U.S. SPY SCANDAL:
sparks UN Investigations
of U.S. Government spying
"More timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers"
Whistleblower arrested in Britain on suspicion of leaking damning memo
Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld were both challenged about the illegal operation last week, but they refused to comment.
Mainstream Media continues news blackout
Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy in New York and Peter Beaumont
Sunday 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'. The 'dirty tricks' operation was designed to win votes in favour of intervention in Iraq.
The Observer reported that the memo was sent to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for help in the operation. It has been known for some time that elements within the British security services were unhappy with the Government's use of intelligence information.
The leak was described as 'more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers' by Daniel Ellsberg, the most celebrated whistleblower in recent American history.
In 1971, Ellsberg was responsible for leaking a secret history of US involvement in Vietnam, which became known as 'the Pentagon Papers', while working as a Defence Department analyst. The papers fed the American public's hostility to the war.
The revelations of the spying operation have caused deep embarrassment to the Bush administration at a key point in the sensitive diplomatic negotiations to gain support for a second UN resolution authorising intervention in Iraq.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were both challenged about the operation last week, but said they could not comment on security matters.
The operation is thought to have been authorised by US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, but American intelligence experts told The Observer that a decision of this kind would also have involved Donald Rumsfeld, CIA director George Tenet and NSA chief General Michael Hayden.
President Bush himself would have been informed at one of the daily intelligence briefings held every morning at the White House.
Attention has now turned to the foreign intelligence agency responsible for the leak. It is now believed the memo was sent out via Echelon, an international surveillance network set up by the NSA with the cooperation of GCHQ in Britain and similar organisations in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Wayne Madsen, of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre and himself a former NSA intelligence officer, said the leak demonstrated that there was deep unhappiness in the intelligence world over attempts to link Iraq to the terrorist network al-Qaeda.
'My feeling is that this was an authorised leak. I've been hearing for months of people in the US and British intelligence community who are deeply concerned about their governments "cooking" intelligence to link Iraq to al-Qaeda.'
The Observer story caused a political furore in Chile, where President Ricardo Lagos demanded an immediate explanation of the spying operation. The Chilean public is extremely sensitive to reports of US 'dirty tricks' after decades of American secret service involvement in the country's internal affairs. In 1973 the CIA supported a coup that toppled the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende and installed the dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
President Lagos spoke on the telephone with Prime Minister Tony Blair about the memo last Sunday, immediately after the publication of the story, and twice again on Wednesday. Chile's Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear also raised the matter with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Chile's ambassador to Britain Mariano Fernández told The Observer: 'We cannot understand why the United States was spying on Chile. We were very surprised. Relations have been good with America since the time of George Bush Snr.' He said that the position of the Chilean mission to the UN was published in regular diplomatic bulletins, which were public documents openly available.
While the bugging of foreign diplomats at the UN is permissible under the US Foreign Intelligence Services Act, it is a breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, according to one of America's leading experts on international law, Professor John Quigley of Ohio University.
He says the convention stipulates 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.'
The memo writer who asked for help in the illegal operation never suspected was that someone outside the NSA would be so shocked by his request to help with a dirty tricks campaign that they would leak his memo, or that it would end up in the hands of The Observer. But by last week that memo had led to the biggest spy-hunt since the David Shayler affair.
The spies and the spinner
Peter Beaumont in Amman and Gaby Hinsliff examine how Alastair Campbell and intelligence staff fell out over what the public should be told about Saddam
Sunday March 9, 2003
In the Cheltenham headquarters of Britain's secret global listening facility, GCHQ, analysts have access to one of the world's most powerful pieces of computer software.
They call it Dictionary, and its job is to screen the massive flows of intercepted data and look for groups of words of significance to whatever the analysts are seeking.
When those groups come up, the software alerts the analysts who then begin a review of all the intercepted communication in their search for hard intelligence.
It is a painstaking and rigorous procedure that is these day shared among experts across the globe: from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
On 31 January a memo was sent from the National Security Agency in Maryland from one Frank Koza at GCHQ's American sister listening operation.
The memo was blunt. It asked the recipients at GCHQ to help with an American mission: to analyse US intercepts of the homes and offices of certain UN delegations to the Security Council.
It singled out key members of the UNSC (Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Bulgaria, Chile and Pakistan) for special attention, but said the operation should stretch to all delegations (except Britain and America, of course) if that proved necessary to give the US an edge.
The United States was looking for any information that could help Koza's government put pressure on these countries to vote for a US and UK-sponsored resolution that would authorise a war against Iraq.
What Koza never suspected was that someone outside the NSA would be so shocked by his request to help with a dirty tricks campaign that they would leak his memo, or that it would end up in the hands of The Observer. But by last week that memo had led to the biggest spy-hunt since the David Shayler affair.
In the Maryland headquarters of the NSA, incredulity at the leak - and the knowledge that someone in one of its partner intelligence organisations had deliberately disclosed evidence of the operation at a time designed to cause severe damage to America's attempts to secure a second Security Council resolution authorising war against Iraq - turned to fury.
The leak, however, raises as many questions as the number of secrets it reveals. The most pressing of these remains: why would a career intelligence officer risk discovery, ignominy and imprisonment to leak it in the first place?
The answer to that question is to be found not simply in the conscience of the individual intelligence officer, but in a wider conflict between the intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic and their political masters.
