Earlier on Thursday, WikiLeaks revealed that the US National Security Agency eavesdropped on the German chancellery for decades, most recently during secret briefings between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her advisors regarding European finance plans.
German leadership, of course, is just one victim of many. Brazilian leaders have been wiretapped, French businesses monitored, and nearly all communications from Latin America are intercepted by the agency.
At this point, the illicit activities of the NSA are no secret. But an overlooked aspect may be how, exactly, the agency is getting information on who to target.
According to new WikiLeaks cables, the answer could be US diplomats.
Internal memos from Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State say that "the intelligence community relies on State reporting officers for much of the biographical information collected worldwide."
The department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research is responsible for analyzing information on individuals abroad, and according to the memo, it is "vital to the community’s collection efforts."
Once collected by the State Department, that information is then available "for dissemination to the [intelligence community]."
The cables also detail the type of information which should be collected. Some of that data is standard information found in any dossier – names, positions, telephone numbers – but much of the list goes deeper, and reporting officers are encouraged to "include as much of the following information as possible."
The list consists of email addresses, internet and intranet "handles," web site identification-URLs, as well as detailed information about individuals’ work schedules.
State Department officials are also asked to uncover "credit card account numbers" and "frequent flyer account numbers."
It goes on to say that information collected is "in support of NSA’s requirements."
Just in case all of that personal data isn’t enough, the memo also asks State Department officers to search for any "other relevant biographical information."
By compiling complete dossiers on important individuals abroad, the NSA then has a comprehensive shopping list about who is worthy of wiretaps. Not only does the State Department provide the "who," it also provides the "how." The biographical information provided lists the exact phone numbers that should be tapped, and the precise email accounts which should be monitored.
With all of that clandestine work, US diplomats must find it hard to do their intended job of negotiating.