mayor mahlahla.jpgBy Justin Mahlahla

 

In November 1999, Russia detained and later deported a US diplomat on spying charges. Security officials said they had caught Ms Leberknight, a second secretary in the embassy’s military-political department, stealing state secrets “red-handed”.

She was detained and accused of being a CIA collaborator.

The FSB counter-intelligence agency, which took over domestic security operations from the former Soviet KGB, said Ms Leberknight had been trying to obtain documents containing military and strategic information.

Not only that. In February 2008, a US diplomat was arrested on spying charges in Bolivia.

 

The U.S. State Department severed its computer files from the government’s classified network on Tuesday, as U.S. and world leaders tried to clean up from the embarrassing leak that spilled America’s sensitive documents onto screens around the globe.

By temporarily pulling the plug, the United States significantly reduced the number of government employees who can read important diplomatic messages. It was an extraordinary hunkering down, prompted by the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of those messages this week by WikiLeaks, the self-styled whistleblower organisation.

State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, sought to reassure the world that U.S. diplomats were not spies, even as he sidestepped questions about why they were asked to provide DNA samples, iris scans, credit card numbers, fingerprints and other deeply personal information about leaders at the United Nations and in foreign capitals.

Diplomats in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, for instance, were asked in a secret March 2008 cable to provide “biometric data, to include fingerprints, facial images, iris scans, and DNA” for numerous prominent politicians. They were also asked to send “identities information” on terrorist suspects, including “fingerprints, arrest photos, DNA and iris scans.”

In Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo the requests included information about political, military and intelligence leaders.

 

“Data should include email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans,” the cable said.

 

charles ray latest.jpgEvery year, the intelligence community asks the State Department for help collecting routine information such as biographical data and other “open source” data.

 

DNA, fingerprint and other information was included in the request because, in some countries, foreigners must provide that information to the U.S. before entering an embassy or military base, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

 

“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,” The New York Times said in its website.

 

“The cables give a laundry list of instructions for how State Department employees can fulfill the demands of a National Humint Collection Directive in specific countries,” The New York Times website said.

 

The possibility that American diplomats pressed for more than “open source” information has drawn criticism at the UN and in other diplomatic circles over whether U.S. information-gathering blurred the line between diplomacy and espionage.

 

“What worries me is the mixing of diplomatic tasks with downright espionage. You cross a border … if diplomats are encouraged to gather personal information about some people,” U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

 

Crowley said a few diplomatic cables don’t change the role of U.S. diplomats.

 

“Our diplomats are diplomats. Our diplomats are not intelligence assets,” he repeatedly told reporters. “They can collect information. If they collect information that is useful, we share it across the government.”

 

World leaders, meanwhile, were fielding questions about candid U.S. assessments of their countries.

 

In Kenya, the government was outraged by a leaked cable, published by the German magazine, Der Spiegel, in which Kenya is described as a “swamp of flourishing corruption.” Kenya’s government spokesman called the cable “totally malicious” and said the State Department called to apologise.

 

In Brazil, officials declined to answer questions about U.S. cables that characterised the South American country as privately cooperative in the war against terrorism, even as it publicly denies terrorist threats domestically.

 

WikiLeaks has not said how it obtained the documents, but the government’s prime suspect is an Army private, Bradley Manning, who is being held in a maximum-security military brig on charges of leaking other classified documents to WikiLeaks. Authorities believe Manning defeated Pentagon security systems simply by bringing a homemade music CD to work, erasing the music, and downloading troves of government secrets onto it.

 

While world leaders nearly universally condemned the leak, the U.S. and Assange traded words from afar. In an online interview with Time magazine from an undisclosed location, Assange called on Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to resign because of the cables asking diplomats to gather intelligence. “She should resign, if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up,” he said.

 

Crowley, at the State Department, showed disdain for Assange.

 

“I believe he has been described as an anarchist,” he said. “His actions seem to substantiate that.”

 

Defence Secretary Robert Gates played down the fallout from the leaks, calling them embarrassing and awkward, but saying they would not significantly complicate U.S. foreign policy.

 

“The fact is governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they think we can keep secrets,” Gates said Monday.

 

Crowley would not say how long the State Department would keep its files off the classified network.

 

“We have made some adjustments, and that has narrowed, for the time being, those who have access to State Department cables across the government,” he said.

 

A classified directive, issued to U.S. diplomats in July 2009 under the name of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, demanded forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.

 

It also sought detailed biometric information on key UN officials as well as intelligence on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s “management and decision-making style and his influence on the secretariat.”

 

A parallel intelligence directive sent to diplomats in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi said biometric data include DNA, fingerprints and iris scans.

 

Washington also wanted credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flier account numbers for UN figures and “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives.”

 

In addition, the U.S. wanted intelligence on the contentious issue of the “relationship or funding between UN personnel and/or missions and terrorist organizations” and links between the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East and Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

The secret directive was sent to U.S. missions at the UN in New York, Vienna and Rome as well as 33 embassies and consulates, including those in London, Paris and Moscow.

 

The Guardian said in its website that the operation targeted at the UN appears to have involved all of U.S. main intelligence agencies, noting the CIA’s clandestine service, the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI were included in the “reporting and collection needs” cable alongside the State Department under the heading ” collection requirements and tasking.”

 

The UN has previously asserted that bugging the secretary general is illegal, citing the 1946 UN Convention on Privileges and Immunities which states “the premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable.”

 

The 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, which covers the UN, also states that “the official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable.”

 

Meanwhile, Zanu-PF says it has been vindicated by the Wikileaks documents showing that the MDC-T and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, worked in collaboration with America to effect illegal regime change in Zimbabwe.

 

Zanu-PF National Chairman, Ambassador Simon Khaya Moyo, said the Wikileaks revelations are a confirmation that the Morgan Tsvangirai led MDC-T has got no agenda or vision for the country.

 

In his report, code-named ‘The End Is Nigh’, Dell exposes United States attempts to force Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, President Robert Mugabe, out of power, which American officials have always denied.

 

It also reveals America’s expectations and plans for Zimbabwe in a post-Mugabe era.

 

Just like a spy would do, Dell puts together a somewhat candid appraisal of the two MDCs leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube, Arthur Mutambara, Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa, although Dell himself believes the US could have achieved more with different partners.

He says, “Having said my piece repeatedly over the last three years, I won’t offer a lengthy prescription for our Zimbabwe policy. My views can be stated very simply as stay the course and prepare for change. Our policy is working and it’s helping to drive change here. What is required is simply the grit, determination and focus to see this through. Then, when the changes finally come we must be ready to move quickly to help consolidate the new dispensation.”

 

Wikileaks has said it would publish more documents on Zimbabwe – about 1 500 secret communications between US ambassadors in Zimbabwe and the government of the United States. Clearly, the US relied on its diplomats across the globe to spy on other governments and relay confidential information as well as state secrets to their homeland.

 

Disclaimer:

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.