A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph
At some point during the Trump administration, we’re going to hear about something going terribly wrong in the intelligence community. It’s just the way it is; this is exceptionally difficult work, going up against relentless and insidious enemies. The list of recent spy scandals is long and depressing: Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, the Convicted Spy Formerly Known As Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden… This isn’t even mentioning the Office of Personnel Management hack or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails…
We have embarrassing and frustrating setbacks in our intelligence work under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is no policy that can eliminate the motives of spies, turncoats, and traitors, usually summarized as money, ideology, coercion, and ego.
We had another huge setback to our intelligence efforts during the Obama years that we are only learning about now.
The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.
Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.
But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.
The New York Times quotes “ten current and former American officials [who] described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.”
Someone might be grumbling, “Argh, if this so secret, why is it being leaked to the Times?”
Dwight Eisenhower once offered the counterintuitive advice, “if you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” The effort to determine how China found America’s spies was a private problem; now it’s a public problem. Making a secret problem public is one way to make that problem a higher priority; secret problems are easier to ignore. Also, if there’s a mole within the agency reporting to China — which is only one of several theories offered in the article — it’s probably best that everyone involved know there’s a mole. The paranoia and reluctance to share information about assets might save someone’s life.
There’s marginal good news. “By 2013, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded that China’s success in identifying C.I.A. agents had been blunted — it is not clear how — but the damage had been done.” Of course, if America’s spy agencies don’t know how the information leaked the first time, there’s no guarantee it won’t be leaked a second time.
Trust Us, It’s Just a Mysterious Glowing Orb, Nothing to Worry About!
In case you were wondering what that glowing sphere that Trump and the Saudi king were putting their hands on… it’s a symbolic “on switch” for the Saudi Kingdom’s center for battling online extremism online.
Trump and a number of Muslim leaders visited the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, the heart of which is a giant wall, filled with screens displaying real-time online extremist activity.
More than two hundred data analysts also worked on their individual computer screens.
Trump and the King each placed their hands on a miniature globe that officially activated the center and launched a splashy welcome video.
The center counters and prevents the spread of extremist ideology by promoting moderation, compassion and supporting the dissemination of positive dialogue.
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia wants to send a message to the West that the Muslim world is “not an enemy,” adding the Riyadh comes second after the United States in the fight against Daesh.
He said both the US and the Kingdom agree on eliminating terror groups such as Daesh.
“We are the second army after the US military in the international coalition against terrorism. The efforts will be an effective partnership between the Islamic world and the West in general to combat terrorism,” he said.
The center is established as a result of the international cooperation in facing the extreme ideology leading to terrorism, the world’s first common enemy.
Still no word on whether the orb that powers the center is fueled by one of the six Infinity Stones.
The Value of Criticizing Trump
Last Friday I wrote a bit about why I’m doubtful we’ll see some piece of “smoking gun” evidence that Trump colluded with Russia during the campaign. The best investigators in the business have been looking at this for months, and in a government where everything juicy leaks quickly, we haven’t heard about anything, nor has anyone on Capitol Hill. We never know what tomorrow holds, but it’s probably unwise for any political observer to just assume that one day in the coming year or so, the FBI will unveil an ironclad case that leads to impeachment. Is it possible that the bureau found incriminating evidence and is just holding it close to its collective vest until the right time? Theoretically, yes. But it’s more likely that they haven’t found it yet, and it’s also possible they won’t find it because there’s no such evidence to be found.
The White House communications office seemed to find that argument compelling enough to send it around midday Friday. For all the Trump fans who grumble that I’m too critical of the president… this is why a fair-minded political observer should call ‘em as he sees them, praise the president when he thinks he’s right, and criticize the president when he thinks he’s wrong.
If I were a relentless cheerleader for the president like… huh, go figure, Sean Hannity has been critical of Trump twice… if, say, Jim Hoft makes the point I did, no one particularly cares. No one cares if a diehard Trump fan says “Hey, no one’s found evidence of collusion yet.”
If Charles Blow of the New York Times is critical of Trump, as he was in 42 of his past 43 columns, according to Neontaster — no one turns their head at that, either. No one is surprised when a Trump administration official claims all the leaks to the press lately endanger national security. It is surprising, and compelling, when former CIA director John Brennan makes the same argument, as he did Friday.
From where I sit, my criticism of Trump makes my praise more valid, and my praise makes my criticism more valid. If you want someone to be a relentless cheerleader, go ahead and look elsewhere, but remember that relentless cheerleaders don’t actually change anybody’s mind. They get tuned out. Everyone knows what their assessment and argument is before the discussion even begins.
ADDENDA: Wow. Last night’s premiere of Twin Peaks was… intense. If after last night’s “glass box” scene, any of you ran screaming from the room swearing to never listen to my assessment of television shows again, I’ll understand. Later in the week, I’ll write up a more detailed assessment, but for now, I’ll just say I’m finding it fascinating, alluring, very dark, very violent, the same wildly divergent tones… as usual, I think I understand what’s going on but know that at any moment, the next scene could declare, “no, you don’t!”