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State dept’s worry brief

world Updated: Dec 08, 2010 01:58 IST
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In Tunisia, a man was spotted sitting in a cafe, watching the road to the US ambassador’s residence, before driving away in a gray Volkswagen.

In Nigeria, extremists, possibly including a “well-trained” operative just arrived from Chad, were believed to be “planning a massive terrorist attack.” And Persian-language computer hacking sites had posted dangerous “Trojan horse” programs, suggesting how Iranian agents might attack US.

Those were just three of dozens of threats reported in a single issue of a publication with a limited subscriber list: The Diplomatic Security Daily, a classified roundup of potential horrors facing American diplomats or citizens anywhere in the world. A look at one issue, from June 29, 2009, gives a feeling for the nerve-racking atmosphere in which State Department officers routinely operate.

The Diplomatic Security Daily is classified “secret/ noforn,” a label that prohibits sharing it even with foreign allies, and it goes to US embassies and other outposts to alert them of possible threats. Some 14 issues of The Daily were included in a quarter-million diplomatic cables obtained by the NYT.

The June 29, 2009, issue is a window on the government’s round-the-clock struggle to assess rumours, often vague, about terrorists, assassins, kidnappers, hackers and others who might single out Americans. Few of the threats materialize, but the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security sorts and shares the steady flow of reports.

One striking aspect of the security warnings sent to embassies is how many involve cyber threats.

The June 29, 2009, issue, in addition to mentioning the Persian hacker sites, discussed at length Chinese companies and government agencies specialising in computer security, implying that they might pose a hazard. Such companies had “recruited Chinese hackers,” to support research projects on attacking computer networks, The Daily said.