Leaked Embassy Cables Lend Credence to Prior Allegations of State Department Spying
Documents Released by WikiLeaks Could Serve as Evidence In Ongoing Congressional Investigation Focused on State Department, CIA
Documents made public recently by the nonprofit media organization WikiLeaks seem to show that U.S. State Department diplomatic employees are being asked to essentially serve as spies charged with gathering specific intelligence on foreign leaders.
State Department officials dismiss such claims, arguing that the classified cables obtained and released by WikiLeaks — an act deemed “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — are being misinterpreted and that U.S. diplomats are only doing the work of diplomacy.
However, the leaked cables, which call on U.S. embassy employees to gather information such as DNA, fingerprints and iris scans, appear to support charges raised in a long-running lawsuit that accused State Department officials of spying, intelligence manipulation and a subsequent effort to cover up of those practices.
That civil-court litigation also has prompted a still-ongoing congressional investigation into the alleged State Department corruption.
As a result, the recent cables made public by WikiLeaks could well serve as evidence supporting the State Department-related corruption charges now being investigated by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This past summer, Narco News broke the news of the congressional investigation, but it has received scant press attention to date.
Earlier this year, retired DEA agent Richard Horn and his attorney, former federal prosecutor Brian Leighton, struck a deal with government attorneys to settle — for $3 million and no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants — a nearly 16-year-long legal battle. In that litigation, Horn accused former CIA and State Department officials of conspiring to plant an eavesdropping bug in his government-leased quarters as part of a larger effort to sabotage his anti-narcotics mission in Burma — now known as Myanmar.
While stationed in Burma as country attaché in the early 1990s, Horn had made inroads in gaining the assistance of the ruling junta in working toward opium poppy eradication in the Southeast Asian nation — long a major cog in the illegal heroin trade.
Horn’s success set in motion a series of alleged overt and clandestine efforts on the part of then State Department Charge d’Affaires Franklin Huddle Jr., then CIA Chief of Station Arthur Brown and others that were designed to undermine DEA efforts in the region, Leighton told Narco News in a past interview.
In fact, as part of his litigation, Horn early on also filed a class-action complaint on behalf of DEA agents who he claims have been subjected to similar clandestine efforts to sabotage their work overseas. That complaint, which was not central to Horn's original lawsuit, was ultimately dismissed, but the pleadings are still of interest in light of the recent release of the State Department cables by WikiLeaks.
From the class-action complaint filed by Horn:
The interception of Hom's conversation [in Burma] was accomplished through a concerted effort by the Department of State, the CIA, and the NSA [which is part of the Department of Defense]. When later stationed in New Orleans as a Group Supervisor for DEA, Special Agent Horn [who is now retired from the DEA] acquired reliable information that it was a pattern and practice of the three Defendant agencies to intercept conversations that DEA agents and others had either from their GLQ's [government-leased quarters] in foreign posts, or from DEA offices at American Embassies, and Consulates and other locations at foreign posts. This pattern and practice was not isolated to this one incident in Rangoon, Burma, nor was it isolated to Special Agent Horn, nor was it isolated to the country of Burma, but instead, it was a pattern and practice of the three Defendant agencies to conduct such activity in other foreign posts wherein DEA has offices.
… Special Agent Horn and all of the DEA foreign post class Plaintiffs allege that it is a pattern and practice of these three Defendant agencies to unlawfully intercept and disclose conversations of DEA agents, other DEA employees, and family members at and from DEA agent offices, and their GLQ's and other locations at foreign posts, on a worldwide basis, and that this pattern and practice has existed for many years, and continues to be done by the three Defendant agencies against DEA Special Agents, employees, and family members serving in foreign posts, and will likely be continued in the future.
The reason the alleged conspiracy was hatched against Horn, Leighton claimed, was that if his strategy of working cooperatively with government in Burma had proven successful, it would have undercut the State Department’s policy goal of vilifying that ruling junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, in the eyes of Congress and the public at large.
