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, it 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 with the Communist Party from their very beginning. They are charged with the responsibility for ensuring the tranquility of order. From outside of China, one can freely call the well-experienced intelligence officers who fill the ranks of MPS as tragedians, specializing in a very tragic role for their country.

Manifestations of Political Pushes from Behind in MI5’s Past

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

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

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

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

Other Ugly Truths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.” A commonality among the homelands of the different ethnic and religious groups in China is the fact that they are depressed regions with unemployment, poor infrastructure and many structures tumbled down. Interdum volgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat. (At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.) 

Uyghur citizens seated in formation in a detention center (above). Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present Day Focus and Operations of MSS

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

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

Foreign Intelligence Operations of MSS

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

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

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

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

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

MSS Counterintelligence

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

A Difficult Comparison with MI6 Counterintelligence

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

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

To elaborate further on MSS counterintelligence, certainly it would do whatever possible to intercept, neutralize, and recruit foreign intelligence officers, as well as their operatives and informants in China and those working in locations close to, and on matters concerning Chinese interests in other countries. As with almost any other counterintelligence organization worldwide, necessary attributes must be present to initiate a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy.” The primary means to confirm their identity is through careful study and observation of the subject and thorough research of all available information. It is a process similar to selecting a target for recruitment. Covert audio and video monitoring in the residences, vehicles, offices, hotels frequented and homes of friends of the suspected foreign spy. Passive collection by informants will also be used to eavesdrop on the individual’s conversations. The surveillance effort may not always be easy going. A foreign intelligence officer’s trade craft may be superb and all of his or her interactions and moves might appear authentic. The foreign intelligence officer’s movement technique could make maintaining surveillance on the subject difficult. For any counterintelligence services, that type of professionalism in an opponent can pose a challenge. Oddly enough though, it will result in increased suspicion among some.

Shifting a bit from United Kingdom intelligence efforts to elaborate more effectively on this point, federal indictments and criminal complaints against MSS foreign intelligence operatives and informants caught in the US indicate that they are generally tasked, as most field operatives and informants of any intelligence service, as intelligence collection requirements demand. As noted in greatcharlie’s August 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 2),” from what can be learned from indictments and criminal complaints about such cases that are made public, in almost all of the MSS taskings of those intercepted operatives and informants, certain counterintelligence aspects can be discerned. Those aspects appear aimed at providing ways to assist MSS counterintelligence in identifying and locating foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, particularly in China, or assist in devising ways to intercept, neutralize, and recruit them. Typical counterintelligence aspects in takings that include collecting information on how the US intelligence services communicate with officers, operatives, and informants overseas. In order to develop ways to counter the efforts of US counterintelligence services against MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, MSS counterintelligence would want to know how the organization is set up to confront adversarial networks of spies, who is who, where they are situated, and what exactly are they doing. Understanding the surveillance strategies of US counterintelligence services, particularly the FBI, would inform MSS counterintelligence of what layers of surveillance are usually being pressed on MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants in the US and how to devise better ways to defeat them. Technological capabilities would inform MSS counterintelligence whether all along US counterintelligence services have had the capability to monitor its activities or whether they have the capacity and have simply failed to use it effectively. The collection of information on what MSS foreign intelligence has been doing ineffectively in the face of US counterintelligence surveillance strategies and technological capabilities would undoubtedly inspire audits to better assess how closely its operatives were being monitored and how US counterintelligence managed to see a number of MSS efforts straight. (If one were to mine through the US Department of Justice’s very own indictments and criminal complaint against those few Chinese officers, operatives, and informants that have been captured, reading between the lines very closely, one can find to more than few open doors that might lead to successes against existing but well-cloaked Chinese intelligence networks and actors. The particulars of those real possibilities will not be delved into here. Not one case has been a “wilderness of mirrors.” It is hard to know what to make of how things are currently transpiring.)

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

MSS Electronic Intelligence

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

When GCHQ Was Part of MI6

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

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

MI6 in the Political Realm: A Bad Mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MSS in the Political Realm

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

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

III. Coming Reality for Visitors to China

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

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

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

The Beijing Municipal Public Safety Bureau Office Building (above) MPS counterintelligence officers will regularly collect and closely review reports on a foreigner’s behavior via informants among neighbors in the vicinity of their residence and locals among colleagues at work. They would be interested in knowing if they have engaged in behaviors that would make them open to recruitment. Their attitudes toward China and its system would be important. The friendships they have made would be of interest. Assessments of what type of temptations could be used to bring them to China’s side will be based on observations of the foreigner’s lifestyle. MPS officers have no qualms about exploiting individual weaknesses.

Informants

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

In the West

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

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

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

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

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

In China

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

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

For citizens of the People’s Republic of China, the motivations of money ideology, conspiracy, and excitement do not factor in such a decision to come to call of their country’s intelligence services. The law requires them to do so. If any motivations at all could be said to factor in a Chinese citizen’s decision to obey the direction of an intelligence service, expectedly the Communist Party of China would list faith and adherence to the ideals of the Communist Revolution, the Communist Party of China, patriotism, and the homeland. Supposedly, revolutionary zeal drives the heart of China as one beating heart so to speak.

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

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

Although it has not been a commonplace problem, if a foreigner visiting China for the purpose of business or tourism, accepts recording devices or recorded materials without knowing what they contain, the traveler might discover quite surprisingly that he or she is carrying items that contain sensitive data the possession of which could be considered criminal. Without a shadow of doubt, the illicit materials would have been presented to the traveler intentionally, perhaps even by a Chinese citizen with whom the traveler may have a positive personal relationship, almost certainly at the behest of MPS or MSS. (Given the uncertainty of what may result from contact with Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence units, ordinary Chinese citizens typically will not seek out contact with them nor independently engage in activity with foreigners outside of the workplace on matters related to their work. They will focus true personal relationships on personal matters, human interests.)

To defeat this problem, one must also be very cautious about accepting documents, notebooks, and books, or any devices, thumb drives, dvds, or materials that may include video or audio recordings unless one can be absolutely certain as to their contents. Documents contained in any of these media may prove to be state documents concerning confidential matters, and not any run-of-the-mill confidential matters at that. One must immediately open the documents and read them or use a laptop or tablet to kindly and respectfully review the recordings posthaste in what could be passed off as a display of ebullience and appreciation of the gift and wonderment about what it holds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Human Mind and the Incomprehensible

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

Security offices of any Western firms whose executives and staff frequently visit China should have long since arranged opportunities to brief those employees on problems they could possibly face in China. Such briefings might include the discussion of ways to subtly execute defensive measures to defeat MPS, MSS, PLA Joint Staff Department human intelligence groups, and any Communist Party of China intelligence organs (e.g., the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the super secret and malignant International (Liaison) Department, the United Front Work Department, and the Propaganda Department) from capturing information that meets their organizations’ immediate intelligence requirements as well as whatever information that managers of those spy organizations may deem useful otherwise. Quemadmodum perniciosior est hostis fugientibus, sic omne fortuitum incommodum magis instat cedenti et averso. (Just as an enemy is more dangerous to a retreating army, so every trouble that fortune brings attacks us all the harder if we yield and turn our backs.)

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing New Perspectives

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

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

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

On Angwang

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

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

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

Angwang’s Consulate Contacts

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

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

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

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

The narrative on Angwang in the criminal complaint provides a succinct summary of his background, particularly as it relates to his case. However, the narrative on the officials in People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York with whom Angwang was in contact, while making for an intriguing backstory, surely it does not provide the full picture of the organization in which at least one official supposedly worked, the UFWD. Indeed, the description of the UFWD in the criminal complaint is an underestimation of the organization to  a degree that it stands as a singular departure from the real UFWD. Yet, remarkably, what is provided in the criminal complaint is more than one might usually come across on the UFWD. The UFWD has not received an abundance of treatment in scholarly sources. Even those well-informed on Chinese affairs are not so attentive of the inconspicuous organization and its activities. In I.G. Smith’s and Nigel West’s reliable Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), the UFWD is only briefly and with frightfully scant detail referenced as a branch of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, responsible for links with non-Communist émigré groups and has been identified by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) as an espionage organization active among Chinese émigrés and engaged in psychological warfare in pursuit of policy goals set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What is left of the reference explains: “According CSIS analyst described the UFD’s [UFWD’s] role as ‘one of the compelling overseas Chinese to take part in economical and technical espionage, whether through patriotic appeals or simple threats.’“ As mentioned in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 1),” central to greatcharlie’s understanding of China’s intelligence services and their activities are the writings of Peter Mattis. Since leaving the Central Intelligence Agency where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019), a book which is nothing less than brilliant. Primarily using sources published by Mattis, an effort is made here to provide a truer picture of the overlooked UFWD.

The Real UFWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One might go as far as to theorize that by all appearances Angwang may have actually been rejected by UFWD. Relative to what the UFWD may have asked of someone they might have been eager to work with, his contacts were rather prosaic. He was a volunteer of his own making, no training in tradecraft, no direct instructions. For “the relevant time period,” there is no word of payments, no mention of recompense in the form of gifts. Apparently, there was nothing asked for in trade. Angwang was not encouraged, yet not discouraged from continuing on with his volunteer work. It is not clear cut that the UFWD official never insisted that Angwang do anything. If it ever appeared that he was giving him any directions, it took the form of giving a begrudging nod to something Angwang had both suggested and volunteered to do. Nothing that Angwang did was of any momentous consequence in the end. Whatever efforts Angwang made, were activities well-off on the margins, having a diminutive impact on the UFWD mission and the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York’s overall mission. In fact, his activities actually fell somewhat outside of the primary purpose of UFWD activities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning by Observation

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

Incongruities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oddities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting Behavior by the Chinese Government

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

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

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

To that extent and without a great leap of thought, it becomes more likely the case that the two year period of Angwang’s second contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate in New York, which included numerous contacts with the UFWD official, was used in a curious way by UFWD senior executives and managers in Beijing to study, from arms length and with sufficient safety measures in place, the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. They would seek to better understand and prepare for expectant future attempts to covertly insinuate operatives into the Chinese foreign and national security apparatus, including particularly both the clandestine posts and covert networks of civilian and military Chinese intelligence services and Communist Party of China organs operating overseas, as UFWD. As aforementioned, they doubtlessly understand the situation the US Intelligence Community has faced, scoring few victories and suffering many defeats in the intelligence struggle with China, and they very likely recognize that US foreign intelligence and services are anxious to turn the situation around and get some things going. Whether there is any merit to this theory that in Beijing relevant Communist Party of China elements and government bureaucracies viewed the whole matter in this way, remains to be seen. Given the peculiarities of the world of intelligence, this analysis should not be deemed too extravagant.

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, if Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others

North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un with his country’s future, its children, at youth rally (above). Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan may not assure peace Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s northern neighbors might react poorly to a denuclearization agreement. More specifically, the Russian Federation might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a troubling manipulation of Pyongyang, leading to a US encroachment toward its borders. Hypothetically in response, Moscow might create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korean territory. Without deterrent power, Pyongyang may not be able to prevent that. Those engaged in the denuclearization negotiations should give consideration to this possibility as such a scenario could bust everything they might achieve.

What US President Donald Trump wants from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the same end product that was at the root of his decision to talk with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un in 2018: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured the mitigation of economic pressure, to include draconian sanctions implemented under a maximum pressure campaign, that has had a considerable deleterious effect not only upon North Korea’s economy but its existence. Additionally, Trump has assured that the prospective partnership with the US would be a long-term and a robust path toward economic vitalization, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US. Indeed, the US would be prepared to support the economic transformation of North Korea, supporting not only the growth of its industrial capabilities and capacity, but introduce North Korean firms to new techniques and technologies for efficient and high quality production. Further, the US would encourage new investment in North Korea from other industrialized countries, to include its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, both of whom it currently views as adversaries. What is being presented to North Korea is the choice to be something other than a stranger, or worse, an outcast, to the rest of the world. Even so, throughout 2019, demurs and objections were heard from senior officials of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. Their comments appeared to echo a speech by Kim at the 1st Meeting of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, on April 12, 2019, during which he indicated a willingness to negotiate “on the condition that [the US] has the right attitude and seeks a solution that we can share.” Kim further stated at the Supreme People’s Assembly that he would “wait patiently until the end of the year for the United States to make a bold decision.” Kim’s words were uttered long before he and Trump met impromptu at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Panmunjom on June 30, 2019, but they nevertheless seem to have stuck within the North Korean foreign policy apparatus. In Washington, it all rings bells, reminding of the past and raising questions whether Pyongyang’s ways of thinking and doing things are trapped in amber. For the sake of the negotiations and their potential for enhancing global peace and security, one should hope that is not the case.

Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan, however, may not assure peace on Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s neighbors immediately to its north, China and the Russian Federation, may not react well in the wake of a denuclearization agreement. Based on what it has declared to be its strategic interests, the Russian Federation in particular, might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a threat, and that Washington was simply manipulating Pyongyang in order to move closer to the Russian Federation’s borders. Hypothetically, Moscow might decide to create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korea’s sovereign territory to halt any perceived encroachment by the US. Without deterrent power, it is hard to see how Pyongyang on its own could keep the Russian Federation off its land. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation has displayed a propensity for maligned behavior. There is still a chance fate will bring a denuclearization agreement as envisioned by Trump, all of North Korea’s neighbors will put down the shutters and accept the new development, and the Russian Federation, in particular, will show restraint. That would be ineffable. Nevertheless, if there is a chance that everything might not land quietly and gracefully, requisite caution must be shown now by the negotiating parties. Trump must be on guard.

This is the ninth in a line of occasional commentaries concerning the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization published by greatcharlie since August 2017. An enchantment on the matter and support and enthusiasm for the effort has stimulated the preoccupation. Through its commentaries, greatcharlie has sought to put together the arithmetic of what both sides, the US and North Korea, are doing on the matter. In this commentary, greatcharlie emphasizes that realism must be a key ingredient to the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Nothing discussed here should sound extravagant in today’s world. Together the US and North Korea must open the figurative box from which all the essential qualities and ingredients for a longstanding, sustainable peace are released, and at the same time avoid releasing the makings of conflict from another direction. Both sides must really look at the situation diligently, not dismissing unpleasant possibilities, to ensure negotiators do not construct an agreement that may not serve either side’s purposes in the long-run. Through such a reflective approach, greater unity of purpose and action can grow between the negotiating parties, and the viable and sustainable peace sought more likely will be found. Certum est quod certum reddi potest. (It is certain, whatever can be rendered certain.)Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that they can cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US would not pose difficulties. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its economic well-being, Pyongyang has displayed a curious sort of faith in Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources mainly come into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Putin and Xi control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival already rests in their hands. Kim can allow that to go on, or seek a better path for his country.

A Concern from Outside the Box or from Left Field?

One might conclude that there is an almost inherent connection, a natural affinity, between North Korea, China, and the Russian Federation. The defunct Soviet Union, the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, was the model from which North Korea structured its government. As it is the first and largest Communist government in Asia, there is much that North Korea has mirrored in a cultural sense from China. In support of Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but also provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to engage covertly in combat operations. The Russian Federation, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower, and to a degree has taken on from the Soviet Union the image of caretaker for North Korea. Nevertheless, China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater than that of the Soviet Union in terms of blood and treasure. China has really been the country’s steward and economic lifeline.

Alieno more vivendum est mihi. (I must live according to another’s whim.) China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that it would not pose difficulties to cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US. Indeed, If Kim possesses any doubts that an agreement would not lead to North Korea moving up and away from the status quo, one might assume the two countries can quietly interfere and exert influence on Kim. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Pyongyang has shown a curious sort of faith in both Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources apparently can still slip into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival pretty much rests in their hands. Kim can allow things to go on as they are and bend to the will of China and the Russian Federation, or seek a far better path for his country. It would reasonable for him to prefer the later. Having ambition is not an offense.

To the extent that officials in China and the Russian Federation feel North Korea is their ball to play with, an agreement that would create firm, lasting ties of friendship between the US and North Korea would likely stick in their throats. If unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim before an agreement is signed, one or both may decide to pose a threat to the agreement afterward. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim if he moves alongside the US. However, Beijing knows where to draw the line. The Russian Federation might do far more, which is the point of interest here. As alluded to earlier, at some point, Putin might order Russian Federation forces to move into North Korea’s sovereign territory with the objective of creating a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula. The goal would be to set a limit to the likely perceived encroachment by the US. After its nuclear arsenal might potentially be evacuated under the terms of a denuclearization agreement. North Korea would lack the deterrent power to scare away a Russuan Federation move onto its territory, and could become the victim of just that. A conventional response might also be less feasible as the bulk of North Korea’s conventional forces may continue to face south near the DMZ for a while even after a denuclearization agreement is reached. Korean People’s Army forces of sufficient power are not presently deployed north in a manner to fend off an attempted land grab by the Russian Federation.

The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. It borders the Russian Federation along approximately 29 kilometers of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and to its east is the Sea of Japan. A rocket launching site is located at Musudan-ri. The Hoeryong concentration camp is also located in the province. It has some value as a line of access by rail to Russia. However, since no customs area exists there, most bilateral trade between North Korea and the Russian Federation moves first through China, raising costs. Ironically, the border with the Russian Federation, having no huge benefit to Pyongyang for years, could become a liability as a point from which hostile forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could land significant numbers of forces at Chongjin. The capability and capacity of the Russian Federation armed forces to conduct such an operation was well-demonstrated during their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. Putin has already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US sharing the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. Considering the possibility of an extreme reaction, a military incursion by the Russian Federation into North Korea, would not be out of court.

The View from Russia

Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. If Pyongyang turned toward Washington, Putin might feel Moscow had been figuratively stabbed in the back after having provided North Korea with assistance and support for decades. In terms of his personal relationship with Kim, Putin may feel a deep sense of betrayal. Putin has shown how he will respond when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being pulled toward the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US either sharing, or even touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are lucky that NATO got on top of their situation right away!) Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea would have the North Korean people believe that their country is a fortress from south to north. A robust, whirlwind of an attack by Russian Federation forces by air, land, and sea, would very likely be able to rapidly displace or destroy any North Korean forces much as a whirlwind has the ability to uproot the staunchest oak tree. On the other hand, if Russian Federation forces are able to act with sufficient stealth and surprise, and–as was the case with Crimea–without any “bang and boom”, they may be able to capture North Hamgyong Province without a struggle. As with Crimea, they may be able to “accommodate” Korean People’s Army troops deployed in the province, perhaps even taking them back to the Russian Federation “to ensure their safety.” Mala mens, malus animus! (Bad mind, bad designs!)

Putin would likely offer some pretense that would “legitimize” the hypothetical incursion. For example, he could conceivably declare that North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation granted by some long-held document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a monumental, decades old debt is owed to the Russian Federation by North Korea. Alternatively, by entering North Hamgyong, Putin may claim the Russian Federation has taken an in-kind repayment territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might attempt to claim a Russian Federation incursion into the area was executed for humanitarian reasons, shocked by what was being said by former detainees in Moscow about atrocities taking place in the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp. If former detainees are not available, Moscow would find some. Under the second and third scenarios, Putin could leave the door open as to whether the Russian Federation land grab was temporary or permanent.

