Update: UN seeks answers from Washington about US spying
The United Nations wants the US to answer questions about leaked secret diplomatic cables that indicate the US spied on diplomats. Officials asserted that such activities might be violation of international law.
“Senior UN officials yesterday made representations to the US government about a leaked secret cable sent to American diplomats which demanded detailed intelligence on the UN leadership including forensic detail about their communications systems, including passwords and personal encryption keys,” the British newspaper Guardian reports.
The paper’s sources indicated that a formal complaint would follow the release of additional details of the spying operations.
“The UN Charter, the Headquarters Agreement and the 1946 Convention contain provisions relating to the privileges and immunities of the Organisation,” a statement by UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. “The UN relies on the adherence by member states to these various undertakings.”
Haq noted the follow clause of the UN Charter: “The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial, or legislative action.”
“The UN is by its very nature a transparent organisation that makes a great deal of information about its activities available to the public and member states. UN officials regularly meet representatives of member states to brief them on UN activities,” he added.
Original report follows…
A classified directive signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on the highest-ranking officials in the United Nations, according to documents obtained from the latest WikiLeaks document dump.
The targets of the spying reportedly included UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, as well as the ambassadors of the permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, Russia, France and the UK.
Even as its servers were under a denial-of-service attack Sunday, making it virtually impossible to reach its Web site, the whistleblower group WikiLeaks began releasing the first batch of US government documents — many of them State Department cables — expected to cause embarrassment or even a straining of relations among the US’s diplomatic partners.
The Guardian, which along with the New York Times, Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde and Spain’s El Pais received the WikiLeaks materials in advance, dug up a cable signed by Clinton in June of 2009, “demanding forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.”
The order “appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying,” write the Guardian‘s Robert Booth and Julian Borger.
[The directive] called for detailed biometric information “on key UN officials, to include undersecretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers, top SYG [secretary general] aides, heads of peace operations and political field missions, including force commanders” as well as intelligence on Ban’s “management and decision-making style and his influence on the secretariat”. A parallel intelligence directive sent to diplomats in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi said biometric data included DNA, fingerprints and iris scans.
Washington also wanted credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN figures and “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives”.
According to Der Spiegel, the US wanted wanted to obtain information on the plans and intentions of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his secretariat relating to issues like Iran.”
The detailed document also reveals which UN issues most interested the US government. These included: “Darfur/Sudan,” “Afghanistan/Pakistan,” Somalia, Iran and North Korea. Other top issues included Paraguay and the Palestinian Territories, eight West African states including Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, as well as various states in Eastern Europe.
The Guardian authors suggest that the order — which was sent to 33 US embassies and consulates and reportedly engaged the CIA, Secret Service and FBI in the effort — was meant as a prelude to “surveillance or hacking operations,” given the demands for passwords and encryption keys.
The Telegraph reports the WikiLeaks document dump will take place in stages over the next week:
[T]he first tranche of documents, to be published in full tomorrow after an initial release tonight, are expected to feature “lively commentaries” by US diplomats on world leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
Coalition sources say Tuesday’s haul will deal with North and South Korea, as well as Guantánamo Bay, while Wednesday’s tranche will include comments on Pakistan and counter-piracy operations in Djibouti.
Thursday will see attention focus on the Canadians and their “inferiority complex” while corruption allegations in Afghanistan will be under the spotlight on Friday. Saturday will cover Yemen while next Sunday will see the focus shift to China.