Philip S. Goldberg is the Assistant Secretary of State - Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or more simply put, the State Department’s spy-master. He was confirmed into that job by the U.S. Senate on February 9, 2010, despite his lack of experience in the intelligence field, his lack of experience with the world’s hot spots, a questionable record as a U.S. diplomat and his involvement in the Peace Corps spy scandal in Bolivia.
Since his appointment, the United States has faced a string of damaging foreign failures, with clear indications that the Secretary of State has been acting on bad intelligence. America’s relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, China, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and now Egypt have all suffered. Despite debacle after debacle, Secretary Goldberg seems to sail along, oblivious to any problems and apparently immune from any responsibility.
Secretary Goldberg’s “qualifications” for this crucial intelligence post consist of tours of duty as a U.S. diplomat in Columbia, South Africa, Chile, Kosovo and Bolivia (none of which are current hot spots). His first appointment as an Ambassador was to Bolivia. That posting was cut short in 2008, when he was expelled by the Bolivian Government for interference in the country’s internal affairs. This extraordinary expulsion was in-part Goldberg’s fault. It began when he publicly ridiculed Bolivian President Evo Morales (for which Goldberg later apologized). Goldberg’s inability to function effectively and his missteps led to a June 2, 2008, riot outside the U.S. Embassy in La Paz by 20,000 angry Bolivians. He was also at the center of a dangerous scandal that began in 2007. It was dangerous because it threatened to undermine Peace Corps operations in South America.
On July 29, 2007, a group of 30 Peace Corps volunteers to Bolivia were subjected to a briefing by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Specifically, they received a visit from Vincent Cooper, the U.S. Embassy’s Assistant Regional Security Officer. Cooper wanted the Peace Corps volunteers to report on the presence and activities of Cuban and Venezuelan citizens in Bolivia. In essence they were being urged to spy for the United States. Doreen Salazar, the Peace Corps’ deputy director in Bolivia, to her credit, interrupted Cooper’s presentation telling her volunteers to ignore the Embassy’s suggestions.
She then lodged an official complaint with Goldberg’s Embassy. Despite that Cooper continued his recruitment efforts, briefing a Fulbright scholar to Bolivia on November 5, 2007, and seeking to have him spy also for the United States. When the story became public in February 2008, the State Department admitted that Copper had given the “wrong” presentation to the volunteers. The spy speech was supposed to have only been given to U.S. Embassy employees and diplomats (which raises a whole different set of questions). Secretary of State Rice was forced to recall Cooper after the Bolivian Government formally charged him with espionage. The episode caused Ambassador Goldberg to be depicted in the local news media as a present day “Maxwell Smart,” the bumbling American secret agent 86 from the television show “Get Smart.” Ambassador Goldberg is pictured in the above photo with the same silly telephone built into his shoe that Agent 86 had.
Goldberg gave an interview in September 2008, to Newsweek in which he provided a misleading explanation of the Peace Corps spy scandal. He directly contradicted his own Embassy’s admissions from February 2008. He downplayed the spy briefings by Cooper explaining that Cooper was simply advising the volunteers “to be careful about third world people who might want to take advantage of them.” He also tried to infer that the briefing only occurred once when it seems clear that they briefings reoccurred at least once more. Goldberg has never been vigorously questioned under oath, therefore the truth remains hidden.
It is not plausible that Cooper, a low-level security employee, would have tried to recruit these Peace Corps volunteers without direction and approval from higher officials. Questions remain as to whether there was a concerted and covert effort by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to recruit Peace Corp volunteers as spies and whether than effort went beyond the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia.
After being expelled, Goldberg returned to Washington, D.C., where he was assigned to an interagency working group whose mandate was to increase sanctions against North Korea in order to moderate its behavior. That effort was a dismal failure. He was then promoted to his current intelligence position.
Since the protests began in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her spokesman P.J. Crowley, have consistently been one step behind events on the streets in Cairo instead of being out in front of the situation. The accuracy and prescience of U.S. diplomatic intelligence have seemingly never been lower, yet there is no talk of a shakeup and no indication that anyone will be held accountable. With mediocrity as its standard, U.S. diplomacy will continue to react to events in confusion and out of ignorance.
For further reading see: The Argentina Independent: “Spying Scandal Erupts in Bolivia” by Eric Benson, 22 Feb. 2008; ABC News: “U.S. Official Charged with Espionage, Won’t Return to Bolivia” by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, 14 Feb. 2008; and the Los Angeles Times: “Bolivia orders U.S. envoy’s expulsion” by Patrick J. McDonnell, September 11, 2008. Newsweek: The Goldberg question and answer segment is entitled: “Grandstanding” and is dated 9/19/2008.
Note: Spymaster Goldberg is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on February 10, 2011.