In the imposing glass-fronted riverside headquarters of MI6 in London, as in the Cheltenham headquarters of GCHQ, the several thousand employees of the Secret Intelligence Service stick to a view that some may regard as arcane in the individualism of the modern world.
They hold fast to a credo that they are the real guardians of the UK, that while politicians may come and go, their work is eternal. 'The intelligence professionals feel that they stand somewhat above the vagaries of politics,' said one close observer familiar with their work.
'But what has happened is that they have come into conflict with the politicians over Iraq. They feel that their long history is in danger of being undermined by the uses made of the intelligence product by Number 10, and that the way information has been spun has corroded the public's belief in what they do.'
This tension has been visible beneath the surface for months, as intelligence officials have briefed against the more outrageous claims made by the Government.
The tensions between the intelligence services and the Downing Street spin operation date back to last summer, when the first so-called secret dossier on Iraq, detailing Saddam's armoury of weapons of mass destruction, was being finalised in the autumn.
The team working on it - led by Tony Blair's director of communications Alastair Campbell, head of homeland security David Omand, Downing Street foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, and representatives of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - began by deciding what messages derived from intelligence material should be put across, and then attempting to find publicly available information backing them up.
The September dossier went through two or three final drafts, with Campbell writing it off each time, and had already resulted in fairly serious rows between Campbell, Omand and Stephen Lander, then head of M15.
The essence of the disagreement is said to have been that intelligence material should be presented 'straight', rather than spiced up to make a political argument.
The problem with a second dossier on Saddam's record of deception, drawn up in January when it began to become obvious that Hans Blix's work was not making an incontrovertible case for war, was that it was completed with far less time for cross-checking.
The result was the infamous 'dodgy dossier', reliant on a plagiarised PhD thesis to make its argument that Saddam was a threat, and admissions from Downing Street that it should have acknowledged its sources.
'The dossier was unhelpful,' said one officer. 'It undermines the very real message that we are trying to get across - to persuade the public that Saddam Hussein is a risk, but for many complicated reasons.
'There is a feeling that there is something reckless about some of the people around Tony Blair - that they are dangerous.
'There is a feeling among many in the intelligence community that they are being forced to sacrifice their integrity for short-term political gain.'
American media dodging U.N. surveillance story
U.S. 'paper of record' still hasn't mentioned spying scandal
Three days after a British newspaper revealed a memo about U.S. spying on U.N. Security Council delegations, I asked Daniel Ellsberg to assess the importance of the story. "This leak," he replied, "is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers."
The key word is "timely." Publication of the secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, made possible by Ellsberg's heroic decision to leak those documents, came after the Vietnam War had already been underway for many years. But with all-out war on Iraq still in the future, the leak about spying at the United Nations could erode the Bush administration's already slim chances of getting a war resolution through the Security Council.
"As part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq," the London-based Observer reported on March 2, the U.S. government developed an "aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of U.N. delegates." The smoking gun was "a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency -- the U.S. body which intercepts communications around the world -- and circulated to both senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency."
The Observer added: "The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the U.N. headquarters in New York -- the so-called 'Middle Six' delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the U.S. and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for U.N. inspections, led by France, China and Russia."
The NSA memo, dated Jan. 31, outlines the wide scope of the surveillance activities, seeking any information useful to push a war resolution through the Security Council -- "the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises."
Three days after the memo came to light, The Times of London printed an article noting that the Bush administration "finds itself isolated" in its zeal for war on Iraq. "In the most recent setback," the newspaper reported, "a memorandum by the U.S. National Security Agency, leaked to The Observer, revealed that American spies were ordered to eavesdrop on the conversations of the six undecided countries on the United Nations Security Council."
The London Times article called it an "embarrassing disclosure." And the embarrassment was nearly worldwide. From Russia to France to Chile to Japan to Australia, the story was big mainstream news. But not in the United States.
Several days after the "embarrassing disclosure," not a word about it had appeared in America's supposed paper of record. The New York Times -- the single most influential media outlet in the United States -- still had not printed anything about the story. How could that be?
"Well, it's not that we haven't been interested," New York Times deputy foreign editor Alison Smale said Wednesday night, nearly 96 hours after the Observer broke the story. "We could get no confirmation or comment" on the memo from U.S. officials.
The Times opted not to relay The Observer's account, Smale told me. "We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting." She added: "We are still definitely looking into it. It's not that we're not."
Belated coverage would be better than none at all. But readers should be suspicious of the failure of The New York Times to cover this story during the crucial first days after it broke. At some moments in history, when war and peace hang in the balance, journalism delayed is journalism denied.
Overall, the sparse U.S. coverage that did take place seemed eager to downplay the significance of The Observer's revelations. On March 4, The Washington Post ran a back-page 514-word article headlined "Spying Report No Shock to U.N.," while the Los Angeles Times published a longer piece that began by emphasizing that U.S. spy activities at the United Nations are "long-standing."
The U.S. media treatment has contrasted sharply with coverage on other continents. "While some have taken a ho-hum attitude in the U.S., many around the world are furious," says Ed Vulliamy, one of the Observer reporters who wrote the March 2 article. "Still, almost all governments are extremely reluctant to speak up against the espionage. This further illustrates their vulnerability to the U.S. government."
To Daniel Ellsberg, the leaking of the NSA memo was a hopeful sign. "Truth-telling like this can stop a war," he said. Time is short for insiders at intelligence agencies "to tell the truth and save many, many lives." But major news outlets must stop dodging the information that emerges.