CIA documents now accessible online

CIA documents already released have now been made accessible online via CREST (CIA Records Search Tool). I learned of this here and have just completed a fairly quick sift through the 247 documents produced by an Advanced Search using the term ‘diplomatic cover’ (inverted commas included, of course). The majority are ‘open source’ (press clippings, and so on) but there are also some interesting in-house papers (letters. memos, reports, etc), albeit inevitably redacted in places. As a result of what I have read, I am in the process of adding to the Updating Page for the chapter on Secret Intelligence in my textbook. I should add that I realised belatedly that a search using the term ‘official cover’ would be more productive, and indeed this turns up 659 documents, with a much greater preponderance of those generated by the CIA itself. (I have now, 6 Feb., sifted these as well.) A serious student of the interface between diplomacy and secret intelligence should certainly look at these as well. Have a look.

January 18th, 2017|

The Trump-Russia Dossier cannot be dismissed lightly

Published by BuzzFeed here, if this is fake news it was drafted by a master forger. On balance, I am inclined to think it authentic. It is said by doubters to have a few mistakes, but what documents don’t have them? Also, I disagree with the common press view that it should not have been published because it is ‘unverified and unverifiable’. On this argument, secret intelligence reports that turn up would never be seen by the public. Such documents obviously cannot cite their human sources for fear of jeopardizing careers and even lives. But those that come to light can be tested for veracity in some degree on the basis of their provenance* and internal evidence. On both of these counts, the Trump dossier cannot be dismissed lightly. The pity is that US-Russia relations should be improved and this will not help that cause.

*The author is the former SIS officer, Christopher David Steele, who had cover as Second Secretary (Chancery) in the British Embassy in Moscow from 1990 until 1993 and later as First Secretary (Financial) at the Paris embassy from 1998 until 2003, according to The Diplomatic Service List 2006. According to The New York Times, he then became SIS’s ‘top expert on Russia’ at its London headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, until retiring (early) in 2009 to become what an earlier era called an ‘intelligencer’, an intelligence-gatherer for hire, and one with a good reputation among his peers. In the latest edition of my textbook (see above), I have a new chapter, ‘Secret Intelligence’, that gives particular attention to the question of diplomatic cover for intelligence officers.

See also ‘UK’s former Moscow ambassador in spotlight over Trump dossier: Sir Andrew Wood says he rates judgment of report author Christopher Steele, who “would not make things up”’, Guardian, 13 January 2017

UPDATE: PARTIAL CORROBORATION REVEALED HERE BY CNN ON 10 February

January 12th, 2017|

‘Who would want to be a diplomat now?’

‘Who would want to be a diplomat now? Civil servants are judged as though they are reality TV contestants, while reality TV stars have inherited the Earth.’ So writes one of the Guardian’s sharpest columnists, Marina Hyde, in the wake of the resignation of Britain’s unfairly attacked EU Ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, and the characteristically mad, public suggestion by Donald Trump that his fellow know-nothing, Nigel Farage, would make a great British ambassador to the United States. And this before it was revealed that the next president had required the departure of all political appointees holding US ambassadorial posts by the date of his inauguration. Marina Hyde might nevertheless have mentioned – although probably took its significance to be too obvious – that Trump’s incontinent tweeting, emulated in varying degrees by some other political leaders, massively complicates the work of, and thereby further demoralises, professional diplomats. What is to be done? Jesuits faced by persecution, I learned recently, acted on the maxim: silence, exile, cunning. Distant foreign postings no longer give diplomats the degree of protection akin to that provided by political exile that was once the case, but they can still offer some – and are, indeed, still occasionally used for this purpose. They are also trained to speak and act with guile. They should be encouraged, too, by considering that the world has a way of turning, that diplomats will soon be seen to be needed more urgently than ever, and that Donald Trump – for all his juvenile grotesqueries – believes in ‘deal-making’ and rightly attaches high priority to improving relations with Russia.

Purely by coincidence, the course on ‘Diplomatic Theory and Practice’, based on my textbook, launches again on 20 February. See here for how to apply.

January 9th, 2017|

Q: When is a flying buttress not a flying buttress? A: When it is one promised by Boris Johnson

In the first of his widely unanticipated speeches on foreign affairs, delivered at Chatham House in London on 2 December 2016, British foreign secretary and court jester Boris Johnson devoted almost twice as much space to the (admittedly worrying) prospects for the African elephant as to the implications for Europe policy of Brexit. This was bad enough. But among the mere 109 words he employed on the latter subject was a statement on security with Britain’s European friends which said – employing an architectural metaphor of which he is fond – that ‘our role is to be a flying buttress, supportive of the EU project, but outside the main body of the church.’ Even by Johnson’s standards, this was a preposterous thing to say. First, to be of any use, a building’s flying buttress needs to be strong but – as the great majority of respected economists maintain – Britain’s economy will be seriously weakened by departure from the single market, and its ability to maintain an already diminished military establishment will itself be weakened further, along with it. Second, Britain’s abandonment of the EU will in any case be destructive rather than supportive of the ‘EU project’, for the simple reason that it will encourage other anti-EU forces across the continent to bring it tumbling down. A more appropriate metaphor from the building trade for the policy of Brexit relative to the ‘European project’, particularly one shaped by a court jester, would be ‘flying wrecking ball’. In the middle of the nineteenth century, so appalled was he by the number of mad ministers who had found their way to the Foreign Office (yes, there are precedents) that the consul-general and brilliant satirist Grenville-Murray urged Parliament to make provision for dealing with them via passage of a ‘Mad Ministers Act’ (A Diplomatic Whistleblower in the Victorian Era, pp. 89-90). Such legislation might have spared us Mr B. Johnson – and saved the world, for that matter, if it had been emulated across the Atlantic.

December 6th, 2016|

The Post-Truth Society

I can add nothing to what A. C. Grayling has written so trenchantly on this subject. (To dwell on it too much provokes the same reaction as inadvertently catching sight of the Daily Liar – sorry – Mail: it makes me feel sick.) See also The New European, in which A. C. Grayling also writes and which I warmly support.

November 30th, 2016|