Posts Tagged ‘diplomacy’

Some years ago I ran afoul of the 5th Labour government because I speculated in public that some of our diplomatic personnel and embassies might double up as intelligence collectors. This was in reference to the Zaoui case and the role played by then SIS Director Richard Woods, who had been ambassador to France and Algeria at the time Zaoui went into exile in France from Algeria. Woods claimed that he had never heard of Zaoui until the latter arrived seeking refuge in New Zealand, and that he had never been to Algeria during his entire time as ambassador to that country. I found that a bit hard to believe on both counts and wondered aloud if, to maximise efficiencies given small budgets and manpower, Woods and others worked a bit beyond their official credentials.

The fact that embassies serve as intelligence collection points is not surprising or controversial. After all, it is not all about diplomatic receptions and garden parties. Nor should it have been entirely surprising that the possibility existed that some NZ diplomats held “official cover” as intelligence agents. That is, they were credentialed to a specific diplomatic post, held diplomatic passports and immunity based on those credentials, but were tasked to do more than what their credentials specified (for example, a trade or diplomatic attache working as a liaison with dissident or opposition groups or serving as a handler for a foreign official leaking official secrets). Rather than scandalous, this is a common albeit unmentioned aspect of human intelligence gathering and my assumption was and is that NZ is no different in that regard.

Prime Minister Helen Clark erupted with fury at my comments, saying that I was unworthy of my (then) academic job. I received a scathing letter from the then State Services Commissioner saying that I put New Zealand diplomats in danger. Most interestingly, I received a phone call at home from someone who claimed to be with the then External Assessments Bureau (now National Assessments Bureau) repeating the claim that I was putting lives in danger and suggesting that I should desist from further speculation along those lines (although he never refuted my speculation when I asked him if I was wrong).

Given that background, it was not surprising but a wee bit heartening to read that the Snowden leaks show that NZ embassies are used by the Five Eyes network as tactical signals intelligence collection points. That is, the embassies contain dedicated GCSB units that engage in signals gathering using focused means. This is different and more localised targeting than the type of signals collection done by 5 eyes stations such as Waihopai.

There is much more to come, but for a good brief and link to the original article on this particular subject, have a wander over to No Right Turn.

The deal within the deal.

datePosted on 15:18, November 26th, 2013 by Pablo

There are several things to consider when digesting news about the recently signed nuclear limitation agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the UNSC permanent members US, UK, France, China and Russia plus Germany, with the EU as a mediator/facilitator). First, what is publicly announced about international agreements is not always all that is agreed upon. Often times what is not publicly disclosed is as or more important than the announced terms.

Second, actors given majority credit for an international agreement may not have been as decisive as they and their home media would like the public to believe.

Third, no agreement stands alone or occurs in a vacuum: other geopolitical and strategic considerations are bound to frame and influence the terms of the finalized compact.

The agreement between Iran, EU and six world powers on the conditions by which Iran would de-weaponize its nuclear research program in exchange for a temporary relief from international sanctions is a case in point. The agreement is for six months, with an eye to negotiating a more permanent contract at the end of that period. The 7 billion dollars in sanctions relief is not a huge amount by global standards, but significant in that it demonstrates the effectiveness of the sanctions regime imposed on Iran as well as its the flexibility of it (since it can be reimposed in the event Iran reneges on its promises).

The technical details are pretty straight forward: Iran agrees to suspend the enrichment of natural uranium (U238) beyond five percent and to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium (U235). This is a step away from weaponization because most weapons grade U235 is enriched above 80 percent, which is relatively easy to produce if 20 percent enriched U235 is on hand. Most civilian nuclear energy programs use 3 to 5 percent enriched U235 fuel, thereby making weaponization more time consuming and costly. The agreement therefore does not interfere with Iran’s ability to enrich uranium for civilian power production.

Iran will also curb its use and purchase of centrifuges employed for said enrichment as well as suspend the heavy water reactor extraction methods used to produce plutonium. The entire Iranian nuclear complex will be placed under tighter international inspection controls.

