China’s Operation Fox Hunt: Facts and Theories on How Missions Succeed and Flaws and Delinquencies Ripe for Exploitation (Part 1)

An Air China jet (above) soars upward after take-off on its flight home. On a number of similar flights from the US, a considerable number of For nearly a decade, undercover Chinese identification and repatriation teams, as greatcharlie has dubbed them, at the direct request and under the authority of the Chinese government, have entered the US under false pretenses, enlisted US-based accomplices, stalked hundreds of people, including US citizens and permanent residents, and coerced and cajoled them to return to China to face charges for economic crimes they allegedly committed. This effort is called Operation Fox Hunt. It went on near unhindered by US authorities until a bungled mission to capture a target in New Jersey led to arrests and allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. Through an examination of flaws in the development, planning, and execution of that New Jersey mission based on available facts, greatcharlie provides some insights on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future missions by Chinese identification and repatriation teams.

On the intelligence front, the crisis of Chinese espionage in the US and the rest of the West has all of the hallmarks of a sort of ordeal. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. It would seem safe to say that Chinese espionage operations are ubiquitous. It is very likely that everyday they work harder and harder to make their networks and operations better and more effective, pushing their espionage capabilities far-beyond the reach of the counterintelligence services of the countries in which they operate. The primary conductors of China’s successful espionage operations orchestrated in the US, and globally are the Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, China’s preeminent civilian intelligence agency, responsible for overseas espionage and counterintelligence both at home and abroad, and the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign military intelligence, including technology. 

But alas, there are other efforts at penetration and clandestine action undertaken by Chinese operatives in the US as well as other countries that are as insidious and perhaps worse. For nearly a decade, Chinese identification and repatriation teams, as greatcharlie has dubbed them, have absconded not with precious, secret information or property, but rather with people. (Identifying targets was actually one of the most challenging aspects of the teams’ activities. Without the ability to investigate and identify targets, any repatriation effort would be hopeless. In a worst case scenario, the wrong individual might embarrassingly be brought back to China.) Targets have not only been non-residents, but residents and naturalized US citizens. Indeed, incontrovertible proof exists that shows undercover identification and repatriation teams at the direct request and under the authority of the Chinese government have entered the US under false pretenses, stalked hundreds of people, including US citizens and permanent residents, and enlisted US-based accomplices–private investigators and self-styled bounty hunters–and relentlessly hound their targets. Ostensibly, the Chinese operatives have sought out fugitives from justice in China as part of an anti-corruption campaign. 

In a number of operations, Chinese identification and repatriation teams were completely successful in capturing their targets and bringing them back to China to face what the Communist Party of China deemed as justice. Yet, that has not always been the case. There is a great difference between grabbing intellectual property, trade secrets, computer files as well as actual technologies and grabbing people. There is a human element which, particularly under conditions that the Chinese government creates for its “volunteers,” leaves a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability that cannot be assessed until one sees actual results. In identification and repatriation operations, that same uncertainty can exist in the way that the targets may behave, too! That was the case with Chinese identification and repatriation operatives acting in New Jersey beginning in 2016. It was a bungled mission that has allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. 

From the New Jersey case, a few insights are drawn by greatcharlie on this particular case of Operation Fox Hunt that may provide a better understanding on what Chinese operatives are doing via the operation and how they are doing what they are doing. With the color and life of the investigative reports greatcharlie found most informative aggregated with the facts laid out plainly in the federal court document, a somewhat definitive account of the event can be constructed. By highlighting flaws in the development, planning, and execution based on available facts of that case, greatcharlie seeks to provide insight on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future Chinese identification and repatriation activities under Operation Fox Hunt or under some new operation launched by Beijing. Just knowing what is wrong is not as great as knowing how to fix the problem. This commentary does not look at the situation only in the end to say everyone appears to be doing their best to halt China’s malign activities and all is peaches-and-cream. Comments and suggestions are offered, leaving it up to readers, think tank scholars, academics, policy analysts, and military and diplomatic officials, journalists, and students, but particularly practitioners who may serve in US counterintelligence, to observe, reflect, and act as they may. In the essay’s discussion, greatcharlie hopes to avoid any appearance of instructing counterintelligence officers on what to do. It would be satisfying enough to know that some of what is presented here might resonate with a few of them. By shedding light on some flaws in the development of plans and the organization of operators for action, as well as delinquencies in the execution of the plan, greatcharlie hopes it can offer something of use to the US, its allies, and friends to combat and to defeat similar malign clandestine and covert operations by China worldwide. If the matter of the identification and repatriation and repatriation operations is not put right, surely it will have an unfortunate effect on US national security now and into the future. Nihil tam difficile est ut non possit studio investigari. (Nothing is so difficult that it is not able to be tracked down by study.)

After People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above) assumed power in 2013, he initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Xi vowed to hunt down powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in the campaign to eradicate corruption. The slogan of the campaign became “fight tigers, swat flies and hunt foxes.” Xi warned corruption was so bad that it could threaten the Communist Party of China’s grip on power. That campaign has netted thousands of party leaders and rank-and-file government officials domestically. Indeed, Operations Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net were part of the effort internationally in that regard. In June 2014, authorities established the International Office of Pursuing Fugitives and Recovering Embezzled Assets–staffed with a composite of personnel seconded from eight government agencies. In the first alone, 3,587 fugitives from over 90 countries had been returned to China.

Overview of Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net

As alleged in a July 22, 2021 criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division, defendants participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe #1 and his family, in order to force John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 to return to China as part of “Operation Fox Hunt.” It was revealed in the reports of investigative journalists that John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2 are Xu Jin and his wife, Liu Fang. The defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned and illegal conduct within the US and facilitated the travel of Chinese government officials to the US in order to further carry out these illegal acts.  Between 2016 and 2019, multiple Chinese officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to China.

The US Department of Justice has identified Operation Fox Hunt as an initiative by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Public Security to locate and repatriate alleged Chinese “fugitives” who had fled to foreign countries that have committed crimes under Chinese law.  The Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS is an internal and political security and domestic intelligence service. Once back in China, those individuals typically face stiff charges. After  People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping  assumed power in 2013, he initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Xi vowed to hunt down powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in the campaign to eradicate corruption. The slogan of the campaign became “fight tigers, swat flies and hunt foxes.” Xi warned corruption was so bad that it could threaten the Communist Party of China’s grip on power. According to Human Rights Watch, that campaign has netted thousands of party leaders and rank-and-file government officials domestically. Operations Fox Hunt and Skynet were part of the effort internationally. In June 2014, authorities established the International Office of Pursuing Fugitives and Recovering Embezzled Assets–staffed with a composite of personnel seconded from eight government agencies. Just three years afterward, 3,587 fugitives from over 90 countries had been returned to China. 

Absent an extradition treaty between the US and China, one might look upon the problem as Chinese authorities taking it upon themselves to bring criminals to justice. However, it is of great concern for US officials that Operation Fox Hunt operatives, rather than working in the US with the approval and coordination of the federal government, instead regularly enter the US without notifying any bureaucracy in Washington relevant to their planned actions and engage in violations of US criminal law. To that extent, the activity has been described not only as “an end-run around the Department of State and the Department of Justice,” but “an end-run around US law.” Even more, it is alleged by US national security officials that despite Beijing’s claims to the contrary, identification and repatriation teams are pursuing certain individuals not due to a business dispute in China or violation of Chinese criminal law. Rather, there is a political purpose to the activity. In addition to tracking down those accused of economic crimes, Chinese identification and repatriation teams travel the world in pursuit of those afoul of the Communist Party of China, to include: Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and followers of the Falun Gong religious movement. To force them into returning, authorities subject their relatives in China to harassment, jail, torture and other mistreatment, sometimes recording hostage-like videos to send to the US. Somewhat less concerning is Operation Sky Net which is a program that runs concurrently alongside Operation Fox Hunt and augment it by cutting-off the financial flows of citizens who have fled overseas and working to recover any proceeds gained through corruption.

Operation Fox Hunt: A MPS Mission

Although the Chinese citizens sought under Operation Fox Hunt are located overseas, identification and repatriation would be a task intrinsic to the mission of MPS. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records on Chinese citizens and tracking down and identifying citizens its officers have honed and polished over decades. For that reason, MPS may very well be pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities more often than may be presently conceived in the US and among its allies and partners. That same information about Chinese citizens is certainly of great interest to the Communist Party of China and in its hands via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that its present raison d’être and primary responsibility is to help the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

To cloak their pursuit of individuals in apparent legality, Beijing has had the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices,” enumerating hosts of business crimes allegedly committed by their targets. In April 2015, China published a most-wanted list, called “100 Red Notices” that held the names of 100 officials and business executives accused in major corruption cases. According to government statistics, by December 2017, 51 out of “100 Red Notices” had returned to China. Among them, 10 were reportedly repatriated by foreign governments, while 35 returned “voluntarily” after being “persuaded.”

To cloak its pursuit of individuals in apparent legality, Beijing has had the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices,” enumerating hosts of business crimes allegedly committed by their targets. In April 2015, China published a most-wanted list, called “100 Red Notices” that held the names of 100 officials and business executives accused in major corruption cases. According to government statistics, by December 2017, 51 out of “100 Red Notices” had returned to China. Among them, 10 were reportedly repatriated by foreign governments, while 35 returned “voluntarily” after being “persuaded.”

