capture the IRA members with the assistance of the British Army’s Special Air Service Regiment cooperation of Spanish Authorities, but all three were killed in the process.

Zhao Kezhi, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and the Minister and Party Committee Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security, with the top police officer rank of Police Commissioner General (above). MPS senior executives are influential members of the Communist Party of China senior ranks, What often compels the Communist Party of China to select requirements and direction for Chinese Intelligence is not necessarily based on Maoist thought as much as political expedience, necessity, and personal interests. As a consequence, finding the truth is not always the main goal of MPS in its intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement pursuits. That is the type of relation that Chinese intelligence services have with the Communist Party from their very beginning.

The Communist Party of China’s Political Manipulation of the MPS Today

It would appear that the leadership of the Communist Party of China is usually distressed exceedingly when even the mere suggestion is made that some underlying evil is present in the decisions and actions of the Chinese government towards its own people. There is the insistence by the Communist Party of China that it acts only in their best interests and the thinking behind each choice is gifted by what their Western counterparts would call scruple. Thus, when any reports, photos, or videos of the actual treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in China are secreted out of the country and headlined in the West or anywhere else in the world, it is nothing less than an absolute disaster. The belief among Communist Party of China’s leadership and members that China’s Communust society is near perfect and would be best for the world is a belief in a false reality. The prospect of any citizen or any foreigner, unmasking the appearance created by Beijing of China being an advanced industrialized society and superior culture truly seems to terrify the Communist Party of China. Burned rotten by somewhat regular investigative reports and exposé documentaries, written and produced in the West, they, without fail, will attempt to cover their traces rather than spill it out. Government and Party spokespeople will roar about China’s innocence and the false and bizarre nature of what is reported. Trying to figuratively get the toothpaste back into the tube has never worked though. Focusing on what it can control, the Communist Party of China engages continuously in an effort to grease the wheels of citizens thinking to ensure that it always slides in its favor and toward appreciation of the Communist Revolution. To stanch the thickening of misgivings among the Chinese people toward its actions, ever present are warnings to citizens to guard themselves against foreign agents, look upon foreigners with some suspicion, and be cognizant of the possibility of unwittingly giving cause for foreign agents to trace them and spot them as potential recruits as spies and informants through seemingly innocuous contact.

The Communist Party of China has long acknowledged that there is always a threat that could arise from the “unsuccessful” education of Chinese citizens. A symptom of that would be the attraction to materialistic symbols of success for the former bourgeoisie class apparatus of success: business success, homes, cars, things constructed around people. It was what identified them as being above the proletariat, the working class. In China, given its relative prosperity, there exists the fear among leaders of the Communist Party and government bureaucracies that the bourgeoisie existence of the West would insinuate itself in the thinking of Chinese citizens and become a preference in their minds. Any aspiration created for what the West has to offer not under controlled circumstances could figuratively spread among the people much as a virus, infecting the proletariat, potentially creating some mass disaffection toward the system. Perhaps such sensibilities reveal a secret doubt that Chinese citizens could see that so-called ideals of Maoist Thought and Marxist-Leninism had been betrayed or perhaps were simply Utopian, and that they would desire great changes. Communist Party of China leaders determined long ago that the response to this threat needed to be strong enough to match “the severity of the disease.” 

As part of its efforts at population control, the Chinese government insists that the people keep a watchful eye over threats to the new system. It was understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema. It was in the performance of the mission to discourage, punish and obliterate that threat that the MPS earned a reputation for being the horrifically oppressive cats paw of the authoritarian regime. The MPS has interfered in interactions and relationships between citizens, ordered citizens to spy on their fellow citizens, demanded that they betray one another, regularly performed intrusive and demeaning searches of citizens’ person, homes, and workplaces. There have been arrests of many innocent citizens, accompanied by abusive and endless interrogations. The shadow of sudden death hangs over the head of any individual in MPS custody.

As of late, what should be of greatest concern is the approach the MPS has been taking toward foreign visitors. (The matter is elaborated upon later in this essay.) As a practice, foreigners, especially, Westerners, are closely observed and often investigated by provincial offices and local MPS stations. Under such circumstances, there is always a real possibility that one might be arrested or “briefly” detained for questioning, would be created. Foreign visitors who have faced such treatment have almost immediately become the center of a frightful international incidents, which is actually the goal of Chinese authorities. Regardless of one’s status in the US, it can happen in China. Reportedly, the attempt has been made with some foreigners to persuade with the pressure of interviews, interrogation, and detainment or use certain manipulations to convince them to let themselves go and reveal “the truth.” Telling the truth would mean copping to preconceived ideas held by their interrogators about their alleged wicked missions against the People’s Republic of China. The treatment of Chinese citizens detained by the MPS for even lesser “offenses,” is always decidedly worse.

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they see.) Spin concerning the maltreatment of ethnic and religious groups is propagated through narratives in the state-run news media of how much the Communist Party of China is doing to protect China from enemies, domestic and foreign, at the hands of which the Chinese people have suffered for so long. Nevertheless, a good number of Chinese people are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government. However, holding a secret doubt about the system in China can lead to a solitary despair. The secret doubt becomes dissatisfaction with one’s work and one’s situation which can become a full-blown loathing of the system. Soon after may come the rejection of authorities. In response to conditions forced upon them, being subjected to humiliations, Chinese citizens of some ethnic and religious minorities have acted in protest, releasing a sense of frustration. Becoming vocal may relieve his sense of frustration for the moment will only open the door to far greater problems. To Chinese government authorities, it represents nothing less than a social dissembling within those groups.

Loyal Communist Party members can hardly understand that any other citizen’s disillusionment or disappointment in government efforts to respond to their needs could be based in logic. Thereby, the attitudes of those citizens are irrational and reactionary. Surely, those approached by MPS display intense emotions, very likely overwhelmed by great fear and sheer terror, given an expectation the worst will befall them given the organization’s reputation, would avail themselves to be apprehended and held indefinitely as their situation would immediately be converted into a psychiatric issue. After all, any charge will do. The goal is to cull the so-called threatening population by plausibly arresting benign citizens and warehousing them away from their homes. One can only imagine that it would mean for those declared to have psychiatric issues to be placed in the hands of medical professionals linked to the MPS. MPS officers are apparently not timid to draw very false, aberrant, far-fetched inferences from fact collected during investigations. Of course, no professional ethics, no moral principles founded upon religion, and no less spiritually based philosophy of humanism could not obstruct such actions. Ethnic and religious minorities must feel akin to big chickens in a world of foxes.

Tibetans detained by MPS officers facing judgment in court (above). China has long considered Tibet to be part of its historical empire. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region. Many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China and have pressed for independence. A Tibetan independence movement has been calling for the independence of Tibet and political separation from China. That independence movement is largely supported by the diaspora of ethnic Tibetans worldwide. During periods of repression and martial law in the region, it is believed that the Chinese government has killed thousands of Tibetans. The Chinese government has referred to Tibetans as one of “the five poisons” threatening China’s stability.

A principle is a precise standard, a course of conduct you are committed to, a way of life that you live by. Adherence to principles, has little meaning to the Communist Party of China unless the principles adhered to are those of the Party. Publicly available sources show that Beijing considers Falungong, Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims, democracy activists and pro-independence Taiwanese undesirables as they adhere to principles and a way of life adverse to that insisted upon by the Communist Party of China. They have been named the “five poisons” that constitute the greatest threat to Beijing’s rule. Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims, in particular, are essentially looked upon as vindictive ill-balanced creatures of China’s hinterland.

As noted here MI5 unfortunately has a record of past mistakes and poor judgment, too, and fortunately from that history, lessons have certainly been learned. Yet still, making mistakes and misjudgments is a far cry different from being deliberately bad, acting the name of injustice and engaging in cruelty, based on a contrived motive and without any reasonable provocation. MPS currently engages in activities which, not to apportion wickedness, manifest just how different the two intelligence services really are. MPS, as an organization, espouses great anger about ethnic and religious minorities, dubbing them activists, reactionaries, counterrevolutionaries, and terrorists, and for the sake of the Communist Party of China and the Communist Revolution, has done what it does best, acted aggressively toward such “threats.” If one is of a ethnic group or religious groups at variance with the Communist Party of China, and consequently under the thumb of the MPS, one will have the sense of being in contact with an evil of an exceptional nature. In recent years, egregious abuses have increased through government policies under the pretext and justification of fighting the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism.” 

Tibet is an autonomous region in the People’s Republic of China. The region has historically been the home to ethnic Tibetans, among others ethnic groups. It is the spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama. China  has long considered Tibet to be part of its historical empire. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region. Many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China and have pressed for independence. A Tibetan independence movement has been calling for the independence of Tibet and political separation from China. That independence movement is largely supported by the diaspora of ethnic Tibetans worldwide. During periods of repression and martial law in the region, it is believed that the Chinese government has killed thousands of Tibetans. The Chinese government has referred to Tibetans as one of “the five poisons” threatening China’s stability. Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.)

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.” A commonality among the homelands of the different ethnic and religious groups in China is the fact that they are depressed regions with unemployment, poor infrastructure and many structures tumbled down. Interdum volgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat. (At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.) 

Uyghur citizens seated in formation in a detention center (above). 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.”

Regarding religious minorities, during the first thirty years of its existence, the Communist Party of China committed itself to making atheist Marxism the fundamental ideology of the country. depriving the Chinese people of their constitutional right of religious liberty. There is a clarity and certainty that comes from being able to know another’s origins. One place to look to identify, research, is to study a the  of culture, history, customs, that may shape the subject’s attitudes and behaviors, worldview. Adherence to religion, culture and identity as well, stiffens resistance to authoritarian pressures and coercion, and girds uncommon perseverance. To that extent, the Communist Party of China surely fears citizens’ adherence to their religions and cultures, and the rejection of Communism. In response to that threat, Beijing has formulated and implemented new policies, regulations, and legislation impacting religious freedom have been created and implemented, particularly since 1979. The idea of it all being to surgically strip citizens of their ethnicity, culture, and religion, thereby smother the individual’s identity, leaving the individual with nothing to grab onto, except Mao’s teachings on Chinese Communism. In the report of the US Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), 2017 Annual Report 127 (October 5, 2017), it is noted that Chinese authorities commonly prosecute Falun Gong practitioners under article 300 of the People’s Republic of China Criminal Law. That information was found on the official Chinese government “anti-cult website.” In February 2018, a woman in Beijing was convicted of “using cult organizations to obstruct the enforcement of laws” under article 300 of the Criminal Law. The woman was sentenced to one and half years in prison and a fine for publicly advocating “the evil cult Falun Gong.” Falungong, essentially an anti-Communist China spiritual group, was banned by Beijing in 1999, having been labeled an “evil cult.”  In 2014, a leader of the Church of Almighty God, a quasi-Christian group also known as Eastern Lightning, was also convicted of “using cult organizations to obstruct the enforcement of laws” and sentenced to four years in prison. That church is now officially banned.

Reportedly, MPS has detained or otherwise restricted the freedom of Catholic leaders in both the underground and official churches. The government has reportedly pushed for Chinese Catholic bishops to be selected through the patriotic religious organizations and then ordained by Chinese bishops without the involvement of the Holy See. Chinese officials have also reportedly subjected Protestant Christian beliefs and practices to a wide range of restrictions. Beijing reportedly pressured unregistered house churches to join the officially recognized religious organization, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Protestant house churches faced raids during church gatherings, eviction from meeting spaces, and official bans on worship. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” While that may be true, it surely has not bent so much in China’s direction yet. Iniqua nunquam regna perpetuo manent. (Unjust rule never abides continually.)

II. The Role of the MSS in China’s National Security Bureaucracy

As aforementioned, Chinese intelligence services, in terms of task and purpose, work within an authoritarian government and must be viewed as a different kettle of fish than the services of the United Kingdom. Having created the space and acquiring the flexibility over the past few decades to allow the service to evolve into the elite, very capable intelligence service the Communist Party of China originally wanted it to be, MSS senior executives and managers have now figuratively declared “game on” to China’s competitors and adversaries. The mission, as originally intended, has not changed much since 1983. Overall, it is now defined as collecting solid intelligence from the inner workings and the very top of foreign military, diplomatic, political, economic, financial, scientific, educational, media, communications, and social institutions. By conventional wisdom, one might proffer those are its priorities. It is surely what Beijing wants now and it is what MSS is chasing after. Its tactics, techniques, procedures and methods are surely more refined than ever before. As previously mentioned, Western intelligence services until recently have habitually underrated the abilities of Chinese intelligence services. That was a mistake. Central to greatcharlie’s understanding of China’s intelligence services and their activities are the writings of Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA where he was a highly-regarded analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis’ writings evince an appreciation of the depth of thought, organization, and planning Chinese intelligence services have put into building up their organizations and conducting operations in all areas. To that extent, he proffers that the West as of late has been facing very modern, competitive Chinese intelligence services that make use of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods at a level equal and in some cases far more competitive than those of Western intelligence services. As he explained in a September 2012 article in Studies in Intelligence entitled, “The Analytical Challenge of Understanding Chinese Intelligence Services,” Chinese writings on intelligence bear remarkable similarity to familiar US definitions of intelligence functions and goals. He reminds that Sun Tzu taught that “foreknowledge” (xianzhi) allowed commanders to outmaneuver opponents. However, he notes more modern definitions range from “activating [catalytic] knowledge” (jihuo zhi-shi) to information to protect national security, domestic stability, or corporate interests in a competitive environment. Mattis goes on to state that Chinese military scholars today frame intelligence as a distinct subset of knowledge, defined by its relevance to decision makers and a competitive environment. Specifically, intelligence is transmittable (chuandi xing) and is knowledge that satisfactorily (manzu xing) resolves a specific decisionmaking problem. He further asserts that empirically, Chinese intelligence officers consistently have demonstrated the use of widely practiced professional tradecraft, having successfully exploited for political and military intelligence purposes agents with vulnerabilities familiar to anyone who follows the subject.

The Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). Chinese intelligence services target a broad range of national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities of the United Kingdom, the US, and other advanced industrialized countries. Lately, the chief feature of the intelligence war between those countries and China has been the economic front. Indeed, economic espionage, one might venture to say, holds perhaps a prominent place among the bread and butter activities of the MSS and is best known to industries around the world most of which could easily become one of its corporate victims.

Using MI6 as a Yardstick to Gauge the MSS and Its Activities

Everyone on the outside has their own version of what MI6 is and does. Looking at MI6 as a yardstick to understand the MSS, the two organizations pair up to the degree that both are foreign intelligence services. The United Kingdom’s MI6, formally the Secret Intelligence Service as mentioned previously, is the government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of foreign intelligence. It is also charged specifically with the conduct of espionage activities outside of the United Kingdom’s territory. The MI6 motto is Semper Occultus (Always Secret), but the organization states as its mission: “We work overseas to help make the UK a safer and more prosperous place.” Much as MI5, MI6 has only a few thousand employees. It is headquartered in London, at Vauxhall Cross. It is a component of the same intelligence apparatus in the United Kingdom as MI5. 

MI6’s four main areas of focus are: countering international terrorism, combating weapons proliferation, supporting stability overseas and securing the United Kingdom’s cyber advantage. Countering international terrorism means exactly that, protecting the United Kingdom from terrorists. Performing that task entails: gathering and assessing intelligence; conducting investigations and disrupting terrorist activity; preventing people from becoming terrorists; and, protecting critical national infrastructure and crowded places. Through gathering intelligence and disrupting operations, MI6 plays an indispensable role in the United Kingdom’s counter weapons proliferation efforts directed at combatting the international proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. Working in cooperation with key national and international partners as the US, MI6 also helps to ensure that the United Kingdom’s weapons exports never fall into the hands of terrorists. Instability and conflict overseas leads to weak governments and poor national security, and nurtures a fertile environment in which terrorists and organized crime groups can thrive. Using agents, the MI6 provides intelligence to government policymakers and decisionmakers and provides early warning indications of potentially hostile threats. Most often that information can lead to early political intervention to prevent prolonged instability. Cyber threats are a key security risk to the United Kingdom, as they have the potential to disastrously impact individuals, organizations and governments. Global and ever becoming increasingly complex, cybercrime has the unusual characteristic of having the potential to rear its ugly head and reach out from anywhere in the world. The MI6 provides secret intelligence to help protect the UK from current and emerging cyber threats across a range of adversaries such as hostile countries, terrorists and criminals. Additionally, MI6 conducts counterintelligence operations via a furtive counterintelligence section, but it is generally understood that the organization shares that work with MI5.

In order to meet the challenges of their work, MI6 officers are highly trained in the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of their profession. Within intelligence services, as noted earlier, it is referred to as tradecraft. High on the list skills learned and honed are espionage techniques and the use of agents. Often MI6 officers may operate openly in their host country, declaring themselves as representatives of the United Kingdom’s foreign intelligence services. Otherwise they will work covertly under the cover of other official positions such as diplomatic staff or trade delegates. Some MI6 officers may operate under non-official cover to conceal the fact that they work for an intelligence service. That usually entails posing as a business person, student or journalist for example. In some cases MI6 officers will operate under “deep cover,” meaning they will use false names and nationalities. In the intelligence industry, such officers operating under such cover are referred to as “illegals.” They operate without any of the protections offered by diplomatic immunity. MI6 officers typically seek to establish networks of agents whom they can use over a sustained period of time, so that they can obtain a reliable flow of information. As it was stated in the aforementioned discussion on MI5 agents, MI6 agents operate by exploiting trusted relationships and positions to obtain sensitive information. They may also look for vulnerabilities among those handling secrets. They may be aware of flaws in their organization’s security that they can exploit. Recruiting agents, both foreign and domestic, who can provide intelligence on terrorist plans and organizations is of the utmost importance to MI6 officers.

MI6 was constituted in its present form in 1912 by Commander (later Sir) Mansfield Cumming as part of the United Kingdom’s attempt to coordinate intelligence activities prior to the outbreak of World War I. In the 1930s and ’40s it was considered the most effective intelligence service in the world. Following the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany, MI6 conducted espionage operations in Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia. When the US entered World War II, MI6 helped to train personnel of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS). As mentioned, it was the organization in which Hilsman served. Much of OSS’ foreign intelligence and counterintelligence tradecraft was adopted from MI6. Indeed, the CIA still uses much of it today. Reportedly, many “old boys,” veterans of the OSS are fond  of saying, “The Brits taught us everything that we know, but certainly not everything that they know.” The two organizations worked closely during the war. MI6 has since cooperated extensively with the OSS’s successor, the CIA. MI6 senior executives, managers, and officers refer to the US intelligence organization the “American cousins.” Details of MI6 operations and relationships have rarely appeared in the press. In the mid-1950s, the public reacted with consternation when it was revealed that MI6 had been penetrated by double agents who had served the Soviet Union since the 1930s. It was not until the 1990s, that the head of MI6 was publicly named for the first time. Still, information about MI6 is still much more closely guarded than that about MI5, which carries out internal security and domestic counterintelligence activities. The agency has the power to censor news accounts of its activities through the use of “D” notices under the Official Secrets Act. MI6 reports to the Foreign Office.

Stephen Dorril’s work, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, is a true reflection of the organization, its people and its history, what it has done and where it has been most influential . Dorril, a meticulous observer and chronicler of the security services, demonstrates an understanding of everything one might have thought about MI6. Through the text, readers learn that MI6’s postwar activities were mired in prewar attitudes and practices. Many in the United Kingdom imagined the foreign policy task dividing up the world with US and other global powers. Instead, the preoccupation was the Soviet Union and the Cold War. In chronicalizing the Cold War segment of MI6’s history, Dorril fills the pages with anecdotes of its most spectacular failures, stirring successes, unsavory plots and bizarre missions, the real-life cloak-and-dagger world is exposed. There is a discussion of Operation Stalin, which exploited the Russian dictator’s paranoia and led to the execution of thousands. There is another about the tunnel MI6 dug beneath the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War, in the intelligence war, it seems that there was no opportunity, in the midst of his work against the Eastern Bloc and more the Soviet Empire, to view matters from a broader or humane perspective. Surely, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to enumerate all of the mistakes, poor choices that were made. By 1992, influence abroad had been lost in the Middle East, most of Africa and large swathes of Asia. The United Kingdom was not exiled and isolated as some might suggest. It was then and remains a key partner to the US with its superpower status, and often takes lead from the US, the main push was to abrogate the world’s resources. In the post-Cold War era, there was once again a sense, particularly in the administration of US President Bill Clinton of the West’s entitlement to the world’s spoils. That rush to take what was available was intensified by the need to get to what was out there before the People’s Republic of China did. Political power seemed to embrace corporate power. As a consequence, there was the appearance that corporate power was supported by government power. MI6, one of the great information-gathering organizations of the world, was put to that task, placing some strains on the service.

The book presents a well of extraordinary characters. As alluded to earlier, the lion’s share of what was told is meat and drink for those who enjoy spy novels, but it is all real. Yet, in addition the book presents the similitudes of the intelligence industry with profoundly human stories. The world of the intelligence officer is often a dank and grey one, visceral, boring at times. There is a drudgery about agent running. Doing chores in the analytical shops can be tedious. One is invited to understand the suffering and sacrifices of MI6 officers. Prerogatives are surrendered, loves, passions, moral ambiguities, moral compromise. Many officers fall off, finding satisfaction in other professions and pursuits, others engaged in betrayal, a few entered the device with the objective of spying. As with MI5, MI6, as a dynamic, intelligence service, operating worldwide, has a history riddled with complexity. Stories of unpleasantness are even found in Dorril’s authorized study, too! The more counterintuitive these acts are from the past, the more puzzling they are. In such an old, but odd profession, if one finds oneself doing odd things, the hope would be to catch oneself out when one is so far out of bounds that nothing good is being accomplished.

The People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington, DC (above), home to the MSS resident in the US. Much as it was the case during the Cold War with Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence services, it remains a penchant today among the Chinese intelligence services, to troll the émigrés who have made their way out of those countries. They will go as far as to twist their tails to garner their cooperation as operatives and informants. There is almost an insistence that even having left China, the émigrés must accept China’s iron rule. It may appear to be daylight madness, nevertheless, it is happening. In the recent case of an New York City Police Department officer was alleged to be supporting the intelligence activities of the Communist Party of China’s intelligence organ, the United Front Work Department. That case brought to fore the fact that Chinese intelligence services work hard at compelling overseas Chinese to take part in economical and technical espionage, whether through patriotic appeals or simple threats.

Present Day Focus and Operations of MSS

MSS, as well as other Chinese intelligence services, target a broad range of US national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities. Lately, the chief feature of a defacto intelligence war between West and China has been the economic front. Indeed, economic espionage, one might venture to say, holds perhaps a prominent place among the bread and butter activities of the MSS and is best known to industries around the world most of which could easily become one of its corporate victims. To understand the intelligence efforts of MSS, one must understand how guIding concepts from Deng Xiaoping led to a decision by Chinese intelligence to make economic espionage an even greater emphasis. Under the Second Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Deng Xiaoping, China began authentic economic reform partially opening China to the global market. China’s economy grew rapidly soon afterwards. In a five-year economic plan 2006-2010, the Communist Party of China outlined that China must maintain fast and stable economic growth and support the building of a harmonious society. The Communist Party of China’s aim was to raise the country’s gross domestic product by 7.5% annually for the next five years. In order to achieve such rapid economic growth, However, countries such as India and Vietnam had begun competing with China to offer cheap manufacturing bases for Western companies. Further, the increased demand for raw materials such as oil and iron ore, and new environmental and labor laws led to cost increases, making manufacturing in China more expensive which caused some factories to close. China sought to diversify its economy, for example, through the manufacture of better made high end products. However, that diversification of the economy required the Chinese to increase their knowledge of design and manufacturing processes. Espionage has offered a relatively cheap, quick, and easy method to obtain information that could help Chinese companies remain competitive. Many of China’s largest companies are state owned, or have close linkages to the government, and receive intelligence collected by Chinese intelligence services. Those firms have also proved to be capable of engaging in commercial espionage themselves. To get an idea of how well the MSS operates, one only needs to consider its ongoing activities in the US. Without the intention of tarnishing or being beastly toward US intelligence and  counterintelligence services, and law enforcement, they have been unable to prosecute a successful, fruitful, and victorious campaign against Chinese intelligence services operating in the US and against US interests globally. Readers might recall from previous posts on the subject, greatcharlie noted that Western intelligence services until recently have habitually underrated the abilities of Chinese intelligence services. Further, in previous US administrations, particularly in the administration of US President Barack Obama, a somewhat relaxed attitude resulted in policies on China lost in the wilderness that failed to genuinely protect or promote US interests. The delinquency and lethargy of previous administrations also allowed for the steady progress of China versus US power and further advances in technology. The burgeoning threat was apparently not fully discerned or appreciated. 

In response to past US missteps, Chinese intelligence services presumably placed a laser focus upon enhancing and adjusting their approaches to US targets. As a product of their success in recruiting officers and contractors from the US intelligence services, Chinese intelligence services have apparently managed to better understand what the US has been doing to try to recruit Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants is prioritized. To the extent, US intelligence officers and contractors recruited as spies are typically tasked with actions to support Chinese counterintelligence requirements. Doubtlessly, the collection of information on what MSS foreign intelligence has been doing has been insufficiently analyzed in light of information collected on US counterintelligence surveillance strategies and technological capabilities would inspire audits in Chinese intelligence services to better assess how closely its operatives were being monitored and how US counterintelligence managed to see a number of MSS efforts straight. If Chinese intelligence services actually hire hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of officers, operatives and informants, it stands to reason there would be a number of bad apples among them. If not, one must become reconciled with the fact that Chinese spies do not go astray so often.

Foreign Intelligence Operations of MSS

Successful multifaceted activities of Chinese Intelligence services have included: conventional espionage; outright intellectual property theft via corporate and academic institutions worldwide, and cyber attacks. For a good idea of how MSS conducts conventional espionage today, Ryan Clarke, a senior fellow at the East Asia Institute, a Singapore-based think tank, boils it down well in a July 31, 2020 Asia Times article entitled, “The Face of Chinese Spying in Singapore.” Curiously using MSS efforts primarily in the US primarily as an example, Clarke asserts its intelligence operations are highly targeted and tethered to specific state goals. He explains: “These types of operations are quite simple with relatively few moving parts, which is why they are replicable at scale.” To illustrate the variety of targets attacked by MSS, Clarke says: “We’ve seen operations against a range of American targets, from Covid-19 vaccine research to the F-35 fighter jet program.” With regard to the collection effort, Clarke goes on to propound: “The general approach is to establish target priorities and then proceed to collect what appear to be rather innocuous inputs with relatively limited value when viewed in isolation. Sometimes the information may not even be classified. This is done on a massive scale in-country with a parallel synthesis-fusion operation in China itself.” Putting such a massive and energetic effort into perspective, Clarke maintains: “The strategic logic is that, in the aggregate, this massive collection and synthesis-fusion effort will yield unique findings and insights which the Chinese Communist Party can leverage across a range of domains.” The Idea that a massive synthesis-fusion operation exists to mine useful intelligence from piles of information collected was also proferred and the analytical operation was conceptualized 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 2).”

So far as is known publicly, counterintelligence services of the countries Chinese intelligence services have struck, to include the US, have yet to get to the bottom of their business in their countries in order to put an appreciable dent in their work. One might imagine that trying to spot, intercept, neutralize, and recruit significant numbers of Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants has become an exercise in chasing shadows. This has likely left senior executives and managers of many counterintelligence services in a mute frenzy. For the US, in particular, long gone are the opportunities such as the relatively facile recruitment of the MSS officer Yu Zhengsan back in 1985. Then, when MSS was barely up and running for two years, Yu Zhengsan, a mid-level MSS officer from a well-connected political family, was allegedly aided by the CIA allegedly in escaping China and defecting to the US. Once in US hands, Yu provided investigative leads for US counterintelligence services to capture Larry Wu-Tai Chin, a retired CIA language analyst, who had spied for China since the 1940s. If Chinese intelligence services actually hire hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of officers, operatives and informants, it stands to reason there would be a number of bad apples among them. If not, US counterintelligence services must become reconciled with the fact that, today, Chinese spies do not go astray so often. That is, there must be nothing so creative that US counterintelligence services are doing or offering to encourage them to do so.

Prior to the coming of the administration of US President Donald Trump, economic espionage by Chinese intelligence gained real traction. Startled US government officials began to sound the alarm particularly over the destructive impact of Chinese commercial espionage upon US national security. Intrusions by Chinese actors into US companies and other commercial institutions harm both the individual companies and the overall US economy, to the benefit of China. Indeed, in July 2015, Bill Evanina, who was the National Counterintelligence Executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and remains in that position as of this writing, stated point blank, “Economic security is national security.” Nevertheless, the vociferous statements of those tasked with defeating China’s operations had no real effect on the course of the administration of US President Barack Obama and Chinese intelligence activities steadily intensified. In response to counterintelligence and cyber defense missteps, Chinese intelligence services seem to have placed a laser focus upon enhancing and adjusting their approaches to US targets.

It is important to note that much as it was the case during the Cold War with Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence services, it remains a penchant today among the Chinese intelligence services, to troll the émigrés who have made their way out of those countries. They will go as far as to twist their tails to garner their cooperation as operatives and informants. There is almost an insistence that even having left China, the émigrés must accept China’s iron rule. It may appear to be daylight madness. However, while it is madness, it is happening. Clearly, the Communist Party of China must think it makes sense or they would be acting in this way. In the recent case of a New York City Police Department officer was alleged to be supporting the intelligence activities of the Communist Party of China’s intelligence organ, the United Front Work Department. That case brought to fore the fact that Chinese intelligence services work hard at compelling overseas Chinese to take part in economical and technical espionage, whether through patriotic appeals or simple threats. To be more precise, they will twist the tails of émigrés by threading to harm family members still living in China if cooperation was not provided.

The People’s Republic of China National Security Office in Hong Kong (above). MSS counterintelligence certainly would do whatever possible to intercept, neutralize, and recruit foreign intelligence officers, as well as their operatives and informants in China and those working in locations close to, and on matters concerning, Chinese interests in other countries. As with almost any other counterintelligence organization worldwide, necessary attributes must be present to initiate a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy.” 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. Covert audio and video monitoring in the residences, vehicles, offices, hotels frequented and homes of friends of the suspected foreign spy. Passive collection by informants will also be used to eavesdrop on the individual’s conversations.

MSS Counterintelligence

MSS shares the counterintelligence role with MPS. The primary mission of organic MSS counterintelligence elements is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide. Its primary targets hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the bordering Russian Federation, and Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes although China has not achieved prominence in their space. Second would come Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia, and Iran which it trusts up to a point.  China must also measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. China has also stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

A Difficult Comparison with MI6 Counterintelligence

Making a proper comparison between MSS counterintelligence operations and those of MI6 is difficult due to the fact there are only soupçons to go on with regard to that United Kingdom intelligence service. One aspect of that work already noted here is that counterintelligence responsibilities among the United Kingdom’s intelligence services have been divided between MI5 and MI6. In Nigel West’s Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence (Scarecrow Press, 2014), one of his many superlative reference books on the subject of intelligence, not surprisingly one can find at least some reference to the work of MI6 in that province. As explained in the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, in the United Kingdom, counterintelligence is the discipline devoted to penetrating the adversary’s intelligence structure and protecting one’s own organization. (This is significant for a number of other intelligence services take a different approach to the matter. In the CIA and the FBI in the US and in the erstwhile Soviet Union’s KGB and the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, for instance, counterespionage operations are organic to the work of their organizations’ counterintelligence sections.)  West notes that during World War II, the MI6 counterintelligence section was designated Section V, the romance numeral five being the cause of considerable misunderstanding and confusion for outsiders.

