Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (right) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left). “What is your substance, whereof are you made, . . . .” Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, is a fine thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego, do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Here greatcharlie hopes to assist those in US foreign and national security bureaucracies seeking to get a better handle on the Ukraine crisis, and gain greater clarity about Putin and his thinking.

With imaginable strain upon the national budget, Russian troops for the moment lie snug in the Winter weather in their homeland, still close enough to its border with Ukraine to unnerve those on that side. They are ostensibly the cudgel meant to induce the minds of leaders in Western governments–the US, United Kingdom, and the EU countries–to think Putin’s way on NATO’s “ceaseless” expansion toward its border. Putin’s demand to the West boils down to “Get out of my tree and stay out!” Things have not gone exactly his way so far, but perhaps to his satisfaction he has bathed in the sound of Western government voices and broadcast newsmedia, expressing shear terror and prognosticating war and doom in the meantime. Indeed, most Western governments believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and induce Western thinking to his like. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he will definitely invade Ukraine. 

Surely, this has been a beast of an episode for the relatively fledgling, democratic government in Kyiv. One might posit that Putin’s presidency is the general misfortune of all countries neighboring Russia. The threatening, aggressive atmosphere is intolerable. They must reconcile to the universal order of nature. They have knowingly, comfortably organized middle grade armies to face a first class multidimensional military force, and they have left themselves in a state in which they could never see themselves winning without the US by their side. What beats the brains of decisionmakers in Western capitals is how to mitigate the danger in a sustainable way without disturbing the status quo much or at all. Concerns expressed in conference rooms on the top floors of the US foreign and national security bureaucracies might reasonably be that relaxation of the atmosphere may require taking Putin to the limit hoping he will choose peace and avoid the massive loss that would result from even a successful push into Ukraine. There is also the possibility that relaxation of the contentious atmosphere will not reverse ambitions in Moscow regarding Ukraine. Nevertheless, at some point after applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, both sides will need to be flexible and to compromise, if either really wants to get anything out of the diplomatic process. New calculations must be made now on both sides if the aim is peace and stability. Qui totum vult totum perdit. (He who wants everything loses everything.)

To possibly assist the efforts of the US, and its allies also, to peer in on the other side to better understand Putin’s actions and intentions concerning Ukraine by stimulating ideas in others, in this essay, greatcharlie offers a few new ideas. They were inspired while preparing greatcharlie’s preceding January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”. That post also offered suggestions for optimizing US-Russia diplomacy regarding the Ukraine crisis that matched the importance, enormity of the situation. Making the effort to stimulate new ideas sometimes requires stepping onto shaky ground. A few thoughts on possible steps and schemes of Putin, the course of things and thinking that may be hidden or most often excluded from analyses, are presented here. They were developed primarily in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting. To an extent, thoughts offered might more aptly be described as intimations. Some facts uncovered and presented may appear odd, recherché, but nevertheless they were all gleaned from credible, often official sources made available to the public. Hopefully, that will not be a distraction for readers. To hold only to existing thinking on Putin is to cut oneself off from roads to understanding him and his decisions that might result through further examination. Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.)

Putin (left) being interviewed by Le Figaro in the Russian Cultural Center in Paris on May 29, 2017. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US presidents have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin again referenced, albeit vaguely,, unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin’s View of “Who Is in Charge” in Washington

If readers would bear with greatcharlie through these initial points, they will discover there is a method to what on the face of it recognizably appears as madness. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US president have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. (That view nearly parallels the impression previous US administrations once held on Putin’s situation in Russia.) Without judgment from greatcharlie, claims of such an arrangement have been proffered by conservative commentators, particularly those appearing on Fox News. Reportedly, Fox News pundits have repeatedly pushed the theory that Biden is president “in name only” and that a group of progressives–initially said to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and including former US President Barack Obama and former US Attorney General Eric Holder–are actually in control in Washington. How comments so outré expressed on Fox News, as well as others concerning the US administration found on online celebrity gossip magazines, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, could find acceptance in Moscow is a curious thing. Perhaps the original hope among Russian officials was to sift through them to pick-up faulty scraps of “palace intrigue” with the correct degree of discernment was absent. Once such ideas are caught, despite all that is wrong about them, they often worm their way into analyses. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a person in good health..

Russian theories concerning the power of the US President tend to be equally off-kilter. In an August 1, 2017 article, a journalist for Time, Simon Shuster, who served a stint in Russia, explained that “confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries.” Pointing to the memoir of former US President George W. Bush, Decision Points, Shuster noted that during a discussion at a summit in 2005, Putin refused to believe that the US commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle journalists in the US. Bush quotes Putin as saying: “Don’t lecture me about the free press.” Referring to Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News, Putin continued, “Not after you fired that reporter.” Shuster further explained: “In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings.”

However, the most shocking theory concerning “shadowy powers the run the US is that the ones who actually run the administration are more than simple advisers in the background receiving federal government salaries supposedly. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Concerning thoughts in the West on Russian views of how the US President in handling the Ukraine crisis, there was a considerable uproar heard worldwide, particularly in the newsmedia and expectedly from his political adversaries in the US, over how Putin might perceive and respond to a statement Biden made during his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. In fairness to Biden, presented here are comments in some detail to a question concerning the Ukraine crisis and whether the US and its allies were willing to put troops on the line to defend Ukraine, whether the US and its allies can agree on a sanctions package, and whether the threat of new sanctions would give Putin pause. BIden explained: “Well, because he’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one. Number two, we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to–we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I.  And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy.  I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader.  We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit.  We’ve had other–the OSCE has met, et cetera. And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades.  And it depends on what it does.  It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra–invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. (They condemn what they do not understand.) It was determined on the face of it that with those words, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” Biden opened the door to a Russian incursion into Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would react. The newsmedia in the US and worldwide laid it on thick, denouncing and condemning Biden for doing far more than giving away the store. Reporters and commentators put their art of communication into providing drama, much as Rembrandt in his works, to convince that Biden somehow worsened the crisis. That was hardly valid thinking. Their forecasts did not bear out. Russian forces did not move a jot in Ukraine’s direction en masse or piecemeal, nor was the deployment of them dramatically increased. Biden would not speak idly on such a grave matter. Recognizably, Biden erred to the extent that he offered a trifle, a glint from the discussion in the backroom, that turned out to be too much information for a world ready to react with opinions on what most appear to know too little about. Even the most experienced can learn lessons on matters they have known well for a long-time. Yet, in fairness to Biden, he may have had good reason to say what he did.

While satellites and other technical means are providing streams of intelligence on the day-to-day activities of their presumed opposition Ukrainian forces, there have no doubt been occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by the Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Independent Guards Reconnaissance Brigade of the Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Special reconnaissance missions typically include penetrating deep behind opposition lines to engage in the covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and prepared the ground for other special operations troop who might engage in direct action against the opposition and unconventional warfare, to include guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency operations. On special reconnaissance missions in Ukraine, Spetsnaz might be tasked to move a little bit deep into the country to determine what activities are being conducted at certain highly secured military facilities, locate new weapon systems that have been deployed, locate and assess newly constructed defenses, monitor troop movements, locate and monitor foreign military advisers possibly operating in the Donetsk and Luhansk and Ukrainian military officers and other foreign military officials of interest.

