Intelligence: Diplomats Turned Into Spies

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February 3, 2006: The U.S. State Departments is getting its diplomats back to basics, as in collecting intelligence in places where it needs collecting. Before there were intelligence agencies (a relatively recent development), diplomats were the main source of regular intel on other nations. American embassies still contain spies, but they don't work for the State Department. The CIA contingent is pretending to be diplomats, and the Department of Defense people are there officially as military attaches. Diplomats have gotten away from all that nasty intel collecting. No more. New rules at the State Department require diplomats to learn more foreign languages, and spend more time in dangerous, and out-of-the-way places where problems for the United States are brewing. To make it easier for diplomats to pick up useful information in these places, diplomats will be given more instruction in the local culture, and current politics. This makes it easier for diplomats to send back more information, that is of more useful, back to Washington.

Since World War II, when the United States get into the intelligence agency business (with the Office of Strategic Services, that later became the CIA), the State Department has seen its intelligence capabilities steadily decline. The State Department still has an intel function, but it has become quite anemic. There is a serious effort now to reverse this process. Ambitious diplomats will no longer be able to move up the ranks just by snagging comfortable postings in major nations. Now you got to get down and dirty in out of the way places, and do it in the local language. This new policy may not last, however. It's all the idea of the current Secretary of State (Condoleeza Rice), and may not survive her tenure in the job. While the new policy has some support among career State Department staff, many more are more comfortable with the older, more comfortable, approach to diplomacy (that played down collecting intel).

State Department diplomats, however, are in a unique position to collect intelligence, especially the difficult-to-get HUMINT (human intelligence.) Rice's new rules also encourage State Department employees to work more closely, and enthusiastically, with other U.S. government agencies that are trying to collect intel. This includes smaller agencies like the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and foreign aid organizations. Everyone needs information, and the more you have going into the same pot, the better off everyone will be.

 


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