With regard to counterespionage, in the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, West notes that responsibility for such operations lies primarily with MI5, although inevitably the Secret Intelligence Service and Government Communications Headquarters as well occasionally encounter evidence of hostile activity and investigate it. During World War II, counterespionage was acknowledged as an interagency discipline that overlapped different organizations and in 1942, was the motive for an attempt at amalgamation, which was ultimately rejected. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, MI5’s commitments were reevaluated periodically, and the counterespionage branch, designated K in 1968, was absorbed to a new D Branch in 1994 

To elaborate further on MSS counterintelligence, certainly it would do whatever possible to intercept, neutralize, and recruit foreign intelligence officers, as well as their operatives and informants in China and those working in locations close to, and on matters concerning Chinese interests in other countries. As with almost any other counterintelligence organization worldwide, necessary attributes must be present to initiate a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy.” 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. Covert audio and video monitoring in the residences, vehicles, offices, hotels frequented and homes of friends of the suspected foreign spy. Passive collection by informants will also be used to eavesdrop on the individual’s conversations. The surveillance effort may not always be easy going. A foreign intelligence officer’s trade craft 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.

Shifting a bit from United Kingdom intelligence efforts to elaborate more effectively on this point, federal indictments and criminal complaints against MSS foreign intelligence operatives and informants caught in the US indicate that they are generally tasked, as most field operatives and informants of any intelligence service, as intelligence collection requirements demand. As noted in greatcharlie’s August 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 2),” from what can be learned from indictments and criminal complaints about such cases that are made public, in almost all of the MSS taskings of those intercepted operatives and informants, certain counterintelligence aspects can be discerned. Those aspects appear aimed at providing ways to assist MSS counterintelligence in identifying and locating foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, particularly in China, or assist in devising ways to intercept, neutralize, and recruit them. Typical counterintelligence aspects in takings that include collecting information on how the US intelligence services communicate with officers, operatives, and informants overseas. In order to develop ways to counter the efforts of US counterintelligence services against MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, MSS counterintelligence would want to know how the organization is set up to confront adversarial networks of spies, who is who, where they are situated, and what exactly are they doing. Understanding the surveillance strategies of US counterintelligence services, particularly the FBI, would inform MSS counterintelligence of what layers of surveillance are usually being pressed on MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants in the US and how to devise better ways to defeat them. Technological capabilities would inform MSS counterintelligence whether all along US counterintelligence services have had the capability to monitor its activities or whether they have the capacity and have simply failed to use it effectively. The collection of information on what MSS foreign intelligence has been doing ineffectively in the face of US counterintelligence surveillance strategies and technological capabilities would undoubtedly inspire audits to better assess how closely its operatives were being monitored and how US counterintelligence managed to see a number of MSS efforts straight. (If one were to mine through the US Department of Justice’s very own indictments and criminal complaint against those few Chinese officers, operatives, and informants that have been captured, reading between the lines very closely, one can find to more than few open doors that might lead to successes against existing but well-cloaked Chinese intelligence networks and actors. The particulars of those real possibilities will not be delved into here. Not one case has been a “wilderness of mirrors.” It is hard to know what to make of how things are currently transpiring.)

FBI wanted poster for hackers Zhu Hua (left) and Zhang Shilong (right) of the Advanced Persistent Threats 10 (APT 10 Group) which acted in association with the MSS Tianjin State Security Bureau. In its intelligence campaign against the US, EU Member States, and other advanced industrialized countries, the MSS has taken a multidimensional approach. Three apparent dimensions include: illicit technology procurement, technical collection (cyber attacks), and human intelligence collection. Cyber attacks are perhaps the most prolific type used against industry advanced industrialized countries. This dimension of Chinese intelligence collection is also perhaps the most aggressive. Hackers locate doors that they can rapidly pass through and grab whatever might be within reach. It is by no means a supplemental or mere attendant method of espionage relative to running operatives and informants. It is a full-fledged  dimension of China’s intelligence campaign strategy.

MSS Electronic Intelligence

In its intelligence campaign against the US, EU Member States, and other advanced industrialized countries, the MSS has taken a multidimensional approach. Three apparent dimensions include: illicit technology procurement, technical collection (cyber attacks), and human intelligence collection. Cyber attacks are perhaps the most prolific type used against industry advanced industrialized countries. This dimension of Chinese intelligence collection is also perhaps the most aggressive. Hackers locate doors that they can rapidly pass through and grab whatever might be within reach. It is by no means a supplemental or mere attendant method of espionage relative to running operatives and informants. It is a full-fledged  dimension of China’s intelligence campaign strategy. If human intelligence were the only focus, constraints on manpower resources would always be a big problem to overcome. Cyber collection complements all other forms of attack well. Typically, Chinese spokespersons from the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Communist Party of China, itself, will issue declarations seemingly designed to create the false impression that China was engaged in a lex talionis of allegations with the US on cyber espionage. Perchance the aim in doing so was to distract the world from the reality of its one-way abusive and criminal cyber attacks to obtain classified information from the federal government, intellectual property from private firms, and research from academic institutions in the US.

When GCHQ Was Part of MI6

For a time, MI6 also enjoyed having an organic technical surveillance capability. That technical surveillance capability today resides in an independent intelligence agency known as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). GCHQ grew out of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), established in November 1919. During the 1920s and 1930s, GC&CS had considerable success in its efforts to decipher German and Soviet transmissions. Once Nazi Germany acquired the Enigma machine, with its apparently unbreakable ciphers, in the late 1930s, GC&CS greatly stepped up its efforts. In August 1939, just before war broke out in Europe, it moved its headquarters to Bletchley Park outside London. There its cryptanalysts undertook Operation Ultra, the breaking of the Enigma cipher—a project whose details remained classified until the 1970s. Renamed the Government Communications Headquarters in 1942 to conceal its activities, this leading communications intelligence agency of the United Kingdom. Through GCHQ, MI6 enjoyed a number of successes during World War II, most notable among them being the Ultra program to break German Enigma ciphers. Today GCHQ functions similarly to the US National Security Agency (NSA) Working in coordination with the NSA during the Cold War, it greatly escalated its efforts. Reportedly, it participates in the Echelon global surveillance network. Much of what is known about how GCHQ is organized was provided publicly in James Bamford’s famous 1982 book on NSA, The Puzzle Palace (Houghton Miflin Harcourt, 1982). Knowing how GCHQ is organized allows one to infer with at least some degree accuracy, how it functions. According to Bamford, GCHQ at that time had six directorates. Among these were the Composite Signals Organization, dedicated to radio intercepts; the Directorate of Organization and Establishment, whose functions were chiefly administrative; the Directorate of Signals Intelligence Plans, concerned with long-range planning and management; and the Joint Technical Language Service, which intercepted foreign communications. Bamford stated that the largest and most secretive directorate, the Directorate of Signals Intelligence Operations and Requirements oversaw codebreaking activities. 

Returning to the discussion of MSS technical collection, it can include the use of high-tech tools covering phone calls and all forms of messaging to relatively low level actions against electronic equipment such as mobile phones and computer networks. While technical intelligence collection, cyber attacks by Chinese intelligence services upon targets in the US, have been deplorable, the skill displayed and their list of accomplishments has been impressive. What have essentially been standard targets of cyber attacks from Chinese intelligence services in recent years have been those levelled against US national security decision makers and government organizations, particularly during the Obama administration. The objective of that targeting has been to access any classified information they might possess. Through that information, MSS would surely hope to develop insight into highly sensitive US national security decisionmaking processes.

MI6 in the Political Realm: A Bad Mix

There is much beyond the controlled bearing, composure of MI6 officers and the organization itself. From what has been revealed, their efforts have been defined by hard work, establishing solid foundations, diligence and forethought, practicality and organization, determination and dependability, passion and drive. Creativity is combined with thoughtful effort and hard work to manifest positive energies, opportunities and results. 

As aforementioned, the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services exercises regular ongoing oversight of intelligence activities. Through this committee, the Prime Minister, with the assistance of the Secretary of the Cabinet, exercises authority over the daily operations of the British intelligence and security communities as a whole. MI6 answers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The Foreign Secretary receives assistance from the Permanent Secretaries’ Committee on the Intelligence Services. Finally, the Joint Intelligence Committee draws up general intelligence needs to be met by MI6. It also prepares National Intelligence Estimates.

As with officers in MI5, speaking truth to power is also the charge entrusted to leaders of MI6. Yet circumstances have often been complicated enough to spoil adherence to that. One might say how MI6 has performed, has really boiled down to leadership. Indeed, the intelligence services may have figuratively been wonderful horses but the chief or key senior executives–no names here–may have been less-than-perfect jockeys in matters of high policy. Admittedly short on specifics of such cases here, yet with all conspiracy theories aside, it may be enough to say the resources and capabilities of MI6 allegedly have reportedly  on certain occasion been used by political leaders to turn a situation that might not necessarily stand in their favor due to interests beyond those urgent and important to the United Kingdom. Some believe it was really seen during the Iraq War when the United Kingdom followed the US into the whole affair which was unfortunately founded on false intentions,  namely weapons of mass destruction were being produced by the regime of the erstwhile Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Tragically, MI6 became the alleged coauthor and signatories to misleading information

When misgivings and disfavor might have been expressed what may have been proposed from the top, it may have been the case that  the powers that be would brook no denial. Those too concerned of their position or being politically indebted, might have seen themselves with little option but to follow orders. Those who see themselves as pragmatists, may explain away a decision to go along thoroughly with a suggestion from on high as an effort to simply adapt in a shifting world. They may not have seen themselves as keepers of some sacred flame. The fatal mistake occurs when the choice is made to play along thoroughly. No proper MI6 or MI5 officer would be expected to shrink at the last. If the organization’s leadership had decided to disappoint the political leadership, they might not only have been forced to surrender the coveted privilege to serve their country in the intelligence services. To many in the intelligence service, that idea would be anathema. Such thoughts likely broke through any defenses their minds raised against them. Additionally, after their departure they might find the whole force of the state on his or her back. L’homme c’est rien—l’oeuvre c’est tout.

Assuredly, Parliament, which provides oversight of MI6, has a process for ascertaining the truth about such matters. The principal oversight committee for British intelligence is the Central Intelligence Machinery, based in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office. It oversees the coordination of security and intelligence agencies. It also acts as a mechanism for assessment and accountability, observing and reporting on the performance of specific agencies. Further, it more directly intelligence operations as it is also concerned with tasking and the allocation of resources.

To discuss such issues concerning MI6, even if it is just a part of a mere commentary on MSS, is to walk out on shaky ground given many who may read this post may be invested in maintaining the image of the organization and may have previously been invested heart and soul in its work. While admittedly greatcharlie has sought to be sensitive to the concerns of those readers, doubtlessly, the soupçons discussed here will still be an issue of contention in some quarters and there will surely be those disposed to quarrel most bitterly over it. All the same, what is opined here is only what has been publicly discussed by those familiar with the issue. To that extent, not being aware first-hand of it all, greatcharlie would not like to swear by it.

There is no legal “right to know” what is undertaken abroad in the name of the United Kingdom’s security, what it costs or how it is run. Reportedly, beyond mere concerns exposing any classified information about MI6, to write about MI6, even today, risks harassment and prosecution. Former members and current commentators are fully aware of this and have complied thereby allowing the organization to remain beyond any educated public scrutiny. In the past, any dissident reports of its operations were effectively snuffed out. The agency has the power to censor news accounts of its activities through the use of “D” notices under the Official Secrets Act. As one might imagine, this reality does not sit well with the citizens of the United Kingdom. There is a perception among many in the United Kingdom that such behavior brings the organization more closely in sync with that of MSS, an organ of an authoritarian government, than it should in a free society. Civil rights groups and average citizens argue that the policy of total should be reconsidered and scrapped, should not be disparaged as rubbish in any quarter.

Meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China (above). Changes in both competency and necessity have favored an increase in MSS influence in foreign policymaking. One change was the decision of the Communist Party of China wanted MSS looking further abroad than minority groups on China’s periphery. Another change was the expansion of Chinese interests abroad. The real threats to China were no longer seen as coming from traditional internal security concerns but from countries capable of stopping China’s access to trade. By successfully building up its foreign intelligence capabilities to meet this challenge, MSS managed to increase its influence and favor with political authorities. Apparently, it was understood in the Communist Party of China that foreign intentions can best be monitored and resolved with intelligence.

MSS in the Political Realm

MSS was stood up to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus. With its inception, MSS added new dimensions to China’s foreign intelligence scheme while freeing MPS to revamp existing capabilities and explore and adapt a new as well as more technological set of cards to play in the intelligence game so to speak. MSS represented a reimagination of the intelligence collection process abroad and the counterintelligence struggle against outside powers. MSS also represented the tidying up of old ways of conducting its business, and a modernization of Chinese intelligence that was long overdue. The MSS generally appears to have adhered to the non-politicization  of the service. This is not to say that occasionally shifts away from that position by some senior executives has not impacted the organization. MSS elements, particularly at local levels, often have provided protection services for the business dealings of Communist Party of China officials or their well-connected friends. However, the Ministry rarely appears connected to any elite political maneuvering or purges. Since 1983, only the purges of Beijing Party secretary Chen Xitong (1995) and Shanghai Party secretary Chen Liangyu (2006) were rumored to involve the ministry. In the wholesale purges after the fall of Bo Xi laid and Zhou Yongkang, the Beijing State Security Bureau chief Fangfoss Kent and Vice Minister Qiu Jin were ousted precisely because they exploited MSS resources to back particular leaders in their political struggles against each other.

Of course, the foreign policy influence of intelligence services depends on the quality of their inputs and their leadership’s influence with key policymakers. If an intelligence chief is not influential, then his service’s influence depends on performance. The MSS’s role in policymaking could be rising as China’s overseas interests expand. When China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the thought was that there would be an influx of foreign business into China. That was a concern. At the time, the response was to make greater use of MPS. However, changes in both competency and necessity have favored an increase in MSS influence in foreign policymaking. When direct political power is absent, influence usually relates to merit and necessity. Senior foreign policymakers would eventually want the MSS in the room, contributing to the discussion. The Communist Party of China’s leadership wanted an MSS looking further abroad than minority groups on China’s periphery. The MSS’ foreign intelligence service is now more similar to the CIA. Another major change was the expansion of Chinese interests abroad. The real threats to China were no longer seen as coming from traditional internal security concerns but from countries capable of stopping China’s access to trade. Apparently, it was understood in the Communist Party of China that foreign intentions can best be monitored and resolved with intelligence. By successfully building up its foreign intelligence capabilities to meet this challenge, MSS managed to increase its influence and favor with political authorities. Indeed, MSS has managed to move from backstage, second to MPS, to frontstage, up from behind its bureaucratic competitor in internal security.

III. Coming Reality for Visitors to China

For an more efficacious explication, the comparisons in this section of the discussion shift from an examination of United Kingdom and People’s Republic of China intelligence organizations and activities, to mainly comparisons of US counterintelligence and those of both MPS and MSS counterintelligence efforts using informants and the impact a ratcheting up of counterintelligence activities particularly on mainland China will likely be experienced by foreign visitors, particularly those from the West. Indisputably, the Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic clashes with the truth. So far, there has been no grand conversion of the world to its point of view. As touched on earlier, it surely raises a few hackles within the relevant bodies of the Communist Party of China whenever Chinese citizens–scientists and doctors working on the coronavirus for instance–behave as if there is a choice of who they would prefer to alienate, their own Chinese or the US government and worldwide human rights activists. We live in an ordered universe and expect everything to follow that design. 

In The Crisis V, Thomas Payne, the orator and American Revolutionary explained: “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” No matter how the West and particularly the US decided the address matters related to the coronavirus with China, one can be assured that an undesirable situation will be created by the Communist Party of China’s leadership. At least for a period, a very tense atmosphere will exist for employees and members of all types of organizations and private foreigners who travel or reside in China and those outside of China who for whatever reason may have contact with counterparts from China. They should prepare to cope with increased pressures and discomforts.

To expound further on a point raised earlier, what should be of great concern is what approach the MPS may take toward foreign visitors. Foreigners are always closely investigated by the local MPS. Under such unfortunate circumstances as the coronavirus fracas with West, the real possibility that some, including US citizens, might be arrested or “briefly” detained for questioning, having done nothing that ordinarily would hardly warrant such treatment. Indeed, US visitors could regularly become the center of frightful international incidents at the hands of authorities. Regardless of one’s status in the US, it can happen in China. Believing that the Western Capitalist drive for markets is so strong, and desire for profits so considerable, the Communist Party of China would surely be willing to test the theory that the US and other Western firms heavily invested and enjoying business in China would do nothing rash in the face of inordinate investigations, interrogations, and short-term, repeated, detainments of line employees, managers, and executives. Communist Party of China leaders would insist that such foreign companies do more to change the US and other Western government’s stances toward China on the coronavirus and perhaps even trade. Considerable evidence that China is willing to engage in this type of “hostage diplomacy” despite claims of wanting to be the dominant power on the world stage. One can imagine what type of world that would be. In an informative October 20, 2020 Axios article entitled “China Embraces Hostage Diplomacy,” a chilling snapshot is provided of a few publicly known cases in which Beijing has detained foreign citizens unless their home governments acquiesced to its demands.

The Beijing Municipal Public Safety Bureau Office Building (above) 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. Assessments of what type of temptations could be used to bring them to China’s side will be based on observations of the foreigner’s lifestyle. MPS officers have no qualms about exploiting individual weaknesses.

Informants

In domestic intelligence operations, informants are a most valued weapon to use against an adversary’s intelligence operations. In an authoritarian country as China, informants are also a valued weapon for the same reason, but it is also a tried and true way to monitor the population and monitor foreigners. 

In the West

As it stands today, bread and butter operations of Western intelligence services, even in the US, rely heavily upon the work of both agents–or operatives–and informers. As explained previously, agents actually engage in activities on behalf of an intelligence service. Informers, such as those discussed here, are used mainly for surveillance of targets of an investigation. Many US citizens will for the most part give pollices premiere to the intelligence services. (The US in particular has come a long way from the days of the post-Vietnam era and years before when citizens would stand together to question federal government decisions and actions on national security.) To act against a foreigner, is now more typically viewed as a patriotic duty. The foreigner is as the adversary and “the other.” In the US, to surveil another citizen might cause pangs of anxiety for some as there would be the real possibility of violating the 1st Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights of a fellow citizen under the Constitution. However, that can often be mitigated by payments and by assurances that the subject will never know he or she is being surveilled. Moreover, if the fellow citizen who is the subject of the surveillance can be convincingly connected, not necessarily correctly or truthfully, to a foreign intelligence service, usually the informant will accept watching the target as a cause they can get behind. To that extent, it will be reasoned to be a necessary sacrifice of morality. Ethical implications are also raised when the subject of an investigation may be a member of a racial or ethnic minority. Existing biases of the informant can fall into mix. Problems encountered can be overzealousness on the part of the biased informant, even aggressive behavior. For the most part, there is little to no vetting concerning such issues. Problems that arise are largely ignored at least by US counterintelligence services.

There is a romanticized view that many informants hold about working with official men and women, that gives the average citizen a sense of being someone special. Although the bulk of what they may know about spying may be sourced from fiction novels and Hollywood, they view themselves proudly as being part of the secret world. There is a curious type of dignity that secrecy confirms for some. They perceive themselves as being separate from the crowd, and what could be called an ordinary existence. When they talk to family and friends, pass other citizens in the street, they revel in the idea of knowing something they do not. That inflated sense can be exploited to encourage them to do more, behave more aggressively toward the target of their surveillance, than they might have if thinking clearly. It can also lead to a sense of entitlement in wrong headed thinkers, that must be curbed by issuing them strict parameters for behavior while serving in legal terms as “agents” for an intelligence service, even if working through contractors. When being told the plan for surveillance, often in many there is a sensation felt. The larcenous part of the citizens heart is stirred. As noted, informers are paid for their service. The payments can also become an  Since they are usually provided considerable pay for very little work, an eagerness builds for more surveillance work and more easy money. To that extent, surveillance work becomes intoxicating for some. Interestingly enough, payments become a self-generating locus of control that the counterintelligence officer can hold over the informant. 

A scholarly basis for understanding such behavior by citizen informants in a Constitutional Republic as the US is provided by Martha Stout in The Sociopath Next Door (Harmony, 2006). One can easily take from Stout’s work that there are quite a few people given the opportunity, who will routinely act against the common good. She notes that conscience does not exist without an emotional bond to something or someone. There is a desire to make others jump, to be in control of them. (This is quite different from 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power), the desire to exercise authority over others was a conscious or unconscious driving force in all humans. Stout limits the desire to some, not all.) which he asserted was The actions that the informant is typically asked to take during a surveillance effort encourages me-first attitudes devoted to the pursuit of domination. There is a refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcome of their decisions. There is an inability to understand what a wrongful target of the surveillance effort imagine was very likely feeling. A month before being killed in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, Anne Frank wrote in what would be published as The Diary of a Young Girl (Doubleday & Company, 1952): “How noble and good everyone could be if, at the end of each day, they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs.”

With regard to the motivations of those who undertake the role of informant, some research has been done. In a February 1997 article in Intelligence and National Security entitled, “Cold War Spies: Why Why They Spies and How They Got Caught,” authors Stan A. Taylor and Daniel Snow use the acronym MICE to account for common motives of those US citizens informing for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. MICE is abbreviation formed from money, as noted earlier, ideology, compromise or coercion, and ego. Taylor and Snow added that other influences include excitement and revenge. Crucially, they suggest that: “no human act is ever motivated by a single factor.” The mix of motivations between agents and informers ensures that there will always be individuals who will inform. (In previous posts, greatcharlie has used a slightly different interpretation of the MICE acronym, indicating that it referred to, money , ideology, conspiracy, and excitement. Perhaps much as greatcharlie’s editor, the blog’s interpretation admittedly is a tad rustic.)

It should be noted that during the Cold War the use of human informants to surveil subjects of investigation was increasingly supplemented by technical means of surveillance, particularly electronic eavesdropping tools. Today, informants engaged in surveillance essentially complement or depending on the case, actually supplement collection efforts using electronic tools. Such tools at a basic level can provide a window onto usage of hundreds of millions of computers, routers, fitness trackers, modern automobiles and other networked devices, known collectively as the Internet of Things (IOT). The whole process took a huge step forward following the September 11, 2001 territory attacks in the US, which led to the 2001 USA Patriot Act that opened the door to the acquisition of telephone data by the then new Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies to include: the National Security Agency, FBI, and CIA. The authorization granted federal agencies to intrude on the privacy of citizens under the legislation of the Patriot Act, and continued in the annual National Defense Authorization Act by fate having come into being concurrently with developments in the technology of smartphones, IOT devices, digital circuit board dependent autos, and all the many household devices now with MAC wireless access addresses, meant surveillance could be taken to a level very likely unimaginable to those who drew up those laws in 2001. Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, neural nets everywhere, and massive government data processing power will doubtlessly result in the development of additional surveillance technologies that can only be imagined now. Placing the growing tools of surveillance and the power to use it in possibly the hands of errant US counterintelligence officers and contractors, who could use them to thwart the rights of citizens guaranteed under the US Constitution should be the cause for some alarm.

In China

As mentioned, 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 recently 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. 

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 so to speak.

The National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress declares under Article 9 that in maintenance of national security, priority shall be given to prevention, equal attention shall be paid to temporary and permanent solutions, specialized tasks shall be combined with reliance on the masses, the functions of specialized authorities and other relevant authorities in maintaining national security shall be maximized, and citizens and organizations shall be extensively mobilized to prevent, frustrate, and legally punish any conduct that compromises national security. Article 11 decrees that there will be no tolerance shown for the failure to meet one’s obligation to maintain national security. The article states: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China, state authorities, armed forces, political parties, people’s groups, enterprises, public institutions, and other social organizations shall have the responsibility and obligation to maintain national security.” Authorities in China understand that extraordinary powers are entrusted in the hands of many, such as MSS officers, who work on national security matters. Contractors, and even informants, who might work on their behalf are placed under the same scrutiny. Those who have attempted to cross the Chinese government have faced stiff reprisals. The shadow of sudden death can hang over the head of any individual arrested for such betrayal. As stated under Article 13: “Whoever as an employee of a state authority abuses power, neglects duty, practices favoritism, or makes falsification in national security work or any activity involving national security shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The article further declares: “Any individual or organization that fails to fulfill the obligation of maintaining national security or conducts any activity compromising national security in violation of this Law or any relevant law shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The furtive work of Chinese citizens at home and abroad under the direction of the MSS does not need to be without guerdon. As explained under Article 12: “The state shall commend and reward individuals and organizations that have made prominent contributions to maintaining national security. The 19th century philosopher, logician and writer of the United Kingdom, Bertrand Russell, explained: “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of great fear.”

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 been a commonplace problem, if a foreigner visiting China for the purpose of business or tourism, accepts recording devices or recorded materials without knowing what they contain, 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. Without a shadow of doubt, the 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. (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 true personal relationships on personal matters, human interests.)

To defeat this problem, one must also be very cautious about accepting documents, notebooks, and books, 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 state documents concerning confidential matters, and not any run-of-the-mill confidential matters at that. One must immediately open any hard documents and read them or use a laptop or tablet to kindly and respectfully review electronic documents or recordings posthaste in what could be passed off as a display of ebullience and appreciation of the gift and wonderment about what it holds.

The Shanghai Public Security Bureau Office Building (above). 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.

Celebrity tourists, Hollywood actors, athletes, singers, dancers, any other performers, novelists, poets, sculptors, painters, documentary filmmaker, celebrity chefs, as well as any other professionals interested in visiting may often unknowingly be surrounded by throngs of MPS officers and operatives posing as aficionados and curious onlookers. Ordinary citizens observed engaging in an unauthorized display of interest in such personalities by security officials, might be judged as being too appreciative of Western bourgeois amusement, and they could place themselves under suspicion by authorities. For such reasons, the overwhelming majority of Chinese citizens would be extremely hesitant or even more, absolutely avoid being seen behaving that way. (Of course, this does not mean that average Chinese citizens would not harbor very positive thoughts about such Western visitors and that they would not draw their interest.)

One might posit that those types of choreographed mass movements of some likely mix of officers and Chinese citizens recruited impromptu to be surveillance operatives by MPS or MSS managers, helps to create a strong band of security around the foreign visitor. Despite such sanguine, a malign aim of Chinese authorities to create the opportunity to detect any effort by citizens to contact or transfer messages or items of any kind to the foreigners. Oddly enough such mass movements are the envy of some novice, errant US counterintelligence officers. Having been fed a steady diet of film, television, streaming television, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram since their youth, many US counterintelligence officers would relish the sensation of directing their own surveillance operatives to create something akin to the Chinese style of mass surveillance, the real draw for them being that it so resembles a fairly common surveillance scene in banal Hollywood spy dramas in which screenwriters and directors depict US intelligence officers wielding such control, such power, that they would convert an everyday happening–crossing the street, ordering coffee in a cafe, or shopping in store–into something exciting or extraordinary. Not to be beastly with the US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement, but in fact, errant US counterintelligence officers, perhaps forgetful of their true purpose, often attempt to accomplish this similarly at street corners, in stores, museums, parks, and other public spaces in the US, even at the risk of spoiling the surveillance. They may here and there have some success with keeping the targets of such stunts completely unaware that they are being surveilled. Still, for those targets who are aware that they are being surveilled, the so-called movement techniques of a mix of counterintelligence officers and ill-trained contract surveillance operatives on the street, will typically seem strange, harassing, and even comical. When made aware that the surveillance that they designed was burned, they would doubtlessly, yet perhaps successfully, conceal the truth from their managers and continue on as if nothing had happened. It is very unlikely that such activity using taxpayer dollars has ever generated the ego boost that errant US counterintelligence officers, who would do such, likely seek. Mi rattrista una si piena cecità! (Such utter blindness grieves me deeply!)  

Intelligence officers and managers of the various Chinese intelligence services operating in the US, observing such activities–rest assured they are always studying “their opponents” and the environment in which they are work–surely gaze stoically in amazement at the extraordinary misuse of personnel, time, energy, finances, and other resources to orchestrate such a “Keystonian” display that is immaterial to their mission, bewildered over their very apparent insouciance for their important jobs and disregard of their duty to country, the absence of a sense of honor, and perhaps wondering what type of mental disorder had befallen US counterintelligence officers executing it. They would very likely wait until they got back to the office, operating base, or back to the main headquarters and have a good chuckle about what they witnessed before beginning a meeting on the tally of technologies MSS operations have acquired from US firms or universities, how many new technologies have been identified for theft, and the unlikelihood that their officers and operatives could be stopped from doing so.

Attempting to defeat the capability of MPS and MSS to provide near blanket surveillance while in China under such circumstances would be extremely difficult if not impossible. Doing so successfully would be akin to hiding from water in the ocean. The fact that its present may aggravate, but as long as it stays light, things should be alright if as mentioned, one takes special care with regard to personal behavior and interactions with professional counterparts. One must make it a point to comport oneself appropriately, cautiously with staff at accommodations, restaurants or locations for recreation.

In addition to guarding against making statements about the Chinese government or details about one’s work to Chinese citizens who are friends or close acquaintances to protect oneself, one must guard against such actions to protect them. Surely, it would put Chinese citizens who are friends or close acquaintances in the dreaded position of reporting your statements or face the danger of not reporting them and later discovering that through some electronic means or citizen surveillance operative passively collecting information, the statements were picked up. They may very well be held accountable for failing to report any foreigner speaking in such ways.

NBA superstar LeBron James (above) enters the arena for a preseason exhibition game in Shanghai between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. Some official exceptions in Beijing concerning foreign visitors are most often allowed for visiting foreign athletes. A good example of such an exception would be players, coaches, and executives of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from the US. Indeed, NBA players, in addition to being athletic ideal, representing the best in international athletic competition, are welcome due to the very cooperative attitudes and actions of the NBA executives toward the Chinese government and favorable impression visitors from the NBA have created with responsible State Council bureaucracies, the National Party Congress, and especially the Communist Party of China. Still,  such positive attitudes held about NBA personnel among the ruling class in China would not exempt them from continuous surveillance by the MPS and MSS.

Some official exception in Beijing concerning foreign visitors is most often allowed for visiting foreign athletes, particularly superstars in their sports. Sports and international athletic competition are highly endorsed by the Communist Party of China. A good example of such an exception would be players, coaches, and executives of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from the US. Indeed, NBA players, in addition to being athletic ideals, representing the best in international athletic competition, are welcome due to the very cooperative attitudes and actions of the NBA executives toward the Chinese government and favorable impression visitors from the NBA have created with responsible State Council bureaucracies, the National Party Congress, and especially the Communist Party of China. Doubtlessly, reports produced from information collected by their country’s domestic intelligence, counterintelligence, and law enforcement informants have been very pleasing to them. However, such positive attitudes held about NBA personnel among the ruling class in China would not exempt them from continuous surveillance by the MPS and MSS.

