Diplomatic bag

Diplomatic bag

A diplomatic bag, also known as a diplomatic pouch, is an envelope, parcel, shipping container or any other kind of receptacle used by diplomatic missions. As long as it is externally marked to show its status, the bag has diplomatic immunity from search or seizure, as codified in article 27 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It may only contain articles intended for official use. It need not be a bag. In fact, no size limit is specified by the convention. It is often escorted by a diplomatic courier, who is similarly immune from arrest and detention.


In discussions of cryptography, the diplomatic bag is conventionally used as an example of the ultimate secure channel used to exchange keys, codebooks and other necessarily secret materials. Like Alice and Bob, it is an example of a metasyntactic variable when used this way.

In actual practice, diplomatic bags are indeed used for exactly this purpose. An illustration is the strenuous protest made by German diplomats in Poland in the late 1920s when a cypher machine being shipped to the German Warsaw Embassy — a commercial version of the famous Enigma machine — was mistakenly not marked as protected baggage and was opened, under protest, by Polish Customs. It was released to them, supposedly without much apology (and with still more protest), on the following Monday, but had been thoroughly inspected by Polish cryptography personnel over the weekend.


Some countries with corrupt governments have allegedly used diplomatic immunity to smuggle drugs, which was mentioned by English journalist Tony Thompson in his book Gangs: A journey into the heart of the British underworld. In 1964, an Israeli diplomatic agent was drugged, bound, and placed in a diplomatic bag at the Egyptian Embassy in Rome, but was rescued by the Italians. In the 1984 Dikko Affair, a former Nigerian government minister was kidnapped and similarly treated, in an attempt to transport him from the United Kingdom back to Nigeria for trial. Fortunately, the bag was not marked as such, which allowed British customs to open it. Zimbabwe created an international incident in March 2000, when it opened a British diplomatic shipment. On a less serious note, during World War II, Winston Churchill reportedly received shipments of Cuban cigars by this means.

In popular culture

In the film The Peacemaker, a diplomat who is also a terrorist smuggles a nuclear bomb into the United States using a diplomatic bag. The bag was never searched in customs and aircraft luggage screening due to diplomatic immunity.


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