US expands role of diplomats in spying
The United States has expanded the role of American diplomats in collecting intelligence overseas and at the United Nations, ordering State Department personnel to gather the credit card and frequent-flier numbers, work schedules and other personal information of foreign dignitaries.
Revealed in classified State Department cables, the directives, going back to 2008, appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies.
The cables give a laundry list of instructions for how State Department employees can fulfil the demands of a “National Humint Collection Directive.” (“Humint” is spy-world jargon for human intelligence collection.) One cable asks officers overseas to gather information about “office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cell phones, pagers and faxes,” as well as “internet and intranet 'handles', internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent-flier account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.”
Philip J Crowley, a State Department spokesman, on Sunday disputed that American diplomats had assumed a new role overseas.
“Our diplomats are just that, diplomats,” he said. “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.”
The cables, sent to embassies in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the United States mission to the United Nations, provide no evidence that American diplomats are actively trying to steal the secrets of foreign countries, work that is traditionally the preserve of spy agencies.