The Human Mind and the Incomprehensible

Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.) One might imagine some would find it far easier, less unnerving, to remain blissfully unaware that in traveling to China they would, or have been, immersing themselves in such an environment. Many who may frequently travel to China for business or leisure may insist that they never encountered any problems with surveillance or other intrusions by the Chinese government. Perhaps that could be attributed to the excellent tradecraft of surveillance those individuals have unknowingly encountered. True art is to display no art. However, it more likely may be the result of a total lack of unawareness, intelligence and counterintelligence tactics, techniques, procedures and methods and were figuratively blind to the surveillance activity that may have regularly unfolded all around them. One surely should not look upon the matter with humor. MPS officers take the surveillance of foreign visitors very seriously, and that work is among its main activities aimed at intelligence collection. Suffice it to say the MPS does not equate any of the work to some enthralling battle of wits with foreign visitors, with aim of revealing the superior intellect. That would too much resemble the thinking of lower tier federal intelligence and counterintelligence and law enforcement officers and their contractors engaged in surveillance in the US, who too often approach their work from a personal perspective and with an apparent ax to grind and whose thinking about their work is apparently uncoupled from the greater scheme of US national security.

Security offices of any Western firms 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 MPS, 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. Quemadmodum perniciosior est hostis fugientibus, sic omne fortuitum incommodum magis instat cedenti et averso. (Just as an enemy is more dangerous to a retreating army, so every trouble that fortune brings attacks us all the harder if we yield and turn our backs.)

The Way Forward

As indicated in its introduction, this post serves as an expatiation of a technique learned long ago for directing one’s thoughts upon developing ideas and insights on issues in international affairs and other subjects of interest. Given its subject matter, it hopefully managed to satisfy the experienced scholar, academic, and policy analyst. By showcasing the generation of ideas and insights on subjects, hopefully it satisfied the desire of students to see examples and will become a subject of inquiry for some. 

By their very nature, insights are inherent to the writer, unique in that way. At least, they should be. No truer are the words, “everyone is entitled to an opinion.” The ideas and insights of the novice writer have a right to be aired equal to that of experienced, published authors in the various fields. Note, however, that eccentric, whimsical, and outlandish ideas are seldom useful and never desirable. In some respect, the process of generating ideas and insights is a form of self-exploration. One’s mind must be open to all reasonable considerations and all plausible possibilities. Nontraditional students should try to apply sensibilities shaped by a multitude of experiences. The length and breadth of their knowledge and experience may allow for a broader understanding of humanity. That is what the world will most appreciate reading.

Saepe stilum vertas, iterum quae digna legi sint scripturus. (Often must you turn your pencil to erase, if you hope to write something worth a second reading.) It is perfectly in order to feel a bit timid about drawing inferences and sharing them for others to review. Accept those awkward feelings, but write down all of the ideas and insight that may develop inside anyway. Have at it! To enhance one’s ability to summon up new ideas and insights, study, understand, and consider the deeds of personalities. Ruminate on events in relation to those that proceed them and meditate on what the future may bring. Build on that thinking. Strive to forecast decisions that may shape what might come and proof one’s efforts by watching events unfold in the news. Some of the best ideas and insights may come at inopportune times. Whether one is struck with a coruscating flash of logic, or has a nagging thought on an issue that builds throughout the day, notes must be kept of it all. At one’s earliest convenience, write those ideas and insights down in a notebook, on a pad, or on the back of an envelope. If one can, type them up on an electronic device. Organize them as bullet points if that is easier, however, one must make certain that enough is recorded to ensure that actual ideas are being expressed and that they “feel” compelling. Avoid simply jotting down statements of fact, or worse, simple fragments of your thoughts. State your conclusions about matter! Each expression can be fleshed out and tidied up with editing later. Sticking to this course may not be easy at first. After a time and with honest effort, one should become accustomed to it. Optimally, a writer will effectively generate enough ideas and insights to allow for the selection of more reasoned, potent, and eloquent among them for inclusion in a draft essay. The ability to increase quantity and improve the quality of ideas and insights produced will come with practice. Plus novisti quid faciendum sit. (You have learned more what has to be.)

Commentary: With His Concerns About Kim’s Health Allayed, Trump Presses on with Denuclearization Diplomacy

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). A benchmark of progress in the diplomatic process on denuclearization was the highly impressive meeting between Trump and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom on June 30, 2019. The day after, Trump posted a message on Twitter about the meeting, curiously offering an assessment of Kim’s health. Proposed as part of a denuclearization agreement is the robust US investment in North Korea to support its rapid economic development. Trump must consider what it will take from start to finish to achieve success. Kim’s continual leadership of North Korea is critical to that success, making his health of great importance to Trump.

Using the bond of a newly formed friendship once essentially considered forbidden between a sitting US President and a Chairman of North Korea as a conduit, US President Donald Trump and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un have embarked on an energetic diplomatic process to create a sustainable, mutually beneficial peace between the US and North Korea. Such a quantum leap through diplomacy would have the attendant impact of creating peace, security, and stability in Northeast Asia. The highly impressive extempore meeting between Trump and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom on June 30, 2019 was a benchmark of the significant progress being made in building relations between the two leaders and the two countries. A day after that historic meeting on July 1, 2019, Trump posted an intriguing message on Twitter. Noteworthy was his mention of the condition of Kim’s health. Trump stated: @realDonaldTrump “It was great being with Chairman Kim Jong-un Union of North Korea this weekend. We had a great meeting, he looked really well and very healthy – I look forward to seeing him again soon . . . .”

Trump’s assessment of Kim’s health was not some throw away line provided with some banal intent to jostle the curiosity of spectators in the US news media and among his political opponents. It was a public expression that manifested his concern about a matter critical to the long-term success of Trump’s diplomatic process on denuclearization: Kim’s uninterrupted leadership of North Korea. As mentioned in a July 23, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump and Kim at the DMZ: Is a Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign” Helping Trump Prompt Denuclearization?”, the fulcrum of the whole diplomatic initiative has become a commitment between to leaders. Much of what Trump has been doing relies heavily on Kim’s continued leadership in Pyongyang. To similar degree, Kim is doubtlessly concerned whether the terminus of Trump’s presidency will be in 2020 or 2024. In that vein, the 2020 US Presidential Election is very likely factoring into Kim’s decisionmaking on denuclearization. Trump, after all, is the one who would be best able to deliver on his promise of a North Korean economic renaissance, so to speak. With regard to Kim, a health condition, which many suppose that he has, could limit the period of his leadership and might spell disaster for Trump’s efforts. Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.)

On medical matters, greatcharlie admits being out of its province. Yet, without pretension, greatcharlie states that it has no intention of being waggish in considering the matter. In its assays of the diplomatic process on denuclearization, the goal has been to better understand Kim’s behavior, to better forecast the course of the diplomatic process. The intention is to stick with the primary problem instead of rooting around at extraneous matters. That has required selecting what particular strands to pull out from a mass of information. Neither Kim’s health, nor that of Trump, falls into the extraneous category Rather, the life of the diplomatic process on denuclearization essentially depends on their lives. Indeed, it seems fitting in this case for it to engage in a foray into concerns, in this case, about Kim’s health no matter how inelegant it may appear.

Surely, it would be tough to accurately conclude what would be the outlook for North Korea should Kim fall ill or leave the scene completely. As addressed in both Article 2, Section 1, Clause 6 as well as Section 2 of the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, the immediate Line of Succession from the President is the Vice President, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and then the President pro tempore of the US Senate. However, who in the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) would eventually take control of North Korea after Kim and how he or she may may view the diplomatic process on denuclearization is unknown. Under the by-laws of the Charter of the WPK, the Chairman of the WPK is elected by the Central Committee of the WPK. Members of the Central Committee are not seated permanently. They are elected by the Congress of the WPK, therefore, one would stand on a slender thread in attempting to predict the membership of the Central Committee at the moment of Kim’s hypothetical demise. (Surely, the Russian Federation and China would want to have some influence on the matter. Their respective interests regarding North Korea certainly do not mirror those of the US. Perchance it might be decided in the capital of one of those countries that decapitation of the North Korean leadership might be the best way to halt Trump’s progress if it all becomes too threatening to its interests.)

Verbum semel emissum volat irrevocabile. (A word once sent forth (uttered), flies forth irrevocable (irrevocably)) It seems reasonable for Trump to feel the need to address well-being of a critical element of the diplomatic process on denuclearization: Kim. Perchance his intent was to allay the worries and fears of others perhaps in the US Congress, in foreign policy circles in Washington, and in the US public. One might posit that Trump’s surprising discussion of Kim’s health on Twitter mostly evinces the extent to which it was a matter of considerable importance to him. Agreeing to work with North Korea on its rapid economic development will require enormous investment from the US. Trump had to consider early on in the diplomatic process on denuclearization how he expects the situation in Northeast Asia to look many years ahead given relative capabilities and possibilities on the US and North Korea. However, he must also consider how things could look if things go wrong at certain points and determine what it will take to make it beneficial for the US from start to finish. A happy fact is that in his comments, Trump stated without reservations that he found Kim mens sana in corpore sano. That clearly indicates that he feels it would be prudent for him to continue with his efforts.

Without being assured of success at any step or being assured of a successful outcome long-term through the diplomatic process on denuclearization, every push forward into that unknown entails significant risk, calculated as best as possible. For Trump, effective calculation of that risk requires being read-in on as thoroughly as possible on every new report produced by government agencies, particularly the intelligence services–despite alleged hostile claims found in the news media made by disgruntled, unknown, or former Trump administration officials. It also requires opening his consciousness to what is happening in the process, to know what and when steps must be taken, to recognize what must be in place for the process to advance and to assess the possibilities for varied moves by Kim and aides and advisers. Interestingly, it could be ascribed as part of Trump’s personality that as an optimist, he will always look for ways to move a promising situation forward. He will try to identify issues on which he might be able to do some real open field running to advance his cause. Trump would then look within himself to design the next best steps he would  take with the North Korean leader, steps with which he would feel most comfortable. type of thinking led to his decision to invite Kim meet impromptu at the DMZ. So far, Trump has provided a conductor’s performance of exquisite diplomacy.

Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, it cannot be denied that Trump has been very understanding of Kim’s position in Pyongyang. For many in North Korea, the idea of any agreement with the US remains inimical to their beliefs regarding the Communist Movement and Anti-capitalism. At the time of this writing, North Korea still refuses to sign a formal peace agreement to mark the end of the Korean War. The war ended on July 27, 1953. Trump has taken timing into consideration the timing of his meetings with Kim. Along that line, Trump has presumably incorporated into his own decision making Kim’s evaluations through letters of when it might best to proceed without creating too much shock at home over his interactions with the US President. Trump has also displayed a deep respect for the politics of Kim’s situation. For example, he seems to recognize that Kim’s launching of short-range rockets and fiery speech toward South Korea as an effort to mollify military and security elites who might believe he has become too congenial toward the US. Yet, on top of those considerations, there is no doubt that Trump has a good sense for what Kim may be feeling as a young leader confronted with a particularly tough, challenging matter. He has also taken into account the meaning of the denuclearization diplomacy to Kim, and his emotional responses to it. From the beginning of his administration, Trump spoke of the heavy responsibilities that had been laid on Kim’s shoulders in almost an avuncular way. Interestingly, Trump to an extent has tried to minimize unnecessary stresses directly upon Kim during the denuclearization diplomacy. Looking at it all as a human process, both Trump and Kim are both strapped tightly into the harness of leadership, which in dealing with certain matters, can feel more as a yoke. Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur. (A sure friend is discovered in an unsure (risky) situation.)

Despite all that was apparent about Trump’s concern over Kim’s physical and emotional and emotional well-being, within the US news media, his sudden discussion of Kim’s health was generally viewed as mysterious and confounding. Broadcast, published, and posted reports from the US news media have more often been critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the diplomatic process on denuclearization than not. Many insist that Kim has gone along with Trump to build a friendship in order to score a devastating blow to the US President by destroying the relationship and the diplomatic process through betrayal. (Even Kim should be well-aware at this point that the consequence of insincerity and deception would be dreadful for North Korea.) Second to the preconception that Trump lacks the faculties to navigate through the diplomatic effort with the so-called wiley Kim, the news media emphasizes that conversations between the US President and the North Korean Chairman are shrouded in mystery. Indeed, the argument has been made that it should not be so difficult for anyone from outside the diplomatic process to understand or judge exactly what was actually going on. Unfortunately, unlike the way movies, television, novels, there is no one available to explain things, to cheer everyone up. In covering the delicate and discreet process of diplomacy on denuclearization, it would behoove the news media to focus less on the melodramatic and more on the intellectual.

Without the intent of contradicting the US President regarding Kim’s health, greatcharlie would like to suggest that its readers nonetheless take a good look at Kim’s bearing in Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. As noted in a May 19, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Putin-Kim Summit: An Uneasy Episode in Kim’s Introduction to a Brave New World”, one could reasonably state that he appeared to be having health problems. Apparently exceeding his appropriate weight range and being a smoker, it could be expected that Kim would be dealing with dome underlying health issues. However, in Vladivostok, Kim simply looked unhealthy. Kim breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time of the Vladivostok meeting is that Kim was suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort, without appropriate care.

Kim appeared pale, shuddering, breathless. At times he additionally appeared disoriented, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, even jumpy. This uneasy behavior was not observed in Kim in Singapore, Hanoi, or Beijing. Thinking in a way similar to greatcharlie, Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press, stated in his article published in Time magazine on April 26, 2019: “What caught the attention of many outside observers Thursday wasn’t the scene, but the sound — of Kim’s loud breathing. Clips of the introductory encounter were quickly tweeted around the world, many with comments about the leader’s audible breathlessness. South Korea’s media, meanwhile, speculated that it could be a sign of Kim’s poor health. He is, after all, overweight and a notoriously heavy smoker.” According to Talmadge, Kim has evinced similar health problems at previous high-level meetings. Some may recall that in April 2018, on the occasion of his first summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim looked out of breath as he signed a guestbook following a short walk.

It was the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who explained: “Simple solutions seldom are. It takes a very unusual mind to undertake analysis of the obvious.” When Trump entered the diplomatic process on denuclearization with Kim, he set aside the preconceived ideas of others about him. He did not simply accepted as accurate information available that ticked enough boxes to confirm “bad man” and attempting to work with him would be hopeless. In the US news media, much was reported about Kim that has supported such views. However, the reality was that very few Western journalists had ever met him, nor had they ever seen him up-close until the Singapore Summit in June 12, 2018. Regarding Kim’s health in particular, except from what journalists may have gleaned from reading reports in the abstract about Kim, there was no baseline on Kim’s normal functioning or responses in specific situations from which they could compare or appraise Kim’s behavior. Trump was determined to explore the matter. So thorough has been his examination, as is known now, he even engaged in his own evaluation of Kim’s health.

Most important concerning Trump’s evaluation of Kim as they both move through the diplomatic process has not been his judgments on the North Korean leader’s  health. Rather, his judgment that there is a certain humanity in him that critics doubt he has. Trump seeks to use that humanity he believes that he has found in Kim to accomplish big things. Assuredly, the two leaders are energetically engaged in tandem to resolve what was once a nuclear crisis. Pragmatism and practicalities make instant gratification through the denuclearization diplomacy improbable. Still, those who have been following the diplomatic process very closely likely have the same positive intimations, a certain sense of impending success that will be achieved over the long-term. In the meantime time, the opportunity exist to address troubling issues and sew together the threads that will result ultimately in diplomatic triumph for both countries. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applauses of the world, but in the action itself.)

Commentary: Trump and Kim at the DMZ: Is a Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign” Helping Trump Prompt Denuclearization?

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) walk side by side toward South Korea following Trump’s historic June 30, 2019 crossing of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into North Korea. It appears that attendant to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign of economic sanctions, a virtual “maximum defusion campaign” designed to mitigate lingering distrust and cauterize tension is being directed at North Korea through Trump’s interactions with Kim. A genuine friendship has developed between the two leaders. Hopefully, Kim will further open his consciousness to see the great possibilities Trump’s denuclearization proposal will create for North Korea and finally accept it.

The immediate impression of supporters, critics, and detractors of US President Donald Trump over his suggestion that he and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom was surprise, skepticism, and apprehension. Yet, on June 30, 2019, the meeting occurred, and the results were excellent. To Trump’s credit for inviting Kim to meet at the DMZ, and to an extent to Kim’s credit for accepting his invitation, the diplomatic process, which appeared to be moving somewhat slower after their last summit has been invigorated. The parties have now taken the step to organize teams of officials from both countries that will form working groups on the denuclearization matter. Many observers are still struggling to understand how Trump managed to get the US relationship with North Korea to this point. The situation is surely a long way from the flap early in the Trump administration during which there were reports every ten seconds about some vituperation he or Kim had hurled at the other. The situation in Northeast Asia seems an even longer way from the formerly atrocious condition of relations between their respective countries since the end of the Korean War. Generally, contentious relationships as that which existed between the US and North Korea do not recurvate so quickly. The surprisingly fast change in this case started from the moment Trump opened to the door to talks with Kim. Nearly all foreign and national security policy circles in the US were skeptical that Trump’s entreat to Kim to enter diplomatic talks on denuclearization would amount to anything worthwhile. However, Trump clearly understood that the time for the two leaders to meet, far more than just face-to-face, but one-on-one, eye to eye, head-to-head, brain-to-brain, had come. The improved environment resulting from the burgeoning relationship between the two leaders through their meetings in Singapore on June 12, 2018 and in Hanoi, Vietnam from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019, and in satisfying communications through diplomats and letters, surely encouraged both Trump and Kim to meet extempore at the DMZ. Both men, thinking in harmony, saw something attractive, constructive, and very positive, in the opportunity.

The diplomatic process on denuclearization is a devilishly complex undertaking. For that reason, many less discerning eyes, looking for some dramatic advancements, continually report that Trump and Kim are accomplishing little to nothing through their interactions. Yet, in reality the indications and implications are that much has been achieved. They are unaware that Trump has not only taken a real step away from war, but he has also been engaged in a virtual “maximum defusion campaign”. That diplomatic campaign has been running parallel with his maximum pressure campaign. Perhaps greatcharlie is going out on a slender thread by positing that Trump has been engaged in some unannounced and nowhere else expressed diplomatic campaign. However, the world can see for itself how much attention and energy Trump has given to what has been a masterful, statesmanlike diplomatic effort, uniquely shaped by his bold and self-assured personal style to encourage Kim to move toward denuclearization. His maximum defusion campaign has required a considerable, dedicated effort to do what is necessary to reduce, relieve, alleviate, moderate, and mitigate rough spots and tackle some nagging issues most present to mind between the US and North Korea that might preclude the reaching of an agreement on denuclearization. The meeting at the DMZ was a very visible manifestation of the positive, forward thinking mindset that has developed between Trump and Kim via the maximum defusion campaign.

Admittedly, in 2019, greatcharlie has been somewhat focused on the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization. Its enchantment with the matter is stimulated by its support of the effort. Through this essay and others it has written on the topic, greatcharlie, using the faculties it has on US and North Korean foreign and national security policy decisionmaking, has sought to put together the arithmetic of what Trump nas been doing. His prosecution of a so far successful virtual maximum defusion campaign is outlined. Interestingly, the diplomatic process on denuclearization can be seen as a vessel in which all of the strengths attitudes and varied aspects of Trump’s diplomacy can be found. Perhaps it could said that the diplomacy on denuclearization is a metaphor for Trump administration diplomacy in general. Through a closer look by greatcharlie at the diplomatic process, to some extent, a better understanding of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign and national security policy is provided. Non viribus celeritate corporum magna gerimus, sed sapientia et sententia et arte. (We accomplish important things not with the strength and quickness of our bodies, but by intelligence and thought and skill.)

The Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign”

With regard to the word “defusion” as used in the term “maximum defusion campaign”, it is defined as an effort to improve a difficult or dangerous situation, for example by making people less angry or by dealing with the causes of a problem.  A tame double entendre can be found in the term “maximum defusion campaign” when effort is interpreted as having the purpose of deactivating, disarming, and disabling North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range range missiles programs to make the region and the world safer. Assuredly, the maximum defusion campaign has meant far more than peppering his interactions with Kim with simple acts as using humor or a slap on the back to lessen tension at severe moments. The maximum defusion campaign could best be described as a nondestructive method of conflict resolution. It has been an effort in which Trump, through face-to-face diplomatic exertions and other direct forms of communication such letters, has sought to create a genuine, personal connection with Kim. Through that connection, Trump would hopefully would be able to encourage a change in Kim’s conception of denuclearization and make the idea of a US assisted economic renaissance in North Korea more comfortable for him. The two leaders would be energetically engaged in tandem to resolve was once a nuclear crisis.

Among obstacles to finding a peaceful path between the two countries was the great animus existed between them for many years following the July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula. They were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and North Korea. For the US, the thrust of its dislike of North Korea was anti-Communism. Its main goal was containment of the Communist threat there as well as everywhere else in the world. Communism was correctly characterized then as an aggressive revolutionary political system dedicated to the destruction of the West. That anti-Communist posture morphed in the 1990s to the extent in which the uncertainty and instability that North Korea posed in the region to primacy over the geopolitical threat. In North Korea, there was an almost anti-US underpinning to the country’s development, that was perhaps not as strong as, but almost equally significant as its Communist movement. Out of all three potential adversaries in the Northeast Asia, North Korea, not the Russian Federation or China, posed the greatest threat to US allies in the region despite the existence of the US nuclear umbrella that provided was designed have a deterrent effect. That type of de facto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and other various reports. This was particularly so in the military, the intelligence services. Lest we forget, for 65 years, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of the DMZ have remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off.

The process of creating a connection between the US and North Korea could only begin with one side expressing itself to the other. It was Trump who took the first step. He saw the opportunity to initiate a form of personal diplomacy with Kim. Fortunately, Kim was willing to listen and understand, albeit cautiously, to what Trump was saying. In establishing terms that interaction, there were very apparent and essential differences between the two leaders that could have become hurdles for them to overcome. On a very basic level, they included: political orientation, age, work experience, prestige, power. Trump, however, decided straightaway to engage Kim by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart, and grasping the realities of his position as a young leader. As the personal diplomacy evolved, to some degree it has also entailed an unspoken reliance upon soft sensory abilities, using intuition and intimations, exploiting all of their human potential. Ever since those surprising beginnings of the diplomatic process, there has been a seemingly irreversible mutual respect exhibited between Trump and Kim. All along the way, an authentic effort has been made by both leaders to be understanding toward the positions expressed by one another in their negotiations.

No precondition of creating some faux parity in status between the US and North Korea as countries was insisted upon before the talks began. Big concerns about that still have not been raised since by North Korea. An equilibrium in power and prestige did not need to be feigned between Trump and Kim. Conversely, there was not an insistence by the Trump administration that Kim recognize Trump’s greater standing as President of the US. Although the talks could not be honestly described as “a meeting between equals”, they could certainly be called an “exchange between friends.” Trump has kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way. Trump has essentially been the administration’s metaphorical talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking.

In the talks, surely there have been moments when Trump and Kim have been required to reconcile with dissonant components of one another’s thinking. Steps taken by Trump to cauterize tension would certainly fall under the rubric of Trump’s virtual maximum defusion campaign. Among the culprits that have likely elicited such dialogue between the two leaders are: joint military exercises; ship seizures, missile launches, and delays or deception concerning the dismantling and destruction of nuclear weapons and long-range missile development facilities. Whenever matters have needed to be smoothed out, rather than loose ground, Trump turned those occasions into opportunities to propel the conception of denuclearization forward with Kim. To be certain, whatever Trump has discussed has not exceed what is decent. Indeed, what he has said and has offered would only be congruent with the interests and values of the US. The same has most likely been seen from Kim. The extent to which the leaders have been successful in handling controvertible issues is evident to all that Kim and North Korea appear far less the threat that deservedly made headlines in 2017 when the administration began.

The maximum defusion campaign has required Trump to create une atmosphère ouverte et amicale, an open and friendly atmosphere, when engaged with Kim that will ensure forward thinking must be dominant in all interactions. That positive atmosphere has been promoted without effort or pretentiousness, and a natural discourse between them has resulted. That undoubtedly accounted for the warm interaction was observed by the whole world at the DMZ. It is essentially what has been publicly observed from Trump since his first meeting with Kim in Singapore. Further, there is apparently no disproportion between what had been seen publicly and what has been happening behind closed doors between Trump and Kim. Reportedly, from small bits and pieces overheard when their meetings have started, Trump and Kim have spoken to each other in a very friendly, very natural manner. Their conversations have unlikely been fraught with technical matters, unless the discussion migrated into issues concerning land development, architecture, engineering, and construction and Trump’s enthusiasm got the best of him. It certainly seems that Trump has accurately claimed that he has a friendship with Kim, and certain chemistry exists between them.

In their conversations, both Trump and Kim have surely been exposed to considerable amounts of unsynthesized intelligence that has come from one another. That would be a natural result of negotiating truthfully and in good faith. That has required both leaders to evaluate what is heard, select what is important, and advance the dialogue by incorporating in their decisionmaking. That process of selecting what should be given their attention is aided by experience and a strong sense of priority, a clear focus on ones goal. It would appear it has all gone well because the two leaders have made progress and a good rapport has apparently developed between them. Further, both Trump and Kim have proven respectively that they can been discreet. Nothing of substance has leaked from their furtive talks. That may be doing much to further build confidence between the two leaders.

Maximum Defusion May Aid Trump’s Efforts to Encourage Denuclearization Nearly as much as Maximum Pressure

The maximum pressure campaign has been centered on the entirety of North Korea’s world so to speak. However, the virtual maximum defusion campaign has been centered on Kim. In all fairness, it was Trump who managed to awaken the curiosity of Kim, and moved him to consider the prospect of working, of all things, alongside the US President. As explained in a February 4, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider ”, the connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them were comfortably founded. Those communications were conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their meetings. It is very likely that at the DMZ, they were no longer appeared exactly the same to one another as they had in Singapore or Hanoi. Surely, Trump may feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim has displayed an awareness that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump has been moving through a process of growth. As important, he has likely recognized how Trump has grown into the job of US President.  Regarding his own maturation, Kim has likely developed a greater sense of what could be done for North Korea with Trump. Perchance he has already noted just how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea. He may finally decide to grab what Trump is offering, the best path possible for his country’s future. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)

As a critical element of personal diplomacy, there must be trust and there should be a palpable sense that it is always evolving, always improving. Trump must be able to trust Kim. Kim must be able to trust Trump. Each must believe what the other says, and say what they really mean. It appears at this point that they trust one another to a certain degree. Coming across the DMZ at the invitation of Trump  was a firm, physical expression of trust in the US President. For Trump, going across the DMZ at the invitation of Kim was far more than quid pro quo, tit-for-tat. Rather, it was a reciprocal firm, physical expression of trust in the North Korean leader. All in all, their mutual crossing of the DMZ could be categorized as an historic confidence building exercise, a very visible symbol of the mutual trust that exists between Trump and Kim.

As aforementioned, Trump without question created a comfortable atmosphere for Kim at the DMZ, as well as in all previous meetings. Kim has apparently tried to create a similar comfortable for Trump. At the DMZ, Kim was successful to the extent that Trump was willing to come into North Korea. Through a brief discussion in a conference room on site, it was jointly determined that the parties would move to the next step which is establishing teams of officials from both countries to form working groups on the denuclearization matter. As Trump explained in his own words on July 1, 2019 on Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump: . . . . In the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!” Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

Away from the negotiation table, the maximum pressure campaign goes on. Trump has kept all economic sanctions in place. Still, some military exercises have been suspended. There have been no flyovers of formations of US bombers and stealth jets, and Japanese and South Korean fighter-bombers. For his part, Kim has not test launched any long-range missiles, and no nuclear tests have been conducted. US warfighters reported missing in action during the Korean War have been returned. Cyber activity against the US is below the threshold that would illicit a concerted response. There have been no revelations on cyber activity by North Korea against the US. Valuable talks, positive conversations with good exchanges of ideas, have taken place between diplomatic officials of both countries. Letters have moved back and forth between Trump and Kim. Right on the heels of the Hanoi Summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome had not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress is being made on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.”

Trump, Unlike Others, Is Kim’s True Friend

Publicly, the historic meeting between Trump and Kim at the DMZ was initiated with a Twitter message from the US President to the North Korean Chairman that stated: “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Writing in that manner, Trump indicated clearly that while the message was ostensibly a short note on the progress he made with other countries during the G20 Summit in Osaka, the exertion even more was directed at getting the attention of the North Korean leader. From that perspective one can begin to find more underlying meaning in those other portions of the message that Trump also wanted Kim to notice. Indeed, very conspicuous was the emphasis Trump’s placed on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he considers to be a friend and with whom his administration is engaged sensitive  negotiations on trade and sorting out the matter of tariffs. It was as if Trump wanted to remind Kim that the Chinese have created a very successful, evolving economy while being a Communist country. Although moving toward a similar path alone would be incredibly challenging, it is along a similar course that Trump would like to see Kim take and would like to support.

However, almost as conspicuous in Trump’s tweet was the absence of any mention of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. It could be supposed that Putin was mixed in with names other leaders that Trump met under label “world leaders”. However, doing so meant not giving Putin any special recognition as the leader of a superpower which Putin craves. There was no recognition of their talks as a meeting of eagles. (Given the childlike taunts heard from the Russian Federation news media over the Fourth of July Celebration hosted by Trump, one cannot help but sense that there was no feeling that at the G20 in Osaka, Putin had once again failed to have Trump “eat out of his hand” as critics and detractors in the US have repeatedly suggested he could. In fact, the very telling attitudes and behavior displayed within the Russian Federation media very likely manifested an attitude of dissatisfaction that perchance has trickled out from the corridors of the Senate Building of the Kremlin over the outcome of his meeting with the leader of the world’s only superpower.)

With certain domestic political troubles facing Trump in mind, US commentators would likely make the case that Trump refrained from mentioning Putin in his Twitter message to avoid triggering commentaries from critics and detractors in the US news media and political opponents who, incredulously, are still holding on to the belief that Trump has some secretive tie to Putin concerning his 2016 Presidential Election. Such commentaries regarding Putin had emerged, they could have obscured what Trump was trying to communicate concerning a possible meeting with Kim. Trump is aware of what greatcharlie, in a June 18, 2019 post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed ‘Struggle’ with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students”, referred to as un grand defi, a great challenge, promoted by Putin, pitting the US against Russia, to a large extent, in order to raise Russia’s profile as a superpower. Trump will not lend any credence to the idea that there is some all-encompassing geopolitical and geostrategic struggle between the US and Russian Federation. What Kim possibly read into it is that Trump, who is the main player on the world stage, mentioned him before Putin. Moreover, Kim was presumably struck by the fact that Trump gave special attention, put considerable thought into meeting with him.

Kim may be ruminating over side-by-side comparisons between his treatment from Trump with that from Putin and Xi. North Korea has a long history with the Russian Federation and China, but the matter at hand is the country’s future. It is a fact that Putin, Xi, and others did not stop by the Korean Peninsula to see Kim on their way home or ever before when they have been in the region. Neither at least publicly suggested doing anything of the kind. In Trump’s ostensible campaign of maximum defusion, it is always the thought that counts. Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. If Kim has engaged in an honest comparison of treatment by the three leaders, Trump presents Kim with something absolutely different than Putin and Xi. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to break free of the status quo which has locked Kim in as the very junior partner in its relations with both the Russian Federation and China. Those ties established many decades ago through revolution and war have become de facto chains for the North Korean people. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to escape the bondage of his ties with the Russian Federation and China and find a path to a greater future than the one they have essentially engineered for his country. Whether Putin and Xi are willing to admit it or not, they have both treated North Korea as if it held some second-class status. If one would allow greatcharlie to say, Kim is treated as a junior worm in their de jure tripartite partnership. Perhaps due to habit or simply a manner of thinking, they could not bring themselves to interact with Kim in any other way. Iniqua nunquam regna perpetao manent. (Stern masters do not reign long.)

