spying on

Spying on the United Nations

In March 2003 it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been spying on the United Nations Security Council including the phone conversions of Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself. The spying was committed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, to gain intelligence to ensure UN support for the upcoming 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"The UN was monitored and assessed with almost as much vigour as Iraq itself." - Andrew Wilkie

Revelation of NSA spying upon the UN Security Council

The British newspaper The Observer published an investigative report revealing that the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States was conducting a secret surveillance operation directed at intercepting the telephone and email communications of several U.N. Security Council diplomats, both in their offices and in their homes. This campaign, the result of a directive by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, was aimed primarily at the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan. The investigative report cited an NSA memo which advised senior agency officials that it was "'mounting a surge' aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also 'policies', 'negotiating positions', 'alliances' and 'dependencies' - the 'whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises'.

The authenticity of this memo has been called into question by many in the US and it is still unclear as to whether or not it is legitimate. The story was carried by the European and Australian press, and served as a further embarrassment to the Bush Administration's efforts to rally support for his war. Wayne Madsen, who was a communications security analyst with the NSA in the 1980s, believes that the memo is authentic, and believes that this memo was aimed at other nations who are part of the ECHELON intelligence network, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. Additionally, a member of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Katharine Gun was charged under the Official Secrets Act in connection with the leaking of the memo. She stated her intention to plead not guilty on the grounds that her actions were justified to prevent an illegal war. The prosecution declined to present any evidence at her trial.

UN officials are regularly spied upon

Clare Short, a UK cabinet minister who resigned in May 2003 over the war, stated in media interviews that British intelligence regularly spied on UN officials. She stated that she had read transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations.

On February 26, 2004 Short alleged on the BBC Today radio programme that British spies regularly intercept UN communications, including those of Kofi Annan, its Secretary-General. The revelation came the day after the unexplained dropping of whistleblowing charges against former GCHQ translator Katharine Gun. Reacting to Short's statement, Tony Blair said "I really do regard what Clare Short has said this morning as totally irresponsible, and entirely consistent [with Short's character]." Blair also claimed that Short had put UK security, particularly the security of its spies, at risk. The same day, on the BBC's Newsnight programme, Short called Blair's response "pompous" and said that Britain had no need to spy on Kofi Annan. Blair did not explicitly deny the claims but Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary, wrote that in his experience he would be surprised if the claims were true.

A few days later (on February 29, 2004) Ms Short appeared on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme. She revealed that she had been written to by Britain's senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull. Turnbull's confidential letter (which Short showed to Dimbleby, and which was quoted on the programme) formally admonished her for discussing intelligence matters in the media, and threatened "further action" if she did not desist from giving interviews on the issue. Turnbull wrote that she had made claims "which damage the interests of the United Kingdom", and that he was "extremely disappointed". The "further action" referred to in the letter has been interpreted as threatening either the removal of Short's status as a Privy Counsellor or to legal action under the Official Secrets Act. Either course of action would be without recent precedent; the last time a Privy Counsellor's status was revoked was in 1921 when Sir Edgar Speyer was accused of collaborating with the Germans during the First World War. However, on March 1 2004, Tony Blair's official spokesman refused to rule out such a step.

However in the same interview on the Jonathan Dimbleby programme, Short backtracked on her claim about British agents bugging Mr Annan. She admitted that the transcripts she saw of Mr Annan's private conversations might have related to Africa and not to Iraq. Asked whether she could confirm that the transcripts related to Iraq, she said: "I can't, but there might well have been ... I cannot remember a specific transcript in relation, it doesn't mean it wasn't there." Short also admitted that her original claim, on the Today programme, that Britain had eavesdropped on Mr Annan may have been inaccurate. Asked whether the material could have passed to the British by the Americans, she said: "It could. But it normally indicates that. But I can't remember that."

Bugs found in UN

After the bugging was revealed, several actual bugging devices were found inside the UN. It was first reported by Swiss Television that a bug had been found in the Salon Francais of the Palais des Nations, formerly the League of Nations. Other devices were found later.

Spying on the United Nations is claimed by the UN to be illegal under a number of international treaties, including the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the 1947 agreement between the United Nations and the United States, and the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.



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