By Kevin Sullivan and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
LONDON, Dec. 11 -- In a rare public comment on its intelligence operations, the National Security Agency said Monday that it had 39 documents containing references to the late Princess Diana but had never targeted her telephone communications for monitoring.
The statement came in response to British media reports that U.S. intelligence officials had intercepted Diana's calls on the day she died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. According to the reports, the officials had assured Scotland Yard investigators working on a pending report that 39 classified documents about her final conversations revealed no sign that her death was anything but an accident.
In its statement Monday, the agency said it had released information about the documents earlier. "The 39 NSA-originated and NSA-controlled documents referenced in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 1998 only contained references to the Princess, and she was never the communicant," the statement said. "NSA did not target Princess Diana's communications."
The agency declined further comment pending release of the Scotland Yard report, which is due out Thursday. "NSA has cooperated with the investigations into this tragic incident to the full extent of the law," it said.
CIA spokesman Tom Crispell dismissed as "rubbish" any suggestions that his agency had eavesdropped on Diana.
The newspaper reports produced a flurry of comment in London, in particular because of claims that monitoring had proceeded without the approval of the British government.
"I'm sure the queen would be furious if this were proved to be the case," said Robert Lacey, a royal biographer. "I'm sure, if all this proves to be true, that some very tough questions will be asked in very high places."
The Observer, Evening Standard and Daily Mirror newspapers said they based their reports on leaks from the Scotland Yard inquiry. According to the Observer, the monitoring targeted Diana's calls at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, where she was staying.
The police report, which took nearly three years to complete at a cost of more than $5 million, will conclude that Diana, 36, died because Henri Paul, the driver of the vehicle in which she was a passenger, was driving at excessive speeds while under the influence of alcohol, according to the newspapers. It will conclude that her death and those of Paul and her companion, Dodi Fayed, 42, were accidental.
That would mirror the findings of an earlier French investigation, which did little to end speculation that Diana and Fayed were victims of a murder conspiracy. A chief proponent of such theories is Fayed's father, Mohamed al-Fayed.
The report will serve as a basis for the long-delayed coroner's inquest scheduled to begin in January. Such government investigations are standard after a British citizen dies abroad. The inquest for Diana was delayed by the Scotland Yard report, which was ordered in 2004 to examine the various conspiracy theories swirling around her death.
The Evening Standard reported that U.S. officials were "monitoring Diana's friendship" with U.S. billionaire Theodore J. Forstmann and others of "her closest associates."
Wall Street financier Forstmann, 66, met Diana at an October 1994 dinner at the Georgetown home of the late Washington Post Co. chairman, Katharine Graham, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
The two "really hit it off" that night and became close friends, but there was never a romantic relationship between them, the source said. They talked regularly by phone and Diana called Forstmann during her separation and divorce from Prince Charles, the source said.
In the spring of 1997, Diana called Forstmann to ask about renting a house in the Hamptons, the Long Island resort community, during the summer, and Forstmann put her in touch with a local broker, the source said.
Sometime later, Diana called back to say that British security officials would not let her bring her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, because of a "security problem." The source said Diana did not specify the nature of the problem.
Lacey said Diana was required to bring royal family security agents with her whenever she traveled with her sons, although she often traveled without security when she was alone.
Forstmann, an investment banker who formerly owned Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., occasionally let Diana use his private plane, the source said. Although Forstmann had no idea whether officials were monitoring his phone calls with Diana, the source said, he had heard rumors that someone had planted listening devices in his plane to listen to the princess.
The source added, "If they were listening to her calls, it was because of her, not him."
Pincus reported from Washington.