However, while their approach to Kim and North Korea may feel right given his power and his country’s diminutive size and output relative to theirs, Kim certainly does not see the world from a worm’s eye view. With respect to that, Kim may have come to the realisation that the foreign and national security steps he has taken since coming to power have supported the existing paradigm between North Korea and its powerful allies in Asia. Those steps have greatly served their interests. To that extent, the Russian Federation and China have commodated North Korea in the development of many aspects of its military equities, although they both vehemently deny assisting Pyongyang in any way with it nuclear weapons program or long-range missile program. Surely, the nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs provide directly for North Korean defense. Yet, from where one sits, whether in Moscow, Beijing, or Pyongyang, the relative value of those weapons can be determined. From Moscow and Beijing, surely, at least initially, they supported North Korea in its role as a buffer to the US and its allies in the region.

Intriguingly, it would appear from what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Kim and North Korea must have a curious sort of faith in Russia and China. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources can still seep into the country primarily through various schemes set up by Kim’s friends in Moscow and Beijing. North Korea is so reliant upon such resources that beyond any threat that its powerful neighbors might pose to it militarily, at the present, Putin and Xi can control its links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival essentially rests in their hands. Kim has a choice to allow that to go on as it is, or to seek a far better path for his country. Being who they are as leaders and as individuals, Putin and Xi would hardly accept a similar existence for themselves or their respective countries. To the extent that the picture presented here is on target, it is possible that the initial overly aggressive stance that Kim took toward the Trump administration in some part may have also been a manifestation, or even a projection, of his angst over being boxed in by his purported friends in Moscow and Beijing.

In vinculis etiam audax. (In chains, yet still bold.) It is hard to imagine that since he came to power following the death of Kim Jong-il, that officials in Moscow and Beijing believe they have managed their relative relationships with Kim well. It could be supposed that the coming of a US President such as Trump, and his authentic and energetic efforts to connect personally with Kim and forge some sustainable agreement regarding peace and security between their countries, was never a factor in their geostrategic forecasts. That despite the ruffling of feathers and some saber rattling, the situation in the region would remain pretty much the same for some time to come. Everything that has occurred so far between Trump and Kim has no doubt been disturbing for Putin and Xi to watch, and for them it may pose terrifying prospects. Likely among his own reflections, Trump has considered and weighed the possible impact of any complicity by Putin and Xi in delaying Kim’s movement on denuclearization and outright efforts by them to undermine the diplomatic process. Streams of intelligence from the US intelligence services more than likely indicate that any negative impressions he might have were not limited to being just a hunch. Trump, however, would want to get a picture from Kim on the relative roles of Putin and Xi. Whether Trump would ever broach the matter with Kim is uncertain as it is a delicate area. Still, it may be an area that needs speaking to at some point because with the assistance of the US, Kim could be put in a better position to fend off efforts by the Russian Federation and China to spoil any efforts to economically develop North Korea that might get underway.

The Importance of Empathy

Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional responses, the full meaning of the diplomacy to him, and his reaction to the enormity of the matter. Indeed, from the very beginning, Trump regularly expressed publicly an interest in Kim’s well-being and what he was thinking. Developing that understanding has likely been somewhat difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, it cannot be denied that Kim has certainly made some dreadful mistakes in the treatment of his people and in international affairs that would reasonably cause pause. Trump has faced criticism for speaking only somewhat elliptically about that. However, no one should not get that idea that Trump is in the least bit dewy-eyed over building relations with the North Korean leader. Indeed, as greatcharlie has repeatedly explained, he is very aware of Kim’s maliferous leanings and outright violent acts against North Korean officials, friends, family, and ordinary citizens. Looking at the greater picture of Northeast Asian and global security and for the purpose promoting dialogue, Trump has focused upon Kim as a national leader who still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump has sought to find the humanity in Kim, to convince him to work for good, to stir the better angels of his nature. He has placed his attention to bringing Kim along to share his vision of North Korea path. Trump wants to walk with Kim to what could colloquially be called “a good place”. Trump hopes reports of Kim’s past negative behavior will eventually become simply an unfortunate record “from his past”, and not describe a potentially far more evolved “Kim of the future”. Given the great opportunity put before Trump, to be certain, it would be absolutely counterintuitive for Trump to splice the budding communications link with Kim by belaboring the matter.

The G20 in Asia, Northeast Asia, brought the major regional powers to the table except Kim. Trump arranged to meet bilaterally with Moon Jae-in in Seoul afterward. Kim and North Korea, although situated geographically in the middle of things, were left on the outside. True, Putin had a summit with Kim in Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. Xi met with Kim for a secret three-day meeting in Beijing, China, from March 25, 2018, to March 28, 2018; in a surprise two-day meeting from May 7, 2018 to May 8, 2018 in Dalian, China; in a one day meeting in Beijing from June 19, 2019 to June 20, 2018; in another three-day meeting in Beijing from January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019; and, in a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea from June 20, 2019 to June 21, 2019. Yet, while they were on the world stage, when all were present, Kim was clearly not at the forefront of the minds of his Russian and Chinese partners. They left him off the international stage. Trump, on the other hand was thinking about Kim, and wanted him to have a palpable sense of the possibilities for his future and North Korea’s future. To do that, he set up an impromptu meeting with Kim at the DMZ. Kim was given time on the international stage. Kim might consider that this action was a sample of what Trump wants to bring to him. Trump was to end North Korea’s existence in the shadow of other nations, to tear the label hermit kingdom off of it. Trump’s visit to the DMZ was in a way a gift to Kim. Surely, it was not some small coin of a certain age and value exchanged as a supposed symbol of friendship. Trump shared his own moment in the spotlight with Kim. Just the thought by Trump, at that moment in time of attempting to connect with Kim, well-expressed his goodwill and positive intentions. Through his actions, Trump essentially seemed to speak the words: “I promised to support your ascendency on the world stage and here we are. You can count on  my word, my promise, my efforts!”

How it all has actually registered with Kim, though, is unknown. How anything Trump has done for Kim remains uncertain. Only Kim really knows. Perchance, it has all been authentically expressed sublimely in Kim’s letters to Trump. To go a step further, perhaps Kim’s thinking may have been evinced by his decision to meet with Trump on June 30, 2019. Indeed, what has certainly been left out of most media commentaries is how big a decision it was for Kim to drop everything and immediately visit the DMZ. Reportedly, Trump was uncertain Kim was even in North Korea at the time he sent his invitation on Twitter. As fate would have it, he was there. Apparently sanguine about the meeting, Kim got his aides and advisers to clear his schedule and get all of the necessary logistics done to bring him securely to his country’s southern border. Doubtlessly, the cost of the unexpected trip was no small amount. From what was observable publicly, Kim appeared travelled to the DMZ to interact with Trump alone. There was no visible official entourage hanging on Kim except a bevy very adept security men, a troupe of photographers who displayed the dexterity of small bees, and a dutiful interpreter. Staying in the background was the First Vice Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea of Korea, who is Kim’s very handsome sister, Kim Yo-jong. Kim seemingly holds her in high regard and whose counsel he appeared to appreciate at one time. She was accompanied the North Korea’s negotiation team. As he reportedly having fallen into disfavor with Kim after the Hanoi Summit, no one would have expected to see Kim Yong-chol, once Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a foreign policy doyen, and sacred cow of the North Korean intelligence industry.

A Diplomatic Process between Leaders

Clara pacta, boni amicitiae. (Clear agreements, good friends.) Many critics and detractors of Trump have a tendency to view the diplomatic process on denuclearization from the mindset of a bureaucrats and bean counters, judging every step, wanting to set their own their measurables all along the way. They insist that a genuine agreement of some type should be immediately printed on paper, put on the table, and signed, even though Trump and Kim are only moving through the first phase of a multi-step process. Undeniably, progress needs to be gauged. At some working level, there must be immediate, quantifiable measurable must be created There should be timelines. However, Trump and Kim are not bureaucrats. Oddly, enough, the manner in which they relate to each other is a very “human process”.  While fully aware of what steps are necessary to accomplish tasks, as leaders they must conserve their energy and psyche for examining the bigger picture. Leaders must be the chief imagineer, and decide what course to follow, and pass down their concept and intent for moving in a determined direction. Through their talks, getting thoughts and words of both leaders to closely connect, perhaps not seamlessly, but at a sufficient number of points to have a mutually acceptable agreement is their main job. The two parties are not there yet, but moving closer. Communications between Trump and Kim are most fruitful when they relate at the level of leaders, not as bureaucrats. Once they reach that point in which they are in mutual agreement, it will be the job of subordinates to complete the background work and hammer out documents for them to sign.

Assurément, Trump is not simply going through the motions of talking with Kim. He too expects results, measurable, even if he is not in a rush. In the February 23, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summitt Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?”, it was explained: “What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.” Recall again that Trump, firm about getting what he wants, without animus, walked away from an agreement the North Koreans sought in Hanoi for a relaxation of sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization.

A Few Things Trump and Kim Might Consider Moving Ahead

1. Trump Might Include the US Congress in the Diplomatic Process

Realistically, the long-term process of ensuring denuclearization is sustained and North Korea’s economic development will go beyond Trump’s possible years in office. The mission of ensuring that North Korea never becomes a nuclear threat again and ensuring North Korea would be successfully transformed economically would be transferred to future US administrations. Although Trump has emphasized that he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, he should also consider Kim’s possible concern that perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may not be as positive. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must be established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.

To accomplish that, Trump might turn to the US Congress. Pyongyang may be aware at this point all US Presidents make policy in the world of politics. Certainly Trump as the chief executive is the top decision maker on foreign and national security policy. However, as it was noted in a February 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”, government powers concerning foreign and national security policy also reside in the Congress. Members of the US Congress, who also represent the citizens of the US, their electorate, will review administration initiatives, relations with other countries and on its own judge behaviors of other national leaders. Often Congress will take action through legislation, that will impact the shape of US policy. It will do assuring that it has support from enough Members to prevent action by the President to halt it. Further, no matter what direction either takes on policy, both the President and Congress must take actions that connect with the US public.

It might be worthwhile to have a US Senate delegation led by US Vice President Mike Pence very briefly visit Pyongyang. The purpose would not be to negotiate. Among the things that might be accomplished through such a visit is: to allow Kim a chance to meet Members of Congress; to allow Members of Congress to meet Kim; to allow Members of Congress to demonstrate the goodwill of the US; to allow Members of Congress to see North Korea and assess for themselves its potential to become another economic power in the region; to allow Kim to ask questions of the Members of Congress and hear about their desire to see denuclearization and bring vigor to North Korea’s economy; to allow Kim to especially hear the enthusiasm of some Members of Congress who are fully onboard with Trump’s ideas for supporting North Korea’s economic development; to allow Members of Congress express the concerns of their constiuents regarding North Korea and its nuclear program and long-range missile development program; to allow Members of Congress to hear Kim’s thoughts on denuclearization; to allow the visiting Members of Congress to personally extend an invitation for Kim to visit Capitol Hill attendant to an invitation from Trump for him to visit Washington.

A decision by Trump to include the US Congress at this stage in the diplomatic process on denuclearization may not be enough to assure Kim that US is trustworthy, but it could help further build his confidence in the process and add to the forward momentum that exists. Indeed, involving the Congress in the interaction between the US and North Korea in this manner might prove crucial to its outcome. The main hope would be that the brief visit would display to Kim that Congress has an interest in, and a positive view of, the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Concomitantly, the visit may serve to gird support within the Congress on the diplomatic process. Surely, it would be worth the candle for Trump to make a go at it.

US President Woodrow Wilson faced a similar decision on whether to include the Congress in perhaps his most important diplomatic effort. Wilson refused to include US Senators among the negotiators accompanying him to the Paris Peace as suggested by his rival, Republican Majority Leader and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge. Wilson needed Lodge’s active support to ensure Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles.  As a result of that “offense”, and Wilson’s refusal to negotiate with Lodge on the treaty, Lodge gave little support to the Treaty of Versailles. In the end, on November 19, 1919, for the first time in its history, the Senate rejected a peace treaty.

2. Kim May Ask Trump: “Prove That You Really Trust Me”

There are likely other North Korean concerns regarding the longevity of a prospective with the US. Kim may not has posed the question but certainly must be wondering whether Trump trust Kim enough now to let him keep weapons that he has. What would be acceptable limits of nuclear capability under trust. If Trump does not trust Kim to that extent, some explanation must be given as to why. Presently from the US perspective, denuclearization is defined as the eradication of all elements of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as well as it long-range missile program. It is expected that denuclearization will be defined in the same way by the time an agreement is reached.

Oddly, on July 1, 2019, the New York Times reported that a freeze of Kim’s nuclear arsenal might suffice to prompt Trump to lift sanctions on North Korea. That report was never confirmed by the Trump administration. US National Security Adviser John Bolton denies that there has been any discussion of a freeze. Bolton stated on Twitter: “@AmbJohnBolton: I read this NYT story with curiosity. Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”

Whether such a modification had been confirmed or not, the notion itself, having been published in the New York Times, might have an impact on the course of negotiations. Certainly, Kim does not want to be left undefended in the region as he may have already begun to feel uneasy about the future of its relations if not with the US, instead with Russia or even China. It will be difficult to reconcile Kim’s desire to be trusted over committing to a freeze.

One stands on shaky ground by making this suggestion, but it might very well be that the US may need to provide a security guarantee to protect North Korea from military actions by any foreign power. In a complete transition, much in the way of many present NATO allies that were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact, the North Korean military might be moved to transform itself to fit with the current US-led collective security arrangement in Northeast Asia. To go a step further, North Korea may be invited to receive the protection and deterrence provided by the same nuclear umbrella the US provides to its other regional allies.

3. A Phased Elimination of North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal?

Surely both the Russia Federation and China are not pleased at all to see Trump make significant “psychic” inroads with Kim. It is very likely that they will try to improve their relative positions with their very junior ally, North Korea. They may even seek to improve the toehold they have on the Trump led diplomacy on denuclearization through some pretense. On July 2, 2019, just two days after Trump and Kim met at the DMZ, the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared on Twitter: “@mfa_russia: We welcome meeting between US an #NorthKorea. Normalization of relations is a vital element of any solution of regional problems, incl #nuclear. Multilateral efforts needed for a complex solution in the interests of all parties.”

In a more troubling scenario, the Russian Federation and China may believe to a large extent that they own North Korea. Being unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim, one or both may decide to pose a credible threat to its future. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim, if he moves closer, even alongside the US. However, in Ukraine, Putin already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West. Using history, he points to a way in which that country is actually in possession of Russian Federation territory or some other interest. He might outline how that country owes Russia some long-standing debt. He then takes back what he feels properly belongs to Russian Federation. Perhaps Kim would have much to worry about from Putin. (Putin would hardly want any country friendly with US sharing, touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can.)

There is no desire by greatcharlie to go out on a limb on this issue, but Kim’s desire to be able to deter rogue moves by either country, may to some small degree legitimize his insistence on retaining his existing arsenal to deter any sudden moves. If maintaining a deterrent becomes a major obstacle to an agreement, perhaps Kim could be allowed a phased reduction of that arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. That might be agreed to in tandem with the provision that North Korea’s long-range missile program must be immediately eliminated.

The Way Forward

The adage obtains, “All’s well that ends well.” Despite the rapid actions required and personal strains by staff that resulted from organizing the DMZ visit on both sides, it was all accomplished brilliantly. Interestingly, Trump’s sudden desire to meet with Kim at the DMZ reflected a pattern making quick decisions to act decisively once he discerns the potential making parfois audacieux, bold moves given events and situations. Such thinking greatly resembles what is defined in military science as maneuver. Indeed, Trump’s approach is very similar to what was once taught at Germany’s Kriegsakademie (War Academy) in Berlin before World War II. It was emphasized that commanders needed a superior understanding of maneuver at all points to ensure they would always be stronger than an opponent at the decisive point, which they referred to as the Schwerpunkt. Military science scholars and historians may recall two classic examples of this being applied by German commanders during World War II: the Battle of Flanders during the German invasion of France in May 1940; and, the Battles of the Minsk and Smolensk Pockets during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The fulcrum of the diplomacy on denuclearization has become a commitment between Trump and Kim. If Trump, in particular, had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. He certainly would not have had the idea to very publicly invite Kim to meet him at the DMZ. Moreover, he would not have taken the extraordinary step of crossing it into North Korea with Kim at his side. Perhaps Trump now sees more promise in the entire diplomatic process on denuclearization than he had before. For Kim, that could mean economic sanctions are closer to being removed. Certainly, Trump has also created circumstances in which the entire world might begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work with it in normal, internationally legal ways. For Kim, that means Trump is already setting the stage to support North Korea’s economic renaissance.

Kim, too, has certainly moved forward with diplomatic process audaciously. Lingering mistrust and uncertainty undoubtedly still influences Kim’s thinking on it. Despite progress, it has likely delayed his full investment in the denuclearization plan as Trump has proposed. The historical record of the last century as example, it indicates that even deep thinkers have made mistakes by relying only on their limited powers of deduction. It can only be hoped that Kim will likely make greater personal progress as he confronts this particularly tough, challenging matter. After all, the talks concern North Korea’s survival, not the survival of the US. Kim must open his consciousness to all the possibilities of a new, economically successful North Korea. The odds are that a change in his thinking will take place, but over time. Trump has indicated that he is willing, within reason, to give Kim the time he needs reach the point at which they can together sign a verifiable, sustainable agreement to create an improved peace in Northeast Asia. Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet. (An educated man always has riches within himself.)

The Putin-Kim Summit: An Uneasy Episode in Kim’s Introduction to a Brave New World

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (left). During his summit meeting with Kim on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. In Washington, a reasonable concern would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle inroads made by US President Donald Trump with Kim, and spun up the young leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. In reality, he may have unwittingly done the opposite.

The fate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), good or bad, will likely be decided at this moment in time. Hopefully, what is negative, wrong, and evil, will not walk upon the scene. The potential source of those ills could possibly be Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. During his summit meeting with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. Presumably, an item for discussion during the meeting was the diplomatic process on denuclearization in which Kim has been engaged with US President Donald Trump for more than a year.

Kim’s vist to Vladivostok was actually a two-day affair. Beginning on April 24, 2019, there were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, where mostly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was not tender, but rather rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader and, to the extent possible, understand his idiosyncrasies and the nuances of his facial expressions and body language, chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. It was perceived by others as a display of Soviet-style formality. The suggestion being that not much should be put into Putin’s behavior at Vladivostok. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim. Consider that Putin did nothing special to help him. If he did, it was so subtle that it could not to be seen. Putin certainly did nothing publicly to convince anyone that he was Kim’s benefactor or protector. If he did, giving notice to the world of such a pledge is the usual way to ensure other countries would pay heed. Alas, he did not do that. Kim apparently failed to correctly parse out Putin’s agenda, moreover his concept and intent, with regard to North Korea before he arrived. Kim likely came to Vladivostok comforted by the thought that the Russian relationship has been long-term, beneficial, and historically speaking, reliable. He perhaps thought he might be able to eek out some type of additional assistance from Russia, in some form or another. If Kim truly came to Vladivostok with that purpose, his was truly an anemic effort. That approach may have left him open to the measures of the artful Putin.

A reasonable concern over Vladivostok in Washington would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle the inroads achieved by Trump with Kim, and that he may have successfully spun up the young North Korean leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. Throw on top of that reports in the US news media indicating that even before Kim left for Vladivostok, there was intelligence apparently collected by the US on activity taking place at facilities related to North Korea’s supposedly dormant nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. That would present the possibility that Kim wants to have the capability to leap back into developing systems that will allow him the launch a nuclear strike against the mainland US. Such would be an act of daylight madness by Kim. To intuit that the diplomatic effort at this point is still somewhat fragile surely would not be out of court. However, as result of his relatively lukewarm reception of the young North Korean leader, Putin may have actually given that diplomatic process a boost by bumping Kim in the direction of Trump. So different are the approaches and opportunities presented respectively by Trump and Putin, that Kim’s choice of whom to travel North Korea’s path into the future is essentially black and white. There is no equivalence, no shared attitude toward people, no mutual conduct displayed, no matching diplomatic techniques, for Kim to find comparison between the two leaders. Through the next set of communications and via a third summit, Trump may have the opportunity to capitalize on Putin’s shrewd, but barbed and unconventional moves. Si computes annos, exiguum tempus, si vices rerum, aevum putes. (If you compute the years in which all this has happened, it is but a little while; if you number the vicissitudes, it seems an age.)

There were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders during Kim’s visit. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, perhaps where mainly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim.

A Reality Check for Kim

Kim seemingly came to Vladivostok bearing all of Pyongyang’s vulnerabilities and anxieties on his sleeve. The Achilles Heel of North Korea is its economy. That economy has been in an absolute shambles for many decades. Through the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign targeted at North Korea’s economy, the country has been slowly strangled to death. Kim may have been desperate to maintain or increase Russia’s economic munificence in talks with Putin. As for his country’s anxieties, Kim, from the start of the Trump administration, boasted about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and burgeoning capability to reach the US with them. However, the US has the actual capability and capacity to attack and destroy North Korea. Away from the rallies and loudspeakers in his country through which he has convinced his people that their country is part of a larger bulwark of anti-US countries in Northeast Asia, there is the reality that Pyongyang’s allies in Moscow and Beijing would never put their countries’ well-being at risk for North Korea. There is the additional reality that North Korea was more of a financial strain and psychic drain on Russia and China than a useful and valued asset as a buffer against the US and its allies in the region. It is likely that Putin, to some extent, saw the meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate that what Russia thinks and says has relevance with regard to Northeast Asia, a region in which its territory resides. Putin had been unsuccessful in finding the angle to latch on and carve out an influential role for Russia in the Trump-Kim Talks. Putin surely knows why Trump was not so eager to offer him a place in the diplomatic process.  He was already on fairly shaky ground with the US President over Russian efforts to interfere in US elections as well as Russian misdeeds in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, and other points around the world.

Perhaps it was thought in Moscow and Pyongyang prior to the actual meeting that Vladivostok had the potential to become a public relations triumph. However, the world appeared to take only a moderate interest in events there. Public relations-wise, Trump had already made an authentic splash with his first meeting with Kim on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. His second meeting from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019 in Hanoi also drew quite a bit of attention. After Kim met with Trump in Singapore and Hanoi, there was a real sense that a new energy, new hope for peace and progress in Northeast Asia had been created. Kim was brought out the hermit kingdom to discover a brave new world, a world from which his people still remain isolated. For introducing him to that world, Kim really has much to thank Trump for. Any luster was left to glean from a Kim meeting was exploited by Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met from March 25, 2018 to March 28, 2018 and January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019. Indeed, by the time Kim met with Putin in Vladivostok, he was no longer the mystifying, obscure young leader in Pyongyang.

In the search for indicia that there was plenty of goodwill between the Russian and North Korean leaders and the meeting served to advance their relationship, much has been made of the fact that Putin was reportedly thirty minutes early for the April 25th meeting and waited for Kim. That fact takes on greater significance given Putin’s well-known history for arriving late for meetings with world leaders. He was nearly one hour late for his Helsinki Meeting with Trump in July 2018, four hours and fifteen minutes late for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014, fifty minutes late for a meeting with Pope Francis in 2015, and a tame fourteen minutes late for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. Yet perhaps conversely to creating a positive atmosphere around which the Russian-North Korean relationship could be viewed internationally, Putin was of the mind to set a sort of trap for Kim. The goal of which most likely was to suss Kim out and, at the right time, take the opportunity to establish the nature of their relationship as leaders. As a result of that effort, the entire visit had a strange feel. Everything seemed a bit off kilter, a little grayish. Certainly, Putin and Kim were never too chummy publicly. Putin’s personal approach and demeanor toward Kim did not mirror that of the avuncular Trump. Rather, he behaved nearly in the manner of a cold-hearted, Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of “gangster as spy” of whom Trump’s critics and detractors inappropriately claim the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires. He did not! Putin handled Kim much as a bewildered target for recruitment. As it was previously discussed in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response,” Putin prepares for his meetings or any other forms of contact with another national leader or senior foreign diplomatic official, in advance, by mining all available information and by considering all possible angles of how an interlocutor might challenge him and how he would explain himself in a plausible, satisfying way. Being engaged in an exceptionally devious sort of manipulation of Kim, one could be certain that every little move made in Vladivostok was performed with purpose. To that extent, even the anomaly of Putin’s punctuality was a calculated step.

Putin (right) and Kim (left) on escalator in Vladivostok. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim. Intriguingly, at Vladivostok, Putin was practically every bit the Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of cold-hearted, gangster as spy about which critics and detractors of Trump have endlessly waxed and have inappropriately claimed the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires.

Attempting to reach into Kim’s head concerning the visit, Putin probably calculated that he would be very optimistic over the outcome of his visit. Putin may have also parsed out that Kim believed that there was virtually an organic affinity between them given the long relationship Russia has had with North Korea. That affinity would be primarily founded on the notion that Putin was raised and served for years as an officer of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known as the KGB in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, which form the political underpinnings of North Korea today. Russia, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower. Moscow was the Soviet capital. Further, in support of his grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but covertly provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to to engage covertly in combat operations. (China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater.) Thus, Putin would be reasonably assured that drawing Kim in would not pose difficulties. Ensuring that he would be able to exert influence on Kim would be his main task. Putin’s effort to miniaturize Kim was almost heartbreaking to watch. Yet, few would shed tears for the despotic North Korean leader under the thumb of the ex-Soviet spy. He exploited every opportunity to publicly demonstrate that he was dominant. On each occasion that he did so, he had the look of a cat among pigeons. This is how it looks when expediency and outcomes are given primacy before method. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim.

Psychologically, Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. Putin has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. Putin has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.” (This reality makes Putin’s attitude and behavior with Trump even more intriguing. One can clearly observe a certain grace and sangfroid displayed by the Russian leader. He has never appeared jagged or, even more, threatening in the slightest degree toward Trump at any moment in which they were together publicly.) Among the North Korean people, Kim is the “Alpha-male”, who rules with an iron fist. He is the country’s supreme leader, its champion, its top man above all, deified, never to be second-guessed, never to be challenged. That side of Kim was not present in Vladivostok. There was no swagger, no expressions of conceit from Kim.

Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. He has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. He has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, author Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.”

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display an equal degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In that way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him. Indeed, seeing the footage revealed to the public of Kim’s expressions, gestures, and positions in Vladivostok, one might have trouble believing Kim was sure of anything while there. No one could show Kim the way while in Russia. Lucky enough for him, he maintained his balance, saw his way through, and made his way home. For Kim, it was doubtlessly an embarrassing chain of events. If those in Pyongyang who might read this would pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, Kim appeared to be caught completely off guard by Putin and stumbling around with his pants at his ankles in Vladivostok.

The Putin-Kim meeting most assuredly was not an inflexion point in Russian North Korean relations. Beyond Putin’s use of the meeting to remind Kim of the nature of their relationship, it is difficult to discern, with certitude, what was accomplished in Vladivostok. Urgent and important matters specific to their countries underpinning the meeting, at least officially, were not sufficiently enumerated publicly. From what was witnessed, no significant change in the geostrategic balance in Northeast Asia or relations in general among countries in the region that resulted from the meeting. As for dealing with the US as a threat, Kim did not appear to have been given the assurance of support from his country’s longtime “ally” that he wanted receive. It could be imagined that instead of promising to provide a type of nuclear umbrella for North Korea that the US provides for its allies in the region, Putin, in a hollow gesture, likely praised Kim’s willingness to take on the US and found his devotion and heroic disregard for death admirable. Concerning the denuclearization diplomacy with the US, it would be difficult to believe that Kim was given, at any point while meeting with Putin, solid, hopeful advice. Putin most likely acted in the manner of a dark muse for Kim on the matter.

Given that economic conditions of both countries have been greatly harmed by US sanctions and both leaders have publicly indicated that they would like to have all international trade sanctions removed, one might extrapolate that the matter of business, relations, business activities, between the two countries were broached. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between a modicum of legitimate and substantial illicit activity. Legitimate trade was limited to $34 million in 2018 due mainly to sanctions against North Korea. Statistics on gains from illicit activity are not available here but reportedly clandestine sanctions busting efforts are ongoing and apparently profitable enough to be worth the risk. It would not be a matter too trite to be managed by the two leaders as detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities, disallowed by sanctions, would mean grave consequences for both countries via sanctions. Through the process of monitoring their business activities, the international community has learned that transport agents in the Russian Federation have prepared documents for North Korean vessels. The government has not denied that. However, certain actions  have also been taken to help North Korea evade sanctions. Port services have allegedly been provided to North Korean-flagged ships. North Korean vessels have been fueled in Russia. The sale of that fuel to them by representatives of certain firms has been ignored. No interest is given to whomever might be selling cargo and oil products to the North Koreans. Further, a blind eye is turn toward whomever may be loading North Korean vessels. Vasili Kolchanov, head of the Russian Federation port services agency involved, explained to Reuters: “It’s not our concern who fuels the vessels, who sells that fuel, who they buy the cargo and oil products from.” He further stated: “We do not load vessels. As an agent, I only need to check that they have permission from customs.”

The type of business Putin would like Russia to develop with North Korea concerns mineral resources, including rare metals. Kim would like access to Russian electricity supplies. While Moscow generally views North Korea as a poor investment, Kim would like Russia to invest in the modernization of Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure. Nevertheless, as long as sanctions remain in place, none of that will come to fruition.

Image of an illegal cargo transfer to a North Korea vessel on the open sea. (above). Economic conditions of Russia and North Korea have been greatly harmed by US and UN trade sanctions. One might extrapolate that business activities between the two countries was a key issue in the Putin-Kim talks. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between the legitimate and illicit. Detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities disallowed by sanctions would mean grave consequences for both countries.

Kim’s Health

Taking a look at Putin’s bearing in Vladivostok, the Russian leader made a proper showing of himself as the usual sharp, strapping Russian leader. It was the loose, athletic, macho Putin, who in meetings exudes confidence, high-energy, and a readiness to do business. Taking a comparable look at Kim’s bearing, one could reasonably state that he appeared to be having health problems. Being most apparently somewhat outside of his appropriate weight range and being a smoker, it could be expected that Kim would be dealing with dome underlying health issues. However, in Vladivostok, Kim simply looked unhealthy. Kim breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time of the Vladivostok meeting is that Kim was suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort, without appropriate care.

In every video clip made public of the North Korean leader in Vladivostok, Kim appeared pale, shuddering, breathless. At times he additionally appeared disoriented, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, even jumpy. This uneasy behavior was not observed in Kim in Singapore, Hanoi, or Beijing. Thinking in a way similar to greatcharlie, Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press, stated in his article published in Time magazine on April 26, 2019: “What caught the attention of many outside observers Thursday wasn’t the scene, but the sound — of Kim’s loud breathing. Clips of the introductory encounter were quickly tweeted around the world, many with comments about the leader’s audible breathlessness. South Korea’s media, meanwhile, speculated that it could be a sign of Kim’s poor health. He is, after all, overweight and a notoriously heavy smoker.” According to Talmadge, Kim has evinced similar health problems at previous high-level meetings. Some may recall that in April 2018, on the occasion of his first summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he looked out of breath as he signed a guestbook following a short walk.