The Western media has variously described the deal as a “US-Iran” or “Iran-Western” accord, but the importance of China and Russia should not be ignored. Both of these powers have friendly relations with Teheran and have supplied it with weapons and diplomatic support. They were not at the meetings in Geneva to serve as props for the US and UK. In fact, their presence in the negotiations should be considered to be decisive rather than incidental, to the point that they may have had a large say in the broader issues being bargained over that eventually sealed the deal.

What might those issues be? That brings up the larger geopolitical and strategic context.

Iran, as is well known, is a major patron of the Assad regime in Syria, currently engaged in a civil war against a Sunni opposition backed by the West and Sunni Arab states. The Assad regime receives funding, weapons and direct combat support from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiia militia that serves as an Iranian proxy and power multiplier in the Levant. Assad also receives weapons from Russia, which has a naval base at the port of Tartus and which considers the Assad regime as its closest Arab ally.

Should Assad fall, not only Russia but more importantly Iran will lose a major source of power projection in the region. This would suit Israel and the Sunni Arab world, as Iran is seen as an existential threat by Israeli and Arab Sunni elites alike. Defeating Assad will pave the way for Israel to turn its military gaze more directly on Hizbollah, something that will not meet with much opposition from the West or the Sunni Arab elites. Israel is less concerned about the radical nature of a future Sunni government in Syria or the fragmentation of that country into sectarian enclaves, as the heterogenous rebel coalition now fighting Assad will be consumed by factional in-fighting that will limit its ability to project meaningful military force across its borders whether Syria as presently constituted remains intact or not. Sunni Arab elites will welcome a Sunni dominance in Syria as another bulwark against Shiia influence in the eastern Mediterranean, again, whether Syria retains its present boundaries or divides into smaller Sunni states.

However, it has become increasingly clear that the leading rebel groups in Syria are led by al-Qaeda inspired jihadis who are as bad if not worse than the Assad regime when it comes to committing callous atrocities against civilians as well as armed opponents. They are people who do not have much regard for the laws of war and who have published videos of themselves gassing dogs using crude chemical weapons (which may have had something to do with the rush to reach agreement on removing Assad’s CW stockpiles in the midst of the civil war), and who have had to apologize for “accidentally” beheading a fellow Sunni rebel leader under the mistaken assumption that he was an Alawite or Shiia Assad supporter (all videotaped, of course). Their atrocities (as well as those of the Assad regime) are well documented in the propaganda war now raging on social media.

Jihadist government in Syria may not be an existential threat to Western, much less global interests, but it is the most visible. It would be the first and most important place outside of Afghanistan where Islamicists fought their way into power (Somalia does not count). That is a significant issue regardless of their actual military power because symbolism matters and diplomacy is as much about symbology as it is about substance.

Following Russia’s lead and over Israeli and Saudi protestations, Western powers have become very alarmed about a possible jihadi victory in Syria, and now see a weakened Assad remaining in power or as part of a brokered coalition as the lesser evil. Hence the previous Western moves to give material and technical assistance to the rebels have slowed considerably while calls for a negotiated solution grow louder. Not surprisingly and following on the success of the Iran nuclear accord, negotiations on the Syrian crisis are now scheduled for January in Geneva, and include the Iranians as interested parties along with those supporting the anti-Assad forces grouped in and around the non-jihadist Syrian National Coalition and Free Syrian Army.

For Iran, this was the bargaining chip. It can agree to temporarily halt its nuclear enrichment efforts in exchange not just for sanctions relief but also in exchange for a reprieve for Assad. As things stood, its nuclear program invited massive preemptive attack and Assad’s fall spelled the end of its geopolitical influence. By agreeing to curtail its nuclear program to verifiable peaceful uses in exchange for a withdrawal of Western aid to the Syrian rebels and sanctions relief, Iran is able to buy Assad enough time to defeat the rebels, thereby maintaining Iran’s influence as a regional power while it re-builds its domestic economy unfettered by sanctions. Israel and the Saudis may not be happy about this, but their narrow interests have been shown to not be coincident with those of their Western allies on a number of strategic issues, Iran being just one of them.

