How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents - We Are The Mighty
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How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Contrary to what some science fiction and superhero movies might have you believe, the KGB – the Soviet Union’s state security and intelligence service – didn’t grow its agents in laboratories. They didn’t have superpowers and they didn’t have supernatural combat training. 

What they did have was exceptional intelligence, training, and preparation. Jack Barsky was born Albrecht Dittrich in Soviet-dominated East Germany. He trained as a chemical engineer and chemistry professor before he was recruited by the KGB in 1969. In his book, Deep Undercover, he recalls the process by which he learned to be a KGB “illegal” living in the United States.

While studying for his PhD in chemistry, the KGB sent him to East Berlin to learn to adapt to a new, unfamiliar environment. While there, he decided to join permanently. He left his family behind to learn Morse code, short wave radio, cryptography and a language. Dittrich chose English. While in East Berlin, he also learned how to recognize and ditch a surveillance team. 

He was so good at avoiding detection, only one KGB surveillance team ever got the best of him. It led to the new agent’s belief that he was smarter than everyone else in the intelligence organization. He could also decrypt messages at the rate of 100 words per minute. 

The KGB also taught him an advanced means of using invisible ink to send letters through the mail. It began with writing an “open letter,” to a false family member or friend. This is the letter one would read upon opening. 

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
“Dearest mother… did you know they have more than one TV channel here?!” (Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

He would then use a piece of contact paper and a pen to write the secret message, one that could only be read if someone knew the secret message was there. It was sent to one of many flagged KGB addresses. Only KGB headquarters, called “The Center,” would know how to develop it. 

They also taught him how to recruit Americans sympathetic to the Soviet Union.

On top of the spycraft, he also had to learn to adapt to his new environments, wherever they would be, with whatever means he had at his disposal. He learned the nuances of American English watching TV. His “legend” – the background narrative of his American life – said that his mother, an immigrant, spoke German at home, which is why he had a slight German accent. 

An American working for the KGB in Moscow blessed his American English well enough that the KGB decided to send him to the U.S. to be an illegal, a sleeper agent living under an assumed identity in the United States. 

To enter the United States, he would first have to get a real identity, beginning with a real birth certificate. KGB illegals would use birth certificates from recently deceased Americans who were roughly their same age, requesting the certificates through the mail. Once they had the birth certificate, they could get other legal documents. 

Dittrich’s first attempt to enter the U.S. involved getting the birth certificate of an American named “Hank” while posted in Montreal, Canada. He learned a lot of American English while watching U.S. television in Canada, which gave him a more believable American accent. Although that mission was a bust, The Center had an authentic one waiting for him in Moscow.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
“Dy-no-MITE! Oh, I’m using that for sure…” (Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay)

His new identity was that of American Jack Barsky. Within weeks of obtaining that official document, KGB agent Jack Barsky was living in New York City and had received a library card, a driver’s license and was working as a bike messenger. 

The KGB’s biggest goal was an authentic American passport. An illegal with a real U.S. passport would be used to bring the entire system down, Barsky says. But it was not to be. Barsky not only never received a passport, he was eventually recalled to Moscow under the penalty of death.

By this time he had a family in New York (he also had a family in East Berlin). But the birth of his daughter in the United States prompted him to ignore Moscow’s warning. To find out how Jack Barsky managed to stay in New York without retribution from the Soviet Union, read his book, Deep Undercover


Feature Image by Roberto Lee Cortes from Pixabay

MIGHTY CULTURE

Is Putin the richest person in the world?

While many a news outlet regularly reports when Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates flip-flop as to who is the richest person in the world, with Bernard Arnault and Warren Buffet nipping at their heals, as we previously noted in our article on the richest people in history, Bezos and Gates’ combined wealth barely matches that of the known fortune of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who ruled over that oil rich country for over three decades before being ousted and then killed in 2011. So how wealthy was Gaddafi? In the years since his death, so far nearly $200 billion dollars have been found in secret accounts, real estate holdings, and other investments directly belonging to him. No matter whether he acquired it ethically or not, assets are assets, and Gaddafi had the most of any known person so far this century by a huge margin.

Another individual who has more or less ruled a petroleum-rich nation for about two decades now is likewise rumored to secretly have a net worth in excess of $200 billion. We are, of course, talking about Vladimir Putin. But is Putin actually the richest person in the world, or are these just rumors?


To begin with, as you might imagine being born in the Soviet Union in 1952, Putin didn’t exactly start out life in the lap of luxury. In a bit of 1950s-era role reversal, his father was a cook and his mother a factory worker. Putin himself would grow up to join the KGB in 1975 working a variety of positions with that institution over the years. While you might envision Hollywood spy type scenarios were his daily life, in fact, according to journalist and biographer Masha Gessen, “Putin and his colleagues were reduced mainly to collecting press clippings, thus contributing to the mountains of useless information produced by the KGB.”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Putin in the KGB.

The first rumor that Putin was using a government position to stash away quite a lot of money for his own personal gain came in the early 1990s when he, in his then position as head of the Committee for External Relations at the Mayor’s Office in St. Petersburg, allegedly helped broker a million deal to acquire various food supplies for the city. In a nutshell, various companies were granted permits that would allow them to supply a huge amount of materials to foreign entities, and in exchange would be given an equivalent value back in foodstuffs to then be used within the famished city. The thing was, as far as anyone can tell, while the companies did send out the materials, no foodstuffs came back in return. The matter was ultimately investigated by one Marina Salye at the behest of the city council, with Salye in turn claiming Putin’s signature could be found authorizing the deals.

She states, “The raw materials were shipped abroad but the food didn’t materialise. There’s 100% proof that in this Putin was to blame. As a result in 1992 – when there was no food at all – the city was left with nothing. The evidence I have is as solid as it gets…. Putin – well, his committee – made bartering contacts to get food for the city. He issued licenses. And commodities – wood, metal, cotton, heating oil, and oil – flew out of the country.”

That said, while she states Putin was to blame and, at least according to her, she had definitive proof, she did not find any evidence that Putin had received anything in return for the apparently botched deals. As for Putin, he claimed the companies that had been given the export permits in the deal were to blame for foodstuffs not coming back as they were supposed to have- implying that Putin had no knowledge the deals wouldn’t be completed as originally brokered when he issued the licenses.