Interestingly, Beijing’s acquisition of Red Notices on the innocent is surely a sinister practice. It has been a human rights concern of considerable importance in US-China relations. Reportedly, there are ongoing efforts by the US and other countries to snuff out Beijing’s Red Notice acquisition activity. One might say that any effort to do that would be near akin to shutting off the lights in the library reading room before closing. The list of “100 Red Notices” and every Red Notice acquired since that list  was posted, long ago should have served as figurative beckoning fingers for those seeking to defeat Operation Fox Hunt as to where the identification and repatriation teams would eventually show up. Countless traps and other tricks should have brought the whole cabaret down. With a proper strategy, officers directly from US counterintelligence services and perhaps truly well-equipped and well-experienced state, county, and municipal law enforcement organizations around the US should have used for good, stealthy, professional reconnaissance and surveillance. That reconnaissance and surveillance would have needed to have been performed unobtrusively and for the sake of those under Beijing’s requested Red Notices, unintrusively. Patience would also have been a main ingredient for success. The 17th century French traveller and jeweller, Jean Baptiste Chardin, (1643 – 1713) in “Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient” (1711), wrote: “La patience est amère, mais son fruit est doux.” (Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.) Further, to succeed, no assistance from contractors in the activity should have been allowed. Contractors for the most part can only offer what the young people refer to as “gangstalking,” “Keystone Cop” type choreography, and school-boy pranks. In one way or another they would have ruined anything they touched as they typically do.

Federal Court Documents Versus Investigative Reports as Sources

In an interview with George Plimpton in the Fall 1990 edition of the Paris Review, Maya Angelou said: “The facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like.” Many might imagine the rudiments of tactics, techniques and procedures, and methods of China’s efforts as presented in the federal court document might serve as a source for guidance. They would be mistaken. Reading through the indictment, the facts of the case on first impression may appear laid out in the federal court document in a somewhat Daedalian manner to the nonlegal scholar, the layman. Not even the sequence of events was not made clear. From what is presented in the federal court indictment, one might believe the case leading to the indictment of Operation Fox Hunt operatives was rather featureless. The ways in which Chinese identification and repatriation teams acted as laid out appear almost predictable, given the nature of their mission and their desire to satisfy the authorities who commissioned the enterprise. There is nothing in the document that would strike a reader as something new, intriguing, or recherché. Much of what is within could hardly serve as a foundation upon which US law enforcement and counterintelligence service might be better enabled to construct new approaches to mitigate them. The whole matter actually took on new meaning for greatcharlie after reading a July 22, 2021 ProPublica article which conveyed the facts of the case in an interesting way stirred greatcharlie’s interest and resulted in a decision to dive deeper into the facts of the case.

 In the reports of investigative journalists of ProPublica and other publications, there is general acceptance of the facts as presented in the federal criminal complaint. Yet, even more important, the investigative reports provide color to the story of the identification and repatriation team’s activities. The investigative journalists’ stories offer assessments of principal actors involved, ascribing traits to them, painting pictures of them as well as locations where specific acts occurred, and aiding readers in understanding how it likely felt to be victimized by such an enterprise. Investigative journalists also present moments of life in a way that allows readers to enter an experience. Indeed, there is much to learn from several impressive articles by investigative journalists. By including that information with facts, the story of the episode provides a structure that allows a sufficient parsing of everything involved. 

Xu Jin (above), a legal permanent resident in the US, formerly directed the development commission of Wuhan, China before he left for the US in 2010. In both 2012 and 2014, the Chinese government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to issue “Red Notices” for Xu and Liu. According to those Red Notices, Xu was wanted by the Chinese government for “embezzlement,” abuse of power, [and] acceptance of bribes,” pursuant to Chinese Criminal Law Articles 383, 385, and 397, which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment. In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for US assistance about the couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted in the US.

Targets of the New Jersey Mission

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Xu had directed Wuhan’s development commission before he left for the US in 2010 with his wife, Liu, who is a former insurance company executive. Xu and Liu, both 57 at the time of this writing, had obtained US green cards through a program that grants residency to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in the US. In the interest of full-disclosure, a California consultant who helped them apply for the green cards later pleaded guilty to immigration fraud, and investigators in that case alleged that the wife’s petition for residency contained false information. But they remain legal residents. Using its standard artifice to tie everything up neatly with a legal bow, in and around 2012 and 2014, the Chinese government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization to issue “Red Notices” for Xu and Liu. According to those Red Notices, Xu was wanted by the Chinese government for “embezzlement” abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes,” pursuant to Chinese Criminal Law Articles 383, 385, and 397, which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment. In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for US assistance about the wanted couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted here. A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on that assertion.

In April 2018, the Chinese privately owned company, Xinba Construction Group Company, filed a lawsuit against the couple in New Jersey state court, accusing Xu of holding up projects to extort money from companies, and due to his actions, those companies still owe Xinba more than $10 million for contracts performed. In court filings, the couple denied Xu extorted or looted any company, calling the litigation an artifice designed to coerce the couple “to return to China and, if not, to harass and attempt to bankrupt” them. Their countersuit also alleged an extensive harassment campaign was being waged against them by Chinese operatives. They also claimed those same operatives had kidnapped Xu’s father living in China and that they had posed as special agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to stalk an immediate relative of Xu’s living in the US. Although the endangered couple’s attorney had accurately and clearly laid out the Chinese government’s villany, a judge in September 2019, out of ignorance, rejected their claims, saying they failed to provide sufficient evidence that Xinba was working with the Chinese government. A preceding judge overseeing the case, completely failing to understand the absolute gravity of matter with regard to US national security, remarked: “It’s not your ordinary case you see in the Superior Court in Essex County, but we’re open for all business I guess . . . No herniated discs. No slip and fall in this case.”

Perchance, back in Beijing, dismissive responses as such  from jurists of the US court system were predicted. US judges, unsure when they wanted to be sure, would reject what they did not understand or thought unimaginable. Predicting such behavior would presumably be one among a set of assumptions and predictions made in Beijing on the actions and reactions of those elements in the US whose responsibility and capability would be to present obstacles or prevent Operation Fox Hunt from succeeding. Those elements in the US were apparently no more threatening to senior executives, managers, and planners in MPS than the Maginot Line was to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in 1940.

Liu Feng (above), is the wife of Xu Jin. A former insurance company executive, she came to the US with Xu in 2010. According to a Red Notice issued by Interpol, Liu is equally sought for arrest as Xu. In April 2018, the Chinese privately owned company, Xinba Construction Group Company, filed a lawsuit against Xu and Liu in New Jersey state court, accusing Xu of holding up projects to extort money from companies, and due to his actions, those companies still owe Xinba more than $10 million for contracts performed. In court filings, the couple denied Xu extorted or looted any company, calling the litigation an artifice designed to coerce the couple “to return to China and, if not, to harass and attempt to bankrupt” them. Their countersuit also alleged an extensive harassment campaign was being waged against them by Chinese operatives. They also claimed those same operatives had kidnapped Xu’s father living in China and had posed as federal agents to stalk an immediate relative of Liu living in the US.

Preparation for the Mission: What Was likely Raised in Feasibility Studies Done in Advance?

One should never expect China to come charging in with reckless abandon. If it had happened in the past, it surely will happen any more. The efforts of those operating in the US on all levels, espionage, identification and repatriation, and perchance, covert operations, will typically be calibrated, with supposedly every precaution taken into consideration. Vouloir c’est pouvoir. Operation Fox Hunt has been marked by concerted, energetic, and endless activity by China. For the most part, Chinese efforts in the US have been quiet, smooth, and quite sophisticated in nature. Albeit moving into the realm of conjecture, one can imagine how a feasibility study for the rendition operation was constructed and the assessments that led to the project being green-lit. 

MPS in coordination with China’s foreign intelligence services likely studied the situation, and recognized just how open the US was for the theft of its secrets in all sectors and then clearly decided to pour through, taking whatever they could. To date, there is no indication that they have decided to pare down any aspect of their clandestine and covert operations in the US, and evidently they have encountered nothing to even suggest that they should retreat. Ventis secundis, tene/tenete cursum. (The winds being favorable, hold the course.)

Surely, there were several feasibility studies produced on the possibility of successfully conducting identification and repatriation operations with concern at minimum focused on how under current circumstances, with espionage activities drawing so much attention in the US, the situation has not been made less secure for all teams operating there,  and the pitfalls of conducting such identification and repatriation operations with relations between the two countries at a relative low point. Such studies would likely be put before those assigned to manage the identification and repatriation operations in the US ostensibly  along with the volumes of studies done that provided confidence fhst China’s “espionage tsunami” would meet with considerable success.

Imaginably, information gathered for such feasibility studies would be up-to-date, and perhaps would be thorough enough to include manifests of law enforcement officers and counterintelligence officers within the planned area of operation of the identification and repatriation team, with notes on their working hours, usual movements and daily habits. If that might even remotely be the case, it would also mean China has engaged, and is likely continually engaged, in covert surveillance of many law enforcement and counterintelligence officers in the US who they may have discovered were handling Chinese espionage and identification and repatriation cases. They may have discovered that those investigators often display varied levels of diligence, are often inattentive when visiting site, are rarely thorough and at time outrightly remiss when interviewing individuals of interest, display their insecurities in conversation, prone to bullying their own citizens without any apparent cause, and are unprofessional often in dealing with existing contacts. Despite this perception based on analyses in the abstract or empirical evidence, US counterintelligence and law enforcement organizations around the US are not without count, and it would prove to be a mistake to minimize the threat of their presence altogether.

It is possible that feasibility studies such as those suggested had some influence on the decision on the location, the timing of the operations, and which émigré to pursue from a list of those sought. To this extent, Chinese investigators, as those participating in the identification and repatriation scheme, would be armed and enabled with an abundance of information. They enter the US, clearly equipped, able, and expecting to overcome difficulties foreseen and unforeseen from federal, state, or even municipal law enforcement or US counterintelligence services they may encounter. They have managed to establish, in the venues in which they have operated, freedom of movement so to speak. Of course, certain levels of information deemed “ultra-secret” or however it might be described by Chinese intelligence, would unlikely be shared by intelligence services with the identification and repatriation teams. Perhaps overall, the exchange of information by some organizations would be on a “need to know” basis.