Long before Trump declared his intent to campaign for the US Presidency, the Russian Federation was concerned with the figurative noose being placed around it by US bilateral relationship building with countries on its borders. That thinking is reflective of the Russian Federation’s defense doctrine as articulated by Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov. Recall that on February 14, 2013 at a conference entitled “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” Gerasimov provided the first glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The clever boots on the Russian Federation General Staff assessed that future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.”  Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders proffered that outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may actually invade the Russian Federation from different directions to physically grab its territory and resources. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. That plan, and later variations of it, have guided Russia’s thinking on defense and defense spending since 2016, during which it exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, and on other national security related and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. Further, the 2016 plan has guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on its border with Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s Syria operation is also part of that picture.The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. Enlarging the map above, one can see the province in the northeast corner of North Korea. It borders the Russian Federation along 18 miles of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and the Sea of Japan to its east. The border with the Russian Federation could become a key point from which Russian Federation forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could also land significant numbers of troops at Chongjin. The Russian Federation armed forces’ capability to conduct such an operation was demonstrated by their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.

Putin Will Take Risks

The hypothetical offered here should have a realistic feel because history has been used as a guide to develop it. Rational inferences are made from what Putin has been saying and doing. For example, with regard to Ukraine, what cannot be forgotten is the text of a lengthy call that Putin had with US President Barack Obama on March 6, 2014, Putin said Ukraine’s government came to power as the result of an “unconstitutional coup” and was “imposing an entirely illegitimate decision onto Crimea and the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine. Russia cannot ignore calls for help on this matter and is responding accordingly in full compliance with international law.“ On another occasion, Putin insisted that he was only acting in response to Western behavior toward Russia. When speaking about Ukraine at a conference in Moscow on April 16, 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained: “The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction.” It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. For that reason, despite the drain on its defense budget, the Russian Federation currently has its troops sitting in the sovereign territory of others, to include: Armenia; Belarus; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Moldova; Syria; Tajikistan; Vietnam; and, at least a far as Kiev is concerned, Ukraine. Among the countries on that list who have reluctantly accepted the Russian presence or who have very publicly and vigorously demanded that Russia leave their territory are: Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Belarus has grumbled about its Russian “guests”. Thereby, as denuclearization agreement would mean Pyongyang was moving closer to Washington, North Korea could definitely meet the same fate as the countries mentioned. Thus, conceptualizing a possible military incursion into North Korea by the Russian Federation is not out of court.

The Russian Federation is not the only country that has insisted upon placing its troops in another country without welcome in order to shape the situation within it. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan had a near ravenous desire to carve out a 32 kilometer deep and 480 kilometers wide buffer zone along the entire Turkish border with Syria. Through Operation Peace Spring, Erdogan hoped to establish a safe area in his planned buffer zone for millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. He also planned in undertaking what he declared to be a counterterrorism operation. Once Turkish forces moved into the autonomous Kurdish territory in Syria, understanding that there would be heavy fighting with the Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units, militias affiliated with the sworn enemy of the Turkish government, the Kurdistan Workers Party which has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey amassed nearly 15,000 Turkish forces along with 14,000 fighters of the Syrian National Army attacked Syria on October 9, 2019. Recall that on December 19  2003, then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to voluntarily eliminate his country’s weapons of mass destruction programs, to include its nuclear weapons program which was initiated in 1969 when he took control of Libya’s government. He also agreed to limit Libyan missiles to range no greater than 300 kilometers. US President George Bush stated at the time: “With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations. And Colonel Gaddafi knows the way forward Libya should carry out the commitments announced today.” However, from March 19, 2011 to October 31, 2011, under the mandate of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, the Obama administration led NATO forces and those other countries under Operation Unified Protector against Gaddafi regime. The multinational force imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi in support local fighters that eventually overthrew Gaddafi and killed him on October 20, 2011 alongside a road. (In just mentioning Libya’s elimination of its nuclear weapons, greatcharlie feels it is stepping out on shaky ground. On May 13, 2018, the matter was publicly discussed by the former US National Security Adviser John Bolton while details of the June 12, 2018 Trump and Kim Singapore Summit were still being negotiated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Indeed, Bolton made the unhelpful suggestion that the “Libya model” of denuclearization could be applied to North Korea, which would require it to eliminate all of its nuclear weapons before it receives economic sanctions relief and other support for it economic vitalization. Much to the dismay of Trump, Bolton’s public suggestion placed the summit in jeopardy somewhat.)

Without reservation, greatcharlie believes that nuclear nonproliferation is the correct direction in which the world should move. Having stated that, and with no intention of being whimsical about the matter, perhaps if Gaddafi had hypothetically retained his nuclear program, even at the aspiring stage it was in when he surrendered it, he would still be alive and in power in Tripoli. In that same vein, one might let oneself go and suggest if Kiev by chance had kept nuclear weapons under its control, Crimea would unlikely have fallen and the Donbass would be less of a mess. Outlining how hypothetically Ukraine could have plausibly retained those weapons would require adding a complicated coda to this section, completely unsuited in size for this commentary. What actually occurred is Ukraine agreed to divest itself of all nuclear weapons and nuclear infrastructure in accord with the Lisbon Protocol In 1992, along with considerable diplomatic effort and political maneuvering, By 1996, Ukraine had returned all of its nuclear warheads to Russia in exchange for economic aid and security assurances, and it became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in Ukraine was eliminated in 2001 under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. At the time it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, including an estimated 1,800 strategic warheads, 176 long-range ballistic missiles, and 42 strategic bombers.A transit map of North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province (above). In a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab, Kim might turn toward Beijing to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. However, China would unlikely want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, China would likely insist that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a relationship with the US. China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too!

Preparing for the Worst

Kim has always had much to worry about from Putin. It stands out a mile. For that reason, North Korea and its prospective US partner should at least consider the potential of a very aggressive Russian Federation reaction as an important “what if”. The matter merits treatment. Ways to prevent it from happening should be considered, and plans should be developed on how to use means available in response. The lack of right discernment on this hypothetical matter could lead to untold suffering. Unless greatcharlie is extremely mistaken, as far as Pyongyang might be concerned, the most plausible way to cope with the matter, would likely be to maintain some level of deterrent nuclear capability. Washington would hardly want to hear anything of the kind. Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and medium-range nuclear capable missiles alone are military equities it possesses that Moscow may want no part of. Readying those systems for launch could coincide with any discernible build up of Russian Federation forces near or along the northern border. That may have a deterrent effect. If some means to make a Russian incursion impossible or unprofitable is not available, attempting to respond before or after an attack has begun will unlikely amount to much

As has been witnessed, the best available option for the US after the fact in response to the Russian Federation’s incursion into Ukraine has been to train Ukrainian government forces and equip them with a limited set of weapons, mainly anti-tank javelin systems. That effort could only attenuate the considerable tactical advantages that Donetsk and Luhansk secessionist forces possessed as a result of being fully supported by Russia. Indeed, the tank-busting javelins along with tactical training from both US and European military advisers may have enhanced the chances of survival for the Ukraine government forces on the battlefield, but they have not allowed Kiev to successfully defeat or eject Russian and Russian-backed forces from the Donbass. Crimea remains firmly in the Russian Federation’s hands.

There is the possibility that preemptive diplomacy, right now, could successfully assuage concerns about a potential Russian Federation military incursion into response to a denuclearization agreement. That would not mean including Moscow in the diplomatic process of denuclearization to prevent it from engaging in malicious behavior. Although there is plenty available from which one can make inferences, Moscow has not as yet said or done anything directly that would indicate an intention to move into North Korea and create a hypothetical buffer zone across their mutual border. In fact, Russia may never do anything of the sort in the end. Still, there is no reason to wait and see on a matter that could potentially keep an agreement from being fully realized. Accordingly, as a reasonable precaution, Washington may want to broach the matter with Moscow, explaining that its concerns stemmed from its past actions.

The US-North Korea relationship might very well grow into something very special. Still, it is unlikely that in a time soon after the signing of a prospective denuclearization agreement that the Communist regime in Pyongyang, with its self-reliant identity, would seek recourse from Trump and the US to find the answer to a hypothetical Russian Federation military incursion into North Hamgyong. On a personal level, Trump undoubtedly would want to see Kim through his troubles. However, if North Korea is unable to fend off a land grab north, it is unclear what exactly the US could do effectively to repair the situation after the fact. Attempting to drive Russia out of North Korea with economic sanctions in response to a hypothetical incursion may not prove fruitful. That tack has not worked most obviously with its incursion into Ukraine. Pointing out what is obvious, a decision by the US to go toe to toe with Russia with thermonuclear weapons over North Korea would be daylight madness. That would hardly be a genuine option. The chance that any US President would alternatively throw US forces into a conventional fight with the Russian Federation over North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province is less than zero.Imagery of the Russian Federation-North Korea border along the Tumen River with an area of detail showing a railroad bridge across the river (above). Conceivably, Putin may find reason to declare North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation as granted by some document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a decades old debt is owed by North Korea to the Russian Federation. Putin may claim by entering North Hamgyong, Moscow had taken an in-kind repayment in territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might also attempt to claim an incursion into the area was for humanitarian reasons, given the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp is located in the province.

For Kim, a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab would be a nightmare. It would also likely be the first occasion when Kim would have a palpable sense of separation from Moscow, and plenty of anxiety would come with that. Kim would never consider capitulation to whom would then be an erstwhile ally. However, dazed and confused by an inundation of likely negative reports about the situation in North Hamgyong, Kim may initially run toward what is familiar. Kim might turn toward Beijing and press it to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. Under such a scenario, China certainly would not want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, Beijing would likely take the position that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a historic, new relationship with the US. Thus, unwilling to knock on Putin’s door on behalf of its close ally, Beijing’s advice to Pyongyang would likely be “Talk to Moscow!” China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too! Understanding Putin, Beijing would likely have parsed out the whole matter early on, imagining Putin getting his nose out of joint about a denuclearization agreement, and never ruling out a military incursion. China would likely find it quite imaginable under such a hypothetical that Moscow would expect Pyongyang to rush to the negotiation table despite any fighting that may be underway. To prevent an unanticipated response from China, in such a hypothetical scenario, Moscow presumably would quietly inform Beijing of its planned action and intentions just before any prospective military operation began. Beijing would also undoubtedly place the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Liberation Air Force units near North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province on alert just in case Moscow’s operation went beyond its expressed purpose and scope. From those who have proven to be false one can rarely obtain anything true.

Tu si hic sis, aliter sentias. (If you were in my place, you would think differently.) Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if the most senior officials there were convinced the denuclearization agreement was the fillip for a Russian Federation attack. Indeed, a possible consequence of a Russian Federation incursion might be that Pyongyang would turn its back on the US. Under tremendous stress and not thinking clearly, Kim may very likely wonder whether Trump had considered the contingency. Moreover, Kim might conclude that Trump may have actually predicted what would issue with Putin following a denuclearization agreement and sought the agreement knowing North Korea would eventually be left open to attack. If that were to become his mindset, potentially, Kim might even begin to behave once again in a belligerent manner toward Trump, and might once again begin using over-the-top language. That would most likely signal the point at which Kim will have made the decision to negotiate with Moscow on terms for the withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from North Korea’s northern province. With a dodgy leader as Kim, anything might be possible in such a situation.

One could imagine under the hypothetical here that Putin might plan to use force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, Putin’s goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement and have North Korea make amends for its sin by cutting the cord with the US. Perchance as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. That would likely mean putting the matter before the UN Security Council. Note that using military force to drive countries to the negotiating table was also a favored stratagem of the Obama administration. If Moscow and Pyongyang might have an inkling that they could get away with it, to quell international condemnation of the Russian Federation over a hypothetical military incursion, they might offer a story about some mix-up in timing occurred over a movement by Russian Federation troops to North Korea for a planned joint exercise. They would deny any disharmony existed. In that vein, Pyongyang would probably keep the North Korean people in the dark about the hypothetical incursion. Pyongyang would very likely refrain from making any official reports of the embarrassing episode, hoping it could resolve the matter quickly, and make the whole thing go away.

One could imagine further, under the hypothetical put forward here, that Putin, the maestro himself, might calculate an incursion into North Hamgyong would create political confusion and disarray in Pyongyang. Prospective talks with Moscow in such a situation might take place with or without Kim at the helm in Pyongyang. Kim might even have the courage or insanity to throw the Korean People’s Army into fight with Russian Federation forces. Nevertheless, likely being incapable of ejecting the invaders from the sovereign territory of North Korea, Kim would live under a frightful cloud. He would unlikely be absolved of responsibility for the possible crisis. He could possibly be seen within the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea as inciting the Russian Federation’s action with his denuclearization agreement. A scenario can be imagined in which Kim would no longer be considered fit to serve as the North Korean Communist Movement’s figurative lodestar. The Workers’ Party of Korea might decide to replace him. That would be harder to conceal, but if they did so, they would try to present a plausible reason for the change. Surely there are those in Pyongyang with designs on Kim’s spot. (Note that no matter how things fall, war, peace, or a leadership change, both the Russian Federation and China would be beneficiaries of the success of the US in getting North Korea to denuclearize.)Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Unable to do anything to rectify the hypothetical situation proffered here, Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if it indeed was the cause for a Russian Federation attack. One could imagine under the hypothetical proffered here that Putin might plan to use of force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, the goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement with the US. Perhaps as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program.

Matters Pyongyang Should Address in the Diplomatic Process on Denuclearization

Abundans cautela non nocet. (Abundant caution does not harm.) Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would seem akin to daylight madness to ignore what might very well knock down whatever might be constructed. Pyongyang supposedly understands Moscow. Therefore, it surely understands that Moscow only sees it as a junior partner, not equal to it. If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Moscow. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. If they have not broached such an important issue, the indications and implications may be that Pyongyang was being disingenuous about its interest in denuclearization and North Korea’s economic vitalization. What their real intentions are, might be put into question. On the other hand, it is imaginable that North Korean foreign and national security officials possibly may not be cleared to discuss what may very well be a sensitive matter for Pyongyang: the Russian Federation’s reaction to a denuclearization agreement! It may be a matter, a secret, only for the purview of Kim and members of the Central Committee. The thing about secrets is that outsiders very rarely know what they are. If US negotiators are not willing to broach and fully address this matter with their North Korean counterparts, they may be setting the stage for failure, taking a huge gamble with something extremely important. There would exist an element of superficiality to the negotiations. If the North Koreans clam up in response to their inquiry, US negotiators could respectfully request that their counterparts seek clarification and instructions on the matter from Pyongyang. It may turn out that the matter would need to be broached at the highest level: Trump and Kim.

If ever North Korean negotiators are queried about their country’s concerns over an aggressive Russian Federation reaction to Kim signing a denuclearization agreement with the US, and they are willing to respond, common sense would demand that they completely outline security concerns Pyongyang feels the new situation might create. It would be the best time to explain any concerns that voiding themselves of nuclear weapons to the point in which they would not have any deterrent nuclear power at all would inherently dangerous, having China and the Russian Federation as neighbors. At that point, US negotiators must be able to offer real solutions to mitigate the North Koreans concerns. If North Korean negotiators, once queried, fail to speak forthrightly, and answer “Who is this Putin fellow to whom you keep referring?” or something to that effect, US negotiators would be provided with a real sense of Pyongyang’s genuineness. North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un observes weapons test (above). If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Putin. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would be daylight madness to ignore what could knock down whatever might be constructed.

Suggestions

Quoniam id fieri quod visit non potest, velis id quod possit. (As that which you wish cannot be effected, you should wish for that which may be obtained.) A desire by Kim to retain the ability to deter any sudden, rogue moves by China or Russia, would be the most plausible reason he could offer for retaining his existing nuclear arsenal. If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. (The immediate elimination of North Korea’s long-range missile program must remain a US stipulation.) At the same time, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be phased in place. A demonstration of unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany Korean People’s Army on patrols North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not serve as a deterrent to a Russian Federation incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult. Alternatively, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some ominous military and naval deployments were under way. That alternative would most likely be far more palatable to the North Koreans. While that would be happening, some US and South Korean in phases and at a deliberate pace, could move away from the DMZ, much as Russian Federation forces withdrew from Germany after reunification. US forces could be reallocated to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to reassure allies of the US commitment to their defense and continue to effectively preserve Northeast Asian peace and security.

As aforementioned, nuclear nonproliferation is the correct way for the world to go. Another option that may be very off-putting to US officials would be to allow North Korea to retain a portion of its nuclear arsenal after a phased reduction to serve as a deterrent. That deterrent power must be specified publicly to ensure that the small number of weapons retained would have a deterrent effect. In Washington, there would likely be a political backlash over walking back from the initial demand for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons in North Korea. To ameliorate concerns about that in a practical way, some additional specific steps that could be taken. If the North Koreans could put their suspicions and distrust aside, on-site joint US, North Korean, South Korean, and Japanese inspection teams could be deployed where the nuclear deterrent would be kept in North Korea. As part of the larger denuclearization agreement, military liaison offices could be created in North Korea, South Korea, and Japan for military officers of all countries involved in maintaining peace and security on the Korea Peninsula which would facilitate the deployment of those inspection teams. The prospective North Korean military liaison officers would also have the right to make escorted visits to one another’s bases in the region. An open skies arrangement with regard to flyovers by aerial reconnaissance and surveillance satellites of all sides should be agreed to in additional to physical inspections by prospective military liaison officers. As suggested in the first option, it could also be proposed that US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability  serve as a type of “peace force” to patrol the North Korea’s northern border in cooperation with the Korean People’s Army. As an alternative here too, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some odd, threatening military and naval deployments were under way. With high expectations about their inventiveness, negotiators could certainly devise additional steps to create a more secure situation.

A third option might be for the US to provide Pyongyang with an assessment of the likelihood that the Russian Federation might seek to establish a buffer zone on North Korean territory in reaction to a denuclearization agreement. In following, the suggestion might also be made to Pyongyang that in conjunction with eliminating nuclear weapons from its arsenal, military equities once organized to defend against an attack from the south should be moved north. It was stated in a publicly available portion of 1995 US Defense Intelligence Agency report published by the Federation of American Scientists that North Korea has deployed over 10,000 artillery systems (mostly multiple rocket launchers and self-propelled artillery systems) near the DMZ.  They most likely have many more deployed now. Once those forces begin moving north, they could be kept in cantonments, while fighting positions could be constructed where they could be immediately deployed in an emergency on the northern border. Of course, under this hypothetical scenario, Moscow may declare the redeployment of Korean People’s Army forces as threatening. In response, North Korea could make clear diplomatically that the redeployment is part of comprehensive change in its national defense strategy. It might appear impolitic but it would be truthful for Pyongyang to declare the redeployment as necessary given the Moscow’s pattern of creating buffer zones in its neighbors’ sovereign territory to provide a theoretical bulwark against US and European encroachment toward its border. Moscow may also decide to deploy its own forces near or on the northern border under such a scenario. However, if the North Koreans bring sufficient power to bear, the threat of a possible Russian Federation attack aimed at grabbing territory should be stemmed. While that is happening, some US and South Korean forces could be redeployed to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to preserve Northeast Asian peace and security vis-a-vis China and Russia, who would ostensibly remain as regional adversaries. With Tokyo’s consent, there could potentially be some redeployments to Japan. The DMZ, North Korea-South Korea relations, and the whole unification issue would left to bilateral talks between the two countries. The US could play a supporting role, if asked. Pyongyang may view the proposed assessment and suggestion to redeploy its forces as a manipulation, a ploy to have it drop its defenses south and open the door to a joint US and South Korean invasion. It would be the task of US negotiators to convince their North Korean counterparts by words and deeds that such is not the case.US, South Korean, and North Korean troops handling a US soldier’s remains from the Korean War (above). If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction weapons that will eventually result in its complete elimination. In tandem with that, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be put in place. A demonstration of support and unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany the Korean People’s Army on patrols of North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not be a deterrent to an incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult.

