Dead Drop: June 25

DONG GONE?  There was an interesting story floating around this week – about whether a senior Chinese counterintelligence official may have defected to the United States several months ago.  The Daily Beast said there were rumors that Dong Jingwei, a vice minister of State Security (MSS) for China, seemed to have dropped out of sight.  If he had indeed switched teams – he would have been the highest (known) ranking Chinese defector ever. The news excited some news organizations that speculated (apparently without evidence) that Dong might have brought with him proof that the COVID-19 virus escaped from a lab and was not born in a Wuhan wet market. The conservative news site The Blaze said there was speculation suggesting that Dong was the ultimate “walk in,” flying from Hong Kong to California on his own and then calling the Defense Intelligence Agency and offering his services. And there were some intriguing aspects to the story – such as the fact that, for a while, Dong’s images mysteriously disappeared from the Chinese search engine Baidu.  And some observers thought that it would be a simple thing for Beijing to trot out Dong for a photo op if he were alive and well – and living in China.  The U.S. intelligence community is not commenting on the record – which is understandable.  But putting a ding in the Dong story, the authors of the original piece now say they received a call on Tuesday by a U.S. official who insisted on anonymity before saying that their original story was “not accurate.” When asked why they were reaching out to knock down the story – the anonymous officials referred the reporters to the White House – which (reportedly) did not respond.  Then on Thursday, Dong apparently showed up at an event in Shanghai.  There were pictures of him on stage — but no evidence that he spoke. Body double? Evil twin? Or just an initial (speculative) report Dong gone wrong?  And they say good information is hard to come by…

(UPDATE: DING ON OUR DONG STORY: The above mentioned story swirling around about the possible defection of Dong Jingwei, the Chinese vice minister of State Security. As we mentioned in the piece – rumors of Dong’s defection turned out to be incorrect. But also incorrect was when we attributed the original story to The Daily Beast when it appeared first in a Spy Talk article by Matthew Brazil and Jeff Stein. A further defect in our defector story was the notion that U.S. officials called the authors to tell them that their story was incorrect – when in fact the original story made clear that some experts doubted it from the start.  The U.S. official was simply advising the reporters that the rumors were wrong – not their story.  We regret not getting all that right in the first place.)

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

Access all of The Cipher Brief’s national security-focused expert insight by becoming a Cipher Brief Subscriber+ Member.