One source familiar with State Department operations, who wishes to remain unnamed, described the mindset this way:
Everyone must faithfully sing to the same choir book lest their careers be aborted. The policies are set in Washington, D.C., and it is up to the Ambassador and the CIA Chief of Station to ensure the facts conform to the policy.
The policy controls the facts. The facts do not control the policy.
Officials with the State Department and CIA, including Huddle and Brown, claimed the allegations advanced in Horn’s lawsuit are without merit.
Horn’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., in 1994, remained hidden from public view for more than a decade because the CIA invoked the “state secrets privilege,” claiming the litigation implicated national security.
The CIA’s claims, however, were later shown to be bogus, prompting federal Judge Royce Lamberth last year to unseal the case. In addition to the alleged spying carried out by State and CIA personnel and the later deception played on the court by the CIA with respect to the unwarranted national security claims, evidence also surfaced in the case that management at both the State Department and CIA’s Inspector General (OIG) offices pressured their investigators to falsify reports that were favorable to Horn.
Due to the extensive pattern of apparent fraud and corruption exposed in the Horn case, Judge Lamberth, as a condition of dismissing all pending motions in the litigation, pressed the Department of Justice to make a referral to the appropriate Inspectors General for an investigation into the allegations of government wrongdoing in Horn’s case and to notify the appropriate oversight committees in Congress.
Attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice on July 20 filed a motion in federal district court in Washington, D.C., indicating that Congress has, in fact, been notified officially of the corruption allegations involving the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.
A Congressional source, who asked not to be named, confirmed this summer that an investigation was underway by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and possibly additional House and Senate committees, that is focused not only on the corruption charges that surfaced in Horn’s lawsuit, but also some “bigger issues.” Sources in a position to know confirm that investigation is still in progress.
A critical motion filed in the Horn litigation indicates that a former supervisory agent with the State Department OIG had agreed to testify under oath that an investigative report he prepared in the Horn matter “was rewritten without his knowledge or permission, and his signature forged, and his intended conclusions changed.”
That same former OIG agent, Paul E. Forster, also was prepared to testify to the fact that the State Department, like the CIA, controls and operates its own spying equipment.
From pleadings filed in the Horn case:
Forster knows that the Department of State also has eavesdropping devices similar to those at issue in this [the Horn] case. Forster knows this because it was revealed to him by a high-level Senior Foreign Service Officer who has considerable first-hand knowledge. This ranking executive shared much relevant and very specific information with Forster. Forster also spoke independently with two DS [Diplomatic Security] agents who confirmed the existence of the DOS [Department of State] capabilities.One of them played a major role in very technical aspects of the program.
… During the period of Forster’s investigation and in the area of Washington, D.C., Forster had occasion to see the technology associated with the eavesdropping referred to above and the article(s) in which DOS [Department of State] normally concealed it in foreign applications.
The mainstream media has not pursued that quite remarkable revelation, spelled out in publicly available court documents. However, given the revelations in the State Department cables released recently by WikiLeaks, it seems the Horn case, and the associated allegations of State Department spying, might command greater media attention going forward.
In a March 2008 State Department Cable sent from the Secretary of State’s office in Washington, D.C., to the U.S. embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay, a request is made for the following:
Biographic and financial information on all leading [presidential] contenders, and especially on Minister of Education Blanca Ovelar, former Vice President Castiglioni, Lino Oviedo, and Fernando Lugo; and biometric data, to include fingerprints, facial images, iris scans, and DNA, on these individuals.
An equally interesting cable was sent by the Secretary of State’s office in April of 2009 to the U.S. embassies in the Africa Great Lakes region (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda) requesting the following:
Biographic and biometric data, including health, opinions toward the US, training history, ethnicity (tribal and/or clan), and language skills of key and emerging political, military, intelligence, opposition, ethnic, religious, and business leaders. Data should include email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.
