Jean Friedman-Rudovsky & Brian Ross / ABC News – 2008-02-12 22:24:35
US Embassy Official’s ‘Spy’ Request
Violated Long- Standing US Policy
Jean Friedman-Rudovsky & Brian Ross / ABC News
(February 8, 2008) — In an apparent violation of US policy, Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar were asked by a US Embassy official in Bolivia “to basically spy” on Cubans and Venezuelans in the country, according to Peace Corps personnel and the Fulbright scholar involved. “I was told to provide the names, addresses and activities of any Venezuelan or Cuban doctors or field workers I come across during my time here,” Fulbright scholar John Alexander van Schaick told ABCNews.com in an interview in La Paz.
Van Schaick’s account matches that of Peace Corps members and staff who claim that last July their entire group of new volunteers was instructed by the same US Embassy official in Bolivia to report on Cuban and Venezuelan nationals.
The State Department says any such request was “in error” and a violation of long-standing US policy which prohibits the use of Peace Corps personnel or Fulbright scholars for intelligence purposes. “We take this very seriously and want to stress this is not in any way our policy,” a senior State Department official told ABCNews.com.
The Fulbright scholar van Schaick, a 2006 Rutgers University graduate, says the request came at a mandatory orientation and security briefing meeting with Assistant Regional Security Officer Vincent Cooper at the embassy on the morning of Nov. 5, 2007.
According to van Schaick, the request for information gathering “surfaced casually” halfway through Cooper’s 30-minute, one-on-one briefing, which initially dealt with helpful tips about life and security concerns in Bolivia.
“He said, ‘We know the Venezuelans and Cubans are here, and we want to keep tabs on them,'” said van Schaick who recalls feeling “appalled” at the comment. “I was in shock,” van Schaick said. “My immediate thought was ‘oh my God! Somebody from the US Embassy just asked me to basically spy for the US Embassy.'”
A similar pattern emerges in the account of the three Peace Corps volunteers and their supervisor. On July 29, 2007, just before the new volunteers were sworn in, they say embassy security officer Vincent Cooper visited the 30-person group to give a talk on safety and made his request about the Cubans and Venezuelans. “He said it had to do with the fight against terrorism,” said one, of the briefing from the embassy official. Others remember being told, “It’s for your own safety.”
Peace Corps Deputy Director Doreen Salazar remembers the incident vividly because she says it was the first time she had heard an embassy official make such a request to a Peace Corps group.
Salazar says she and her fellow staff found the comment so out of line that they interrupted the briefing to clarify that volunteers did not have to follow the embassy’s instructions, and she later complained directly to the embassy about the incident. “Peace Corps is an a-political institution,” Salazar says. “We made it clear to the embassy that this was an inappropriate request, and they agreed.”
Indeed, the State Department admits having acknowledged the infraction and assuring Salazar that it would not happen again. Yet, it was just four months later that Fulbright scholar van Schaick says he was asked by the same embassy official, Cooper, to “spy” on the Cubans and Venezuelans. … The accusations are likely to reverberate in Bolivia, especially given the already shaky relationship between the Bush administration and President Morales’ two-year-old government.
“These are serious incidents that we will investigate thoroughly,” says Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca in an interview. “Any US government use of their students or volunteers to provide intelligence represents a grave threat to Bolivia’s sovereignty.”
Spying in Bolivia
LA PAZ (February 10, 2008) — The US Embassy in Bolivia admitted on Sunday that one of its officials requested a US scholarship holder to spy on Cuban and Venezuelan citizens working on Bolivia.
A note from the US mission published by Bolivian press today confirms the denunciation made by student Alex Shaick, who revealed the proposal made to him by US official Vincent Cooper.
Cooper had similarly asked volunteers from the Peace Corps and Fulbright study program beneficiaries to provide data about their “contacts with citizens from certain countries.”
According to the US Embassy, this representation never requested US volunteers or students to take part in intelligence activities in Bolivia.
However, Schaick said that during a meeting about security measures for his stay in Bolivia, Cooper asked him to report on the name and location of Venezuelan or Cuban cooperation workers.
“We know that they (Cubans and Venezuelans) are there, we only want information about them,” Cooper said, as revealed by the US student.
Local analysts consider that US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who is famous for his seditious role in Kosovo, must give an explanation about this in a meeting with the Bolivian government for his funding of irregular intelligence groups.
There are six Fullbright program beneficiaries and 130 Peace Corps volunteers currently in Bolivia. They were banned from making any comment to the press.
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