In the abstract, conceivably lessons learned are internalized, studies and observations of law enforcement as much as counterintelligence surely are constantly underway in all the countries by every organization operating in respectively. In turn those studies and observations are doubtlessly shared to mutually support the success of one another. What may be recognized as too risky, ineffective, expected by the adversary through recent experience, would be cut away. What seemed to be a more available path to ends, is given consideration, and will likely find its way in efforts to prepare those going on the next missions. Malum est consilium quod mutari non potest. (Bad (ill-considered) is the plan that cannot be changed.)

Most important to note is that whether the matter is espionage or other malign clandestine and covert activities overseas, there can be no doubt that all are constantly moving through a process of evolution. It appears to be a manifestation of an idea, reflective of what has been dubbed “Xi thought,” that Chinese activities performed by government, Communist Party of China, or irregulars must be driven by an energy to push the country onward and upward into the position of the dominant power of the world and one might imagine perhaps even beyond that stature, whatever designs the Communist Party of China leadership might have in mind for that to be. At first blush, these comments may strike a few readers as being a bit lightweight, but some reasoning behind risking such audacious action in the US should be parsed out and laid out for readers to possibly accept and provide a basis for greatcharlie’s suggestions as to what may have been organized and had transpired beneath the surface.

The Main Operation Fox Hunt Players in This Drama

Once fully operational, the identification and repatriation team for the New Jersey mission grew to at least 19 US and Chinese operatives. Nine of the operatives among the identification and repatriation team members of the Operation Fox Hunt New Jersey operation are part of the case filed in the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division.

Included in the criminal complaint were the following. Hu Ji was the lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader.  Hu was at the time of the indictment a 46 year old officer serving in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, a municipal bureau of MPS. To be a bit more specific, he was a veteran officer of the bureau’s foreign affairs unit. Hu is a man of the world with a natural turn for clandestine action and placing others in trying positions. Hu gained notice after joining an Operation Fox Hunt task force. Reportedly, in early 2016, the Wuhan newsmedia had published glowing profiles about him, describing his imposing height, his travels to 29 countries, and his arrests of eight fugitives.  In the view of the Wuhan newsmedia, Hu est a un autre niveau! In an interview, Hu told the Hubei Daily: “Out of the country does not mean out of the legal system.” He added: “Show your sword and punish even those in faraway lands.” 

Though in photographs Hu looks careworn, they typically present him as a professional, intelligent, well-minded, well-built–about 6-foot-1, well-dressed, well-groomed, handsome, smooth, and confident-looking, Chinese male. Hu is a compound of cunning and audacity, girded with steady nerves. His gift as a cool observer of mankind and an understanding of complicated interpersonal relationships allowed him to successfully carry off the job of team leader. That understanding of people surely aided him in manipulating and exploiting others. Hu’s cases had led from Fiji to France to Mexico, making headlines back home. The work was riskier here; in fact, it was illegal. He acquired dominant knowledge of the territory in which he operated. Hu was not even afraid to be at the elbow of law enforcement personnel to explain his purpose using some tall story, some artifice. Hu would identify himself as a Chinese police officer on his tourist visa. US officials hardly gave him a second glance. Sometimes, it was best to hide in plain sight. Perhaps the best way to express what is discussed here is to state that in his work, Hu could be dashing and audacious, but also honorable and discreet, using wits and memory, acting gradually. He could display a certain gentleness but certainly had the capability to be quite cruel. He had no qualms about exploiting individual weakness. Surely, individuals as Hu often seem far too well-equipped for the world in comparison to people most readers might know, or to themselves. In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Hu given his role as a normal Operation Fox Hunt lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, as far as one can tell, these are precisely the traits that assisted Hu in becoming a master at his work.

 At the time the complaint was filed, Zhu Feng, also known as “Johnny Zhu,” was a 34 year old PRC citizen and US lawful permanent resident, and until approximately April 2017, was a resident of Flushing, Queens, in New York City. Zhu had studied in Guam before moving to Flushing, which holds one of largest enclaves of Chinese immigrants in the US. His extended family became legal US residents and appreciated life in their new home. Zhu’s older brother served in the US military and then worked for the Social Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection, according to court documents and public records. Zhu reportedly performed odd jobs: tour guide, selling used cars. On social media, he sported a Yankees cap and a boyish smile and called himself “Endless Johnny.” He was torn from that life to serve as an involuntary clandestine operative for the Chinese government. Zhu Yong, also known as Jason Zhu,” was a 64 year old Chinese citizen and a legal permanent resident in the US. Zhu Yong was the father of co-defendant Zhu Feng. The older Zhu, is divorced and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. He did not have a steady job, and divided his time between a home in Connecticut and his older son’s place in Queens. He traveled frequently to China which very likely caught the attention of MPS.

This conscription of families of captured targets is a ruthless and effective tactic. Yet, Chinese authorities find great value in it reportedly because they believe it ensures loyalty and obedience. They also apparently believe that allowing identification and repatriation teams to use local intermediaries enable them to shield Chinese officers from scrutiny by US counterintelligence services and state, county, and municipal law enforcement organizations around the US. The teams are often organized in what has been described as silos to keep operatives unaware of who other team members are or the full details of their mission.

Michael McMahon, a 53 year old US citizen, was a licensed private detective in New Jersey. McMahon came from an Irish-American family of police officers and firefighters. During his 14 years at the New York City Police Department, he worked in narcotics and an elite street crime unit, rising to detective sergeant. He received the Police Combat Cross, the department’s second-highest honor, for his role in a gunfight in the Bronx. In 2003, he retired on partial disability related to ailments caused by his time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His wife, an actress, once had a long-running part on “As the World Turns,” a daytime soap opera. Zheng Congying, a 25 year old Chinese citizen and legal permanent resident, resided in Brooklyn, New York. Investigators believe he was hired muscle. Li Minjun, a 65 year old citizen and resident of China, was a physician formerly of the Hubei Xiangyang Center Hospital in Xiangyang, China. Li had also worked for the MPS. Brought aboard the team as a specialist, her assignment was to escort Xu’s father from China to the US against his will with the hope that he would cause his son to surrender to the identification and repatriation team.

Hu Ji was the lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader.  Hu was at the time of his indictment was an officer serving in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, a municipal bureau of MPS. To be a bit more specific, he was a veteran officer of the bureau’s foreign affairs unit. Hu is a man of the world with a natural turn for clandestine action and placing others in trying positions. Hu gained notice after joining an Operation Fox Hunt task force. Reportedly, in early 2016, the Wuhan newsmedia had published glowing profiles about him, describing his imposing height, his travels to 29 countries, and his arrests of eight fugitives. In an interview, Hu told the Hubei Daily: “Out of the country does not mean out of the legal system.” He added: “Show your sword and punish even those in faraway lands.”

PRC Official-2 was at one time an individual whose identity was known only to the Grand Jury. However, PRC Official-2 has since been revealed to be Tu Lan, a 50 year old citizen and resident of China, was employed as a prosecutor with the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate and a leader of a Wuhan Fox Hunt task force. She would eventually direct day-to-day activities of the identification and repatriation team. However, as she did not speak English, Johnny would stick close and be her intermediary between her and Michael McMahon, the US private investigator, who was referred to by the identification and repatriation team members simply as “Mike.” 

Zhai Yongqiang, a 46 year old Chinese citizen, resided in China and California. According to court documents, Tu Lan and Zhai Yongqiang, age 46, were the last of the nine charged in the superseding complaint. The identity of a ninth defendant, named Anonymous by US prosecutors, remains under seal.

Among those also included in the federal court documents but not indicted were PRC Official-1 is an individual whose identity remains known only to the Grand Jury.  PRC Official-1 is said to be a Chinese citizen and a director of the Wuhan prosecution office’s anti-corruption bureau. Note that US prosecutors did not charge or identify PRC Official-1 or PRC Official-2 which frequently occurs for strategic and diplomatic reasons with regard to counterintelligence cases. Rong Jing, a 39 year old permanent resident in the US, was Hu’s point man in California. He was a married businessman, living in Rancho Cucamonga, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. Court documents state Rong described himself as a bounty hunter for the Chinese government. He apparently enjoyed his “Motherland” and was quite talkative about it. Rong’s discussion of his work as identification and repatriation team member provided investigators with a wealth of information on the insidious nature and ubiquitous presence of the Operation Fox Hunt networks. Co-conspirator #3 was an operative who on or about and between May 15, 2017 and May17, 2017, contacted and hired a private investigator in California–dubbed P1 in the federal court document–for the purpose of surveilling Jane Doe #2. Co-conspirator #3 provided P1 with a picture of a document from the defendant Zhai Yongqiang containing the name and personal identification information belonging to Xu.

Communist Party of China Expectations of the Identification and Repatriation Team 

In 2015, Liu Dong, then deputy director of MPS’s economic crimes division, headed Operation Fox Hunt for the organization. He used interviews with China’s newsmedia to supposedly provide citizens with a rare look into the Operation Fox Hunt teams. He told Xinhua news agency that the work required a young team because members needed the strength to withstand long hours and frequent long-distance travel. Liu also told Xinhua that his team was highly intelligent, tough and nimble, with backgrounds in economics, law, foreign languages and business management. He further stated that team members were selected in part for their “emotional quotient” for dealing with overseas law enforcement, and for their ability to handle adversity.

For those team members indoctrinated in Communist Chinese thought doubtlessly recognizes his or her solemn responsibility to ensure China achieved its maximum potential everyday. Chinese intelligence officers in the various services likely feel that they can outperform their opponents and overcome their efforts to defend targets from espionage and efforts to intercept them. One might postulate in the abstract that Chinese intelligence officers may very well have closely observed, or may have read reports on how the behavior, performance and professionalism of officers of organizations in adversarial countries responsible for investigating and halting China’s espionage and any other activities in them was so negative, self-defeating, and self-destructive that confidence in their own abilities was uplifted. Perhaps this impression or belief grows in certitude with every review of certain adversaries. While there may not exactly be a wide open door there likely appeared to be seemingly endless potential for action and perhaps limitless possibilities.

