Secret Intelligence 2017-04-25T08:14:30+00:00

Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed.  –  Online updating pages

Chapter 10: Secret Intelligence

p. 150, first of two chief purposes: Worth emphasising here is the great increase in the relative importance of so-called ‘economic espionage’ or what is still sometimes called ‘industrial espionage’. Most information of this sort obtained by stealth seems to be the result of home-based cyber attacks on foreign targets but much is still acquired with the assistance of embassies, consulates, and trade missions. It is not only Chinese diplomatic missions that have ‘Science and Technology Officers’, sometimes known as ‘Science and Innovation Officers’. I have added two references  (Hannas and Roper) on this subject to Further reading below.

p. 155, trend to greater use of diplomatic or official cover: The State Department agreed in 1946 to give diplomatic cover to operatives of the US Central Intelligence Group (later CIA), although the letter to chiefs of mission imparting this information was ’sugar coated’ by emphasising not only that they would answer to the chiefs of mission but also be concerned chiefly with ‘security intelligence’ or helping missions by undertaking the clerical work of file-checks on applicants for visas and passports (OSO, p. 6; see Further reading below). However, the trend to greater use of official cover should not be allowed to obscure the fact that, at least in the case of the CIA, after the mid-1950s it was frequently resolved to halt this trend, even to set as a long term goal achieving a position in which the number of NOCs (nonofficial cover agents) would exceed the number of agents under official cover. This was encouraged partly by reductions in the opportunities for placing agents under official cover caused by periodic presidential cutbacks (in part for balance of payments reasons) in the number of US officials and installations overseas and partly by the increasing dangers of ‘thin’ official cover caused by the ‘decreasing permissiveness of the operational climate in many parts of the world.’ It turned out to be wishful thinking because recruiting, training and setting up suitable candidates for NOC work was evidently immensely difficult and took years – and because the constant demand of official customers was for delivery of sound intelligence ‘now’. This story leaps out of the pages of the 659 CIA documents brought up by a search for “official cover” using CREST.

p. 155, diplomatic/consular cover: A very interesting exception to the general rule that SIS officers were ‘never’ given cover as a head of mission is provided by the appointment of the SIS officer, Gordon Philo, as Consul-General at the highly sensitive British consular post (there was no embassy) in Hanoi in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. I got onto Philo via Adam Sisman’s recent biography of John le Carré, and have a long note on him in the section on ‘Novels by former Diplomats and Intelligence Officers’ under ‘Charles Forsyte’ (his pseudonym) near the foot of this page. I should add, though, that – as I recall – tours at this hardship post of all hardship posts only lasted for six months and it was very much a ‘one-man band’.

p. 155, SIS officers under diplomatic cover: two more examples came to light in January 2017 when the authorship of the sensational Trump-Russia dossier was revealed.

pp. 156-7, the value of diplomatic cover: I should have added that the security this provides is the more important because ‘digital exhaust’  fumes make it so much easier to identify them today (see the Corera article on this in Wired, listed below).

p. 158, additional advantages to diplomatic cover: the fourth bullet point here should not have been bulleted at all because it is simply an elaboration of the third bullet point. It is a mistake introduced at copy editing that I failed to notice at proof-reading and have only just spotted (sigh).

p. 159 line 12 up, toleration of ‘legals’ (intelligence officers enjoying official cover) on basis of reciprocity: there is strong confirmation of this point in CIA opposition to a move in 1978 that would have required the Department of Justice to deny entry visas to Soviet bloc intelligence officers seeking permission to enter the United States. This, the CIA pointed out, ‘would almost certainly result in a tit-for-retaliation on the part of the Soviets and other bloc nations,’ thereby drastically reducing if not eliminating the CIA’s ‘operational capability’ in those states. And it would be counter-productive in another way: the bloc countries would simply resort instead to employing more ‘illegals’ and also ‘legals’ with relatively or completely ‘clean’ records, as had happened in the UK, it claimed, after London had expelled 105 Soviet intelligence officers in 1971: ‘The result being not to eliminate the hostile intelligence presence but rather making it more difficult to detect’ (Memorandum … See Further reading below). Implicit in this testimony was the admission that it was much harder for the Americans to plant illegals in the Soviet bloc than it was for the latter to plant them in the USA.