The city council would move forward with further investigation, but ultimately Mayor Anatoly Sobchak put a stop to it and the matter was dropped. While you’ll read in many outlets reporting this story that Salye would die of so-called natural causes mere weeks after she made these accusations and the investigation was killed, in truth she would go on to help found the Free Democratic Party of Russia and more or less continually rail against Putin to anyone in the media and public who would listen, until eventually giving up in 2000 after the election and moving to the countryside. There she lived until her death at the age of 77 in 2012, though she did give a handful of interviews during that span, still unabashedly anti-Putin.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

A portrait of Marina Salye during the 2012 Protests after the 2011 Russian elections.

As for Putin, from that 1992 political position, he worked his way up to becoming one of a trio of Deputy Prime Ministers, and was known to be Boris Yeltsin’s preferred successor, despite before this being a relative unknown among the wider public. Ultimately he did indeed become president in 2000 after winning the majority vote.

Once elected, Putin, like his predecessor, reported his finances and holdings publicly, including his salary and exact amount in his many bank accounts. He has continued to do so since. The result? Over the years while his salary has changed regularly from year to year, he has made approximately 0K-0K annually in that span, for example in 2018 reporting an income of 5K. Today between his wife’s and his own accounts, the couple seem to have a little over a half a million in cash in various bank accounts, though why he isn’t investing this is rather curious given his apparent lack of any other investments and almost complete lack of actually needing any cash for his day to day life given the government foots the bill for most everything. Of this, Putin states, “Honestly speaking, I don’t even know what my salary is. They deliver it to me, I take it, put it my bank account and don’t even count it…”

As for his other assets, he also owns a studio sized apartment in Saint Petersburg, a slightly larger apartment in Moscow, owns a small garage, a couple cars, a small plot of land outside of Moscow, and otherwise has various minor assets of no great worth.

Of course, over the years people can’t help but notice that Putin has a collection of watches he wears very publicly whose purchase price combined is around that of his reported entire net worth, ringing in at about 0,000-0,000 if various reports are to be believed. For reference, the highest valued watch he has been spotted wearing costs around 0,000- a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch.

On top of that, the clothing he can often be seen wearing is likewise extremely expensive, such as his 00+ tailored suits from outlets like Kiton and Brioni. Not just expensive suits, in one photo of him working out, Putin can be seen wearing sweatpants that cost over id=”listicle-2641610333″,400 a pair, apparently made from silk, cashmere and the tears of impoverished children, along with a similarly priced top.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
Giphy

On top of that, among other mansions, he is long rumored to own an estate known as “Putin’s Palace” near Praskoveevka, widely reported to be worth id=”listicle-2641610333″ billion by media outlets. However, this was actually sold in 2011 to one Alexander Ponomarenko, a former associate of Putin’s, for somewhere around 0 million. (Note, the exact amount has not been publicly disclosed, but Ponomarenko has indicated it’s in the ballpark of that widely reported figure.)

Ponomarenko purchased the estate from a group led by businessman Nikolai Shamalov. Ponomarenko claims he decided to buy the company behind the estate project, and thus the mansion, as it was a steal of a deal owing to the project being stalled from lack of funds to complete the estate and the business group wanting to cut their losses on it rather than complete it.

That said, Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who is exiled from Russia, claims the palace was built specifically for Putin’s use. He claims Putin was able to afford its construction in part thanks to a gift given him by the aforementioned Nikolai Shamalov in the form of 94% of the shares in a company called Lirus Holding. Among other personal knowledge of the development of the palace, Kolesnikov claims Shamalov himself told him this and, to quote him, “I have no reason not to believe (him).”

However, no documents concerning any ownership connected to the project seem to indicate Putin, or any holdings of Putin’s, ever were directly involved with this estate. That said, some contract documents concerning its construction allegedly have the signature of one Vladimir Kozhin, one of Putin’s inner circle of confidants. Of course, this still doesn’t definitively indicate whether Putin actually owned the palace or even was behind its building at all- simply, allegedly someone he is close to was involved in some capacity and later someone else he is close to bought it- a bit of a theme for a lot of these rumors.

Putin himself denies he had anything to do with the palace being built. Nevertheless, Putin allegedly frequents the palace and Federal Protective Service guards have been seen at the mansion, along with locals reporting seeing Putin in the area regularly.

Of course, among the extremely wealthy with such mansions, it’s not uncommon at all to allow friends to guest in one’s estates whenever they please, so Putin would not have to actually own the thing to stay there, nor would it be a big ask to do so- more or less par for the course among the exorbitantly wealthy.

That said, on top of all this estate, Putin has been connected to causing to have had built or secretly owning several other mansions, yachts, planes, etc.

Whether he actually owns any of these or, like Putin’s Palace, seemingly is just using them when he pleases, his flashing of extreme wealth in the case of his watches and other such items, along with an awful lot of not implausible allegations of widespread corruption within his government connected to him, has led to the belief that he has boatloads of money secretly stashed away in accounts throughout the world.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
Giphy

Others speculate Putin is simply using the government coffers to finance all these extravagances. For many items, this would not actually be that uncommon for a major world leader, if a lot more excessive than most. For example, the replacement Air Force One planes the U.S. President will soon have at his disposal has a budget of over billion. The U.S. President also gets a pretty posh mansion (The White House) and vacations spots to go to at their leisure with the tax payer footing the bill for quite a lot of such perks with few batting an eye at this.

But, of course, the U.S. government isn’t funding 0,000 watches for the President (though bullet proof tailored suits occasionally worn by the president are presumably paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. To attempt to clarify these items, requests have been made to the Russian government asking if, for example, Putin’s watches are actually his or property of the state that he is just wearing, but no answer to this question has been given that we could find.

Whatever the case, yet others claim Putin is simply enriching many people around him and it is they who are then happy to provide Putin with anything and everything his Judo-master heart can desire.

Yet others claim it is all three- Putin is enriching himself through shady means and using government funds and people he is helping make wealthy to get whatever he wants while he’s in office.

But the question of the hour is not whether Putin’s net worth is more than he is letting on- that is very apparently true by his watch collection alone, whether he purchased them or they were gifted. The question of the hour is whether he is secretly the richest person in the world with a net worth in excess of 0 billion as so many claim.

So what does the man himself say about all these rumors? “I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe but in the whole world…”

Case closed, right? He admitted it! Well, in truth, he wasn’t finished talking. He goes on, “I collect emotions. I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth.”