Imaginably, those operatives from China already associated with the Chinese government who were selected for the identification and repatriation team had no bad habits–such as indulging in alcohol, narcotics, pornograpby, misogyny, and prostitution–that could potentially become amplified in a Western environment. To go a bit further using Chinese intelligence officers as a model, identification and repatriation team members, while deployed in service of their country, would not be expected to take any aspect of their duties lightly. They would expectantly never display any desire to involve themselves with banal amusements to fill time when not active in the field–one could hardly call any time while deployed “outside working hours.”–or entertain themselves on mobile phones while performing work tasks. One might presume that whatever they may most enjoy, they contented themselves with least. In effect, the team was expected to figuratively display the “company culture” of the Communist Party of China and live and act by “company principles.” By engaging in heavy handed actions against family members of the targets, team members certainly could be said to have displayed the “best practices” of the company.

Despite all of the safeguards in place, team members were well-aware that danger in the form of lurking US counterintelligence services. While perhaps highly motivated, on the ground, the hyperbole of China’s domination of the field in the US uttered by senior executives and Communist Party of China leaders is likely obviate in the minds of many operatives due to the very strong desire not to be captured. Presumably, no Chinese intelligence officer or clandestine or covert operative of any kind wants to be caught due to his or her own delinquency, carelessness, or outright stupidity. There is also the matter of punishment they might face back home for their failure. In recent memory, few to none among have been caught and put on trial in a US court. This is surely the standard and the expectation for all of those deployed at the Chinese government’s bidding. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

In 2015, Liu Dong, then deputy director of MPS’s economic crimes division, headed Operation Fox Hunt for the organization. He used interviews with China’s newsmedia to supposedly provide citizens with a rare look into the Operation Fox Hunt teams. He told Xinhua news agency that the work required a young team because members needed the strength to withstand long hours and frequent long-distance travel. Liu also told Xinhua that his team was highly intelligent, tough and nimble, with backgrounds in economics, law, foreign languages and business management. He further stated that team members were selected in part for their “emotional quotient” for dealing with overseas law enforcement, and for their ability to handle adversity.

Stalking and Attempted Repatriation of Xu Ji and Liu Feng

As the story goes, in September 2016, Hu flew to New York to launch the operation. Among his first moves, he went into New Jersey to reconnoiter the house in Short Hills and other locations. Then at Hu’s direction, his bevy of clandestine operatives began building a network. First, they needed a local private investigator, preferably a former police officer with contacts and the skills to track people down. Zhu Yong, together with co-conspirator whose identity is known only to the Grand Jury as “Co-conspirator #1,” hired Michael McMahon to investigate and surveil Xu. McMahon came from a family of police officers and firefighters. As an officer in the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for 14 years, he had served in a narcotics unit and an elite street crime unit. He rose to the rank of detective sergeant. He received the Police Combat Cross for his role in a gunfight in the Bronx. McMahon retired in 2003 on partial disability related to ailments caused by his time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack. Reportedly, his wife, an actress, had a long-running part on “As the World Turns,” a daytime soap opera. Imaginably as a security precaution, Hu’s operatives enlisted a woman who presented herself as the New York-based employee of a translation company to contact McMahon. The woman explained to him that she discovered him through a Google search. She then introduced him to Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong, describing them as representatives of a private Chinese company that was trying to recover assets from a former employee who had stolen money.  Zhu Feng identified himself as the nephew of the owner of the Chinese firm, which he allegedly described as a construction company. The following month, Hu traveled to the US to meet with McMahon at a Panera Bread restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, a suburb about 20 miles from New York City. Reportedly, the MPS officer presented himself as Eric Yan, an executive of the private company, during that meeting and other interactions. Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong also participated in Hu’s meetings with McMahon. Hu provided McMahon with a retainer of $5000 at that first meeting.  The two Zhu’s were reportedly involved with his succeeding payments. McMahon’s attorney claims his client “believed he was meeting company personnel” and never learned the identification and repatriation team’s true mission. “Nothing seemed suspicious at meetings” according to McMahon’s attorney. He also indicates that the identification and repatriation team members that his client met at no point mentioned the Chinese government or that anybody worked in law enforcement in China. He claims the focus of discussions was asset recovery, and they convincingly portrayed themselves as company employees with a vested interest in locating the money. 

Soon after he was hired, McMahon began to investigate Xu and his family, a process which included conducting surveillance on Xu and obtaining his banking information. ProPublica reports that McMahon brought in two more investigators to help stake out a suspected location of Xu and Liu, a house in New Jersey. He took the precaution of alerting local police to the surveillance presumably to prevent any misunderstandings if detected or reported by passers-by. (At that point, McMahon demonstrated the willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Thereby, ample opportunity existed  for US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to enlist his assistance as an informant or operative. For reasons unknown, the opportunity was passed up.) As indicated by the federal document, McMahon’s activities were initially directed by the defendant Zhu Yong and later directly by Hu and Zhu Feng. McMahon was diligent in providing reports on his progress to Hu. In the Fall of 2016, McMahon sent Hu information regarding Xu and his family. In or about November 2016, McMahon emailed information about Liu’s international travel. Later, around December 2016, McMahon emailed Hu information concerning Liu’s date of birth, Social Security Number, and banking information. In November, Hu, still using the nom de guerre Yang, emailed McMahon to say he had “reported all we found” to his superiors in China

In December 2016, Hu visited New York again. On that occasion, he traveled with his manager. US authorities only identified Hu’s superior only as PRC Official-1, the director of the Wuhan prosecution office’s anti-corruption bureau and a leader of a Wuhan Fox Hunt task force that includes prosecutors and investigators in the Communist Party’s anti-corruption unit. After that visit, Hu and Zhu Feng returned to China. Oddly enough, in a meeting in Wuhan, Hu confided to Zhu that next time they did not plan to come back from the US without the targets.

Following months of investigative work by McMahon, the identification and repatriation team planned a specific operation to stalk and grab Xu via psychological coercion. It was then that the team moved to bring Xu’s elderly father from China to the US in order to communicate a threat on behalf of the Chinese government directly to Xu. As part of the plan, Xu’s father was directed to tell him to the effect that if he did not return to China, his family there would suffer serious harm, including imprisonment. In furtherance of this criminal scheme, team members, Zhu, Tu Lan, and Li Minjun traveled to the US.

Malgré-nous Among the Team’s Members

It has been said that in zealousness, one can usually find some weakness, some hidden doubts. In China, the world is limited to what is seen through the lens of the Communist Party of China and “Xi thought.” For some Chinese citizens, that line of thinking and a will of iron act as blinders, preventing other perspectives from seeping in. From the view of the Communist Party of China, in the New Jersey operation, a team was being sent in under Hu’s leadership whose members’ minds were turned wholly toward bringing John Doe #1 back to China. In no small part, therein lies the causality for the ultimate breakdown of the New Jersey identification and repatriation operation. 

Interestingly, not all team members were members of the Communist Party of China or aspired to be such. One would think Party membership would be sine qua non for a mission of this type as it was actually commissioned by the Party and given that certain exigent circumstances could arise, requiring almost anything of team members, including literal self-sacrifice. Those called upon were indeed not the most dedicated. The teams and their superiors in Beijing erred in presuming without any reliable ability to predict or confirm the fidelity of those non-Party members would gladly follow orders in every circumstance.

With the New Jersey enterprise, it is clear two team members, Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong were called upon presumptively because their loyalty was guaranteed with dangled threats to cause misfortune for their relatives, some of whom had already suffered by the government’s hand. It was certainly an odd type of fidelity. In Zhu Feng’s particular case, in the summer of 2016, he received news from relatives in Wuhan that MPS had brought his uncle, a former accountant, back to China from Houston. Zhu’s relatives also contacted him to say: “The cop who caught your uncle is named Hu Ji. They further explained: “He will contact you about another case. Do what he says.” Team Members of identification and repatriation teams such as Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong are ostensibly China’s version of the French malgré-nous. Malgré-nous were those men of the Alsace-Moselle region who were conscripted against their will into the German Wehrmacht or the Waffen SS during World War II. Chinese citizens were torn from their normal daily lives and pressed into service not simply as a matter of being under the authority and thumb of hostile power that controlled the territory in which they lived, but coping with the threat of harm, even death, of loved ones also living under the regime.

The Initial Effort and the First “Emotional Bomb”

In the spring of 2017, the plan was ready and all team elements were assembled in the US. Hu remained in Wuhan, managing activities, but he sent in a specialist, Tu Lan, a prosecutor for the Hanyang District of Wuhan. She would lead the repatriation team on the ground, but because she did not speak English, Zhu Feng (hereinafter referred to as Zhu as the role of his father, Zhu Yong, was not discussed beyond this point in any sources) would stick close and be her intermediary with McMahon. The other specialist sent into the US, Li Minjun, as aforementioned, was a doctor who had worked for MPS, US officials allege her assignment was to escort an elderly man across the world against his will in order to ambush his son, Xu. Reportedly, Hu hoped the shock would cause the wanted man, Xu Jin, to surrender on the spot. The age of Xu’s father’s age has not been disclosed, but presumably Hu felt he was frail enough to put Li at his side for the more than 15-hour flight. Interestingly, Zhu Yong, who at the mission’s outset was entrusted to find and establish links with a US-based private investigator with specific characteristics, Tu, Li, and McMahon were ages 64, 50, 65, and 53 respectively. It seems that for MPS managers, age has importance, imaginably equating to experience, capability, reliability, solid judgment, and wisdom among other positive qualities.