Scouts from Russian Federation Army reconnaissance units at a minimum would do the following: investigate the quality and size of enemy units; report on all activities of opposition units observed; report grid coordinates of opposition units. (If opposition units are moving, determine whether they are advancing of withdrawing and what routes they are using; determine which opposition military units or civilians are performing an activity, collecting information on uniforms, patches, any unit designations and features of civilians; report which opposition units were engaged in a particular activities; and, collect specifics about opposition units and their activities, detailed information with descriptions of tactics used, equipment and gear involved and all other noticeable aspects.

As suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities.

Russian Federation Army reconnaissance scouts in training in the Western Military District (above). During his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. It was determined on the face of it that with those words Biden opened the door to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would “react.” There reality is that there have doubtlessly been several occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Surely, it was easier for many to launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would most likely have done so in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the unseen forces.

Additionally, Russian military advisers are very likely present, “covertly”, in the Donetsk and Luhansk, recognized in Kyiv and by the  majority of governments in the world as the sovereign territory of Ukraine, engaging in a range of military assistance activities to separatist force the two regions to include some of the following: supplying weapon systems; resupply ammunition; provide training on new weapon systems, provide training separatist in small unit tactics and larger unit operations, support the operation of air defense systems; support the operation of intelligence, surveillance systems; support the operation of rocket systems (Interestingly enough, the Minsk Agreement requires Russia to maintain knowledge on all of these types if weapon systems, their capabilities, locations, and numbers deployed.); support air traffic control; support separatist command, control, and communications, supporting separatist operations and strategy; and support the collection of intelligence; and, provide separatist commanders with technical intelligence from Russian sources.

Finally, according to the US and the overwhelming majority of governments in the world, Crimea remains the sovereign territory of Ukraine. There is currently a rather large Russian force on that territory which moves troops and equipment in and out of it daily. The presence of those Russian forces in Crimea is a serious problem, yet the regular movement of troops in and out of the province at this point is a relatively minor matter.

In “Il Penseroso” (1631), published in his Poems (1645), the great John Milton quips: “Where more is meant than meets the ear.” With respect to Biden’s statement, it would appear more was meant than met the ear. The minor movement of Russian military personnel into Ukraine most likely for reasons outlined here would certainly not be worthy of a nuclear confrontation. Still, more pertinent is the fact that Putin, himself, unlikely believed Biden was suggesting hypothetically that Russia could move into Ukraine with a battalion sized force to capture some border territory in Donbass to establish some permanent Russian military presence or even more fanciful, land paratroopers at Kyiv’s Airport, reinforce them with tanks, create a well-defended corridor to the border along the most direct highway. Misunderstanding that says much about what the majority understands about Putin. Surely, it was easier for many to believe that Biden was suggesting such a thing and the launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. There was nothing that Biden or his aides could have said publicly about actual minor incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine as described here without making matters far worse. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would have done so because Biden’s comments indicated the US and its allies were aware of Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities inside Ukraine. He would most likely have docketed the event also in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the “shadowy forces.” 

To make one last point concerning Putin’s view on the relative impotence of the US President versus the unseen power in Washington, one must cast one’s mind back to the time when everything negative imaginable was said about US President Donald Trump in the newsmedia and elsewhere by his detractors and political adversaries. Given the sort of visceral reactions that typically ensue with the mere mention of Trump’s name, greatcharlie feels it is going out on shaky ground to remind how official action was regularly undertaken against him–in the Congress, through multiple hearings on alleged wrongdoings and two impeachment and through the appointment of a Special Counsel. All of that and more was done seemingly with a blindness to the interests of the US as it concerned the presidency as an office and US foreign and national security interests. No matter which side one might fall on this matter, it might be recognized that even to some small degree, on international matters, the new administration is reaping the bitter fruit of those negative efforts.

Conceivably, Putin (above) began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. It was a move made in tandem with his enhanced support of ethnic Russian separatist movements in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts that they might stoke emotional responses from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, To the degree that they would be led to miss advantages, make big mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might possibly provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion.

A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception

In greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, it is noted how Putin so surprisingly has gone through some lengths to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. Everything done to date appears designed to ensure the US and its allies know exactly what Russian forces are doing. Putin’s experiences as an intelligence officer in the field, political leader, and national leader have no doubt given him a mighty understanding of human nature and human interactions. However, equally pertinent is the fact that he is a judoka and well-experienced tournament competitor. In this respect, he is an expert in assessing competitors’ responses and reactions to forced falls and defeat. 

Conceivably, Putin began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. They were caught flat-footed when Russian forces moved in by the thousands. They were dubbed the “green men.” It was a move made in tandem with supporting ethnic Russian separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, oblasts (provinces) which border Russia. Donetsk and Luhansk are still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent, sovereign republics. 

Despite their best efforts short of military action, Obama administration officials could not put together a response that could pry Russia out. Bonjour les dégâts! Not to offend those in power now, but on Crimea,  as on a few other issues, senior Obama administration officials would habitually underestimate Putin. Putin then added figurative insult to injury by formally annexing Crimea. His latest build up of forces, several miles distant, yet near enough to the border of Ukraine, has caused sufficient anxiety in Washington and teasingly offer the opportunity for former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration to have a return engagement with him, and as he might hope, an opportunity to settle an old score. Perhaps in such a way Putin, too, might be revealing his desire too for a return engagement in which he could get even more of what he wants from Ukraine. Consuetudinis magna vis est. (The force of habit is great.)

Surely, in Washington, officials would claim what happened in the past with Russia on Crimea has not colored their new reactions on Ukraine. Subconsciously, perhaps it is a different story. As Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. To that extent, Putin may feel he has seen them straight, and seek, possibly as a side project, to stimulate their attitudes and behavior and calculate, even influence their moves successfully. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, it is clear that US administration officials believe the threat of Russian invasion is real. To enhance that sense of alarm, Putin would intermittently move a modicum of his forces in very observable ways, guaranteed to catch the attention of the US and its allies and heighten the sense of alarm, even though nothing  significant was really happening. As for the Ukrainians, every movement would hopefully serve to emphasize the defenseless condition in which the US and its allies have left them in. Putin might hope that would stir a sense of extreme vulnerability and anxiety, anguish and despair, among them. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts and panic among the Ukrainians that an emotional response might be stoked from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, to the degree that they might make big mistakes or even miss considerable advantages that are right before them.

To enlarge on this point on forced mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion. Alternatively, depending how the wind blows, he would seek to check US decisionmakers, leaving them without any good options that would allow the successful support of US interests and only holding the choice to make compromises, even furtively, on his main demands, that  would allow Ukrainians to live in peace in some satisfactory way. No one is infallible. As Putin knows, logic sometimes fails us. Reacting out of emotions rather than logic and wisdom could only result in missteps. Perhaps US decisionmakers might not even recognize any errors were made until they witnessed Putin exploiting their choices to the fullest. This may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, However, it is all hardly beyond Putin. His thinking in formulating such a scheme would likely be informed, bolstered by the aforementioned shambolic US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2021.