Of course, whether he collects emotions or not doesn’t inherently negate the first part of that statement, simply that he considers that a greater wealth than whatever he has possession-wise.

Argue amongst yourselves whether this was Putin cleverly admitting to being the wealthiest person in the world while making it seem like he was saying he wasn’t, and also simultaneously admitting he’s a Lizard Person given a hallmark of these creatures is apparently feeding on human emotions… ?

For a more direct answer to the question about the rumors of his extreme wealth, he clarifies, “It’s just chitchat, nonsense, nothing to discuss… They picked it out of their noses and smeared it on their pieces of paper.”

The Press and Information Office of the President of the Russian Federation’s also asserts of these rumors, “This information has no substance. As you may know, the declarations of Mr. Putin’s income and property are published annually… We recommend you to use only reliable sources henceforward and not to believe fake news in 2018.”

Naturally, nobody seems satisfied with these assertions given his apparent and frequent flashing of wealth far beyond what anyone with his salary should be able to afford.

So what do others who might know a little more say? First, we have political analyst and noted critic of Putin Stanislav Belkovsky who claimed to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2012 that Putin had net worth of approximately billion, though how he came up with this figure isn’t exactly definitive nor inspiring confidence in his hard knowledge here. In his own words, “The figure of billion emerged in 2007. That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of -70 billion…. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.”

Mildly more concrete, at least in terms of given something more specific, he also claims much of this wealth is because of Putin’s alleged 4.5% stake in Gazprom, 37% stake in Surgutneftegas, and allegedly 50% ownership of Gunvor. How he knows this, however, isn’t fully clear. Belkovsky simply states he got this information through sources he has within the companies. It’s also noted that for a time Gunvor was co-owned by a friend of Putin’s, billionaire Gennady Timchenko.

So what do the three companies say? For whatever it’s worth, Corporate Affairs Director of the Swiss-based Gunvor Group, Seth Thomas Pietras, states, “President Putin has never had any interest in, investment in, or involvement with Gunvor Group either directly or indirectly… Mr. Belkovsky’s claims are based on absolutely nothing and are fundamentally ridiculous. And the U.S. government, despite its statement has never sanctioned Gunvor in any capacity, nor has it provided any evidence of its own.”

Moving on to Surgutneftegas, they likewise deny Putin owns any shares.

Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government itself, with the rest of the stock publicly traded, likewise shows no records of Putin owning any shares.

Belkovsky counters these denials by the companies and lack of records stating Putin has a rather elaborate network of off-shore companies and funds that own the shares, which all ultimately mask that he himself actually owns, or at least, controls them.

Moving on to the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Bill Browder, he is the one that seems to have started the widespread rumor that Putin’s personal wealth is in excess of 0 billion, stating before a Senate Judiciary Committee

I believe he is worth 0 billion. The purpose of the Putin regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money…He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.

On this latter note, one of Browder’s former associates, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was investigating corruption within the Russian government and allegedly found evidence of various Russian officials taking part in a near quarter of a billion dollar tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky himself was then arrested for allegedly being the mastermind behind the tax fraud, and died while in jail before his trial. At the partial encouragement of Browder, the U.S. then passed the Magnitsky Act in 2009. In an oversimplified nutshell, this allows the U.S. government to sanction various individuals thought to be human rights offenders, ban them from entering the U.S., and more importantly freeze their assets where the government is able. The bill was essentially meant to allow the government to legally hold somewhat accountable those thought to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.

As for hard data, however, Browder offers little.

Next up, noted economist Anders Aslund, author of the book Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy, states, “I would estimate that Putin is worth around 0-160 billion. We can see that Putin and his friends have taken -15 billion from Gazprom every year since 2004. That’s just Gazprom. There are large numbers of transactions being made… What’s much more difficult is to see where the money goes. It’s typically Cyprus, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Willmington, Delaware…”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

(Kremlin.ru)

As to how he came up with these figures, he states, “My assessment is that since Putin’s circle got its looting fully organized around 2006, they have extracted -25 billion a year, reaching a total of 5-325 billion, a large share of the Russian private offshore wealth. Presuming that half of this wealth belongs to Putin, his net wealth would amount to 0-160 billion. Naturally, Putin and his cronies cannot enjoy their wealth. It is all about power. If they are not the wealthiest, they fear they will lose power.”

Why he assumes Putin would get half of these alleged amounts instead of some other percentage isn’t fully clear.

On that note, like so many before, nobody seems to be able to actually offer hard evidence that Putin has any money stashed away anywhere not publicly known, which when talking sums of allegedly 0 billion, is a pretty neat trick for someone who has been so highly scrutinized, including by the U.S. Senate, who presumably if they wanted could just ask the CIA or other entities good at collecting such data to look into it. Given, instead, they are asking the likes of Browder, it has been presumed and widely claimed, that the CIA and other such government entities have no definitive intelligence on this either.

From this lack of a paper trail directly linking money or assets to Putin, yet his clearly lavish lifestyle indicating he does indeed have access to an awful lot of money, this has led many to conclude that Putin himself doesn’t actually officially own most or all of the wealth attributed to him, but rather he is leveraging his position and connections to enrich those close to him who, in their gratitude, are then more than happy to provide Putin with any money or items he wants, from access to mansion to yachts to sweatpants that keep his Judo-jubblies ultra comfortable when working out.

As alleged evidence for this, we turn to 11.5 million documents from the Panama Mossack Fonseca law firm made public in 2016, dealing in off-shore holdings by over 200,000 entities. While Putin himself is not listed in any of them, the documents do reveal three close associates of Putin’s among those having off-shore holdings partially managed by the law firm, with a combined amount of around billion between the trio.

Despite not owning these assets, there are many claims by various individuals that Putin uses some of these like his “personal bank account”, most notably the holdings of a man claimed by many in the media as Putin’s best friend- famed Russian musician and conductor Sergei Roldugin. Not just a friend, Roldugin is also the godfather to one of Putin’s children and was the man who introduced Putin to Putin’s wife.

As for where Roldugin supposedly got his extreme wealth, beyond his noted music career, starting in the 1990s Roldugin began investing in various oil and other business entities, to great success. Beyond all of this, in 2019, Roldugin also was accused of being involved in a massive multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme in conjunction with Sberbank CIB, which allegedly profited him greatly.

