Former State Department intelligence chief says spy orders unprecedented
Carl W. Ford, a former head of State Department intelligence, says tasking U.S. diplomats to collect foreign officials’ credit card numbers and other personal data is unprecedented, despite the department’s assurances to the contrary.
“I can't recall anything like this,” Ford told SpyTalk by e-mail on Monday, adding that in the past, American diplomats focused on the personalities and political views of foreign officials, leaving the collection of cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, credit card accounts and other personal data to the CIA, FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
Such information was considered “operational materials not diplomatic reporting,” said Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR) from 2001 to 2003. Before that he was a senior Defense Department and National Intelligence Council official.
“I suspect much of that information was being passed by telephone and e-mail,” Ford said, “but even INR didn't have access to it, the bureaus telling us that it was operational materials not diplomatic reporting.”
One of the documents surfaced by WikiLeaks Sunday is a July 31, 2009 State Department cable to U.S. diplomatic missions, entitled, "Reporting and collection needs: The United Nations." that included a long list of targeted items.
It asked U.S. foreign services officers to collect foreign officials' "numbers of telephones, cell phones, pagers and faxes; compendia of contact information, such as telephone directories ... e-mail listings; internet and intranet 'handles,' internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information."
Robert E. White, a U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations, said diplomats were not tasked with such snooping in his time.
“No. If I, as a delegate to the [U.N. General Assembly] had an invitation from a government with which we did not have diplomatic relations, I would show it to the State Department security team,” White said. “If I decided to attend I would naturally write a report on anything non-routine. I would send the report to the Department and they would take care of the routing.”
White said espionage or counterintelligence work was best left to the professionals.
“For example, diplomats in NYC tend to frequent a small number of restaurants. It would be a simple matter for the FBI to gain the cooperation of the management for credit card numbers, etc.,” he said by e-mail.
“Someone apparently has persuaded the secretary that the war against terrorism justifies the use of diplomats as spies. This is just another example of throwing away an important principle for an illusory gain.”
But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley maintained Sunday that tasking of diplomats for such information was nothing new.
"Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," Crowley said in an interview with Foreign Policy columnist Josh Rogin.
"They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."
Traditional diplomatic reporting, however, emphasizes the personalities and views of important foreign officials, not their frequent flyer account numbers. A classic of the type surfaced Sunday in the WikiLeaks release of a diplomatic cable by the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz, reporting on Muammar al-Qadhafi.
“Qadhafi relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a ’voluptuous blonde,’” Cretz reported on Sept. 29, 2009, part of a lengthy assessment of the Libyan leader.
“He also appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing. His recent travel may also suggest a diminished dependence on his legendary female guard force, as only one woman bodyguard accompanied him to New York.”
| November 29, 2010; 3:49 PM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence, Media
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