Hu told McMahon in an email in March that the plan was to bring the father unannounced to the house in New Jersey and lure him out. Hu also gave him the following instructions: “We just want to recomm[e]nd you trace him to find [his son’s] address.” According to the federal court document, Hu offered to pay McMahon in cash for his assistance. McMahon accepted the offer. Hu later emailed McMahon two photographs, one of which depicted Xu and Liu while the other depicted Xu’s parents. Before returning to the US, Zhu was given the task of overseeing operatives he had hired in the Chinese community in New York. He sent a text message ordering one operative to join Mahon’s  surveillance in New Jersey with instructions to “conduct surveillance there for 5 days. 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 8 hours on the last three days . . . The compensation is 1800USD.” 

To all appearances, Zhu had Hu’s complete confidence. On first impression, an interesting historical parallel comes to mind with regard to the developing relationship between Zhu as a conscript with his superiors, or more accurately, his captors Hu and Tu. Despite being torn from his former carefree existence and forced to become a player in Operation Fox Hunt, he was nevertheless given key tasks, considerable responsibility, and treated in a rather avuncular manner particularly by Hu. In Ancient Rome, occasionally certain masters would depend upon slaves to perform important duties and provide them with opportunities for growth within the society. A couple of famous examples of that are the relationship that grew between the master Terentius Lucanus and Publius Terentius and that between Carpophorus and Callixtus. Born between 195/185 BC, Roman senator Terentius Lucanus brought Publius Terentius to Rome as a slave. He educated him, and freed him after being impressed by his abilities. Publius Terentius would become a playwright known better today as Terence. Terence’s 6 plays have survived through the centuries. He died young around 159 BC. Callixtus was a young slave from Rome. His master Carpophorus, gave him the responsibility of collecting funds given as alms by other Christians. Callixtus would become a Christian himself. According to Sextus Julius Africanus, Callixtus would become the Bishop of Rome from c. 218 AD, and is known both as Callistus I and Pope Callixtus. He was martyred for his Christian faith in c. 223 AD and is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. Perchance Hu was grooming Zhu as a protégé and foresaw a future for him as a full-fledged officer in MPS or some other security service.

Exploitation of Émigré Communities

Clever choices have been made by the identification and repatriation teams based on studies on the practices of law enforcement organizations around the US where Chinese investigators must operate. Aware of the Chinese government’s hostile activities within their own community, it would seem to be grave error to believe law enforcement around the US could possibly know what the Chinese government is doing in the US against émigrés or what it is capable of doing to please or make a good impression with the Communist Party of China. It is not always the case but to an extent, the émigrés, thinking ostensibly in survival mode, will typically see no other way to get by but to remain obedient to Chinese authorities. Unfortunately, there is of course the other reality that not everyone can be or wants to be a noble soul. 

As discussed in the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled  “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago,” under Article 9 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress, 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 MPS and 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 MPS, MSS, or PLA, 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.

Unable to keep pace with the identification and repatriation teams from the start, naturally the initial hope would be given the gravity of the intrusion on US soil, that while moving about within Chinese émigré communities, the teams would at least act with some measure and would not exceed what is decent. That has not been the case regarding their behavior. Operation Fox Hunt teams have created great fear among the émigré communities. One might toss on top of that an apparent impunity with which hunters from China act against them. True, on paper, members of the Chinese émigré communities have nothing to fear in the US and are welcome to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Yet, as the MPS was able to accomplish more than imaginable in the US, displaying its power and capabilities, there remains uneasiness, fear, terror among Chinese émigré communities from something they are thousands of miles from. Chinese émigré communities are for the most part convinced of the ubiquitous nature of the Communist Party of China and China’s security services.

Chineee Émigré Communities and Unshakable Grip of Beijing

Unable to keep pace with the identification and repatriation teams from the start, the initial hope would be given the gravity of the intrusion on US soil, that within Chinese émigré communities, the teams would act with some measure and would not exceed what is decent. Surely, that has not been the case regarding their behavior. Operation Fox Hunt teams have created great fear among the émigré communities. One might toss on top of that an apparent impunity with which hunters from China act against them. True, on paper, members of the Chinese émigré communities have nothing to fear in the US and are welcome to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Yet, as the MPS was able to accomplish more than imaginable in the US, displaying its power and capabilities, there remains uneasiness, fear, terror among Chinese émigré communities from something they are thousands of miles from. Chinese émigré communities are for the most part convinced of the ubiquitous nature of the Communist Party of China and China’s security services. Indeed, within the émigré communities, there is an expectation, especially among more recent arrivals that always close by are recruited informants of MPS, Party Members, planted United Front Work Department operatives and informants, planted MSS intelligence officers, operatives, recruited informants. Memories and ways of living to survive in an authoritarian China are not easily shaken off. Quando libertas ceciderit, nemo libere dicere audebit. (When liberty will have fallen (falls/is lost), no one will dare to speak freely.) 

The learning curve for law enforcement organizations around the US may remain steep for some time as the ways and means with which the Chinese government uses to approach Chinese émigré communities on matters such as returning citizens and former citizens to China “to face justice,” is ever evolving. Use of lessons learned by the Operation Fox Hunt identification and repatriation teams will mean for the future more effective use of artifice, more effective collection of information within émigré communities, more effective counter-surveillance, more effective sharing information and data useful for operations among organizations engaged in clandestine and covert operations in the US.

To get Xu’s father into the US without incident, Zhu coached the captive elderly man on responses to standard questions asked by border inspectors at Newark Liberty International Airport. In advance of Xu’s father’s arrival in the US, the defendants Zhu and Tu flew to  Newark Liberty International Airport on or about April 3, 2017. Xu’s father and Li, the doctor, arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight from Shanghai on April 5, 2017. While in the US, the Tu met with Zhu and an individual known to US prosecutors as Co-conspirator #2 at a hotel in New Jersey. At that meeting, Tu directed Zhu and Co-conspirator #2 to surveil a residence belonging to a relative of Xu and Liu using night vision goggles in advance of bringing Xu’s father to the home. Tu also subsequently communicated with Zhu with regard to the logistics of the operation. On the evening of April 5, 2017, identification and repatriation team members brought Xu’s father to a house in New Jersey that belonged to his wife’s relatives. As that transpired, McMahon performed surveillance in the vicinity of the house belonging to Liu’s relatives to determine the present locations of members of Xu’s family, including Hu himself, which at that time remained unknown to the team.

On April 6, 2017, Xu met his father at a public location before they returned together to his residence. McMahon and other team members monitored the meeting of Xu and his father. That same day, Zhu requested that McMahon run a database check for a license plate number and address associated with Xu. McMahon provided that info. Xu’s father remained with his son for several days. During that time, he explained to Xu that his family in China would be harmed if he did not return to China. Hu’s hopes for a lightning-bolt triumph evaporated. Instead of acquiescence, the family stood fast and contacted law enforcement. The FBI got involved, a move the Operation Hunt team was almost immediately made aware of. According to the federal court document, on April 7, 2017, Zhu sent a text to Tu saying Hu wanted her “and the doctor to come back as soon as possible” to “evade actions by US law enforcement.”  That same day, Tu departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York on a flight to Beijing. The next day, Li departed from Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight to Beijing.

Identification and Repatriation Team Receives Intriguing Alert

Although executed piecemeal, the departure of key members and leaders of the identification and repatriation team after the alert was sounded may have followed a prearranged course. As it was always possible that such a need to move fast would arise. Nevertheless, a flaw became apparent in that process. it would have made a bit more sense if team lead investigators and their superiors, when selecting team members, had only selected individuals who possessed certain talents, perhaps demonstrated on previous operations maybe in other areas, who would expectantly contribute to the operation’s success. In this particular situation, some identification and repatriation team members who remained in the field as Zhu appeared unsure of how to proceed, were unfamiliar with steps to take, and required supervision. Those next steps that needed to be taken should have been standard operating procedures deeply ingrained through training. In an exigent situation, the team leader also appeared not certain as to how team members might perform. Tu, for instance, appeared to feel the need to be emphatic when issuing instructions. Zhu communicated in a similar way to the operatives that he supervised. This “crack” in the team selection process was to a degree a self-inflicted handicap and vulnerability that could have proved costly if US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations around the US were aware of the situation and positioned themselves to take advantage of it. Knowing that this is how the identification and repatriation teams operate, it could allow them to be better prepared and steal a March on their prey on another occasion when they are in their sights. However, this may have been a lesson learned by Operation Fox Hunt managers and it is unlikely that they would not make the necessary changes to avoid dealing with this issue in the future. Surely, there remains a chance the situation will be the same next time, too! Some Operation Fox Hunt managers may feel on ne change pas une équipe qui gagne!

Chinese Countersurveillance Operations in the US

The fact that the identification and repatriation team received an alert that the FBI was fully aware of the effort to coerce Xu by using his father was reported almost as a trifle in the federal court document. Yet, in reality, it was small much in the way that the small movement of a needle on a seismograph can report a giant earthquake. Upon first reading about this particular moment of identification and repatriation operation, there grew an interest in greatcharlie in how Chinese operators engaged in all sorts of activities in the US are seemingly forewarned whenever law enforcement and counterintelligence services draw near them. Of course, one of the counterintelligence organizations might just be a leaky ship. There could be rotten apples in their midst. However, it certainly would not be too fanciful to conceive that Chinese operatives on government sanctioned missions receive more support from unknown entities nestled in the US than may be recognized officially or publicly.

One might postulate that with so many Chinese intelligence officers–there were reports of as many as 25,000 “in country” back in 2017–and their operatives and informants moving furtively throughout the US, there may very well be specialized counterintelligence elements, covert surveillance teams, positioned in numbers deemed sufficient by the powers that be in the PLA CMC Joint Military Staff Intelligence Bureau and MSS counterintelligence that provide overwatch for espionage operations. The PLA teams, rather than come from intelligence units, might instead be formed from PLA Army special operations units primed in the reconnaissance and surveillance operations and to engage in a special reconnaissance mission. Teams from MSS would likely be secounded from the provincial departments and municipal bureaus, Chinese intelligence elements operating in the US would surely appreciate a resource that would allow their officers, operatives, and informants to repeatedly evade intercept. Similar covert surveillance teams may be operating in other countries. It is just a theory.