After reaching a denuclearization agreement, North Korea should no longer think solely about directing its military equities at the US, South Korea, and Japan. Pyongyang must be assured and understand that their military equities would be directed at North Korea. As explained here, the sizable and capable armed forces of China and the Russian Federation would still pose threats to their security, and possibly North Korean security. Training exercises and testing of weapons for self-defense is a right and even necessity that should not simply be stripped from any country in the region. One must also consider practical issues, for example, the metal of armored and mechanized weapons tends to fatigue when sitting idle. However, the agreement might support a move away from extempore tests and exercises and toward greater transparency among military forces. Countries in the region could agree to engage in limited exercises and testing during scheduled dates and times determined via discussions among senior military and diplomatic officials. Critical to maintaining peace and security following a prospective agreement would be the construction of some means for the US, South Korea, Japan, and North Korea to monitor developments, tests, deployments, and other activities as partners to ensure peace.

To create firm channels of communication that will strengthen confidence and dissipate distrust, there must be regular interactions between non-military government officials working on North Korea’s economic vitalization. Interactions should move from likely being stolid and officious to more personable yet still professional. Advisory teams from all governments could interact very closely to guarantee internationals in North Korea are well-informed of the laws under which they must operate, and informed of culturally expected behavior by guests in North Korea. This will help eliminate mysteries about the country which was mostly closed to outsiders, and allow visiting officials and businessmen proceed with their work with confidence and walk with an assured step. The influx of well-trained and acculturated business people, experts on North Korea, will hopefully facilitate that. Success might be measured empirically by the number of congenial linkages created between US and North Korean firms. Eventually, US firms might receive contracts to provide supplies and perform services.US President Donald Trump (left) and Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at the DMZ. The entire diplomatic process on denuclearization might seem much as a rabbit hole to Kim, given the many facets and angles that he needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

The Way Forward

It is burdensome to hold on a hope that has not yet been fulfilled. Impatience, however, can poison diplomacy, and is rarely viewed as sensible by those in foreign services worldwide who instead extol statesmanship and sangfroid. To that extent, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US negotiators have responded to maximalist North Korean demands and cavilling with anodyne statements. In seeking to create a sustainable peace in Northeast Asia, Trump has demonstrated once again that he is willing to take on situations that are not easy. While negotiations appear to still be moving through the confidence building stage between negotiating parties, defusing old animus, the fact that everything has actually reached this point must be credited to Trump. With the many facets and angles that Kim needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, the entire denuclearization process might seem much as a rabbit hole to him. One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

What has been presented here are aspects of a hypothetical scenario in which a denuclearization agreement could ironically open another door to a conflict on Korean Peninsula. In that struggle, North Korea would not be pitted against the US, South Korea, and Japan. Rather, North Korea might find itself struggling against its longtime companion, the Russian Federation. Policymakers and negotiators on both sides must consider the situation on the Korean Peninsula both as it is now and how it might appear after an agreement is reached. Likely threats to a prospective denuclearization agreement must be sorted out with a similar level of interest as sanctions relief is for one party and the drawdown of the nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles is for the other. While impatience may poison for diplomacy, superficiality is its bane. Policymakers and negotiation teams may need to take a new, diligent look across all aspects of the situation, paying as close attention as possible to potential unpleasant developments that may arise once an agreement is reached. If a denuclearization agreement that is genuinely viable and sustainable cannot be found due to new wrinkles, perhaps an agreement somewhat short of what was originally sought, could be considered. In the extreme, the undesirable and regrettable decision to stop seeking an agreement altogether may need to be made. The collapse of the process would not at all be a blot on Trump’s escutcheon. However, the curtain has not fallen yet. Hopefully, both sides can come up with a smart solution for this important issue. Omnia prius experiri, quam armis, sapientem decet. (It becomes a wise man to try all methods before having recourse to arms.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump, Unlike Others, Is Kim’s True Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Empathy

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

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

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

A Diplomatic Process between Leaders

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

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

A Few Things Trump and Kim Might Consider Moving Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students

When Putin occasionally grieves publicly over the Soviet Union’s demise and expresses pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners worldwide. Putin, just being himself, certainly does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Still, he is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. A group of university students in the US inquired with greatcharlie on Putin’s expressions concerning the Soviet Union following a lively seminar debate. It was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to their inquiry. Hopefully, what is at the root of Putin’s stance on the Soviet Union has been figuratively dug up for them to see.

In late-May 2019, greatcharlie received an intriguing message from some undergraduate students of a university in the US concerning recurrent comments of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, lamenting the Soviet Union’s demise. There had apparently been a very lively debate in their political science seminar on Putin’s “often public lamentations over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, his insistence that it had many positive attributes and that as a superpower, it played a valuable role globally.” The students’ solicitation of greatcharlie’s thoughts on the matter was flattering. It was even more stirring to see them express great interest in international affairs and Russian politics in particular. Another subject was selected for greatcharlie’s June post.  However, rather than simply suggest a few books and journal articles to supplement their seminar debate, it was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to the students’ inquiry. Undergraduate and graduate students represent a significant portion of greatcharlie’s audience. The hope of greatcharlie is that by responding in this way, these intrepid students and others reading the blog will be encouraged to further pursue their international affairs studies and to continue reaching out beyond their classroom lessons to augment their knowledge base.

Confusion over one’s thinking can often issue from imprudently offering enthusiasms on a subject. When Putin occasionally offers pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners. Putin, just being himself, does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Yet, Putin is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. It would be counterintuitive not to accept that when Putin acts at any level, he does so with purpose and that purpose can be uncovered. What is at the root of Putin’s nostalgic, pro-Soviet position is figuratively dug up for them to see from this somewhat informal, multidirectional examination. Hopefully, it discusses a few valuable points perhaps not covered in the inquiring students’ seminar. Further, from this examination, insights were generated on the Russian Federation President’s intentions and actions that will contribute to the foreign policy debate internationally. Nulla tenaci invia est via. (For the tenacious no road is impassable.)

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was the very public nature of his expressions. Even in those dire initial days in office, Putin rarely offered comments off the cuff that could possibly produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as they related to feelings of patriotism were heard from him before. Still, he avoided uttering sentiments that stemmed from truly personal feelings. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Putin Has Said Some Interesting Things about the Soviet Union

When Putin first began publicly discussing his feelings about the Soviet Union, he provided a rare glimpse of how thoughts coalesced in his consciousness. Only a few years earlier Putin had become a full-fledged political man, a deputy mayor of St Petersburg, and then suddenly found himself at the very top, learning his way through the Kremlin jungle, domestic politics, and the larger world of global international affairs. Prior to his statements about the Soviet Union, Putin left no doubt that the essence of his thinking was akin to a “Russia First” concept. On August 16, 1999, the members of the State Duma, the Russian Federation’s Parliament, met to approve Putin’s candidacy of a prime minister. He was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months. In his speech to the Duma, Putin stated with spirit: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest . . . We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.” Being Yeltsin’s choice, Putin was dutifully confirmed as prime minister without much been made in support of, or against, his nationalistic stance. His strong patriotic tone was heard again in a statement made in Part 5, “The Spy” of Putin’s memoir First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000) page 80. One of the interviewers preparing the book, notes that she asked him, “Did you suffer when the Berlin Wall fell?”, he explained: “Actually, I thought the whole thing was inevitable. I only really regretted that the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe, although intellectually I understood that a position built on walls and dividers cannot last. But I wanted something different to rise in its place. And nothing different was proposed. That’s what hurt. They just dropped everything and went away.”

Even so, only after a few short months as acting president and as the elected president, Putin, with the apparent aim of keeping the Russian Federation a welcomed player on the international stage, began taking a nuanced approach in issuing statements. When Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin departed in 1999, he left his young, hand-picked successor, Putin, with a rather dire situation economically, socially, and politically. Through strenuous efforts, Putin managed to halt what was once the country’s downward spiral toward abject ruin. Yet, after leveling things off, he hoped to move forward with plans and programs to improve living standards for average Russians and conditions around the country as a whole. At Kremlin press conferences, official government meetings and events, political rallies,  presentations at universities, policy think tanks, scholarly journals, and other institutions, Putin expressed his desire to create something better for the Russian people. Reading through Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation on December 31, 1999, he clearly believed, boiled down to the bones, that the key to Russia’s progress would be a successful effort to maximize the performance potential of the Russian people. That became his stated aim. He would focus on those factors that have brought some level of success and advancement, and attempt to amplify them to create some change.

Putin also was interested in acquiring Western investment into his economically troubled country to provide the people with the support they needed. For a while, he seemed to stoke Western approval of the Russian Federation with his words. However, he also made a number of half-turns away from a pro-Western position that really evinced there was a duality in thinking. As an example, on March 5, 2000, Putin made a statement to the effect that he did not rule out having the Russian Federation join NATO. However, he stressed that it would only do so “when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.” After stating that he could not imagine Russia being isolated from Europe, Putin went further on NATO to state: “it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy.” Putin’s nuanced language was apparent, too, when very publicly broaching the issue of the Soviet Union’s fall. He remarked: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, whoever wants it back has no brain.” Putin’s efforts were successful to the extent that statements as these caused the West, if not to drop its guard, certainly to take a more relaxed view of him and his intentions. It would seem even then, that his true feelings and intentions would have readily identified him as a Russian nationalist. In that same vein, those pro-Western statements ran counter to the strong nature of his later statements of near adoration of the Soviet Union.

Soon enough, that nuanced bit of his statements that provided a touch of goodwill to the West was dropped. The collapse of the Soviet Union was publicly discussed by Russian Federation officials with the apparent goal of amplifying the message to world of how badly Russian people suffered as a result and that consideration might be given to increasing any efforts to invest in and generally assist their country. It also had the purpose of letting the Russian people know that their government was aware of their plight. No deception was being used then to hide deficiencies in the system which was the practice under Soviet rule. On April 25, 2005, Putin stated: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.” In process of repairing things, however, Putin encountered significant obstacles that primarily concerned the capabilities and capacity of the Russian people to get beyond only making changes here and there for the better, and get behind efforts at making real progress. The product of his efforts could be characterized as rather anemic. There was still an uneasiness in Russia when Putin began as president. Morale was low, fruitful activity was sparse, and new, useful ideas were absent. One might posit that faced with disappointment and discontent over immediate results of his own efforts over the years, he has been able to manage his greatest concern which is not to allow the country to roll backward. That was probably a nightmare that likely nearly suffocated him many nights at the time. In order to stabilize the situation, he apparently decided to turn toward something that felt familiar and safe. Eventually, Putin’s goal became to develop some simulacrum of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union. Sustainability was less likely a concern given the exigent circumstance of a need for immediate answers. On March 2, 2018, Putin issued his most direct comment to date about the Soviet collapse. Taking questions from supporters in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin was asked what Russian historical event he would like to change. Putin immediately answered, “The collapse of the Soviet Union.”

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was its very public nature. Putin has never been anything akin to some wandering preacher, expressing his convictions about matters. Even in those dire early days in office, Putin, who emerged from the secret world of Soviet intelligence, rarely offered comments off the cuff that could produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as it related to feelings of patriotism were certainly heard from Putin before. Still, Putin is a man who has typically avoided uttering sentiments genuinely stemming from personal feelings, which in this case was his grief over loss of the Soviet Union. If he ever slipped up and revealed blithely his inner feelings on a matter, he would have moved quickly to preserve the confidentiality of such statements. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was clearly because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated Western characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons.

The KGB Factor

An immediate impression of Putin’s words might reasonably be that he and most likely many others who were part of the Soviet apparat continued to adhere to their “unique reality” about the Soviet Union. Indeed, his statements were true to life with respect to the commitment to the Soviet system by hardline, old guard, former apparatchiks, which includes Communist Party functionaries or government bureaucrats, nomenklatura or high ranking management, and dead-enders among former rank and file Soviet citizens. For all those from the same water in which Putin swam, each time anyone referenced the Soviet Union in such a positive manner, there would doubtlessly be agreement that it was the full version. For them, such words from Putin likely ring patriotic bells. It strikes greatcharlie as hopelessly derivative to remind readers that Putin’s decisions and actions have been influenced by his life in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, initialized from Russian and better known as the KGB. It was Soviet agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Nonetheless, it is a reality and an important factor that should be examined first.

A seemingly infinite number of primary and secondary sources exist on the KGB. However, an intriguing Cold War era description of the KGB that greatcharlie has referred to often is a concise November 13, 1982 New York Times article entitled, “KGB Praised By Some Feared By Many”. The article explained that the KGB was the most widely feared instrument of the Soviet Government. It measured the strength of the KGB at 90,000 or so staff officers inside the Soviet Union to guard against internal security threats and run the political prisons. Along the country’s borders, 175,000 of border troops patrol its 41,800 miles of frontiers. Outside of the country, the article noted that its scientific-technical operatives sweep Western countries seeking the latest secret inventions, while its ”illegals” try to penetrate foreign intelligence operations. The article explains further that the first Communist secret service, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage, mainly referred to under the acronym Cheka, virtually copied the Czarist secret police organization and even co-opted some of its more capable officers. The Cheka’s founder, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, was quoted as saying, ”Trust is good, but control is better,” and, in 1918, ”We stand for organized terror.” In its earlier years, the article states, the Soviet secret police acquired a reputation as an instrument of mass terror: beginning in the 1920s as the organizer and supplier at home of huge concentration camps where millions perished; in the 1930s as Soviet Premier Josef Stalin’s executor of huge purges of the party and the Red Army officer corps; and, in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the perpetrator of assassinations of opponents abroad. The latter killings were performed by a group specialized in what Soviet intelligence reportedly  called ”wet affairs”. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death on March 5,1953, the KGB was accused of trying a coup in the Kremlin, using secret police troops. Its chief, Lavrenti P. Beria, was seized by his party comrades and executed. The article notes that it was not until 20 years later that the KGB recapture the degree of respect it once held in the Soviet Union when its director, Yuri Andropov, was elected to the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo.

Citing a common perspective of Western intelligence specialists then, the article states that the KGB, while retaining excellent abilities in traditional espionage was devoting greater resources to acquiring Western military and industrial technology. In fact, in the decade before the article was written, the KGB has acquired the plans of American spy satellites, advanced radar, computer source codes and conventional weapon innovations. It posits that those acquisitions could have been attributed to former KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov. It was under his supervision the KGB became a type of office for technology transfer from the West, in addition to its conventional tasks, such as penetrating the coderooms of the NATO alliance. The article further explains that the KGB, to the envy of foreign intelligence services, was able to retain key personnel for many decades, providing a kind of continuity particularly valuable in counterintelligence. The article quoted an assessment of the KGB by James J. Angleton, retired head of the CIA’s counterintelligence branch, a controversial figure, yet sacred cow US intelligence. Angleton simply stated: “I wish we had their continuity.”

Interestingly, the New York Times article’s treatment of the KGB had an almost prosecutorial tone. Still, there should not be any misunderstanding that among those who were or potentially could have been victims of the KGB in the Soviet Union and abroad, the organization was not by any means viewed as the “good guys”. its actions were not misunderstood. However, while it is a bit one-sided, the article manifests prevailing Western impressions of the KGB at the time, It hopefully allows one to gain a sense of the tension and tenor of the geopolitical struggle between East and West during the Cold War as late as the 1980s.

In First Person, Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Indications are that members of the KGB managed to skirt many of tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. He has great reason to be thankful to it.

On Putin’s KGB Perspective

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. (Into the truth through shadows and images.) Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. While embellished to a considerable degree, that remains the “commercialized”, Hollywood version of the KGB officer, popular in the West during the Cold War. It was certainly a great departure from reality. Essentially, for Putin, they paint a portrait of someone who does not exist. Some appear so satisfied seeing Putin as such, they do not seem interested in getting the picture straight. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons. A fair appraisal of Putin’s career would be that he was good at his work and that he well-impressed his colleagues and superiors alike. Certainly, he could be dashing and audacious when necessary, but moreover he was honorable and discreet, using his wits and memory. He progressed gradually and fruitfully with agents he recruited. As a result of his many successes, he received promotions up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Similar to most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered Putin a solid basis for believing that the Soviet system could be protected and sustained. The KGB, as a central organ of the government, ostensibly had the know-how and the resources to prevent the Soviet Union, and the contiguous countries of the Eastern bloc that it led, from falling into a chaotic condition.

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian noted: “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”  In his bildungsroman, First Person. Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. The officers of the KGB were the tried and true protectors of the Soviet Union. The organization was praised by the Communist leadership as the country’s ”sword and shield”. The KGB certainly had the trust of its customers. At the same time, the KGB, was an indispensable instrumentality of the government to the extent it was the means through which it subjected the Russian people to terrible conditions believing that there was little chance that those conditions would fully effect its members. Indications are that KGB officers managed to skirt many of the tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. For those reasons alone, he has great reason to be thankful to it. In Part 3, “The University Student” of First Person, Putin states about himself: “I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.” Ubi bene, ibi patria.  (Homeland is where your life is good.)

It must be mentioned that Karen Dawisha, in Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Shuster, 2014), insists that there was more than an emotional connection between former KGB officers and the Soviet Union. Dawisha explains that in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Chekists were asked to take control of the currency that the Communist Party had accumulated. There were Central Committee decrees ordering such activity. Dawisha cites an August 23, 1990 decree which authorized: “urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the party” and laying out the need for an autonomous channel into the Party cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of invisible party economics . . . a very narrow circle of people have been allowed access to this structure . . . .”  Dawisha makes the connection between this period when KGB officers heard the clarion call of the Communist Party to loot state coffers and Putin’s start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a job he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Grabbing money became their métier, and they worked hard at it. In St. Petersburg, Putin obeyed his patrons and proved himself to be reliable.  He also gained a solid understanding of the linkages between organized crime, which is of a special breed in Russia, bureaucrats, and former KGB officials. (While in St. Petersburg, he befriended an attorney named Dmitry Medvedev.) When his boss, Alexander Sobchak lost his bid for reelection as St. Petersburg’s mayor, Putin was out of a job. Yet, in the course of less than two years though, Putin rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months after that, he was Russian Federation President. On April 2, 2015, greatcharlie posted a review of Putin’s Kleptocracy. There is far too much to follow along that argument to unpack here. However, Dawisha does an excellent job of providing evidence to support her thesis. It could very well be an important part of the larger picture of Putin, the KGB, and governance in the Russian Federation.

