Cable reveals manual for handling defectors
A few years ago a former U.S. intelligence official doing business in the Middle East was alerted that an al-Qaeda financier wanted to defect, and was asked to help. The former official agreed and called up the CIA station in the local U.S. Embassy.
"Bring him in," a CIA man said.
"Not gonna happen," the former official responded: The defector would certainly know that the embassy was closely watched and refuse to go anywhere near the place.
"You have to go get him," he said.
"We can't do that," the CIA officer said. U.S. operatives were forbidden to travel in the high-danger area where the would-be defector was located.
No deal. The al-Qaeda banker may still be out there, as far as the former official knows.
Two former CIA operatives corroborated this account in general terms, on the basis that the city not be identified.
As it turns out, the State Department was soon to issue classified guidance to U.S. embassy personnel, marked “Secret,” on how to handle defectors. It’s highly unlikely that there was any connection between the incident described above and issuance of the manual, “Walk-in Guidance for 2009: Handling Foreign National Walk-ins, Defectors and Asylum Seekers.”
But the document, one of the more than 250,000 cables released this week by WikiLeaks, seems absent of instructions on how to handle a defector who says he doesn’t want to risk his life by driving up to, much less standing in line at, an American embassy where al-Qaeda and its allies are likely watching.
Perhaps such a circumstance was beyond the purview of the “guidance.”
It does say that “legitimate walk-ins may exhibit nervous or anxious behavior, particularly because host nation security forces around many of our diplomatic posts make it difficult for walk-ins to approach our facilities discreetly.”
Embassy security briefings “should also stress the importance of not drawing attention to the walk-in or alerting host nation security personnel ” the manual says.
In places like Afghanistan and Iraq, of course, the local security forces outside the embassy may well have been penetrated by insurgents. Just this week an Afghan police trainee turned his weapons on U.S. military advisers, killing six.
But there’s no word in the manual about what to do when a phone call to the embassy’s switchboard in, say, Beirut, carries the trembling voice of senior al-Qaeda operative who says he wants somebody to come get him.
Customarily, such calls are referred to the CIA and FBI contingents in the embassy.
But that, oddly enough, is a secret. The manual says “the fact that a walk-in may be referred to other post officials for a decision on further actions is classified, and may not be shared with non-cleared personnel.”
| December 1, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence
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