Political scientists would call this the nested game scenario: within the public “game” involving negotiations between Iran and its foreign interlocutors lie other confidential or private “games” that are key to resolving the larger impasse over its nuclear program (Iranian involvement in Iraqi domestic politics might be another). These games are defined as much by those who are excluded as those who are involved in them.

All of this is speculation, and any “nested game” deal on Syria would be part of the non-public aspects of the agreement  and therefore deliberately non-verifiable over the near term absent a leak. But there is enough written between the lines of the public rhetoric to suggest that this may be what is at play rather than a simple compromise on the limits of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

 

Rudimentary rights-based analysis of the Assange affair

datePosted on 13:55, August 16th, 2012 by Lew

It looks like the British government is going to consider storming the Ecuadorean embassy in London to arrest Julian Assange and extradite him to Sweden to face sexual assault charges allegations. [Thomas Beagle points out he has not been charged, so I’ve amended this throughout. Thanks!]

Without getting into the validity of those allegations, or of the extradition process, I’d like to look at how the schedule of rights breaks down for Assange and the states in question, from weakest to strongest:

1. Julian Assange’s right to avoid extradition for an alleged crime on the grounds that he’s doing good things.
This is no sort of right at all, but it is nevertheless what many of his supporters have claimed.

2. Sweden’s right to request Assange’s extradition to face questioning.
This seems clear-cut, although again, many of his supporters have claimed it is not.

3. The UK’s right to undertake its own judicial process in deciding whether to extradite.
The UK, after an exhaustive process, has decided to extradite.

4. Assange’s right to seek political asylum.
Fearing that he could suffer the death penalty if, following extradition to Sweden, he is further extradited to the USA, Assange seems to have a right under Article 14 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights to seek political asylum. I think this is arguable, because the veracity of his claim to persecution is arguable, but anyway, he has done so.

5. Ecuador’s right to consider and grant asylum requests.
Ecuador has the same rights as any other state to consider and grant such requests, and it appears to have granted (or intends to grant) this one (reports vary).

6. Ecuador’s right to the integrity of its sovereign territory, including its embassies.
This is where I think it gets murky for the British government. They argue that provisions in the Consular Premises Act 1987 permit them to revoke consular or diplomatic status from an embassy if the premises have been misused. This article in the Gazette of the British Law Society suggests that it’s a bit more complicated than first seems. I am no sort of lawyer, but my read, in short, is that a diplomatic premise is inviolable under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (even in case of war or emergency), and that residual diplomatic status could continue for a period of time even after revocation (which would be a fairly major step in itself).

As I say, I’m no expert on such matters, but my view is that the chain of rights I have outlined here is pretty sound. I believe the correct position from a rights perspective is for the British government to concede Assange’s right to claim asylum, and Ecuador’s to grant it if it chooses, despite its misgivings. As terrible as the acts that may or may not have been committed by Julian Assange, it seems evident that he retains the right to seek asylum, that the Ecuadoreans retain the right to grant it, and that the UK is on, at best, shaky ground attempting to arrest Assange once succour has been granted by the Ecuadoreans. While respecting some of what Wikileaks has done, I do not much like Assange, nor do I have much tolerance for the legions of his supporters who have sought to absolve him of responsibility for his alleged sexual assault by recourse to character assassination, intimindation and vilification of his alleged victim.

But there are bigger things at stake here than a criminal, even a celebrity criminal, fleeing justice — how host countries respond to diplomatic gameplaying like this is one of them.