The following link, https://youtu.be/40M-cfOhqxQ, provides a short video clip of one of several occasions at the Putin-Kim summit during which Kim’s labored breathing can be seen. Please focus on the region of the thorax between the neck and diaphragm in the front of Kim’s body or stated more plainly, his chest. On medical matters, greatcharlie is somewhat out of its province. Nonetheless, it seems fitting in this case, no matter how clumsy it may seem, for it to engage in an unlicensed, uncertified foray as an apothecary, to better understand Kim’s behavior. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, odd behavior, in response, he showed him no quarter, no sympathy.

Kim takes cigarette break in China while en route to Hanoi Summit (above). In Vladivostok, Kim looked unhealthy. He breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time in Vladivostok was that Kim may have been suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, he showed him no sympathy.

In addition to directing attention at Kim’s difficulty breathing, the international news media noted what was generally described as an awkward gift exchange. Kim gave Putin a sword. Interestingly, among Russians, presenting swords and knives is considered sign of bad omen that could lead to disagreements and confrontations. Kim may have been aware of that superstition when decided to present Putin with a sword. After all, Russians and North Koreans are certainly not strangers to one another. Both Putin and Kim have sufficient, well-qualified experts to inform them of the nuances of gift giving in the respective cultures. Still, Kim presented it anyway, perhaps believing that Putin would be impressed with its size and value. Putin’s gift to Kim was even more intriguing. He gave Kim a coin. Video of the gift exchange made public show Kim completely befuddled in response. He seemed disappointed, closely eyeing the coin, clearly fazed by its diminutive size and relatively low value.

One might attempt to airbrush the episode by suggesting that Putin meant well when he gave Kim the coin, but that is unlikely. Putin was surely well-aware of Kim’s tastes and what would please him when deciding upon a gift for him. Gifting Kim with a coin may have been an atrocious display of Kremlin wit. Indeed, there is the real possibly that the coin presentation served as a banal amusement devised by Putin and his circle of mostly male acolytes. They may have wanted to witness an “entertaining”, stunned reaction from Kim. Even worse, a darker meaning of the gift could have been to create the impression that Putin was giving coin to a beggar. Along with their boss, the boys’ club in the Kremlin’s Senate building, who most likely in private mock and lampoon foreign leaders, have too often allowed such predictable, over-rehearsed, bad behavior, insinuate itself in important matters. Recently, it has been a persistent, distasteful theme in Russian diplomatic behavior that analysts and scholars have either missed or ignored. Indeed, Putin has been engaging in rather curious form of gift giving. Notable was his public presentation of a soccer ball to Trump in Helsinki. In response, Trump looked at the ball with a smirk, stated that he would give it to his son Darren, palmed it with his large right hand, and then casually tossed it one-handed to the First Lady, Melania Trump.

Despite the many problems associated with their interactions, Kim seemed to speak in harmony with Putin after the summit, and adhered to an anti-US line. It is unclear whether Kim simply wanted to oblige Putin just for old times’ sake or create the impression that he achieved some success in Russia. It may also be that he was left with little choice but to acquiesce to Putin’s position. At a post summit press conference, Putin, projecting a sense of accomplishment, stated that the North Korea’s denuclearization was necessary, but he insisted that North Korean sovereignty must be recognized and that security guarantees must be provided to Pyongyang. For Putin, security guarantees is a alternative way of stating the US must retreat from Northeast Asia, abandoning its longtime allies, and most importantly, remove the nuclear umbrella that shields those allies from a nuclear threat, not just from the North Korea, but also Russia and China as that umbrella was originally designed. Over the years, those capitals have been satisfied to see US military resources, psychic energy, and ire, directed at North Korea. By encouraging North Korea to seek steps that would to improve its security situation by reducing, even weakening the defensive posture of the US and allies in Northeast Asia, Russia would consequently serve its own security needs by invariably weakening the security of the US and its allies versus it, too.

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display a similar degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In this way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him.

Wake Up Kim!

Qui non proficit, deficit. (Who does not advance, recedes.) Ideally, for Trump, Kim would come to a third summit strangling at the leash, anxious to get going. It would be counterintuitive for Kim to come into a third round of negotiations with well made plans to melt away sanctions without offering necessary progress on denuclearization. He may very well retreat intellectually and be satisfied to accept advice from the North Korean intelligence services, crafted with an intelligence bigotry of military and security service elites founded on conspiracy theories about Trump and US actions and intentions. Particularly at this cut bait or fish stage, there is the potential for North Korean intelligence services, expert at whipping up scenarios and hypotheticals to expediently conjure up reports that provide support for the politicized or even hysterical views of consumers. (This is a disturbing reality that intelligence services almost everywhere face: hiring in error, individuals without honor, unfit to meet the moral obligations of the job.) The minstrels for the occasional exaggerated, distracting flashes of a belligerent posture to the US have been North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. To promote peace, and being the responsible party, the Trump administration listens to those expressions, but does not react emotionally to them.

As greatcharlie has noted in previous posts, there is an endless sense of distrust within North Korea toward the West that always comes into play in diplomacy. Further, given what is known about Kim’s psychological disposition, success with him in diplomatic effort was never assured. With Kim, one must take into consideration his selective welcome toward outsiders, pretension exhibited in public displays of affection for his people, reported lurid acts of self-indulgence, irate outbursts, outright cruelty, violent actions towards the people, associates, and family, and murder, Kim has not been popularly described as an up and down, manic depressive. These attitudes and behaviors have been chalked up as the stuff that defines tyrants and despots.

To enlarge on that, one must remember that prior to all of the niceties that followed the Singapore and Hanoi meetings and the many kind letters exchanged between Trump and Kim, the US President accurately assessed in his September 2017 remarks at the UN, that the North Korean leader’s regime was extraordinarily violent. Some expert observers of Kim might call the young leader essentially a sadist who is intoxicated by violence. The March 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled “Commentary: Trump-Kim Talks: Will Desire Obey Reason or Will Force Be Used to Overcome Force?” discusses a Yonhap article on an examination made by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (Gukga Jeongbowon) of Kim’s behavior. Trump is well-aware of such reports about Kim. Yet, in the greater cause of denuclearization, international peace and stability, and the betterment of conditions for the people of North Korea, it is expedient to put all of that aside. The focus must be on what is positive, to ensure the diplomatic process is fruitful. If Kim goes down the wrong road, observers should expect to see him figuratively shoot the soccer ball far off to the wrong side of the aluminium goal post at the next summit with Trump. Perhaps Moscow and Beijing, in order to promote their own respective geostrategic goals versus the US, may very well be trying to undermine Trump’s diplomatic efforts with Kim at the moment. Even more, they may be nefariously encouraging him to behave in ways contrary to advancing that diplomacy.

Trump has kept a positive front, projecting optimism with regard to the antithetical attitudes and behavior of the leaders of both Russia and China. He has likely kept in mind that a delicate symmetry does exist among their three countries from which any good basis for a positive interaction now and the future might be founded. Yet, there can be no doubt that Trump is well-aware of their unseemly ways. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled a visit to Moscow on April 14, 2019, in order to express US concerns over Russian “aggressive and destabilizing actions.” Doubtlessly, Putin’s meeting with Kim in Vladivostok qualified to be an agenda item of the in camera Moscow meetings. In further response to the strategic goals and thinking of its soi-disant friends in Moscow and Beijing, Washington has nourished the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies in Northeast Asia. Those ties that bind the US and its allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with Russia and China.

Kim must decide what his priorities are. Though, the choice for Kim, through the use of reason and wisdom alone, seems obvious. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has practically indicated that he already has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing and make the right choice.

Trump (right) and Kim (left) in Singapore. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has essentially announced that he has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing, make the right choice.

Trump to the Rescue?

Maybe if everything had been going perfectly on the denuclearization front, a third round of summit talks would be an opportunity to put the finishing touches on a deal. Meetings between US and North Korean business, financial, and development experts as well as meetings of international experts forms in various committees ostensibly would have come next in order to get cracking on North Korea sanctions economic rejuvenation. Surely, there is still time for that. At the moment, things are perhaps moving more gradually than initially expected. Yet, optimistically, everyone and everything will eventually arrive at the same place. To that extent, Trump continues to do the best things even in arguably unappealing circumstances with the hope of avoiding a calamitous situation in Northeast Asia. Trump sees no need for scare tactics. At the same time, Trump has kept his weapon, the armed forces of the US and its allies, figuratively cleaned and his sight zeroed. Cito rumpes arum, semper si tensum, habueris, at si laxans, quum voles, erit utilis. (A bow kept taut will quickly break, but kept loosely strung, it will serve you when you need it.)

In April and May of 2019, Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan. It may very well be that Kim believed the April 18, 2019 test of North Korea’s new “tactical guided weapon” and its May 4, 2019 “strike drills” using short-range, multiple launch rocket systems, fell well outside of the parameters of his promise to Trump not to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Both weapons systems, fired off North Korea’s west coast, fell into the Sea of Japan, and did not intrude into Japanese or South Korean waters. As a result of the launches, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. Some went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. True, no matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Yet, Trump felt the tests were not of sufficient order of concern to derail the diplomatic process. He determined that the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise concerning weapons testing. His statement in response reflected that thinking. His response was in line with his concept of pitting hope against despondency in the diplomatic process on denuclearization. On May 4, 2019, using his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, Trump explained: “Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise me. Deal will happen!” Hopefully, Kim will not push such injudicious activity alongside the borderline on which Trump would not be able to countenance it.

To a larger extent, Trump would hardly believe that Kim thought for a moment that the launches would in any way improve his tactical position against the US. North Korea was never in great shape tactically versus the US, and will never be allowed the opportunity to be so. Trump would hardly imagine Kim thought the launches could somehow strengthen Pyongyang’s hand in the diplomatic process or pull him closer to Pyongyang’s negotiation position. On a more basic level, Trump is aware that many individuals develop and express impressions of decisions and actions of foreign leaders without attempting to detect internal matters that might be driving events. Homosum: humani nil a me alienum puto. (I am human: I consider nothing human alien to me.)

When Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan on April and May of 2019, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. No matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were  unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Some analysts and scholars went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. Trump, however, determined the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise not to conduct tests.

A dimension of North Korea that one on the US side must lose sight of is that it remains a totalitarian tyranny, with power elites stratified in neat rows. To maintain his grip on the ranks of the military and security services in the midst of his denuclearization diplomacy, Kim may have decided to demonstrate his control and interest in the activities and developments within their organizations. It has been best for him to act in this way before even sensing any issues trouble in the ranks, Kim, to some degree, must also be responsive to Workers’ Party of Korea elites and senior leaders of North Korea’s now a tad more significant, forward-thinking, business leaders. North Korean military and security service elites, in particular, might have the sense that denuclearization will have the impact of discrediting and disenfranchising them. They would ostensibly be stripped of a considerable degree of real and psychic power. There would also more than likely be a loss of pride, prestige, and a certain emotional satisfaction. In any actions that he might take, Kim must be certain to avoid precipitating grumblings from them. By the same token, Kim would certainly be intolerant of the slightest scent of fragmentation within the Workers’ Party of Korea as a result of his diplomatic initiative with the US. Rather than avoid or preempt problems in the ranks, Kim might simply punish and obliterate suspected reactionaries and potential ones. Perhaps recent shifts made within the party’s senior leadership reflect his sensitivity to potential dangers.

Among the thoughts of those other than Trump in Washington, a greater concern might be that although Kim has metaphorically boarded the elevator and is riding it up, he does seem willing to travel to the top floor. He appears to be willing to get off several floors beneath it, just short of a grand prize for himself and North Korea. Perhaps when meditating alone over committing fully to a path toward denuclearization and working with the US, Kim may now and then feel slightly unclean in mind and body. Indeed, a turn toward denuclearization would surely require Kim to go against instinct. (In a way, that makes the mere fact that he is very openly considering it an extraordinarily step.) Alternatively, Kim might fear that Trump’s proposal is a cruel hoax, all too good to be true. Fool’s gold offered by a false heart. Considering such thoughts, one would not be on a slender thread to speculate that a real obstacle to working with Kim on denuclearization, may not be external manipulation or domestic concerns at all. There is the possibility that Kim, himself, remains the greatest restrictor to forward movement on a deal. However, in the diplomatic process, Kim is not being asked to bow down to US pressure, its desires, or accept something ephemeral. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. It cannot be stated enough that through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people over the misfortune that they are coping with today.

Inter cetera mala, hoc qunque habet stultitia proprium, semper incipit vivere. (Among other evils, folly has also this characteristic, it is always beginning to live.) A potential pitfall for Kim would be failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be fairly certain as to the Communist leader’s intentions once he leaves the table. As the erstwhile businessman, Trump will have a contingency plan for bad news. He calls such plans “alternatives.” Those alternatives surely include inflicting an unimaginable tragedy upon North Korea at best through ratcheting up the ongoing maximum pressure campaign of sanctions and at worst via a war fraught with the wreckage of innocent lives. It is also very possible that a prospective war might be fought with nuclear weapons.

In the diplomatic process of denuclearization, Kim is not being asked to bow down the US pressure, its desires. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. Through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people. A potential pitfall for Kim is failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be certain as to his intentions once he leaves the table. Trump will have a contingency plan. He calls such plans “alternatives.”

When one’s brain is functioning at such a high speed as Trump’s does, it regularly searches into the abstract. With the imagination serving as guide through the obscurity, his mind discriminates, vets, facts and ideas it has both recently encountered and has collected over time. His mind grasps for those most relevant to matter being focused upon. Those separate, yet correlative, facts and ideas are associated and via an even deeper analysis, are given higher meaning. As a result, an impression is formed which Trump’s mind constantly challenges with new information that is introduced to it. Having the ability to think in this way truly places Trump in a different category. (Note: There is no intent here to link Trump’s way of thinking to transcendentalism.)

Despite everything Kim has done so far, Trump, more so than anyone, appears to view him as a national leader, who has albeit made mistakes, but still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump does not believe Kim has limited faculties to improve his mind. Having worked with, coached, and mentored a number of young men and women during his business career as a land developer and builder, Trump has seen many evolve into very capable executives who went on to make the most of opportunities placed before them. Throughout the denuclearization diplomatic process, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. Such empathy was likely difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. The very type of stresses that Trump wanted to keep out of his denuclearization diplomacy with Kim appeared to weigh heavy on the North Korean leader while he was with the Putin. Trump doubtlessly discerned that something was bringing him down, and seemingly burning him out. To steal a phrase from Trump, Kim “was low energy.”

Hopefully, Kim is self-aware enough to recognize that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump and his sense for what could be accomplished has been moving through a process of maturation. As part of that maturation, Kim must recognize that there needs to be a mutual exchange of inspiration between Trump and himself. If Kim is truly able to apply the discipline of accuracy, think with precision, accept the truth, and discern how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea, he will recognize that Trump has offered the best path possible, and all will be well. Interestingly, Kim, both keeps his hair cut and most often dresses in suits tailored in ways similar to those of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. He has also fashioned his leadership style in his image. However, Kim, as with most humans, may aspire to advance to some greater form of himself. To that extent, there is the real possibility that he will want to take both his people and country to a far higher level from where they stand today.

The Way Forward

In Act III, scene i of William Shakespeare’s The Third Part of Henry VI, King Henry is being held captive by two armed keepers in a forest north of London. Stirring a discussion with his two captors, King Henry discusses his responsibilities as king. He explains that as king he serves for the purpose of his people, not for his own benefit. He states that every king must settle in to that idea. They must accept that is what it means to be a leader. Henry says in that moment: “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; / Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, / Nor to be seen: my crown is called content: / A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.” When Putin and Kim met in Vladivostok, everything was seemingly done under the pretense that all was well between the two countries. Still, there was a palpable sense while observing events in Vladivostok that Putin does not want North Korea to advance. He wants to  pull Kim and North Korea backward in time, backward to a circumstance in which North Korea could only define itself as subordinate to Russia and obedient to its whims. It may very well be Putin’s standard behavior with leaders of “lesser countries” and nothing extraordinary. Perhaps Putin, before and after the meeting, viewed Kim as being naive and that he could easily have him eating out of his hand. It has been considered in previous posts by greatcharlie that Trump, being different in his approach, may be able to do things that others cannot. Kim left Vladivostok appearing uncertain of how to respond to what he observed and heard from the Russian Federation President. As aforementioned here, in a scenario favorable for Washington, Kim, having met with Putin, may now be better aware of the stark differences between the respective futures that the Russian and US leaders offer North Korea. Putin met Kim figuratively empty handed as opposed to Trump who offered a golden future for his country. To the extent that Russia can exert influence in the world, particularly its large stake in the energy field, its attention is sought after by some. Whatever influence it may have internationally, it pales in comparison with that of the US.

If Trump had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. Still, it is not Trump’s responsibility to be the sole engine behind denuclearization and the legitimate push to advance North Korea economically. If and when he meets with Trump for a third summit, it would behoove Kim to show how he is moving North Korea in that direction. It must be reflected in his proposals, his language, and his demeanor at the negotiation table and away from it. If Kim is unable to recognize the real value in what Trump is offering, at best, he will essentially condemn North Korea to a grey economy of black market and questionable bootleg products of all types, reliant on back alley deals with organized crime and corrupt foreign government officials, cash influx from North Korean guests workers abroad with limited to no access to substantial salaries and remain present in foreign countries at the whim of their governments. Throw on top of that nuclear weapons and long-range missile program that the US fully intends to eliminate if not through diplomacy, through devastating military strikes.

In all likelihood, Kim, would be incensed over failing to remove painful sanctions and end the maximum pressure campaign; impress his people by scoring a diplomatic victory over their US foe by removing sanctions while retaining the DPRK’s nuclear program; and, losing time on developing more nuclear weapons and perfecting their ability to reach the Continental US. If the denuclearization process fails, that will be a tough ticket for Trump to swallow. Yet, rather than being angered, he would likely be saddened over failing to reach the young North Korean leader, to establish a friendship with him, or embrace him as neighbor in this small world; and, to prevent the great potential of the North Korean people from being wasted. Hopefully, none of that will be the case. Nunquam sero te venisse putabo, si salvus veneris. (I shall never think you are late arriving as long as you come safely.)

Commentary: The Hanoi Summit: What Kim Did Wrong and What Trump Is Doing Right

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). Before the Hanoi Summit, Trump insisted that if he became unsatisfied with the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That was precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not reach a common understanding with Trump in order to create a denuclearization agreement. Yet, regardless of what drove Kim, the question of what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point remains. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in Hanoi’s aftermath.

The strains placed on both US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in their February 27-28, 2019 meeting in Hanoi were quite significant. The intended outcome of the meeting, that primarily being an agreement on denuclearization and North Korea’s economic rejuvenation, would have been positive for both sides. Before Hanoi, Trump put considerable energy into considering the type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. He remained optimistic despite being bombarded by the voices of pessimism heard from naysayers and dream killers of all political stripes. For Kim, moving North Korea along a path toward the economic miracle that Trump proposed would require a well-planned, monumental project to restructure the only world he and his people have known. Surely, it was worth the candle for both Trump.and Kim to make a go at it. However, it may very well be that Kim did not fully understand that everything North Korea is, and everything it has, was actually at stake. To that extent, North Korea may not have been properly invested in the move toward denuclearization. It appears even Kim’s purported percipience of Trump and US foreign and national security policy making was also lacking. (Perhaps that knowledge was simply not being properly applied in practice.) .

Trump insisted before the Hanoi Summit, much as he had before negotiations with other national leaders on agreements, that if he became unsatisfied the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That is precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not to reach a common understanding with Trump and create a denuclearization agreement. Given Kim’s human rights record, some might suggest may have been influenced by ingenious telepathy from Hell. Sardonics aside, the talk’s outcome provides indicia to support a few reasonable theories. Thinking outside of the box in order to find causality for Kim’s decision, one might conclude on a basic level, that the whole negotiation soon became too rich for his blood and rather than take a giant step forward and risk making the wrong choice, he held pat on his position. On a higher tier, one might assess that there may have been senior advisers in Pyongyang who convinced Kim that he could get Trump to eat out of his hand, and in a leap of faith, he tossed everything into an effort to twist Trump’s tail and get him to accept a deal shaped by North Korea’s terms. Additionally, there is the possibility that some self-doubt might have found a place in Kim’s thinking. Despite his leadership through iron rule, one might also politely conclude that Kim possesses a sort of 50-50 mentality. That would mean that Kim can see the potential of all arguments, even those made by the US. From that, it might be considered that he would typically need more time to reach a decision that would best suit North Korea long-term. In whatever way Kim may have been driven, the question now is what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in the aftermath of Hanoi. Having apparently gotten things mixed up in Hanoi, hopefully Kim will not mess things up from this point on with Trump. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

Is Kim Missing the Bigger Picture?

Right on the heels of the summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, essentially to explain why an agreement could not be reached. Trump told reporters that the crux of the matter was sanctions. In summarizing the situation, Trump stated Kim wanted sanctions lifted to a degree in which they would be rendered ineffective. In exchange, Kim would be willing to denuclearize portions of critical areas. Yet, Trump said those testing areas Kim was willing to break down were not the ones the US wanted. They were hardly enough to elicit the cessation of sanctions. Since Kim held firm to that position, Trump explained that there was little choice but to walk away from that proposal. However, Trump never indicated the conversation on the denuclearization had been exhausted.

Indeed, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome has not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.” As for how the parties might move forward with the diplomatic process following Hanoi, Trump explained: “In the meantime, we’ll be talking. Mike [Pompeo, US Secretary of State] will be speaking with his people. He’s also developed a very good relationship with the people — really, the people representing North Korea. I haven’t spoken to Prime Minister Abe yet. I haven’t spoken to President Moon of South Korea.  But we will, and we’ll tell them it’s a process and it’s moving along.”

There was no legitimate cause for any confusion in Pyongyang as to what Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. As one can see, progress made on some of these matters was mentioned by Trump during his Hanoi press conference. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure, sanctions, would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of North Korea. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense of where things stand in North Korea regarding denuclearization. There was also no ambiguity over the fact that the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Alas, at the table, the maximum that Kim could possibly collect about Trump, in order to make a good decision on the deal offered, was put before him, for all answers concerning the US position, concept and intent, ultimately resided in Trump, himself. Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang could not reasonably ask for anything more.

It would say much if Kim could not see that real empathy may have come from Trump, understanding how heavy a burden such a decision might be for the young leader. Previous deals with North Korea of great significance were last reached with his father, Kim Jong-un, and they crumbled under the insistent strain within North Korea, in Kim regime to pursue the goal of his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung of developing nuclear weapons. That goal has been achieved.  There may still be the strain within Kim to ignite an economic development akin, or even beyond, the Chollima Movement, as initiated by Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung. There is much that needs to done in North Korea, and as Trump has repeated, great potential exists within its workforce.

Trump’s critics and detractors insisted that Trump was out of court to even attempt to reach agreement with Kim that would meet the requirement of serving the interests of the US and its allies in the region. Surely, the Trump administration would never surrender  the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Those critics and detractors, upon discovering that Trump was unfazed by their persistent negative voices and was going to make the effort anyway, eventually turned to the standby criticism concerning any of Trump’s efforts on foreign and national security policy: he is unqualified. Further, they would also insist that behind everything Kim has done was a hostile DPRK plot, a “Red plot”, to lure Trump and the US to destruction.

The Snare of Insufficient Analysis

Attacks by critics and detractors of Trump have manifested more than elementary cynicism. The dark shadows of their machinations gathered as the Hanoi Summit came near. Their efforts did more more than serve to tear those in the US public who are supportive of Trump away from him. Despite claims from Trump’s political adversaries, and the usual critics and detractors that what was happening in Washington had no impact on what occurred in Hanoi, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it would seem that Pyongyang, unfortunately chose to do what was expedient. That meant believing Trump was stressed from the potential release of a final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters. There have been repeated insinuation that Trump faced the threat of investigations by the Deputy US Attorney for Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General. Pyongyang might have believed that Trump, caught in the wave of excitement concerning the 2020 US Presidential Campaign, mystifying reports of supposed gains by Democrats in polls versus Trump, and the reported mayhem that exists within the mainstream political parties. There may have been the belief that Kim could capitalize on some forecasted by the intelligence services on the impatience on the part of Trump. Reports commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media surely would have rung a bell for Kim’s aides and advisers and analysts in North Korea’s intelligence services. From that, it would follow that Trump’s political difficulties at home would likely distract him. If any of this was the case, it may explain why Pyongyang seemingly went all in on an effort to force Trump’s hand.

What Trump confidently knew, but Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang would have unlikely been able to discern clearly, was that the hearings of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives and in camera testimony before the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives in which Trump’s erstwhile attorney Michael Cohen testified, in essence amounted to vanity projects undertaken by political opponents of Trump in his rival Democratic Party. Although the hearings grabbed headlines in the US news media while Trump met with Kim in Hanoi, the new information gained from them was for the most part already widely known. As it has been repeatedly counseled by greatcharlie, reacting, and much worse, inferring how Trump’s mind moves on an issue from stories, iniquitous commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media. For the most part, US news media houses have done a complete job presenting themselves as Trump’s adversary, not simply critics and detractors. In either case, they are not playing the impartial watchdog role in which the fourth estate is supposed to serve.

Leaders often take unimaginable risks under stress. One could surmise that Kim must have been under some stress at home. Indeed, looking at Kim objectively, the question would be whether Kim was being ambitious or desperate in Hanoi. There is the possibility that in the intelligence services or the Workers’ Party of Korea, it may have posited that Trump could be manipulated into accepting a deal far less than he originally wanted. Lending support for the idea would be that Kim managed to secure a second meeting and that Kim was the actual master at the negotiation table with Trump, and he could take US President down whatever path he wanted. Although it may all sound like daylight madness, it is actually the sort of colorization of policy with delusional notions of an all powerful supreme leader that has underpinned many prior ham-handed decisions by Pyongyang. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Kim’s 50-50 Personality?

One might theorize that Kim’s failure to return home with a constructive answer may not have driven as much by politics but by the possibility that he possesses a 50-50 personality. This is not intended as a disparagement or an affront. It is not to suggest that Kim is a mixed bag, or worse, indecisive. It does not mean Kim is regularly afflicted by the paralysis of analysis. The 50-50 personality is the one able to see beyond black and white to the grey areas of significance. Kim cannot be pegged as one extreme or the other. Kim’s trained ability to project calmness and authority in all circumstances publicly has little relation to what might be stirring within. In private, he may in reality be as much the introvert as the extrovert, he may entertain his sense of things as much as use a honed intuition. He may try to feel through issues and situations coupled with thinking them through ad infinitum. He may be willing to use his perception of matters taking into account his experience and much as making calibrated judgments based on available facts and methods of analysis.

New Problems or a Curious Attempt to Ignite Further Talks?

Kim has created an additional problem himself at this point. Reportedly, he has sought to reconstruct a disassembled testing facility for long range rockets at Tongchang-ri. On first blush, it certainly does seem there is nefarious purpose behind his actions. It is hard to see how anyone could view Kim as anything but an aggressor. Trump has invested in diplomacy to resolve matters in contention: North Korea’s nuclear program and its long range delivery systems. Tactical moves must have payoffs or they are useless exertions, often opening the door for opponent to act. Kim, having met Trump, should not be under any illusion that Trump would not respond fiercely to moves he might find aggressive and or threatening. Kim does not need to extrapolate and infer anything from overt or covert sources that his intelligence services may be relying upon to understand and predict Trump’s moves. The suspension of military exercises should not have signalled to Kim that Trump is not interested in a military option. As he indicated in words he has since set aside in the spirit of negotiating some resolution, North Korea’s aggression would met with “ fire and fury the world has never known!” Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but military exercises with conventional forces would hold less significance on the North Korea front if an attack conceived by Trump would include the use of scores of nuclear weapons.

Does Kim Really Know What Is Best for North Korea?

Even with the notion that he has a type of 50-50 mentality, and with all of his revolutionary zeal and his commitment to the Communist movement taken into consideration, Kim must realize that Trump’s deal was too good to pass on. Nevertheless, he did so. Looking at the matter purely from the perspective of an external observer, Kim made a big mistake. As a national leader concerned with his people’s real future and being much more than a functionary within the system, logic should have driven him toward it. One stands on shaky ground saying anything positive about Kim given the sensitivity of government agencies in the US to such comments, nonetheless, failing to engage Trump for a bit longer in Hanoi on the development of a fitting agreement for both parties was not a surprising error for a national leader who is new to such high stakes diplomacy. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

A logical next step for Kim and his aides and advisers, if they are truly interested in, and dedicated to, this important diplomatic process, might be to try to get the toothpaste back into the tube. A sign that such an effort could already be underway might be official statements by the foreign ministry of North Korea insisting that there was a desire in Pyongyang for a partial denuclearization. Indeed, on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho explained that Kim’s regime sought only “partial” sanctions relief in return for dismantling the North’s main enrichment capabilities for fissile material. As for continued negotiations, Ri stated, “It is difficult to say whether there might be a better agreement than the one based on our proposal at current stage.” He continued authoritatively, “Our principal stance will remain invariable and our proposal will never be changed, even though US proposes negotiation again in the future.” Ri also confirmed that the North would be willing to “permanently dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities” at the main Yongbyon nuclear site and allow U.S. nuclear experts to observe. He went on to complain that North Korea had sought an end to “sanctions that hamper the civilian economy, and the livelihood of all people in particular,” citing five out of 11 sanctions packages imposed by the UN Security Council. As mentioned earlier, sanctions relief along those lines would have amounted to a significant easing of the pressure on North Korea.

Although some somber and astute analysts might reach the conclusion that the foreign ministry’s bold, inaccurate statements, with their familiar antagonistic cadence, was simply a pretension, one more dramatic expression of Pyongyang. The odd hope of it all would appear to be influencing opinion among senior officials of the Workers Party of Korea and other elites of business circles of the society that Trump was not sincere about sanctions relief and he failed to respond to what is likely extolled in Pyongyang as Kim’s “generous offer”. It may very well have been the case that Pyongyang had the foreign ministry’s statement “locked and cocked” even before Kim left by train for Hanoi in the event that Trump would not accept the terms he planned to offer him.

The Agony of Negotiating with North Korea

It is interesting how North Korean officials have spoken so obstinately of Trump’s openhandedness toward their country. Perhaps Pyongyang has forgotten that Kim is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. (That is unlikely something anyone in Pyongyang would ever say in Kim’s presence.) Among industrialized countries, ruling out the Russian Federation and China, few governments hold a favorable opinion of North Korea. Pyongyang should rest assured that a number of capable US allies have likely suggested in confidence that Trump should move on from diplomacy and simply use military force on North Korea and indicated the willingness to join that effort. Trump, the one that North Korean Foreign Ministry officials now criticize, is the national leader who truly has the military power to destroy North Korea, yet he has given it a chance to prove its positive intentions to the world. Trump has sought to create the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work well with it. Trump’s description of his contacts and communications with Kim and public statements about his friendship and chemistry with him, have made him far less the threat that deservedly made headlines with angry words and aggressive moves in 2017 when the administration began. Trump kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way as he has become the administration’s talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. More than half way through his term as of this writing, Trump has amassed a record of making things happen; getting things done.

