Part of the problem that various public figures have in understanding the circumstances of international contacts is the general lack of understanding of the professional intelligence world and how it operates. Most particularly is the impact that is made internationally by covert activity influencing foreign adversaries or expected adversaries. This is called political/psychological warfare. The modern application began directly after the end of World War II and the evolution of the post-war intelligence services. The Russians had a leg-up on everyone else because their communist party already had a well-structured worldwide network. If anything, the Western nations have become much more sophisticated since then. Unfortunately, this sophistication and the strategy therein seems to have been missed by the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.
The immediate issue at hand is the much speculated and Schiff-driven argument as to whether President Donald Trump has had private contacts with the Russians. Unrecognized by Schiff and the general press is that this issue actually is an aid to the Russians. To take this matter further and make it clearer it is necessary to recognize that in the world of intelligence those who cooperate with a given service are considered either “witting” or “unwitting assets.” In fact, it is not necessarily a person, though it usually is. Schiff and his supporters have therefore become unwitting assets to Russian political warfare instruments. The efforts to undermine the President’s leadership become a help to the Russians in selling the idea internationally that the Americans are too unstable a nation – and the President in particular – to be counted on. Of course, Mr. Schiff and his backers are essentially ignorant of this circumstance. Unfortunately, the reason for this ignorance is that they are blinded by their domestic political ambitions accompanied, most likely, by a lack of experience in the arcane elements of political/psychological warfare technique.
The more Schiff attacks, the more Trump and his people counterattack. This produces a situation where the U.S. appears disoriented and thus untrustworthy as protectors worldwide. This works exceedingly well in less-developed world terms. One wonders whether the Russian services have been able to use this ploy to influence inaction on the part of Mexico in respect to the massive flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. It would appear that for some reason Mexico City does not view the American concern as anything but an exaggerated response by an easily excitable U.S. President. Score one for the GU (reportedly the new acronym for what was GRU, the Russian intelligence organization chartered to handle such matters), even if they didn’t originate the operations as a covert action.
The Russians are not the only ones who are able to take advantage of unwitting assets. We do it wherever we can and so do all the other major countries. One expects that all nations, if they have the capability, use such devices to their advantage whenever they can. To use a term of art, that is one of the real clear and present dangers.
The Chinese know about the utilization of unwitting assets as they use the mechanism regularly in their commercial activities. In the particular case of Chairman Schiff’s pursuit of pejorative information relative to Donald Trump, Beijing is staying as far away as they can. Given the Chinese proclivity for the long view, they will, however, find a way to use any leverage implicit in the circumstance if the need arises.
None of this would be new to the old hands in the intelligence business, even if it has escaped Adam Schiff. But frankly, is there anyone in Washington these days who understands any of this and the implications?