L

Politics as the art of hypocrisy revealed (NZ style).

datePosted on 13:34, December 12th, 2010 by Pablo
It is said that politics is the art of hypocrisy and that diplomacy is the art of saying one thing when meaning another. The publication of US diplomatic correspondence between its embassy in Wellington and other US agencies in Washington and abroad (see distribution list below) show that the 5th Labour government was much more closely aligned with the US on security and intelligence matters than it let on in public, and that the push to improve ties with the US crossed the aisle in parliament but was deliberately not made public for domestic electoral purposes.
Rather than read what others have to say about the issue, I figured that it is best to just offer KP readers the opportunity to digest one particularly informative cable for themselves. It is long but well worth the effort reading, and comes courtesy of Selwyn Manning at Scoop, which also has the most in-depth analysis of the subject. Of course, by my publishing it and you reading it we have both apparently broken US laws governing classified information.
I wonder if that means that I will hear the words “cavity search” on my next trip to the US.
07WELLINGTON194
Date: 3/02/2007
98719,3/02/2007 4:55 AM,07WELLINGTON194,Embassy Wellington,SECRET//NOFORN,,VZCZCXRO2665OO RUEHPBDE RUEHWL #0194/01 0610455ZNY SSSSS ZZHO 020455Z MAR 07FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTONTO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3972INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA IMMEDIATE 4773RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH IMMEDIATE 0043RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY IMMEDIATE 0637RUEHSV/AMEMBASSY SUVA IMMEDIATE 0573RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHDC IMMEDIATERUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATERUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATERHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE,”S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 WELLINGTON 000194 SIPDIS SIPDIS NOFORN STATE FOR EAP/FO AND EAP/ANP NSC FOR VICTOR CHA OSD FOR JESSICA POWERS PHNOM PENH FOR POL/MCKEAN E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/01/2017 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, NZ SUBJECT: PM CLARK GOES TO WASHINGTON Classified By: Charge D’Affaires David J. Keegan, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 1. (C) Summary: Prime Minister Clark has announced to New Zealanders that she will use her March 20-21 visit to Washington to discuss key regional and world events with the President and other
Senior Officials. In reality, she has a broader agenda as well: to improve the tone of her dialogue with us and to send a message to the NZ electorate that cooperating with the U.S. is normal and advances New Zealand’s interests. Now in her third term in office, Clark has over the years developed a deeper understanding of the breadth and benefits of the US-New Zealand relationship. She recognizes that sound bites matter, and in response has begun to modulate her public statements to be more positive about the relationship. She also strenuously avoids saying anything critical about U.S. policy. Although a strengthened centrist domestic political opposition may motivate Clark to be more open to us, most of her efforts to improve bilateral cooperation have not been made public, indicating genuine commitment. Over the past year, she has quietly filled a number of key positions with officials who are well disposed towards the United States, and she and her Ministers now treat official meetings with us as opportunities to advance common agendas rather than either public relations coups or something to deny. The PM closely monitors and supports the “”Matrix”” process as well as deeper US-NZ cooperation in intelligence and other issues. She particularly appreciates our cooperation in the Pacific and Antarctica. End Summary. 2. (C) A micromanager, Clark will come to Washington extremely well briefed on the issues. She will likely suggest small but concrete ways to cooperate within the boundaries of the Presidential Directive, such as by regularizing our dialogue on scientific and Pacific Island issues. She will probably announce that New Zealand will extend its military deployments in Afghanistan through September 2009. Clark will not seek any dramatic changes to bilateral policy, which she recognizes would be more than either side’s system could bear. Nor will she make a heavy pitch for an FTA as she did during her 2002 visit, instead leaving that for Trade
Minister Goff’s trip to Washington later this year. 3. (C) We should use this visit to urge continued tangible commitments to the improving bilateral cooperation and NZ’s defense modernization. We should also elicit a greater willingness to publicize our successes where possible. Clark will be setting the pace for improving U.S.-New Zealand relations for the foreseeable future. This visit provides us an opportunity to encourage her to stay the course and to resist negative pressures from those in her party who prefer to keep us at arm’s length. ————————————– MOVING UP THE LEARNING CURVE: WE MATTER ————————————— 4. (C) With over seven years in office, Clark is now the longest serving Labour Prime Minister in New Zealand history. Although she has no clear successor and may run for an unprecedented fourth term, she is clearly already focused on her legacy. Arriving in office well to the left of the political spectrum, Clark began her tenure by stressing New Zealand’s role as a small but principled player favoring multilateral (ideally UN-based) solutions to the world’s problems. Since then, she has witnessed such events as 9/11, cooperation between NZDF and US troops in Afghanistan, and shortcomings of the UN system (such as its inability to react to the 2005 Tsunami). As a result, she has over time focused more on New Zealand’s role in the Pacific region and its relations with Australia and other bilateral allies. 5. (C) Through learning on the job, Clark has clearly developed a more sophisticated understanding of the breadth and importance of the US-New Zealand relationship. Her desire to improve relations with the Administration may be due in part to the influence of Foreign Minister Winston WELLINGTON 00000194 002 OF 004 Peters, but we see evidence that Clark herself wants to improve US-New Zealand ties. Contacts tell us she has especially valued our close cooperation following the coup