That said, for those using these records as proof of Putin having money elsewhere via his associates, it should be again noted these are the records of well over 200,000 entities throughout the world. And the vast majority who are using the firm are doing so completely legitimately, including actor Jackie Chan who reportedly had six perfectly above board off-shore companies the law firm helped manage various facets of. So that three among Putin’s numerous friends who are exorbitantly wealthy should be included isn’t necessarily proof of anything other than they wanted to have some assets outside of Russia, which isn’t uncommon among the wealthy in Russia. As some formerly close to Putin who have had their assets stripped and forced to flee the country demonstrate, having some off-short holdings is probably a good security blanket of sorts, just in case.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
Giphy

On this note, political scientist professor and author of Putin’s Kleptocracy, Karen Dawisha, stated before her death from lung cancer in 2018, “Why is it that 0 billion left the country last year? Because they believe that their wealth can only be secured in the long term outside their own country.”

Coming back to the posed question of whether Putin is secretly the richest person in the world, whether these funds are being held for him or not, this is still not Putin’s money, not just technically, but we’re guessing regardless of the amount of good-will Putin has built up with these various businessmen and women, should he no longer be in power, they might quickly find themselves less than willing to continue to support his lifestyle, if that is what has been happening as is widely believed. And some speculate he might even find himself in a rather unsafe circumstance in that case.

For example, one-time billionaire and the man formerly known as “Putin’s banker”, but now exiled from Russia, Sergei Pugachev, says “Everything that belongs to the territory of the Russian Federation Putin considers to be his. Everything – Gazprom, Rosneft, private companies. Any attempt to calculate it won’t succeed. He’s the richest person in the world until he leaves power.”

As for leaving power, he goes on that Putin chose not to leave office after his first term and beyond, not because of a desire for continued power, but rather because he feared for his own safety should he no longer be in that position. Even today, Pugachev claims, “I don’t see any guarantees for him [if he steps down]. Putin doesn’t see them either,” which is why he finds it unlikely that Putin will ever willingly leave office. Though it should be noted that Putin himself has stated he will not be running for president at the end of his current term in 2024.

Also for whatever it’s worth, Pugachev, despite having billions stripped from himself by the Russian government, being currently in fear for his life, and in exile, states, in his opinion, Putin himself is not evil, nor did Putin originally plan to setup a corrupt government when he took power, simply that, “He surrounded himself with like-minded people whom he didn’t know very well and who had served with him in the KGB. They immediately began enriching themselves….Putin wanted to get rich, too. He was a pragmatic person. We talked about this. He didn’t want to leave office poor.”

As for the Russian government’s position with regards to Pugachev, it is claimed that Pugachev defrauded the government of hundreds of millions of dollars which is why the one-time bosom-buddy of Putin originally had to go on the run.

Pugachev counters, “The state steals something then has to defend its theft. In my case the scale is huge, but in other respects this is a normal contemporary practice in Russia.” This has all left the one-time billionaire with, by his own account, only about million to his name which he kept in off-shore holdings. It must be rough…

In truth, this amount is unfortunate for him because Pugachev allegedly was offered a deal from a Russian official that if he paid 0 million to certain entities, his legal issues in Russia would be made to be resolved to his benefit and he could return to Russia.

Further siding in the camp that Putin doesn’t have hundreds of billions stashed away he officially owns, the aforementioned Karen Dawisha, who perhaps gives some of the best account and most concrete details of the alleged corruption within the Russian government in her Putin’s Kleptocracy book, states that Putin’s real wealth comes from his position. “He takes what he wants, When you are the president of Russia you don’t need a written contract. You are the law.”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Again backing up this position, financial investigator L. Burke Files, states, “Putin controls wealth through proxies.” He then makes up examples to illustrate, “Sergey owes his fortune to Putin, so when Putin asks Sergey a favor, the favor must be honored. A luxury cruise, use of a private dacha, expensive consumer goods, etc….Ivan owns a shipping company and owes his wealth to Putin, so when Putin requests a favor, Ivan— like Sergey—honors the request.”

So, is Putin the richest person in the world? While, as Gaddafi demonstrated, it is possible to squirrel away 0 billion secretly, given the level of scrutiny thrown Putin’s way by governments the world over looking into the matter, with nobody seemingly able to come up with any hard evidence, most think this figure grossly inflated, though it is generally accepted that he probably does have at least some significant amount stashed away somewhere.

For most, however, the explanation for his rather luxurious lifestyle is more reasonably explained by the simple fact that he can pretty much have the Russian government foot the bill for anything he wants without much uproar or oversight. And it does seem like an awful lot of his compatriots have gotten exceedingly wealthy during his tenure at least in part thanks to their connections with Putin and him leveraging his position to help facilitate their enrichment. Thus, if that is what has happened, it’s reasonable enough that many of those are happy to scratch his back whenever he feels the need for a new yacht or the like, without Putin needing to have anything in his name to avoid the backlash that would result should he be discovered to have such.

But as to answering the question of Putin’s own wealth, as the consensus seems to be that most of his wealth is tied up in his position and associates, rather than funds he directly has, it seems a bit of a stretch to call him the richest man in the world, though not a stretch at all if talking the money he currently has strong influence over. His position as President of Russia alone would be enough for that.

And as to the idea that he really does have 0 billion simply being held in other people’s names, as alluded to, we’re guessing even if many of these individuals are actually holding money for Putin, that should he step down from power and ask for that money be given to him en masse, or even remain in power and ask for a combined sum of 0 billion, that shortly thereafter memorials and monuments would be being built for the former Russian leader who sadly died in his sleep of natural causes…

Thus, to sum up, while given his lifestyle and various possessions, Putin most definitely does have access to quite a lot of wealth between the Russian government and a lot of friends in high and wealthy places, when talking his own assets, there simply isn’t any real hard data to date backing up the claim that he is the wealthiest person in the world. And, while not impossible certainly, it would be quite the hat trick to squirrel away a couple hundred billion without any world governments able to find hard evidence that he owns a dime of it. Of course, while some might argue access to vast sums should still count- access is not ownership, even if one can benefit from it on some level.

In the end, unless he really is one of the Lizard People, he’s probably not immortal, so at some point in the next few decades he will shuffle off this mortal coil and, perhaps then, like Gaddafi, more definitive data will be revealed. Or perhaps sooner when he no longer has the protection of his position in 2024, as he is constitutionally unable to run for the presidency that year. Although, of course he could always do as he did in 2008 and take a different position while remaining in power.