Without any intention to be offensive, greatcharlie states that one top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin is quite familiar with Blinken as he played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration–he was Obama’s National Security Adviser. He likely sees him as a real foe. Blinken is a professional, with experience in the high realms of government in the Obama administration, surely seeks only to be unwavering in his pursuit of US interests and not to be distracted by emotions toward Ukraine and its people. He is absolutely loyal and patriotic to the highest degree possible as his country’s top diplomat. In addition to being handsome and débonnaire, Blinken has a strong intellect and is strong-minded. Yet, he is mindful and very appreciative of his ethnic Ukrainian heritage. One might imagine that in a very human way, he would hope to make the land of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors very proud of his intercession in Ukraine’s time of crisis. On May 5, 2021, Blinken made his first visit to Ukraine as Secretary of State. Blinken visited Ukraine numerous times as a senior official in the Obama administration. Blinken’s great-grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated from Kyiv in 1904. He was accompanied by his wife Hanna and sons Solomon and Maurice Henry, Blinken’s grandfather. For Blinken, it was a cracking visit, during which his Ukrainian heritage was emphasized. At events, he often spoke the national language as taught to him by his family.

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) A shark can smell blood a mile off when he is hungry. That first Ukraine visit as Secretary of State in May 2021 meant much personally to Blinken. That visit very likely meant much to Putin, too! He no doubt, closely analyzed moments of it, to better understand Blinken and to uncover some advantages gleaned from it all. Exploiting someone’s meaningful personal event in some dark way is an unprincipled, reprehensible business, and a practice that was polished and honed within the erstwhile intelligence organization in which Putin spent his first career, the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Needless to say, intelligence work was his metier. 

To go a little further on this point, also as explained in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2018 post, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. When Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it is not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing one’s vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual framework for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators often use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. “Predatory humans” can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalizing. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassing or be a liability if their plans are found out. They train themselves to give off no tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting in Geneva in January 2022. It is possible that as an element of his current gambit, Putin and Russian Foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders would likely deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, the US administration believes the threat is real. One top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, it was revealed publicly that Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion.

Revenons à nos moutons. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to some possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion. Deeper and more subtle than what is on the surface for Blinken in such a circumstance would likely be the thought that Ukrainians at the end of all his diplomatic effort could find Russian troops sitting their laps. For him, that will not do. No prospective thought of Blinken on the whole matter would likely be more offensive than that to the extent US military units would not be involved on the ground. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul)

Although the vicissitudes of fortune in foreign affairs and war–friction in battle–have been described many times and in many ways by statesman, commanders, and scholars over millennia, greatcharlie chooses to quote Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian.” As presented in Book II, Ch. 4 of The General History of Polybius [Books 1-17] Tr. by Mr. Hampton 5th Ed. (TheClassics.us, 2013), he states: “In all human affairs, and especially in those that relate to war, . . . leave always some room to fortune, and to accidents which cannot be foreseen.” Whatever position Blinken may have developed concerning his ancestral homeland’s protection, perhaps its current citizens might be seeking to recast it a bit in what they deem would be a more helpful way. During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” 

Zelensky also explained that the decision by the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game.” He went on to say tactfully, “We are working together with our partners as a single team.” Speaking in the Ukrainian Parliament also on January 25th, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way across the border. He sought to comfort the parliamentarians by stating: “Don’t worry–sleep well,” He continued by sardonically saying: “No need to have your bags packed.” 

The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering considerable disfavor and rebuke from them. In this wise, it clearly appears to be the preference of his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation. To that extent, the Ukrainian officials would surely like to douse the “madding fever” consuming its proud son over Russian moves with a bucket of ice cold water. Faber est suae quisque fortunae. (Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.) (Note as aforementioned, thoughts as these are intimations, developed in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right). During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering disfavor and rebuke from them. On this wise, it would surely be the preference of the people leading his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation.

Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public.  With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for  committing US troops for that purpose either. If this parsing of Putin’s line of thinking at all hits the mark, certainly polling, would support any of the analysis hypothesized as being held by him. According to a Pew Research poll published on January 26, 2022 overall, 49% of US adults perceive Russia a competitor of the US. Only 41% view it is an enemy, and oddly 7% see Russia as a partner of the US. Despite evidence of increased political polarization in recent years, Republicans and Democrats apparently hold similar views of Russia’s bilateral relationship to the US. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, about 50% believe Russia as a competitor to the US, and 39% call it an enemy. About 9% of Republicans feel Russia is a partner of the US. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 49% see Russia as a competitor, while 43% view it as an enemy. About 6% of Democrats say Russia is a partner of the US.

Putin would also conceivably posit that at best what is known in the US public as the great East-West geopolitical struggle begun long-ago during postwar years and the unstemmed, unsatiated predilection of dividing up the world and deciding which country stands in which bloc, for most part is the stuff of school studies where the average Joe was concerned. If anything, they are viewed as matters in the province of government officials, policy officials. The January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll also finds that about 26% in the US public perceive the Russian military buildup near Ukraine to be a major threat to US interests. Only 33% in the US public believe Russia is a minor threat to US interests. About 7% of those polled say it is not a threat at all. As it is hypothesized here about Putin’s likely assessment, 33% of the public, a noticeably large share, are unsure whether Russian actions toward Ukraine affect US interests. Impressions of Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine also do not differ much by political affiliation. Republicans 27% of Republicans consider Russia a major threat to US interests, while 36% of Republicans view it as a minor threat in that regard. A somewhat large portion, 28% of Republicans, say they are unsure how the military buildup will have an impact. Among Democrats, 26% consider Russia’s build-up a major threat to US interests, while a greater 33% view it as a minor one, despite the position of the current Democrat-led US administration. Surprisingly, despite numerous public statements made about Ukraine by the administration, about 34% of Democrats stand slightly unsure how Russia’s military buildup will affect US interests. It would seem that for the US public, Ukraine is nothing to signify. They would do nothing to discover more about the situation. Even for those somewhat interested, doing so would hardly be worth the candle.

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin (above) doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either.

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Perhaps the worst episode of his experiences with State Department diplomats during the Obama administration was over Ukraine. Some diplomats stationed in Kyiv–names purposely excluded here–had made some very disturbing statements concerning Putin and Russia that likely seared a negative impression of State Department officials upon the Russian President. From that, one might imagine that still today, Putin may judge US foreign and national security policy officials as seeing the world strictly through the filter of their comfort. They take a high and mighty attitude toward all others. Publicly they tell the world how their interests are amplified by their values, and express concern over human rights, diversity, and global warming. Yet, privately, they are most frantic about US power and prestige, economic power foremost, and the aesthetics of its power in the world which translates into its geopolitical stance. Putin would expect them to put the US national interest first and foremost, but he may feel they take that tack with a blindness to the interests of others. On Ukraine and Taiwan, Putin hopes it will lead them down blind alleys to deadends.

To enlarge on this point, as it would concern US public opinion, State Department officials in Putin’s view, act in a world of their own, and drag the US public in directions that they for the most part are unaware of, and may disagree with, if ever consulted. As far as Putin might see, there are types in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies who look upon members of the US public as “Hottentots,” who could hardly fathom the complexity of the policy issues, situations their high offices contend with. Putin might imagine they would hardly believe the US public could understand what kind of skill and experience is required to maneuver against, to supplant, and to negate the interests of other countries and secure that of their own. That would closely equate to what Putin might project of his sense of the condescending attitude and behavior taken toward him during the Obama administration.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public presently knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, Putin would want to be the one to do that. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance now at Influencing US public opinion would be his likely assessment that the Biden administration, as he may perceive has been pattern in the US administrations he has dealt with over two decades, would not want the US public to be fully aware of what is happening, what is being done about Ukraine ostensibly in their interests. Putin would certainly be following polls of the US public, too. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from the January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it.

