It felt like an awkward career moment: U.S. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley struggling to explain to some curious journalists why collecting fingerprints and DNA from America's enemies and allies and various prominent international figures (many in the United Nations, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon) doesn't make American diplomats spies.
"Diplomats are diplomats. That is their job. Diplomats are not intelligence assets … " He made the point repeatedly. No document - including the leaked cable, part of the 250,000-page WikiLeaks document dump, that instructs diplomats to collect telephone numbers, credit-card information, fingerprints and DNA - changed that, he insisted.
"So you always collected DNA data?" a journalist responded, and the question was avoided.
But still it hangs there. I mean what are surreptitious-bodily-fluid-collecting diplomats, if they're not spies? Are they vampires?
Maybe this has been going on for centuries and the DNA-collection instruction merely formalized the situation - making it officially okay for civil servants to snack on members of the UN Security Council.
Certainly, if America's diplomats are merely diplomats and not less-sparkly versions of the hematophagic Children of the Night so in vogue these days (I do wonder if writing in some blood-taking wasn't just a cheap way to boost the State Department's ratings), they can't have relished their expanded mandate.
I know I wouldn't want to be an American career diplomat - erudite, fluent as they frequently are in perhaps four languages (I can't be the only one reassured by the level of perception, literacy and wit revealed in these cables) - and be called into my boss's office and told that my job now involved collecting DNA samples.
"For this, I went to Harvard?" those diplomats probably thought. "I'm being sent on the diplomatic equivalent of a panty raid. I'm licensed to collect Putin mucus!" And also: "To what end am I collecting these fingerprints and DNA?"
Did the State Department seriously imagine it would catch a prominent world figure knocking over a 7-Eleven to fund his evil cause?
I'd think better of mankind if I thought that the leaders of dangerous states built IEDs in their own basements and their DNA might place them at the scene of their crimes, but you're as likely to find their fingerprints on their own bombs as you are to find them on their own toilet brushes.
So why collect DNA? Is America planning on cloning world leaders? Is that the idea? Are they going to open a Jurassic Park of World Leaders where monorail-transported visitors can watch a flock of Ban Ki-moons? A warren of Tony Blairs frolicking on the veldt? Perhaps a murder of Medvedevs swooping through the sky?
I think we all know how that'll end. It'll be fun and games until the Berlusconi rex escapes and starts rutting and Jeff Goldblum shouts, "What did I tell you!"
And so I think that's a bad idea.
Frankly, I didn't think that the U.S. could burn through the massive sympathy capital they initially accumulated over WikiLeaks, until the DNA cable was read and the international community got totally skeeved out.
You sort of had the people, America. No one likes having their private e-mail exposed - and a lot of people, even those who support WikiLeaks, still find Julian Assange mind-blowingly annoying.
In fact, unable to agree on much else, consensus over just how mind-blowingly annoying Mr. Assange is might just become the principle around which the world finally unites. He could be like the Esperanto of Asses.
North Korea to South Korea: "I know! Have you seen his hair?! Come here and give me a hug."
I imagine there'd have been a little international tut-tutting about the credit cards, but it would have been water under the bridge, provided that no one at the State Department used them to get drunk and order a bunch of stuff off Amazon that America doesn't need.
But asking your employees to obtain someone's DNA? Well, that - as Mr. Crowley seemed acutely aware - is just weird. Asking your employees to get DNA is right up there with asking them to get pictures of someone's sleeping children.
One loses the world's sympathy over one's stolen cables when they reveal that you've been stealing people's toenail clippings. It's unavoidable.