That leaked NSA memo: further developments

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As you may recall, in a dispatch last week I pointed out a piece in the British Observer on a leaked National Security Agency document calling for heightened surveillance of and interception of phone calls and emails from UN delegations crucial to the upcoming Security Council vote. (I also enclosed the leaked document and speculated — based on the logic of the situation, not any insider information — that it was leaked by someone in British intelligence.) The leaked document was completely ignored by the media here in the United States for two days, until Ari Fleischer at a news conference was asked about it and provided a non-denial. Then it was written about sparsely at best, not at all in the New York Times, and generally with a ho-hum, no-big-deal, didn’t-even-bother-the-delegations-concerned tone in places like the Washington Post and LA Times. Elsewhere, including in letters to me, it was denounced as a forgery.

Now, the Observer reports, an arrest has been made in England. (So much for the forgery theory. At least the British government believes the document real enough to pursue a possible leakee.) Here then is part of an email just sent out by Observer correspondent Ed Vulliamy on the subject:

“This is to inform you that there has just been an arrest at the British Government’s Communications Headquarters (GCHQ – equivalent of the NSA) in connection with the leak of the memo. If charges are made, they will be serious – Britain is far more severe in these matters than the US (so far!). They could result in a major trial and a long prison sentence for the alleged mole. It it is also a criminal offence to receive such information in Britain (some of you may recall the ‘ABC’ trial of the 1970s), and this may also become an issue of press freedom. The authors of the piece will defy any attempt by the government to discuss our sources.

“It is important that maximum international – as well as domestic British – pressure be brought to bear on the Blair government over this impending case, the prosecution of which will inevitably have a political agenda, and to protect this prospective defendant all we can. Pleading motive will be impossible because there is no defence of justification in Britain.

“It would be a great help if you would very kindly put your minds to the issue during a spare moment, and think of appropriate people – individuals, concerned organisations, politicians, academics and student or grass roots groups – who might consider making representations to the British government in a letter to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, London, SW1. And secondly, whether any of you may even want to make such a communication yourselves.”

It will also be interesting — given the kinds of coverage Cold War spying and leaking once got — to see whether this case is once again ignored here. I’ve included below two of today’s three Observer pieces on the case. Among the articles that might be written here would be one about the British and American intelligence agencies and what kinds of opposition there is within each government to the war policies of Bush and Blair. (By the way, as indicated below, the reaction to this leaked document abroad was not, in fact, ho-hum.) Tom

UN launches inquiry into American spying
Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy in New York and Peter Beaumont
The Observer
March 9, 2003

March 9, 2003

The United Nations has begun a top-level investigation into the bugging of its delegations by the United States, first revealed in The Observer last week.

Sources in the office of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan confirmed last night that the spying operation had already been discussed at the UN’s counter-terrorism committee and will be further investigated.
The news comes as British police confirmed the arrest of a 28-year-old woman working at the top secret Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) on suspicion of contravening the Official Secrets Act.

Last week The Observer published details of a memo sent by Frank Koza, Defence Chief of Staff (Regional Targets) at the US National Security Agency, which monitors international communications. The memo ordered an intelligence ‘surge’ directed against Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea with ‘extra focus on Pakistan UN matters’.

To read more of this Observer piece click here

The long history of UN espionage
Spying at the United Nations helped to shape the UN Charter itself. But if spying is an inevitable part of global diplomacy, it won’t necessarily help the Bush administration to win friends and influence people at a time of global crisis.
By Ian Davis and David Isenberg
March 9, 2003
The Observer

Last Sunday’s revelation, published in The Observer, of a ‘top secret’ US memo, supposedly showing that the NSA has eavesdropped on members of the UN Security Council in recent weeks for insights into their negotiating positions on Iraq, is shocking. But perhaps not for the reasons that might first come to mind.

While the US administration has refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of the memo, it is a sad truth that spying at the United Nations, both at the headquarters and among its various agencies and field missions is as old as the UN itself. The real significance of this story is what this rare public disclosure of such aggressive dipomatic tactics, whether seen as fair or foul, tells us about the atmosphere at the United Nations at a time when the world’s diplomats stand starkly divided over the prospect of war on Iraq.

Ian Davis and David Isenberg are, respectively, Director and Senior Analyst of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). For more information, see

To read more of this Observer piece click here