Why a KGB Veteran Is Likely to Follow His Former Institution’s Line of Thinking

Surely, those who joined the KGB would say that they had answered the call to serve their nation in the security service. Some likely found a home, that offered employment security, a steady salary a place to belong to, a place where they will be taken care of, and an ordered life. That would not be considered irregular. The same could be said of those who have sought military careers or foreign service careers. Yet, as a result of more than a “collective consciousness” about defending the homeland, and given the unique nature of their work, a bond would form among KGB personnel and their families to the extent that a sort of mini society existed in the service. There may be some evidence that KGB officers, having an innate sense for being discreet, were mainly repressed people. Unable to express love within family or in close circles, the repressed have a habit of investing emotionally into larger organizations. Their love can be put into an institution, which in the case of Putin and his colleagues, was the KGB. The intelligence service, that closed off part of the intelligence officer’s life, becomes his family. For some, it becomes their raison d’etre. That type of linkage can lead to difficulties upon retirement and separation from organization. That makes associations of retired intelligence professional all the more important by creating links to the organization in which they served. The more contentment officers found in the KGB, the more settled and satisfied they became with their lives. Through the KGB, they got the picture of their lives straight.

Putin rose meteorically through the newly formed Russian Federation Government under Yeltsin almost as if his life had been mapped out by providence. He found support and guidance from former KGB colleagues from St. Petersburg which is both his hometown and where got his start in politics at the local level. Many have since become officials in Putin’s government, political leaders, and key business leaders with whom Putin remains in close contact. In the KGB, these former officers are affectionately referred to as Chekists. They come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Among the aforementioned cadre of government officials, political leaders, and business leaders with whom Putin has surrounded himself are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg were mostly Cheka. Putin’s own Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was in fact raised in the Chekisty (Chekists) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. With a loyal and effective team, Putin could stay ahead of troublesome political and business leaders that would disrupt his plans more often than not to the extent they would enable themselves to achieve their own self-aggrandizing, short term goals. However, by surrounding himself with like-minded Chekists of his “KGB family”, retaining his prevailing Chekist beliefs that aspects of the Soviet Union provides a good model for Russia to itself build upon has been made easier for Putin.

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, were not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. Those who were not privileged seem to discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. According to a December 19, 2018 Levada Center poll, more Russians regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union then than at any other time since 2004.

Is Putin in Touch with His Fellow Russians Regarding the Soviet Union?

His KGB life aside, Putin must be able recall that the Soviet Union was not satisfying for all Russians. Even in First Person, Putin admits that housing conditions for his family in St. Petersburg were far less than perfect, nevertheless, they still lived better than many. For those not so enthusiastic with the Soviet system, Putin’s pro-Soviet sentiments likely reminded of the ugliness of a not so distant past. The majority of Russians were unable to obtain positions equivalent in prominence and power as Putin held. Surely, they did enjoy the relatively staid and secure life that came with it. While it was more “democratic” to claim that Soviet citizens had equal access to education, opportunity, housing, sustenance, health care, social welfare, and other programs, efforts by the Soviet system in that direction were more cosmetic than consequential in establishing the type of society to which they made claim. All of those services, while satisfying when made available and were of appropriate quality, hardly reflected an effort by the Soviet government to respond to the will of the people.

Under the authorized description of the Soviet system, it was a so-called classless society. However, it assuredly was economically stratified, and could be visualized in terms of concentric circles. The quality of life for citizens in the society would degrade sharply as one looks outward from the center all the way to those circles at the end where citizens struggled daily to survive. Those who occupied the center circle were the nomenklatura, the country’s leaders and power elites at the top. Those moguls lived in luxury relative to other citizens, and enjoyed the best things that Russia had to offer. Outside of the nomenklatura, the standard of living was passable for Soviet citizens from what would approximate “middle-class”. Those were usually the apparatchiks of the Soviet system, full-size functionaries of the Communist Party or the Soviet government apparat (apparatus). Apparatchiks were also those who worked in any bureaucratic  position or position of political responsibility. In many cases, they were lucky enough to be employed under the “self-management” concept positions, which required employees to evaluate the quality of their own productivity. However, that virtual middle-class was never completely comfortable for they , too, could suffer the effects of housing shortages, rationing, corruption, and other inconveniences. In some cases, they had to pay their superiors in order to keep their positions. This was even true in some parts of the military

Russian citizens living under a lower standard encountered those same problems and more with far greater intensity. They often suffered periods of rationing and privation. Some fell into a state of penury, a reality that the Soviet system desperately sought to conceal. They were forced to make the most of nothing. Those citizens emerged from the Soviet system holding a worldview, infiltrated by pessimism. They fully experienced the self-serving, self-enriching, behavior of national leaders for whom they were simply statistics.

Of the many Russians émigrés who escaped the Soviet Union during the Cold War, some who were activists or associated with activist organizations, were labelled anti-social elements when they lived there, and the Soviet government was likely happy to rid the country of them. There were some defectors, and some who managed to immigrate in order to take advantage of Western educational and professional training programs, getting away from the Soviet Union. What these groups typically had in common though, was the manner in which they spoke with disdain about of the Soviet system once they arrived overseas. They generally told stories with unmitigated rancor of an abominable government security apparatus that abused power, had neighbors spy on neighbors, obliterated all aspects of privacy, and made freedom something that could only be enjoyed in dreams. They could vividly recount their difficult lives in a manner that would bring the walls down. Very often, Soviet intelligence services would troll émigré communities in the West, to recruit and develop agents abroad using the threat of harming family members still living in the Soviet Union if cooperation was not provided.

Immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse, tens of thousands of detailed facts, intriguing anecdotes, and classified debriefings collected on furtive actions taken by the KGB were collected from the archives (vaults) of what was once called 2 Fellx Dzerzhinsky Square Moscow, the headquarters and prison of the KGB. With that information, and insights such those discussed here, there is enough to assess today, as it had been at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, that the inability of the government to find an efficacious way to meet its all important responsibility to provide for and ensure the well-being of its citizenry, that led to the country’s downfall. Despite all of the alleged promise and dogma uttered about the “great socialist system”, the results confirmed that the Soviet concept was never viable. Despite all appearances, the country for years was slowly being strangled by many ills from within. While not easily stirred by the transfer from one national leader to another, at some level, Russians surely had expected that the rather shrewd, worldly-wise young ex-KGB man, Putin, might be the elixir their country needed. Many may have hoped that he would be able to present a concept for change to overcome what was before. It certainly would not have expected that Putin main focus would be to use Russia as a platform from which the supposed splendor and the power of the Soviet Union could be reestablished

As Putin, himself, acknowledged, the average Russian citizen had little idea beyond the US and the European Union to find examples of what they quietly wanted to be after the Soviet Union collapsed. Even in that case, they had absolutely no idea what it would really take to reach such heights. They also had little knowledge of how to discern what would indicate a political leader has the qualifications or capabilities to put the country on a path to advance there successfully. Steps in that direction were made. Russia was made a member of what became the G8 and G20. It would become the key member of NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It participated in UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions mandated by resolutions. After the 1990s, there was the image of Russia acquiring a place at the main table with the top industrialized countries despite its precarious situation economically, socially, politically, and militarily. As a policy, Russia sought to incorporate itself into the international system of regulating foreign economic operations, particularly the World Trade Organization. However, paying careful attention to Putin’s words when he was acting President, the impression is created that finding a true path toward comity with the West was not actually on his mind. Putin explained in his very revealing essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”: “Russia will not become a second edition of say the US or Britain, where liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary, it is a source of order and the main driving force of any change.”

Do Russians Want to Go Back to Soviet Days?

In the West, one might expect that concerns or fears would be so universal among all Russian citizens over any wording that would even hint some form of the Soviet Union would be reanimated in Russia. That uneasiness clearly would not be based on unreason and paranoia, but rather upon the experience of having lived so shabbily under its system. Conceivably as a result of the experience many Russians had enduring dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union and living with the limitations and inconveniences of daily life in the Russian Federation, they had become expert in keeping a sense of proportion. The follow-on to the Soviet system was supposed to be the great Russian liberalization. However, that was not the case.

There are occasionally some significant grumblings about Putin’s governance. Protest rallies become considerably more intense than perambulating demonstrators near election dates. Flaps of clashes with police and the security services by more politically active segments of the population have been predicted by Western experts, and reported in the Western media, as spelling the beginning of the end for Putin. Nevertheless, Putin remains. Interestingly, Putin has been ridiculed and denounced in the news media. Further, there has been television programming in the Russian Federation that has lampooned Putin much to his dissatisfaction. However, he hardly dealt with any problems of considerable intensity from his core constituency or, relatively, from the majority of Russians countrywide. They have not really exhorted Putin to try harder. They keep within the margins. Perhaps the old adage “go with what you know” could be applied, for it best suits the situation for the Russian people regarding their country’s path and its leadership. To the extent that they will continue have any order in their country, average Russians believe that they can at best rely upon Putin. That begrudging sense of being somewhat satisfied has been just enough to bring Putin victory in election after election. One might say therein lies a sort of duplicity on their part. Still, in an even bigger way, the Russian people are really gambling on Putin’s mortality. The possibilities of who might come to power from other powerful political forces in Russia is hair raising. Via trita, via tuta. (Beaten path, safe path.)

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, typically are not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. That is quite intriguing because those who were not privileged seemingly discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. They are the dead-enders. It is posited here that in some cases, such pro-Soviet elements apparently focus upon and magnify aspects of Soviet life that they may have enjoyed from the totality of their experiences and then determined that it was as a result of the benefits of being Soviet. To be more precise, it appears that as a result of some psychological transference, what defined their private existence somehow became what universally defined their existence under the Soviet system. Those positive, pleasant aspects of Soviet life may actually have been things such as good times had among family, friends and colleagues that in reality are common to people all over the world, transcending citizenship or nationality. Perhaps in Soviet terms, it could be chalked up to humanism. While being a Soviet citizen may have been a common experience, what they had even more in common was their humanity. It was the US philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey, who stated: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

Statistical evidence of such pro-Soviet thinking among former rank and file Soviet citizens was provided by a poll published on December 19, 2019 by the Levada Center, a Russian independent, nongovernmental polling and sociological research organization. According to that poll, more Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union at that moment in time more so than any other since 2004. The poll was conducted between November 18, 2018 and November 28, 2018, surveyed 1,600 people nationwide. When asked whether they regret the 1991 Soviet collapse, 66 percent of respondents answered “yes”. That represented an increase of 58 percent from 2017, and is the highest proportion since 2004, the last year of Putin’s first term. Reportedly, 25 percent of respondents said they did not regret the Soviet breakup, the lowest proportion since 2005, and 9 percent said they could not answer. Interestingly, Levada found that Russians’ concerns about their economic security today were among the main reasons for the increase in the number voicing regret. Indeed, a Levada pollster explained that 52 percent of respondents named the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “single economic system” as the main thing they regretted. The peak of regret over the Soviet collapse came in 2000, when 75 percent of Russian polled by Levada answered “yes” to the same question. At the same time, 36 percent said they miss the “feeling of belonging to a great power,” and 31 percent lamented mistrust and cruelty in society.

US and Soviet armor units face-off at Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin October 27-28, 1961 (above) For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against efforts by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West always emphasized its moral superiority, but that never needed to be done in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West through newsmedia stories, spoke for itself.

The World Does Not Miss the Soviet Union

An examination of the Soviet Union’s position in the world cannot be made by only weighing how the government administered the domestic affairs of the country against the preferences of quondam citizens. Those who speak nostalgically before the world about their own positive version of the Soviet Union, such as Putin, typically engage in an act of omission by airbrushing its realities. The impression is given that its collapse was the result of some benign decision among its republics to succeed to pursue their own aims. They omit, albeit intentionally, that the failed country not only posed problems for its own citizenry, but particularly after World War II, it posed a threat to the world. To be frank, the history of Soviet behavior is atrocious. The people of countries that stand just outside of its sphere of influence but close enough to feel threatened, and the people of border countries that are former Soviet republics, many of which in some way have been victimized by Russian Federation transgression, would unlikely ever think or say anything positive about the Soviet Union. The haunting spectre of the departed Soviet Union has helped to form negative impressions of the Russian Federation. Surely, one should not, using a broad brush, condemn the people of a country for the acts of their government. It was the Soviet government that ruled by fear and terror and was the anathema. As for the Soviet people, they were most often appreciated around the world. Many significant contributions were made by the Soviet people to the arts, mathematics, sciences, engineering, philosophy,  that were remarkable. Some space could reasonably be granted for former Soviet citizens wax about the loss of a homeland and those good days that existed. Still, looking at the pertinent facts, the greater realities about the Soviet Union cannot be denied.

Running through the basics of the Cold War, one would learn that in the postwar period, the Soviet Union essentially replaced Germany as occupiers large areas of Eastern Europe, to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In a very powerful speech in Fulton, Missouri in March 5,1946, the then former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill would say that those countries were locked behind an “Iron Curtain.” In those countries, a process of “Sovietization” began. Soviets operatives worked behind the scenes to establish puppet governments that would serve as an extension of Moscow’s rule. These governments had the initial appearance of being democratic but in reality were not. Local Communists were gathered into a coalition party then handed power, usually after coups or rigged elections. All political parties, other than the Communist Party, were dissolved. Leaders of the Soviet-dominated countries would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their societies. As a result of Soviet efforts, an “Eastern Bloc” and “Soviet Bloc” had been established. US officials agreed that the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “Containment” formulated by the US diplomat George Kennan. In his famous February 22, 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow outlining the policy, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi [agreement between parties that disagree]”; as a result, the only choice for the US was the “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” US President Harry Truman agreed with Kennan and stated before the US  Congress on March 12,1947, “It [Containment] must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation . . . by outside pressures.” In his speech, Truman also asked Congress for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey to counter Soviet meddling in those countries. The Containment Policy would shape US foreign policy for the next four decades.

Direct confrontation came when the Soviet Union cut all road and rail links to West Berlin, allegedly in response to a decision by the US, the United Kingdom, and France to merge their occupation sectors of the city. With no access to any sustenance, the US and United Kingdom flew in tons of food and supplies by air transports in what was known as the Berlin Airlift. Elsewhere in the world, North Korean forces, trained, equipped, and supported by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. Led by the US, UN forces collectively responded. The fighting was halted on July 27, 1953. Pro-Soviet Russians, might point to the fact that actions taken by Russia in the period capsulated here were the result of Stalin, who many Russians decry as a corrupt despot who sullied the grand ideals of the revolution. However, in the years that followed his death in 1953, the commitment of Moscow to the revolutionary and expansionist paradigm continued. Under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union, despite calls for peaceful coexistence and desire to reopen ties with the West, firmed the Soviet Union’s grip over its empire and increased its support of Third World Communist movements. On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The military alliance was named the Warsaw Pact because the treaty was signed in Warsaw. Warsaw Pact countries included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members. Similar to NATO, by treaty, Warsaw Pact members were required to come to the defense of any member attacked by an outside force. The force was initially set up a unified military command under Soviet Army Marshal Ivan Konev.

Soviet efforts to maintain a tight grip over its empire were highlighted by the quelling of protests against Communist rule in 1956 culminating with Soviet tanks successfully taking control of Budapest on November 10, 1956. On August 15, 1961, the Soviet Union initiated the construction of a wall between East Berlin under Soviet control and West Berlin under US, United Kingdom, and French control. The border between East and West Germany were also sealed by fencing. A decision by Khrushchev to construct a Soviet intermediate range nuclear armed missile base in Cuba, led to a blockade of the island country and strenuous demands from US President John Kennedy that the missile be removed. As the US prepared to invade Cuba, negotiations between Khrushchev and Kennedy, initially through back channels, led to an October 28, 1962 agreement to remove the weapons.

Khrushchev legacy was not one of diplomacy, but rather brinkmanship the nearly led more than once to nuclear war. On October 15, 1964, Khrushchev was removed from office. His successor Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for nearly two decades. Brezhnev also wanted to launch a new era of negotiation with the West, labeled détente by US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the administration of US President Richard Nixon. However, under his leadership, the Soviet Union never ceased its military buildup and pressed its efforts to expand Communism into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. From July 1965 to April 1975, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam and the Communist Viet Cong in South Vietnam with everything from rifles to fighter jets in war against the South Vietnamese government which the US and its Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies supported with troops and materiél. The result was the intensification of fighting and prolonging the wreckage of human lives. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed efforts by Czech President Alexander Dubcek to initiate reform programs, known as the “Prague Spring”. Dubcek was arrested when he refused to halt his efforts. On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On December 30, 1980, the Solidarność (Solidarity) Movement in Poland was crushed with the imposition of Martial Law. It was finally under Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who in attempting to reform the Soviet Union under perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), destabilized it to the point of collapse.

For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. Its defense against those Soviet ideals was simply referred to as anti-Communism. Societies in the West were somewhat disparate, with loosely associated forms of freedom, and democracy in most of its countries must have appeared disorderly from the East, with up roars over government decisions and actions, demands for justice and social progress, and political rivalries that played out publicly. Yet, they still took on an amiable form. Moreover, it was well-accepted by those in the West that their world and way of life was worthy of protecting. Militarily, the means was collective defense. Those who were part of that struggle, using the white hat black hat symbolism of the Western film genre of the 20th century, saw themselves as the white hats representing all that was good, admirable, and honorable and viewed the Soviet and Soviet Bloc operators as the black hats, the villains. One was either on the right side or the wrong side. Using familiar terms of today concerning human interactions in societies to explain Communism, it posed a threat to individual freedom, inclusiveness, and tolerance. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West’s moral superiority was always emphasized, but it never needed to be presented in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West when occasional newmedia stories told what was happening there, really spoke for itself. US President Ronald Reagan, getting to the root of the differences between East and West in his renowned June 12, 1987 “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate” explained: “The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship and affront.” (Attempting to boil down to the bones the Cold War to provide an accurate, comprehensive summary of ideas and events felt a bit Sisyphean. Too much occurred. There were too many episodes, too many flaps of diplomacy and periods of aggression and war, to synthesize. If a sense for the monumental geopolitical struggle was created, this synopsis has served its purpose. Hopefully, the information has also provided some factual counterbalance to pro-Soviet statements recounted here.)

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Russians have never seen the coming of a new day, but rather an ongoing dark night, a black void they have stared into for decades.

What Has Putin Established in Russia?

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens countrywide. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Indeed, it would not be out of court to say that despite what one might perceive at first blush, Putin seems, in practice, oblivious to the economic realities those conversations revealed. If the Russian people were to take a careful look over their shoulders today, they undoubtedly might recognize that nothing spectacular has been accomplished at home on their behalf by his government. There is no interest in disparaging any of Putin’s exertions, but many Western analysts and other observers would agree that Russians never seen the coming of a new day in their country, but rather just the ongoing dark night, a black void which they have stared into for decades. It might be stated with confidence that in a general sense they are not content. The reality that their lives have hovered in an endless limbo seems to be suppressed by most.

