Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for July 1, 2013

Newsline: US intelligence targeted 38 embassies

France, Italy and Greece were among 38 “targets” of spying operations conducted by US intelligence services, according to documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper by fugitive former CIA operative Edward Snowden. One of the leaked US National Security Agency (NSA) files said that intelligence officials targeted embassies and UN missions by implanting bugs in electronic communications gear, tapping into cables and collecting communications using specialised antennae, according to a report on the Guardian’s website. Attempts were made to eavesdrop on the French, Italian and Greek embassies in Washington while Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey were all named as subjects of operations in a 2010 document. German weekly Der Spiegel earlier revealed that the European Union was one of the “targets” of Washington’s huge Internet spy programme, with bugs hidden in EU offices in Brussels and the US. According to documents seen by the Guardian, bugs were implanted on the encrypted fax machine at the EU embassy in Washington as part of operation ‘Perdido’, set up apparently to learn about rifts between member nations. The operation against the French mission to the UN was dubbed ‘Blackfoot’ and the one against its Washington embassy was known as ‘Wabash’. The Italian embassy in Washington was also targeted in operation ‘Bruneau’. The EU, Paris and Berlin on Sunday angrily demanded answers over the allegations Washington had bugged EU offices.



Newsline: Dominican Republic sees gay US diplomat an ‘insult’

Church leaders in culturally conservative Dominican Republic are outraged that President Obama nominated an openly homosexual activist to serve as ambassador to the Caribbean nation. Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez, the Roman Catholic archbishop of the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, Bishop Pablo Cedano and the Rev. Cristobal Cardozo, leader of the Dominican Evangelical Fraternity, are urging President Danilo Medino to reject the nominee, Chicago lawyer James Brewster. “It’s an insult to good Dominican customs,” Father Cardozo said last week. Mr. Brewster, co-chairman for gay issues at the Democratic National Committee and a major fundraiser for Mr. Obama, is one of five homosexuals Mr. Obama nominated to serve as ambassadors in June, designated as “Gay Pride Month.” He named State Department official Daniel Baer to serve as ambassador to the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, former Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry as ambassador to Australia, HBO executive James Costos as envoy to Spain and Rufus Gifford as ambassador to Denmark.


Newsline: British Embassy man says ‘Uzbeks tortured me’

Britain has been accused of abandoning a Foreign Office employee who says he was tortured by the Uzbek authorities and accused of spying for London. Kayum Ortikov, 44, a married father of four who worked for the British government as a security guard, ended up in a dungeon in Tashkent after being arrested on charges of “human trafficking”. It appears the extent of his “crime” was trying to help arrange visas for some relatives to work in Russia. Mr Ortikov claims that his refusal to become an informant for Uzbekistan’s secret police led to torture sessions in which he was accused of spying for the British. In the months after his arrest in December 2008, he says he was hung from the ceiling and beaten, left naked in a freezing room, and burnt on his genitals with a newspaper which had been set alight. He remained in prison for another two years, during which time, he says, he did not receive a single visit from British officials. He said: “Military intelligence and the SNB [National Security Service] tried hard to get employees of the British embassy to work for them as spies… I said, ‘I’m not going to do this’.” He recalls being warned that he would “pay” for his refusal. In October 2009, his wife, Mohira, 40, was finally allowed to visit him. Shocked, and barely recognising the shell of the man who was her husband, she spoke to human rights campaigners. She claims it was only then that British embassy staff agreed to meet her – a year after her husband’s arrest. “They were very warm and really seemed like they wanted to help, but then I didn’t hear from them for a year and a half,” she said. In 2011, The Independent on Sunday interviewed Mr Ortikov’s wife in Uzbekistan. Several weeks later, in May, the Uzbek authorities released her husband. The family managed to flee Uzbekistan last year and are living in a three-room flat in Ukraine. Their case is being dealt with by the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR. Fears for the safety of his family and concern that going public could affect their chances of resettling in Britain have prevented Mr Ortikov from speaking out until now. “I was not a British spy – they should have proven this to the Uzbek government. Why did they wait so long? Why were they silent so long?” He accuses embassy officials of washing their hands of him. “They didn’t want to damage their relations with the Uzbek government because of me and my case. On 2 February [2009] they sent in the mail a letter to my home informing my family and I that I was no longer an employee and after that I think they just didn’t care what happened to me. They threw me away.”


Newsline: Israel mulls new ambassador to the U.S.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to appoint a new ambassador to the U.S. to replace Michael Oren, who has served in Washington for four years. Israel’s Army Radio is reporting that the prime minister will select another U.S.-born diplomat to take charge of the embassy compound off Conneticutt Avenue. Ronald Dermer, who was born in Miami Beach, Fla., to Israeli immigrant parents, moved to Israel in 1998 and became a citizen of the Jewish state. He has served as a senior adviser to Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Oren was born in New York and surrendered his U.S. citizenship to accept the position of ambassador.