Whatever the case, for now, at least, while it is technically possible he does have 0 billion in secret, and even probable that he has drastically more than he is letting on publicly, which isn’t difficult given his paltry public assets for a man in his position, given the current data at hand, the needle is seemingly tilted more towards Gates and Bezos being wealthier than Putin, at least in terms of money and assets they officially own.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch: President Trump addresses nation on Coronavirus

Today the World Health Organization designated COVID-19, more commonly known as Coronavirus, a global pandemic. President Trump addressed the nation from the White House this evening to talk about what we know, what we’re doing and how we will respond. Watch the full address, here:


MIGHTY CULTURE

Cockpit video shows a Russian fighter running up on a US B-52 bomber

The Russian Defense Ministry released a video shot from the cockpit of a Su-27 fighter as it raced after a US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress heavy, long-range bomber.

Russian fighters were twice scrambled to intercept US bombers approaching the Russian border around the Black and Baltic seas, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to Russian media.

Three B-52 bombers from the US Air Force’s 5th Bomb Wing flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Eastern Europe in an unusual flight.


The US Air Force released its own statement on recent activities, explaining that “strategic bomber missions enhance the readiness and training necessary to respond to any potential crisis or challenge across the globe.”


#Видео Стратегические бомбардировщики B-52H ВВС США были замечены накануне у государственной границы …

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The US and Russia frequently intercept one another’s bombers in Eastern Europe and over the Pacific.

In May 2019, Russian Tu-95 long-range bombers entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) twice in two days. The US scrambled F-22 stealth fighters and intercepted them. Afterward, the US touted its ability to deter and defeat threats.

Two months earlier, it was the Russians intercepting US B-52 bombers flying over the Baltic Sea during a short-term deployment to Europe. Russia accused the US of unnecessarily fanning tensions.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The Veteran Community Gives ‘American Sniper’ A Huge Thumbs Up


At a recent screening in Hollywood, “American Sniper” received overwhelming praise from the veteran community for “getting it right.”

Also Read: ‘Canadian Sniper’ Is A Hilarious Parody Version Of ‘American Sniper’ 

On Monday, students of the Los Angeles Film School and members of the Veterans in film Television organization were treated to a special screening of American Sniper followed by QA session. Panelists included cast members Luke Grimes, Ricky Ryba, Tony Nevada, and screenwriter Jason Hall.

The special event included behind the scenes footage that showed the magic behind moviemaking and the experience of working on such a riveting story.

“This was my first big roll on a big major film, so for me it was an amazing experience,” said Navy veteran-turned actor Ricky Ryba. “You’d actually be really surprised with the similarities in the military and how things are run on set. To me, that relates to the chain of command. I was used to that, and just the professionalism that you get in the military. You bring it over to the set and they love it.”

Most of the veterans who attended the screening loved the movie, and the QA that offered a behind-the-scenes view into the moviemaking process.

“The QA was amazing, for me as a veteran and how it relates to my experience, I got a lot out of it,” one veteran said.

NOW: Why ‘American Sniper’ Is For Military Wives

AND: Can You Name The Weapons Used In ‘American Sniper’? Take the quiz

Articles

5 things we’d love to do with the Army’s surplus battleship ammo

Popular Mechanics dug this gem out of the list of contract requests from a government website this week: The U.S. Army is soliciting a contract for someone to destroy 15,595 naval artillery rounds originally designed for the 16-inch guns of massive ships like the USS Iowa.


The Army has maintained the shells since the Navy retired the massive battleships that fired them, but these things can’t be safely stored forever and the military needs them gone.

Hiring a responsible contractor with a proven track record is the best way to do this, but WATM came up with these 5 more entertaining ideas:

1. Host history’s best Independence Day party

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
It would look like this, but near a beach while you and your mildly intoxicated buddies got to watch from the shore. (Photo: U.S. Navy PH1 Terry Cosgrove)

So, the Army is looking for solutions in October, which is exactly the right month to start planning the perfect party for July 4th. Especially if the plans involve a few thousand 16-inch artillery shells. Pretty sure those require permits or something. Be sure to tell the permit office that the fireworks will explode over the water or an open, uninhabited area. And that they’re pretty lethal loud.

2. Blowing up a mountain, like in Iron Man

Remember that scene where Tony Stark is showing off the Jericho missile and he blows up an entire mountain range? Pretty sure everyone reading this would pay at least $15 to see a mountain disappear. Call me Army. We could turn a profit on this.

3. Play a real life game of battleship

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
I would tune into this show for literally every episode. (Meme: courtesy Decelerate Your Life)

The Navy is already getting rid of some old ships, and the Army has found itself with way too many naval artillery shells, meaning this is the perfect time to hold a full-sized game of battleship. Pretty sure the TV ratings could pay for the cost of towing the ships into position.

4. Give drill sergeants really accurate artillery simulators

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
That smoke in the back is coming from an artillery simulator. That’s not realistic enough training for our fighting men and women. (Photo: U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. David J. Overson)

Right now, drill sergeants and other military trainers use little artillery simulators that make a loud whining noise and then a sharp pop to teach recruits to quickly react to incoming indirect fire. They’re great, but it really ignores that sphincter-tightening boom that comes with real incoming fire.

Now imagine that drill sergeants threw the artillery simulator and then were able to remotely detonate an actual, buried battleship shell 100 yards away. Right? No one gets hurt, but it would teach those kids to get their heads down pretty quick.

5. Create claymore mines that shoot grenades

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
This is what it looks like with 1.5 pounds of C4. Someone has to try this with battleship shells and their little grenade submunitions. (Photo: U.S. Army Capt. Adan Cazarez)

Stick with me here. Claymore mines are brutally effective. A C-4 charge sends 700 steel balls flying in an arc at enemies. But the Army currently needs to get rid of 835 warheads that contain grenade submunitions and a whole bunch of other warheads filled with Explosive D.

So, how about we cut the grenades out of the submunition warheads, and duct tape them in rows around the Explosive D warheads? Sure, it would probably break a few treaties to use them in war, but it’s perfectly legal for a government to create an awesome piece of performance art on a military range. Probably.

(h/t Doctrine Man and Popular Mechanics)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The chemical weapon so deadly even the Nazis couldn’t use it

In World War II, every country was looking for an edge, so it’s pretty amazing that the Nazis found one and then decided against it – and rightly so. Chlorine trifluoride ignites on contact with almost any substance, burns at over 2000°C, and will melt tanks, bunkers, schools, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with.