It may very well be that by the time Putin reached the top of the power pyramid, such people skills, his ability to understand others he is not associated with became a bit seared. Perhaps proper focus has not been placed on the people’s thinking and the ability to perceive their needs. Even his intuition regarding experiences of other Russians and where many were at a given moment seem darkened from disuse. A gentleman must always adapt to his circumstances. To a great degree, what has emerged in the Russian Federation is indeed Putin’s version of the Soviet Union. Although the struggle to establish global Communism is absent, Putin certainly has included imagery from the Soviet Union in his new Russia. It would seem that some methods well-used during the Soviet era to maintain social order and population control, were implemented by Putin in response to the fragility of the society and that the Russian Federation remains vulnerable to collapse. It is also assured that many of Putin’s former KGB colleagues would find ample opportunities to make use of their dark and unusual skill sets.

Once again, the old adage “go with what you know” seems to fit well, in this case with the Putin’s thinking. Of course, such explanations do not provide an excuse or a defense for his actions. The following list includes only a few of those elements: utilization of prison camps, “gulags”, in Eastern Russia, to detain reactionaries and other undesirable elements; the suppression of political opposition; assassinations of political opposition leaders; assassinations of journalists; the padlocking of media houses, newspapers the broadcast, publish, and post stories exposing what they perceive as questionable or even corrupt activities of Putin’s administration; and, the expulsion of “undesirable organizations” such as foreign and international religious, human rights, and civil society organizations and termination of their programs. There are also: massive military parades before the Russian Federation’s leadership; fiery anti-Western speeches at rallies; military deployments into other countries (e.g., Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus) the occupation and annexation of the territories of sovereign neighboring countries; the sudden death, murders, suicides of senior diplomats, senior military officers, senior intelligence officials, senior law enforcement officials, and senior officials of other security related services; the arrest and prosecution of Russians who are international business elites, known better as oligarchs, who have fallen into disfavor with the Kremlin; regularly renaming and repeating policy conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions of technology created to highlight Russian intellect, ingenuity, and advancements; the hosting international amateur sporting tournaments in Russia as a means to showcase the country; and, reported violations by Russian Federation national sports teams of rules and regulations of international sporting associations, including the International Olympic Committee. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos fixa et mutari nescia. (Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable)

Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has doubtlessly been a considerable psychic drain along with the stresses and anxieties of other matters in which he has been engaged daily. He may never have publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live, yet as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them.

Putin Knows How Much Progress Is Really Possible in the Russian Federation

There is rarely a single reason for anything, and that certainly applies to Putin’s claims about the Soviet Union. With no intention of being whimsical, it might be worthwhile to consider that theories on what may have influenced Putin other than his KGB background, can also be joined by others built on his additional dimensions. It should not be thought that analysis from another direction might even compromise theories already proffered on Putin’s pro-Soviet comments. After all, the hope and primary goal of this examination remains reaching the actual state of the matter. Putin may not necessarily be so dedicated to other foreign and domestic matters that he has not tried to develop a clearer vision for Russia and has not sought to respond at all to the echoes of those suffering economically in his country. It might be reasonable to doubt that Putin would be completely unable to see the world through the prism of average Russians. That would run counter to expectations of what should be among the suite of skills possessed by a KGB officer in the field. Interestingly, in Part 3, “The University Student”, a close friend notes that he once asked Putin about his work in the KGB. Putin cleverly replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.”

Putin might very likely reject the idea that being in the intelligence service of the KGB seared his conscience and left him indifferent toward the situation of fellow Russians or cause him to disregard their well-known plight. Moreover, he would most likely reject the idea that members of the KGB thought to help the Soviet government subject the Russian people to “unappealing conditions.” It may very well be that a heartbreaking value judgment was made. Putin may have viewed it as unconstructive to turn his attention fully in the direction of the troubled state of affairs of the Russian people because his ability to be fruitful has been simply too limited. From the start, he knew that the job of Russian Federation President involved achieving monumental tasks. So much wrong had to be made right. Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness of leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union at this point might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has been beyond peradventure a considerable psychic drain in tandem with the stresses and anxieties caused by other matters in which he has been engaged daily. Psychologically, the aggregate disappointment and agony could have become so magnified in his mind and everything would become unmanageable. Being the true professional that he is, Putin knows that he needs to stay focused on the larger picture. He must avoid losing himself in the labyrinth. He must not allow himself to be over matched by difficulties. He has never publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live. However, as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them

The Russian Federation government’s limited capabilities and capacity to resolve those domestic problems for some time, in fact, is not necessarily the result of Putin’s leadership being remiss. Certain inadequacies that have harmed output, seem to be intrinsic to the Russian system. Among them are included: unreliable governance at the republic, krai, and oblast levels, poor execution of economic policies, banking and financial disarray, low moral in the workplace, alcoholism, drug abuse, mismanagement, corruption, and criminality. With focus has been placed on Putin’s efforts to extol cherry picked “virtues” of the Soviet Union, little attention is given to other comments that he made during his first months of service as a national leader. He often spoke the truth about the ills of collapsed superpower, and often explained that lingering problems from the Soviet era made getting the Russian Federation moving forward very difficult, if not impossible. A statement to this effect from Putin can also be found in his December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”. He stated: “We had to pay for the Soviet economy’s excessive focus on the development of the raw materials and defence industries, which negatively affected the development of consumer production and services. We are paying for the Soviet neglect of such key sectors as information science, electronics and communications. We are paying for the absence of competition between producers and industries, which hindered scientific and technological progress and prevented the Russian economy from being competitive in the world markets. This is the cost of the brakes and the bans put on Russian initiatives and enterprises and their personnel. Today we are reaping the bitter fruit, both material and mental, of the past decades.” It is hypothesized in a January 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One”, that the type of success Putin really wants for Russia out of his reach, not by some fault of his own, but rather because it’s problems are so heavy, and may run too deep. He may have run out of real answers to put the Russian Federation on real upward trajectory given the capabilities and possibilities of the country using all tools available to him.

Even militarily, Russian Federation efforts to create an aura of technological modernity have fallen short. Its latest high tech, 5th generation fighters and hypersonic missile reflect the measure up only to the latest developments in the West nearly two decades past. The US move to lasers, 6th generation fighters that hardly resemble anything the world has seen before, and hypersonic systems that it has already has been developing almost the point of deployment, ensure that the Russian arsenal will pale in comparison with the US for some time to come.

Given all of that, it is very likely that Putin arrived at the conclusion that he had little choice but to simply do things as he saw fit with available resources to create the best circumstances possible. Unable to move steadily and safely in a new direction, Putin apparently saw the best option as creating a copy old order with all of its power and prestige. As aforementioned, sustainability was not at issue. He likely took this step originally as a temporary measure, to allow him time to chisel something better. That would certainly be in following with Putin’s modus operandi. However, in the end, in spite of many improvements, the country moved so much in the direction of the old order, the familiar for the Russian people, that it became figuratively “heavier” and more difficult way of being to transition from. If Putin learned anything from his KGB work, it was that sacrifice is required in nearly every endeavor. Many Russians have failed to benefit from his efforts. Indeed, there is a tendency for some to suffer while others benefit. Yet, those who continually fail to benefit have unlikely been forgotten. Imputing the best intentions on Putin, he will eventually use his full powers as president to make amends to them at some point, if time and opportunity will allow. Though the people may very well be uplifted at that point in the future, until then, they will be left twisting in the wind. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

US President Donald Trump (left) and Putin (right) in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. The vengeful thinking which prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration likely initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation had clearly changed. Trump explained that he wanted to work with Putin to achieve things globally that could best be done jointly. In response, Putin has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US mirroring the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. He has promoted what greatcharlie has labeled un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration.

Troubling Manifestations

It is important here to point out a unique aspect of Putin’s KGB world. Enlarging on a point made earlier about Chekists, they share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Fully xenophobe and suspicious, Putin was determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he saw as enemies that might weaken it. In many respects, Putin has conformed to what might be expected of a Chekist. Although he would seem to be much more than average, he appeared to have been poured into same mold as all the others. Putin has actually stated publicly that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. While on his way to the top of the political heap in the new Russian Federation, Putin saw how mesmerising “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.”

Some Have Said Putin’s US Policy Manifests His Revanchist Mindset

When character and behavior are brought together, one uncovers motivation. In the summer of 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on members of the EU Eastern Partnership, countries with association agreements with the EU. In 2012, the EU accounted for 52 percent of Russia’s exports, 68 percent of which consisted of fuel and energy. Following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the EU suspended virtually all cooperation. Still, Putin’s thinking on the EU was not positive even before the Ukraine crisis. Putin saw the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Certain Russian actions, to include election meddling, indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries joining it. Joint projects with European countries reportedly allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. As much as making money, a goal of such efforts has been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, for instance, has provided Putin with the means to disrupt, and potentially weaken, European unity. A murmur exists in Europe that solidarity ends at the frontiers of some countries.

Regarding 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 West German Parliamentarian Egon 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 EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putin further stated: “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. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. (Fortunate is he who understands the causes of things.)

Putin did not stand by while the EU and NATO expanded. One might agree with the supposition that Putin has a revanchist mindset, his decision to attempt to pull independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit would surely support that idea. To accomplish that, Putin had to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually began with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space is carved out of a country, Putin gains a base from which he can exert his influence in that country.

A greater part of the foreign policy matters upon which Putin, seemingly in revanchist mode, felt cause to be laser focused was the geostrategic competition with the US. By the time his third term as Russian Federation President began, Putin left little doubt that the Russian Federation would assert itself in the world and he would ensure that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations. Hostile feelings toward the US seemingly came to a head during the administration of US President Barack Obama. The details that contentious period are too sizable to unpack here (The most recent posts in which greatcharlie has outlined those many episodes in detail include: “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”; Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage; “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him”; and “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”.) Crimea was likely just the first step among what would likely have been far worse actions leading even to war had the interregnum between Democrat and Republican administrations had not occurred in 2016.

Un Grand Défi

One might theorize that the sort of vengeful thinking which prevailed during the Russian Federation’s struggles with the Obama administration, initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation clearly changed with the arrival of the Trump administration. Putin and his aides and advisers should have recognized that. It was never the stated intention of the Trump administration to engage in a protracted, geostrategic competition with Russia. That is still the case despite the entreaties of some advisers. It was the expressed intention of candidate Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign to improve relations with Russia. As US President, Trump made it clear that he wanted to try to work with Putin and achieve things globally that could best be accomplished jointly. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them.

Clearly, the Russian Federation has not been threatened by any unprovoked aggressive or outright hostile offensive actions on the geostrategic landscape by the Trump administration. In reality, with the current political environment in the US, sounding the alarm over what might be identified as revanchist behavior by Putin might have served Trump well in at least an attempt to mollify critics and detractors. Nonetheless, without such provocation, Putin, has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US that would mirror the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. Accordingly, he has propagated what greatcharlie is labeling un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration. The benefit from un grand défi that Putin stands to gain is that it helps him create the appearance that the Russia Federation is a world leader and superpower. Indeed, despite all of Putin’s other maneuverings, the Russian Federation is only able to seen as a superpower when it is interacting with the US or measured against it. Correspondingly, as long as the Russian Federation is competing geostrategically in a discernable form of rivalry with the US, it can retain a strong place for itself at the grand table of military superpowers, although it stands a far off second to the US. Further, from what is detectable, that military tie in Putin’s mind also allows the Russian Federation, by a slender thread, to set a place for itself among the world’s economic powers, although it is not one. (As a measure of goodwill from the West, Russia was once welcomed on the G7. Putin wrecked that by conquering Crimea.) Alas, any unvarnished assessment would confirm that without tying itself to the US, any claims by Moscow of being a true world leader would simply appear self-styled, and could not be substantiated. Unless there is something or someone who could change Putin’s mind otherwise, doubtlessly as a matter of policy, he will continue to create a competitive environment with the US, leaving US Presidents with little choice but to meet any challenges posed by the Russian Federation. Curiously, it may very well be that Putin, living the Judo Ichidai, likely appreciates being in a “struggle” with the US. Odimus accipitrem quia semper vivit in armis. (We hate the hawk because he always lives in arms.)

Thus far, Putin has shown himself to be very intelligent man. All of the factors pulling him away from positive relations with the US seem to have caused Putin to metaphorically miss his exit along the road of diplomacy. The truth about the Trump administration and its good intentions should have reached Putin and made an impression, if only subconsciously. It is difficult to believe that Putin genuinely does not understand what Trump has been doing and that he does not recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia do some good in the world. By now it should be clear to Putin that Trump will not rise to grab the bait and begun some contentious back and forth between Washington and Moscow. As a consequence of  un grand défi he purposefully designed and promoted to compete as a soi-disant “superpower” with the Trump administration, Putin must contend with the missed opportunities for progress and advancement of the Russian people by insisting the two countries remain essentially divorced from each other. Those realities seemingly make Putin’s own effort at keeping Russia on top both counterintuitive and somewhat Quixotic.

It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image.

The Way Forward

By approaching the matter of Putin’s nostalgia romanticising of the Soviet era from a couple different directions and arguing matters from varied angles, it is hoped that the undergraduates who contacted greatcharlie, it has provided an edifying journey of exploration on their inquiry. It is also hoped that this essay was also satisfying for greatcharlie’s other regular readers. The purpose of greatcharlie’s examination was to simply consider Putin’s reiterative statements of praise for the Soviet Union. It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image. Patriotism, national identity, national pride, history, and culture are powerful ideas to organize a country’s population around. Focus upon them, often allows tricky leaders to distract from the internal with external The argument is made that the cause of Russia’s problems is the outside world, not internal difficulties, lack of capabilities, mismanagement, corruption, criminality, and so on. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. (Of mortal men, none is wise at all times.)

For the past two decades, great wells of anger have stored up among Putin and senior Kremlin officials toward the US for a variety of reasons. That has made finding a moderate path more difficult.  At the same time, as a practical matter, the Russian Federation’s contentious interactions with the US create a tie to it that could imaginably support the claim that a superpower competition exists. As greatcharlie posits here, without interacting with the US or being measured against it on a geopolitical matter for example, the Russian Federation would simply appear as a self-styled superpower, unable to substantiate the title in any way except by ostensibly harkening back to historical examples of the superpower rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russian Federation can only steal a modicum of the “superpower light” radiating from the US. It has precious little ability to generate any light of its own in that respect. Thereby, negative interactions need to be regularized and promoted by Putin. Under such circumstances, engaging positive interactions with the Russian Federation will prove very difficult for the Trump administration. However, Putin should not believe that he has found some sweet spot from which he can take on the US without any real consequences. There are also inherent dangers that stem from un grand défi Putin has inflicted upon the US. It could very well open the door to unmanageable disagreements and potential clashes. Fortunately, the Trump administration has shown little interest in rising to take Putin’s unappetizing bait. Whenever Trump feels he needs to act in response to Putin’s moves, it will be at a time, at a place, in a manner of his choosing, most likely with some degree of impunity, and when necessary covertly with plausible deniability. In that respect, although he has promoted un grand défi, Putin has in reality only established pas de problème, or no problem at all.

Things could certainly be better for the Russian people. The “golden mean”, a middle way, could very likely be found to create positive relations with the US that would bring real benefits to the Russian Federation. Moving in that direction would certainly mean doing more than just putting a toe in the water. Still, as long as the Russian people are satisfied, as a few polls and studies indicate, attempting to judge from the outside what would be best for them seems unmerited. Putin’s actions appear to illicit some uniquely Russian reactions. Putin does not need to turn back the clock and resurrect the Soviet Union because it has not really moved too far away from what was in a functional sense. Actions that have resulted in economic sanctions and have prevented the Russian economy from participating in competitive world markets, attendantly hinder genuine scientific and technological progress. The potential of Russian enterprises and people consequently remains locked in. It is almost assured that bitter fruit will be reaped in the future by moving forward in such a troubled way. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reality Check for Kim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim’s Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wake Up Kim!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump to the Rescue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?

The US military base in Al Asaliyah village near Manbij, in northern Syria (above). After US President Donald Trump announced that US troops would be withdrawn from Syria, critics and detractors surmised that he reached the decision from thin air, and hastily announced it at the end of 2018 in order to “check off” a campaign promise. It was also said Trump had disregarded US allies and friends in Syria. In truth, the decision was well-mulled over by US decision makers. Far more factors were part of the decision than the short-list reported in the US news media.

There was a storm of disagreement, and in some foreign policy circles in Washington, outrage, following the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw US forces from Syria. Fault with the decision was supported by the claim that Trump was acting against the best advice of his top military commanders and other foreign and national security officials. It was also said that Trump was displaying a certain insouciance toward allies and friends on the ground in Syria, to include Kurdish Forces (the People’s Protection Units or YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (Arab and Assyrian fighters, as well high numbers of YPG units). Additionally, it was widely surmised that Trump reached the decision to withdraw US troops from thin air, and hastily announced the decision at the end of 2018 in order to “check off” a campaign promise. Some news media commentators even went as far as to claim that the decision signalled a new US isolationism and the beginning of a contraction under which certain US interests worldwide would be abandoned. In truth, the decision was thoroughly mulled over in a decision making meeting prior to being announced. Moreover, far more factors, in particular factors that tied to reality, were part of the decision, than the short-list reported in the news media. The aim here is to enumerate and examine, from an out of the box perspective, some of the likely considerations made by Trump and his aides and advisers prior to making the Syria decision public. Hopefully, the examination here will contribute in some way to the policy debate in the US on Syria.

The Syria situation was not a problem of Trump’s making. US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced, Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds. Along with the US, European and Middle Eastern countries, have invested troops and other resources in Syria in what has been a successful effort to destroy terrorist groups in particular.

The contradiction between the desire to continue the fight alongside allies and friends, (that resulted in what now appear to have been ill-advised promises by US officials that the US would remain in Syria), and the requirements of force protection and the need to respond to rapidly evolving geostrategic realities in the region, made the decision to withdraw undoubtedly agonizing. Trump, however, was not marginal about the matter. Some of Trump’s top advisers were very disappointed over where the final decision fell. A couple top officials, having determined that continuing to work in support of Trump’s choice would compromise their personal values, their consciences, resigned. Perhaps an effort to keep US allies and friends invested in Syria militarily or otherwise of the decision to withdraw, even in camera, was a missing step. However, the decision will not be judged right or wrong here. Homines enim cum rem destruere non possunt, iactationem eius incessunt. Ita si silenda feceris, factum ipsum, si laudanda non sileas, ipse culparis. (Such is the disposition of mankind, if they cannot blast an action, they will censure the parade of it; and whether you do what does not deserve to be taken notice of, or take notice yourself of what does, either way you incur reproach.)

The announced withdrawal of US military units from Syria came as a surprise when Trump first made it on Twitter and then with a public statement on the White House lawn. There was an immediate rush by critics and detractors of Trump to pure negatives on the decision such as calling it an abandonment of allies and friends in the field. Other observers, uncertain about the future of Syria and uncertain of the future course of the US in the region, joined in the chorus against the decision. As promises were made by US officials other than Trump to stand alongside and support allies and friends, did as much to convince many observers that the US commitment to Syria was essentially open-ended, the disappointment and harsh reactions were stronger when that belief was dashed. Yet, with an assessment made that the main mission of destroying ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria, and correlatively degrading their ability to act elsewhere, reaching toward its terminus, keeping US forces in the combat zones of Syria, keeping them in harm’s way, became questionable to Trump. All along, it was a calculated risk to deploy and allow US  forces to operate in Syria. Having spent months crossing his fingers concerning the well-being of US troops there, Trump made the decision to withdraw. Although US troops, themselves, expect to be in harm’s way whenever they are deployed in combat zones overseas, value judgments must be made by the civilian leadership on the returns or benefits from such dangerous deployments. It would seem Trump determined that the return on the US investment of troops in Syria, no longer justified placing their lives at risk. In making this decision, Trump likely felt some satisfaction knowing that he has robbed potential adversaries of the freedom to include an attack on US forces in Syria in their calculus of how they might hurt the US in the region.