Not under any circumstances would the reconstruction of the testing site fall under the category of a benign act. It would hard to see where Pyongyang, having had two bites at the diplomacy apple, might hope to have some understanding of its move to reconstruct it’s long-range rocket testing site in a positive way in Washington or anywhere in the US for that matter. In reconstructing the testing site, Kim is doing precisely what Trump said he did not want North Korea to do. Nonetheless, taking a second look at the matter of Kim’s move to reconstruct the testing site from another angle purely out of academic interest and with a dose of optimism, one could say that the effort, albeit poorly conceived, was designed to create a position of perceived strength and encourage Trump to talk with Kim again. After all, that step was less threatening than other available options to garner immediate attention, create urgency. Kim could have begun reconstruction on a shuttered nuclear facility or begun building a new one. Kim could have made unsubstantiated public claims of possessing new nuclear technologies to enrich uranium for weapons such as the ability to separate isotopes through laser excitation (“SILEX”). (Note, this is just a hypothetical. There is no effort here to suggest that North Korea possesses such capabilities.) For Pyongyang, the danger in engaging in such tricky stuff is that the wrong signal may be sent to Washington. By and large, Pyongyang has asked the Trump administration to be patient and to recognize that on the world stage, North Korea is going to display a lack of sophistication, savoir faire, and present itself as the isolated, authoritarian “hermit kingdom” it has always been. While it may have hoped to move things in a specific way, it is possible that what might be intended through such moves could be lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps even unknowingly, Pyongyang has placed its best hope in Trump’s willingness to interpret its moves in a somewhat positive way and view the diplomatic effort as being worth the trouble.

It is apparent that Trump along with those foreign and national security policy officials who were optimistic about a deal being reached on denuclearization with North Korea, reasoned that it would be worth giving Kim the benefit of doubt.  However, one could never be completely clear on how denuclearization would fit into the worldview of the Workers’ Party of Korea or Kim’s inner thinking. Shots have not been fired at anger across the border. There has been no testing over nuclear devices and no testing of long-range or short-range rockets. If a chance might be taken in the name of finding a peaceful agreement, right now is certainly the time to take them. It certainly would be a ashame if the positive spirit which had been discern in the White House from Kim’s thoughts, words, and deeds from Singapore until Hanoi, was simply imputed by the administration to greater degree than warranted. Admittedly, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would at this point, hope for peace while reconstructing a testing facility for long-range rockets.

It is worth noting that in a more forceful, less grateful statement than Ri’s on February 28, 2019, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, explained: “The impression I got observing this summit from the side was that our chairman seems to have difficulty understanding the US way of reckoning.” Choe, offering her own assessment, declared: “I felt that our chairman has lost the will to engage in dealmaking, with the US saying that even a partial lifting of sanctions for the civilian economy is hard.” Conditions surely will not change through diplomacy if Pyongyang refuses to negotiate. If anything positive could be gleaned from Choe’s statement, itself, it is the fact that the harshest words were delivered by a vice foreign minister, not Kim or a very senior Workers’ Party of Korea official. That may have left the door open for Kim or a senior officials to walk back from those words, making diplomacy with the hope that cobbling together a denuclearization agreement might still be viable. Apparently, Trump mercifully brushed off pretentious statements by DPRK’s officials on their country’s power relative to that of the US, and the great disproportion between them with reality. It is difficult to determine how long Trump’s patience will last though. Given a third chance, Kim might goof again.

Trump certainly has not indicated that he feels the time has come to tie things off. It may be that Trump is more concerned with the prospect of millions of lives being lost if he does not give it every chance. When asked in Hanoi whether the bridge could be gapped between Kim’s desire to have all or a significant portion of sanctions removed and his desire to more significant denuclearization, he responded: “With time.  It’ll be bridged, I think, at a certain point.  But there is a gap.  We have to have sanctions.  And he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want.  We know that — we know the country very well, believe it or not.  We know every inch of that country.  And we have to get what we have to get, because that’s a big — that’s a big give.” Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat. (I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.)

Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summit Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?

If an agreement is reached between US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, it would certainly be a great leap forward not only in terms of US-North Korea relations, but also in terms of establishing true global peace and security. Smart money says both Trump and Kim will come through for their people, and the essence of an agreement as initially desired will be put together. The world should wish them well.

If some agreement is reached between US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  (North  Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un when they meet February 27-28, 2019, in Hanoi, the hope is that it will be more consequential than cosmetic. Since his first meeting with him in Singapore, Trump has been thinking through a new type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. What he has also been doing, however, is creating the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider how to work well with it. Hopefully, Kim has been preparing his people for a big change, a new path forward. Some observers have demanded to see tangibles, commenting specifically that there are no signed documents agreeing to any plan of action with concrete steps. The reality is that on this monumental undertaking, change will take time. One might refer those impatient observers to the words of the Greek Stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome, Epictetus, which explained: “No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

Accepting that has most likely been tough for the North Koreans on many levels. The enormous uplift and national pride, the sense of power and control, that comes with possessing nuclear weapons and the means to use them, elevates their importance in Pyongyang. To that extent, resistance to Kim’s effort could have been expected from many senior officials. Certainly, Kim is well equipped to cope with stubborn resistance to his new efforts in his own way. However, quite different from resistance to a deal, but still threatening enough to it, would be almost inherent lack of desire in Kim or any other official in Pyongyang to be “subsumed” by Washington just to gain advantages or considerations being offered. It must always be remembered that the North Korean government is authoritarian in nature and underpinned by a revolutionary movement. It will be reluctant to trust and slow to accept change. There would unlikely be a desire to integrate with what North Koreans may have for so long demonized as a Western-led international order.

It would be a mistake to believe that reaching an agreement would be seen by North Koreans as a means to acquire some sense of affirmation. For the North Koreans, particularly members of the Workers’ Party of Korea, affirmation can only result from loyalty to Kim, to country, and adherence to revolutionary ideals. That all lies deep within. Reaching an agreement would find greatest acceptance among North Koreans as a decision driven by revolutionary impulse. Additionally, North Koreans would want to know what they might create as a result of an economic revival will rightfully belong to them alone. There would be joy in knowing that whatever they might build would be the product of their own hands, not something given to them or done for them by external agents. Support from Trump must be viewed as being actuated by his humanism, and not negatively perceived as a cloaked manipulation or a quest for US dominance. As noted in Pensées, the collected works of 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal: “We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”

What may also prove challenging for Pyongyang, if an agreement is reached, will be exercising the restraint required when working within the international order. The parameters of of bilateral and multilateral agreements, rules, regulations, and procedures, will need to be obeyed. Pyongyang should not equate using restraint as surrendering control. Rules, regulations, and procedures both established and understood in the international order, allow for sense of certainty, assurance, and safety. If anything, control resides in Pyongyang’s ability to make the decision to enter and to remain in the global economic fray as a genuine player. What is being presented is an authentic opportunity for North Korea to choose to be something other than a stranger to the rest of the world.

Given the great economic and financial benefits expected of a Trump-Kim deal, the question would likely remain in Washington on whether the life condition of the North Korean people would be changed by steps taken by it. Only Kim would be able to decide that. The best hope Washington might have on the matter would be that Kim will accept with “revolutionary zeal and patriotism” that the transformation of the country should touch all levels of North Korean society. Interestingly, if Kim follows through on a deal with Trump, the economic effort could very well be viewed as the greatest attempt to take DPRK’s Revolution to new heights since the Chollima Movement initiated by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, decades ago.

If Trump and Kim reach an agreement in Hanoi, it would certainly be a great leap forward not only for the US and North Korea, but also in terns of establishing true global peace and security. The world should wish them well. China, Vietnam, and Mongolia have gone through similar, yet respectively unique, economic transformations. If some written accord is not reached by the two leaders at the summit, there will be other opportunities to meet. However, if everything goes thoroughly bad at the meeting and this mighty diplomatic effort collapses, both leaders will face a dilemma that could take two forms. One may include cobbling together an agreement to maintain some semblance of the status quo. The other may be to go war. The latter is certainly far more distressing than the former, as it may result in the loss of millions of lives. Smart money says both Trump and Kim will come through for their people, and the essence of an agreement as initially desired will be put together. In his work, Meditations, the renowned Ancient Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, provides apt marching orders for Trump and Kim: “Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then, do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.”

The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider

US President Donald Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. It has been easy for some even in the US Government to muse over the intentions, concepts, policies, ideals and even personality traits of the leadership DPRK, and then enumerate reasons why the denuclearization process would likely fail. What is more difficult is to gather all information available and put good minds to work at developing ways to cope defeat those problems in order to achieve the President’s goals. Trump is working hard to make denuclearization a reality. Hopefully, Kim is working hard in Pyongyang to do the same. 

Regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and denuclearization, US President Donald Trump has pursued what he perceives to be an opportunity for the US to change things for the better. Since his meeting with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un, Trump has expressed the view that relations between the US and DPRK are the best that they have ever been. He explains that is evinced by the fact that: his communication with Kim has been very positive; there has been no nuclear weapons or missile testing; US citizens being held in the DPRK have been returned; and, the US is receiving remains of its soldiers lost in the Korean War. It has been easy for some even in the US Government to muse over the intentions, concepts, policies, ideals and even personality traits of the leadership DPRK, and then enumerate reasons why the denuclearization process would likely fail. What is more difficult is to gather all information available and put good minds to work at developing ways to cope with or even defeat those problems. That is what the Trump is trying to do. Hopefully, Kim is working hard in Pyongyang to do the same. Now is the time to advance toward the actual realization of denuclearization as well as have the US enumerate what it and the rest of the world will actually do for the DPRK.

Naturally, success, while wished for from the second meeting, is not guaranteed. Trump has been acknowledged both directly and obliquely in eloquent phrases on Twitter, speeches, and press conferences. This next meeting must be the inflexion point of the negotiation process on denuclearization. If satisfactory results in the form of guaranteed, concrete steps from Kim are absent, abandoning the effort would be completely in step with Trump’s “America First” concept. The purpose of this rather “lean” essay is to look briefly at some issues both Trump and Kim might be already contemplating before the next meeting, along with other, small thoughts that might also be worth considering. At points, it highlights some impediments that were very likely responsible for decelerating the pace of the negotiation process, and calls attention to those obstructions that could be removed in the second meeting. It is not orotundity to state that it is not greatcharlie’s intention, as the 2020 Presidential Election Campaign begins, to serve as some conseiler isolaté d’un aspirant president from which attacks against the Trump administration could be formed. The hope is to simply contribute in some balanced way to the policy debate on the DPRK and denuclearization. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

Kim seated during his 2019 New Year’s Address (above). It is very likely that both Trump and Kim will find in that face-to-face encounter that they are respectively not the exactly same as on June 12, 2018. Much as Trump has expected Kim to have evolved somewhat in terms of his thinking on the US and on the potential of his country following their Singapore Meeting, Trump, having gone through much concerning international affairs, has surely evolved since.

Some Things Kim Might Discern about Trump

Trump and Kim have already shared their elaborations of how the other troubled them in Singapore. The connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them was comfortably founded. That communication was mainly conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their next meeting. It is very likely that they will find in their next face-to-face encounter that they are respectively not the exactly same as in Singapore. Trump already seems to feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim will discover that Trump, having gone through much in the realm of international affairs since, has also evolved.

Objective observers of Trump would say that if one is able to get a sense of Trump’s inner thinking, one would become better able to parse out or simply have better sense of his decisions on foreign and national security policy.  Otherwise, he may often appear to be doing nothing when he is actual doing a plethora of things, step by step. In his efforts, Trump does not act as if he were tinkering figurative tools in his political maneuverings and deal making. Rather, he uses certain “instruments” to methodically, and rapidly, tailor a situation, to craft things. The vocal “bang and boom” often heard while he takes action is typically used as distraction and even amusement at times. Within, he approaches matters with a rhythm that is smooth and unbroken, steady and strong. He always has a plan and knows where he is going. His true target is not always one that others would immediately discern. He prefers to accomplish many things at once. When warned about advancing on a matter, Trump may often boldly push ahead. In his current position, much as during business life, Trump will treat important what he intuits on how to proceed. US Government foreign and national security policy professionals may appreciate his ideas, but requirements that they much adhere to regarding diligence will invariably demand that generally refrain including his “gut reactions” in their analyses. Yet this contrast in approach in no way serves as indicia that the relationship between Trump and the US intelligence community has been corrupted.

Critics and detractors within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have had Trump on the brain continuously from the time he became a Presidential Candidate in 2015. Unfortunately, it seems that some mud brought into the campaign by a few self-interested others, unbeknownst to Trump, was tracked into the White House on the bottom of his shoes. However, it has long since been swept out of the building despite continued efforts to impute upon Trump whatever behaviors in which others were engaged behind his back. Trump is certainly not totally insensitive to his opponents attacks. Admittedly, there is some aggressiveness. The attacks of his critics and detractors should not be underestimated for they surely would have smothered or destroyed other national leaders of less strength and fortitude. In a way undisclosed, Trump still finds space to grow and evolve as president, despite the weight and nature of criticisms levelled against him. It may sound a bit soupy, but the reality is that Trump becomes stronger, vitalized by the adversity he faces; he draws from the potential energy and kinetic energy manifested from the power of his struggles. The Ancient Roman Senator and historian Marcus Porcius Cato, known as Cato the Elder, once expressed: “We cannot control the evil tongues of others; but a good life enables us to disregard them.”

On that basis, an understanding of Trump’s approach to foreign and national security policy can also be founded. A fairly common belief globally, but not always admitted in more recent times, is that the US is the beacon and the ballast for the world. Trump holds to that belief, and knows that it would be a moral failing to be remiss or delinquent in dealing with urgent and important issues  However, unlike his predecessors, while he sees all the needs around the world, Trump is not inclined to hand anything to anyone. He would like the other party to demonstrate, through some exchange, of goodwill even, an appreciation for what the US may give. Me rendez-vous heureux?

From what is collected by the intelligence services of both countries, strands must be pulled from what is synthesized to support the requirements of decision makers. That information must also be accurately portrayed. Seeking to collect as much as possible about Trump to prepare Kim for the next meeting, to develop something new, there may be the temptation to infer and extrapolate information from derisive US news media reports of recent events concerning the US President. Reading that might lead Pyongyang to erroneously believe that Trump’s range of action and ability to do big things on foreign and national security policy might be restrained somewhat by his rather curious domestic political struggles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Observing reporters almost instantaneously receive approval from editors and producers in broadcast, published, and online media to pursue stories on the Trump administration only after developing an immediate impression of their veracity shocks the system. The overwhelming nature of its incredulity can even amuse as it is the juxtaposition of two ideas: “all the news that is fit to print” versus “anything goes!” Still, as long as such reporting and commentaries sell advertising space, there most likely will be a lot more of it. Is qui scit plurimum, rumor. (That most knowing of persons: gossip.)

Once Trump has determined what he desires from a matter, he finds a path to get where he wants to be, regardless of how rocky. With the knowledge of how he can successfully proceed firmly in mind, Trump often will initially be patient, allowing an opposite party to try to better understand and find some agreement with his positions. The value of that would be to facilitate any negotiations. Intriguingly, Trump prefers and usually seeks to reach a mutually acceptable agreement through negotiations. Yet, at the same time, Trump will allow the path he charted to develop further. If a deal cannot be reached, he will travel that path to his goal. Interestingly, his clashes with political opponents have underlined that “they do not get Trump.” They seem to have no desire to examine him in an objective way. Kim should avoid the mistakes they have made in negotiating with him.

Most important to know is that what Trump does on one issue may serve to positively shape what he is doing on another. He economically exerts his energy, squeezing the maximum benefit from his decisions. Persistent, iniquitous, coverage of Trump’s handling of the very important political debate on border protection, the border wall, the government shutdown and even the State of the Union Address, obscured the reality that there were other important and urgent matters on his plate. A sampling of what Trump was working on at the same time included: agreeing to a new meeting with Kim on denuclearization, throwing full US support behind the interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, drawing down US troops from Syria, watching peace talks and the US drawdown in Afghanistan, and working in trade with China. National unity and expressions of goodwill in the US were necessary for the world to see, not a partisan battle. By the way, the outcome of that partisan battle on border security, even though it may not be generally accepted, is certainly assured to go Trump’s way.

The Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol (left) hands Trump (right) a letter from Kim. Trump and Kim have already shared their elaborations of how the other troubled them in Singapore. The comfortable level of connaissance suffisante they acquired of one another has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them was founded. That communication was mainly conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other will be verified by the results their next meeting.

Some Thoughts Trump May Be Having about Kim

The initial meeting in Singapore allowed Trump and Kim to get a sense for one another, discuss expectations, and essentially figure out whether denuclearization was even feasible with all things considered. In the second meeting, some tangible steps toward denuclearization must result or the entire process will be largely seen as a failure. If a memorandum of understanding, outlining requirements, responsibilities, and time lines for action to which officials from both sides could later add flesh out, that would be very encouraging. If Kim came to the meeting and then left having offered nothing new, he would make a huge mistake. If Trump feels in the end that he has been led down the garden path on denuclearization, and would be left standing before the world with nothing, he would not react well at all.

As discussed in a January 19, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World”, when mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. It is more than likely that by now, Kim has dealt with any issues of that nature. Bureaucratic issues concerning denuclearization, if they ever existed, are by now nonexistent in the truest sense of the term. Kim definitely has a strong grip on his government. Political rivals are essentially nonexistent. He most certainly would have been “on his way” after presenting the mere idea of denuclearization to the leadership of the Workers Party of Korea. What is more likely is that Kim may be concerned with being profoundly disappointed by Trump, who is in fact a relative stranger to him and initially an adversary from the US. (One must look from Kim’s perspective, not one’s’ own lens, not one’s’ wishes.)

Given the militaristic culture and security mindset that undergirds the DPRK’s society, Kim naturally may still harbor fears over being outmaneuvered by the US in a way that leads to military invasion. A new window of opportunity has been opened for US-DPRK relations and for the DPRK directly, and the world. Still, due to that, one must not treat the fact that after July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of a Demilitarized Zone remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off with less care than it deserves. The 65 years following the war were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and the DPRK. What emerged from that period within both governments was a vast paranoia.  That paranoia eventually hardened, became somewhat ordinary, and seemingly gave rise to intractable negative beliefs and harsh convictions of both nations respective intentions. This defacto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional  perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and varied other reports on both sides. This was particularly so in the military and intelligence and other security services. Having for years regularly diagnosed one another as bad, to be fair, it is now hard for them to turn on a dime because one wants them to do so. Great unease, suspicion would naturally exist.

Having kept the DPRK in isolation, much as his father, Kim Jong-un, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung had for so long before him, Kim might certainly concern himself with having his society become rapidly “contaminated” by stealthy  Western efforts to influence his people or simply by philosophies and lifestyles that loyal members of the Workers’ Party of Korea would consider anathema. With this alone in mind, it would be unreasonable for anyone to complain that a change in the mindset of the DPRK on interacting so closely with the West on denuclearization or any transformative matter should have come more rapidly. Trump did not leave Singapore feeling a need to dictate the tempo of the negatiation process. It has been left to Kim to guide his country across the many figurative intellectual and emotional pickets lines that exist to denuclearization.

However, what could be legitimately characterized as a resistance and reluctance by Kim to advance toward an agreement may indicate that he may fear an invasion of another sort. He may fear that economic development effort will lead to invasion in the form of multinational corporations which are accountable to no one. Multinational corporations would argue well that they are good global citizens doing much that is not publicized. A general impression in many capitals, however, is that help from them is not really help. They are viewed as operating solely with pecuniary interest in a country. One only needs to recall the experience of Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union a Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin regularly laments. Undoubtedly, Moscow has reminded Kim of that. The massive multinational corporations have budgets greater than the DPRK itself. They are well staffed by very intelligent and capable development professionals who diligently look for what to exploit in weak countries. They can engage in nearly formulaic efforts to self-enrich themselves leading to dreadful damage to societies even if it is unintentional. It can become a plundering of countries struggling to pick themselves up and trying to organize themselves. Kim may believe that opening the DPRK to assistance on economic development may make his country vulnerable to corporate intrusion as it tries to emerge. It is unlikely that the idea of creating linkages between US based multinational corporations and DPRK industries to foster their development, as was done in South Korea many decades ago, will not fly in Pyongyang. The DPRK will most likely want to move along its way without corporate intrusion. If Kim expresses such a concern in the next meeting, Trump will likely guarantee that he would not even hint to any multinational corporation that some right or protection will be provided to seize DPRK resources.

If in the aftermath of the Trump administration, multinationals attempt the move in on the DPRK in well-worn, predictable ways, that will almost guarantee an ugly response in which the multinationals will be most likely be violently forced from the scene. Ultimately, that might lead to the collapse of everything positive achieved. It is highly recommended that Trump should have a solution available to address that likely concern to share with Kim at the negotiation table.

Among the advantages that would supposedly be created by the DPRK’s cooperation with Trump, would be the betterment in the standard of living and ostensibly, through an improved economy, the empowerment of the Workers’ Party of Korea which itself would presumably go through some change. Through its transformation, the DPRK would no longer be “The hermit kingdom”, but rather, find itself invited to the grand table of countries. It too would be able to wield real influence internationally; it, too, would be involved in decisions made on urgent and important matters. Yet, regarding economic development, Kim may reason that the same economic levers that Trump may use to ratchet up the DPRK’s economy and greater industrialization can be used conversely to supplant his government’s freedom of action. It may even be used to undermine Kim’s present unrestricted, authoritarian control his country. If a reliance on the help of the US, or the international community in some collective effort, to subsidise the DPRK’s organization were to develop, the US and others would be able to control the spigot from with the society’s revitalization flows. Kim will be fully responsible for that circumstance, that loss of independence, self-determination, and control.

Realistically, the long-term process of the DPRK’s economic development will go beyond his time in office and the mission of transforming the DPRK would be assigned to future US administrations. Trump should consider Kim’s possible concern that while he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may be problematic. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.

Trump displays letter from Kim Jong-un in Cabinet Room of the White House (above). Beyond their communications, Trump might reassure Kim by presenting him with a discussion of concrete, enumerated steps that would be taken to economically energize the DPRK in exchange for denuclearization. A new DPRK, economically viable enough to find a place at the table with other successful economies in the region, may all sound well as part of a prospective process. Nevertheless, Kim, if his intentions are positive, will want to know how it all would actually pan out for him in the real world.

What Might Facilitate Negotiations

Conceivably, more so than less, Kim feels that he can rely on what he might call Trump’s “humanism.” Still, reassurance, most important in negotiations between adversaries, cannot come simply from engaging in more talk with Trump. Trump has already expressed much to exhort Kim to move toward denuclearization. Kim knows very well that Trump now wants to see genuine steps that will complete the dismantling and elimination of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program. Assuredly, Trump will not present a partial version of himself through which he would intend to deceive Kim. There would not be some sort of “secret world” stuff going on that might possibly be discovered in his words, mannerisms, and attitude. Beyond ongoing communications, Trump might reassure Kim by presenting him with a discussion of concrete, enumerated steps that would be taken to economically energize the DPRK in exchange for denuclearization. A new DPRK, economically viable enough to find a place at the table with other successful economies in the region may all sound well as part of an imaginative prospective process. Nevertheless, Kim will still want to know, if his own intentions are positive, how it all would actually pan out for him in the real world.

Trump must bring tangibles to the negotiation table during the second meeting developed from his own shrewd thinking and knowledge of resources that he can commit to a deal. When mulling over what to present to Kim that would serve as the making of a plan of action, Trump’s aides and advisers likely determined what the relative value of a tangible might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. Many of Trump’s suggestions might be steps that Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang never considered. Despite what may be the wish of Pyongyang, no suggestions that may shift the security framework that exists between the US and its allies in Northeast Asia should be brought to the table with reasonable hope of seeing change. Indeed, Trump certainly must not give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Although the DPRK would the focus of talks, those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Indeed, given the concerns of the US and its allies to China’s actions and intentions in the Asia Pacific region, a reaffirmation of cooperation and commitments on security among them should be expected. Overall, Kim can rest assured that Trump will not offer rotten apples for him to choose from.

Simulatio delet veritatem, sine qua nomen amicitiae valere non potest. (Pretense obliterates the truth, without which the name of friendship cannot survive.) Kim would do well to focus on his own country’s relations with the US as well as neighbors in the region. If he is negotiating with some pretence of serving certain interests of China at the same time, he will essentially throw away an opportunity as the US and its regional allies would surely detect that effort. Kim must no longer allow his country to remain a prisoner of what most in the world views as an ignoble momentum.

Speculating on what might be offered, there might be some type of Marshall Plan tabled by Trump. Development programs similar to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization must be organized for the DPRK’s many industries. Using its own wisdom, and the external assistance it chooses to receive, the DPRK must in a more efficient way enrich itself with its own natural resources. Improved trade opportunities with other countries worldwide, facilitated by guarantees by the US, could be established following the removal. Rather than to multinational, linkages could be made to the economics departments and business school of specified US colleges and universities. There may be some small-scale variante of the Peace Corps with well-defined parameters encompassing state-run industries and other economic activity within the DPRK, narrow in scope, curated in a way that recognizes the extraordinary internal security concerns of the DPRK. Those concerns will not go away overnight.

Trump is certainly not a political hack being led from the nose by his political party, not a creature of some financial interest due to subsidization, and not a corporate pawn as his enemies portend. or as a number of other US political leaders reportedly have been alleged to be. The potential threat that he could be lobbied or coerced to acquiesce to demands from some external source, political, financial, or corporate, is nonexistent. Nothing of that sort could possibly undermine what might be achieved.

If the second meeting is successful, it would be a dramatic moment. The years of struggle would be about to come to an end. There would need to be the call for collective retreat from hostile thinking if the two countries are to move forward successfully. Thinking and emotions must flow in a new direction. What is read and heard in the public from officials at the highest level on both sides should reflect that. There must be an insistent voice that proclaims the time for change has come. It must be expressed from the top and must be heard repeatedly. If encouraging satisfactory change in the DPRK proves to be insurmountable for Trump, or if there is an unwillingness of the DPRK leadership to be truly open to taking a new path, displaying ambivalence or equivocation in talks, the denuclearization process will most likely collapse. If the DPRK undertakes the effort to transform, it must be dedicated to it completely. Kim is essentially facing a binary choice. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, returning to the unreality that the DPRK has the military wherewithal to take on the a military superpower would be a tragic mistake. Perhaps for him, reason might again be found in the words of Cato the Elder who stated: “Wise men profit from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.”

Trump feels unfettered by what was not accomplished in the past, or what has been called impossible. He has the vision and spirit to achieve news things. In this case, it is denuclearization and the DPRK. He knows how to support its industrial development, and usher it to a positive place in the international order. What drives Trump to get this deal is not his purported tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness. This is actually Trump putting his best foot forward. Although the values and interests of the US will be satisfied, it is predominantly about doing what is right for both the people of the US and the DPRK as well.

The Way Forward

In Act 1 scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, a story in the story of tinker abused as part of a local lord’s practical joke upon a poor tinker, Christopher Sly. He is convinced that he is a lord, and troupe of actors performs a play before him which makes up the main story of The Taming of the Shrew. Their play takes place in Italian city of Padua, a rich young man named Lucentio there to attend university, instantly falls in love with Bianca, a beautiful, mild young woman. However she already has two suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, and Bianca’s father has declared that no one may court Bianca until first her older sister, Katherine, an ill-tempered  is married. That problem is ostensibly resolved when Hortensio’s friend Petruchio, a audacious young man from Verona, arrives in Padua seeking a wealthy woman to marry. Believing he has found what he was looking for, he agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. Several characters add to the warnings Petruchio hears about her. However, rather than back away, he views marrying her as a challenge, not just a money making opportunity. He explains that living with Katherine could not possibly be worse than the hardships he  endured in war and at sea. Petruchio exhorts: “Think you a little din can daunt mine ears? / Have I not in my time heard lions roar? / Have I not heard the sea puff’d up with winds / Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat? / Have I not heard great ordnance in the field, / And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies? / Have I not in a pitched battle heard / Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?” In the same vein as young Petruchio, Trump feels unfettered by what was not accomplished in the past, or what has been called impossible. (By the way Shakespeare’s Petruchio proved his capabilities and eventually became happily married to Katherine.) the vision and spirit to achieve news things. In this case, it is denuclearization and the DPRK. He knows how to support its industrial development, and usher it to a positive place in the international order.

What drives Trump to get this deal is not his purported tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness. There is the real possibility that Kim’s aides and advisers might associate with that notion in their reports to their Chairman as it is one of the more popular analyses propagated about Trump worldwide. Yet, rather, this is actually Trump putting his best foot forward. He has acquitted himself exceedingly well. The better angels of Trump’s nature, so to speak, are guiding him on this matter. Rather than do what Trump is doing, other political leaders, some vying for the highest office in 2020, would perhaps be content to allow a long time adversary that they no answers for dealing with, drown in economic destitution under a continued “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions. Although ultimately the values and interests of the US will be satisfied through the present process to establish a sustainable peace, it is predominantly about doing what is right for both the people of the US and the DPRK as well. An optimal way to confirm veracity of both sides at the moment, as the noncommissioned officers likely would have said at the New York Military Academy when Trump was a cadet, is to “snap to it!” Again, words alone simply will not do the trick on this second occasion. Both leaders, mens sana in corpore sano, must come through by constructing a draft upon which a sustainable agreement can be rooted. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applauses of the world, but in the action itself.)

Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World

US President Donald Trump (above). International Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO have served well in promoting global economic development, international peace and security, and providing responses to threats to democracy and freedom. Still, some countries, sensing they are surrendering a degree of control and power by creating space for the conciliation of such institutions, frequently work outside of them. Doing that well is not easy. Lessons can be drawn from Trump’s efforts at effecting change in other countries’ foreign and national security policy decision making.

Throughout centuries, overwhelming military power, hard power, has been used by empires, countries, tribes seeking to force some modifications in other groups or halt certain actions altogether. Threaded through that history has been the less frequent use of what the renowned international affairs scholar Joseph Nye referred to as “soft power”, the ability to shape the long-term attitudes and preferences of country by using economic and cultural influence rather than force. Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO, have well-served the interests of countries since the postwar era by promoting economic development worldwide, international peace and security, and providing responses to Communist aggression and other threats to democracy and freedom. However, effecting change peacefully since the end of the Cold War has often been a process in which stronger, very capable, sophisticated, industrialized countries, with a goal of “leveling the playing field”, and promoting an Utopian unreality of all countries “negotiating as equals”. Great strain and limitations have been placed on their diplomatic efforts. Indeed, they feel that they have been in a downward spiral in which they are slowly surrendering an ever increasing degree of control and power to create space for the conciliation of international institutions. Hardline political elements of those countries have gone as far as to complain that working through international institutions has resulted in an absolute derogation of their respective countries’ rights and power.In addition, authoritarian regimes have regularly exploited international institutions for their own ends. For example, Cuba and Venezuela, two of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers, sit on the UN Human Rights Council. China exploits benefits of membership in the World Trade Organization while engaging in unfair trade practices to protect its domestic market.

