U.S. ousts Venezuelan consul for plotting cyberattack on U.S. nukes

Univision investigation helped implicate Venezuelan diplomat in alleged Iranian plot

Diplomats accredited to foreign governments can't be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned by the country that hosts the embassy in which they work.

It sounds like an idiotic rule when you look at the number of traffic and parking tickets UN diplomatic cars pick up in New York, but it's the only way governments can keep non-suicidal negotiators on staff who can be sent to talk to a potentially hostile governments with a reasonable chance of coming back with all their body parts attached in the traditional way.

Sunday the U.S. broke new ground in the throwing-out of diplomats by declaring Venezuela's consul in Miami to be persona non grata after she was implicated in an alleged plot to launch cyberattacks on U.S. nuclear power facilities.

This is the first time a diplomat has been thrown out of the U.S. for involvement in cyberwar.

Though it could be treated more simply as just response to a crime, adding a new offense to the list of those that will get a diplomat deported is a big deal.

Being mean to the diplomats of other countries tends to have serious consequences, first for your own diplomats based overseas, but often consequences far more reaching.

First rule of subtle diplomacy: don't massacre the ambassadorial delegation

Not to put too heavy an emphasis on the region of Afghanistan just because everyone who does anything but fly over quickly ends up mired in an extended war there. But the destruction of the Muslim civilization in the 13th century – civilization concentrated in half a dozen kingdoms and empires all of which were far more advanced in science, mathematics, poetry, metalworking and other skills than anyone in Europe at the time – began in 1219 with a bit of poor diplomacy from the leader of the Khwarezmid Empire in what is now southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Rather than respond politely to envoys sent to negotiate trade and political terms with the growing empire of Genghis Khan, the emperor Ala ad-Din Muhammad massacred the whole caravan.

Genghis Khan replied in kind (in cruel, actually) by massacring everyone in the Khwarazmian empire's capital city and destroyed every city in the empire, before moving on to do much the same to the rest of the world of Islam, ending its golden age and the lives of many of its people at the same time.

That's not a new story, but it is one diplomats all know. They all know the ones about the tit-for-tat retaliations during WWII and the Cold War in which the chain-reaction ouster, imprisonment or execution of a long series of diplomats posted to hostile countries began with the unexpected arrest and expulsion of one diplomat during tense times.

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela are not comfortable, but they're not nearly bad enough for either country to throw out diplomats from the other without provocation.

Venezuelan consul heads for home before accusations can be made

On Sunday the U.S. State Deparment announced it declared Venezuela's consul in Miami – Livia Antonieta Acosta Noguera – to be persona non grata, and gave her until the end of today to leave the country.

Though most diplomats are declared persona non grata for being caught spying, Noguera was burned for evidence linking her to a plan allegedly being developed by Iran to launch cyberattacks against U.S. nuclear plants.

Noguera was fingered as a participant by reports from the Spanish language news service Univision in New York.

Spanish-language media helped sting, catch cracker from consul

The Miami Herald reported she may have left the country in December, as soon as the accusations surfaced.

The Univision investigation included secretly taped conversations and videotape of Noguera discussing the plot and her role in it, according to InterAmerican Security Watch. She also allegedly promises, on tape, to pass information and requests for more support from student hackers posing as potential cyberattackers to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela aren't great, but no one's threatening to shoot at anyone, unlike the situation between the U.S. and Iran, which sentenced an American visitor to death only weeks after the Venezuelan Connection story broke. Iran accuses the man of being a CIA spy.

It is usually difficult to pin hard evidence of this kind of crime to anyone and impossible to make the case strongly enough to justify the ouster of a legitimate diplomat.

Apparently recruiting hackers to try to attack and/or destroy U.S. nuclear facilities qualifies, even if the attacks were to be made in the virtual world rather than the real one. That may be a first for four groups: the U.S. government, women, diplomats and hackers; I doubt any is really happy with having broken this bit of new ground in this particular way, though.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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