US troops deployed in Syria are among the best trained in the US armed forces. As expected, they accomplished a tremendous amount. Yet, although extremely effectual in their performance, the size of their deployment, 2600 troops, is lean relative to those deployed in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Their numbers are also meager relative to the presence of potential adversaries in Syria. Expectations from those troops should not be placed too high. For those rightfully concerned with worldwide impressions of Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces, there should be an awareness that the force of 2600 troops was too few to do too much on the ground anyway. Change in Syria in the interest of the US and in a way that reflects US values would mean: allowing for the return of refugees and displaced persons; the establishment of transparent democratic governance in some form at the local, provincial, and national levels in Syria; providing all people of Syria with residences, more than just temporary shelters; an adequate, regular supply of sustenance; a means to sustain the delivery of sustenance; sufficient sources of potable water; continuous power and electricity; a highway and road systems that will allow for freedom of movement; reconstruction bridges, tunnels, airports, harbors, dams, parks, and waterways; schools for children; hospitals and health clinics; sanitation system; law enforcement at the local, provincial, and national level; a courts system; effectual employment bureaus, a secure banking system; the rebuilding of factories and other workplaces; an agribusiness development program; and, a multitude of other necessities that will support the development of a viable society. Given the size of the force, it would not be able to guarantee the top five items enumerated on this list, particularly the safety and security of Syrian returnees from the Assad regime and other potential adversaries. The Assad regime would invariably want all returnees to fold neatly under its cruel subjugation. There would also be the requirement of protecting the Syrian people from Islamic militant groups seeking to reestablish their Caliphate or some new Islamic State from which they could launch terrorist attacks globally.

There is a broader picture concerning US capabilities and capacity to conduct military-style operations. Wars can be fought even when formations of US troops are not present. Other less visible ways and means to support the Kurdish Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces can be provided by elements of the US intelligence community to include the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (“DIA”). Invariably, some US troops could be used covertly, in specialized technical role for those agencies. By integrating themselves among local military units, they can provide assistance in the form of supply, training, and guidance to local senior leaders, support special reconnaissance, aid local commanders with command and control of units, and engage in direct action when required. A few historical examples of the success of such operations include: CIA operations in Military Region 3 in South Vietnam; the employment of Special Forces Operational Detachments in Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait; operations in support of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian Defense Council during both Operation Sana and Operation Oluja during Bosnia War; and, CIA and DIA operations in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Arguably, engaging in a covert operation with paramilitary trained case officers, special activities operators, and special forces soldiers working in tandem with local troops may not be as effective as having US military units perform tasks, but it is a viable option when the decision has been made to no longer make formal use of the US military. On the particular matter of providing forward control for airstrikes to defend allies and friends against attacks, resources would exist among operatives of those agencies on ground to perform that task. Moreover, with concentrations of US troops no longer on the ground in Syria, US air assets and the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition, while still maintaining parameters for safety for allies and friends, could pursue ground targets more vigorously with less concern that retribution from a malign actor against US troops would be possible. That retribution could take the form of a surprise military attack or an act of terrorism.

Many of the immediate impressions expressed about Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria ignored certain realities of the evolving situation in the Middle East. There is a broader picture of foreign and national security policy for the US and other countries in the region of which US troops deployed to Syria had become a part. To understand that bigger picture, one only needs to listen closely to the persistent anti-US grumblings voiced from the capitals of potential adversaries within the region. National leaders and other top officials of those countries insist more directly that they have the will and inclination to assert themselves in Syria. In addition to those grumblings are tests of missiles of considerable range and latent warnings concerning the reinitiation of an ostensibly dormant nuclear weapons program. Perhaps through miscalculation, they might decide to act against US forces not simply to destroy them, but rather as a means to force them out. Fresh in the minds of many in the region are the 1983 attack on the US Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon and the 1996 attack on US troops at the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and the responses by the US. Perhaps a few US political leader, though surely well-meaning, have forgotten that the enemy will have a say in the outcome of the best laid plans of Washington. (With all of the “what ifs” considered, force security has been optimized through the employment of a suite of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods by US force commanders in Syria. Yet, only the clairvoyants can walk with an assured step in the opaqueness of the Levant. There, one must always expect the unexpected.) Lessons learned from past US military deployments to support allies in the region, which were also relatively limited in scope, have undoubtedly left Trump determined to avoid the disasters that US Presidents have faced in the past. It is far preferable for the US to act, not wait until it must react in response to such possibilities. Further, if Trump, using his experience with, and understanding of, other national leaders has felt vibrations, intimations that US forces were facing an increased danger from a certain direction in Syria, it would only be prudent him to be safe rather than sorry by moving those troops elsewhere. Correlatively, Trump would never be willing to take the chance of having the US plunged into a conflict on an adversaries terms.

The possibility must be considered that a clash between US forces and a prospective adversary on the ground in Syria could put US troops in real jeopardy. True, numbers are not everything, and the outcome of a military engagement that would include very capable US troops cannot be determined by simple bean counting. To avoid such clashes, since 2015, the US and Russia have maintained a “deconfliction line” to communicate the locations of their respective air and ground forces in Syria. Still, US troops have exercised their right to self-defense and clashes have occurred. When pro-Syrian regime fighters, mostly Russian mercenaries, attacked 40 US troops at their military base at a refinery near the town of Deir al-Zour in February 2018, around 200 of the attackers were killed. There were no US casualties. Despite that favorable outcome, circumstances may not stand in the favor of US troops on some other occasion. Russian military forces and the forces of other potential adversaries on the ground in Syria are actually formidable given their size and strength. They are close enough to US troops to pose a danger that should not be dismissed.

The order to withdraw US troops from Syria might have equated to the sounding of retreat if it had occurred following a very public threat from an adversary, or had occurred in the face of an adversary’s deployment of its forces on the ground precisely to threaten US forces. A decision not to withdraw in response to such military threats from adversaries would likely require the deployment of greater numbers of US troops in Syria and perhaps preparation for a larger war in the region. This consideration has rarely been a factor discussed by Trump’s critics and detractors and other observers in the US news media. However, it would only be a natural concern for any US president who has placed US troops in harm’s way. Quod dubites, ne feceris. (Never do a thing concerning the rectitude of which you are in doubt.)

As with other US troops in the region, US forces in Syria face a significant threat from attack by potential adversaries in the region with long-range artillery and rockets in country and precision rockets from their countries or other locations in the region in which their forces are operating. The spectrum of possible attacks indeed goes beyond frontal assaults on the several small US bases in Syria’s northeast. This consideration has also failed to find its way into the  commentaries of Trump’s critics and detractors and other observers in the US news media. The enemy has the ultimate say in how it might strike. Projections that fail to ascribe all probabilities and limit consideration to only some possibilities, perhaps the top five or top ten, while dismissing those they may feel are unlikely or de minimus, are flawed. To make a decision without the complete picture would be akin to walking down a blind alley.

There has always been the reality that Assad could attempt to strike US forces in Syria using his remaining chemical weapons stockpile, the same stockpile that the Russian Federation had confirmed that he had removed. Such an attack could be conducted as a suicide attack or “martyrdom operation”. Assad could potentially conduct such an attack even if his regime was placed in complete jeopardy. Assad is a study in miscalculation and irrationality especially when it comes to military action. A surprise chemical attack against a US base in Syria could have a devastating effect, harming a great number of troops. US troops have guarded against any effort by Assad to put his forces in positions near their bases. Away from the combat zone of Syria, comfort may be found in the thought that US forces could respond to such a chemical strike with an immediate, devastating strike upon the regime, essentially destroying it. Still, a massive retaliatory against the Assad regime would do little to help any US troops lost or injured in such an attack. The US certainly cannot rely upon Moscow to keep Assad in check regarding his chemical weapons. In reality, the door has been left open to his madness for some time. Non omnes eadem amant aut easdem cupiditates studiaque habent. (Not all men love the same things or have the same desires and interests.)

The notion that the presence of US troops in Syria should remain to serve as a barrier or trip wires in case of attacks against US allies and friends by potential adversaries and also by other US allies and friends is abhorrent. With regard to dealing with US allies, the capabilities of US diplomats should not be underrated to the extent that military force posed against allies must suffice for skilled negotiation. As for potential adversaries, it is uncertain what would be the fate of US forces if an adversary launched a swift, concerted attack with combined arms against them. It would appear that many US political leaders, policy analysts, and particularly Trump’s critics and detractors in the US news media are willing to wait and see what happens. Leaving US troops in Syria to continue as they have until the time that they might actually be attacked by an adversary could be called questionable judgment. It would essentially boil down to waiting around until casualties are suffered by US forces. Such thinking does not flow from the concept of America First. If having an available response in Syria is absolutely necessary, US military planners could develop a scheme, for example, to encamp US troops in nearby Iraq, Jordan, or perhaps even Turkey, arrange, determine ways to synchronize surprise deployments or powerful blows from vertical and ground assaults against an attacking force at a time and place of the choosing of US commanders. It might actually be a more effective way to place US forces in a position superior to that of an adversary in order to destroy it as effectually as possible.

If US troops in Syria were attacked in a concerted military way or were hit with some massive terrorist attack and losses were suffered, there is no guarantee that public support would exist nationally and that political will would exist in the US Congress for a large military build up in Syria and perhaps the start of a wider war in the region. Trump administration plans might very well be waylaid by a rebuff from the Congress given that control of the US House of Representatives has gone to the Democrats, the political party in opposition to Trump and his Republican Party, following the 2018 US Congressional Election. All indications are that the intention of the Democrats is to be activist, questioning decisions on foreign and national security policy of the US president and possibly uprooting some. (As these things go, the focus of Trump’s political foes would likely be the tragedy of the attack, itself, and why more consideration had not been given, and why more had not been done, to ensure their safety and security. It might be then that the decision of keeping US troops in Syria would be lambasted as questionable judgment given the mission was so limited.) It would seem best for Trump to act now to ensure the safety and security of US troops, rather than face what could very well be: a tragic situation of unknown consequences; the need to make a decision under duress on whether to remain and fight or withdraw; and, if he decides to remain, almost ensure that he will contend with an enormous political battle over the fight in Syria with Congress. To act now, by withdrawing US troops, rather than wait for an adversary to decide their fate, could be considered prudent. Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest, quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit. (Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.)

Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and other regional actors, as well as European allies such as the United Kingdom and France, are already taking steps through airstrikes, ground incursions, raids, and other direct attacks to degrade well-known terrorist groups lurking in strongholds in Syria. Israel, in particular has focused also on placing severe limitations on the capabilities and capacity of a certain country that is also potential adversary of the US in the region. Yet, while such actions have been useful in curating the diverse ecosystem of military forces and terrorist groups on the ground, they have also increased the chances that those elements would attempt to lash out in retribution against US forces in Syria. Thus, as a result of the US troop presence in Syria, US allies have doubtlessly acted in a manner that would avoid precipitating such retribution. Planning for airstrikes in Syria, for example, was done by allies through the Coalition Air Operations Center at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and independently at their respective national air operations headquarters with US troops on the ground firmly in mind.

The primary and strongest US ally in the region, Israel, has been somewhat restrained in its operations in Syria against some longtime adversaries, who have been malign actors not only in the region, but around the world. Upon the departure of US troops from Syria, Israel will be provided an opportunity, a freer hand, to engage in more effectual and perhaps more robust action there. No longer hamstrung by the potential misstep of provoking its adversaries to strike against US forces ostensibly in retribution for its attacks, Israel may decide to finally crack the problem of the presence of its adversaries being based so close to its sovereign territory. With likely the same minimum of attention its operations in Syria have attracted so far in the global news media, Israel can engage in concentrated operations to degrade its adversaries and eliminate threats with a tempo and ferocity such that those adversaries could no longer face losses inflicted upon them. To borrow a phrase from former US President Richard Nixon, Israel will have the opportunity to “sock it to them!”  If those adversaries would choose to resist exiting Syria, in order to survive, they would very likely be required to redeploy in a way that would make them ineffective on the ground. Indeed, Israel might be able to create the type of environment in Syria that would cause pause among Islamic militant groups hoping to establish themselves in Syria. The extent to which the US might support or assist Israel with any efforts in Syria is uncertain. That would likely be decided sub rosa. However, the US would most likely step up and provide whatever might be possible. Turkey would also have a similar opportunity to respond more robustly against Islamic militant groups in Syria. Turkey’s military capabilities, though, are somewhat limited in comparison to those of Israel and its increased efforts would likely require incurring greater risks.

With regard to impressions the withdrawal of US troops from Syria might have made upon the global audience, few capitals worldwide would likely equate their sovereign countries, whose nationhood and history they extol, to the autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria. While feelings of empathy may be felt by national leaders toward the Kurds situation, most would hardly commit anything too significant from their own resources in support of them. In fact, some national leaders would likely agree with the notion that US troops should be kept out of harm’s way to avoid at least for now, a greater conflict in the region. Cito enim arescit lacrimal praesertim in alienis malis. (A tear quickly dries when shed for the misfortunes of others.)

The withdrawal of US troops from Syria will ostensibly eliminate all financial costs for the US related to that deployment. At the same time, Russia and other countries remaining in Syria will need to keep a robust military and security presence there in order to reasonably maintain control of the situation, or at control of that area referred to as “Useful Syria”. They would most likely need to engage in many more operations against Islamic militant groups to secure peace as such groups may attempt to violently reestablish themselves in the country. The job of “restoring Syria to its past glory” through reconstruction will be incredibly difficult as Russia and one of the countries remaining in Syria are contending with punishing sanctions for misdeeds on other matters. They would surely be precluded collecting the amount of financial resources necessary to engage in such an undertaking successfully. As months and possibly years pass, the effects of wind and rain will make bomb-damaged, dilapidated buildings and other derelict structures even less appealing to the eye. The same global audience whose views on the US troop withdrawal were a concern for Trump’s critics and detractors, would have an excellent opportunity to observe and assess what might be in-store for them if they too relied on the patronage of those countries. They could judge for themselves what leadership from those countries is really worth.

Removing the conventional US military footprint in Syria would place the responsibility to develop a complex comprehensive plan for reconstruction and peace-enforcement in the country squarely in the court of Russia and other countries who remain there. Any attempt to proceed without such a plan would be a huge blunder. Moving too slowly to repair Syria will allow ideal conditions to exist for an Islamic militant groups to attempt to fill the vacuum of power around the country. That is what occurred in Iraq after US forces were withdrawn. It was all pretty much foreseen by many US intelligence analysts. Unfortunately, the histories of Russia and other countries in Syria include no authentic success in such a reconstruction effort in contemporary times. As mentioned already, the economic circumstances of those countries are dire, shaped in great part by sanctions. That factor might do much to hinder them from gathering resources to engage in such an undertaking.

Conditions in Syria may not be optimal for the US, but Trump recognized that he was in a relatively favorable position to make the decision to withdraw, and he did so. Despite all of the bdelygmia, the decision appears to be the result of an in-depth examination of the realities of the Syria mission by Trump and his closest aides and advisers over time. The factors presented here reflect Trump’s pattern of well-considering the short-term and long-term interests of the US, before taking any steps. With so many actors on the stage in Syria doing so many disparate and discreet things, it is also possible that some rarefied, furtive bit of information marked “for the president’s eyes only” may have been behind the choice made. At the risk of unsettling readers by injecting in a bit of levity in the subject matter, one could say that Trump, the erstwhile owner of a plethora of casinos, is expert at knowing “when to hold up, when to fold up, when to walk away, and when to run!”

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and the US News Media

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

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

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

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

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

Where Is the US News Media Headed?

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

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

The Influence of the Internet on Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

What Might Come Next?

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

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

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

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

Can the Old Form of Journalism Be Resuscitated?

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

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

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

Trump to Meet With Putin at G-20 Gathering: Trump Seeks an Authentic Relationship with Russia

US President Donald Trump (above). On July 7, 2017 at the Group of 20 economic summit meeting in Hamburg, Trump will have a bilateral meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Finding a way to establish an authentic, positive relationship with Russia is a struggle US administrations have engaged in for decades. Trump feels he can find the solution.Trump does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, remains at risk. He believes the US and Russia can be good neighbors on the same planet.

According to a June 29, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Trump to Meet With Putin at G-20 Gathering Next Week,” it was formally announced by US National Security Adviser US Army Lieutenant General H.R McMaster that US President Donald Trump would meet Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on July 7, 2017 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany. The article noted that the meeting would be the first between the two since Trump took office and would be the focal point of his second international trip. However, a subsequent July 5, 2017 New York Times article explained that a day before Trump was to leave Washington, the White House announced that the meeting with Putin would be a formal bilateral discussion, rather than a quick pull-aside at the economic summit that some had expected. The July 5th New York Times article went on to explain that the bilateral format benefitted both Trump and Putin. It called Putin a canny one-on-one operator who once brought a Labrador to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel because he knew she was afraid of dogs. The article proffered Trump’s aides sought structure and predictability, and hoped that a formal meeting, with aides present and an agenda, will leave less room for improvisation and put the focus on pressing policy concerns that Trump is eager to address.

Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros. (Fire provides proof of gold, misery, proof of strong men.) Both Trump and Putin clearly believe the moment to create positive change in US-Russia relations is now. In the face of all the opprobrium, both have shown a new determination to get on with making things right between the two countries. Trump plans to triumph over his skeptics, putting no power in their words. Of course, that process of building relations between their countries will take time. Still, each step brings the two sides closer together and improving one’s understanding of the other. The bilateral talks with Russia at the Group of 20 economic summit will mark a point of flexure in communications between the US and Russia. Finding a way to establish an authentic, positive relationship with Russia is a struggle US administrations have engaged in for a couple of decades. Trump feels he can find the solution. True, the meeting between Trump and Putin will unlikely be a catalytic moment when opponents of Trump, political or otherwise, will see the method in his madness and appreciate his accomplishment. Moreover, when Russia behaves in ways that tear others from peace, it must still face consequences. However, Trump’s efforts evince his desire not to isolate Russia, or allow engagement with it to fall off. He does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, remains at risk. He believes the US and Russia can be good neighbors on the same planet. For this he should hardly be faulted. Pars magna bonitatis est veile fieri bonum. (Much of goodness consists in wanting to be good.)

US President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). The Obama administration’s actions and reactions to Putin obscured what was already a difficult path to travel. The Obama administration never put together the right recipe for working well with Putin. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. A war of words and rebuffs emerged between Washington and Moscow.