in Fiji, and during her recent meetings with PM Howard she praised EAP DAS Davies’ trip to the Solomons. The Ambassador reports that Clark is obviously impressed by our dedication to environmental protection and generous support for New Zealand activities in Antarctica, which she witnessed first hand during this year’s celebrations of USNZ cooperation on the ice. 6. (C/NF) Recognizing that her Government had initially resisted improving the U.S. relationship, Clark has since the 2005 election appointed to key positions a number of officials well disposed towards working with the United States. In addition to Foreign Minister Winston Peters (arguably a marriage of convenience), she has appointed Warren Tucker as Director of the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), Bruce Ferguson as Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Roy Ferguson as NZ Ambassador to Washington; and John McKinnon as Secretary of Defence. Together with Peters and Simon Murdoch, second in command at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these officials have improved their agencies’ coordination on U.S. policy and instructed staff to be helpful to us wherever possible. For example, NZSIS had for months resisted housing equipment needed to implement a possible HSPD-6 agreement with the United States. Soon after his arrival, Tucker ordered NZSIS to be the host, paving the way for negotiations. 7. (C) Clark has been more mindful of the public side of our relationship as well. She participated in the Embassy’s 4 July reception even though she never attends national day events. She was also gracious guest at a media-covered reception at the Ambassador’s residence last May in honor of her favorite Kiwi composer. Mindful that her 2003 remarks about the Iraq war have not been forgotten, Clark now slaps down her Cabinet Ministers for similar offenses. When on January 12 Duty Minister Jim Anderton issued a blistering critique of
the President’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, Clark quickly disavowed the comments and removed Anderton from duty within the day. She was roundly criticized in the media for her actions, but did not budge. After confirming her visit to Washington on March 1, a reporter asked what Clark would say if the President asked her views on the war. Clark merely said she doubted that would happen, adding that New Zealand is not in Iraq and it would be “”gratuitous to offer any advice.”” ———————————CLARK REALLY DOES WANT CLOSER TIES ——————————— 8. (C) Some observers claim Clark only wants to mend fences with the United States to wrest center ground from the opposition National Party, which is gaining in the polls. We doubt this is her main motive. For one thing, polling suggests up to half of all Kiwis believe New Zealand does not need a closer relationship with the United States, and the anti-American sentiment in the left side of her own caucus is well known. Although Labour is losing ground in opinion polls, Clark is far from being in such crisis that she needs to change her foreign policy to get votes. New National leader John Key is charming and confident, but has been in Parliament for only five years and his practical agenda remains fuzzy. In contrast, while many Kiwis consider Clark cold and some question her integrity, we have yet to meet any who regard her as anything less than competent. The majority seem proud of the way she has helped forge a new, modern identity for the country: clean, green, multicultural, multilateral, creative, and yes — nuclear free. Nor is there a chance of the type of leadership putsch within Labour that has plagued National in recent years. —————————————– WE BENEFIT FROM STRONGER COOPERATION, TOO —————————————- 9. (C) New Zealand is small, but concrete improvements in WELLINGTON 00000194 003 OF 004 bilateral cooperation over the past year, including
via the “”Matrix”” process initiated in Bangkok last year, have brought tangible, positive gains for U.S. interests. We continue to cooperate closely on events in Fiji and have come to value the views of Kiwi officials regarding events in E.Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga. We are increasing behind-the-scenes dialogue on N.Korea and Iran, both of which have diplomatic relations with New Zealand. The “”Matrix”” process has also been helpful in enabling both sides to stay joined up in response to other events, such as ensuring that the recent fire on board a Japanese whaling vessel in Antarctic waters would not lead to an environmental disaster. 