Security Council diplomats today shrugged off a British newspaper report that the super-secretive National Security Agency had ordered an eavesdropping "surge" on their telephones to determine their voting positions on a resolution that would pave the way for a U.S.-led war against Iraq.
"The fact is, this sort of thing goes with the territory," Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, said in an interview. "You'd have to be very naive to be surprised."
The Observer, which is based in London, on Sunday published what it said was a directive from an NSA official describing an effort to increase electronic eavesdropping on select Security Council members -- including Chile, Angola, Cameroon, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan -- whose votes would be crucial for adoption of the resolution.
The NSA official, described by the paper as the chief of staff of regional targets, urged his field agents to decipher the nations' voting plans, their negotiation strategy and any "alliances/dependencies" that might influence their decisions.
"The Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the U.N. Security Council members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how membership is reacting to the ongoing debate" on Iraq, according to the official's allegedly "top secret" Jan. 31 e-mail. It instructed NSA operatives to collect "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."
Senior administration officials have acknowledged that they were confident about prevailing in their effort to adopt an initial resolution in November threatening "serious consequences" against Iraq if it failed to disarm in part because they were eavesdropping on French and Russian conversations.
U.S. officials in New York and Washington declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the directive or the existence of the NSA official, whose name was published by the Observer.
"As a matter of long-standing policy, the administration never comments on anything involving any people involved in intelligence," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.
U.N. diplomats and analysts said that espionage had been a fact of life at the United Nations since its founding in 1945, and they assume they are being monitored by many foreign intelligence agencies.
"I assume every phone conversation I have either on the cell phone or at the office is listened to by several people," said a European diplomat who requested anonymity. Another Security Council diplomat, asked in a telephone interview if he believes his calls are monitored by American intelligence agencies, said, "Let's ask the guy who's listening to us."
"No member state has raised a complaint with us, and to my knowledge no government has raised the issue in the committee on host country relations, where an issue of this nature would be appropriately addressed," said U.N. chief spokesman Fred Eckhard.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.