THE BLOG

US Caught Trying to Spy in Bolivia

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

Who needs reality TV? My favorite show is called, "Third World Nationalist Leader Makes Outrageous Charges Against the U.S." Like all such shows, there is a formula. A typical episode goes something like this:

Scene 1: Third World Nationalist Leader makes outrageous charges against the U.S.

Scene 2: Charges reported by U.S. news media, in suitably condescending tones, along with U.S. denials. Possible truth of charges not explored.

Scene 3: Bigfoot pundit news analysis explores Third World Nationalist Leader motivations. In a fair and balanced way, two competing theories are advanced. One, Third World Nationalist Leader is paranoid and mentally unbalanced. Two, Third World Nationalist Leader is a demagogue, cynically manipulating public hatred of the United States to distract from domestic policy failures. (Why this sentiment exists to be manipulated is rarely explored.)

Scene 4: News report surfaces lending substantial credence to original charges. But no mainstream media reflect back on their original reporting.

The most recent episode of the series concerns Bolivia.

ABC News reports:

Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar were asked by a U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Note the passage of time between the two "mistakes." The first incident was in July. The second incident was in November. The Peace Corps complained to the Embassy after the first incident, and was assured that it was a mistake and would not happen again. It did happen again, involving exactly the same U.S. Embassy official.

Over a period of time, Bolivia has accused the U.S. Embassy of interfering in Bolivia's political affairs. Among many examples: on December 20, the New York Times reported:

Mr. Morales lashed out at the United States Embassy here, questioning whether some of its development aid was being channeled to the political opposition. But he stopped short of escalating a public dispute he has had with Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg over that and other issues.

An official at the United States Embassy, who declined to be identified because of the delicacy of relations, said: "We've attempted to be as transparent as possible about all U.S. government activities in Bolivia. Unfortunately, despite our repeated attempts the government has never sat down with us to seriously discuss these issues."

Transparent as possible? The fact that this incident could be repeated is a strong indication that the U.S. Embassy is up to no good. It suggests that the first incident was regarded as a minor indiscretion, rather than a significant deviation from policy.