On December 1, Fox News contributor Monica Crowley attacked Secretary State Hillary Clinton over an alleged diplomatic cable recently released by Wikileaks regarding human intelligence collection on the United Nations. Crowley was up in arms about the document and said it "seems to be crossing a line." But when given five minutes to explain, she could not come up with a rationale that held water and indeed repeatedly contradicted herself on what Clinton had allegedly done wrong.
The document in question provides guidance to State Department personnel on "the new National HUMINT [human intelligence] Collection Directive (NHCD) on the United Nations ... as well as a request for continued DOS reporting of biographic information relating to the United Nations."
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has said that Clinton "should resign if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up."
Appearing on Fox News' America Live to discuss Assange's statement, Crowley stated: "To enlist the diplomatic corps essentially as spooks when we have a real corps of spooks to do this job seems to be crossing a line." Seconds later however, Crowley largely undercut her own argument by stating: "Look, I have no doubt that other nations at the United Nations are doing this to us."
Before dissecting the rest of Crowley's disastrous attempt to attack Clinton, let's mention some crucial facts that Crowley neglected to mention during her appearance:
First, it is not a new policy for the State Department to gather human intelligence. The New York Times, which was given advanced access to the Wikileaks documents states that Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also ordered "more aggressive intelligence collection" in diplomatic cables.
Second, it is also not new for the United States to spy at the United Nations. The Times also reported: "While several treaties prohibit spying at the United Nations, it is an open secret that countries try nevertheless. In one 2004 episode, a British official revealed that the United States and Britain eavesdropped on Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the invasion of Iraq in 2003."
Third, it shouldn't surprise anyone in the international community that people introduced to them as diplomats are involved in espionage. CIA agents are often given an "official cover" as diplomats. Indeed, as Slate.com has reported: "Most CIA employees engaged in operations overseas are given official cover: a sham job in the U.S. embassy (or working for another government agency) that affords them diplomatic immunity." And this is far from secret. Indeed, there is a Wikipedia entry on official cover. The CIA article on HowStuffWorks.com also discusses official cover.
Fourth, as National Journal's Marc Ambinder reports, the document appears to be part of a government-wide effort to beef up human intelligence spearheaded by the CIA, not a State Department initiative.
From Ambinder's November 30 post on the Wikileaks document:
As to the allegation itself: Did Hillary Clinton order diplomats to spy?
The easy answer is -- no, she didn't.
In Clinton's case, since the original order was sent to the State Department as an entity (just like it was sent to the Commerce Department as an entity), Clinton's name appears as the originator of the State cable providing further instructions.
The cable itself contains detailed requirements set by analysts at the CIA's National HUMINT Requirements Tasking Center. The HUMINT tasking center is, well, tasked with figuring out what type of intelligence the U.S. government needs and how best to obtain it. In 2004, the CIA determined that, in order to provide value-added insight to policymakers enmeshed in complex negotiations about war and terrorism, it needed more raw data on foreign dignitaries, the United Nations, and various countries. The CIA's decision to send out a tasking was itself derivative of a 2003 presidential national security directive issued by President Bush. The data would be used by many consumers: State's own intelligence branch; the National Security Agency, which has representatives in the center; the CIA; and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which compile extensive databases of all sorts.
In 2009, the CIA updated its requirements and reissued the directive, which went to all members of the intelligence community, joint intelligence centers of combatant commands, and even to selected cleared personnel representing the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce overseas, as the 8,500-word cable itself makes clear. There is some regret in the Obama administration that the 2009 instruction wasn't more carefully and narrowly tailored, but that's an issue for the intelligence community to sort out, not Clinton, who, in all likelihood, never saw it. (The State Department won't comment on the specific contents of any WikiLeaks cable.)
So once State got the order, Michael Owen, the acting State Department intelligence chief, dutifully distributed the instructions with a gloss as to what his shop could use to provide the intelligence community with better information.
Rather than discuss these important issues, Crowley continued to flail about for a line of attack on Clinton that would stick.
After claiming Clinton was "crossing a line" and then retreating from that claim, Crowley then moved on to another line of attack, saying that having the document "made public like this could be damaging, because diplomats have immunity from prosecution and they are also given greater access." Host Megyn Kelly responded by saying, "it's not her fault they were made public." Crowley then conceded the point, saying "it wasn't her fault but it's very embarrassing."
Crowley also said that she'd "be a little surprised if we weren't" having our diplomats collect intelligence, again totally undercutting her argument that Clinton "crossed a line" in this case.
But believe it or not, Crowley's anti-Clinton attacks became even less sensible after that. After Kelly played a clip of long-time Clinton hater Dick Morris saying that the Wikileaks documents show that Clinton is acting no differently from the way she acted during her husband's presidential campaigns in the 1990s, Crowley jumped on Morris' bizarre and implausible theory like a life preserver.
Crowley said: "I'll tell you what's most damaging to Secretary Clinton here. And again, I don't think it's the ordering of the diplomats to try to gather some human intelligence per se." (Again, Crowley began her attack by saying Clinton was "crossing a line" by allegedly asking diplomats to gather human intelligence.) Crowley continued: "What I think is most damaging to her is the fact that it does bring up the old Hillary Clinton. This catapults the American mind back to the Clinton years when she was involved in a lot of skullduggery."
Moments later, Crowley seemed to argue that the Wikileaks document wasn't the real issue at all; rather it was what Crowley imagined to be Clinton's substantive failings as Secretary of State.
CROWLEY: Let's not give Hillary Clinton a pass. She has gotten a pass, Megyn, on every major foreign policy crisis that this administration has sustained. Since she's been secretary of state, the reset with Russia is faltering, Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon, North Korea crises every couple of months, Mideast peace talks stalled. This woman has largely been ineffective and impotent on foreign affairs, and that's the conversation we should be having instead of keeping giving her a pass on all this stuff. [emphasis added]