Another cable issued by the Secretary of State’s office in July 2009 to some 36 U.S. embassies worldwide asked for the following:
Biographic and biometric [such as iris scans and fingerprint] information on UNSC [United Nations Security Council] Permanent Representatives, information on their relationships with their capitals.
So it appears, across both the Bush and Obama administrations, the State Department issued cables to various U.S. embassies requesting that personnel, including diplomats, engage in what some have argued are intelligence-gathering, or spying, assignments.
State Department officials dismiss those charges as baseless. State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley, at a Nov. 30 daily press briefing, put it this way:
There are entities within our government that have certain responsibilities. … It’s one thing for that [intelligence] community to provide a wish list across the government that helps people understand what is useful. It takes a leap of faith to say that fundamentally changes the day-to-day responsibilities of our diplomats. It doesn’t.
Our diplomats are diplomats. Our diplomats are not intelligence assets.
But the truth is, in the world of intelligence gathering, the CIA is king overseas, and it does use official cover, including that of the State Department, to carry out its clandestine missions. As far back as 2003, Dana Priest of the Washington Post reported that some 20 percent of the “CIA’s workforce is undercover,” many working “as State or Defense department employees” under what is commonly called “official cover.”
Attorney Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with U.S. Customs who has an extensive background in the intelligence world, told Narco News in a prior interview that the CIA also has agents operating inside law enforcement agencies under official cover. He added that when he was with U.S. Customs — which has since become part of ICE — the CIA placed one of its agents in Japan with Customs credentials as a cover.
One Narco News source familiar with the intelligence community, who asked not to be named, says the CIA’s practice of using the U.S. State Department and/or law enforcement agencies as official cloaks for the agency’s clandestine operatives overseas has not changed, and if anything, the source says the number of such operatives has increased in the past decade, post-9/11.
So it is no secret that the State Department, and other U.S. agencies overseas, are often used as foils to conceal the identities of CIA operatives, who may shuffle diplomatic papers by day but rifle secretly through the papers of foreign dignitaries by night.
That’s long been part of the spy business, and it is practiced equally by foreign governments against U.S. interests. As evidence that the link between the intelligence and diplomatic communities is not unique to the U.S., we need only look at the case of former FBI agent Lok Lau.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lau, as part of an incredibly dangerous undercover assignment, penetrated the Chinese intelligence community by posing as a businessman and gaining entry into that world via the Chinese consulate in Chicago. That case, covered extensively by this reporter and the late Gary Webb, also was marked by national security heavy-handedness on the part of the U.S. government — similar to the Horn case and the current efforts to shut down WikiLeaks.
The final verdict is still out on whether the recent U.S. government cables made public by WikiLeaks represent solid evidence that the CIA’s clandestine overseas mission has crept further into the overt operations of the State Department, beyond the pretense of non-official cover already practiced. Clearly, though, the Horn case demonstrates that the State Department, or at least some of its personnel, including a top diplomat, have been accused of spying in the past — a matter that now appears to be in the sights of a current congressional investigation.
That fact makes State Department spokesman Crowley’s public condemnation of the recent surfacing of documents by WikiLeaks — some of which (such as those cited above) might be useful in that ongoing probe into State Department wrongdoing — come off as a bit tone deaf.
"What we’re investigating is a crime under U.S. law. The provision of 250,000 classified documents from someone inside the government to someone outside the government is a crime,” Crowley said in a press briefing today. “We are investigating it. And as we’ve said, we will hold those responsible fully accountable. That investigation is still ongoing."
It would seem no matter the uproar from the U.S. government and elements of the media, and their efforts to paint the messenger, WikiLeaks, as treasonous or criminal, the State Department cables made public by that messenger should still be of value to those involved in the House Foreign Affairs Committee investigation at a minimum. And the committee’s investigation itself should be getting far more attention from America’s so-called Fourth Estate — even if it is now being used as a platform by the government to demonize WikiLeaks for exposing the potentially incriminating State Department cables.
Prior stories on Horn’s case