Washington: The United States has ordered its diplomats to play a larger intelligence role by performing espionage work like obtaining the credit card and frequent flyer numbers of foreign dignitaries, according to leaked US documents published Sunday.
Secret cables — leaked by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and published in newspapers including the New York Times and The Guardian in Britain — reveal that US State Department personnel are asked to glean highly personal information from UN officials and key players from countries around the world.
The cables alluding to work usually associated with the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy bodies were sent to embassies in Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe, Latin America and the US mission to the United Nations.
For example, a classified directive sent to US diplomats under US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s name in July last year sought technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, The Guardian said.
These included passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications, it reported.
The New York Times said that one cable signed by Clinton sought “biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats” from US diplomats at the US mission to the United Nations in New York.
The Guardian said the directive also sought intelligence on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s “management and decision-making style and his influence on the secretariat.”
Washington also asked for credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN officials, the British daily added.
The secret “national human intelligence collection directive” was sent to US missions at the UN in New York, Vienna and Rome as well as 33 embassies and consulates.
A similar directive issued under Clinton’s name in April 2009 sought out details about key figures in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, according to the Guardian.
The list asked for data “including health, opinions toward the US, training history, ethnicity... and language skills of key and emerging political, military, intelligence, opposition, ethnic, religious, and business leaders,” said the cable on the Guardian website.
“Data should include email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans,” it said.
The directive also asked for reporting officers in the so-called African Great Lakes states to provide details on airfields, army camps and other military facilities as well as on military equipment.
The New York Times reported that one cable signed by Clinton sought from US diplomats at the US mission to the United Nations in New York “biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats.”
The New York Times also said that the State Department asked for “details about personal relations between Bulgarian leaders and Russian officials or businessmen,” in a cable sent last year to the US embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The Guardian said a directive sent to Cairo, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Amman, Damascus and Riyadh demanded the travel plans and vehicles used by leading members of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
US embassy officials were instructed in another document to gather details about the military relations countries in central Africa have with China, Libya, North Korea, Iran and Russia, the British daily said.
The document stressed intelligence on the “transfer of strategic materials such as uranium,” it said.
It also put a high priority on “details of arms acquisitions and arms sales by government or insurgents, including negotiations, contracts, deliveries, terms of sale, quantity and quality of equipment, and price and payment terms.”
State department spokesman Philip Crowley sought to shoot down the image of diplomats as spies.
“Contrary to some WikiLeaks’ reporting, our diplomats are diplomats. They are not intelligence assets,” he said on his Twitter feed.
“Diplomats collect information that shapes our policies and actions. Diplomats for all nations do the same thing,” Crowley said in a later update to Twitter.