British Gov’t Spied on Diplomats at G20 (& on UN before Iraq War)

The Guardian is reporting that:

“Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.”

This sort of story is not new. Philip Knightley and Kim Sengupta reported in 2004 on [summary here) GCHQ spying on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and on the displomats from the undecided countries on the US Security Council in the run-up to Bush’s Iraq War. Whistleblower Katherine Gunn revealed the incident. For decades, the American National Security Agency and GCHQ have been spying on each other’s countries and then exchanging the data (see below).

You wonder how many dirty tricks British PM Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush played with this surveillance in ginning up their illegal Iraq War.

That is another reason for which the broad NSA spying authorized by the Patriot Act should be disallowed; it clearly in the past has been abused for political purposes. And that, children, is why Barack Obama won’t let go of it either. It isn’t just about terrorism. It is political dirty tricks and industrial espionage as well, applied against friends, not just foes.

I wrote at Informed Comment 9 years ago:
Reprinted from February 27, 2004

We may as Well Just Record all our Telephone Calls and send them to Maryland

Philip Knightley and Kim Sengupta describe how the US National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters eavesdrop on the whole world. The NSA is forbidden from listening in on Americans without a warrant, but the US government circumvents this problem by formally allowing the GCHQ to spy on Americans. The NSA listens in on British calls, and then the two just swap the information.

The NSA is ten times larger with regard to personnel than the CIA, with a budget larger than the other intelligence agencies as well ($8 bn. out of about $30 bn. total). Frankly, after September 11 I think most Americans would be happier if it listens in on calls in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Hamburg a little more intently than in the past. It is not so clear that they would be happy to know it was listening in on Americans not under any suspicion of criminality.

The GCHQ was founded in 1946, but I heard somewhere that the deal on having the US spy on British citizens and the British on US, and then swapping the data, goes back to World War II.

The current row over GCHQ in New York monitoring UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s phone calls was in some sense begun in spring of 2003 when GCHQ employee Katharine Gunn blew the whistle on the US and the British governments, revealing that the US had asked GCHQ to listen in on the phone calls of the UN ambassadors of 6 swing vote countries on the Security Council with regard to the building Iraq war. The British government seriously considered prosecuting Gunn, but backed off just a few days ago. Some have suggested that the British authorities began worrying that if the case went to court, Gunn’s attorney would demand to see the memos of Lord Goldsmith, the British attorney general, on the legality of the Iraq war. We know from one leaked memo that he felt that without a UN Security Council resolution, a prolonged Anglo-American occupation of Iraq would likely involve the two in policy making that contravened international law (as it has). Others say that it just seemed highly unlikely a British jury would convict Gunn, given how unpopular the war and occupation have been in the UK.

This week, ex-British cabinet member Clare Short, who broke with Tony Blair over the Iraq war, revealed that while on the cabinet she had seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s telephone calls.

Now it turns out that whenever UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was in Iraq, his cell phone was monitored. That Blix was under surveillance and that transcripts of his phone calls were shared among the US, the UK, Australia and Canada, puts a new spin on the Blix allegation last summer that he had been the object of a smear campaign by officials in the US Department of Defense. If Feith, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld had his personal phone calls, they were in a position to cook up plausible smears against him. Blix maintains that the authority of the United Nations has been perhaps irretrievably damaged by the very countries who should have been supporting it.

The Blix wiretaps raise an interesting question. Did the US and UK know even more about the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction than we thought, from what Blix was saying privately in spring of 2003 before the war?

While the GCHQ listening in on phone calls in the US is apparently just a regular occurrence, tapping Kofi Annan’s line would be illegal because the UN headquarters is not considered US soil. Whatever deal Roosevelt and Churchill made about each spying on the other’s citizens doesn’t apply at the UN.

The framers of the US constitution wanted individuals to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own homes, and wanted the police to leave them alone unless there was good evidence they had committed a crime. The rise of the National Security State during WW II and in the Cold War has effectively gutted the constitution in this regard for all practical purposes. The Patriot Act more or less repeals the Bill of Rights, which has bedevilled successive US regimes, especially that of Richard Nixon, who now finally has his revenge.

I suppose the real question is whether, when Bin Laden boasted, “I will take away their freedom,” it was an empty boast or an accurate prediction.”

5 Responses

  1. What I don’t understand is why the powerful men and women in Congress can’t realize that it is THEY who are the most likely targets for illegal scrutiny. No one cares about ordinary Joes like us; we can’t seriously threaten anyone. But powerful people are a threat to other powerful people and will be the first ones targeted. Likewise why can’t the average corporation realize that massive scrutiny of their phone calls and computer activity is the ultimate in insider information for some government contractor. This kind of information WILL be misused; no outsider can be trusted with such information.

      • This just in from a Guardian Q&A with Snowden: He holds that the NSA has provided Congress a blanket pass from their surveillance:

        link to

        A quid pro quo perhaps. A REALLY fascinating read, better than the initial interview. There has just GOT to be a hit out on this guy.

  2. The Patriot Act cannot repeal the Bill of Rights; the U.S. Constitution is higher authority under the Supremacy Clause.

    I also would say that the U.S. Supreme Court has had its share of members with intelligence connections. Lewis Powell served in Army Intelligence and William Rehnquist’s wife was a CIA agent. Thurgood Marshall was an FBI informant.

    Much of the federal judiciary is drawn from members of the bar who have backgrounds in the FBI or Department of Justice who will not hesitate to interpret the Constitution in a friendly way to the U.S. intelligence community.

    ECHELON was initially held to be unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs-Taylor in Detroit – she was a former civil rights activist from the MLK era. That ruling was reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

  3. Ha! And Mr Kerry is complaining about the Iranian elections of late, expressing his concern about their fairness. With the total surveillance society, all politicians can expect their communications to be compromised and anything that resembles ‘strategic’ or ‘tactical’ thinking can be known by any interested (read: ‘opposing’) party, even before it becomes public! Any concerns about the Guardian Council’s approval processes must be seen either as deceptive or naive in light of the potential fact that the Americans et al also perform their own vetting of political candidates.
    This might send Alex Jones over the Moon, given the basis for and basics of a vast Illuminati conspiracy have an apparently good foundation. We’ll just have to see where and when the cobbled cobblers meet the cobblestones! It seems as though this was not done with much forethought of the consequences, regardless of how tasty the morsels of information might have seemed, and – now – it’s spread all over the streets where the shoddily shod find their soles in disrepair! Ah, and their souls are in despair!

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