10. (S/NF) Improvements on the defense and intelligence side have also borne fruit. As Minister in Charge of the NZSIS and GCSB, Clark is read into all major operations involving U.S. intelligence. She understands the implications of a post-9/11 world for New Zealand’s security. She also realized after the Fiji coup that New Zealand had become too reliant on Australian intelligence. Clark grasps that NZ must “”give to get”” and that some of our cooperative operations — such as monitoring radicalizing Kiwi jihadists — strengthen her country’s security. But she also has been willing to address targets of marginal benefit to New Zealand that could do her political harm if made public. Over the past year, she has supported increased counterterrorism cooperation with us. 11. (C/NF) While the Presidential Directive still limits our defense relationship, New Zealand’s push since 2004 to modernize its forces have improved our ability to work together in those areas in which we can cooperate. In support of NZ military activities in the Pacific Islands, Timor Leste, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, there have been more high-level U.S. military visits to New Zealand over the past 6 months than in the previous two years. This March alone, there will be visits by two Admirals for maritime security consultations with New Zealand, France, and the UK, as
well as a yearly call by PACAF Commander General Hester. There have been more U.S. military waivers for multilateral exercises including the NZDF as well. Unlike in the past, the PM and her Government have focused on the substance behind these visits and exercises instead of touting them to the press as a sign that NZ’s nuclear ban no longer matters to the United States. New Zealand continues to be an active participant in the Proliferation Security Initiative, has helped explain the importance of this effort to Pacific Island states, and will for the first time host an Operational Experts Group Meeting in Auckland March 2628. ———- Key Issues ———- 12. (C/NF) Regional/Global Security: In her public statements announcing the visit, Clark has said that she hopes to discuss with senior US officials common interests in counter-terrorism/Afghanistan; regional security and good governance in the PICs and E.Timor; and DPRK, Iran and other nonproliferation issues. Although she told a journalist that Iraq is unlikely to come up, MFAT staff tells us that she knows that this is a major issue on the mind of the Administration. They also say she is likely to raise concerns over China’s role in the Asia Pacific region. Clark will likely announce during her visit that New Zealand will extend its deployments to Afghanistan through September 2009, the longest extension since the Afghan war began. She may also propose that both sides agree to regular consultations on Pacific Island issues. We agree this could send a positive public signal about our joint work in the region, although in reality fast moving events make it a certainty that we will continue to communicate in real time as well. We would also have to ensure that the search for agenda items and “”deliverables”” did not overwhelm our constructive dialogue. 13. (S/NF) Intelligence: Although it will be obviously impossible to publicly highlight the exact nature of NZ’s WELLINGTON 00000194 004 OF 004 intelligence cooperation during
Clark’s visit, she undoubtedly would appreciate having it acknowledged behind closed doors. We should also encourage New Zealand to agree to some public recognition of the HSPD-6 MOU that we understand will be signed during the visit. A public signing ceremony the Embassy hosted when we concluded the US-NZ Regional Alert Movement agreement received positive press play here, which indicates that not all intelligence cooperation issues are tabu to Kiwis. 14. (C) Environment and other issues: Since the Antarctic celebrations in January, Clark has become more aware of the close level of cooperation between US and NZ scientists both on and off the ice. She may propose new areas for cooperation in Antarctica and suggest both sides review the US-NZ Science and Technology Agreement to consider possible new joint research efforts. GNZ officials were struck by parallel references to climate change and sustainable energy in both the President’s and PM’s opening statements to their legislature this year, and Clark may raise this as well. She may also propose cooperation on efforts towards sustainable fisheries. Clark will almost certainly acknowledge U.S. leadership in WTO Doha negotiations. 15. (C) The Public message: Clark will deliver three speeches while in the United States. Unlike her speech there in 2002 on New Zealand’s desire for an FTA, Clark’s address in Washington will present a more positive focus on overall US-NZ relations. This reflects both her understanding that an FTA is not possible for now and her desire to speak to the broader relationship. Clark will deliver a second speech in Chicago covering WTO and economic issues (including a soft FTA pitch) and a third in Seattle on innovation in New Zealand. ——- COMMENT ——- 16. (C) PM Clark will continue to set the course for improved USNZ relations. It is clear there will be no change in New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy in the medium term; even the
new opposition leader John Key has announced that the National Party wants to maintain the ban. National also continues to be vulnerable to accusations of being too close to the United States, which cost it significant support at the 2005 election. If elected in 2008, the Nats will have more political room to work with us if they can build on progress made under this Government towards better US-NZ ties. A re-elected Labour Government will do the same. This visit provides a chance to encourage Clark to set the bar high. We may have setbacks along the way, but the better our mutual understanding of what each side can expect from each other, the less likely that these hiccups will undermine our progress. End Comment. Keegan”,2/03/2007

