The hangover from Helsinki continued this week, meaning most people who were outraged in the first 24 hours after Trump met Putin have now moved on to Tweeting about Justin Bieber’s engagement and Instagramming from the beach to calm their nerves. It’s a pity, because this week was awash in eye-popping stories that didn’t make A1 in the dailies.
Count me as one of those who thought that Trump would, if nothing else, be tough on China. But, in one of the biggest stories of the week, Trump manages to only give Chinese company (and Chinese intelligence enabler) ZTE a slap on the wrist. I was, then, one of those who counted on the bipartisan outrage about his decision resulting in tougher treatment for ZTE. Nope — after heavy lobbying, Congress thought better of that too. So you can expect to see Chinese tech with histories of backdoors, viruses and a direct line to Chinese intelligence in our market soon. This is hardly the only significant Chinese offense being discussed this week. China has been using exit bans for leverage over US citizens (usually of Chinese heritage). The Chinese can and, apparently do, force the ex-pats to cooperate in investigations or coerce their Chinese family members to return to China. This should be a huge story — and, after Congress’ towering feat of cowardice with ZTE, it may have to be for China to be held at all accountable. Don’t bank on it seeing too much daylight, however. The Daily Beast’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian explains that both “the Chinese government and Chinese companies, often with close state ties, have retained lobbying and public-relations firms in the Beltway, in some cases hiring former U.S. officials as personal lobbyists.” Want names? How about former House speaker John Boehner, former U.S. ambassador to China Clark Randt, and former CIA Beijing station chief Randall Phillips?
The story of Russian influence in our government is significant (here is this week’s reminder that it doesn’t begin with Trump). But Chinese influence is even more significant…
I’m typing this with one hand, since I need the other to press a frozen steak against my still-sore noggin. Such is the price for enforcing my own deadlines while Trump went to Helsinki (which is the sequel to Trump Goes to London — 18 rating on Rotten Tomatoes! Though my favorite of the European Trump-cation series has always been First Trump, Part II). Bottom line, I have low expectations for this update. Which is a shame, because there were some epic stories on the webs this week.
Westerners generally lack skepticism about the lengths Russian intelligence is willing to go. There are many ways to rectify this, but the most entertaining way is to take a look at the State Department’s files on Soviet active measuresfrom September 1983. Kinda like downing a kale smoothie that tastes like mint chocolate chip, it’s like reading 20 movie plots without realizing it’s a Cold War history book.
Speaking of thrilling reads, what do the hacking of the DNC servers, police brutality in Florida, catfishing, Russian intelligence, doxing and a former Marine have in common? This story. Read it. And buy the movie rights. Seriously.
Here’s hoping you enjoyed the 4th of July, even if you think that whole American Revolution thing was a mistake.
Imagine you have two harmless ingredients which, when combined, become more powerful than VX gas. Imagine it is undetectable in most chemical security testings. Imagine it is deadly to the touch. Imagine it can absorb into any soft surface, from park benches to leather. Imagine it can remain lethal for years. The bad news is that you don’t need to imagine it — it is Novichok(or “newcomer”). The worse news is that the Russians have deployed it once in an attempt to kill double agent and UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter. This week’s news is that two innocent people in the same area have died from Novichok, leading to speculation that they came in contact with the substance. The ramifications are endless: the Russians have a fear-inducing weapon; Novichok’s benign ingredients make it ideal for travel; the Russians have a network of interested buyers, or the Russians could simply keep it for themselves — they have plenty of their own enemies, after all. All in all, this is a bad-news cocktail. Good thing that whole chemical weapon “redline” thing has gone the way of the 1980s, huh? Maybe it makes sense that the the Syrian rebels have decided the better part of valor is to meet with the Russians in attempts to appease them.
The following is the war journal of Pedro Evasco, Chief Warrant Officer 2, 3rd Special Forces Group, US Army. This is part two of twelve. It is fiction. But not totally.
Fucking amazing sleep. Our compound overlooks Lake Victoria — did I mention that? Slept naked and solo in my room. Fucking wind felt amazing all night. My sinuses are cleared out, man, feel much fucking better. Katie and the kids are like 8,000 miles and six months away. No use getting burned up over what happened yet.
They assigned us a fleet of cars with drivers. At about 0500, I could hear all the drivers pull up and start to gab. They didn’t give a fuck. I eyed my shoe for a minute and thought about throwing it out the window at them, but let it go. That fucking air, man. All you want to do is sleep, fuck and eat.
I bought a new suit before we left Fayetteville. They haven’t found me an office yet. Didn’t matter too much since I was making time with the Old Man, a bunch of staff guys and going from briefing to briefing.
The following is the war journal of Pedro Evasco, Chief Warrant Officer 2, 3rd Special Forces Group, US Army. This is part one of twelve. It is fiction. But not totally.
24 June, 2016
I’m guilty. I’m so fucking guilty. I’m know what Katie would say. I can see that broken look on her face. I can hear her fucking sisters comforting her and promising to rush over right now to wrap their arms around her.
Goddamn. Goddamn. I knew better. I fucking knew better. I don’t wanna do this right now. So I’m gonna pussy out and just tell you everything else.
Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, the World Cup and the Red Hen consumed most of the past week’s news cycle, and the rest was spent on LeBron James, Maxine Waters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ surprise primary win. In other words, it wasn’t a real fun week for the foreign intrigue or national security minded among us. So, in the spirit of self-indulgence, I came up with the most oxygen-deprived stories of the past week or so.
I firmly believe most of the nefarious activity in the world can be traced back to Russia, China and Iran (there are good arguments about including Saudi Arabia and North Korea too, but I’ll put those aside for now). I am not trying to convince anyone about this, but it’s hard to track this stuff each week and not see the linkages. For example, the Chinese use organized crime to mess with Taiwan and Hong Kong. But then the Chinese also manipulate American small businesses to gain leverage inside our borders. Remember when the Chinese hacked the Office of Personnel Management a few years back (in what may be the most casually reported act of espionage of all time)? Now the victims are losing their identities…