In response to this dilemma, the US and a number of other countries have begun to engage more frequently outside of those institutions in their diplomatic efforts on major issues. They want to better enable themselves to determine outcomes on those efforts. Moreover, as Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, explained in a December 11, 2018 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “With the international order under siege from actors that would remake it in their own illiberal image, the Trump administration is acting to preserve a just, transparent and free world of sovereign states.” Surely, this does not mean that international institutions are not being abandoned. Efforts are being made to reform them. Abandoning them completely would be a terrible miscalculation for their good offices still have purpose in certain urgent and important multilateral, regional, and global diplomatic situations. Rather, as an alternative, countries can cooperate effectually by making themselves the guarantors of their own domestic freedoms and national interests. Once national leaders become involved in bilateral or multilateral diplomacy outside of the auspices of an international institution, they must be a bit shrewder, more incisive, have an optimal situational awareness, and remain truly dedicated to reaching an agreement or resolution as there will be no “middleman” available to referee or mediate. They must be willing to struggle with an idea until its inception, rather than back away from finding a solution because it takes too much effort, energy, and time. Countries may not be able to insist upon negotiating as equals outside of international institutions, but that matter can be overcome by acting with a heightened spirit of goodwill. National leaders and negotiators must ensure that they are empathetic toward an opposite’s circumstances and positions.

Lessons can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but often from what observers might perceive as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach, there will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. He indeed exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well. By identifying and examining patterns in his efforts, lessons become available. From an out-of-the-box perspective, an abbreviated discussion is provided here of the types of considerations behind Trump’s thinking on four salient foreign and national security policy issues set before his administration: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”) denuclearization; Russian election interference in the US; the Russia-Ukraine confrontation in the Azov Sea (Kerch Strait); and, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Khashoggi assassination. The intention here is not to insist that other national leaders should be guided by the meditations of greatcharlie on Trump’s decision making. Rather, the discussion simply outlines what may be some of the new necessities of thinking and reasoning by national leaders and their foreign and national security policy decision makers today as more countries seek to engage in diplomacy outside of international institutions. Further, it is hoped that the discussion here will become part of policy debate concerning the Trump administration. ‘Tu me’ inquis ‘mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?’ Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico. (“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.)

Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. The Singapore Summit was held on June 12, 2018. in the months since, Kim, nestled in Pyongyang, has likely become comfortable. Just thinking now and then about drawing closer to denuclearization and the future Trump presented, likely disrupts that sense of comfort. Calculating what would actually be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country, may make change a less attractive. Encouriaging Kim to move forward may be a challenge for Trump, but not an insurmountable one.

The DPRK and Denuclearization

Given DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un’s apparent temporizing on the decision to denuclearize, critics and detractors of Trump would want everyone aware of the interactions between the US and DPRK to believe that Kim is using the US President to achieve his own ends. However, even if Kim actually feels that there is something more to the idea of denuclearization, surely he would still be hesitant to advance the matter. It would only be natural for anyone to have a bout with wintery feet facing the enormity of the potential undertaking before Kim. In the chambers where Kim and the DPRK’s most senior officials make decisions on foreign and national security policy, innovative and imaginative thinking would hardly be welcomed and denuclearization is likely accepted unenthusiastically. What has been produced there for quite some time has usually been uninspired stuff, aimed primarily at advancing the ideals of the Worker’s Party of Korea . Kim is surely aware of what happened in Russia economically with the help of “Western experts” after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned in the July 27, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “To Foster Forward Movement on Denuclearization by Kim, Trump Says there Is No Rush, But His Patience Has Limits”, a complete trust in Trump hardly could have sprouted and blossomed exponentially in Kim during the Singapore meeting. Months have passed since Singapore, Kim is some distance away from it all. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have morphed into considerable apprehension since. Kim has been comfortably nestled in Pyongyang. Drawing closer to the world that Trump presented, would require Kim to tear away from the only world he and his people have known. Just ruminating about what would be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country may make it all seem so difficult and thereby a less attractive option.

When mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. They often moved so slowly that during World War II in particular, they became relatively easy targets for dive bombers and torpedo planes. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. Decisions are usually reviewed endlessly, as they seek to advance their organizations’ parochial interests in an optimal way. Indeed, the bureaucracies can suffer the paralysis of analysis. Compromise is usually reached as last resort. Yet, “turf battles” can become so volatile on an issue that often in the end, while there may have been some compromise from the different organizations, no satisfactory decision is made at all, no approach truly beneficial to the country is advanced. Another result can be some composite solution that will be ineffectual in resolving the matter at hand in the best interests of their country. Further, there can be a result in which too many points, most of which were found to be too controversial to settle on in the bureaucratic struggle, are left uncovered, making it virtually impossible to proceed in the best interest of their country on a matter. All of this makes encouraging change in the thinking of another countries foreign and national security policy appear insurmountable. Trump and his advisers and aides have taken all of this into full consideration, and remain confident that the administration’s efforts will lead to success. In fact, it remains a goal in Washington to find a way to get Kim to accelerate his efforts at denuclearization. What they would like to do is create an occasion on which Kim to have a second chance to be in contact with the persuasive and assuring Trump. For Trump, there is a type of voluptuous quality about the entire challenge, as it will require the full use of his capabilities along the lines of excellence. Moreover, Trump has the freedom to maneuver in his own unique and often successful ways in the negotiation process. He does not need to be concerned that an international institution might impose limitations on his ability to make deals. Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.)

As a practical matter, negotiating countries should ascribe probabilities of their opposites’ likely actions and reactions respectively. In that vein, national leaders of the negotiating countries must also be a bit more empathetic of each others circumstances. As the negotiation process continues, direct communication must be used to convey and remind what the expectations are for both sides and respective red-lines on trade-offs that neither side will cross. Nothing does more to prove how vested the other is on an issue when one party absolutely refuses to negotiate on it, even when perhaps minor agreements tied to it are reached in the negotiating process. Every country has lines that it simply will not cross. If anything, those small steps that might be achieved should serve to build confidence on other matters as the negotiations continue. If one country feels unduly pressured or imposed upon, some capitals could react in a disproportionately negative way. One-sided outcomes successfully forced down one party’s throat will not last.  One-sided outcomes, even if consented to by the initiating party will rarely survive over time. This was recently observed with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Paris Agreement of Climate Change.

Months have passed since Singapore. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have possibly morphed into considerable apprehension. The foreign and national security policy machinery of the DPRK, mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with the US, is moving very slowly. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan positions undoubtedly far surpass their “enthusiasm” over denuclearization. 

For Trump, as would be the case for any US president, success in such an endeavor would also depend upon the ability to create an outcome that supports balance in the international order; that is compatible with US values and interests. If the matter at hand is urgent enough, substantial resources and energy will be speedily directed to it. That has been the case with DPRK denuclearization; trade with China; and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. For Trump specifically, there would most likely be a determination to remain stalwart at the side of the US public. Without deviation, he will keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers how he will encourage and initiate the changes he desires. He will also keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers withdrawing from US military commitments overseas. While reelection in 2020 is certainly the goal and the plan, Trump is not in a popularity contest to the extent that he only wants to make the US public happy or get the people to like him. (Many do already.) He wants to do what is best for their true interests, both for the short-term and the long-term. In that respect, Trump cannot always, metaphorically, serve dessert first, but there is always something better coming.

Omnis nimium longa properanti mora est. (Every delay is too long to one who is in a hurry.) As a caveat, one should not become so steeped in the effort to encourage and draw the response from the other side that one would be willing to make concessions that were never even imagined before the negotiation process began. Trading off something a country’s negotiators would prefer not to relinquish, a major concession, may very well be required at some point. It is almost an immutable part of the process of negotiating at the international level. Still, a line must be drawn along the measure at which nothing beyond would be acceptable. To lessen the pain of giving up anything, whatever one might be willing to part with must be determined and enumerated before any diplomatic negotiations begin. When mulling over what to give up, one must use reason to determine what it’s relative value might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. (In that process of determining what would be best to trade versus what might be gained, difficulties can arise internally in many national governments’ foreign and national security bureaucracies.) Concerning the DPRK and denuclearization, the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of the DPRK. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense on where things stand in the DPRK regarding denuclearization. Where explanations are somewhat unclear, there becomes the need to ascribe the probability of success from the interpretations of what has said and even what has not been said during negotiations and in the briefest communications to include pull asides and other less formal discussions away from the negotiating table. Attention would also need to be placed on what is said contemporaneously among officials from the respective countries who may have met on unrelated matters. That would include theories, surmisals, and any offhand comments. When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services.

US Air Force U2 Surveillance Plane (above). When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above.

As greatcharlie explained in its May 31, 2018 post entitled, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”, for intelligence services, getting to know what is happening in a country, regarding a particular event or issue will invariably require having agents who are in the right place, are articulate, can answer questions, and receive instructions. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above. Electronic collection, although very costly, has brought many benefits, by allowing for the monitoring of all manner of communications, discovering plans, patterns of activity and locations of targets. Many have grumbled for years in the intelligence industry that increased use of such surveillance and reconnaissance systems has resulted in the disappearance of the sure-fire agent on the ground with his string of spies and informants and with a willingness to travel the danger route. When this issue became most apparent in the US in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were efforts to make adjustments, but it is still posited that human intelligence has taken a back seat in favor of technology.  Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.

Trump has no intention of moving down a blind alley. Regarding the use of his “gut feelings”, intimations backed up with the strength of reports and briefings from intelligence community, military, and diplomatic professionals. Supported in that way, such feelings are less guesses than judgments based on the aggregate of all the information received, tied in with an awareness of seemingly abstract pieces of information to form an orderly and coherent perception. During World War II, German military commanders were known for relying on intimations based on what was occurring on the battlefield and perceptions of what the thinking and planning was in the opponent’s command center. Still, in contemplating what Kim might do, the US will do much more than rely on such hunches. The administration cannot afford to become complacent even to the slightest degree. It will remain vigilant and cautious. Resources have been dedicated to surveilling developments at North Korean nuclear sites. As many analytical resources as possible should also be dedicated to the discernment of signs of a reversal in Pyongyang.

Il ne fait pas l’ombre d’un doute que Trump and his advisers and sides will seek to be read-in on daily assessments, appraisals, and conclusions. Concrete facts, inference, interpolations from data, intimations, hunches based on experience, will all be heard and considered when senior US foreign and national security policy officials meet. Leg work by a secret grey army of US intelligence officers in the region and confirmed reports from agents ensconced naked where detection could mean certain death, serve to confirm possible actions or unsettling activity, even if not immediately threatening, would be rapidly synthesized and provided to decision makers. Those consumers may also have an interest in reading reports from intelligence officers of regional allies and their agents, as well as data streams from technical collection systems of those allies. US allies just might discern something the US might have missed. Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections on the DPRK, Trump remains ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with the DPRK cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations submitting to the fantasy that the DPRK wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success that very likely helped build Kim’s self-confidence in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, and bend too much in an effort to understand the uneasiness of Kim’s position. It is most important for Kim to know that.

Trump (right) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left). The efforts of Russian operatives were too unnatural, too unusual. Their focus was primarily on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity, and were detected. The fact that Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public was disproportionate to the degree of risk involved with undertaking a political manipulation effort of such magnitude in the US.

Russia’s Ongoing Election Interference

The unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government, the president is required to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. Indeed, in the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction.

To clarify further on the perception of how a candidate will perform differently to satisfy the voter, there must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In some cases, the negative information about a preferred candidate may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins.

Although Russian Federation intelligence services may pride themselves as having what they may believe to be a considerable expertise in US affairs, they are surely not up to snuff when it comes to understanding US politics. While their studies and observations of the US may have appeared to yield a genuine picture of the broad US political scene, certainly when it came to understanding what was happening in the lead up the 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Presidential Election, they completely missed the mark. An immediate impression is that since Russian analysts lacked points of reference within their own society that resembled what was happening in the US, there was really nothing upon which they could found their interpretations and conclusions. As social media was a main focal point on which Russian operatives sought to inflict considerable damage during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, it appears that much of what was collected and extrapolated about the US political scene came from popular, yet incredibly hostile commentaries propagated on social media by emotional individuals across of the political spectrum, political activists, and fringe elements who simply attack and lack boundaries. The Russians analysts could not discern that what was on social media did not reflect what was going on in the mind of the US public. Basing the interference operation on that sort of failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance. As they performed their mission, the efforts of Russian operatives, being too imitative, too unnatural, too unusual, stood out. It was all nothing more than  a soupy simulacrum of the real thing. Their focus was almost solely on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity. Their efforts  were out of rhythm and rhyme with the stylings of authentic political message of mainstream US political parties. No matter how well Russian operatives may have believed their operation was cloaked, executed, and managed, those who began investigating what was going on could flag their burlesque without too much difficulty. The fact that Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public. The operation’s modicum of success was disproportionate relative to the degree of risk involved in undertaking an extensive political manipulation effort in the US. The interference operation really appears to have been an act of vengeance more than anything else. Passion did not obey reason in the Kremlin.

Added to that, the US intelligence community and law enforcement had the technological means to trace the efforts of Russian operatives all the way home to their headquarters. So successful were the counterintelligence efforts of the US intelligence community and law enforcement that they could determine when and how things happened and who was involved. For example, they acquired complete profiles of those members of the Russian Federation’s Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU involved with the interference operation. They were able to determine the particular role each played in it. Recall that Putin reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Once on the right path, he broke all sorts of records on his way to the top. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, and he was named Secretary of the Security Council. Having observed the US collect such granular information on the operation, it is very likely that Putin had parsed out that someone in Russia’s intelligence services pointed the US in the right direction. He likely began to believe that there was a rotten apple buried somewhere at the bottom of the Russian intelligence apple barrel. One might informally speculate that anger, even rage over the the ability of the US to discover so much might have been one more straw on the pile that has caused Russia to lash out at the West, and those in West’s fold, in ham-handed ways since. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions))

The fact that Russia sought to disrupt the democratic process of the country is what makes the interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election so insidious. A long espoused criticism of Trump is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. This tenuous notion became a story was heavily covered even before Trump’s inauguration, and has received even greater coverage since. The story considered in light of reports from the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, has been posited as the causality for the investigations of the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The reality is that rather finding a national leader as Putin intoxicating, Trump has his own considerable reservations about them. In the past year, Trump observed Putin behave in a very disappointing manner. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has closely monitored hostile Russian moves, not only the continued interference in US elections, but also: Russia’s continued interference in the election processes of countries other than the US; Russia’s efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and, Russia’s efforts to tighten its grip on Crimea and the Donbass. As it was explained in the October 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage”, Trump has repeatedly gotten on Putin’s case about the matter, and has publicly insisted that he has done so. Trump also has surely shared his perspectives with him on: how reported government abuses within Russia have left the world with a very negative impression of the country as a whole; why it is difficult for anyone to see Russia as a decent constitutional society; why considerable doubt exists in the minds of top Russia hands and his close advisers and aides that Russia could ever be an honest broker and good partner in tackling transnational issues; and, how tough it will be for Russia to ever overcome such views on its own. It would seem that Trump could publicly snatch Putin’s lunch away, eat it, and pop the bag in his face, and critics would still say he too soft on the Russian leader. There could not be a worse source or gauge of Trump’s interactions with Putin than his critics and detractors.

German troops passing through Ardennes Forest on their way to France in 1940. (above). Trump knows it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirm some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. The failure of consumers to include assessments of situations in their calculations can be unfortunate. Consider how the French military high command failed their government In 1870, 1915, and 1940 by dismissing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments.

Trump knows that it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Predictions concerning an action are made more urgent when commingled with existing impressions of a national government or national leader, specifically, based on behavior both at home and abroad. The consequence of insufficient intelligence analyses, the failure by consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations, can be most unfortunate. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government 3 times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signalling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1918, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signalling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signalling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signalling that the German Army might attempt to move via the the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

A newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffectual.

There were more recent occasions when intelligence was not given primacy required and not sufficiently analysed and integrated in the decision making of a US administration. Boiled down to the bones, in the late summer of 2001, the administration of US President George Bush was remiss in not giving primacy to information indicating the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US. In fact, Al-Qaeda did strike on September 11, 2001. Failing to become overly concerned over warnings of an impending terrorist attack, the Bush administration did not formulate and implement an effectual response to deter or defeat the threat that revealed itself. As explained in the December 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?”, US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced; Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds.

How a US President might proceed at forks on the road on policy concerning, a countries, or group of countries will typically be based on information provided by the US intelligence community. Sometimes, that information will create a clear path on which the president can proceed with a relatively assured step. In cases in which US responses have been ineffectual or simply wrong, there may have been a failure to integrate information that warned that success was unlikely. Sometimes, “The path is smooth that leads on to danger.” If the US public were kept aware of every occasion in which Russia posed a threat or interfered with US interests, and if the US Government were to react publicly to concerns and intelligence reports about Russian activity, certainly the US would have stumbled into war with Russia long ago. Consider for example that the Russians regularly use their satellites to interfere with US satellites as they transit the Earth. That situation is made more challenging by the fact that there is considerable positive cooperation between the US and Russia on space and it would be disadvantageous to tear it apart. In that same vein, an honest assessment must be made of where incidents fit into the bigger picture of vital US interests and the maintenance of international peace and security. At best, the country must rely on a president’s experience and judgment as each incident arises.

Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more US intelligence services and law enforcement is enabled to discover about Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources.

Russia was wrong to act against US interests in the 2016 elections. Trump can continue to respond to its behavior by keeping the most effective punitive economic measures in place. However, he also knows that Putin, to the best of his ability has thought through the possible consequences to his actions with his advisers. He does not at least publicly appear overly concerned with retribution from the US short of acting on Russian sovereign territory or acting harshly against Russian interests and its allies. Beyond providing lip-service to Putin as suggested by critics and detractors, Trump has sought to close the door on Russian election meddling activities against the US as best as possible, build a positive personal relationship with Putin, and improve US relations with Russia. Although Trump, a patriotic US citizen, very likely feels some anger, bitterness, and resentment in his heart over what Putin and Russia have done, he knows behaving too aggressively would be short-sighted, and would only lengthen the distance he will need to travel to improve the US relationship with Russia. Trump will not sacrifice any benefits that might result from his acting in a measured way. Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown, and keeping it going seems a bit barky. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more enabled US intelligence services and law enforcement are to uncover Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources. Perhaps he is on the verge of becoming conscious or accepting of that now.

According to Kiev, the confrontation in the Kerch Strait began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard. (The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway separating the Black and Azov seas.) The Russian Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors are now being held in Crimea by Russia.

Russia, Ukraine and the Kerch Strait Incident

Trump came to office with the intention of assuaging the long standing tension and anger that characterized the US-Russia relations, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s poor stewardship of it. He did not begin by trying the figuratively test the water nervously with his big toe. With boldness, he jumped right in, attempting to find a way to create a genuine connection with Putin in order to establish a stronger bond bofh between themselves and their two countries and hopefully as a result, a decent arrangement for interaction could be created. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them. With any luck, Putin would understand and appreciate what Trump has been doing and recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia be seen as doing some good for the world. It has been a bedeviling process. At Helsinki, there was an incident that certainly raised Trump’s antennae. Despite his desire and efforts to make things right, Putin took the anomalous and very awkward step of presenting Trump with an official football from the World Cup saying, “The ball is in your court.” Trump stated that he would give the ball to his son Darren, and tossed it to the First Lady, Melania Trump. One could immediately observe by his visage that Trump would want answers from his team on what Putin’s move was all about.

Although, with some effort, benign intent can be posited to Putin’s presentation of the ball to Trump. The negative side of Putin may have been on full display. It was clear to all who observed closely that Trump’s reaction to the presentation was negative. His countenance revealed disgust and disappointment in Putin. It may very well be that Trump felt vibrations about trouble ahead with him. It was also very surprising because Putin, an acute watcher and listener. should have known by the time he met with Trump in Helsinki that the presentation of the ball would have created more difficulties than inroads with him. Critics and detractors of Putin would surely explain that he did not seek to gain anything from doing such an unorthodox thing and that it was all very characteristic of the Russian President’s churlish thinking. Si animus infirmus est, non poterit bonam fortunam tolerare. (If the spirit is weak, it will not be able to tolerate good fortune.)

The clash between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait makes plain the reality that problems between the two countries are deepening. According to Kiev, the confrontation began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard in the Kerch Strait. The Russian Federation Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. In addition, Russia scrambled jets and helicopters, and even blocked the Kerch Strait with a barge, closing access to the Sea of Azov. Russia claims the Ukrainian ships violated territorial waters. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 crewmen as have been held as of January 2019 by Russia in Crimea. The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway that serves as the gateway from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. From Moscow’s perspective, it is most importantly, the waterway between mainland Russia and Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Both countries have the right to patrol the waters in accord with a bilateral treaty. However, the strait is also the site of a new 12-mile bridge built by Russia that cost an estimated $4 billion. Russia has significantly built up its military presence in the region since 2014.

Russian Federation FSB officer (left) escorts Ukrainian sailor (right). Trump indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. In flight, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.”

The incident in the strait alarmed senior US officials. Sharp criticism of Russia’s actions were immediately voiced. For US allies in Europe, the incident was edge of the seat stuff. There were widespread calls for Russia to immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors it captured, and some European leaders called for fresh sanctions against Russia. Kiev put martial law in effect for 30 days in Ukraine. The Kremlin scoffed at an appeal by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for NATO to reinforce the Azov Sea with naval ships. Russia shrugged off Western pressure. Moscow maintained that the crisis was created by Poroshenko for political gain. When Trump commented on the matter right after occurred, his words fell short of condemning Russia directly by stating: “I don’t like that aggression.” While there was nothing irregular about that, Trump’s critics and detractors, in response, characterized him as being too reticent on the matter. However, the situation was fluid, and Trump wanted to collect all the information available before taking any steps. So profound was his reaction that he reportedly signalled to the Washington Post that he would consider forgoing the meeting with Putin after the incident in Kerch Strait and escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Trump then indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. Early in the flight, however, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.” He added: ““I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Likely swept off their feet over “how well” they were managing their interactions with US and believing that they had a handle on the highly publicized meeting with Trump at the G-20 Summit Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Putin and his whole cabaret of acolytes were caught completely off guard by his decision. Coming down from their overdose of confidence, their immediate concern would reasonably have been what Trump’s move would mean in terms of future Russian interactions with the US. The Kremlin’s worry seemed to be manifested in the attitude and behavior of Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. At the time, his works lacked a usual sense of certitude. There was a noticeable absence of his normal swagger. He presented a less impressive substitute of himself. Early on November 29, 2018, Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the meeting between Trump and Putin would take place December 1, 2018 around noon. He explained, “We are expecting the two presidents to speak briefly at first, but everything is left to the discretion of the heads of state.” He added that “Washington has confirmed.” Agitated by Trump’s tweet, Peskov told TASS Russian News Agency that the Kremlin had not been informed separately by the White House of the cancellation. He made the necessary correction by stating, explained, “If this is indeed the case, the president [Putin] will have a couple of additional hours in his schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.”

Whatever could have led the Kremlin to think for a moment that they ever had a firm handle on Trump is a bit of a black box. Among the basket of possibilities, one might hypothesize that the vengeful thinking the prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration is now insinuating itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. (Many of former Obama administration officials successfully needle Kremlin’s officials by presenting acidic analyses of Putin’s behavior, antagonistic critiques of Russian foreign and national security policy, and make warlike recommendations on handling Russia for the Trump administration.) There is the possibility that Putin and Kremlin officials, being vexed by Trump’s willingness to bargain on the basis of fairness with them, chose the easy answer of simply continuing to do what they had been doing in response to Obama. There is also the possibility that being unable to understand Trump, and believing that his range of action, ability to do big things, and take on real challenges, was likely restrained somewhat by his domestic political struggles, which they doubtlessly perceive as amusing. If that perchance is the case, there is the possibility that Russian intelligence analysts covering the US political scene have been remiss by conceivably allowing highly politicized commentaries from Trump’s critics and detractors and iniquitous reports in the US news media insinuate themselves in their assessments. It is possible that any penetration by the GRU and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR in the US may simply be collecting: chicken feed; misleading information grabbed because it was within easy reach of officers, sounded plausible, and would look good in Moscow; or, false reports conjured up by delinquent officers just to look good or prolong their postings in the US. (It can happen even in the best intelligence services.) Additionally, Kremlin officials may have decided to simply leave well-enough alone and remain satisfied with stale, derivative analyses that would serve the bureaucratic requirement of producing some product, but inhibits the exploration or exploitation of opportunities for positive engagement with, and actions toward, the US.

Trump did not make contact with Putin on December 1, 2018 at the G-20 Summit. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the leaders stood for a group photo. Still, having studied the the Obama administration responses to very questionable moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. A conversation finally occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires, organized for the national leaders and their wives. Putin told reporters later that they discussed the “Black Sea situation.”

Having studied the Obama administration’s responses to contentious moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. Putin’s reaction to that approach was adverse and disproportionate. Sensing that Putin may actually have a penchant for destroying progress made with the US, Trump would not set him up with the opportunity to do so again. Moreover, Trump saw no need to move up the ladder of escalation for no benefit, for no purpose. Apparently as an expression of his disappointment with Putin over Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait, Trump did not make contact with him for most of the day, December 1, 2018. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the world’s leaders stood for a group photo. Kremlin officials insisted throughout the day that the two leaders would ultimately meet. Finally, the two leaders had an “informal” conversation. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the conversation occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires’ famous Teatro Colón, organized for the national leaders and their wives. As for its content, Saunders stated: “As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin.” Putin told reporters afterward that he indeed met with Trump briefly at the event and they discussed the situation in Ukraine. Putin further explained, “I answered his questions about the incident in the Black Sea. He has his position. I have my own. We stayed in our own positions.”

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s patience has limits. However, he will at least make the effort manage contact with Putin as best as possible to get a successful result. If it should all fall apart, it will not be because of a silly move or the failure to do everything feasible within reason to promote it. Again, Trump is not doing any of this for himself; he has committed himself to this process for the sake of his country and the US public in particular. He will not allow his personal feelings about those he may deal with to get in the way.

Jamal Khashoggi (right) entering the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey. On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the Consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Khashoggi Matter

On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere. Before the murder, the Turkish Government had been monitoring a 15-person team that arrived at the consulate on October 2, 2018. That team returned to Riyadh the same day. The Turkish Government reportedly provided US officials with both audio and video recordings that confirm Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.

Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.) The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. With the advantage of hindsight, it would appear that the assassination plot was formed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter. On dit, the Khashoggi assassination has also allegedly provided a candid look at how the Saudi Arabian Government has typically quieted voices of perceived adversaries both at home and abroad.

When the furtive “wet work” of an intelligence services is uncovered, the consequences for the national government that sanctioned the mission and it’s operatives, even if they avoided detection and capture if acting in another country, can be severe. This is a unique and not so often discussed area of commonality among national leaders. An affinity could surely develop for others in that same circumstance. Attendant to that affinity is a type of empathy that may insist the one should not be too judgmental or harshly slam another leader, particularly over an intelligence misstep or disaster. That empathy may obviate efforts to claim the moral high road and false claim of innocence after perhaps having similar experience. In international affairs, much as in “ordinary life” only partial version of oneself is offered. The priority of coexistence must be considered in what one might say or do versus what might be gained or lost. Countries may spare the feelings, national pride, or honor of allies and friends or even or avoid provoking or inciting adversaries. To that extent, acting in that way requires a country to circumscribe itself. Typically, a national leader who might sign off on any covert operation will be provided with the ability to plausibly deny knowledge of it. Yet, on top of that, secrecy, albeit deceit, might be used to protect relationship with an ally or friend and to make any act of circumscription by that ally or friend a bit easier.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above). The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. From all news media reports, it would appear that the assassination plot was executed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter.

Any harsh criticism and expressions of deep disappointment conveyed by the US to Saudi Arabia–which most likely have been made by Trump in his telephone contacts with Riyadh early on during the matter–would never be explicit with an ally of such stature. Certainly, Trump did not shy away from the beastiality of the crime. What Trump and senior administration officials tried to do is bring perspective to the matter. On November 28, 2018, then US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Pentagon reminded reporters that as of the moment he was speaking about the Khashoggi matter: “We have no smoking gun the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.” He further explained that the US still expected those responsible for the killing to be held accountable. In a November 28, 2018 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expatiated on the matter, summarizing the position of the US Government as follows: “The US doesn’t condone the Khashoggi killing, which is fundamentally inconsistent with American values—something I have told the Saudi leadership privately as well as publicly. President Trump has taken action in response. Twenty-one Saudi suspects in the murder have been deemed ineligible to enter the US and had any visas revoked. On Nov. 15, the administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis under Executive Order 13818, which builds on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. We’ve worked to strengthen support for this response, and several countries, including France and Germany, have followed suit. The Trump administration will consider further punitive measures if more facts about Khashoggi’s murder come to light.” Pompeo went on the explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as a regional ally, by additionally stating: “The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the US-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security.” Yet, once Trump and his senior officials sought to explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally when discussing the Khashoggi matter, a knee-jerk response of critics and detractors was the hackneyed claim that the US President placed a pecuniary interest in its Middle East ally at greater value than the life of journalist. That claim was stated so often that it became a common observation.

wTrump (left) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (right). An intriguing type of leadership could be seen from Trump on the Khashoggi matter. A US President must keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage, is a role model to much of rest of the world. It is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide. If the US had officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder and that a strong response was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken tough steps against it. 

Through Trump’s decision making regarding the Khashoggi matter, an intriguing type of leadership could be seen in him. A US President in considering how to proceed on a matter, must indeed keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage is a role model to much of rest of the world. As such, the US is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide through its actions. The values and interests of the US, of course, will hold primacy in decision making on a matter, the interests of allies and partners will also be taken into account. In the Khashoggi case, the reality is that the murder occurred in Turkey (although the Saudi Arabian Consulate is technically the sovereign territory of Saudi Arabia). As reported, the assassination team that killed Khashoggi came into Turkey through Istanbul Airport and a number of the co-conspirators moved in and around the streets of Istanbul before and after the killing. If the US had immediately and officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was directly responsible for the murder and that some form of retribution was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken some type of steps against it. Turkey may very well have acted unilaterally and swiftly, utilizing its military or intelligence services, to punish those who used its country as the site to slaughter an esteemed and welcomed journalist. Turkey would have unlikely felt that it needed the permission of the US to act, just as Saudi officials, at some level, doubtlessly felt that they did not need to confer with or ask the permission of the US to act against Khashoggi.

As for the US role in mitigating Turkey’s likely desire for retribution, it offered not only words exhorting restraint, but also served as an example of restraint. Consider that there was a preexisting animus between Turkey and Saudi Arabia before the Khashoggi murder. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia was angered over Turkey’s support to Qatar and withdraw its troops from the country. That demand caused Turkey to perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat to Turkey’s interests. In Riyadh, Turkey was on the top of its list of enemies. Khashoggi’s murder brought tensions to new heights. Knowing this, Saudi Arabia, days after the murder, made a secret offer to pour billions of dollars into Turkey’s economy and ease its hard-line stance on Qatar if Ankara helped whitewash the scandal. Turkey rejected the proposal. Afterward, Turkey allegedly began producing evidence that indicated Mohammed bin Salman was involved. Nevertheless, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan did stop short of accusing Prince Mohammed directly. He would only posit that responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lied at “the highest levels” of the Saudi Arabian Government. Turkey’s fresh anger against Saudi Arabia also added to decades of animus toward the Arab World ignited as a result of battles of the Ottoman Empire to maintain order. What happened so long ago remains a big part of Turkish history, culture, and psyche. Indeed, the loss of many young Turkish soldiers in Arabia still touches the hearts of many Turkish families. None of this is to suggest or imply that an anti-Arab strain runs through Turkish thinking today. Nonetheless, given that memories of past wars persist, and the fact that emotions were running very high after the Khashoggi murder, convincing Turkey, free to act on its own, not to act, was not an easy thing to do. Turkey, as the guarantor of its own national interests, made the choice to cooperate effectively with US diplomatically, outside the auspices of an international institution.