Some things are better left alone.


How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

It must have been one helluva weapon if even Hitler didn’t use it (Spoiler Alert: It was).

In 1930, German scientists came across a volatile new discovery. Dubbed “Substance N,” the concoction boiled at room temperature and produced a toxic gas. When ignited, this toxic gas also burned at thousands of degrees Celsius. After decomposing, it turned into the slightly-less-dangerous-hydrochloric acid (that was actually more dangerous because it occurred as steam). It was also corrosive and exploded on contact with water. Or carbon, which is everywhere. This stuff set fire to asbestos.

At first glance, it might seem like an ideal weapon of war, one that keeps killing in many, many forms and doesn’t stop. And the Nazis thought so too. For years they tried to produce enough of the material to effectively weaponize it. The stuff ate through everything, and what it didn’t eat through, it burned.

It burns concrete. No joke.

Nazi Germany would have totally used this weapon if they could have produced and stored enough of it to actually convert to weapons. If they could have safely transported those weapons and used them before the chemical violently exploded, burned, or otherwise ate through whatever it was in.

Turns out the only safe way to store it is to seal it in containers made of steel, iron, nickel, or copper after they’ve been treated with fluorine gas. The fluorine protects the other substances from the Chlorine Trifluoride. The stuff is so unstable, Chemist John D. Clark once said the best way to deal with a failure to contain the resulting fire from a chlorine trifluoride storage failure is “a good pair of running shoes.”

Articles

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

In the opening days of the 2003 Iraq War, automated Patriot Missile batteries downed a British Tornado fighter, killing both pilots. A few days later, another Patriot shot down an American F/A-18 over Southern Iraq, killing that pilot. The people manning the automated missile launchers trusted that the system would work as advertised. Why didn’t it?


Benjamin Lambeth wrote in his exhaustive Iraq memoir The Unseen War that “many allied pilots believed that the Patriot posed a greater threat to them than did any [surface-to-air missile] in Iraq’s inventory.”

“The Patriots scared the hell out of us,” one F-16 pilot remarked. In one case an Air Force pilot actually fired a HARM anti-radar missile at a Patriot battery, destroying its radar dish. No one in the Patriot crew was hurt, and the airman said, “they’re now down one radar. That’s one radar they can’t target us with any more.”

When asked if the error was human or mechanical, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, then-director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said “I think it may be both.”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

A software malfunction in 2008 caused US. Army robots to aim at friendly targets. No one was killed because a human was at the trigger. Those robots were still in Iraq with troops as of 2009.

An analysis of the U.S. Navy’s own data on the development of automated weapons says “with hundreds of programmers working on millions of lines of code for a single war robot, no one has a clear understanding of what’s going on, at a small scale, across the entire code base.”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

An Air Force unit called the Human Trust and Interaction Branch — that interaction being between humans an automated equipment — based out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio is looking to study this interaction to develop new types of recon and intelligence tools via a propose research contract called “Trust in Autonomy for Human Machine Teaming.”

On FedBizOpps (the official government contracting website with a domain name as trustworthy as any payday lender) the Air Force listed a contract for research in understanding “the most significant components driving trust and performance within human-robotic interaction. We need research on how to harness the socio-emotional elements of interpersonal team/trust dynamics and inject them into human-robot teams.”

The $7.5 million contract listing continues with this: “These human-machine teaming dynamics can involve research studying the interplay of individual differences, machine characteristics, robot design, robot interaction patterns, human-machine interaction, and contextual facets of human-machine teaming.”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

In plain language, the research is focused on how humans use machines, when they trust the machines and when they don’t. In the cases of when Patriot missiles shot down friendly pilots, an automated system notified the human crews via a popup that warned the machine would fire if no one stopped it. When no one did, the Patriot intercepted the allied aircraft, just as programmed.

The Air Force contract is another example of the military “not knowing what’s going on.” As the Air Force explores our trust issues with robots, the Navy is warning us that “early generations of such [automated] systems and robots will be making mistakes that may cost human lives.”

Humans do come to trust their machines. Previous studies found that humans will bond with machines. U.S. Army Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians have been found to form emotional attachments to their bomb-disposal robots. They are awarded homemade medals and given names, ranks, and sometimes funerals. This level of trust could be misplaced as the bots are armed and the stakes of malfunctioning become higher.

Other current automated units in the U.S. military arsenal include Air Force Predator and Reaper drones, the Navy’s Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, the Army’s tracked, unmanned ground vehicle called TALON (or SWORDS) and the Marines’ unmanned ground vehicle called the Gladiator.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
USMC Gladiator: Are you not entertained?

Recent news about the increased ability of machines to deceive their human masters and the warnings from the scientific and computing community about the overdevelopment of artificial intelligence (AI) as weapons don’t seem to be a concern, even though the Army is developing an automated RoboSniperCopter and is trying to remove humans from the battlefield altogether. This 2013 Gizmodo piece listed the robots debuted for the Army at a Fort Benning “Robotics Rodeo,” featuring an entry from the company who brought you the Roomba:

Major commercial and scientific computer experts believe AI weaponry would be the third revolution of warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms. An open letter from this community expressed the concern that unchecked arms races of automated death robots would result in drones becoming the new AK-47 (presumably meaning cheap, deadly and ubiquitous).

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

The UN is urging the world’s nations to ban the development of automated weapons, citing the “legal and ethical questions” the use of such a weapon would raise.The aforementioned U.S. Navy report recommended building a “warrior’s code” into the weapons to keep them from killing us all once Skynet becomes self-aware.

 

NOW: 7 Ways Drones Are Ruining Everything

OR: The Use of Military Drone Aircraft Dates Back to WWI

popular

The real story of Jane Fonda and the Vietnam vets who hate her

Jane Fonda is a star of stage and screen whose career began in 1960. She is the daughter of legendary actor and WWII Naval Officer Henry Fonda. Jane, now 83, is long regarded as enemy #1 among Vietnam veterans (because Ho Chi Minh is dead and even if he weren’t it would be a close vote).


 

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Fonda was a prominent antiwar protestor in the 70’s, focused on the rights of troops while in the military and of those who wanted to resist being drafted. She was primarily associated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to which she gave a lot of time and money. Fonda was no more or less a lightning rod for criticism than any other celebrity who spoke against the war during that time, but that all changed in 1972.

