After leaks, paint lips
- Diplomacy loses trust factor
Washington, Nov. 29: The next time an Indian minister or a senior civil servant accepts an invitation to dinner at the residence of an American diplomat in New Delhi, he is likely to wish that the dress code for the dinner included gloves in addition to the usual prescription of “lounge suit/national dress”.
It is equally likely that if the invitee is male, he will wear some lip balm; or an extra coat of lipstick if the guest is a woman.The gloves will prevent his or her fingerprints from being taken and the hope will be that the lip balm or lipstick will make it difficult for American diplomats to extract DNA from a glass from which wine has been sipped once the dinner is over and the guests have all left
.This may be a vivid, but by no means, an extreme scenario
. At some point in the coming months, when the latest WikiLeaks revelations of classified cables from US embassies around the world are analysed and the dust has settled down, some sort of “Top Secret” cable is bound to go out from South Block with instructions to Indian diplomats advising caution in dealings with their American counterparts. So it should be.
Simultaneously, Indian intelligence agencies will give briefings to those who hold sensitive jobs in ministries like defence and home, men and women who have to deal with foreigners in or out of their governments, on a set of new “dos” and “don’ts”.
This is nothing unusual. During the Cold War, western diplomats who were posted to Moscow and the capitals of Soviet satellite countries had very clear and precise instructions on dealing with their hosts.
In capitals like East Berlin or Sofia, it was presumed that every East German or Bulgarian who came into contact with a western diplomat was presumed to be a communist agent either on the lookout for recruits or waiting to trap westerners into some compromise.
Even western jouranlists who were posted to Moscow in those years had a code of conduct on how to deal with their Soviet contacts.In sheer practical terms, the most serious fallout of the publication of the secret US diplomatic dispatches on American diplomacy will be that their career diplomats will have significantly forfeited the trust of their hosts
.Since the last quarter of the 15th century
, when Spain and England exchanged the first recorded instance of resident ambassadors in each other’s capitals, trust has been the sheet anchor of modern diplomacy. All else was qualified by the level of that basic trust or by its absence
, as in the case of India and Pakistan.The Bush administration tried to undermine everything from freedom of information to the Geneva Conventions during its eight years in power
: it would appear from the leaks yesterday that fitting into that pattern was then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s instructions to US diplomats to wade into the murky world of intelligence gathering as part of their conventional work at embassies abroad
But clearly, her successor, Hillary Clinton, improved on those methods
. Or so it would seem from the leaks.In a cable
she sent out on July 31 last year, for example, Clinton asked career foreign service officers, as part of a “National Humint Collection Directive”, to spy on diplomats of other countries at the UN to the extent of getting their personal credit card details, frequent flyer numbers, email addresses and passwords, telephone details, “biometric information”, and “personal encryption keys”
“Humint” is short for human intelligence, the product of personal espionage, while “biometric information” commonly refers to fingerprints, digital photographs and iris scans. “Encryption keys” refer to codes which are needed to unlock secret telegrams sent by other governments in altered text that is readable only by those who have the codes to decipher them
It will be argued that there have always been CIA stations at major US embassies like New Delhi. But more often than not, host countries knew who manned those stations
. For those engaged in diplomacy, it is not a difficult task to find out.
But there have been firewalls between diplomats and spies, both within the embassies and in dealings between host governments and embassies.
Which is why when there have been expulsions from the US embassy in New Delhi — there have been some in the last two decades which were mutually managed by the two governments without incident — those who were asked to leave were invariably CIA personnel and not career diplomats.The long term-damage done to US diplomacy may not really from the leaks of cables this week but from actions by Rice and Clinton in largely eliminating the line that separated professional spies from career diplomats
Which maybe why state department spokesperson P.J. Crowley tweeted with alacrity as soon as WikiLeaks material began surfacing on the Internet on Sunday. “Our diplomats are diplomats. They are not intelligence assets,” he wrote in one Twitter message.
In another tweet, he wrote: “Diplomats collect information that shapes our policies and actions. Diplomats for all nations do the same.” Which was eerily reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s declaration in Parliament with a straight face many years ago that there was not a single RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent in any Indian embassy.