In 1979, when the founder of the Islamic Republic Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini instructed revolutionary students to “capture the ‘Den of Espionage,’” the US embassy in Tehran, the United States and its allies responded by calling the act a violation of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations and Consular Affairs.
In 2012, the United Kingdom issued a démarche to the embassy of Ecuador in London, threatening to invoke the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act to temporarily revoke the extraterritoriality and diplomatic immunity of the Ecuadorian embassy to seize WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange and extradite him to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. WikiLeaks, which obtained over 250,000 secret and below US State Department cables, has seen a bloc of Western intelligence-sharing allies marshal their forces to deliver Assange to the United States to stand trial, along with US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, for leaking the cables to the press.
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Australia’s two intelligence agencies, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), which gathers foreign intelligence, and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), which gathers domestic intelligence, have briefed their American counterparts, as well as the former and current Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard on the possible extradition of Assange to the United States from Sweden.
Britain’s eagerness to violate the diplomatic sanctity of the Ecuadorian embassy has some members of Western intelligence services concerned. If Britain establishes a precedent by violating Articles 22 and 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which respectively state that the host country may not enter the embassy or consular premises, and must protect the premises from intrusion or damage, the allied intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand fear that some nations may decide to crack down on the use by Western intelligence agencies of their nation’s embassies to conduct espionage and electronic surveillance.
The cables did reveal that the United States puts a high priority on its diplomats gathering intelligence, including details of vehicles transporting government officials, operations of military installations, and the iris scans, fingerprints, and DNA of government officials. The collection of such human intelligence or “Humint,” coupled with the long-standing practice of the signals intelligence (“Sigint”) alliance of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to establish Special Collection Elements (SCEs) inside their embassies, drew attention to several “Dens of Espionage,” operating in various cities around the world. Such information is considered among the “crown jewels” of Western intelligence gathering -- signals intelligence product that is marked as “TOP SECRET//SI/REL TO USA, FVEY.”
US surveillance spies at embassies and consulates operate under official cover as Foreign Service officers, such as political and economic attachés, or as communications technicians with the Diplomatic Telecommunications Service. The SCEs have been augmented by Surveillance Detection Units (SDUs), located in at least 22 US embassies around the world. The SDUs monitor the activities of individuals and groups, deemed to be threats to the United States and maintain the gathered intelligence in the Security Incident Management System (SIMAS).
The State Department cable disclosure came very close to disclosing the FVEY operations at various embassies and diplomatic missions and the FVEY surveillance allies are playing hardball over the leaks.
The overreaction by Britain to the presence of Assange, who has been granted political asylum by Ecuador, in the Latin American nation’s London embassy stands to draw attention to the use of embassies for activities not compatible with their diplomatic status, actions that may result in declaring diplomats persona non grata.
The use of embassies for spying may also draw attention to the shipment of eavesdropping equipment to embassies by diplomatic pouch. This procedure was done for years by the US Air Force Special Activities Division in an operation, known as CREDIBLE CAT.
Surveillance equipment, sent through diplomatic pouches, was used to establish electronic surveillance units in Canadian embassies. Mike Frost once worked for Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the US National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) FVEY partner. In his book, Spyworld, Frost described how the NSA and the CSE shipped monitoring equipment to Canadian embassies in Caracas (PROJECT ARTICHOLE), Bucharest (PROJECT HOLLYHOCK), Moscow (PROJECT SPHINX), Rabat (PROJECT IRIS), Beijing (PROJECT BADER), Abidjan (PROJECT JASMINE), Mexico City (PROJECT CORNFLOWER), New Delhi (PROJECT DAISY), and Kingston (PROJECT EGRET) as part of the overall operation, codenamed PROJECT PILGRIM. The US Moscow embassy’s operation was codenamed PROJECT BROADSIDE, the British embassy operation was PROJECT TRYST. Sweden’s embassy in Helsinki once monitored Soviet and Russian communications as part of the SIGDASYS network, which linked the English-language Five Eyes partners to NATO and non-NATO members’ Sigint collection activities. These intelligence relationships are at the heart of the collusion by Washington, London, Canberra, Ottawa, and Stockholm to rendition Assange to the United States by whatever means deemed necessary.
Through the NSA’s and the CIA’s joint Special Collection Service, foreign embassies, including the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm, have been covertly entered by the FVEY nations and the SIGDASYS partners like Sweden, Germany, and Israel to install bugs and steal cryptographic codes.
Like cornered wild animals about to be snared, the FVEY and SIGDASYS allies are fighting back. They are as determined to make an example of the cable leakers as they are dangerous in seeking retribution.
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