One might postulate that with so many Chinese intelligence officers–there were reports of as many as 25,000 “in country” a few short years ago–and their operatives and informants moving furtively throughout the US, there may very well be specialized counterintelligence elements, covert surveillance teams, positioned in numbers deemed sufficient by the powers that be in the PLA CMC Joint Military Staff Intelligence Bureau and MSS counterintelligence secounded from the provincial departments and municipal bureaus, that provide overwatch for espionage operations. If providing assistance to them would actually be feasible, it would be counterintuitive not allow identification and repatriation teams to enjoy the overwatch of any theorized covert countersurveillance teams of MSS and PLA operating in close proximity to them. 

If providing assistance to them would actually be feasible, it would be counterintuitive not allow covert countersurveillance teams of MSS and PLA to provide overwatch for other operations ostensibly underway in close proximity to them, perhaps of a variety and number far in excess of espionage. Such would be to the great benefit of the Operation Fox Hunt identification and repatriation teams.

As part of their mission, the theorized covert surveillance teams would very likely shadow any law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations for the purpose of countersurveillance and early warning. No law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would be allowed to surprisingly appear at the site of a meeting between team members and a target ol contracted operative. No law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would be allowed to place surveillance teams on any of Chinese operatives without the knowledge of the covert surveillance teams. Any alerts about threatening moves by law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would unlikely be relayed through channels from the intelligence element’s headquarters down to those managing the teams as the circumstances would invariably be exigent, and time would be of essence. Communication between intelligence elements and the team would ostensively be confined at the level of the intelligence field managers and the lead investigator of the team. Imaginably, MSS and PLA managers would establish some incognito for their contacts as a security measure in case some catastrophe should befall the identification and repatriation team and through interrogation, the team leader reveals anything about their MSS or PLA counterpart that could identity them.

MSS and PLA intelligence network managers would hardly want some incident with the identification and repatriation team to draw unwanted attention to their province. It would be best to help the team get in and get out rapidly and safely. Additionally, having the opportunity to study and make observations of their opposition’s practices in surveilling suspected foreign operatives or the steps they go through and how they perform and behave while in investigation mode imaginably would be invaluable for MSS or PLA intelligence officers operating in the US. On top of everything, as the identification and repatriation operations are apparently the brainchild of the Communist Party of China, it would be essential for them to accomplish their task. Those able to make that a reality would be expected to do their utmost to assist with all possible precautions taken into consideration. All involved would likely be called to account if it failed. A MSS or PLA field manager who has the identification and repatriation teams operating in their area of operation would have to be considerably indifferent to the wishes of the Communist Party of China to have a clear ability to ensure the success of the team’s effort, and do nothing to assist and actually allow it the flounder.

Much as the MPS organized the identification and repatriation teams, it may very well be that any prospective covert surveillance teams organized for purpose suggested, might be well trained officers of MPS–also an intelligence service with what might be deemed a counterintelligence proclivity, doing what they do best for the Communist Party of China, keeping an iron grip on all Chinese citizens. Covert communications between team lead investigators and the covert countersurveillance teams theorized here would likely be uniquely designed by MPS in China for the operation. If the theorized covert surveillance team discussed in this essay were a creature of MPS, having it take their eyes off what members of the identification and repatriation teams were doing surely would not thrill the powers that be at MPS Headquarters.

Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. (We have great notions of everything unknown.) Of course, it is possible that nothing remotely resembling what has been suggested here exists at all. On the other hand, there may actually be surveillance teams operating around the US in a manner of far greater conception than what has been hinted.

Gnawing Bit More on the Theorized Covert Surveillance Teams 

Conceivably, when not engaged in their patient vigil over Chinese operatives of all kinds, the hypothetical covert surveillance teams maintain a low key, traveled existence wherever they are. What may be viewed as most remarkable about the covert surveillance team members if discovered would be the fact they are by appearance so unremarkable. Anything linked to their activities would hardly be found wherever they might reside or frequent. All in all, they would surely keep themselves to themselves. Yet, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the theorized covert surveillance team is that they would likely be gaining experience and honing their skills with everyday that passes during which they have perhaps been out in the field. As their skills increase, their capabilities and willingness to take on greater challenges would also likely increase. Further, for those trying to cope with Chinese operatives of all kinds in the US, the imagined increase in experience and capabilities among the theorized covert surveillance teams would surely be attended by a marked increase in the degree of difficulty in capturing them. Imaginably some financial support would be provided for the additional expenditures on logistical needs for the supportive surveillance work. As the activity would be in direct support of a Communist Party of China directed operation, a large request would unlikely be made to cover personal service expenses. The honor and privilege of serving the Communist Party of China would expectantly be viewed in Beijing as sufficient reward.

Oddly enough, the identification and repatriation team still did not just pull the shutters down and run off just because FBI agents were onto them. With the specialists safe, the identification and repatriation team members rather audaciously continued to watch Xu’s in-laws home and Xu’s home. Tu joined Hu at the command post back in Wuhan where she continued to direct the identification and repatriation operation while in China. On April 9, 2017, Zhu messaged Tu Lan, inquiring: “Prosecutor Tu [Tu Lan] whose order should I take for now while I am here?” Tu replied: “You communicate with me and Hu [Hu Ji]. I will go to the Commission for Discipline Inspection this afternoon. I will contact you afterwards.” The “Commission for Discipline Inspection,” which was a Chinese government agency responsible for investigating members of the Communist Party for corruption. Tu also wrote to Zhu: “[Y]ou need to confirm that Mike [McMahon] can execute according to our requirement.” According to the federal court document,, on April 9, 2017, Tu  sent an electronic message to the Zhu asking: “Did you tell Hu [Hu Ji] that I still want to confirm [John Doe #1’s ] [Xu’s] father’s status?” Zhu responded, “It seemed that he has reported to the [Chinese Official #1] already,” and added that “I arranged to have me [McMahon] stay there Monday morning.” Zhu told Tu Lan that ” the money I have on hand can only have me [McMahon] to stay there for two days.” On April 11, 2017, McMahon and Zhu discussed–in English–additional steps to intimidate Xu into returning to China. The federal court document specifically quotes McMahon as proposing they “harass” Xu, including by “[p]ark[ing] outside his home and let him know we are there.” Zhu replied that they “can’t harass [John Doe #1] [Xu] like that lol.” The efforts to persuade Xu to return to China were unsuccessful. The emotional bomb fizzled.. On April 12, 2017,  Zhu and Xu’s father departed from Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight to Shanghai.

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

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. You Quan, the former Communist Party of China secretary of Fujian Province and a member of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, was appointed UFWD head on November 7, 2017.  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 specific 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.

You Quan, head of the UFWD (above). You Quan was appointed United Front Work Department (UFWD) head on November 7, 2017. You 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 Shaken 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, 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.)

US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War, But If Talks Fail, Iran Will Be Attacked, Eventually!

Pictured above are two of Iran’s most senior leaders, President Hassan Rouhani (right) and IRGC Commander (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (left), in an impromptu discussion of security issues.

According to a February 26, 2014, Reuters article entitled, “Kerry: US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War,” by Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action.  Kerry further explained, “We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution.”  On November 12, 2013, Iran reached a landmark preliminary agreement with the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia China, and Germany) to halt what were alleged to be its most sensitive nuclear operations in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions.  The interim deal was completed on January 12th, and the parties set forth to continue negotiations for six months after which, it is hoped, a final accord will be signed.  However, a positive outcome is not guaranteed.  The Reuters article’s authors explained that when he states all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, US President Barack Obama is using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.  His predecessors and a long line of US officials have held out that same threat.  Yet, when Kerry spoke to the reporters, he apparently left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks breakdown.

Kerry’s public comments concerning the Geneva talks were uncharacteristic of him. Kerry is an extremely capable Secretary of State, and he has a genuine interest in improving relations with Iran.  He is a discreet person who would hardly want to do anything to derail the Geneva process.  The Reuters article’s authors asserted that Kerry’s statements were in reaction to pressure placed on the Obama administration by Congressional Republicans who threatened to revive a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.  The Obama administration has cautioned Congress that such action could interfere with delicate nuclear talks to find a lasting agreement.  The article’s authors also assert that pressure from Republican lawmakers will likely increase with signs that the easing of sanctions is allowing for the boost in Iran’s oil exports.  However, Kerry’s comments on going to war with Iran were doubtlessly also heard in Tehran.  As Iranian Foreign Minister and lead Iranian negotiator for the Geneva talks, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated in December 2013, “When Secretary Kerry talks to the US Congress, the most conservative constituencies in Iran also hear him and interpret his remarks. So it’s important for everyone to be careful what they say to their constituencies because others are listening and others are drawing their own conclusions.”  Kerry’s comments were very threatening in nature.  Yet, at this point, it is that the leadership in Tehran probably did not become too concerned about US military action.  Indeed, they feel that such action is unlikely.

