Mon, Sep 20, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Keyser trip unofficial but hardly secret, sources say

By Mac William Bishop  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former US diplomat Donald Keyser's trip to Taiwan last year was undertaken with the tacit -- but unofficial -- approval of US State Department officials, according to US sources and a newsletter quoting a government document.

"Don was in Tokyo last summer and we knew he was heading for Taipei," the newsletter, called the Nelson Report, quotes a message from the US Embassy in Japan as saying.

The private newsletter, which circulates to US embassies containing items of interest to diplomats involved with Asian affairs, continued: "The unclassified itinerary drawn up [by the US Embassy in Tokyo] clearly says `17 July, Thursday 940: Depart China Air for Taipei.'"

"Among the host of unanswered questions is whether the FBI, and Keyser's superiors at State, are themselves confused as to his official itinerary last year," the Nelson Report says.

"Whether this implies possible confusion as to whether his activities on Taiwan were known to superiors, is, obviously, another major unanswered question," the newsletter added.

A US security source believes that Keyser's trip was probably made in relation to a counter-narcotics program involving North Korea. The source declined to reveal his name due to the sensitivity of the case.

"US officials of his level of seniority are not technically allowed to come to Taiwan. There isn't a law that says you can't, but there isn't anything that says you can," the source said. "These kinds of unofficial trips are pretty much the norm."

The Nelson Report agreed with this assertion: "It is important to note, however, that the Taiwan Relations Act and the terms of US-China relations over the years leads to a practice that State Department and other US Government officials often must resort to `unofficial' status when visiting Taiwan.

"The enforced ambiguity of the situation is rife with potential for misunderstanding by outside observers, including law enforcement officials, who may not grasp the contradictions involved in an `unofficial/official relationship,' and who, in any event, may not be culturally disposed to view the general conduct of diplomatic business in a favorable light."

A long-term observer of the US diplomatic scene, who knows Keyser, was more blunt.

"The whole thing is bullshit," he said. The FBI was making an issue out of a routine practice that was in the interests of both the US and Taiwan's national security, he said.

"Don Keyser is a good, smart man who would never do anything to jeopardize his country," he said. "It's just a paperwork foul-up."

When asked if there would be a written record of Keyser's receiving approval for an unofficial trip, the security source shook his head.

"Never in writing," he said.

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