“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld
“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were made for.” Anonymous
“…And using [that] stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning plowshares into swords on a massive scale…“ Mike Pence
I want to continue my discussion of high-level defections this week. Last week I wrote about what the defection process looks like, several motivations behind defections, what defectors are willing to offer, and what they desire in return for their treason. Yes, I am going to use the word treason to describe the activities of a defector. Even though we may not agree with the countries of their origin, their activities are nonetheless treasonous and serious. Defection appears to be a one-way street. Once one has made the decision to defect and has taken even one step in that direction, there seems to be no way back.
Whatever the motives are for defection, one thing is clear. A defector puts everything on the line and there are a host of ways for a defection to go awry. It happens much more than you or I will ever know. And yes, there are defections from our country to other countries as well. We just use a different language to describe it. A good example would be Edward Snowden, the US traitor who passed along secret information to the Russians and then sought asylum from them to protect himself from prosecution. That is practically the definition of a defection. Nobody ever referred to Snowden as a defector, he was only referred to as an asylum seeker.
This week I want to dig deeper into the alleged defection of a high-ranking Chinese official named Dong Jingwei. I touched on him last week, but, as with most defections, there is so much more than meets the eye to this defection. As I said, when someone decides to engage in the activity of defection, they are putting everything on the line. I might also add that when a junior Consular official receives a defector, it has the potential to make or break that junior officer’s career. There is a lot on the line on both ends of that equation.
I want to briefly bring back into view another defection that we have discussed—the alleged/supposed defection of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp General Ali Nasiri. It is critical that we continue to speak in the conditional sense, using words such as “if, allegedly, rumored” to define the space we are speaking in. What we have seen in the case of Ali Nasiri is that there was a lot of chatter on the internet and even in government circles for about a week, and then Nasiri has not been heard or seen on anybody’s radar screen. I know. I have searched intently for him. He is not to be found. Only speculative assumptions can be made of his whereabouts and how much he gave, how much he got in return and where he is now. I will try and steer us away from assumptive speculating.
This week I will take a look at the Dong Jingwei and Ali Nasiri rumored defections (because that is really the best we can do in this environment) and compare them for any similarities and differences. I will then see if I can make any sensible analysis from the information currently at hand.
Dong vs Ali Comparisons
- Both high government officials from frenemy states.
- Both had access to top-secret information and claimed to have massive amounts of data to confirm their stories.
- Both appeared on the international scene after their supposed defection, then quickly disappeared.
- Both governments openly denied that they defected
- Both governments failed to provide definitive proof that their alleged defectors were still in their countries.
- Both had inconsistencies in the government’s stories regarding their whereabouts.
- Dong is allegedly reported as flying directly to the USA and turning himself over to the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), whereas Ali allegedly turned himself in at an Embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- Dong is rumored to have had a daughter studying in the USA, whereas Ali had no internal relationships as far as anybody knows.
- Dong was outed as having allegedly defected on social media by a pretty respectable resource within the socio-political world.
- The Dong Jingwei alleged defection has been going on and remaining semi-public since February 2021. It has been, as of this article, months in the social media circles. The Ali Nasiri alleged defection was muted pretty quickly, within days.
- A top advisor working, Touraj Esmaeeli, part of the cyber department of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, fled the country after Nasiri allegedly defected, taking with him hundreds of classified documents. No follow-on defections have taken place that has been reported after the defection of Jingwei.
As you can see there are definitely similarities and certain differences between these two situations. But how do they fit the defection model that we discussed last week?
I have already stated that there simply is nothing else to report on the alleged Ali Nasiri defection case. I will summarize my thoughts on him by saying that his case is still quite inconclusive. My hypothesis is that he did in fact defect, that the US government got what it wanted from him, that they have since provided him with a comfortable life somewhere incognito, and that the Iranians are still stinging from the serious blow his disclosure would have wrought to their agenda and future.
I might remind us that it was not too long after the defection of Ali Nasiri that the Trump administration decided to pull out of the JCPOA, the same nuclear agreement that the current US administration is trying to get us back into. Who knows what sort of information Ali Nasiri passed along. All I can say is that the US position seemed to take on some momentum, including the assassination of the top Iranian General, Qasem Suleimani, on 3, January of 2020.
So what can we glean and how can we be more clear on this alleged defection of Dong Jingwei. One of the things that seemed to confirm Ali Nasiri’s defection to me was the simple fact that the Iranian government never attempted to publicly and effectively demonstrate that Nasiri was still in Iran. All they needed to do was show a video of Nasiri going through a crowd shaking hands with local people and it would have all gone away. The Iranians, for whatever reason, never did that, leaving Nasiri’s whereabouts to our imagination.