Gettin’ Jiggy wit dat Wiki.

datePosted on 09:22, November 30th, 2010 by Pablo

The latest document dump by wikileaks, more than a quarter of a million documents detailing “cables” (diplomatic messages) between the US State Department and 274 embassies and consulates from late 1966 until earlier this year, is a treasure trove for diplomatic historians and others interested in the minutia of diplomatic correspondence. As a recipient of such cables in a former life I have found it highly entertaining and informative to read the musings of US diplomats about foreign leaders, sensitive subjects, US perspectives on those subjects at given points in time, with a fair bit of gossip thrown in. Many of these communications came from junior diplomats as well as ambassadors and other senior department officials. Most of them (half) were unclassified, 42 percent were classified “confidential” (the lowest security classification), 6 percent were classified “secret,” and 2 percent were classified “Top Secret-NOFORN” (NOFORN means no foreign eyes may read the document).

The latter is where things begin to get serious and sensitive, and it will be those cables that the US government is most concerned about even if they have been redacted by the news organisations that received the dumps (to their credit several of the news organisations, including Der Speigel, The Guardian and the New York Times, sent the documents to the US government in order to have them vetted for security purposes and accepted most of the suggested redactions that came in response). These cables will be the ones that mention negotiating strategies, intelligence gathering capabilities and methods, people in foreign governments who work with or for the US, military relations within and between states, and to a lesser extent the personal foibles of foreign leaders.

The rest is just normal daily correspondence between embassies and Foggy Bottom (where the State Department is located in DC). They may prove embarrassing to some, but is anyone really surprised that the Saudis and other Sunni Arab Gulf states are deeply fearful of Iran, or that much of the money for jihadists comes from them? Or that the Chinese engage in cyber espionage and sabotage? Or that North Korea and Iran are military partners? Is anyone surprised that Ghaddafi is a weirdo or that Kenya and Nigeria are vast slicks of corruption floating on a sea of poverty and unrest? Or that Silvio Berlusconi can party better than most people a third of his age? Or that some foreign leaders are not the sharpest tools in their sheds?

Mind you, a lot of the correspondence is just hearsay or cocktail party tidbits, and the analytic abilities of the correspondents vary considerably. But that is what routine diplomatic correspondence largely consists of–everyday reporting of things that may or may not be true, may or may not be interesting for reasons other than salacious purposes, and which may or may not elicit a policy response on the part of the US government. In downscaled terms, this will be the same for NZ diplomatic correspondence, so the publication of these documents can offer potential insights into how NZ operates diplomatically (there are almost 1500 cables that mention NZ in the dump, many of which cluster around the issues of Afghanistan, non-proliferation, terrorism and Fiji. That alone demonstrates the areas of mutual interest and cooperation between the two states).