Using whatever medium might be made available and capitalizing on any popularity he may retain as an international figure, he may again seek to pitch his facts, his perception of the realities of the Ukraine matter to the US public. To be a bit more specific, Putin might express why Russia feels as it does about the situation, and what it feels it must do without security guarantees. Surely, it would be loaded with history from the Russian perspective, that any citizen living in Russia would dare not disagree with. Putin would hold out hope that the right choices will be made by the political leaders in the US. His hope would be that he will, using a diplomatic tone and soft phrases, stealthily scare the US public straight and make a lasting impression upon them, albeit a decidedly frightening one. Responding in a manner that he would doubtlessly suggest in his communication, he would hope the public will contact their Congressional Representatives and Senators, and repeat the facts and views he would have supplied them with. The ultimate hope for Putin would be to have encouraged Members of Congress to contact the White House and State Department to suggest “a better course” to Biden and top foreign and national security policy officials.

Recall that Putin attempted to reach the US public to shape opinions on Russia more than once. In a September 13, 2013 New York Times editorial entitled “A Plea for Caution,” Putin reached out to the US public concerning what he then perceived as the problematic nature of Washington’s policy approach to Syria and problems that could have been expected or possibly might have been avoided if a better path would have been chosen. He apparently believed then,  as very likely does now, that because of a perceived disinterest and disregard of public opinion in the US in foreign affairs, there was space for him to jump in to insinuate his views among the people. Misreading or miscalculation, he actually made the attempt. (See greatcharlie’s August 31, 2014 post which analyzes Putin’s 2013 editorial.) Prior to that editorial, Putin published November 14, 1999 op-ed in the New York Times, justifying Russia’s military action in Chechnya which at great cost re-established government control of the breakaway province. Putin was so concerned with shaping opinions in the US that doing so apparently in part impelled his efforts to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election. 

When he became Russian Federation President in 2000, he was mistakenly viewed in the West as shy, self-effacing despite his willingness to give interviews, make speeches, and publish writings, including a book entitled, First Person. An experienced national leader and well-practiced speaker, he seems more eager than ever to offer his views in public. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from a January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it. Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, surely Putin would like to be the one to do that.

The Way Forward

Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.) No senior Western official has publicly made the argument that Putin has lost his mind, nor has any provided evidence, even circumstantial evidence, that would lead one to believe some dramatic change in his mental health has occurred. To that extent, one might conclude no matter how disagreeable, deplorable his actions may be, it is accepted that he is behaving in a logical, quite sane manner. Moving comfortably in the reality of a leader as Putin is no mean feat. Few national leaders have had an authentic, natural rapport with him. That was not a shortcoming on their part, simply a reality as a result of their respective life experiences. Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. 

Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, one’s righteousness, is a good thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this particular crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. 

What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Superficial approaches to achieving an agreement, mere appearances of taking action that lack materiality, that are elaborate and useless, must be avoided. Such fruitless efforts will end up aggravating the situation. This episode may have actually opened the door to healing wounds, to solving problems that have only been bandaged to this point. Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and easily lost. Hopefully, the parties involved will make the most of this opportunity. Casus ubique valet, semper tibi pendeat hamus. Quo minime credas gurgite piscis erit. (There is scope for chance everywhere, let your hook be always ready. In the eddies where you least expect it, there will be a fish.)

Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help

Russian Federation President Vladimir (above) at the International military-technical forum “Army-2021” at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre, Moscow, August 2021. Putin ostensibly wants the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near Russia’s borders, are moving very close to a red line for him. Ostensibly to achieve that, he has massively built-up Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border with Ukraine. Some in the West believe Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Still, more appears to be involved here than Putin just being the Putin he has been over four US administrations. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of Putin, the person, will be briefly scratched a bit here.

Regarding the massive build-up of Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border of its neighbor, Ukraine, and alarming activities that may indicate those forces will invade it soon, Washington and Moscow continue to wave their fists at each other. Moscow has denied having any intention to attack Ukraine and has explained away its buildup of troops as being a defensive measure. By building up military forces near Ukraine, which is all he has actually done physically at this stage, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin ostensibly would like to cause the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as Russia), are moving very close to a red line for him. Putin insists that the US and its allies provide Russia with signed guarantees to refrain from expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia and limiting their military activity near Russia’s borders, particularly in and around Ukraine. However, some in the West believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Ukraine was a flashpoint during the administration of US President Barack Obama in February and March of 2014. It was then that Crimea, Ukraine, was quietly and orderly captured by Russian troops dubbed “the green men.” The Obama administration was similarly at odds with Russia over Syria, mutants mutandis.

Putin seems to enjoy being seen fighting the good fight against Russia’s old adversaries the US and its allies.On the other side of the coin, dealing with Russian moves, Russian aggression, has become more tiresome for US administrations and Western capitals as much as anything else. Yet, Putin has not challenged the US mainly as a result of some domestic political consideration, or even less likely boredom or some vanity. Putin did not move so many troops to Russia’s western border because that area is more commodious than the locations they were previously based. Assuredly, Putin harbors negative thoughts and feelings toward the US and choices made by decision-makers that concern Russia in a significant way. Asked to bend: retreat back away from a matter, it is unlikely that he would without acquiring “concessions” from the US and its allies. He has issued preconditions concerning an agreement on “NATO expansion” already. (Perhaps he did not issue preconditions before entering any talks because he even realized that would be going a bit too far.) One would imagine he entered into this venture thinking, hoping he could potentially get what he wanted without having Russian forces fire a shot. it does not appear that Putin and his advisers are not too far down the road to change course. However, greatcharlie agrees that he would probably go into Ukraine if at some moment he feels it is, as it likely would have been determined by him along with his advisors and war planners in advance, to be the right time to do so. One would do no more than justice to Putin by presuming he long contemplated his military moves before cutting orders to get them rolling. He is certainly not moving step by step in what might be described as a hot-headed manner. Still, the larger decision to act as he has regarding Ukraine may very well be the result of a miscalculation. It is the unsought, undesirable job of the West to help him see that.

Inquiry into the fruit of things requires consideration of how Putin may view the situation. Russia has been led by Putin and his thinking from the posts of president and prime minister since 2000. A positive relationship with Russia has not been maintained by the US. There are many patterns apparent in his repeated confrontations with the West. Some eyes in the West appear somewhat closed to what may be happening with the Russian Federation President from the inside. What currently plagues the relationship is more than Putin just being the Putin he has been over five US administrations. The threat of the use of force, even mutual destruction, underlies Washington’s diplomacy with Moscow. The idea being that a somewhat expansionist, yet plainly aggressive, Putin can be made to behave as desired by placing a club at the end of the path he is traveling. He is ostensibly put in a position to act reasonably before he reaches it. It would go a long way to explain the somewhat unbroken string of unsuccessful interactions of US administrations with him, if the problem is that no useful perspective of why Putin has responded so aggressively has been developed. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of the intractable Putin, the man, will be briefly scratched a bit here. New light is shed on the man by using a different lens. There may be something about his inner self repeatedly being manifested and must be looked at from the correct angle. The aim is not to shoot down other analyses, but hopefully to add to them in a way to figuratively help put the reticle of some analysts on the bulls-eye. Offering what may be a few missing links might create an improved understanding of Putin and his actions, lifting thinking on Putin, to a degree, up from the region of the commonplace. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

The Russians are coming! A mixed formation of Russian attack and transport helicopters moving toward their target during the Zapad 2021 military exercise. (above). If Putin decides to go into Ukraine, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly from sea assets, would likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

The Situation: What Could Russian Forces Do?

