The US state department instructed its diplomats to spy on officials of foreign governments at the United Nations, including those from India, according to a secret cable made public among many others by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.
A cable sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2009 to many US embassies — New Delhi included — instructs US diplomats to report credit card numbers and frequent flyer account numbers of foreign dignitaries, among other more routine details.
India was a target for its desire to be on the UN Security Council as a permanent member, along with — the cable said wryly — the other "self-appointed front runners", for its voting on policy issues, peacekeeping and interests in Africa.
Biographic and biometric details of the Indian Permanent Representative at the UN were to be gathered and reported, as also his/her equation with New Delhi — to keep track of India's stand on issues before the General Assembly.
This was to be part of a larger effort by the US to watch members of groupings such as the Non-aligned Movement, G-77 and the African Union, of which the US is not a member.
There are 5,087 cables (not 3,000 as earlier reported) sent out of the US embassy in Delhi among the leaked documents, according to WikiLeaks, but they haven't been published yet.
The US has denied using its diplomats as spies. "Contrary to WikiLeaks reporting, our diplomats are diplomats," state department spokesman PJ Crowley said, adding, "They are not intelligence assets."
The 2009 cable listed out US priorities at the UN that its diplomats should focus on collecting and reporting intelligence — Afghanistan/Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Sudan.
India figured in the next list called ‘Key continuing issues'. Security Council reforms figured among the issues.
US diplomats were asked to report on "international deliberations regarding UNSC expansion among key groups of countries: self-appointed frontrunners for permanent UNSC membership Brazil, Germany, India and Japan…"
Indian diplomats were amused at being targeted. "How do they (US diplomats) find the time to do the work they are supposed to do," one of them asked, refusing to be identified.