Spying on the United Nations refers to acts of espionage committed by states against the United Nations.

The UN claims that acts of espionage on it are 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.[1]

In one notable incident, the US and other Western countries were found to be spying on the UN in March 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq War,[2] and actual bugging devices were found inside the UN.[3][4][5] In 2010, WikiLeaks revealed that US diplomats had been spying on UN leaders.

Spying by individual states[edit | edit source]

United States[edit | edit source]

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.[6] This campaign, the result of a directive by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice[citation needed], was aimed primarily at the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan[citation needed]. 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'.[7]

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.[6] 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[citation needed], 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[citation needed]. Additionally, a member of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Katharine Gun was charged under the Official Secrets Act 1989[citation needed] 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[citation needed]. The prosecution declined to present any evidence at her trial[citation needed].

In a 2009 confidential cable released by WikiLeaks the following year, US diplomats were directed to spy on UN leaders, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as the Security Council delegations of Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom.[8]

United Kingdom[edit | edit source]

Clare Short, a British 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.[2][9][10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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[citation needed].

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.[13]

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.[13] 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."[13]

Australia[edit | edit source]

Australia reportedly received transcripts from the US and British phone-tapping operations against UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and another top UN figure, Hans Blix via phone-tapping. Australia also allegedly assisted the bugging with spy satellites connected to the Pine Gap relay center near Alice Springs.[14]

Israel[edit | edit source]

British writer Gordon Thomas alleges that Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, sees penetrating all UN diplomatic missions as a task of its New York katsa.[15]

General Alain Pellegrini, former commander of UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, claimed that Israel regularly spies on the peacekeeping mission. According to Pellegrini, Israeli agents had access to all reports and information submitted by UNIFIL to the UN, and is either obtained by wiretapping or is stolen when it reaches New York. According to Pellegrini, Israeli intelligence even accessed his encrypted semi-annual reports to the UN.[16]

Cyprus[edit | edit source]

Cypriot intelligence is alleged to have stolen 6,500 UN documents containing sensitive information on its negotiations with Turkish Cypriot leaders. An internal UN investigation reportedly concluded that the theft was the work of the Cyprus Intelligence Service (CIS). The operation was reportedly headed by a CIS agent who befriended Sonja Bachmann, a senior aide to Alexander Downer, an Australian politician who served as an adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the special rapporteur on the Cyprus negotiations. The agent allegedly obtained Bachmann's email login information, allowing a CIS team to access Downer's email several times while he was away on UN business.[17]

Subsequently, stolen documents were leaked to the press, and the UN investigation concluded that the Cypriots leaked the documents in the hope of undermining the role of Downer, who was seen as being too closely aligned to Turkish Cypriots.[17]

Morocco[edit | edit source]

In a 28-page report to the UN Security Council on the situation in Western Sahara and on the situation faced by MINURSO, the UN monitoring force in the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that Morocco was intercepting MINURSO communications.[18]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. United Nations Information Service in Geneva (27 February 2004). "United Nations press briefing". United Nations. http://www2.unog.ch/news2/documents/newsen/pb040227.htm. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mark Forbes (June 19, 2004). "Australia 'party to bugging of UN'". The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/06/18/1087245106216.html. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  3. New bugging device found in UN offices
  4. Technical analysis of the bug
  5. Bugging device found at UN offices, Brian Whitaker, December 18, 2004, The Guardian
  6. 6.0 6.1 Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy and Peter Beaumont (March 2, 2003). "Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war". The Observer. http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,905899,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  7. Frank Koza, NSA (January 31, 2003). "Reflections of Iraq Debate/Votes at UN-RT Actions + Potential for Related Contributions". The Observer. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/02/iraq.unitednations1. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  8. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/28/us-embassy-cables-spying-un
  9. "UK 'spied on UN's Kofi Annan'". BBC. 26 February 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3488548.stm. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  10. "Transcript: Clare Short on Today". The Guardian. 26 February 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/feb/26/iraq.iraq1. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  11. Patrick E. Tyler (27 February 2004). "Ex-Aide to Blair Says the British Spied on Annan". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE4D7103CF934A15751C0A9629C8B63. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  12. George Wright, Martin Nicholls and Matthew Tempest (26 February 2004). "Short claims UK spied on Annan". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/feb/26/iraq.iraq. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Nicholas Watt (1 March 2004). "Top civil servant tells Short to shut up". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,1159241,00.html. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  14. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/02/27/1077676969778.html
  15. Thomas, Gordon: Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad (1999, 2009 updated version)
  16. http://edition.presstv.ir/detail/150081.html
  17. 17.0 17.1 http://intelnews.org/2010/10/26/02-380/
  18. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/12/us-sahara-un-idUSBRE83B1A120120412

Timelines[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

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