From what can be gathered about the situation, the US Intelligence Community has concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have already been deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border, too. Reportedly, online disinformation activity regarding Ukraine also has increased in the way it did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. According to the New York Times, the most evident scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be to conquer the entire country but to rush forces into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to drive all the way to the Dnieper River. Purportedly at the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined. Suffice it to say, Moscow calls such assessments of Russia’s intentions slanderous ravings. Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who unfortunately does not exactly have a watertight record for tying her statements to reality, laid it on thick in the newsmedia, alleging Western and Ukrainian talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.” It is really disempowering to put out such a message. 

If Putin decides to go in, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly the sea assets, would most likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the main battle area and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Russian forces would most likely be deployed in a way to prevent the resurrection of Ukrainian forces in areas which Russian forces have captured. As for reinforcements or reserves, the rest of Russia’s armed forces would be right across the border in Russia. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

A stern fact is that the Ukrainians will hardly receive enough military aid from partners and friends, particularly Javelin handheld anti-tank rockets and Stinger handheld antiaircraft rockets, fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of Javelins, Stingers and other weapons systems shipped to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly surveil the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. As for an insurgency in captured areas after an invasion, doubtlessly Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Amat victoria curam. (Victory loves preparation. [Victory favors those who take pains.]) As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan, stratagem, to counter such steps short-term and long-term. Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a result of Euromaidan, the Revolution of Dignity, Putin likely feels more and more that he is being “rock souped.” Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront of Western expansion eastward. NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and the government in Kyiv is hopelessly pulled further away from Moscow’s reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that his logically reached perception has actually been fostered by Western actions.

Ukrainian troops training with the FGM-148 Javelin, a handheld, shoulder-fired precision missile system designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as hovering helicopters (above). The Ukrainians would hardly receive military aid from partners and friends fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to handle all aspects of that matter. As for a post-invasion insurgency, surely Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Admittedly, it is surprising how much Putin has done to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. However, there is surely an art that moves Putin’s mind. One might presume that as he initially staked the situation with regard to the US, almost nothing communicated through telephone conversations or bilateral talks alone would be enough to compel the US to act as he wished. The potential use of military force could not exist as an abstraction, being left to the imagination of Western national leaders and their advisers. With a build-up military force, he could illustrate, convince US decisionmakers that the threat of military action was real.

Surely Moscow closely observed events as they developed in the border crisis between India and China. Although it has been repeated as of late that China backed down to India on the matter of the border crisis in which occasional gunfire was exchanged and lives were lost. The common wisdom is that the aggressive moves it made with ease against India placed China in a situation which in the long run would prove too consuming, too difficult to handle and contrary to national interest, particularly such an approach can have an impact economically. There was also too little gain for China both geostrategically or geopolitically as compared to the potential loss suffered from such an investment. 

An odd advantage that Putin has is that the US will act in a fairly predictable fashion. There is less for him to fear of some random, unexpected decision from the US than the US may fear about such a choice made by him. Placed in a trying position, which Putin surely hopes he has done, a certain reality would need to be faced by US decisionmakers. Conceivably, he would expect the top military officers and officials at the Pentagon (US Department of Defense) to see the situation straight. Indeed, he may be hoping the Pentagon would be the voice of reason, the source that will explain that the real possibility exists for the situation to get out of control if the US were to commit itself too heavily to Ukraine’s defense. That would seem especially true if US decisionmakers contemplated having to act if both Russia moved on Ukraine and China moved on Taiwan almost simultaneously. That is a real possibility despite how fanciful it may sound. Tremendous pressure would be placed on the available military resources of the US and its allies. It would seem unlikely to Putin that decisiommakers in Washington would sink themselves deeper into a situation in which only bad choices were left available. C’est comme ça! However, Putin still cannot be absolutely certain that Washington would parse out the situation as he has. He has the task of showing it this perspective and convincing it to acquiesce to at least most of his demands.

The clever bit for Putin would be to determine what military action by NATO, if any, would be taken to physically halt a Russian advance into Ukraine. To that extent, Putin may have assessed that with regard to Ukraine, as well with Taiwan, policies of past eras are no longer viable under current circumstances. The military forces of Russia have been transformed. Insofar as Putin is concerned, unless the US planned to transport the bulk of its armed forces into Ukraine and nearby, any challenge by the US and its allies that included military action would mean recklessly placing some small set of their forces in great peril. Russia would not back down once hostilities were initiated. Again, fighting along its own border would allow Russia countless advantages to bear on its prospective opponent. It would truly be absolute madness for Washington to commit its forces to the fight without some clear way to win or create some acceptable circumstance they could not have achieved without firing a shot. Ironically, in the name of global peace and security, to avoid a nuclear Armageddon, it would need to let its declared partners in Kyiv fall. Even though the US public today is uninterested in starting foreign wars, if the Biden administration commits the US to a fight that would have an uncertain purpose and outcome, it would garner great attention from the public and very likely fail to get its approval. To the extent that these considerations factor in Putin’s calculus, he would most likely find Washington’s stated position on Ukraine to be unrealistic and unreasonable. It only makes sense as long as Moscow does not act.

If efforts at peace fail, it is not completely clear to greatcharlie whether Putin would want all of Ukraine or just some of it: Donetsk and Luhansk for instance. If he wants more, his plans may likely include capturing Kyiv and establishing a new Ukrainian government. That would take up an enormous amount of time, resources, effort, and political capital. Putin seems too shrewd to rush into something as colossal as administering Ukraine. Still, no one is infallible. Putin has been known to miscalculate. It was a gross miscalculation to interfere with the US elections in 2016, an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented on by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. If Putin acts militarily in Ukraine and successfully captures enough territory to his content–at least on paper he should be able to with some ease, he would again be looked upon as a shining hero among supporters. The effort by NATO and the West in general to deter him would be depicted as a debacle. If he fails to make gains against the Ukrainians and capture sufficient territory, the failure would be an enormous defeat for Putin. It is possible that the rippling effect of such a prospective defeat would lay the groundwork for his departure as Russia’s leader.

US President Joe Biden (left center) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan to counter such steps short-term and long-term.

The View from the US

In remarks before meeting with his Infrastructure Implementation Task Force on January 20, 2022, US President Joe Biden laid out his position on a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Biden, who would not expect to speak idly on such a grave matter or any matter, for that case, stated: “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin.  He has no misunderstanding.  If any–any–assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.  But–and it would be met with severe and coordinated economic response that I’ve discussed in detail with our allies, as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin. But there is no doubt–let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price. It is also not the only scenario we need to be prepared for: Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression in paramilitary tactics, so-called “gray-zone” attacks, and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. Remember when they moved into the Donbas with “Little Green Men”?  They weren’t–they were dealing with those who were Russian sympathizers and said that Russia had no–nobody in there. Well, that includes “Little Green Men” in uniforms, as well as cyberattack. We have to be ready to respond to these as well–and decisively–in a united way, with a range of tools at our disposal.” Très, très fort!

