Tuesday, December 27, 2005Truthout: The Bush Administration used the NSA to spy on UN diplomats in the push to invade Iraq.
NSA Spied on UN Diplomats in Push for Invasion of Iraq
By Norman Solomon
Despite all the news accounts and punditry since the New York Times published its Dec. 16 bombshell about the National Security Agency's domestic spying, the media coverage has made virtually no mention of the fact that the Bush administration used the NSA to spy on UN diplomats in New York before the invasion of Iraq.
That spying had nothing to do with protecting the United States from a terrorist attack. The entire purpose of the NSA surveillance was to help the White House gain leverage, by whatever means possible, for a resolution in the UN Security Council to green light an invasion. When that surveillance was exposed nearly three years ago, the mainstream US media winked at Bush's illegal use of the NSA for his Iraq invasion agenda.
Back then, after news of the NSA's targeted spying at the United Nations broke in the British press, major US media outlets gave it only perfunctory coverage - or, in the case of the New York Times, no coverage at all. Now, while the NSA is in the news spotlight with plenty of retrospective facts, the NSA's spying at the UN goes unmentioned: buried in an Orwellian memory hole.
A rare exception was a paragraph in a Dec. 20 piece by Patrick Radden Keefe in the online magazine Slate, which pointedly noted that "the eavesdropping took place in Manhattan and violated the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the Headquarters Agreement for the United Nations, and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, all of which the United States has signed."
But after dodging the story of the NSA's spying at the UN when it mattered most - before the invasion of Iraq - the New York Times and other major news organizations are hardly apt to examine it now. That's all the more reason for other media outlets to step into the breach.
In early March 2003, journalists at the London-based Observer reported that the NSA was secretly participating in the US government's high-pressure campaign for the UN Security Council to approve a pro-war resolution. A few days after the Observer revealed the text of an NSA memo about US spying on 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 was "timely."
Publication of the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, made possible by Ellsberg's heroic decision to leak those documents, came after the Vietnam War had been underway for many years. But with an invasion of Iraq still in the future, the leak about NSA spying on UN diplomats in New York could erode the Bush administration's already slim chances of getting a war resolution through the Security Council. (Ultimately, no such resolution passed before the invasion.) And media scrutiny in the United States could have shed light on how Washington's war push was based on subterfuge and manipulation.
"As part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq," the Observer had reported on March 2, 2003, the US government developed an "aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of UN delegates." The smoking gun was "a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency - the US body which intercepts communications around the world - and circulated to both senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency." The friendly agency was Britain's Government Communications Headquarters.
The Observer explained: "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 UN headquarters in New York - the so-called 'Middle Six' delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the US and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for UN inspections, led by France, China and Russia."
The NSA memo, dated Jan. 31, 2003, outlined 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 US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises."