IS THE AMBASSADOR REALLY AN HONORABLE SPY?
ARMAN NAVASARDIAN
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary


 
 
 
This question was first posed by the Dutch diplomat Abraham de Wicquefort in his L’Ambassadeur et ses fonctions (1860). It isn’t a rhetorical question. It interests people even today and confuses those, who are far from diplomacy and intelligence work and have a vague idea about those spheres; they only know what they have seen on the screen or have read in the books. It’s important to understand that diplomacy and intelligence are two different spheres, but they have certain commonalities. Ultimately, the goals and problems of diplomacy and intelligence are the same. Both have played a similar role from the beginning of the formation of the state as the political organization of society.

What is the essence of that role? Serving the interests of their country, diplomats and intelligence officers collect information about the actions and programs of other countries. This is the only common thing that these professions have. The difference is in the methods of obtaining information and the sources. According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), diplomats can only obtain information legally. Whereas intelligence officers use methods that are far from being legal.

And what about the embassy, isn’t it involved in spying? Sure it is. However, this is not the task of the diplomats, but the professional intelligence agents who are sent abroad for that specific purpose. They work under the same roof with ambassadors, consuls, and international workers, and are called "roof-sharers.” These agents are divided into two types, political and military intelligence agents, and respectively report to the security and defense agencies of their governments. In other words, there are three missions under the same roof, one diplomatic and two intelligence types. Who are they subordinated to, how are they regulated behind the closed doors of a space that is beyond the laws of the hosting country?

It is difficult to give a definite answer.

Despite the fact that they all serve the needs of their government, time after time problems will arise between them, a kind of unhealthy competition as to who will send the most important information back to the headquarters. It is true that the ambassador is the primary government representative in a foreign country and all of the other organizations and individuals of that government have to report back to him, however, as mentioned above, intelligence agencies have their own resident-designates and communication system with the headquarters. And normally, the resident-designate doesn’t share his information with the ambassador. That is how most embassies function. There may be a few exceptions, but that is not the norm. And it often happens that the headquarters receives different, sometimes conflicting information, which can lead to disastrous consequences when determining a course of action in foreign affairs.

The reason for this is that government heads often first listen to intelligence agents, then to diplomats.


Information gathered by diplomats doesn’t usually contain secrets of important value, as the hosting countries usually take good care of hiding them from everyone. And if the ambassador’s wire includes secrets, they are carefully checked with the help of another source, who is also legal and, as a rule, trustworthy. Whereas information gathered by intelligence is hard to verify and cannot be checked, as it may betray the undercover officers and agents.

I don’t know whether it was because of this or it was out of his paranoid suspicion, but Stalin didn’t take his intelligence officer Richard Sorge’s message stating the day when Germany would attack the Soviet Union seriously. Perhaps Stalin had a basis for suspicion. It is true that intelligence officers have misinformed their governments more than a few times.

So, for instance, it was due to wrong information that the Imperial Japanese Navy was able to completely destroy the US naval base in Pearl Harbor in 1941. The CIA was also unaware that the Shah Mohammad Reza would be toppled and Ayatollah Khomeini would come to power in Iran. Perhaps that is the reason why the US President Richard Nixon said: "We have forty thousand agents abroad who are busy reading newspapers.”
The intelligences of other countries also lack in many ways.
Mossad, one of the world’s most efficient intelligence agencies, was unable to intercept the surprise attack on Israel in 1973 launched by the Egyptian and Syrian forces.


And one of the oldest intelligences, the Secret Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom, wasn’t able to predict the Falklands Crisis, when Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

The war in Afghanistan was the cause of Soviet intelligence failure, as the war in Iraq was due to blunders in US intelligence. And can the CIA ever rid itself of the blame for the tragedy of September 11, 2001?

Churchill’s approach to intelligence work is quite interesting. When the Secret Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom predicted that Germany wouldn’t attack the Soviet Union and that Hitler and Stalin would sign a pact, Churchill observed quite the opposite of their predictions and warned Stalin that Germany would attack the Soviet Union in 1941. The latter didn’t believe him either.
DIPLOMATIC ESSAYS
946 reads | 13.09.2013
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