Trump has made shrewd, empathetic considerations whenever acting on foreign and national security policy. His judgments have been made with circumspection, and are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he develops his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measures what might be lost versus what might be gained short-term and long-term. A great portion of the US public, watching him, feels assured that all will be fine.

The Way Forward

In Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, King Cymbeline of Britain has married a woman who has made him her puppet. Cymbeline arranges for his beautiful daughter, Imogen, to marry his new wife’s son, Cloten, but she instead marries the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus. Angered, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus. Before he leaves for Italy, Imogen gives him a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. In Italy, Posthumus encounters a Iachimo, who vacuously argues all women are naturally unchaste, and bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. Yet, once at the British court, he fails to seduce her. Full of tricks, Iachimo hides in a large chest he has sent to her room; slips out at night while Imogen slept, and steals the bracelet Posthumus gave her, Iachimo returns to Italy and uses both the bracelet and knowledge of the details of Imogen’s bedchamber, to convince Posthumus that he won the bet. Posthumus, furious, sends a letter to his servant, Pisanio, in Britain, ordering him to murder Imogen. Pisanio, believing in Imogen’s innocence, gets her to disguise herself as a boy and get to Posthumus while he would report to him that Imogen was dead.  On the run, Imogen becomes lost in the wilds of Wales, where she meets Belarius, a wrongfully banished nobleman, and his sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Unbeknownst to them, both were actually Cymbeline’s sons. They would later come to the aid of Imogen and to the aid of Britain against the Romans. The audience first meets Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus as their “father”, instructs them on the nuances of a calm life while climbing a mountain. Belarius states: Now for our mountain sport: up to yond hill; / Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats. Consider, / When you above perceive me like a crow, / That it is place which lessens and sets off; / And you may then revolve what tales I have told you / Of courts, of princes, of the tricks in war: / This service is not service, so being done, / But being so allow’d: to apprehend thus, / Draws us a profit from all things we see; / And often, to our comfort, shall we find / The sharded beetle in a safer hold / Than is the full-wing’d eagle. O, this life / Is nobler than attending for a cheque, / Richer than doing nothing for a bauble, / Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk: / Such gain the cap of him that makes ’em fine, / Yet keeps his book uncross’d: no life to ours. These words, which may appear somewhat cryptic to modern readers, essentially explain that maintaining a balanced, rational view is the best way of examine a situation and will allow for a rational analysis of it. In each foreign and national security policy issue examined here, evidence indicates Trump made shrewd, empathetic considerations as he acted. His judgments were made with circumspection, considering what precedes and what follows, are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he developed his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measured what might be lost versus what might be gained in both the short-term and the long-term. When moving to make changes in the status quo, Trump typically assessed the situation before him much as a half-back in US football searches for openings in the line that may allow him to breakthrough and do some open field running. Trump has also exuded a confidence on the world stage. Trump knows where he is and what he is doing, and a good portion of the US public, watching him work, feels assured that everything will be alright. Presenting oneself as confident and assured in itself is an art of leaders. When taking risks one naturally feels risk. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte explained of himself: “There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign. I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation. This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage; I am like an unmarried girl laboring with a child. Once I had made up my mind, everything is forgotten except what leads to success.”

In each case presented here, Trump, in seeking to manage and influence the actions of other national leaders, was allowed the freedom to act in his own way, and unshackled by what administration officials might call the limitations of an international institution managing some collective action under its auspices. Countries that would like to work effectively outside of international institutions should feign nothing, and make a wholehearted effort at it. As Trump continues to evolve as US President, other national leaders are provided with an example on how they might approach foreign and national security policy decision making for their own countries. Perhaps most leaders would have small interest in the ministrations of greatcharlie on this matter. Of course, there are rarely situations that arise that are so uniform in nature that lessons from one leader would allow a cookie cutter approach to resolving them. However, smart people are able to find solutions to problems. If national leaders would like to work outside of international institutions more frequently, new more thoughtful and empathetic perspectives must be allowed to arrive in their thinking on their diplomacy with other countries.

Commentary: Too Much for Too Long?: Critics’ Attacks on Trump’s Foreign Policy and the US News Media’s Attendant Self-Destruction

US President Donald Trump (right) has had many foreign policy successes. His diplomatic efforts with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) would be among them. Using a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions, coordinating with South Korean and Japanese allies, and garnering help from China and Russia, Trump got North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile testing, brought home three US prisoners, and convinced North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (left) to meet for denuclearization talks. Trump said the talks achieved much. Critics opined widely in the US news media that Trump accomplished nothing.

A significant segment of the US public, with a sense of trust, although somewhat diminished over recent years, still avails itself of the news media to understand what is happening in their world, internationally, nationally, and locally. Journalists cover areas across a gamut within those sets of the news to include: business and finance, sports, weather, science, education, fine arts, literature, style and fashion, entertainment and celebrity, food and wine, and travel. (It is possible that some areas were missed off the list.) In news related to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, international and national, the news media serves as the eyes and ears of the US public in realms that are generally inaccessible. What is immediately apparent in the way in which stories are being reported and commented upon lately is the great degree that it deviates from well-established standards of professional practice of the past. That would include informing truthfully about people and events, reporting facts and not simply offering opinion. In particular, the quality of mainstream news media efforts devoted to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, has degraded significantly. That change has especially been apparent during the administration of US President Donald Trump. There is an “us-them” approach to taken toward anything the Trump administration does. Reporters and pundits in the broadcast media have gone beyond the point of being gadflies. Primacy is given to an effort to shape the thinking of the public, as well as provoke Trump, with daily stories that harshly criticize him, gainsay his administration’s decisions and actions, and chastize administration personnel from senior advisers to middle level staff. Words used are beyond hostile and aggressive. The distance that many journalists are willing to travel away from past norms is unknown. Into the second year of his first term in office, the news media remains all Trump, all the time. Journalists discuss hypotheticals sometimes with only a tenuous connection with the realities to ongoing events instead of informing the US public of facts from solid reporting and analysis based on studied patterns of decision making. The facts offered are more often bleached to the point of being superficial. Deeper dives into facts are avoided, and gaps are filled with opinions. The conclusion of an empirical analysis by discerning, reasonable laymen. who have kept close track of news media coverage over the past decade or longer, would undoubtedly be that there has been a sea change in the way things are done. Recall how US news media reports during the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign were filled with opinions on how Trump would lose the race, while facts correctly pointing to the real potential of his victory were set aside for the most  part.)

As Trump is attacked repeatedly without relief, one wonders what are the genuine ends that his critics seek to reach. They could easily critique Trump. without being so destructive. It would seem that there is some collective understanding by journalist that since Trump is allegedly such despicable a person, so unfit for the presidency that as members of the “Fourth Estate”, the guardians of democracy, it is their duty to protect the US public, the society, by hindering his path. With that concept and intent, the news media has gone about using its position in the society to set the agenda for the national and international discourse on Trump. That type of haughtiness makes the whole cabaret of news media behavior toward Trump more disconcerting. Perhaps the preponderance of those working as journalists remain so against Trump’s election victory that they continue fight against him, forming a resistence, completely contrary to the purported duty of those in the profession to report the news and not make it. The words “resist” and “resistance” have been uttered by broadcast news reporters and anchors more than once in recent times. The phrase “all the news that is fit to print” still holds. However, the definition of what is fit has clearly changed. The entire movement in a new direction could be a reflection of a more understanding that the news media is an industry, engaged in business. The pursuit and high tempo production of juicy, high-value stories that decry Trump, appears designed to glean a significant audience, and make news programs, newspapers, journals, more attractive for paid advertising. Est omnino iniquum, sed usu receptum, quod honesta consilia vel turpia, prout male aut prospere cedunt, ita vel probantur vel reprehenduntur. (It is the usual though inequitable method of the world, to pronounce an action to be either right or wrong, as it is attended with good or ill success.)

What is also being witnessed is a self-destructive act. Journalists and news media outlets reduce themselves to a status so low that, despite their ability to sway opinion, they become supernumeraries in the larger story of the Trump administration’s progress. The once great leviathans of the deep that US news media outlets have reduced themselves to goldfish in an aquarium. It would be hard to argue that the mantle of being the impartial reporters of people and events has not been surrendered by journalists. Readers and viewers are told, with half-concealed pathos, that the news media is still a neutral voice. That may very well remain the overt policy at most US news media outlets and the guidance most journalists claim to follow, but in both cases, it is regularly ignored. Under the older way of doing things, personal opinions of journalists on Trump and his administration’s actions would be kept personal unless those opinions were published on opinion pages or in editorials or broadcasted as specifically commentaries. In a previous post, greatcharlie essentially called for the wholesale rejection of US news media as an overt sources of intelligence for foreign diplomatic and intelligence services attempting to better understand Trump as it would cause more confusion than order in analytical processes that could support more effective diplomacy with the administration. In this post, greatcharlie takes a brief look with some despair at the issue and offers some understanding of the slow, downward spiral of standards in journalism and the US news media and an understanding why many journalists no longer report and editorialize on Trump from a neutral perspective, but from a popular counter-Trump point of view. Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur. (The truth is, the generality of mankind stand in awe of public opinion, while conscience is feared by the few.)

Trump and the US News Media

After Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election, Trump, forever the optimist, expected much from the presidency. Among those things, he would have liked to have been embraced by the country. However, he was rejected by an endless list of critics. As critics’ attacks hold the US public’s attention day after day, managers and producers in newsrooms insist that reporters and anchors push even harder to garner even more attention. To the extent that the public has been captivated by stories about Trump, he might be called the luckiest thing to come the way of US media outlets. Some of Trump’s critics are convinced that he does not really want to do well for the US public or the world. Trump is depicted more and more as the ultimate and absolute evil. Against Trump, more critics than not engage in “violent and disorderly forms of speaking: slander, defamation, insult, vituperation, malediction, and curse.” In doing so, critics transmit pessimism. However, they abuse the privilege of their position in the society to display a type of recklessness and irrationality. It certainly is nothing smooth, elegant, beautiful, or classy about it. It is very unattractive. As greatcharlie has asserted often in its posts concerning the news media, this would all prove to be very destabilizing for the society as whole. They make very unconstructive statements being fully aware that the consequence of them might be to harm the trust that many in the US public have in Trump. They may have even infiltrated and despoiled the psyche of quite a few, and perhaps may have even destroyed the possibility for some to have confidence in future US administrations. Indeed, if it were only a select few critics, perhaps it could be presumed that some strong psychological disturbance was the cause for their reports and commentaries. Their words could be dismissed. However, the number of critics is great, and there are far more than a few attacks. The onslaught of attacks against Trump are so intense that critics can step away from the firing line and allow others carry on the attack. They can then return later, rested, re-energized, and ready to unleash more destructive attacks on the US President. The ranks of Trump’s critics actually extend beyond the US news media to include: think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the administration of US President Barack Obama. Still, it is via the news media that all of the critics views are transmitted.

While it may appear at times that many journalists and other critics are developing their attacks on Trump by building whimsy upon whimsy, they would vehemently deny that. Indeed, they would explain that certain “data points” have lead them to reach negative conclusions about him, reveal dangers that he poses. Of course, the critics, themselves, determine what data points are important enough to look at. Despite their insistence, experienced analysts would recognize that even with the often cherry picked facts of critics’ data points could certainly mean many other things. Other, more developed conclusions could be reached if those data points were studied more intently. Critics’ reactions to Trump remind one more adolescent rebellion than more edifying, staid efforts of journalists not so long ago. Pressured to provide in depth, constructive analysis and options on policy issues in a challenging, consequential setting, the honest among them would very likely admit that they could not do it. Although many critics may not be able to truly shed light on matters, they can still cast a shadow through their reports, commentaries, broadcasts, and blog posts Homines enim cum rem destruere non possunt, iactationem eius incessunt. Ita si silenda feceris, factum ipsum, si laudanda non sileas, ipse culparis. (Such is the disposition of mankind, if they cannot blast an action, they will censure the parade of it; and whether you do what does not deserve to be taken notice of, or take notice yourself of what does, either way you incur reproach.)

Trump did not ascend to the presidency only to have the US simply to sit back and hope only a well-heeled, politically “useful” segment of the society prospered. That was the pattern in previous administrations. When they tried to be proactive, they failed. After September 11, 2001, there was the necessary but poorly prosecuted military intervention in Afghanistan where initial success was squandered, and years with little genuine efforts by the administration to achieve victory. There was a non-judicious use of US power based on the silly notion of using a Western model to transform societies in the Middle East, marked by the disastrous Iraq War. Sizing up the competence of US decision makers, Russia moved forces into Georgia, and inroads were made in pulling some former Soviet republics back to Moscow’s control. There was a poorly conceived plan for nuclear arms reduction and an attempted pivot to Asia based on the flawed belief that the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin was no longer a threat to the West. Russia wholly rejected the notion of cutting nuclear arms and when he found the doors of Eastern Europe open, he decided to walk right into Ukraine. Russia directed threats at the Baltic States, conducted hybrid warfare campaigns against other former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries, and undertook the bold move of meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election Campaign. Trump will not allow the US to sit and atrophy. He wants to take on the unfinished business of the US concerning foreign policy. He has had a number of objectively recognized successes. Perhaps first among was his efforts on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Trump managed to cause North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile testing, release three US prisoners, and bring the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un to a summit meeting in Singapore on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. It was mainly the result of maximum pressure campaign that included harsh economic sanctions, close coordination with South Korean and Japanese allies and apparent help from China and Russia. On NATO, Trump encouraged Member States to increase spending following harsh admonishments of them for being delinquent in keeping their forces strong enough to field an effective defense against its most likely adversary, Russian. On March 5, 2018, NATO allies reported an increase in their overall military spending for a second straight year to 2.42 percent of gross national product. On ISIS, it was reported on April 5, 2018 by US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie Jr., Director of the Joint Staff, that the US and its coalition partners in Iraq and Syria has led to near defeat of the so-called “Islamic Caliphate” and the methodical reduction of the massive swath of territory it grabbed in Iraq and Syria during the Obama administration. Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White explained further that “(We are) very close to reaching an end state against the caliphate.” These accomplishments are only a few from long list of successes.

Initially for Trump, there was undoubtedly some hurt as he likely felt attacks were coming from all sides; and they were. Indeed, the intention of critics has been to hurt Trump. Psychological torture is always the most successful and painful for the individual. There was always the danger that as a normal human being, he could have become a misanthrope, so angered by what was being said. It is difficult to imagine critics did not know Trump would have been made to feel cornered, cut off, isolated. Trump was depicted within the society by critics as something wrong, abnormal, an untouchable. To maintain his balance, Trump appears to have engaged in an internal juggling act. The military would call it economy of force, bringing up strength when and where he needs it, and devoting less energy where it is not needed immediately. He apparently manages to find some peace and calm in his quarters at the White House. It is an environment of “friendly superiority” away from the savagery of critics, even if only for brief moments. He has occasionally found other opportunities for relaxation through visits to Mar-A-Largo, Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, Trump National Doral Golf Club, and Trump Tower. Now, well over a year since his inauguration, the best efforts of his critics have left Trump somewhat untouched for the most part. Indeed, what critics might have noticed lately is that Trump has been reacting less to critics’ attacks, and typically responds in a way to promote his  own perspectives, positions, and policies. In addition to rallies and press conferences, he does that work on Twitter. While critics may dwell on inaccuracies or typos which are undoubtedly the result of Trump’s attempts to fit all he wants to say in limited character space, the important elements to take away from his tweets is that they represent his own unfiltered words, his direct line of communication with the US public.

To the disappointment of critics, the job of president has begun to fit Trump. It has all occurred under the persistent shadow of an investigation alleged collusion with Russia on the 2016 Presidential Election. The investigation has been insisted upon not only by critics, but also full-fledged rivals. Trump swears none of the accusations are true, and has declared the whole matter a witch hunt. Secunda felices, adversa magnos probent. (Prosperity proves men to be fortunate, while it is adversity which makes them great.)

Where Is the US News Media Headed?

In the US, the news media serves as a watchdog over government power and political activity. It is a source from which the public can inform itself on the decisions and actions of elected leaders and appointed officials. The news media is at its best when it can provide the public with a look inside government bodies and operations. Its role in the society is sacrosanct. “Freedom of the press” is one the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the US Constitution listing specific prohibitions on government power. A study released by the Pew Research Center on June 18, 2018, it was concluded that the US public has difficulty sorting through fact and opinion in the US news media reports. In the study, conducted in February and March of 2018, 5,035 survey participants aged 18 and above were asked to identify statements of fact versus opinions in news stories. The research indicated that only 26 percent were able to correctly identify all five factual statements. On opinions, about 35 percent were able to correctly identify all five statements. Nearly 25 percent were incorrect most or all of the time in the identification process. Amy Mitchell, Director of Journalism Research at the Pew Research Center explained that participants’ ability to classify statements as factual or opinion varied widely based on ones political awareness, trust in the news media, “digital savviness” or degree to which one is confident in using digital devices and the internet, and “political savviness.” According to Mitchell, the study also found that when Americans call a statement “factual” they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate. They tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Taking the tack of reporting only parts of a story, promoting a particular viewpoint, hoping to shape in agreement with it, is improper. In the past, there were no special circumstances that would have made it correct to do so. It is not posited here that all journalists and all news media outlets engage in this practice. To posit that all members of any group behave in the same way would be incorrect unless they behave in the same way by design. Members of military honor guard close order drill teams, synchronized swimming teams, and some factory assembly line teams are a few examples of that. The desire here is not generalize to the point of displaying a prejudice or bias about the journalism profession or the news media or express stereotypes about both today. The purpose is to consider certain relatively new changes in standards of practice among professionals that catch the eye.

The Influence of the Internet on Journalism

On the burgeoning internet in the early 1990s, standards for presenting information were somewhat lax to say the least. That was usually the immediate perception of those who used it via the big providers at the time: AOL,Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google. Numerous grammatical errors and inaccuracies could be found on websites of all kinds, as well as the blogs, a set in which greatcharlie became a part in May 2013. There was even an understanding that one could write email messages with little concern over grammar and spelling. Things did not improve once social media arrived on the scene. Writing devolved further. Writers began using contractions, nonstandard contractions, acronyms, other abbreviations, and symbols. The danger that the loose standards of the Internet posed to conventional journalism was not recognized. As the internet gained popularity, users allowed the standards and practices of the internet found its way into communications of all types at work and at home. The ways of the internet impacted work product in mainstream media outlets. Indeed, bad writing habits could be found just about everywhere. What was also prevalent was the presentation of opinion as fact as in online studies, reports, articles, and commentaries. Some online sites did not reference sources or use any facts in their work. Opinions, themselves, were presented in the news. (Caveat: While all of this only provides the flavor of what happened, the full story is far worse.)

In its nascent stage as a media tool, the internet was viewed somewhat as novelty by professionals in all fields, to include managers of news bureaus and newsrooms and television news producers. Those senior leaders were mainly of an older generations as were the senior executives of the news media outlets in which they worked. They were all unaware of the internet and all its power and potential, did not realize what was happening. The Internet would evolve exponentially in a short period of time. To understand what the many young go-getters who were behind the evolving online services were up to in the early 1990s, US Senator John McCain formed a bipartisan “Internet Caucus” in the US Congress. The countless, quirky online news media sites of all sizes that were developed on the Internet became a real competitors for the attention of the public. A broad, diverse, but mostly youthful audience began getting its news from the Internet sources. Only so much could be accomplished by “the old guard” adhering to long held standards while hoping to hold on to their audience. Just over a decade after the online competition’s massive footprint became evident everywhere. They began making huge cuts in their workforces. Fewer reporters were kept on staff, overseas news bureaus faced severe reductions in staffs or were closed altogether. Covering the news the old way had become expensive. The possibility that  new technologies could present benefits for their field were investigated. Oportet privatis utilitatibus publicas, mortalibus aeternas anteferre, multoque diligentius muneri suo consulere quam facultatibus. (A man must rate public and permanent, above private and fleeting advantages and study how to render his benefaction most useful, rather than how he may bestow it with least expense.)

Mainstream news media outlets rushed to create places for themselves online but it was an anxiety filled effort as their sites, carrying the mastheads of their venerable newspapers of record, revered broadcast television networks, and cable news networks floated in an ocean of seemingly infinite sites. Senior executives believed a solution for the mainstream media was to acquire, merge, or enter cooperative arrangements with the online competitors thereby covering matters beyond the news. There was certainly a flap of that activity in the late 1990s. Yet, despite steps taken, senior executives of mainstream news media outlets recognized that they were fighting a losing battle. At a certain point, it appears that since the mainstream could not beat the wave of online news services doing things representative of their buttoned down way of thinking. They would dedicate a portion of their efforts on the internet to directly compete with their burgeoning technological rival for the attention of the US public. In the presentation of their website sites, blogs, and stories, the mainstream news media outlets modelled their products after the many news sites online. It was a period of confusion across the profession in which senior executives saw that their inherent uncertainty and hesitation over departing from its normal ways of doing things was in an odd way a “liability.” The resistance to change would not allow it to compete with the new online threat. The response of many forward thinking at that moment in the industry was allow some latitude for shedding its “old fashioned” identity. That identity, however, was built upon the adherence to its firm standards of professional practice.

There was opposition to what was transpiring. Although the transformation of the profession and its practices seemed inevitable, some well-experienced journalists and grizzled, seen-it-all editors and producers were not ready to toss out everything that had been established. Indeed, away from the eyes of the public there was an internal resistance by some journalists, editors, and producers to maintain the status quo and convince their colleagues that it was imperative to do so. Despite their intransigence, the winners of that apparent, yet publicly unseen Kulturkampf in the US news media were those in the profession who were ready to engage in ways that previously would have been absolute anathema in the profession. Veteran journalists might suggest that multifarious crises in leadership and changes in leadership along the way in the big US news media outlets further aggravated matters and sped the departure from old practices to the new.

The trust developed over decades with the US public, the covenant of the free press with people, not to fail in its duty to keep them informed in the way mainstream news media outlets and the renowned freelance journalists of the past, became a patrimony squandered by spendthrift heirs. The new focus would be based on narrow interest in grabbing headlines to promote readership and viewership, and to fill advertising space and increase their profits. After all, new office buildings, new technologies, and marketing cost money. Those journalists who will adhere to convention, will only report facts as they come and in rightful context, will remain neutral, and will refuse to deviate from that course, may not be able to produce reports with enough “umph” to compete with the visceral, personal opinion-laden, stories of journalists working without restraint. Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing what is wrong, and right is right even if no one is doing what is right. Still, some would claim that is too easy to say outside of context, and therein may lie the problem. Too many journalists are willing to engage in a type of relativism about issues. Too many who see what is wrong are willing to settle as well.

What Might Come Next?

Difficile est tenere quae acceperis nisi exerceas. (It is difficult to retain what you may have learned unless you should practice it.) Debating whether standards should be upheld, regarding Trump or any matter, would have been considered novel in the profession not so long ago. Journalist, editors, and producers knew that they were expected to hold themselves to high standards. When the news is edited for the purpose of manipulating opinion it becomes propaganda, or worse, disinformation. As the profession developed, evolved, the need to apply standards to ensure that the reported news remained authentic news had been addressed by those who were responsible for developing news reporting as a profession; the firmament of great journalists of past eras. Standards are as essential an element to reporting as knowing the who, what, when, where, why of a story. Where one might appreciate hearing the matter still hashed out are lively discussions in ethics classes at journalism departments of colleges and universities. However, once away from the safety of the halls of their schools, the gap between theory and praxis, text and the world, becomes most apparent. There was a time when journalism was a calling. For the those who accepted it as such, there was a recognition that they had to remain obedient to standards. In moments of doubt when new journalists are uncertain how to proceed, it would be great if they would acknowledge, believe, that the profession is greater than themselves.

In professions, novices or journeymen typically model themselves on their precursors. New journalists starting at the bottom of the list read, hear, watch, and perhaps even admire some long-time highly esteemed figures in the US news media. For this reason, veteran journalists must serve as examples, ready to support neophytes in how to do things right or when they have gotten things wrong. This should be done not only as part of the process of mentoring and on-the-job  professional development, but for the sake of the profession. The decision of veteran journalists to deviate from convention would certainly give new journalists the impression that they too have license to depart from the established course when covering Trump, leaving behind old standards, codes, tenets, in favor of an unrestrained, laissez-faire approach to reporting and commentary. Indeed, the professionals who came before them have made themselves most notable for their role in the disassembly of the standards of professional practice for journalism. New journalists may be agreeable to a philosophy that journalism is a business and cost benefit analysis, and knowing whether a broad audience will be reached, must be part of decision making on what stories run. Doing what feels right whether adhering to standards or not, would be fine, as long its meets business criteria. In numero ipso est quoddam magnum collatumque consilium, quibusque singulis iudicii parum, omnibus plurimum. (A certain large collective wisdom resides in a crowd, as such; and men whose individual judgement is defective are excellent judges when grouped together.)

Among new journalists willing to escape or to reject convention, there is also the impetus of trying to avoid being crushed under the weight of huge student loan payments, mortgages, college tuition, and some have expensive choices for entertainment and costly personal interests. Add to that the fact that most young journalists despite protestations to the contrary, are vertically oriented, seeing a path upward. For a young journalist, remaining part of workplace may often be just a matter of falling in line with what is expected, or acknowledging what is the style du jour. Although one may begin at the bottom of the list, once one is recognized as a team player, easy to work with, more opportunities to might be provided for one to participate in collaborative efforts. Fruitful group effort makes ones activities at a workplace much sweeter. In the era of Trump, new journalist are more likely to garner favorable attention as a team player and rise in standing, if they can manage to display some Innate sense of how to present him as a certain kind of leader. What can likely be expected in the future of the administration are efforts to create an image of Trump, much as a character in a play, with bits and pieces of fact included in their depiction. They can then convey anything negative about that character that they want.

The direction that the profession is turning toward might loosely be dubbed “Libertine journalism.” The ideals, beliefs, aims of a past era are not just being shed, but rejected, for the new. Presently, there is no evidence in news outlets that self-constraints exist on what can be said about Trump. As things continue in this fashion, the regulatory mechanism for their work will typically be open minded managers with a sedated style of supervision might be limited to meeting copy deadlines and remaining strict on word length. Peers of young tyro would certainly offer guidance to the extent that they would likely admonish and ostricize them if they failed to attack Trump thoroughly. New journalists may rarely find themselves genuinely at odds with managers on the way their stories are written as there appears to be little gap between what editors and producers they think and what US media outlets in which they have found employment have been doing. It appears at some once renowned news media outlets, particularly in broadcast media, that constraints do not exist at all.  The free press has become free wielding. Yet, it cannot called anarchic. While the creative side of the outlets may be in flux, the administrative, bureaucratic side of them remain intact. Unfortunately for the US public, the consumer, whose interests the news media purports to serve, trying to recognize the difference between fact and opinion, even what is right and wrong will become more difficult to discern. The mainstream news media will very likely be forever shaped or poisoned, depending on ones perspective, by this change. Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur. (The truth is, the generality of mankind stand in awe of public opinion, while conscience is feared only by the few.)

Can the Old Form of Journalism Be Resuscitated?

In the Induction of William Shakespeare’s The Second part of King Henry the Fourth, the idea of Rumour takes human form, painted full of tongues, and breaks the fourth wall by  speaking to the audience before the castle at Warkworth. He tells of his devilish work of playing on the anxieties across the known world, telling lies, generating falsehoods, encouraging guesswork, igniting suspicion, and flavoring speculation that could only mislead those aware of his presence. The result is misfortune for those fall victim to his stories. As an introduction to the play, Rumour tells how contrary to the truth that King Henry who has won the war and ended the rebellion led by Hotspur and his allies at Shrewsbury, he has spread word Hotspur has killed the King and as Prince Hal was killed, too! Rumour describes his efforts as follows: “Open your ears; for which of you will stop The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks? I, from the orient to the drooping west, Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold The acts commenced on this ball of earth: Upon my tongues continual slanders ride, The which in every language I pronounce, Stuffing the ears of men with false reports. I speak of peace, while covert enmity Under the smile of safety wounds the world: And who but Rumour, who but only I, Make fearful musters and prepared defence, Whiles the big year, swoln with some other grief, Is thought with child by the stern tyrant war, And no such matter? Rumour is a pipe Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures And of so easy and so plain a stop That the blunt monster with uncounted heads, The still-discordant wavering multitude, Can play upon it. But what need I thus My well-known body to anatomize.” The similarity in the practice of Shakespeare’s Rumor and practices of many journalists and US news media today is striking. As initially mentioned, opinion has replaced fact in news reports. Opinions themselves are not threatening. The way in which they are being used is problematic. Opinions can be developed by the interpreting facts collected and inferring things from that information. It is akin to trying to find the missing piece of ring and using facts available to conceptualize, hypothesize within reasonable probability, what that missing piece might look like. There are quantitative and qualitative means used in some fields to help one reach useful conclusions. Opinions can also be formed from prejudices, self-serving ideas, incorrect assumptions, and surmisal, and offered up much as rumors.

The US public should be deeply concerned about the collapse of standards of professional practice in journalism, particularly when it comes to covering Trump’s foreign policy. Many in the US public have become less certain that the news media serves their interests. If new and veteran journalists and senior executives of new media outlets were forced to face the reality that the news media as it is now is not serving the needs of the public, there would most likely demurrals from some and certainly hot-blooded, vehement expressions of outrage from others. Trump appears to have triggered the worst attitudes and behaviors, the worst instincts in journalists. His presidency has oddly presented an opportunity for them to cut loose, engaging in independent thinking on what is relatively right and wrong and reaching conclusions at odds with professional standards. They respond to Trump with their worst instincts. While his foreign policy successes can reasonably be seen as improving the position of the US and peace and security globally, they are reported as placing the country and the world one footstep from Hell. Trump is inspired by the challenge of dealing with what he sees as the languid condition of US foreign policy. So far, there is no indication that his work is directed at the annihilation of everything as some critics have proffered. There is perhaps little to no chance for Trump to cultivate the affections of the US news media. One may disagree with Trump, but that is no reason to tear everything apart, play a big role in sullying the office of the presidency, and disassemble all that was once special and sacrosanct about journalism profession.

The profession as it is now could serve as a metaphor for the social man who has lost his way in the society with an overt focus on wealth, power, celebrity, pleasure, immediate gratification, rather truth, beauty, and goodness. Trying to protect it may appear futile more than ever before. In his 1734 work, An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope stated that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Perhaps the saving grace for profession may take the form of a new movement by new journalists, themselves to restore things as they were. Perhaps the old form of journalism can be resuscitated. To reach that point, however, new journalists in particular, veterans too if they choose, must undertake journeys of introspection to understand the phenomenon of what their profession has become, who they have become as professionals, and what their priorities really are. One must not ignore the possibilities of ones own character. One can always become much more. Becoming much more may be within ones reach. With hope, there might be a check in their spirit of some journalists that might help remind them that things are being done the wrong way and a correction is needed. What is in ones heart will determine the path one chooses. Vita hominum altos recessus magnasque latebras habet. (Character lies more concealed, and out of the reach of common observation.)