Background on US and Russia Relations

Infandum, regina, jubes renovare dolorem. (Sorrow too deep to tell, your majesty, you order me to feel and tell once more.) The Obama administration’s actions and reactions to Russia did much to further pollute and obscure what was already a difficult path to travel. The Obama administration never put together the right recipe for working well with Putin. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced, and new ones arose, to include: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin was still fuming over Operation Unified Protector, during which in 2011, multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia.

Perhaps the administration did not fully grasp just how poorly things were going with Putin. The Obama administration was confident enough to push agendas for nuclear arms reductions with Russia and the expansion of the EU and NATO just as the administration of US President George W. Bush had. Obama administration officials referred to the effort to attain further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office as a “signature effort.” The reduction of nuclear forces and reductions in conventional forces have been issues US and Russian leaders have dealt with for decades, but Obama was not going to resolve any nuclear issues with Putin. Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are not a mere policy issue or bargaining chip for Putin, but a means of survival for Russia. Putin had no intentions of acceding to proposals for deep cuts in its nuclear arsenal repeatedly sent to Moscow by the administration. The insistence of Obama administration officials to take such an aggressive approach in talks with Russia more than anything served to disrupt the US-Russia relationship. Efforts by US officials diplomats and officials to threaten and cajole, as Moscow perceived talks, were more than just displays of a lack of diplomatic tact and maturity, they were viewed as threatening. Relations with Putin and Russia fell to a very low point when the Obama administration cancelled a September summit meeting between Obama and Putin in 2013. The cancellation was in retaliation over Putin’s decision to reject the administration’s nuclear proposals. Administration officials lamented that Putin’s decision ended the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”

A spate of public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. A leader’s public declaration of his decision not to attend has practically been a tradition among US and Russian leaders during a period of disagreement in international affairs. In addition to the Olympics, Obama would later decide not to attend the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allies, ending World War II in Europe. The celebration, hosted by Putin, was a time to recall the legacy of cooperation established during the war and a real example of what US-Russian cooperation could be in a common cause. It offered a chance for Obama to privately address his dispute with Putin. It was the best time for him to say that as with the alliance between their countries in World War II, relations between their countries now were important, bigger than both of them. Attending would have required Obama, as Rudyard Kipling would say, to “bite the bullet,” in terms of personal pride, but not in terms of his role as US president. By being absent, that day became one more reminder of the two leaders differences and their uncongenial relationship. A war of words between US and Russian officials was also problematic. Words of anger, mockery, hate, and aggression, do damage that is often difficult to repair. In the last days of his presidency, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 election.

All of this and more has made for a very rocky road for the Trump administration to travel. Initially, Moscow took the view that the Trump administration’s approach to Russia in any direction must reflect the desire to forge a new relationship, not just hammer out a deal. However, in the nascent days of the Trump administration, Moscow faced the predicament of not having a formal articulation of US foreign policy and immediate approaches from the Trump White House or State Department from which it could work, Moscow’s policy decisions concerning the US were based on assessments developed from the abstract by Russian foreign policy analysts of the Trump administration’s most likely Syria policy or greater Middle East policy. If anything,, Russian analysts might have gleaned and constructed his likely key foreign and national security policy concepts on which his decisions might be based from what Trump has stated. Even without a formal articulation of policy, The Trump administration has tried to be reasonable in its approach to Russia.

Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (right). A decisive point in US-Russian relations came when Tillerson went into Russia on April 12, 2017 to talk with Putin and Lavrov. A significant achievement of those talks was an agreement to establish a working group of US State Department and Russian Federation Foreign Ministry officials charged with addressing smaller issues, which Lavrov called “irritants.” That has allowed Tillerson and Lavrov a freer hand to make progress in stabilizing relations.

The decisive point in relations between the Trump administration and Russia came when Tillerson went into Russia on April 12, 2017 to express concerns over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and Moscow’s continued insouciance toward Assad’s actions against his own people, non combatants. He wanted to learn firsthand the rationale behind Moscow’s willingness to endure international ridicule and rebuke in response to its friendship with the Assad regime, and what might prompt a decision to end that era. The Kremlin’s attitude toward the situation was manifested by the games played by the Russians before the meetings. For hours after Tillerson’s arrival in Moscow, it was uncertain if Putin would even meet with him because of the tense state of relations. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, held out the possibility of a meeting once Tillerson arrived, saying any meeting would depend on the nature of Tillerson’s talks at the Foreign Ministry. Tillerson, unfazed by any of those developments, went forward with his meeting Lavrov, the metronome of Russian foreign policy and diplomacy.  The meeting lasted for three hours. Tillerson eventually got the call to come meet with Putin, and left the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for Red Square around 5:00PM local time. That meeting lasted for two hours. A significant achievement of those talks was an agreement to establish a working group of US State Department and Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials charged with addressing smaller issues, which Lavrov called “irritants which have dogged our relations over the last couple of years,” and make progress toward stabilizing the relationship. That would allow Tillerson and Lavrov a freer hand to address urgent issues. They agreed to consider further proposals concerning the way forward in Syria; the respective allies and coalition partners of both countries would be consulted on the matter. There would be continued discussions directed at finding a solution to the Syrian conflict. Lavrov said Putin had agreed to reactivate an air-safety agreement, a de-confliction memorandum, concerning Russian Federation and US-led coalition air operations over Syria. Moscow suspended it after the US cruise missile strikes.

On June 18, 2017, a US FA-18 fighter (as above) shot down a Syrian Arab Army Su-22 fighter over Raqqa. After Russia said it would terminate deconfliction activity over the shoot down, Lavrov and Tillerson quelled the matter. Lavrov urged Tillerson to use his influence to prevent “provocations” against Syrian government forces in the conflict. The incident evinced how fickle Russia can be over cooperation. Joint activity can be held hostage to Moscow’s reactions to events. Cooperation must be established with protocols or a modus vivendi.

Is This Is the Moment?

Both Trump and Putin understand that the process of building a new US-Russia relationship will take time. Yet, Trump left little doubt that he is eager to meet Putin when the two visit Hamburg, Germany for the G-20 summit on June 7-8, 2017. Trump’s positive thinking has appeared to broaden his sense of possibility and open his mind up to more options. Trump and some others within his administration sense a great opportunity is being presented by his meeting with Putin and sought from the start to establish a full bilateral meeting. Trump wanted media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions. It was allegedly leaked to the US newsmedia that other officials at the State Department and National Security Counci sought to pared down that idea, recommending instead that Trump engage in a brief, informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the summit, or that the US and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which would not include the presidents. In the end, Trump got what he wanted, a bilateral meeting with the Russians, formally organized. Trump and Putin talked informally by phone. During a May 2, 2017 phone conversation, they agreed to speed up diplomatic efforts designed to end the war in Syria. The White House described the phone call between the two leaders as a “very good one” and said they discussed the possibility of forming safe zones to shelter civilians fleeing the conflict. The US also agreed to send representatives to cease-fire talks the following month. Reportedly, Trump and Putin “agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence,” the White House said. It was their first conversation since the US launched a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base last month in response to a chemical attack that the Trump administration has said was carried out by Syrian forces. It was during the same phone conversation that Putin reportedly offered an olive branch to Trump: Both chief diplomats spoke then about arranging a meeting tied to a Group of 20 summit meeting in Germany this summer, the Kremlin said, according to the Russia-based Interfax news agency.

Both Trump and Putin understand that the process building a new US-Russia relationship will take time.Trump left little doubt that he is eager to meet Putin when the two visit Hamburg, Germany for the G-20 summit on June 7-8, 2017. Trump’s positive thinking has appeared to broaden his sense of possibility and open his mind up to more options. Trump senses he has been presented with a great opportunity. He seized that chance to establish a full bilateral meeting with hope of accomplishing a few things.

Following a May 11, 2017 meeting between Trump and Lavrov at the White House, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, on first face, expressed cautious optimism about the prospects for an improvement in U.S.-Russian, saying: “The conversation itself is extremely positive.” He further explained: “We have a lot of work ahead of us.” Progress seemed to have been derailed when on June 18, 2017, a US FA-18E Super Hornet fighter shot down a Syrian Arab Army Su-22 fighter in the southern Raqqa countryside, with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near US-led Coalition-friendly forces in Tabqh. On several occasions in weeks before, US-led Coalition fighter jets also struck pro-government forces to prevent them advancing from a U.S.-controlled garrison in southeastern Syria at a spot where the country’s borders join with Iraq and Jordan. By telephone on May 11, 2017, Lavrov and Tillerson discussed the need to cement the ceasefire regime in Syria, in particular on the basis of peace talks conducted in the Kazakh capital Astana. The Russian Federation Foreign Ministry explained Lavrov had urged Tillerson to use his influence to prevent “provocations” against Syrian government forces in the conflict. Lavrov and Tillerson agreed to continue contacts, particularly with regard to their bilateral agenda.

Putin would eventually fully express his own views on possible face-to-face meeting with Trump. In a call in program, “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” that was broadcast on June15, 2017, Putin offered relatively anodyne statements about the Trump administration and a possible meeting with Trump. It was a big change from the aggressive statements of the past. It seemed that Putin was no longer nursing any wounds resulting from his combative relationship Obama. During the program, Putin responded to a question about engagement with the US on Syria as follows: “On the Syrian problem and the Middle East in general, it is clear to all that no progress will be made without joint constructive work. We hope greatly too for the United States’ constructive role in settling the crisis in southeast Ukraine. A constructive role, as I said. We see then that there are many areas in which we must work together, but this depends not only on us. We see what is happening in the United States today. I have said before and say again now that this is clearly a sign of an increasingly intense domestic political struggle, and there is nothing that we can do here. We cannot influence this process. But we are ready for constructive dialogue.” Putin continued by acknowledging that there were “areas in which we can work together with the United States. This includes, above all, control over non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are the biggest nuclear powers and so our cooperation in this area is absolutely natural. This is an area of crucial importance and concerns not just the North Korean issue but other regions too.” The call-in program was meant for Russian viewers, however, Putin, seeking to reach international viewers, turned suddenly to the subjects of the Paris Agreement on climate change and poverty, tying them to US-Russian relations and insinuating that he would garner Trump’s cooperation on those issues. Putin explained: “Then there is the fight against poverty, fighting environmental damage and so on. We know the position the current US administration has taken on the Paris Agreement, but President Trump is not rejecting discussion on the issue. Cursing and trading barbs and insults with the US administration would be the worst road to take because we would reach no agreement at all in this case, but it makes no sense to seek agreements without the US, which is one of the biggest emitter countries. We must work together to fight poverty in the world. The number of people earning a minimum income has increased in Russia, but there is a disastrous situation in many parts of the world, and this is one of the sources of radicalism and terrorism, this poverty around the world, and we must decide together how to address this problem. Here, we must work with our other partners too, work with China, India and Europe.”

The aesthetics of Putin’s words on Russian television, welcoming interaction with Trump and expressing to the Russian public that he highly desired such talks, were astounding. Putin’s modus operandi in any exchange is to ensure he is the last man standing. So far, that has not been the case here. The change in temperament and dialogue perhaps  evinces that the desire for positive change in relations among Putin and his cabinet is analogous, mutatis mutandis, with that of the Trump and his administration.

The aesthetics of Putin’s words welcoming interaction with Trump and expressing to the Russian public that he highly desired such talks, were astounding. Putin’s modus operandi in any exchange is to ensure he is the last man standing. So far, that has not been the case here. The change in temperament and dialogue perhaps evinces that the desire for positive change in relations among Putin and his cabinet is analogous, mutatis mutandis, with that of the Trump and his administration. Trump’s positive thinking has appeared to broaden his sense of possibility and open his mind up to more options. Indeed, constructive, successful talks with Putin will allow Trump adjust to circumstances and perhaps become more fluid, more creative in his approach. It will certainly further diplomatic contacts between the US with Russia.

Summit Discussion Topics: A Few Samples (A Few Guesses)

Speaking initially about the planned meeting, McMaster expressed the president’s concept behind his effort which is to establish better relations with Russia by stating: “As the president has made clear, he’d like the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia but he has also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.” Former Obama administration officials have offered their opinions about the Trump-Putin meeting. Among the more prominent were comments by Obama’s chief Russia specialist at the National Security Council in 2009 and his Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul, in the familiar vein of seeking confrontation with Russia, told the New York Times that the meeting was a vital opportunity for Trump to show strength by calling out Putin sharply for the election meddling and to make it clear he is not fooled by Moscow’s misbehavior. McFaul was quoted as saying: “There is a sense in Moscow that Trump is kind of naïve about these things and just doesn’t understand.” He went on to instruct: “You don’t want your first meeting with Putin to create the appearance that you’re weak and naïve, and with some short, direct talking points, he could correct the record.” Veritatis simplex oratio est. (The language of truth is simple.)

Trump managed to become US president doing what he wanted to do, having truly dominant knowledge of the desires of the US public and overall US political environment. He knows what he wants and what he can really do. Ideally, if agreements are reached, they will be initial steps perhaps to unlock the diplomatic process on big issues. Already US State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry officials are working on nagging issues. The two leaders will likely acknowledge good existing agreements and make promises to continue to adhere to them. Where possible, it may be agreed to strengthen those good agreements. What has been observed in diplomatic exchanges so far between the US and Russia is a type of modus vivendi, a way of living, working together, between leaders and chief diplomats. After Putin granted Tillerson a meeting in Moscow after his talks with Lavrov, Trump granted Lavrov a meeting in Washington during a visit to meeting with Tillerson. It also indicated a willingness to establish a balance in negotiations or quid pro quo on issues when possible. Such seemingly small steps have been confidence building measures that have help lead to the meeting between presidents. Those small steps also supported an open line of communication between chief diplomats which is all importance as US and Russian military forces work in close proximity in Syria, Ukraine, and skies and waters in NATO, Canadian and US territory. If all goes well, there will certainly be more to follow. Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas. (Use what is yours without harming others.)

Russian Federation Army spetsnaz in Syria (above). Ostensibly, Russia went into Syria both to prop up Assad’s regime and engage in counterterrorism operations against ISIS, Al-Qaeda affiliates, and other Islamic militant groups. Putin has stated regarding Syria and the Middle East in general that progress would not be made without joint constructive work with the US. Genuine cooperation on counterterrorism requires information sharing and joint operations, but again, Russia can be fickle over cooperation.

1. Counterterrorism and a Joint US-Russia Counter ISIS Strategy

On counterterrorism specifically, Moscow apparently wanted to secure a pledge from the Trump administration that it would work directly with Russia to destroy Islamic militant groups in Syria and wherever Russian interests are concerned. Russia claims it has been able to put significant pressure on ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and other Islamic militant groups using its special operations forces–Spetsnaz–and airpower. Russia’s dedication to counterterrorism was demonstrated by the strengthening of its terrorism laws in 2016. Genuine cooperation on counterterrorism requires not only information sharing, but joint operations. Yet, as evinced on military deconfliction in Syria, Russia can be fickle over cooperation. Joint activity has been held hostage to political reactions in Moscow due to other events. Establishing such cooperation must be based on protocols or modus vivendi, shielding it from such reactions.

2. Syria: Assad

In September 2015, Putin took the option of solving the conflict in Syria on his terms using a strong military hand. He explained that Russian Federation forces were sent into Syria both to “stabilize the legitimate authority” of Assad and to fight ISIS. On Syria, relations between the US and Russia are improving. By 2015, Assad appeared to lack the ability to remain in power against ISIS and perhaps US-backed Syrian Opposition forces, but the military situation began to turn after Russia, with the urging of Iran, moved its forces into Syria in September of that year and supported Syrian military operations. Assad can only be useful to Russia as a figurehead, a symbol of resistance to the opposition and ISIS. In time, it may make sense to Moscow to replace him with a leader who would be more acceptable among the Syrians. The transition from Assad regime to new politically inclusive government is the standing US policy. Assad is at Russia’s disposition. A final decision on how to handle him will need to be made soon. Concerns over Russia’s thoughts on Assad and US concerns about the dangers posed by him must be broached.

Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (seated left) and Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad (seated right). Currently, Assad is useful to Russia as a figurehead, a symbol of resistance to the opposition and ISIS. In time, it may make sense to Moscow to replace him with a leader who would be more acceptable among the Syrians. The transition from Assad regime to new politically inclusive government is the standing US policy. Assad is at Russia’s disposition.

3. Syria: Deconfliction

After the US launched cruise missile strikes against Assad regime airbase on April 7, 2017 following the regime’s chemical attack on Syrian civilians, Moscow suspended air-safety a de-confliction memorandum. Following Tillerson’s meeting with Lavrov said Putin in April 2017, Russia agreed to reactivate air safety hotline created under the air-safety agreement concerning Russian Federation and US-led coalition air operations over Syria. When a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian fighter over the southern Raqqa countryside, the Russian Federation Defense Ministry said it would halt its use of the incident-prevention hotline. The hotline was established between US officers monitoring the war from an operations center at a base in Qatar and their Russian counterparts operating in Syria has been a lifesaving tool since it was set up soon after Russia entered Syria’s civil war in late 2015 to prop up President Bashar al-Assad. However, as with any prospective joint counterterrorism activity with Russia, deconfliction operations cannot be held hostage to political reactions in Moscow to other events. There must be some protocol or modus vivendi established which shields deconfliction operations to the whims of either country.

4. Syria: Reconstruction, Peace-enforcement, and Peace-building via Negotiations

Reconstruction will be another huge hurdle for Russia to overcome in Syria. Even if a modicum of economic aid were granted from the Western countries and international organizations as the UN, the World Bank, or international Monetary Fund, Syria may never see significant rebuilding or economic improvement. Russia has sought stronger ties with Arab countries, bolstering economic ties with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait and diplomatic overtures with Algeria, Iraq, and Egypt. Russia’s hope is by courting those countries they would become more receptive to its’ calls for a political solution in Syria and responsive to an eventual campaign by Russia to gain financial support for Syria’s reconstruction. However, US participation in those efforts may do much to encourage participation from those Arab countries and Western countries as well. Russia must negotiate US assistance in the reconstruction and peace-enforcement effort.

US Army Rangers moving through Syria (above). Reconstruction will be another huge hurdle for Russia to overcome in Syria. Even if a modicum of economic aid were granted from the Western countries and international organizations as the UN, the World Bank, or international Monetary Fund, Syria may never see significant rebuilding or economic improvement. US participation in those efforts may do much to encourage participation from Arab countries and Western countries as well.

5. Syria: Safe Zones and Immigration

Syrian refugees and the displaced fear returning to a society of arbitrary detentions, beatings, house searches, and robberies.  Most have lost heart that there will ever be a Syria of any good condition to which they can return. Talks between US and Russian special envoys for Syria and other officials are at an early stage of discussing the boundaries of the proposed de-escalation zone in Deraa province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Washington has misgivings about the Astana talks and wants to forge a bilateral understanding with Moscow in an area of strategic interest to the US and its allies, Jordan and Israel. For Washington to back a deal, Russia would need have Iranian-backed militias to leave the area.  It may be difficult for Russia to rein in the growing involvement in the region of Iran and its allies. Russia must weigh that difficulty against US assistance with reconstruction.

