21st Jan 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.

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"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.


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