As mentioned, there is much to be mined in this latest dump, and some of the more sensitive information is bound to cause concern in diplomatic circles in Washington DC and beyond. One item that caught my interest and which has been flagged by the New York Times is that US diplomats were instructed to go beyond their credentialed responsibilities in order to obtain personal information about foreign dignitaries and substantive information about different country’s negotiating postures on selected issues. This differs from normal diplomatic reporting because it asks foreign service officers to serve as what are known as “official cover” intelligence collectors. An “unofficial cover” intelligence agent is someone who uses a false identity that has no official connection to the government for which s/he is working. If they get caught they are at the mercy of the government that captured them (think of the Russian spy ring recently broken up in the US). Official cover assets use their diplomatic status to cover the fact that they are engaged in activities for which they are not credentialed and for which they will be arrested if caught. Since they have diplomatic immunity they are merely deported if discovered.

The practice of using diplomats as official cover assets is not new, but the revelations in this document dump demonstrate how systematic is has been while Hillary Clinton has been Secretary of State, and how the UN has been a major target of such activities. That is bound to cause a stir. What is personally interesting to me is that earlier in this decade I suggested, with reference to the Zaoui case and the SIS misinformation campaign directed at him, that I would not be surprised if some NZ diplomats might be serving as official cover assets in areas of diplomatic and security priority (this at a time when the SIS director was a former career diplomat rather than a former judge or military officer like those who preceded him, and claimed to have no idea who Zaoui was before he arrived in NZ even though the director had been NZ ambassador to France and Algeria at exactly the time when Zaoui purportedly committed the “crimes” for which the SIS branded him a risk to NZ national security).

The curious issue of having a former diplomat front an intelligence agency notwithstanding, I said at the time that it would be expeditious if NZ used diplomats as official cover assets, admitting the risks involved in doing so. After all, NZ is a small country with limited diplomatic and intelligence-collecting resources and a good international reputation, so allowing MFAT or other diplomatic personnel abroad to double as intelligence collectors outside of their credentialed positions seems like good value to me (again, understanding the need for acute discretion when doing so).

My comments at the time were condemned by Helen Clark, SIS Director Richard Woods, various Labour Party MPs (I remember former Immigration Minister Leanne Dalzeil disparaging my character), and I even got an accusatory letter from the then-State Services Commissioner (someone by the surname Wintringham I believe) and a strange phone call at home from someone claiming to be from the EAB. The gist of what they all said–besides Ms. Clark prophetically saying that I was unworthy of employment at Auckland University–was that I was endangering the security of NZ diplomats by making such “unfounded” accusations. Well, perhaps I got the idea for making such speculative claims from having worked inside the US foreign policy apparatus, so I just assumed that it would be par for the course in other countries as well, particularly US allies or partners with similar interests in specific areas. Then again, perhaps not and NZ is a much “cleaner” actor on the diplomatic stage. UPDATE: As it turns out, John Key agrees with my speculation: http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/4400719/WikiLeaks-reveals-NZ-pipe-band-cables.

It may be a pyrrhic victory but I guess I stand vindicated on that one.

In any event, I urge anyone with an interest in international affairs to read the coverage of the latest document dump if not the documents themselves. It is amazing to see how the press in different countries cover the story (I read Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese papers as well as the Singapore Straits Times, various British, US, Australian and NZ outlets and other internet sources, and the variety in focus is enlightening and itself a source of information). It will be fun to watch the diplomatic reactions to the revelations in the leaked documents. But what I am really looking forward to is the US embassy in Wellington commentary about the appointment of Winston Peters as foreign minister as well as in anticipation of his visits with US leaders in DC and NZ. Something tells me that they could be unintentionally very funny, if not “glowing.”