What can we suspect that the Chinese government’s next move will be? They have already tried (and abysmally failed) to use social media to dispel the rumors of Jingwei’s defection. They posted a tweet stating that Jingwei was leading a conference on anti-terrorism among his colleagues. When he did not show up at an international meeting last week, they tweeted that he did not normally attend such conferences due to the strict security nature of his role as Vice Minister of the Ministry of State Security. This was debunked, however, when a photo of him posing with several German state security officials at a conference in 2018 showed up on Twitter.
Dong Jingwei is still not yet out of hot water no matter where he is, defection or not. If he has defected, the amount of damage he could do to his nation’s security could be devastating. It is reported by the conservative intelligence journal, RedState, that a trove of information has been turned over by Dong Jingwei to the DIA. That list is said to potentially include:
- Early pathogenic studies of the virus we now know as SARS-CoV-2
- Models of predicted COVID-19 spread and damage to the US and the world.
- Finance records detailing which exact organizations and governments funded the research on SARS-CoV-2 and other biological warfare research.
- Names of US citizens who provide intel to China.
- Names of Chinese spies working in the US or attending US universities.
- Financial records showing US businessmen and public officials who’ve received money from the Chinese government.
- Details of meetings US government officials had (perhaps unwittingly) with Chinese spies and members of Russia’s SVR.
- Information on how the Chinese government gained access to a CIA communications system that led to the deaths of dozens of Chinese nationals who were working with the CIA.
Frankly, this list is an alarming one to me. It is alarming because it is almost too thorough. It is almost as if someone asked, “If you had a dream Chinese defector, what information would you want him to bring with him?” This would be the 2021 list. It is either an elaborate hoax or an unbelievably lucky break for the US Intelligence Community. Reports say there are “terabytes” of information available. One simple question: How do you transport “terabytes” of information globally without being suspected of something? It is just a question in my mind.
But on the other hand, there have been defections over the years which have yielded massive amounts of compromising and damaging information. I can name a few off the top of my head. One of the most notorious, of course, in American history, was Benedict Arnold, during the American Revolution. Others would include Arkady Shevchenko – a Russian diplomat and spy. Some described him simply as an emigre. Some say potato, some say potahto. Probably the Soviet Union’s most popular defector was Svetlana Alliluyeva, the only daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
It is my advice that more time be given to see this unfold before reaching a conclusion. There are so many predictions being made right now, most of which I disagree with due to poor analysis. Several things are possible. Time will tell what Dong Jingwei’s status is. Is he a defector? Is he a patriot?
The alleged information that Jingwei is rumored to have is substantial. There are one of two ways that this can go. A lot of people could be implicated by his revelations. The possibility of Jingwei “quietly committing suicide” is not entirely out of the realm of likelihood. It has happened before. Especially when people’s lives and reputations are at stake. This could be kept so quiet that we might never hear of Jingwei again. Jingwei’s tweet friend, Dr. Han Lianchao (himself a former defector from China), might steer him into a pathway of survival through a precise and calculated mixture of diplomacy, manipulation, and public exposure.
One thing is for certain. There is “More than Meets the Eye” to Dong Jingwei’s alleged defection.
In a world of continually shifting narratives, some of which are accurate and others of which are not, it is of extreme importance that we become trained in the art of discernment. With the birth of deep fakes, fake news, and technologically sophisticated means to disinform, there can be few more powerful skills than that of being able to sift the truth from wild harvests of habitually agnostic information.
The possibilities of defection narratives are enormous fodder for governments to create entire scenarios that have the potential to save lives, strengthen diplomatic positions, and damage or even destroy long-labored trust. Individuals who go to great lengths and make extreme sacrifices through defection can be treasure-troves of information as well as cesspools of disinformation. Understanding the difference between the two is a highly perishable and honed mandatory skill.
The alleged defections of Dong Jingwei and Ali Nasiri are of great importance. One way we can know the truth is that both have survived the test of time and we are still having to refer to them as “alleged.”
Resist the temptation to just take at face value everything you see, no matter what the source is, and once again, I include the More than Meets the Eye intelligence digest as well.
Do some Reading on past defections from places such as the Soviet Union, North Korea and China. Here are a few good suggestions.
- IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL’S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM... BY YEONMI PARK AND MARYANNE VOLLERS
- THE GIRL WITH SEVEN NAMES: ESCAPE FROM NORTH KOREA BY HYEONSEO LEE WITH DAVID JOHN
- UNDER THE SAME SKY: FROM STARVATION IN NORTH KOREA TO SALVATION IN AMERICA BY JOSEPH KIM WITH STEPHAN TALTY
- “Comrade J.: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America after the End of the Cold War”
What Really Happened in the Black Sea? A Victory for Russian Disinformation…https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2021/06/what-really-happened-black-sea-victory-russian-disinformation/174939/
Pakistan Struggles to Contain the Radicalism It Fostered…https://www.investigativeproject.org/8919/pakistan-struggles-to-contain-the-radicalism-it
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org