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Rice authorized National Security Agency to spy on UN Security Council in run-up to war, former officials say

Jason Leopold

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President Bush and other top officials in his administration used the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap the home and office telephones and monitor private email accounts of members of the United Nations Security Council in early 2003 to determine how foreign delegates would vote on a U.N. resolution that paved the way for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, NSA documents show.

Two former NSA officials familiar with the agency's campaign to spy on U.N. members say then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice authorized the plan at the request of President Bush, who wanted to know how delegates were going to vote. Rice did not immediately return a call for comment.

The former officials said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also participated in discussions about the plan, which involved "stepping up" efforts to eavesdrop on diplomats.

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A spokeswoman at the White House who refused to give her name also would not comment, and pointed to a March 3, 2003 press briefing by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer when questions about U.N. spying were first raised.

"As a matter of long-standing policy, the administration never comments on anything involving any people involved in intelligence," Fleischer said. "So I'm not saying yes and I'm not saying no."

Disclosure of the wiretaps and the monitoring of U.N. members' email came on the eve of the Iraq war in the British-based Observer. The leak -- which the paper acquired in the form of an email via a British translator -- came amid a U.S. push urging U.N. members to vote in favor of a resolution that said Iraq was in violation of U.N. resolution 1441, asserting that it had failed to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

News of the NSA spying on the U.N. received scant coverage in U.S. newspapers at the time. But with the explosive domestic spying report published in the New York Times last week, a closer examination of pre-war spying may shed light on whether the Bush administration has used the NSA for its own political purposes, as opposed to tracking down communications regarding potential terrorist threats against the U.S.

The leaked NSA email detailing the agency's spy tactics against the U.N. was written Jan. 31, 2003 by Chief of Staff for Regional Targets Frank Koza. In the email, Koza asked an undisclosed number of NSA and British intelligence officials to "pay attention to existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms (home and office telephones) for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations."

One intelligence source who spoke to RAW STORY said top White House officials and some Republican members of Congress had debated in December 2002 whether to step up the surveillance of U.N. officials to include eavesdropping on home telephone and personal email accounts. Some feared that in the event it was discovered, it would further erode relations between the U.S. and the U.N.

The source added that U.S. spying on the U.N. isn't new.

"It's part of the job," the intelligence source said. "Everyone knows it's being done."

Eavesdropping on U.N. diplomats is authorized under the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Services Act. However, it's still considered a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which says that "The receiving state shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes... The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable."

According to one former official, "The administration pushed the envelope by tapping their home phones."

Koza's email, a copy of which is included at the end of this report, says the "Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc."

"The whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises. In RT, that means a QRC surge effort to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters."

Koza's email was sent out to NSA and British intelligence officials through a top secret surveillance network set up by the NSA, the British Government Communication Headquarters and similar intelligence agencies based in Australia, New Zealand and Canada known as Echelon.

Moreover, the email was distributed just four days after Hans Blix filed his Iraq weapons report with the U.N.

It was leaked to a handful of media outlets in the U.S. and U.K. by Katharine Tersea Gun, a former translator for British intelligence. Gun was arrested in November 2003 and charged with violating her country's Official Secrets Act. She said she felt compelled to leak the memo because she believed the U.S. and Britain were about to launch an illegal war.

"Any disclosures that may have been made were justified on the following grounds: because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. Government who attempted to subvert our own security services and, to prevent wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces in the course of an illegal war," she said in a statement at the time.

In his book "Plan of Attack," Bob Woodward, deputy managing editor of the Washington Post, said the administration was also spying on Hans Blix, the U.N. weapons inspector sent to Iraq to look for WMDs.

"One of the things that's gone unnoticed is national intelligence assets spying on Hans Blix," Woodward told the Council on Foreign Relations on June 9, 2004 "And Bush was getting these reports and felt that there was incongruity between what Blix was saying publicly and what he was actually doing. It makes it very clear we were wiretapping Hans Blix."

In an article for Counterpunch, media critic Norman Solomon noted that the U.S. media barely covered the U.N. spying.

"Nearly 96 hours after the Observer had reported it, I called Times deputy foreign editor Alison Smale and asked why not," Solomon writes. "'We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting,' Smale replied. She added that 'we could get no confirmation or comment.' In other words, U.S. intelligence officials refused to confirm or discuss the memo -- so the Times did not see fit to report on it."

The Washington Post printed a 514-word article on a back page with the headline "Spying Report No Shock to U.N," while the Los Angeles Times emphasized from the outset that U.S. spy activities at the United Nations are "long-standing," Solomon wrote.

Solomon says his research turned up only one story which took the spying seriously -- a Mar. 4, 2003 piece in the Baltimore Sun.

The leaked NSA email which revealed the spying follows.

#

To: [Recipients withheld] From: FRANK KOZA, Def Chief of Staff (Regional Targets) CIV/NSA Sent on Jan 31 2003 0:16 Subject: Reflections of Iraq Debate/Votes at UN-RT Actions + Potential for Related Contributions Importance: HIGH Top Secret//COMINT//X1 All, As you've likely heard by now, the Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc - the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises. In RT, that means a QRC surge effort to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters. We've also asked ALL RT topi's to emphasize and make sure they pay attention to existing non-UNSC member UN-related and domestic comms for anything useful related to the UNSC deliberations/ debates/ votes. We have a lot of special UN-related diplomatic coverage (various UN delegations) from countries not sitting on the UNSC right now that could contribute related perspectives/ insights/ whatever. We recognize that we can't afford to ignore this possible source. We'd appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar, more in-direct access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines. I suspect that you'll be hearing more along these lines in formal channels - especially as this effort will probably peak (at least for this specific focus) in the middle of next week, following the SecState's presentation to the UNSC. Thanks for your help

#

(Note: Slight edit made for clarification purposes.)

Originally published on Tuesday December 27, 2005



 


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