Monday

16th Sep 2019

EU officials envy quality of US diplomatic cables

  • Clinton (l) and Ashton in Lisbon. The EU foreign affairs chief could use the leaks as a masterclass for her own diplomats (Photo: European Commission)

As the US State Department contorts itself in embarrassment over the WikiLeaks affair, its diplomats may be cheered to learn that some EU officials are envious over the quality of its reports.

"The reports that we have are crap compared to this. These are political, concise, incisive, almost literary," one EU official told EUobserver on Tuesday (30 November) on condition of anonymity.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"It sets a benchmark for diplomacy. Our reports are incredibly long and written in a kind of administrative jargon. We have no opinions. We hide our opinions behind bureaucratic language because we are not allowed to have opinions in a highly hierarchical structure."

The contact singled out a US cable on a lavish party in Dagestan, Russia attended by Chechnya's warlord-president Ramzan Kadyrov. Entitled ' A Caucasus Wedding,' the 3,400-word-long cable by the US embassy in Moscow in 2006 speaks of Kadyrov dancing "clumsily with his gold-plated automatic stuck down in the back of his jeans." It adds: "The cooks seemed to keep whole sheep and whole cows boiling in a cauldron somewhere day and night, dumping disjointed fragments of the carcass on the tables whenever someone entered the room."

The flow of cables published on the WikiLeaks website slowed to a trickle on Tuesday. But the five newspapers given privileged access to the material have kept on putting out tidbits on leading EU politicians.

The Guardian released a 2007 memo on French leader Nicolas Sarkozy in which a British diplomat, Tim Hitchens, said Mr Sarkozy: "would make deals with 'other major' interlocutors such as the UK or Germany, without taking adequate account of the views of the smaller states; he described Sarkozy as 'not good at dealing with unimportant people'."

Meanwhile, a 2008 cable by US diplomat Richard LeBaron said the British Conservative Party stopped its now finance chief, David Osborne, from speaking at a party conference because he: "lacks the necessary 'gravitas' ... in part due to his high-pitched vocal delivery." Another cable, dated February 2010, said the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, felt the young-ish Tory leadership lacks "experience" and "depth."

The WikiLeaks debacle took up most of the daily State Department press briefing in Washington on Tuesday, with the department's spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, denying that US diplomats conduct espionage activity and noting that security procedures are being tightened.

Mr Crowley said a notorious cable urging US diplomats to gather biometric data on UN colleagues "came from outside the Department of State" and was more of an intelligence "wish-list" rather than real practice.

"Diplomats are diplomats and their job is to interact with people, gather information, gain a perspective of events around the world, and report those findings in a way that helps inform our policies and inform our actions. They are not intelligence assets," he said.

The spokesman added that access to documents has been "temporarily narrowed" inside the department and that connections with "one classified network" have been "severed." He added: "Some policy issues will have to be reviewed in light of what's happened so that we can properly balance the need to know, the need to share."

The WikiLeaks affair was possible in part due to reforms in US intelligence following an assessment of failures leading to 9/11, which said the terrorist strike took place because separate departments did not share information.

European intelligence experts are concerned the US may return to a pre-9/11 model of information security, despite the fact the Wikileaks scandal seems to have been caused by the simple mistake of giving too much access to a rebellious 23-year-old analyst, rather than by a systemic fault.

WikiLeaks mastermind, Julian Assange told Time magazine on Tuesday that Ms Clinton should resign if the espionage allegations are true: "If it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering US diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the US has signed up ... Yes, she should resign over that."

Ms Clinton will on Wednesday go to Kazakhstan for a meeting overshadowed by two leaked cables in which US diplomats make fun of the Kazakh elite for flying Elton John to a concert and dancing about in nightclubs surrounded by bodyguards. "The timing is exquisite," Mr Crowley said.

The biggest impact of the cables released so far could go well beyond the blushes of the US secretary of state, however.

The EU official quoted on "crap" EU reporting was more concerned that revelations about Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, which urged the US to bring about regime change in Iran, could precipitate a conflict in the Middle East.

"It's going to accelerate things," the EU source said.

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Analysis

How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should West help Russian opposition in its struggle against the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

News in Brief

  1. No new backstop proposal at Juncker-Johnson lunch
  2. Saudi oil production in flames after drone attack
  3. US: attack on Saudi oil came from Iran or Iraq
  4. Poll: Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang largest party
  5. Nationalist parties to support Sanchez if he makes deal
  6. EU finance ministers support simplification of fiscal rules
  7. Italy's Renzi ready to set up new political force
  8. Two independents come top in Tunisia presidential election

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. In detail: Belgium's EU nominee faces crime probe
  2. France urges EU virtual currency rules amid Libra risk
  3. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  4. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  5. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  6. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  7. Central European leaders demand Balkan EU accession
  8. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us