Above the Tearline: Diplomatic Pouches and Couriers

3 MINS READAug 10, 2011 | 13:29 GMT
Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton examines the role of diplomatic pouches in the movement of international intelligence and equipment.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

This week we thought we would discuss diplomatic pouches. Many people don't realize the scope and the volume or how diplomatic pouches work or what's contained inside them and how they are transported around the world. Diplomatic pouches are used to hand-carry confidential and sensitive information from country to country. In many ways the diplomatic pouch is an old-school way to ensure that the communication that you are sending is not compromised by a hostile government that has the capability to penetrate your electronic systems and monitor cable traffic, telegram traffic. The interesting twist with diplomatic pouches from any country is the ability to bypass customs and the security services when you're bringing that pouch into that respective nation. By treaty and Vienna Convention, the pouches cannot be opened, nor can they be x-rayed. Diplomatic couriers, at least for the State Department in Washington, are highly trusted, they're cleared to the top-secret level, and they operate within the diplomatic security service. These are full-time couriers that move these diplomatic pouches from Washington to any country in the world where we may have a diplomatic mission. From a lifestyle perspective, the couriers spend a tremendous amount of time in the air or on the road. They're consistently traveling, carrying these diplomatic pouches from country to country. They are paid very well, they have a lot of overtime and government per diem and traveling to these various cities. Volume-wise, dozens of diplomatic pouches are being moved by diplomatic couriers on any given day all around the world. Unlike in the movies, where you'll see a courier with a black Samsonite briefcase handcuffed to their wrist, the diplomatic pouches used to move memorandums and small items, for example, are bright orange in color and literally can fit inside a normal briefcase or carry-on. In cases where it's larger equipment and it has to go into the aircraft hold, the couriers are usually the first on the plane and the first off the plane so when that hold is opened, they can immediately put eyes on the package and take custody of it. Certain countries utilize their diplomatic pouch for espionage and terrorism purposes. In some cases, countries like Libya have used the diplomatic pouch to move weapons and explosives into a country undetected for the use of terrorist groups for the purposes of carrying out attacks. Because of this, Western intelligence services routinely conduct surveillance on the movement of couriers from countries such as Iran or Libya. In closing, diplomatic couriers provide an extremely sensitive and very important mission to the U.S. government as we move sensitive and classified information all around the globe.

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