Today, 21 December 2018, WikiLeaks publishes a searchable database of more than 16,000 procurement requests posted by United States embassies around the world.
All US embassies post requests for quotations and job listings on their websites when they need to purchase goods or services. In some cases, these requests may hint at covert activities performed by US agencies in the country. For example, in an August 2018 procurement request for “Tactical Spy Equipment”, the US embassy in El Salvador asked vendors to provide 94 spy cameras, most disguised as everyday objects such as ties, caps, shirt buttons, watches, USB drives, lighters, and pens. Similar spy cameras were also requested by the US embassy in Colombia.
The majority of the procurement requests focus on mundane activities required for the day-to-day operation of embassies and consulates, such as construction projects, laundry service, and gutter cleaning. In one case, the US consulate in Guayaquil, Ecuador lost track of the number of fish in its fishpond and needed someone to count the fish and clean the pond. Interspersed among these banal requests are documents that provide insight into the priorities and agenda of the US Government abroad. For example, to promote trade interests in China, the US consulate in Shanghai requested the production of “three marketing and promotional videos that highlight U.S. beef quality”.
Even the banal requests may be worth scrutiny because numerous secret programmes are operated out of US embassies. WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 publications showed that the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence runs a covert hacking base out of the US consulate in Frankfurt and the documents disclosed by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and CIA jointly operate a covert signals intelligence programme called the Special Collection Service, which uses US embassies around the world as bases for interception of communications and clandestine operations. These procurement documents do not appear to include details related directly to these programmes, but they do include information about the actual activities of the divisions used as cover for CIA programmes, note which jobs require security clearance, and provide clues about the existence of infrastructure that may be potentially useful to US intelligence services operating abroad, such as the data center at the Frankfurt consulate.
While these procurement requests are public information, they are only temporarily linked to from US embassy websites while the request is open. But even after the links to the requests are removed, the files remain online. This is because all US embassies use WordPress and the procurement documents are stored in their WordPress uploads folder. So although older procurement documents may not be obviously available, the WordPress uploads can be searched via both the search function on the embassy’s website and third-party search engines. The US Embassy Shopping List preserves these requests and makes them more accessible by collecting the documents uploaded to US embassy websites, filtering for the procurement-related files, and presenting them in a searchable database.