Jane Fonda

She went to Hanoi that year to tour villages, cities and infrastructure. A series of photos of her sitting at an NVA anti-aircraft battery earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane” and the undying spite of Vietnam veterans everywhere. There were also rumors she turned over secret messages from POWs to their captors. This is not true, but still, her father was probably more than a little disappointed in her.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

 

“There is one thing that happened while in North Vietnam that I will regret to my dying day. I allowed myself to be photographed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun,” she wrote in 2011. “It happened on my last day in Hanoi. It was not unusual for Americans who visited North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations and when they did, they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I was told to wear during the numerous air raids I had experienced.”

To this day, Fonda feels the scorn of the military veteran community. If you want to get a feel for how much scorn  the community feels, just Google “Jane Fonda Vietnam.” I’ll wait.

In 2005, a Navy vet spat tobacco at her during a book signing. There are Facebook groups like “Why We Hate Jane Fonda” and “Jane Fonda – we spit on your grave.” Veterans invite Fonda to go to Syria and take photos with ISIS. Even the war-zombie comic “68” has a Fonda-like character.

 

The hatred persists, even among non-Vietnam veterans and people who weren’t even born in 1972. Despite her attempts at apologies, and given the level of vitriol levied at her even 40+ years later, the anger and hatred is not likely to end any time soon.

“Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad,” she told the audience, according to the Frederick News-Post. “It hurts me and it will go to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”

NOW: 17 wild facts about the Vietnam War

OR: John McCain describes what it was like to be a war prisoner in Vietnam

MIGHTY TRENDING

Saudi prosecutor indicts 11 in Khashoggi murder, not crown prince

Saudi Arabia is seeking the death penalty for five suspects in the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In a Nov. 15, 2018 statement, the Saudi public prosecutor said that 11 suspects had been indicted in Khashoggi’s death and that he had requested the death penalty for five of them. None of the suspects were named.

The spokesman for the public prosecutor said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no knowledge of the killing, Agence France-Presse reported. Crown Prince Mohammed functions as an absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia with control over courts and legislation.


The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, echoed that claim, telling a separate press conference on Nov. 15, 2018: “Absolutely, his royal highness the crown prince has nothing to do with this issue.” He added that “sometimes people exceed their authority,” without naming any names.

The five people who were recommended for the death penalty are charged with “ordering and committing the crime,” the public prosecutor said.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who criticized the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed in articles for The Washington Post, died inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. He held a US green card and lived near Washington, DC, for at least a year before his death.

How Khashoggi died, according to Saudi Arabia

The Saudi deputy public prosecutor, Shaalan al-Shaalan, told reporters on Nov. 15, 2018, that Khashoggi died from a lethal injection after a struggle inside the Saudi Consulate and that his body was dismembered and taken out of the consulate, according to Reuters.

The agents killed Khashoggi after “negotiations” for the journalist’s return to the kingdom failed, Shaalan said.

He added that the person who ordered the killing was the head of the negotiating team that was dispatched to Istanbul to take Khashoggi home.

The whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body are not known, Shaalan added.

Riyadh has changed its narrative of the death multiple times, having initially claimed that Khashoggi safely left the consulate shortly after he entered and then said weeks later that Khashoggi died in a fistfight as part of a “rogue operation.”

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said that the prosecutor’s Nov. 15, 2018 statement was not “satisfactory” and called for “the real perpetrators need to be revealed.”

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu said, according to the Associated Press: “I want to say that we did not find some of his explanations to be satisfactory.”

He added: “Those who gave the order, the real perpetrators need to be revealed. This process cannot be closed down in this way.”

In early November 2018 Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi leadership of being behind the killing.

Saudi officials have repeatedly tried to distance its leadership, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed, from the killing. There is increasing evidence, however, suggesting that people with close ties to the crown prince were involved in Khashoggi’s death.

In his Nov. 15, 2018 statement, the Saudi prosecutor also said the country had detained 21 people over the killing. Riyadh said in October 2018 that it had detained 18 suspects and dismissed a top general.

That general has since been named by The New York Times as Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was promoted to Saudi intelligence in 2017.

Riyadh wants the audio of Khashoggi’s last moments

The Saudi prosecutor on Nov. 15, 2018, added that the office had “submitted formal requests to brotherly authorities in Turkey” for evidence in Khashoggi’s death, including a purported audio recording of Khashoggi’s last moments that Turkish officials have repeatedly mentioned since October 2018.

The prosecutor added that Saudi Arabia was “still awaiting a response to these requests.”

Erdogan said in early November 2018 that he “passed on” the tape to the US, the UK, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country’s intelligence agents heard the recording, but France said it never received it. Britain and Germany declined to comment.

CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly heard the recording during a visit to Ankara in October 2018 but was not allowed to bring it back to the US.

The audio features Khashoggi telling his killers “I’m suffocating” and “Take this bag off my head” right before he died, a journalist with Turkey’s state-run Daily Sabah newspaper told Al Jazeera.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This versatile drone has been around since 1952

Modern drones, like the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, or even the quadcopters you can buy at your local electronics store have changed how we think about unmanned vehicles. But drones have been around a lot longer than you might think. One of the most versatile unmanned vehicles entered service in 1952 (the same year the B-52 first flew) and is still around today.


That is the BGM-34 Firebee. First built by Teledyne, Northrop Grumman now operates this versatile and venerable drone. The BGM-34C has a top speed of 472 miles per hour, a maximum range of 875 miles, and can operate as high as 50,000 feet.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

The Firebee could be launched from ground, sea, or air. The C-130 is carrying two Firebees to give the crew of USS Chosin (CG 65) some practice.

(USAF photo by TSGT Michael Haggerty)

The Firebee was initially intended to serve as an aerial target. Yes, there are old fighters that serve in this role, but when you have to have enough pilots for the 1,983 tactical jets on inventory with the Air Force alone (per FlightGlobal.com’s World Air Forces 2018), something has to fill the gap. Many Firebees made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that missiles worked and pilots knew how to use them.

Fortunately, many of drones can be recovered via parachute and are re-used. This saved money for the times in which pilots missed or when tests didn’t involve blowing something out of the sky. But the Firebee hasn’t always been a turbojet-powered clay pigeon.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

While some Firebees were blown up as target drones, others were recovered and used again.