During a two hour videolink call concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, Biden also warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine. Putin complained NATO is attempting to “develop” Ukrainian territory. He demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward. Although there were no breakthroughs, the two sides agreed upon continuing communications. In greatcharlie’s December 31, 2021 post entitled, “Infrequently Discussed Issues Regarding Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders,” it was explained that from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. Despite expressing concerns that Putin may invade Ukraine at any moment, there may still be some in Washington who assess and intuit, correctly or incorrectly, that since action has not been taken, with all of the tactical benefits such a surprise move would garner, it may not be taken. The delay In smashing into Ukraine may be a true lack of desire on the part of Putin to bear the burden of administering more of that country. There is the off chance that Putin may have some doubts about the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, it is possible, despite what greatcharlie has already suggested here on this matter, that Putin may be worried about economic retaliation from the West. (Russia does not have much to shield itself from economic retaliation as compared to China, bound to the West with its products and production capabilities. The energy it provides to Europe and Nord Stream 2 are the more meaningful cards for Moscow to play. With concern to that, during the administration of US President Donald Trump, the US offered Europ a fairly decent alternative source of energy worthy of consideration.)

Putin usually plays his cards close, making it difficult to know whether some resolution might be found through a more open dialogue. No doubt officials in Western capitals are mindful of being too attached to diplomacy in coping with Putin. Each is doubtlessly versed enough in history to hark back to this infamous statement which likely has an expected chilling effect on efforts to work with him: “As long as war has not begun, there is always hope. For the present I ask you to await as calmly as you can the events of the next few days. As long as war has not begun, there is always hope that it may be prevented, and you know that I am going to work for peace to the last moment.” These words were spoken by United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 27, 1938, during an address to the British people as concerns of war rose as negotiations between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and himself. The tragic outcome of that effort is well-known. 

For Washington, Moscow’s actions have far greater implications than the progress of US-Russian relations. As Blinken also explained during his January 8, 2022 CNN appearance: “There are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security.” He went on to note that the US is joined by international partners “to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated.” An additional step in knocking down the idea that this crisis stands as a problem between Washington and Moscow has already been taken by the US. On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated very clearly on CNN: “It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.” In effect, he expressed the view that despite intercession of the US and its allies, this matter remains Kyiv’s problem mainly. Looking at the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes, from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published as twelve short stories in the Strand Magazine (1891), was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy a readership made much distraught over his demise. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation. Moreover, Putin is a far more powerful opponent for Ukraine than Moriarty was to Holmes.

Putin (right) seated in a conference room at the Kremlin during a videolink call with Biden (on screen left). During a two hour videolink concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, There were no breakthroughs, but the two sides agreed to continue communications. From Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict draws near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. There is the off chance Putin may have some doubts as to the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, Putin may very well be worried about economic retaliation from the West.

Some Key Issues for Negotiation as the Situation Stands

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis for the moment would imaginably mean, in brief, crafting an agreement with Russia that will relax tensions, strengthen the sovereignty of Ukraine, enhance the security of Ukraine, and ensure Russia remains committed to whatever agreement is reached. Ukrainians must be allowed to enjoy full control and use of their own territory. Ukraine would retain self-determination as a sovereign state. If Ukraine wants to join NATO that wish will be protected. (Perhaps with some disagreeable yet necessary minor alteration in the short-term.) Russia would need to take action assented to in an agreement that would confirm it has no aggressive intention. Any action that may have prompted accusations by both sides that the other was moving back to the adversarial thinking of the Cold War and the paradigm of East-West spheres of influence of the past must be addressed. Lending some further context for Washington’s efforts to negotiate with Moscow on Ukraine, Blinken, also stated during his January 9, 2022 interview on CNN that, “It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions.” 

Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia. They would all doubtlessly agree they have no reason to give up anything they have. They are not bothering Russia and Russia should not be bothering them. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow that they could accept, they would want to know how Russia would be held to the terms of the signed document. They would be skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. Plus ça change! All would likely agree that force should not need to be relied upon to hold Moscow to it. There is the likelihood many NATO allies and neighboring countries to Russia might sign an agreement with Russia, but would be hesitant to do so. If the US sought some collective agreement concerning the situation with Ukraine, those countries may see it as too much to ask or a manifestation of naiveté by leading powers less threatened by Russia. Some capitals would likely respond to the suggestion with reproach. Even more, they may believe the constant struggles with Russia that have created their anxieties among them about negotiating with Moscow. US officials would be up against that sort of reception and more if it sought to create some consensus among the Europeans on constructing a comprehensive agreement with Russia. Perchance if the situation is approached with a degree of gentleness and patience–“with diplomacy”–their efforts may bear fruit.

Yet, given these and other considerations that would shape a diplomatic effort in this crisis, to get a firm handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Putin (center) flanked by Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu (right) and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (left). Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia regarding Ukraine. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow, all would remain skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. To get a handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Some Common Wisdom Regarding Putin

Many Western political leaders and senior foreign and national security policy officials have claimed to have the ability to look into Putin’s soul. The reviews of their skills have been mixed. US President George Bush provided the following statement on the matter on June 18, 2016: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.” However, given his former work in the intelligence industry, his decades of experience in politics and as a national leader, Putin is the one who has mastered such an art. While he is never publicly vocal with his findings concerning other national leaders he meets, his conclusions are best manifested by the actions he takes as they regard their interests.

Every US official Putin meets likely for him becomes the avatar of Western duplicity. He will always be distrustful, and will simply study the individual seeking to gain a sense from his or her words, the nature of the conversation among the most senior US officials on Ukraine. To this extent, each conversation informs his next move, not due to its content, but due to what he perceives to lie behind their words. In many ways times have changed for Russia, and more dramatically for Putin. Russia can not exactly match the US as a global power. It cannot exactly match the power of the US even militarily. However, its capabilities have increased and it can do more things in the world now than a decade or two ago. It would appear that Putin so badly wants to get that point across.

It was never the case that Putin could have been shaped into the Russian leader Washington wanted. Moreover, Putin was never a man to be trifled with. However, these were among many ideas about Putin perhaps carried over from the tail-end of the Clinton administration, over two decades ago, when the then young president was establishing himself both at home and abroad. Perhaps it accounts for the manner in which those officials in the Obama administration approached Putin, dismissing him to a degree as something akin to a potentate, a footnote in their dealing with a Russia that was a shadow of its former self during the Soviet era in nearly every respect. There is a popular saying among many in the younger generation that “to compete, one must compare.” Officials in the Obama administration saw no comparison between the power Russia had maintained following the Soviet Union’s collapse, and the US which was at the time, and remains, the preeminent power in the world. Putin would likely posit that Washington has done more than enough since the Obama administration to push him to act as he has.

