In the wake of WikLeaks revelations that US diplomats were spying on UN officials and others, Washington has insisted that its representatives across the globe do not indulge in espionage and only collect information that shapes its policies.
"Diplomats collect information that shapes our policies and actions. Diplomats for all nations do the same," State Department spokesman, P J Crowley, tweeted yesterday soon after media outlets including The New York Times started filing stories based on these documents.
"Contrary to some WikiLeaks' reporting, our diplomats are diplomats. They are not intelligence assets," Crowley said in another tweet after The New York Times said the United States has expanded the role of American diplomats in collecting intelligence overseas and at the United Nations, ordering State Department personnel to gather the credit card and frequent-flier numbers, work schedules and other personal information of foreign dignitaries.
The cable in this regard, classified as "secret" was issued by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on July 31, 2009. The cables give a laundry list of instructions for how State Department employees can fulfill the demands of a "National Humint Collection Directive" in specific countries. ("Humint" is spy-world jargon for human intelligence collection).
It asked officers overseas to gather information about "office and organisational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cellphones, pagers and faxes," as well as "internet and intranet 'handles', internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent-flier account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information," it said.
The White House said cables are candid reports by diplomats and, seen by themselves, can give an incomplete picture of the relationship between the United States and the foreign governments.
The cables are not expressions of policy, nor do they always shape final policy decisions, the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said.
"Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," he said in a press release.
"To be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," Gibbs said.
The release of the documents may risk the lives of diplomats and friends living under repressive regimes. The United States stands for responsible, open government at home and around the world, he said.
"This reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal," Gibbs said. "By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals.
We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorised disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information," he said. The Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, condemn this reckless disclosure of classified information that was illegally obtained by WikiLeaks.