6. North Korea

North Korea has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland. Most recently it tested what it claimed was an intercontinental ballistic missile. The US has explained to North Korean that it must stop its nuclear activity. The US has no interest in regime change. While the Trump administration has urged countries to downgrade ties with Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, a cross-border ferry service was launched in May 2017 between North Korea and neighboring Russia. Indeed, in recent years, Russia has rebuilt a close relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. In May, 2014, less than two months after the Crimea annexation and with Western nations seeking to punish Russia, Putin signed away 90 percent of North Korea’s $11 billion debt to Russia, an amount comparable with the debtor state’s GDP. The other 10 percent could be used for joint Russian-North Korean projects. That same year, Russia delivered 50,000 tons of wheat as humanitarian aid to North Korea. Clarification must be sought on Russia’s failure to cooperate with the international community on North Korea. Russia’s cooperation will likely need to be negotiated.

A North Korean missile test (above). North Korea has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland. Most recently it tested what it claimed was an intercontinental ballistic missile. While the Trump administration has urged countries to downgrade ties with Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Russia has continued to build a close relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

7. Afghanistan: Russia’s Activities

There have been reports from northern Afghanistan that Russia is supporting the Taliban by providing weapons and financing. Russia’s activities in Afghanistan is ostensibly intended to counter the spread of ISIS-affiliated militants in Central Asia and further challenge the US. Still, Russia is aware that the militant group has fought US and international forces since 2001. In April 2017, the commander of the US Central Command US Army General Joseph Votel told Congress that it was “fair to assume” Russia was [militarily] supporting the Taliban. The National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, reports Russian intelligence agents have provided the Taliban with strategic advice, money and arms, including old anti-aircraft rockets. Russian support played a role in the Taliban’s advances in  Kunduz, where they have twice briefly seized the provincial capital. Clarification on Russia’s activity in Afghanistan must be provided. Russia’s cooperation in defeating US adversaries will likely need to be negotiated.

8. Ukraine: Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk

As the EU and NATO expanded eastward, Putin decided to pull independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit. Accomplishing that required Putin to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually begins with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space was carved out of a country, Putin gained a base from which he can exert his influence in that country. European countries no longer appear ambivalent about committing to the costly requirements of collective security. The US may be able to influence Russia’s behavior, but Russia will likely want any negotiations to be part of comprehensive talks on Europe between the superpowers.

Satellite imagery of two tanks (125mm caliber) and 12 armored vehicles and infantry fighting vehicles ostensibly supplied by Russia in the Donetsk region of Ukraine (above). Russia’s annexing of Crimea and deployment of its military forces in Ukraine without Kiev’s consent was in violation of Article IV, paragraph 5 of the treaty. The US, NATO allies, and all other parties to the agreement recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. The US has also called on Russia to remove its forces and equipment from eastern Ukraine.

9. Ukraine: Sanctions

Sanctions from the US and Europeans have put relations between Russia and the West at considerable risk. Putin rejects the idea that the Trump administration is pushing for additional sanction against Russia and has explained new sanctions are the result of an ongoing domestic political struggle in the US. He has proffered that if it had not been Crimea or some other issue, they would still have come up with some other way to restrain Russia. Putin has admitted that the restrictions do not produce anything good, and he wants to work towards a global economy that functions without these restrictions. However, repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU could prompt Putin to consider means to shift the power equation. He may eventually feel his back is against the wall and may encourage him to act covertly to harm US and Western interests despite denials of doing so. When Russia behaves in ways that tear others from peace, it must still face consequences. However, the modification of that behavior could be rewarded. Sanctions could be used a powerful bargaining chip or a carrot in negotiations.

10. Russian Violations of Open Skies Treaty

The Treaty on Open Skies allows for states party to the treaty to conduct unarmed observation flights over the territory of other states to foster inter-military transparency and cooperation. The US, Canada, and 22 European countries including Russia signed the treaty in Helsinki on March 24, 1992. The US Senate ratified the treaty on November 3, 1993, and it entered into force on January 1, 2002. Today 34 countries are members of the Treaty on Open Skies. Russia has been accused of violating the spirit of the Treaty on Open Skies by restricting access to some sections of its territory. These limits include the denial of overflights over Chechnya or within 10 kilometers of its southern border with Georgia, a limitation on the maximum distances of flights over Kaliningrad, and altitude restrictions over Moscow. Russia has requested to upgrade to certain electro-optical sensors on its surveillance aircraft. The US could threaten to reject Russia’s requests until it again complies with the Open Skies Treaty.

A Russian Federation Tu-214R Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance plane (above). The Treaty on Open Skies allows for countries party to the treaty to conduct unarmed observation flights over the territory of other countries to foster inter-military transparency and cooperation. The US has complied with the treaty. Russia has violated the spirit of the treaty by restricting access to its territory. It has prohibited overflights over Chechnya or within 10 kilometers of its southern border with Georgia, set a limitation on the maximum distances of flights over Kaliningrad, and set altitude restrictions over Moscow.

11. Russian Violations of Conventional Nuclear Forces Treaty

In 2007, Russia suspended its implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Russia has continued to violate its treaty obligations and has made clear that it will not resume implementation of the treaty. On November 22, 2011, the US announced in Vienna, Austria that it was ceasing implementation of certain obligations under the treaty with regard to Russia. Similar announcements were made by NATO’s other members as well as Georgia and Moldova, but it did not impact Russian behavior. Russia continues to station its military forces in Georgia and Moldova without the consent of those countries. Russia’s annexing of Crimea and deployment of its military forces in Ukraine without Kiev’s consent was in violation of Article IV, paragraph 5 of the treaty. The US, NATO allies, and all other parties to the agreement recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. The US has also called on Russia to remove its forces and equipment from eastern Ukraine. Clarification on Russia’s actions adverse to the treaty must be sought. Any possibility of its future compliance with the treaty can be discussed.

12. Russian Violations of the Intermediiate Nuclear Forces Treaty

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) eliminated and prohibits an entire class of missiles: nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The US remains in compliance with the INF. Reportedly, Russia has been developing missile systems in violation of the INF Treaty. As a counter move, the US has positioned weapons systems that are not prohibited by the INF Treaty in Europe. The US Air Force has deployed conventional B-52 and B-1 bombers periodically to Royal Air Force Fairford, a forward airbase in Britain. It has been suggested that Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles could be stockpiled there for potential use by the aircraft. Moscow would not like that. The US Navy could increase the presence of surface ships and submarines carrying conventionally armed sea-launched cruise missiles in the North Sea and other waters around northern Europe. The US Navy could consider home-porting several sea-launched cruise missile-capable warships at a European port, as it has done with Aegis-class destroyers based in Rota, Spain. The threat from Russian intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles to US allies in Europe and Asia is destabilizing. An effort to negotiate Russia’s return to compliance should be made.

A Russian Federation Iskander-M (SS-26) intermediate range missile (above). The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) eliminated and prohibits an entire class of missiles: nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Reportedly, Russia has been developing missile systems in violation of the INF Treaty. The threat from Russian intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles to US allies in Europe and Asia is destabilizing.

13. Nuclear Forces: New Deterrence Systems

The Russian Federation deploys an estimated 307 ICBMs which can carry approximately 1040 warheads. They represent only 40 percent of the country’s total arsenal of thermonuclear warheads. Russia has been developing an upgraded Topol-M variant, the more advanced Topol MR or SR-24 Yars. The Yars, is reportedly fitted with more advanced decoys and countermeasures than the Topol-M, and featuring a higher speed, has been specifically designed to evade Western anti-ballistic missile defense systems.Both Topol-M variants can be deployed from either missile silos or transporter-erector launchers. The more advanced Yars can reportedly be fitted with four to six multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles.The RS-28 Sarmat is the newest heavy liquid-propelled ICBM under development for the Russian Federation Armed Forces. In 2018, the Sarmat will replace older Soviet R-36M missiles, dubbed “Satan” by NATO, as the heavy silo-based component of the Russian nuclear forces.The Sarmat will have a dozen heavy thermonuclear warheads, each individually steerable during reentry. Those warheads are said to have advanced anti-missile countermeasures meant to beat the US Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Shield. Both the US and Russia could discuss their intentions regarding nuclear force enhancement.

Russian Federation RT-2PM2 or “Topol-M” intercontinental ballistic missile (above). Russia has been developing an upgraded Topol-M variant, the more advanced Topol MR or SR-24 Yars. The more advanced Yars can evade Western anti-ballistic missile defense systems and can reportedly be fitted with four to six multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. In 2018, the Sarmat will replace older Soviet R-36M (SS-18) missiles as the heavy silo-based component of the Russian nuclear forces. The Sarmat will have a dozen heavy thermonuclear warheads, each individually steerable during reentry.

14. Russian Aerial and Naval Intrusions

Among steps taken by Sergei Shoigu upon becoming Russian Federation Defense Minister April 5, 2012, he created a new corps, the Airspace Forces, and ordered and steadily increased Airspace Force bomber flights and Navy combat patrols. As a result, near the Baltic Sea, for example, Russian military aircraft near were intercepted by NATO jets 110 times in 2016. According to NATO, that number was lower than the 160 intercepts recorded in 2015 and the 140 in 2014. Still, this greatly exceeds the number of aerial encounters above the Baltic Sea before Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2013, NATO fighter jets intercepted Russian aircraft 43 times. NATO has explained Russian buzzing of Baltic airspace creates the risk for deadly mistakes. Russian military planes have been flying too close for comfort in Baltic and Nordic skies. The tension created could lead to dangerous accidents or initiate an escalation spiral. Russia must be convinced to halt its provocative aerial and Naval Intrusions as they serve little purpose if its true intent is to move toward peaceful relations with US.

15. Russian Cyber Attacks

In the past decade the Russian government has mounted more than a dozen significant cyber attacks against foreign countries, sometimes to help or harm a specific political candidate, sometimes to sow chaos, but always to project Russian power. The strategy of Russian intelligence, particularly Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR and its military counterpart Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, has been to pair cyber attacks with online propaganda. It has since been refined and expanded by Russian intelligence. From June 2015 to November 2016, Russian hackers penetrated Democratic Party computers in the US, and gained access to the personal emails of Democratic Party officials, which in turn were distributed to the global media by WikiLeaks. Both the CIA and the FBI report the intrusions were intended to undermine the US election. Cyber gives Russia a usable strategic capability for active measures. If Russia sought to weaken NATO or harm US relations with Europe, cyber attacks could be launched. If potential benefits are great enough, the head of Russia’s SVR, Mikhail Naryshkin, may want to take the risk. Inquiries with Russia about cyber attacks will elicit denials. Russia must be convinced that future cyber attacks could derail efforts to build relations and will result in severe retaliation.

The head of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Mikhail Naryshkin (above). In the past decade the Russian government has mounted more than a dozen significant cyber attacks against foreign countries to project Russian power. From June 2015 to November 2016, Russian hackers penetrated Democratic party computers in the US, and gained access to the personal emails of Democratic officials. Cyber gives Russia a usable strategic capacity. If potential benefits are great enough, Naryshkin may want to take the risk.

16. Russian Interference with US Satellites

Russia is developing the ability to approach, inspect and potentially sabotage or destroy satellites in orbit. For over two years, it has included three mysterious payloads in normal commercial satellite launches. Radar observations by the US Air Force and by amateur hobbyists revealed that after each commercial satellite was deployed, an additional small object would travel far away from the jettisoned rocket booster and later turn around and travel back. Some believe the objects named Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499 and Kosmos-2504, may not be a benign program. For years Russia and China have pushed for the ratification of a UN treaty banning space weapons. US officials and outside experts have rejected that treaty as a “disingenuous nonstarter.” The US has supported a European-led initiative to establish norms for appropriate behavior through the creation of a voluntary International Code of Conduct for Outer Space. It would be a first step, to be followed by a binding agreement. Concern over Russia’s development and deployment of capabilities to harm US satellites must be broached. Russia should be invited to sign on to the Code of Conduct for Outer Space or join an effort to develop a new treaty incorporating the most useful aspects of all proposed approaches and additional terms.Russia must be told that it will face consequences if it interferes with US satellites.

17. Russian Arctic Military Build-up

Russia assesses the Arctic is one of the most economically promising regions in the world. The Arctic Circle holds enormous reserves of hydrocarbons and other minerals; the region also provides the shortest path for transporting goods from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. Russia claims that under international law norms, a substantial part of the territory in Arctic waters belongs to it. Russia observes that in addition to US Navy and US Air Force units, the US fields three ‘Arctic’ brigades in Alaska and special purpose Marines Corps units can be rapidly deployed to the north. The Canadian Army is viewed by Russia as being well-trained for action in the Arctic. Russia has taken note of Ottawa’s reorganization and reequipping its ranger units responsible for security in the Arctic region, and it recognizes Joint Task Force 2, an elite special operations unit of the Canadian Forces, is also prepared to conduct tasks in the Arctic. Further, Russia views the Norwegian Special Force “Rangers” as being especially honed for action in the Arctic. Russia notes that Oslo recently announced its creation of a new unit of special forces practically on the border with Russia. In response, Russia has deployed and specially equipped the 200th and 80th brigades to the Arctic. In 2015, Russia also opened the refurbished Soviet-era Alakurtti base located near the border with Finland in the Murmansk Region. A number of abandoned Soviet-era bases are being reopened and new one are being built. Russia’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreaker’s is also being bolstered. Clarification on Russia’s activity in the Arctic must be provided. The Arctic units could be viewed as a maneuver force to support potential operations in northern Europe.

A Russian Federation Arctic units in training (above). Russia assesses the Arctic is one of the most economically promising regions in the world. Russia has deployed and specially equipped the 200th and 80th brigades to the Arctic. In 2015, Russia also opened the refurbished Soviet-era Alakurtti base located near the border with Finland in the Murmansk Region. A number of abandoned Soviet-era bases are being reopened and new one are being built. Russia’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers is also being bolstered.

Facilitating Deal Making

Issues on which presidential action could immediately resolve matters may be hashed out at the table or it could be mutually agreed to give some additional consideration such matters before giving a response. Both Trump and Putin could make mutual peace offerings. That certainly does not mean emptying oneself akin to oblation, but to do something to encourage good-faith bargaining and compromise. There are several bargaining chips of differing value to both parties. Cooperation on counterterrorism, ISIS, climate change, and poverty may serve as a bargaining chips to get agreements on other issues. However, greater bargaining chips might include: the return of Russian properties in the US, types of reconstruction assistance in Syria, peace-enforcement in Syria, making the Group of 7 the Group of 8 again with inclusion of Russia, some economic sanctions, leaving sanction loopholes open, and lifting restrictions on the Exxon-Rosneft agreement through an exemption. Some of these actions may not appear plausible and could have a deleterious effect on international consensus on sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine and create an uproar among the Europeans. However, Trump undoubtedly believes bold action may be the very thing that can pump blood into negotiations, modify Russian behavior, and get relations moving forward. Conversely, Putin may offer much, if he feels secure enough, to loosen the US grip on Russia’s figurative economic throat. Perhaps some of this might be left for meetings down the road.

Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.) There are those in the Trump administration that will not welcome a warming of ties with Russia such as US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Marine Corps General James Dunford. They perceive Russia as the “enemy at the gates” and a great concern. They are advocates for vigilance and extreme caution with regard to diplomacy with it. Needless to say, McMaster would not be remiss and let Trump begin the meeting without reviewing the “what ifs” and contingencies resulting from what could possibly be unexpectedly difficult meeting. Trump must be able to recognize when it is definitely time to look for the door. If along with success, there are big questions or complaints, it will important not to “cry foul” or even grunt. That might be perceived as weakness by Putin. If a matter is worthy of review, Tillerson will likely be able to sort it out with Lavrov. Indeed, Trump’s meeting with Putin could be a fulsome discussion of issues or an exchange of views on issues much of which senior diplomats could be tasked resolve over time.

Trump must put “America First” but keep firmly in mind how his decisions and actions regarding Russia might impact European allies and partners.There has been considerable anguish and disappointment over Trump’s prior statements on collective security in European capitals. Some European leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps unwittingly, have promoted such doubts with statements driven by political expedience. She has expressed the will to remain in a combative mode, promising days before the G-20 Summit to fight for free trade, press on with multilateral efforts to combat climate change and challenge Trump’s “America First” policies. Merkel stated: “These will not be easy talks,” She went further by explaining: “The differences are obvious and it would be wrong to pretend they aren’t there. I simply won’t do this.” Asked by journalists about Merkel’s comments, McMaster remarked that the US relationship with Germany was “as strong as ever” and played down the discord. He also noted: “Of course there are going to be differences in relations with any country, and we’ll talk frankly about those differences. The president enjoys those conversations.” For the moment, many Europeans will likely stand a bit uneasy and apprehensive about US intentions and actions until trust and confidence are eventually rebuilt. Europe is not just an acquaintance of the US. For decades, the US has served as Europe’s defacto guardian, key to its security. While Europe may not be Trump’s primary focus it is a prime concern.

The Way Forward

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet XCIV explains that the ability to restrain the expression of emotion, and refrain from revealing to the world via visage one’s authentic thoughts and true feelings were regarded as virtue or at least useful ability in that day. Such persons–often found in positions of leadership–tend to isolate their true selves, but Shakespeare indicates that does not diminish the virtue. Using a flowers sweet scent as a metaphor, he explains it’s scent is still sweet when wasted on the desert air. However, he explains that such virtue when corrupted is far worse than depraved behavior. It reads: “They that have power to hurt and will do none, / That do not do the thing they most do show, / Who, moving others, are themselves as stone, / Unmoved, cold, and to temptation show, / They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces / And husband nature’s riches from expense; / They are the lords and owners of their faces, / Others but stewards of their excellence. / the summer’s flower is to the summer sweet, / Though to itself it only live and die, / But if that flower with base infection meet, / The basest weed outbraves his dignity: / For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; / Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” Trump has “advanced in age and wisdom and in grace with God and man.” Much as he may amuse himself through tweets to intemperate younger journalist, who, while projecting venomous comments toward him at the same time more often tickle him with their countenance, he is more than aware of his responsibility as the steward of his country’s security. He wants to establish peace and security for future generations: for his grandchildren and their posterity. Trump wants to do big things for his country, he sought the job of president for that reason. His efforts concerning Russia relations are noble.

Time, words, opportunity are things that in many circumstances come once, and never come back. One must make use of time available. It does not mean rush into things, but to be mindful that limits for preparation and action exist. Words can open doors and lead to resolution but can also damage. Banality and boastfulness so far has been avoided by the two sides. The similitude between the words of engagement used by Trump and Putin indicate there is reason for hope. Both time and words have served to create the opportunity for a positive connection between Trump and Putin. Surely, Trump cannot know what is in Putin’s heart. Putin is a calculator. Yet, Trump is unthreatened, and unmoved by notions proffered that Putin serves all things evil. If the ultimate goal of Moscow is to have the US submit to its will, Trump will not allow that to happen. He transmits no hint of doubt. Conversely, Putin must cope with his own uncertainties about Trump. One’s will acts upon what reason discerns. It is not self-justifying. Will is guided by intellect. To that extent, a genuine effort is being made and both sides appear to have the requisite he will. One would unlikely say everything has been elegantly done so far. However, some things can be smoothed out at the coming meeting, and a few more at all the subsequent ones. Success with Russia will change international affairs globally. Variatio detectat. (There is nothing like change.)