It remains a trend to look at Putin superficially. Interestingly, it allows everyone to have an equal shot at analyzing him and his moves. To that extent, time is spent, near idly, discussing how bad a person he is. (One very senior US official referred to Putin as “a killer” In May 2021.) At the core of even such unremarkable analyses must be something about the whole authentic enough to give it true weight. Yet, aspects of such analyses are often not quite logical. It is fascinating to see how simple facts may go some way to explain what might be recognized at best as a charitable position. As seasoned analysts would tell, if that product is simulated, conclusions that result from it will be inauthentic. What is left to examine amounts to a mere perception of what is going on in Putin’s mind and in his camp as compared to the hard facts. Using conclusions that result from such analyses will never allow policymakers and other senior officials to approach him in the right way. Even logical opinions are not the equivalent of fact. Truth is not an opinion. In the defense of some analysts, adhering to such a limited, official approach to Putin could hardly be described as neglectful. Perhaps considerations outside of what is generally accepted are avoided in fear of being castigated for devoting time and effort to trivialities. There must be something stronger that lends an understanding of his state of mind

Another problem arises when such views, despite all that is wrong about them, are adopted unconsciously by senior policy officials or worm their way into analyses, and even worse, as a possible result of that contamination, more apposite aspects may fail to receive sufficient or any treatment. It is hardly deliberate. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions, too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a world class athlete.

The West’s position on Putin as it stands today is that Putin has a mind to have Russia serve as the follow-on to the Soviet Union and claim its status and glory as a power. The enterprise has faced some rough patches over the years, but has progressed nonetheless. Putin’s actions in countries formerly aligned with the Soviet Union or were under its influence decades ago have been his targets and he has managed to get the attention and response from the West led by the US, the adversary of the erstwhile Soviet Union. It sounds bad enough for his neighbors, the West, and all others interested in maintaining stability and security in their countries, regions, and the world. Yet, in taking that tack, he has to an extent guaranteed Russia would remain stuck, limited to being a only simulacrum of the Soviet Union, a shadow of the past. Granted, Russia may be seen as possessing formidable military forces, with new weapons developments and declarations of the intention to defend its territory and its interests, but not a country that was advancing politically, economically, or socially, seeking to elevate to something better. Not to offend, but perhaps that was the best he could ever expect from his people.

Putin (right) and US President Bill Clinton (left) at the G8 Summit in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in July 2000. When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

Missteps in Responding to Putin Somewhat Downplayed

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

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

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

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

As a result of Euromaidan, power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced Western influence were taken. Putin responded robustly. The escalation of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea. Crimea, at time was the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and most national capitals say it still is. Putin’s actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8 and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all. Although Russia was suspended from the G8–once again the G7, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the group until 2017.

Further reflecting his hot and cold impressions about the other industrial powers, although Russia was suspended from the G8, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the G8 until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin retained control of that situation by choosing when Russia would depart and then exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his. It is an apparent odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20–the Group of 20, in essence a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets. As of 2021 there are 20 members in the group to include Putin’s erstwhile G8 partners, the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU, and also Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and his Russia. To all appearances, as a G20 member, Russia plausibly retains authority in world governance. 

Una idea perplexina. (The idea is strange to us.) Intriguingly,  Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have less meaning for him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness. (Hopefully, Putin was not feeling any real discomfort.) It was a small matter, a trifle, but perhaps it will later be discovered that it was small in the way that small movements of a needle would indicate an earthquake on a seismograph.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. 

One might go as far as to say apparently none of the negative perspectives, memories that Putin held regarding the West were revealed. He concealed them with sangfroid and equanimity. Yet, he likely thought of them by day and nursed them by night. Inclusion was not enough to stem those feelings or his responses to Western moves albeit in Russia’s direction. Once power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced US influence were taken, Putin responded robustly. The promotion of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, then the sovereign territory of Ukraine. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8–now once again the G7–and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all.

Putin (left) United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron (center) and US President Barack Obama (right) at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland in June 2013. Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. Perchance Putin could imagine that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him, He already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. The whole G8 experience may have left a bad taste in his mouth.

Putin from a Different Lens

What one might gather from this part of the story is that more than anxiety and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves, there is apparently a real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies. It has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Often, that sense of vulnerability has been exacerbated by efforts from Washington to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Note how every step taken eastward by the US in Europe, as innocuous as each may have appeared to Washington’s eyes, has led to hyper-vigilance–for example, increased intelligence and surveillance activity and aerial and naval incursions in the territory of NATO Members–and military action by Moscow. Though it has been listened to with skeptical ears in the West, Putin has said that US moves evoke his actions.

In a December 21, 2021 Washington Post opinion piece entitled, “Putin Wants Us To Negotiate over the Heads of Our Allies. Washington Shouldn’t Fall for It”, the former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul lists what he identifies as Russian actions and policies undermining European security. McFaul included the following on that list: Russia well-maintains troops and weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova; Russia has recognized the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries; Russia caotured and annexed Crimea and well-supports the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine; Russia has deployed SS-26 Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and maintains them in other deployment locations; Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad; Russia has engaged in assassination operations, such as those conducted in the European cities of London, Moscow, Salisbury, Berlin and Tomsk; and, Russia has aided remaining European dictators who kill and arrest Europeans exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. One can only imagine Putin’s inner-dialogue as he took each step.

Cast one’s mind back to Putin’s greatest expression of vulnerability in March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Conceivably, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time have truly rattled Putin and could potentially push him over the edge. That must always be considered. If the actual intention is to irritate Putin, then there will be no firm peace ever reached while he runs Russia.

Putin (above) in an office in the Senate Building at the Kremlin. In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, the possibility exists that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message.

What Might Be Done Regarding Putin To End This Crisis?

More than once has Putin associated himself with the ideas of “West German” Parliamentarian Egon Bahr on East-West competition. Discussing NATO in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and its allies as having broken their promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and doing only what is best for their own interest in the name of all countries. Putin told his interviewer: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have.”

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam. (Life’s short span forbids us to enter on far reaching hopes.) Whatever it is that Putin wants to achieve, he must move faster than time wastes life. Time is not on Putin’s side. National leaders and political figures in power now in the capital of those countries of the former Eastern bloc which Putin so dearly covets to develop Russian influence are individuals of the last generation that even briefly lived while the Soviet Union had considerable influence, sway in their countries. Coming generations will only know the Soviet Union from history books. They will unlikely as a pattern, by inertia, due to insouciance  simply seek as their predecessors seek to connect with Moscow. The benefits of connection to the West will be well understood by them. Relatives who in the past decades who immigrated West would likely have some influence on their understanding of those benefits. Russia simply will not compare, offer anything they would desperately want to invest in their future. Russia itself represents the past, and how bad things were, something no one should reasonably want to be like or be part of.