Among the key power centers in Iran, to include the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and hard-line political and religious leaders, there was an understanding that Iran would be negotiating in Geneva from a position of strength as a military power.  Such power was in part the basis of their belief that the US needed to negotiate with Iran as an equal.  Iranian leaders likely reached this conclusion as a result of an assessment of the “capabilities and possibilities” for likely US military action.  Certainly, Iranian leaders regularly receive a wealth of detailed reports from official and unofficial sources, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, on information such as US approaches to the nuclear negotiations, policy and decision making and statements made by senior US political, diplomatic, and military officials on Iran.  Yet, the consideration of capabilities and possibilities is a standard procedure and favored methodology for foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations in Iran to assess, in the abstract, capability to effectively perform a proposed action and the real possibility for success.  It also allows for an assessment of an opponent’s capability to respond to that action and possible decision making and reaction to it.  By wrongly giving higher meaning to certain facts and assumptions and incorrectly weighing relative strengths and weaknesses of Iran’s military power versus the US, it becomes clear how Iranian policy analysts and decision makers would reach the conclusion that they would not face a military response if talks failed or if they took the step to develop a nuclear weapon.  Based on one member’s experience working with Iranian officials on the nuclear issue, a truncated assessment of capabilities and possibilities, comparable to those done in Tehran, is presented here by greatcharlie.com in order to demonstrate how the Iranian leaders most likely acquired certain views, and why they have taken certain approaches toward the US.  If Iranian leaders decide to drop the Geneva talks and actually develop a nuclear weapon, its decision will be based on a flawed understanding of US capabilities.  There is a real possibility the US will attack Iran.  However, there is also the possibility that as the Geneva talks advance, and greater contacts occur among US and Iranian officials and diplomats, some prevailing views in Tehran on US military capabilities may be modified.  Those contacts may also create interest among Iranian leaders to seek a sustainable final agreement on economic sanctions and their nuclear program, if a final decision on how to proceed on the nuclear issue has not already been made.

“Capabilities”

The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces have declared their willingness to defend Iranian territory with military power, and are convinced that they have such capabilities.  IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari has explained: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.”  Regular displays of military strength through exercises and parades, along with hubristic declarations regarding Iran’s power, serve to assure the Iranian people that their government has the capability to defend them, and are also intended to serve as a deterrent to potential aggressors. Although the impact of US directed international sanctions on Iran’s economy has been considerable, Iranian leaders have vowed not to allow US sanctions prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear program.  Concerning sanctions, Jafari explained: “Today, Americans and Westerners have understood that pressure on Iran not only does not lead to the advancement of their desires but also has the opposite effect.  Iran has progressed day by day.”  Jafari’s statement is indeed accurate.  Regardless of the state of negotiations between the US and its Western partners and Iran over the years, and the ferocity of the US threats, advances would continue to be made on the nuclear energy program.  Iranian leaders have also appreciated the deterrent effect created by Western intelligence assessments that Iran is close to breakout capacity with its nuclear program; some estimates are that Iran is only six months away from having the technology to develop a bomb.

Iranian leaders feel Rouhani can capture the imagination of the US and its European partners making them more pliant to compromise.  Regarding negotiations, there is a sense among Iranian leaders that Zarif has capabilities as a diplomat and advocate that are superior to his Western counterparts and is capable of driving them toward compromise on sanctions without surrendering nuclear rights.  While rifts between hard-line elements in Iran with Rouhani and Zarif over the Geneva talks have been highlighted in the West, there is actually an understanding among Iranian leaders of the need to support the negotiations team.  Indeed, concerning Zarif and the negotiations team, Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.”

On regime change, a threat posed by the administration of US President George W. Bush against Iran, Iranian leaders are certain their security apparatus is too strong for the US to ever defeat and the US has backed away from that effort.  Addressing the issue of regime change, IRGC Quds Force Commander General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani stated: “the important side of your [US] attempts today have been to confront the Islamic Republic.  Your [Obama] statement [at the UN] that ‘We are not seeking the Islamic system’s overthrow’ is not a statement of kindness, but rather an announcement of incapability.  You have been and will remain unable to be successful in overthrowing the Republic’s system.”

There is a sense among Iranian leaders that Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s efforts to revamp and enhance Iran’s advanced defense research programs and strengthen Iranian defense industrial base will greatly enhance Iran’s warfighting capabilities at the present and in the future.  Iran has already made great strides in satellite technology, drone, and stealth technology.   Iran has successfully used a base in Venezuela as a test bed for new technologies.  Regarding application of those new technologies, in the Gulf, Iran believes it can establish dominance with the advent of new anti-ship system and naval technologies.  Ali Shamkani, the new Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council directed the IRGC attempts to realize Iranian dominance in the Gulf while serving as IRGC Commander.  He retains a strong interest in that effort.

On its borders, Iran has demonstrated its capability to effectively combat narcotics traffickers and rogue Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Jundallah, as well as the Peoples’ Mujahedeen, a group some Western policy analysts suggest that the US use as a means to weaken the government in Tehran.  In Iraq, Iran has trained and equipped Iraqi Shi’a militiamen and sent them into Syria to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In Syria, Iran has demonstrated its capability to project power beyond its borders, deploying significant numbers of IRGC, Quds Force and regular Army forces there in support of the Assad regime.  Iran has trained and equipped Syria’s shabiha (militiamen), and organized them into the National Defense Front.  It is known that Iran has sent at least 330 truckloads of arms and equipment through Iraq to support the Syrian Armed Forces in 2013.  An air corridor over Iraq has also emerged as a major supply route for Iran to send weapons, including rockets, anti-tank missiles, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades to Assad.  Iran has also armed, equipped, and enabled Hezbollah to join the fight in Syria.  Further, Iran has facilitated the deployment of Iraqi Shi’a militiamen trained by the Quds Force to Damascus.  To further supplement the Syrian Armed Forces, hundreds of Shi’a, among the Arabs in Yemen and Pashtun in Afghanistan, have been recruited for combat duty in Syria.  In Yemen, Iran’s Quds Force has supplied arms to Houthi rebels fighting government forces in the northern part of the country.  In Bahrain, Iran has capitalized on ties established with Shi’a groups back in the 1990s.  Calling themselves the Bahraini Rebellion Movement, some have carried out small-scale attacks on police.  Bahraini rebels are operationally controlled by Bahraini opposition leaders, but typically trained in Iran.  Iranian leaders feel they could utilize these diverse forces against the interests of the US and its friends and allies in retaliation for US military action.

As events and issues in the Middle East do not align with US President Barack Obama’s new vision of its national interest, some Iranian leaders feel the US has become disinterested in the region.  Most also recite the global mantra that the US has been traumatized by its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan both in which Iran supported opponents of the US.  Obama, himself, appears to Iranian leaders as being skeptical about the use of the US military anywhere to create desired outcomes other than actions where participation by US personnel is very limited in scope as in Libya.  Iranian leaders observed the Obama administration’s decision to make steep reductions in US conventional forces, leaving them somewhat less able to project robust power, take and hold ground in a non-permissive environment or engage in sustained ground combat operations in defense of the interests of the US, its friends, and allies.  They have also observed Obama administration effort to make steep reductions in its nuclear forces, the crown jewels of its military power, only to be thwarted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Putin refused to negotiate on the matter concerned with the efficacy of taking such an audacious step.  Additionally, they were amused over the way in which the Obama administration buckled under pressure from academics, policy scholars, and activists over drone use.

Iranian leaders have noted the Obama administration’s insistence on deploying a European based missile defense system to defeat an imagined Iranian nuclear-tipped missile attack.  To Iranian leaders, the deployment of the missile defense system indicates that there is a willingness within the US to rely on defense and deterrence rather than offensive military action to cope with Iran’s nuclear program.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s behavior has been perceived by Iranian leaders as being very awkward.  Regarding those military operations, Suleimani stated: “What achievements did the American army have with $700 billion budget . . . They expended approximately $3 trillion for the war in Iraq but the American army was unable to gain immunity in Iraq for [even] a single flight and exited Iraq with disgrace.  The result of all war in the region was the Iranian nation’s victory.”  In the view of some Iranian leaders, the Obama administration withdrew from Iraq as a result of a promise made during Obama’s first presidential campaign rather than strategic considerations.  Consequently, Iranian leaders surprisingly found themselves left with an opportunity to strengthen Iran’s position in Iraq.  However, the door was also opened for a growth of al-Qaeda’s presence there.  The initial increase in force in Afghanistan after a long, agonizing decision by Obama in 2009 was made with the goal to create the opportunity for the US and NATO to succeed there.  Iranian leaders have observed how that approach transformed into a decision to withdraw.  Indeed, the US has now declared its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan by December 2014 without a security agreement with the Afghan government.  Iranian leaders have been presented with an opportunity to further Iran’s dominance in the region, but recognize the US withdrawal may open the door to a growth in al-Qaeda’s presence there.

Among experts and advisers on foreign and defense policy in Tehran, the popular view espoused was that the Obama administration was forced into an aggressive stance against Iran with manipulation from Israel.  Senior Military Advisor to the Supreme Leader and Former IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi stated, “It is sad that the US President is under the influence of [Netanyahu’s] pressure and lies about Iran to such an extent, that he changed his tune and stance towards the Iranian issue. This leads to the US President’s weakness of independent thought and policy and has shown the power and influence of the Zionist lobby . . . .”  Jafari stated in September 2013, “We hope that the Americans let go of their intransigence with Iran and become less affected by the Zionist lobby.”  However, Iranian leaders now believe the US has retreated from its aggressive stance toward Iran fearing further military engagement in the Middle East.  Iranian leaders want to believe that the Obama administration has very negative relations with Israel, and has pursued the Geneva negotiation process, despite Israel’s objections.  They are convinced that uncongenial relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has served to stymie Israeli plans to take any action against Iran.

In Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s efforts to establish itself as the state with predominant military force on the ground and the complete capability to shape events, with the financial support from Russia and China.  Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Obama administration hesitated and backed away from military action after very publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons.  Iranian leaders’ views of Obama’s unwillingness to take military action anywhere were confirmed when the Obama administration expressed “fears” over placing troops on the ground and was indecisive in choosing targets in Syria for military strikes before eventually declining to act altogether.  That actually compelled many Iranian officials, IRGC commanders in particular, to publicly deride the US government as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands.  Suleimani made the following statement about the US: “There was day when the US used three options: political, economic, military.  Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or the Islamic system is weaker.’  Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world.  The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily.  From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world.  In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”

Iranian leaders watched as Democratic and Republican Members of the US Congress failed to support Obama’ s plan to take military action in Syria.  They recognized that as being indicative of a greater problem between Obama and Congress.  Iranian leaders feel the Congress would likely deny Obama support for military action elsewhere.  The willingness of opponents in Congress to inflict harm on the US military, the security apparatus, and the US public, through sequestration and a government shutdown, convinced to Iranian leaders that there is outright hostility from Congress toward the Obama administration akin to an animus toward an enemy.  The Iranian view of the Obama administration were supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his now infamous September 12, 2013, New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A Plea for Caution from Russia.”  Putin’s negative perceptions of Obama’s motives and the US have very likely found their way into Russia’s dialogue with Iran and have had an impact. Russia’s most recent military action in Ukraine demonstrates to Iranian leaders that there is little reason to be concerned or intimidated by a possible response from the Obama administration.  Iranian leaders’ views on the role of the US in the world as a predominant power were also supported by China.  Chinese views were represented in an editorial by the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, calling for a “de-Americanized” world.

