Analysis: FBI monitors foreign diplomats far more than NSA

FBIBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Over the past several months, the Edward Snowden affair has turned the typically reclusive National Security Agency into a news media sensation. The signals intelligence agency, which is tasked by the United States government with communications interception, is said to have spied on a host of foreign government officials and diplomats. But in an article published this week in Foreign Policy, the American military historian and author Matthew Aid reminds us that American intelligence operations against foreign diplomats do not usually involve the NSA. They are typically carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been in the business of monitoring the activities of foreign diplomats on US soil long before the NSA even existed. The author of Intel Wars and The Secret Sentry states in his article that the FBI’s cryptologic operations targeting foreign envoys are today far more sensitive and the NSA’s. The vast majority of these operations take place on US soil. There are currently over 600 foreign embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions in the US, maintained by 176 countries. They include over 200 consulates located in cities ranging from Miami to Los Angeles and from San Francisco to Boston. New York alone hosts over 100 permanent diplomatic missions at the United Nations headquarters. Aid points out that “every one of these embassies and consulates is watched by the FBI’s legion of counterintelligence officers” in varying degrees. Additionally, the Bureau relies on the close cooperation of large American telecommunications providers in its effort to intercept the landline and cellular communications “of virtually every embassy and consulate in the United States”. FBI communications technicians also intercept the personal telephone calls and emails of foreign diplomats on a regular basis, adds Aid. Sometimes the Bureau employs specially trained teams of agents who physically break into embassies and consulates, in what is known in intelligence lingo as ‘black bag jobs’. These surreptitious entry operations are conducted in order to steal encryption codes, cryptological hardware, to install listening bugs or to compromise security systems. In other cases, says Aid, the FBI resorts to aerial surveillance in order to evaluate the structural features of foreign diplomatic missions. He gives the example of the recently constructed Chinese embassy on Washington DC’s Van Ness Street. Bureau helicopters conducted regular flights over the embassy while it was being constructed, between 2006 and 2009, taking “high-resolution photographs” of the construction site. The goal was allegedly to locate the embassy’s communications center. Aid cites an unnamed Chinese diplomat who says FBI agents tried to enlist the assistance of Chinese construction crew members in their effort to place listening devices inside the construction materials used to build the embassy. Aid’s article does not state whether’ the Bureau’s efforts were successful.

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