As greatcharlie ruminated on in its January 18, 2018 post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One,” Putin very likely has considered what Russia would be like after he, as one might presume he accepts, is “called to heaven” or perhaps elsewhere, goodness knows. It would seem that now while on Earth, he is on course regarding Ukraine to saddle future generations of Russians with a country or parts of it that are still economically, socially, and politically challenged that they will need to care for, to pay for. Future generations may not appreciate that. In Donetsk and Luhansk, future generations might abandon their homelands for “the other Ukraine” or points further West. They would unlikely pour into Russia for employment, a “better life.” In the future, a Russian leader might very well try to reverse whatever Putin seems to be attempting in Ukraine due to financial strains caused, or–not to be offensive–out of decency. Taking on Donetsk and Luhansk might very well be viewed in the future as a grave miscalculation, another step toward sealing Russia’s fate as a second tier superpower. It is greatcharlie’s assessment that future generations of Russians will not want to hold on to Ukraine as leaders of Putin’s generation, with an idea to reestablish Russia to resemble the Soviet Union. This reality may have value in negotiations with Putin. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting at Hotel Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. January 21, 2022. For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Washington and Moscow could engage in an exploratory dialogue during which suggestions could be sought on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be.

A Possible Way Ahead in Diplomacy

For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Engaging in what in essence would be an exploratory dialogue, transparent and frank, between Washington and Moscow on such matters would be the first step. In that dialogue, suggestions could also be sought from Moscow on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be. If the US and Russia can cooperate on matters concerning the International Space Station, surely they can cooperate on an Earthly matter as Ukraine. N’est-ce pas vrai?

In theory, enough compromise might result from the collective talks to result in an agreement that would satisfy hopes and mitigate fears on all sides. Perhaps it would become the paradigm for peace in Europe that would remain until that time a new generation of Russia leadership that would share the values of other open, democratic and outward-looking societies. After the agreement is reached, Putin would need to feel freer and be able to stand upright. The US and its allies, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the UN, and especially Ukraine would be on a long list of those who would need to be satisfied with the plan for negotiating with Russia and the resultant argument. Creating consensus and acquiring agreement across the board on everything negotiated with Russia will take time but that course must be taken. Besides, if one is to believe Putin, and accept that he has no plans to invade Ukraine, then there is no real need to rush.

In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, it is possible that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message. It could be a former US President, German Chancellor, or European President or Prime Minister that Putin seemed to favor. Perhaps a small multinational delegation of doyens rather than a single doyen could meet with Putin. He may appreciate that. The immediate task of whoever meets Putin would be agreement to cease actions threatening Ukraine and publicly making demands for that would require its government to surrender self-determination and freedom to associate with other countries as Kyiv saw fit. The appropriate alternative suggested would be to discuss all issues. Putin would need to be convinced that everything Moscow, he, might deem pertinent could be hashed out at the suggested multi-party talks. The theme of the conversation would essentially be “Let us do everything the right way this time.” Again, Putin may appreciate that.

As for any agreement reached through multi-party talks, if Putin accepts that approach to diplomacy, more than simple guarantees must be insisted upon. Apparently, Lavrov presented a rather one-sided draft treaty to Blinken when they met in Geneva on January 21, 2022. That will not do. It was a rather incommesurate and hasty approach to the situation given its enormity. The effort to maintain Ukraine’s security, Russia’s security, Europe’s security must not only be comprehensive, it must be a dynamic process. Not to get into too much detail,, but as a comprehensive agreement, a new agreement would supersede the existing Minsk Agreement, although its terms could be referenced. Reasonably, terms of a new agreement could be built upon terms of the Minsk Agreement when directly related. Of course, the decision on that, as with everything else, is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties. All issues concerning Crimea and existing sanctions could be disassociated from these talks. Those talks could continue in their current venue. Again, the choice there is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties.

The negotiation process might require parties to take some the following steps, among many others: construct detailed plans of action on every key area as mutually recognized, each issue of contention, must be formulated to ensure greater clarity not confusion; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for actions as reducing the number of destabilizing forces near border; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for the suspension for refraining from existing actions such as military exercises; reduce the scope and scale of military exercises near the Russia-Ukraine border despite perceptions of whether they are threatening or benign; establish liaison offices in the security zone on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border could be created staffed by Russian and Ukrainian officers and military advisers if desired by either party; organize limited but comprehensive aerial surveillance over the security zone would be organized and appropriately scheduled; establish multiple military and diplomatic committees each with responsibilities in key areas of the agreement and respectively staffed with appropriate expertise and authority could be created to review plans for action in key established under the main agreement or hash out nagging issues could possibly exist; organize and schedule direct Ukraine-Russia talks, in a multiparty forum, at the ministerial level and deputies just below to include NATO Members and non-NATO Members in European countries neighboring Ukraine can be created.

It would be crucial to eliminate all ambiguities at the negotiating table through multilayered agreements if necessary as the process moves along. Pull all loose threads detected at the negotiating table may include using scenarios and hypotheticals. Whether a negotiating path as suggested will create stability in Europe right away, greatly improve Ukraine’s security and remove Russia’s fears, perhaps even through some very creative steps, remains to be seen. Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus. (Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (center) visiting his country’s eastern frontline in December 2021 (center). On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the view on CNN that in the end, despite the vigorous efforts of the to correct the situation, this matter is mainly Kyiv’s problem and the Ukrainians have a Russian “gun to their head.” Viewing the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand Magazine that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy their readership. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation.

The Way Forward

Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.) Putin does not seek to make Russia first in Europe nor match the power and position of the US in the world. Russia lacks the wherewithal, the resources,, and a lot of other things required to accomplish such objectives. However, Putin does want to control what he claims to be in Russia’s “near abroad”: the former Soviet republics on its border. As the US and its European allies become more engaged with them, it becomes less likely that he will be able to accomplish that goal either. If the US and its allies were not enough trouble for Putin, his “friends” in Beijing have been knocking on the doors of those near abroad governments, making enticing, huge offers, which Moscow cannot match, to invest in their economies and support industrial and infrastructure development as a way to enhance ties–albeit perhaps not always in a legitimate way. Unfortunately for Putin, he was unable to shape Russia’s position in the world positively over the past two decades, by transforming the country to be a contributing member as an advanced industrialized, economic power, and present Russia as anything close to an alternative as a partner to its neighbors. Russia remained a country from which villainy of some sort was expected more than anything else. Unable to sway the capitals of bordering former Soviet republics to Russia’s camp, it would seem he made the decision a while back to use brute force. US decision-makers should not simply expect Putin to get a hold of himself, and get a grip concerning the use of greater military force in Ukraine. He already moved on Crimea, so for many, no points could be argued that would convince them that he would not do more. The capture of Crimea may have actually been only the first phase in a plan of far greater conception concerning Ukraine.

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis would likely mean crafting a sustainable agreement with Russia, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, and that is the rub. Some national leaders in Europe might go as far as to say aggression simply resides in Putin and it is too late for any worthwhile diplomacy with him. They may need to overcome an anxiety over the history of Russian behavior before altering their thinking on that. Still, at the same time, no responsible party involved in this matter wants war. Given how Putin thinks, more than aggression and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves inform his actions. A real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. That sense of vulnerability is intensified by Washington’s efforts to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Putin has actually said that US moves evoke his actions, which thereby are actually reactions. That is hardly something he, or any military commander, would want to admit or to accept.

As suggested here, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Some, despite everything presented here, albeit in brief, might contend that there is little obvious room for compromise from either side. However, the referee has not yet blown the whistle for full-time. It has always been greatcharlie’s contention that smart people are usually able with the appropriate amount of effort to find answers to problems. A posse ad esse. (From possibility to actuality.)

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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

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.)

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.)

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.”

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.

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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Intelligence Under the Communist Party: The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inception of the Ministry of State Security

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

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

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

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

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

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