One of the most controversial revelations of the Wikileaks’ document dump this week were diplomatic cables that appeared to be instructions given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordering State Dept. and U.S. embassy personnel to spy on their colleagues at the United Nations.
Clinton has denied the claims and Administration officials say the cable was not an order but merely a routine request:
A senior administration official said the intelligence community does communicate to the State Department and other agencies what it is interested in finding out about foreign officials.
“The intelligence community managers communicate to us what they are interested in,” this official said. “That message did not change or require diplomats to do anything.”
When asked whether U.S. diplomats are carrying out those directives, this official said “it’s one thing for someone to say ‘Hey, if you come across this kind of thing we’d be interested.’ It’s another thing to say ‘Go out and do it.'”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is being sought by any number of law enforcement agencies on all sorts of charges, spoke out on this issue specifically in an interview with Time magazine. In an excerpt of an audio interview be fully released Dec. 3, Assange says Clinton should resign:
“If it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage activity in the United Nations in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed.”
Does the intelligence community spy on the United Nations? On friendly African leaders? You bet. Does the government want to collect sensitive and personal information on friendly international politicians, like the head of the World Health Organization? Somewhat uncomfortably, it does.But the State Department doesn’t have the capacity to tap phones and suck up data; foreign service officers aren’t trained in tradecraft.