spy games

U.S. Diplomat Curses at the E.U., Russia Tattles to the World

PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 06: In this handout image provided by Host Photo Agency, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the second working meeting of the G20 heads of state and government, heads of invited states and international organizations at the G20 Summit on September 6, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Leaders of the G20 nations made progress on tightening up on multinational company tax avoidance, but remain divided over the Syrian conflict as they enter the final day of the Russian summit. (Photo by Valeriy Melnikov/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)
J.V. move, Putin. Photo: Handout/2013 Host Photo Agency

As with the international manhunt for a 29-year-old hacker, a year ago no one would have predicted that an American saying a dirty word in a YouTube video would affect U.S.-Russian relations. This week, an anonymous YouTube user posted a video of what appears a phone conversation between two U.S. diplomats in which one says “you know, fuck the E.U.” The official has apologized to her E.U. counterparts, but aside from the shocking revelation that people sometimes curse when dealing with frustrating diplomatic situations, the video raised a bigger question: Who tapped the diplomats’ phones and posted their private conversation online? On Thursday, State Department officials pointed at Moscow, calling it “a new low in Russian tradecraft.”

In the audio recording, Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, discuss efforts to resolve the ongoing standoff there between the government and protesters by forming a new transitional government. They also mention that Russia will probably “try to torpedo it.” The video has Russian subtitles and prominently features photos of Sylvester Stallone for some reason. The “expletive in a reference to the European Union,” as the New York Times puts it, comes around 2:30.

While the video was posted on Tuesday, it went mostly unnoticed until an aide to Russia’s deputy prime minister tweeted about it early on Thursday morning.

Russia claims Western nations are encouraging a coup in Ukraine, and the tweet led U.S. officials to suggest Moscow is behind the leak. “The video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “I think it says something about Russia’s role.”

All signs do seem to point to Russia, but we should still consider the possibility that the whole incident was actually orchestrated by the U.S. It proves we aren’t the only ones spying on other countries, and we have the good sense not to share the information we gather in poorly produced YouTube videos.

U.S. Diplomat Curses at E.U., Russia Leaks It