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Posted at 3:49 PM ET, 11/29/2010

Former State Department intelligence chief says spy orders unprecedented

By Jeff Stein

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.”

By Jeff Stein  | November 29, 2010; 3:49 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Media  
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Ok, credit card numbers and things like that are "spying" things that State isn't supposed to do. But telephone numbers and emails? Please. How else do you build an address book. It's all on their business card. Get real or you won't get credibility.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | November 29, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it was a trap. If US diplomatic personnel followed such directives, contrary to true diplomatic principals, then they were run out of the service, or reassigned.

But who knows, maybe they were serious. After all, they used Blackwater for diplomatic protection, and still do.

Posted by: glenmayne | November 29, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse


Look at page 373 - compare it in BOTH files they have.

Not good.

remember, this is DOJ that leaked it.

Posted by: HRPuffinstuff | November 29, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Cables such as the one referred to in this article have been routinely sent out by the State Department to missions abroad for decades. Such cables represent topics of interest to the foreign policy and intelligence communities in Washington. Before being sent, they are coordinated within the foreign policy and intelligence communities and serve as guidelines for reporting by overseas posts. I do not recall such cables asking for credit card numbers, etc, but getting telephone and fax numbers, email addresses of foreign officials is a routine requirement. A cable such as this is so routine that it would never be shown to a senior official such as Carl Ford. Abroad, such cables help the embassy or consulate in preparing its annual reporting plan, an exercise directed by the State Department to guide missions in preparing relevant reporting of interest to policy-makers in Washington. To anyone who has worked in the State Department these cables are totally unremarkable and routine. The only thing that makes this cable unique is that it has been leaked.

Posted by: edabington | November 29, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

To edabington;

Maybe these directives are like the teenager who buys rubbers at the drugstore. He picks up the rubbers but also buys a lot of other ordinary sundry items in an attempt to conceal the real purchase.

Posted by: glenmayne | November 29, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

As a career State employee, I can affirm that edabington's comment above is correct. It's important to understand that these are only advisory tasking not operational directives to diplomats. Basically this is a routine mechanism for the intelligence community to tell embassies abroad "if you happen incidentally to become aware of these pieces of information, we'd appreciate it if you would please send it in." The cable also provides a reference number to include with any response to help the info get to the right place. There is no requirement for any US mission to respond to this advisory tasking.

Posted by: SBrent | November 29, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

We can infer that Qadhafi is a fan of the British comedy "Are You Being Served" and is trying to emulate Young Mr. Grace, who also went everywhere with a voluptuous nurse.

To solve the budget problem they could sell this stuff to the National Enquirer. How about some paparazzi pics of Qadhafi and his nurse.

Posted by: StanKlein | November 29, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

The type of information requested suggests to me that is was requested by the NSA for their "Echelon" electronic data collection and mining system, (although it might also have been for the FBI's similar "Carnivore" system). The addresses, numbers and handles would be used for identifying communications of interest out of the vast flow of electronic data intercepted. WaPo's own David Ignatius did a short piece about these kinds of systems back in May, 2006.

Posted by: Adam_Smith | November 29, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Why wouldn't they collect credit card and frequent flyer information from the credit bureaus and air lines?

Seems pretty useless to collect information that cannot be legally used and that's easier to obtain from Americans who have direct access to it.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 29, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I can understand why a department would collect identification and contact information of individuals. It would be entirely routine and mundane, but some of the information asked for seems to be that which an intelligence service would be uniquely interested in. As a past employee of a marginal 'intelligence' agency (NGA), I am inclined to view such requests as attempts to seduce individuals into the intelligence collection game and mindset. Spy agencies do it routinely and are constantly seeking sources of information, such as from journalists, etc.
It's much like evangelical Christians whose religious commitment requires that they convert the nonbeliever.
Has Secretary Clinton continued the mandate of Secretary Rice that foreign officers be deployed to hostile and hazardous posts against the will of the individual officer, i.e. Iraq? I recall that there was much objection to such an order at the time.
Why does the State Department continue to use the services of a company like Blackwater, now called Xe Services LLC, for diplomatic protection? Why has Blackwater changed it's name to Xe Services, and why has Eric Prince resigned as chairman and CEO and put the company up for sale? These are rhetorical questions about Blackwater.
Why are state department 'cables' widely available on DoD computer systems? Was this the case before the internet?

If war is the result of failed diplomacy then perhaps the state department has failed by allowing the military to insinuate themselves among their ranks.

Posted by: glenmayne | November 29, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

> Has Secretary Clinton continued the mandate of Secretary Rice that foreign officers be deployed to hostile and hazardous posts against the will of the individual officer, i.e. Iraq? I recall that there was much objection to such an order at the time.

As I and others have pointed out repeatedly, there was some talk of "directed assignments" to Baghdad during the previous administration, including at a meeting between State Department administrators and employees that was opened to the press, but this step was not needed as all posts were filled by volunteers.

Posted by: ex-Virginian4 | November 30, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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