p. 159, Cuckoos in the nest: another reason why intelligence officers might be received coolly in the diplomatic missions of some states is that they are sometimes given the additional task of ensuring the ‘political reliability’ of the diplomats (Dulles … See Further reading below).
p. 159, cuckoos in the nest, line 3 up: eloquent of this tension was the only half-jesting description by Admiral Stansfield Turner (DCI) of the troubled agreement to reduce it negotiated in 1977 by the State Department and the CIA as a ‘treaty of friendship’ (Adm. Turner’s Address … Q & A p. 5; see also especially Action Memorandum in Further reading below).
p. 160, the most common source of tension …: it is important to add here that ambassadors are even more angered by activities of their intelligence officers that might seriously upset host governments if exposed when they (ambassadors) have no warning of them – and therefore no time to prepare any damage limitation. It seems to have been particularly a demand for no more unpleasant surprises that led to the negotiation of the ‘State-CIA treaty’ signed in the spring of 1977 by Cyrus Vance (Secretary of State) and Adm. Stansfield Turner (Director of Central Intelligence).  However, the CIA understandably refused to direct their station chiefs to divulge the ‘operational mechanics or the identity of agents’ to ambassadors, because this would increase the risk of exposure and – if such a procedure were to be public knowledge – ‘be a severe if not fatal blow’ to its ability ‘to recruit foreign nationals willing to commit treason against their own government for the United States’ (Turner to Vance, 23 Feb. 1978). This is no doubt why, in publicly discussing the State-CIA treaty in January 1978, Adm. Turner admitted that it required station chiefs to reveal more to ambassadors  – ‘but not everything’ (Adm. Turner’s Address).

p. 163, ‘diplomatic support’: On 23 March a persuasive report appeared in the Wall Street Journal charging that Israeli intelligence had penetrated the US negotiating team on the P5+1 side of the table in the Iran nuclear talks; and that it had passed the information obtained to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, thereby strengthening the ability of its diplomats to lobby Congress to oppose the emerging deal. This report was widely credited in other leading newspapers.

Further reading: additions and links

Action Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Saunders) to Secretary of State Vance, 9 February 1978, FRUS

Adm. Turner’s Address to the Washington Inst. Of Foreign Affairs, 25 Jan. 1978 CREST

Corera, Gordon, ‘The spies of tomorrow will need to love data’, Wired, May 2016

Corera, Gordon, MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service (2012)

Dulles, Allen W., to Arthur V. Watkins [Chairman, Senate Immigration and Naturalization Sub-committee], 9 May 1953 (CREST)

Hannas, William C., James Mulvenon and Anna B. Puglisi, Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology acquisition and military modernization (Routledge, 2013)

‘Israel spied on Iran nuclear talks with U.S.’, Wall Street Journal, 23 March 2015 

[without a subscription, you will get only one chance to access this article in full]


Kaslon, Matthew M., Review of Inside a Soviet Embassy [CIA ‘Secret’ document: released 1995, posted 2007]

Kaznacheev, Aleksandr, Inside a Soviet Embassy: Experiences of a Russian diplomat in Burma, chs. 7, 8, 13-16 (Hale: London, 1962) [Kaznacheev was trained as a diplomat but, as the only Burmese-speaking member of the Soviet Embassy in Rangoon at the end of the 1950s, was swiftly recruited by the KGB. He defected to the US in 1959 and published an account
of intelligence operations from the embassy highly prized by the CIA – see Kaslon review above.]

Memorandum for the Record, Justice Department Appropriations Report Language, 8 August 1978 (CREST) See also CREST and CREST

OSO [Office of Special Operations] FROM JULY, 1946 TO DECEMBER 1946, 8 May 1952, CREST 

Turner to DDCI, 15 April 1977, NODIS,  CREST

Turner to Vance, 23 Feb. 1978, FRUS

‘US accuses Israel of spying on nuclear talks with Iran’, Guardian, 24 March 2015

‘Allies spy on allies all the time. Did Israel do something worse?’ Washington Post, 24 March 2015

‘Report: Israel spied on Iran-U.S. talks and shared information with lawmakers’, Washington Post, 24 March 2015

Roper, Carl, Trade Secret Theft, Industrial Espionage, and the China Threat (CRC Press, 2014)