Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th ed. – Online updating pages
Chapter 10: Secret Intelligence
The main reason I have been unable to give this page much attention recently is that I have been putting my work on this subject into a new book called Diplomacy and Secret Service: A short introduction. Like my recent Diplomacy of Ancient Greece, this can now be purchased for 6 Euros on the ISSUU platform here. Compared to this chapter, it has much greater historical depth, is more up to date, and is treble the length. It also has 17 illustrations, and I am updating it on this page.
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, examples of intelligence officers under 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’. In his very good book on MI6, Gordon Corera tells how the MI6 officer Daphne Park was also C-G at Hanoi (1969) and dwells at great length on the whole career of this remarkable woman: second sectary Moscow (1954-5), consul at Leopoldville in 1959 (then first secretary as well when the consulate-general became an embassy on the Belgian Congo’s independence in the following year); and same ranks as SIS station chief at the high commission in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, 1964-7. Corera also provides detail on the diplomatic postings of numerous other SIS officers (some of whom rose to be head of the service), all of whom can readily be tracked from his index. Notable among them are Roderick Chisholm, Gervase Cowell, Gerald Warner, Colin McColl, Richard Dearlove, Stephen de Mowbray, Donald Prater, Andrew King, and John Scarlett. 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, first bullet point: an omission here is a third category of useful ‘well-placed’ local – the ‘agent of influence’. Such individuals do not betray their own countries (they are not ‘spies’) and are therefore also unlikely to tip off an intelligence officer about those who might be willing to do so (they are not ‘access agents’). Instead, they are persons whose positions make them valuable contacts for an exchange of views and for backchannel diplomacy should the need ever arise. Corera is quite good on this subject (MI6, pp. 100, 133), although he fails to explain why this is in any way different from what genuine diplomatic officers do. Of course, it isn’t. The point is that good personal relationships are established by this means.
fourth bullet: this 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 (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. 160, espionage and domestic law: ‘illegals’ caught in the United States fall foul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (1938), under which failure on the part of persons ‘acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity’ to register with the Department of Justice is a criminal offence. For example, the Russian (SVR) illegal, Evgeny Buryakov, whose deep cover while gathering economic intelligence was that of an employee of the New York branch of a Russian bank, was arrested in January 2015 and in May 2016 sentenced to 30 months in prison, fined $10,000, and ordered to be deported on conclusion of his sentence.
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.
p. 164, intermediaries in sensitive relationships: Iraq under Saddam and Libya under Gaddafi provide other good examples (Corera, MI6, pp. 381-5)
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)
Dror, Duki (director), Inside the Mossad, a documentary mini-series in four episodes, 2017; in Hebrew, with sub-titles. Comprising interviews with former directors, deputy-directors, station chiefs and other Mossad officers, together with personal and archival footage, this is atmospheric and surprisingly revealing. Episode 4 is particularly valuable for the importance of senior Mossad officers in covert diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa. In an interview with The Times of Israel, 15 November 2018, Dror gives an interesting account of the making of the series. It’s now available on Netflix.
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