(USAF photo by TSGT Frank Garzelnick)

During the Vietnam War, some were modified for use as reconnaissance drones. Outfitted with cameras and datalinks, these drones were able to provide real-time intelligence. If they were shot down, there was no need to send in a CSAR chopper to get a pilot out. Versions were also developed for electronic warfare, and they even considered making it an anti-ship missile. The Firebee even saw use during Operation Iraqi Freedom in laying down chaff to cover modern strike aircraft.

Learn more about this versatile and venerable drone in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIZCn_hxxXM

www.youtube.com

Articles

How China could potentially stop a US strike on North Korea — without starting World War III

After North Korea tested a salvo of ballistic missiles designed to defeat US and allied missile defenses in the Pacific, speculation has risen about a possible US decapitation strike on North Korea.


With the help of Stratfor‘s Sim Tack, Business Insider detailed how such a strike would likely play out, but in the interest of keeping the article focused, we omitted a major player — China.

Here’s how China would respond if the US were to attack the Hermit Kingdom.

China has interests in preserving the North Korean state, but not enough to start World War III over.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
DoD photo

China may not endorse North Korea’s nuclear threats towards the US, South Korea, and Japan, or its abysmal human rights practices, but Beijing does have a vested interest in preventing reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Related: China’s J-20 stealth fighter enters military service

Still, China’s proximity to North Korea means that the US would likely alert Chinese forces of an attack — whether they gave 30 minutes or 30 days notice, the Chinese response would likely be to preclude — not thwart — such an attack.

China sees a united Korea as a potential threat.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
U.S. Soldiers move a casualty toward a designated casualty collection point (CCP) with their Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Soldier counterparts during a platoon live fire training blank iteration on Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, near the DMZ, Republic of Korea. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock

“A united Korea is potentially very powerful, country right on China’s border,” with a functioning democracy, booming tech sector, and a Western bent, which represents “a problem they’d rather not deal with,” according to Tack.

The US has more than 25,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, but no US asset has crossed the 38th parallel in decades. China would like to keep it that way.

And without North Korea, China would find itself exposed.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
A Korean Ship sails in formation during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006, the world’s largest biennial maritime exercise. RIMPAC brings together military forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rebecca J. Moat

For China, the North Korean state acts as a “physical buffer against US allies and forces,” said Tack.

If the US could base forces in North Korea, they’d be right on China’s border, and thereby better situated to contain China as it continues to rise as a world power.

Tack said that China would “definitely react to and try to prevent” US action that could lead to a reunified Korea, but the idea that Chinese ground forces would flood into North Korea and fight against the West is “not particularly likely at all.”

Overtly backing North Korea against the West would be political suicide for China.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
Kim Jong-Un on the summit of Mt. Paektu. Photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 19, 2015

For China to come to the aide of the Kim regime — an international pariah with concentration camps and ambitions to nuke the US — just to protect a buffer state “would literally mean that China would engage in a third world war,” said Tack.

So while China would certainly try to mitigate the fall of North Korea, it’s extremely unlikely they’d do so with direct force against the West, like it did in the Korean War.

Any response from China would likely start with diplomacy.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. | KCNA/Handout

Currently, the US has an aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines, F-22s, and F-35s in the Pacific. Many of the US’s biggest guns shipped out to the Pacific for Foal Eagle, the annual military exercise between the US and South Korea.

But according to Tack, the real deliberations on North Korea’s fate aren’t going on between military planners, but between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Chinese diplomats he’ll be meeting with.

Even after decades of failed diplomacy, there’s still hope for a non-military solution.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
A North Korean propaganda poster depicting a missile firing at the United States. | Via Flickr.

“There’s still a lot of diplomatic means to use up before the US has no other options but to go with a military option,” said Tack. “But even if they decide the military option is going to be the way to go — it’s still going to be costly. It’s not something that you would take lightly.”

While no side in a potential conflict would resort to using force without exhausting all diplomatic avenues, each side has a plan to move first.

According to Tack, if China thought the US was going to move against North Korea, they’d try to use force to pressure Pyongyang to negotiate, lest they be forced to deal with the consequences of a Western-imposed order in what would eventually be a reunified Korea.

“China could bring forces into North Korea to act as a tripwire,” said Tack.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
Soldiers with the People’s Liberation Army at Shenyang training base in China, March 24, 2007. | 
DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force.

“The overt presence of Chinese forces would dissuade the US from going into that territory because they would run the risk of inviting that larger conflict themselves.”

For the same reason that the US stations troops in South Korea, or Poland, China may look to put some of its forces on the line to stop the US from striking.

Related: Chinese troops are reportedly patrolling in Afghanistan

With Chinese soldiers in Pyongyang and around North Korea’s main nuclear infrastructure, the US would have to think long and hard about bombing these critical targets.

It’s pretty likely that China would try to force the “infallible” ruler’s hand.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents

Even China, a country often indifferent to international opinion that has strict prohibitions on free speech internally, wouldn’t want to stand up and back the murderous Kim regime.

Chinese forces in North Korea would “be in a position to force a coup or force Kim’s hand” to disarm, said Tack.

“To make sure North Korea still exists and serves Chinese interests while it stops acting as a massive bullseye to the US,” he added.

That would be an ideal result for China, and would most certainly preclude a direct US strike.

But even if China does potentially save the day, it could still be perceived as the bad guy.

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard

Chinese leaders wants to avoid a strong, US-aligned Korea on its borders. They want to prevent a massive refugee outflow from a crushed North Korean state. And they want to defuse the Korean peninsula’s nuclear tensions — but in doing so, they’d expose an ugly truth.

US President Donald Trump has accused China of refusing to help with North Korea.

If China unilaterally denuclearized North Korea to head off a US strike, this would only vindicate that claim, and raise questions as to why China allowed North Korea to develop and export dangerous technologies and commit heinous human rights abuses.

So what happens in the end?

How the KGB trained its ‘illegal’ sleeper agents
Chinese and US sailors observe a gun exercise aboard the Chinese Navy frigate Hengshui during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo: Chinese Navy Lt. Cmdr. Zeng Xingjian)

For China, it’s “not even about saving” the approximately 25 million living under a brutal dictatorship in North Korea, but rather maintaining its buffer state, according to Tack.

China would likely seek to install an alternative government to the Kim regime but one that still opposes the West and does not cooperate with the US.

According to Tack, China needs a North Korean state that says “we oppose Western interests and we own this plot of land.”

If China doesn’t exert its influence soon, it may be too late.

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