Wednesday, December 18, 2013









(Wednesday December 18, 2013 67th Street & Lexington Ave., NYC)  Even the most casual stroller through this Upper East Side neighborhood can tell this is among the toniest areas in Manhattan.  This is the heart of the NYPD 19th Precinct, the swanky “Silk Stocking District” that runs from 59th Street to 96th  Street and from 5th Avenue to the East River.  It is home to some of New York City’s most famous institutions including Gracie Mansion, Lenox Hill and Sloan Kettering Hospitals as well as the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), Hunter College and the Russian Permanent Mission sometimes referred to as the Russian Embassy, just to name a few.  Walking east on 67th Street the unfamiliar may not realize that this very street, this block from Lexington to Third Avenues was the most visible site in New York City during  the decades long Cold War between the USA and the USSR.  Along the north side of this block sits the storied 19th Precinct; directly across the street is a stolid red brick building that is now the Russian Embassy.  Before the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1990, Cops of the 19th Precinct stared across the street at their Soviet counterparts in the USSR Security Service.  In those days this block saw some very unruly demonstrations conducted by anti-communist protesters and Russians living in NYC.

Since New York City is the home of the United Nations, we host 197 Permanent Missions of the United Nations member states as well as 114 Consulates and upwards of 70 international multi-state sponsored trade and commerce organization.  NYC is truly an international City and with that title come myriad responsibilities that NYPD and other City services and agencies must perform over and above the challenges of the normal day to day operations that keep this City running including policing and enforcing the law for our fellow 9 million diverse and disparate New Yorkers.

Each of the UN member states assigns high ranking members of their Diplomatic Corps to represent them in NYC.  It is without a doubt a plum assignment for those fortunate enough to be tapped for such duty.  Some of these foreign contingents consist of scores of people ranking from Ambassadors, Consulate Officers, Charge’ de Affairs, as well as  Aides de Camp’ Diplomatic Aides, Assistants, Assistants to the Assistants and Associate Assistants to Assistant Assistants. Many of these personnel bring their families with them so the ranks of those granted “Diplomatic Immunity” is substantial and quite often problematic to the City and NYPD.  Additionally, the actual precepts of what “Diplomatic Immunity” covers are poorly understood if understood at all by some.

The members of these contingents also bring members of their protective and security services to serve as body guards and keepers.  In some cases these security keepers find themselves tasked with running interference and creating obstructions if the personnel in their care runs afoul of the law which happens with far more frequency than is reported in the press.  The stories almost any current or former Member of Service (MOS) of NYPD can tell about confrontations with people claiming “Diplomatic Immunity” range from the benignly comical to the tragically lethal. Some incidents that began as relatively minor civil or criminal activities perpetrated by Embassy staffers quickly escalated into full blown international diplomatic crises. 


The latest such type of kerfuffle in the headlines is the account of an Indian Consular Officer, Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested and detained last Thursday by MOS from the United States Marshalls Service (USMS) because she had allegedly falsified immigration documents for a “nanny” in her employ and perhaps other  information on her visa application as well.  The 39 year old has vociferously complained that she was treated in a “heavy handed” manner by the Marshalls, held in a cell with “drug addicts” and was subjected to a humiliating and completely unnecessary “strip and full body cavity search”.  She was released soon after her arrest on a $250,000 bond.  Her arrest has generated serious repercussions and fallout that is causing troubling and potential dangerous reverberations from New York City to Washington, DC and to New Delhi. 

The Indian government has levied a host of sanctions on our Embassy personnel in New Delhi and has gone as far as removing the concrete security barricades from the front of our Embassy.  This is a gross over reaction that has graver implication than anything that was or was not a matter of fact in Ms. Khobragade’s arrest.  As is usual our Department of State, under the misguided leadership of the hapless, woefully inept Secretary John Kerry, has handled this incident poorly to say the least.  If the Indian government’s actions thus far are any indication, it appears that this may be the spark that ignites a dramatic shift in our relations with India at a time where there were signs of progress between our two nations towards a more “normalized” relationship in trade, commerce and military concerns as well as offering guidance for the security of their nuclear arsenal. 


The stories of Foreign Embassy personnel acting poorly in public and often committing serious crimes in New York City are legion and legendary.  Over the years some have made the headlines while many more, particularly during the height of the Cold War, were handled via back channels, quietly, privately and, in the cases of crimes against persons with the perpetrating Embassy’s country making large cash pay outs to the victims and their families as “hush money”. 