“Possibilities”

On the Geneva talks, Khamenei from the beginning made statements such as: “We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [US] to deter its evil.”  Maintaining the nuclear program and the right to enrich were the main requirements that he gave to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when releasing him to engage in a dialogue with the US and Western powers on economic sanctions, and Iran’s nuclear program.  Khamenei viewed the Geneva process primarily as an opportunity to counter economic sanctions while progressing in the area of nuclear technology.  Jafari has stated: “The people expect their officials to demand the complete nuclear rights of the nation of Iran, including the nuclear fuel cycle, complete and official recognition of the right to enrich, and the elimination of all unjust sanctions.”

Given the nature of relations between Obama and Netanyahu, Iranian leaders felt it was unlikely the US would agree to Israeli demands for Iran to cease all uranium enrichment and to remove all enriched uranium from its territory; dismantle its Fordow nuclear facility hidden in a mountain near Qum; dismantle its newest generation of centrifuges at Natanz; and, stop construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak.  They know that the US has engaged in an effort to quell very audible concerns expressed by Israel and other Middle East allies over concessions made to Iran, particularly on sanctions.  Iranian leaders truly believe Zarif is the best diplomat possible to promote the legitimacy of Iran’s positions.  The popular notion, that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was initially driven in great part by the White House’s desire to establish Obama’s legacy, signaled to Iranian leaders that the US may be willing to make concessions in talks to reach an agreement.  Zarif could deliver success at Geneva on Iran’s terms, exploiting the US desire to make a deal.

It may very well be that Iranian leaders want to use the Geneva talks to gain time to make greater advances in the nuclear program.  Continued progress in the program has been a feature of Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the US and its Western partners since such talks`began with the Bush administration despite the ferocity of threats of military intervention and the imposition of sanctions.  From a darker perspective, true conservatives among Iranian leaders may wish to use the diplomatic efforts of Rouhani and Zarif simply to misdirect the US and its European partners, enabling other elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program.  Iran has the possibility to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the US and its Western partners within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility.  Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Ministry would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the US while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements take a path toward accomplishing the military goals of the nuclear program.

Whether through the current course of research or a covert program, Iranian leaders are aware that once a significant level of competence with nuclear technology is successfully acquired and tested, the genie will be out of the bottle and a new situation will immediately exist. Iranian leaders believe that threats of further sanctions or military action against Iran would unlikely be viewed as constructive internationally, other than by Israel.  Iranian leaders believe particularly that it would less likely face any consequences if it achieves nuclear weapons technology when US mid-term Congressional elections occur in 2014.  Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives, especially those seeking re-election, would not want to have to explain a new war in the Middle East declared by a president from their party.

What Has Occurred So Far

Under the agreed pause of its nuclear activities, Iran has suspended its nuclear program to the extent that enrichment of uranium would be halted beyond 5 percent, a level deemed sufficient for energy production but not for developing a nuclear device.  Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a step toward weapons grade fuel, would be diluted or converted to oxide, preventing it from standing prepared for military purposes.  Iran already produced more than 20,000 pounds of enriched uranium gas that is three quarters of the way to weapons grade material.  Iran also agreed not to install any new centrifuges, or start up any that were not already operating. Between 2009 and 2013, Iran’s inventory of installed centrifuges increased from 5,500 to 19,000.  Iran agreed not to build any new enrichment facilities.  An undeclared enrichment facility at Fordow, buried inside of a mountain and outfitted with centrifuges over the last several years, was exposed by US and allied intelligence efforts prior to the negotiations.  Iranian officials indicated that their program had not been curtailed at all. They claimed that Iran by its own volition, reached an interim agreement with the P5+1, but did not give up the right to enrich or the ability to return to enriching at any time.  To them, the interim agreement did not prevent Iran from enriching uranium above 3.5 percent or to dismantle any existing centrifuges.  Iranian deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs as well as lead negotiator, Abbas Arachi, made it clear that while Iran would separate connections between centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, the interconnections could be reconnected in a day.  The entire feed stock for producing nuclear weapons fuel and infrastructure remains intact.  Additionally, the Iranians were able to retain achievements made through their development of a heavy water reactor in Arak which provides a plutonium pathway to producing nuclear weapons fuel.

However, the agreement, more importantly, has reversed the momentum of sanctions and provided some relief from the threat created by the notion of impenetrable sanctions.  Some US policy analysts may believe that Iran may be buying time in order to advance its nuclear program while giving key concessions on the sanctions front.   Yet, what may really be happening is that Iranian leaders are giving new consideration to the Geneva process.  Considering how to proceed against the US and its European partners in the abstract, is quite different from engaging with US officials in actual negotiations.  Information gleaned from US officials and diplomats should provide fresh information about US actions and intentions.  It is difficult to say whether such information from the talks might have an impact on thinking among Iranian leaders.  Nonetheless, while enduring Kerry threats of war, Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24th agreement by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things.  Kerry, himself, told reporters that “Generally speaking, they have done I think everything that they were required to do with respect to the reductions.”  Kerry further explained that “There’s no centrifuge challenge. They haven’t put any in. They … have reduced their 5 percent. They have reduced the 20 (percent),” he added. “They are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”

The Way Forward

Khamenei and other Iranian leaders believed an agreement favorable to Iran’s interests, particularly on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear rights, would be rapidly constructed.  As the negotiation process dragged on, they were recognized as a complicated and deliberate process, the outcome of which is uncertain.  Khamenei began expressing doubts that an agreement acceptable to Iran could be constructed.  Nevertheless, once an interim deal was reached, and Khamenei and Iran so far have adhered to it.  There is real hope among negotiators that a final agreement can be reached.  However, the talks could also fail, and that would not be a simple matter at all.  Iranian leaders may conclude the US will not attack, given the predilection of the Obama administration to shy away from military action, and speculation on the US included in some analysis of “capabilities and possibilities” developed in the abstract by policy experts in Tehran.  Yet, the US military, in reality, possesses the capability to successfully execute a decisive blow against the Iranian nuclear program and effectively deal with Iran in the aftermath of any strikes.

US military planners develop concepts for operations using their expertise based on a long career in their respective branches of the armed forces that includes continuous military education and training and considerable experience warfighting.  They would be the ones responsible for developing plans for military action against Iran for the Obama administration.  They know the capabilities of specific individuals and units, the effectiveness of their weapons systems, and what the real possibility for success of any given operation would be.  All tools, both conventional and nuclear, would be available to them.  If ordered by the president to present a plan for such an attack, senior US military planners will more than likely produce something that displays a high level of acumen and creativity, utilizing advanced technologies in a manner that neither analysts nor the potential opponent could foresee.  A plan to put the full panoply of security measures in place not just in the region but in the US and territories of friends and allies to thwart retaliation would also be produced and implemented.  The worst way for Iranian leaders to discover the US military’s capabilities would be through an attack.

Iranian leaders must realize that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time.  Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term.  Striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president.  To the extent that the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of all its nuclear activities.  The demand could possibly be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action.

Another realization that must be reached is that rather than focus on comments that are meant for domestic political consumption in the US, Iranian leaders must stay focused on what is best for Iran and what can truly be achieved through the nuclear negotiations.  Relations between the US and Iran are at a new stage as are the nuclear negotiations. The P5+1 Talks have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts, through close contact, to acquire a better understanding of various aspects of one another’s thinking.  Much of what has been learned since surely contradicts Iranian leaders’ prior assessments of capabilities and possibilities regarding the US.  For the US and Iran, the improved understanding of mutual positions was further strengthened by back channel talks, some conducted by officials from the US National Security Council.  Those talks also allowed very senior officials to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns and relations between the two countries.  The new dialogue has built confidence, eliminated many ambiguities about positions, and lessened the guessing over actions, intentions, and motives.  Jafari has been quoted as saying, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.”  However, Iranian leaders at this point may be able to see, even with such slogans in mind, the real possibilities of a final agreement.  Adhering to the interim deal, as Kerry himself has confirmed, is a good first step and serves as recognition by Iranian leaders that a peace agreement has promise.  Although it has been dogma among US policy analysts and think tank scholars to view Iran as determined to pursue nuclear weapons through its nuclear program, it may very well be that a final decision on how to proceed has not been made in Tehran.  Recall that Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon.  If Iran were trying to develop a nuclear weapon, the effort could only be justified by Iranian leaders as a matter of absolute necessity for Iran’s security.  Evidence does not exist that the nuclear program has been militarized.  Whether Iranian leaders truly believe a nuclear weapon would make them more secure is not certain.  With great expenditure, Iranian leaders may be both creating a nuclear energy program, and simply creating the option to weaponize if it became necessary.

If a final decision truly has not been made on developing a nuclear weapon, it may still be possible, in Geneva and through back channel discussions, to convince Iranian leaders that pursuing a weapon would not be necessary.  Zarif, Kerry, and all parties to the negotiations may very well be able to deliver a deal that satisfies Tehran and all parties to the negotiations.  It is certainly worth the try.  If they fail, then a war will likely be declared, if not immediately, in the near future.