The fact of the matter is these miniature armies of Foreign Diplomatic Corps personnel often feel they are “untouchable” by NYPD and that the cloak of “Diplomatic Immunity” is absolute and bullet proof.  Sadly, that has often been the case.  There have been more incidents than anyone in One Police Plaza or the Department of State would ever dare admit in public where a foreign national assigned to their country’s Permanent Mission here committed serious felonies including grand theft, assault, rape and even homicide.  In some of those scenarios in the not too distance past, the alleged offender was immediately surrounded by his security keepers as reams of red tape were spooled out from NYC to the appropriate country’s capital to Washington, DC and back again.  With sufficient interference and obstruction there were times the alleged offender was quickly spirited out of the United States back to his homeland and safely out of the range of NYPD and any US law enforcement.

Some of the most notorious situations involved members of the Soviet Foreign Service and the Israeli Contingent.  The Soviets lorded the pretext of the Cold War over us to avoid making the crime public while the Israelis would always claim some form of exalted status simply because they were Israelis.  Without going into details now (for obvious reasons) there have been brutal sexual assaults and homicides committed by Soviets and Israelis as well as Chad, Nigeria and Bolivia stationed here.  In virtually every case the perpetrator was never held account in any way, let alone arraigned, indicted or tried in a NYC or US Federal Court.  That was just how the game was played.  It was sickening then and it is just as sickening today.

Many of the Foreign Service personnel that are assigned to NYC seem to fall in love with our City and open, free society.  They see our great City as their own private playground where they can flout our laws with impunity.  They partake in behavior here that they would never dare dream about in their homelands.  Some of our most exclusive restaurants and nightclubs have been the scenes of drunken debauchery and criminal behavior that any other New Yorker would be arrested for without question.  Too great a portion of the Foreign Service personnel are possessed of the notion that our laws simply do not apply to them; that they need not abide by our criminal code.  What these people fail to recognize is that they are our guests; they are the guests of The City of New York and The United States of America.


A case in point for any New Yorker owning a car has always been the fact that cars with “diplomatic plates”, special license plates issued to each Permanent Mission and Consulate, seem permitted to park anywhere, at any time, in any circumstance that suits their convenience.  For years NYPD and the NYPD Traffic Division would issue parking tickets to those cars that were illegally parked. The problem was none of the Embassy’s amassing huge numbers of summons ever paid them.  “So what”, one might say, “What’s the big deal”?  The big deal is that when dozens of tickets turn into hundreds and then into thousands the fines begin to add up to real money; real money as in millions of dollars unpaid to the City of New York. At one time the Soviet Embassy had over 170 vehicles registered in their name and it was not uncommon to have a week in which their vehicles alone were cited dozens of times for parking and other violations. 

When Michael Bloomberg was in his first year of his first term as Mayor, he learned that there were over $22 million worth of unpaid parking tickets that had been written to “diplomatic plates”.  Mayor Bloomberg wanted that $22 million and, after all sorts of machinations from our own State Department and the offending countries, those fines were paid and Bloomberg revamped the NYC Code governing the legal usage of diplomatic plates. 


Diplomatic Immunity as it is understood and respected by most sovereign nations today was drafted as part of the Geneva Conventions chapter addressing Diplomatic Relations written in 1961.  The specific intent is in the language and is not ambiguous.  It specifies that any foreign Diplomat or Emissary of the same stature cannot be prosecuted by a host country for any actions this representative may take in the conduct of his or her “official duties” as a foreign Ambassador.  It does not extend to conduct and actions that such a representative might take “outside” his or her codified role.  Essentially, it allows for Diplomats to travel safely to and from other countries, even during times of hostility, military conflict or war to conduct the business of their government.  It is very clearly defined and understood.

When members of a Foreign Service are abroad they are considered to be immune from prosecution only as it relates to their diplomatic efforts.  It also protects the transfer and transport of documents while a diplomat is in transit conducting his or her governments bidding.  That is it; that’s the long and short of it.  It does not imply that a member of a Foreign Service can shoplift at Macy's, not pay for damages to hotel rooms they have lodged in, stiff a waitress for a hefty dinner bill, get falling down drunk and sexually assault a woman in a nightclub or any of the other offenses some of them have attempted to throw their tarp of Diplomatic Immunity over.

The retaliatory actions the Indian government is now engaged in as well as their unreasonable and unproductive saber-rattling rhetoric is a violation of the Diplomatic Immunity of our Embassy personnel.  The removal of the security barricades, permitting angry mobs to picket and demonstrate outside our now unprotected Embassy in New Delhi are serious violations of common law.  They are grossly disproportional to the incident that triggered this as yet unfinished business between our two countries.  Our Department of State should inform New Delhi that we will simply not tolerate any of these retaliatory measures and will hold that government liable and responsible for the safety and security of every one of our personnel currently in India.  This should not be couched as a mild threat or related as a mere admonition but as a stern warning and an absolute promise.

Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2013 © All Rights Reserved

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