Two former NSA officials familiar with the agency's campaign to spy on U.N. members say then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice authorized the plan at the request of President Bush, who wanted to know how delegates were going to vote. Rice did not immediately return a call for comment.
The former officials said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also participated in discussions about the plan, which involved "stepping up" efforts to eavesdrop on diplomats.
A spokeswoman at the White House who refused to give her name also would not comment, and pointed to a March 3, 2003 press briefing by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer when questions about U.N. spying were first raised.
"As a matter of long-standing policy, the administration never comments on anything involving any people involved in intelligence," Fleischer said. "So I'm not saying yes and I'm not saying no."
Disclosure of the wiretaps and the monitoring of U.N. members' email came on the eve of the Iraq war in the British-based Observer. The leak -- which the paper acquired in the form of an email via a British translator -- came amid a U.S. push urging U.N. members to vote in favor of a resolution that said Iraq was in violation of U.N. resolution 1441, asserting that it had failed to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.
News of the NSA spying on the U.N. received scant coverage in U.S. newspapers at the time. But with the explosive domestic spying report published in the New York Times last week, a closer examination of pre-war spying may shed light on whether the Bush administration has used the NSA for its own political purposes, as opposed to tracking down communications regarding potential terrorist threats against the U.S.
The leaked NSA email detailing the agency's spy tactics against the U.N. was written Jan. 31, 2003 by Chief of Staff for Regional Targets Frank Koza. In the email, Koza asked an undisclosed number of NSA and British intelligence officials to "pay attention to existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms (home and office telephones) for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations."
One intelligence source who spoke to RAW STORY said top White House officials and some Republican members of Congress had debated in December 2002 whether to step up the surveillance of U.N. officials to include eavesdropping on home telephone and personal email accounts. Some feared that in the event it was discovered, it would further erode relations between the U.S. and the U.N.
The source added that U.S. spying on the U.N. isn't new.
"It's part of the job," the intelligence source said. "Everyone knows it's being done."
Eavesdropping on U.N. diplomats is authorized under the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Services Act. However, it's still considered a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which says that "The receiving state shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes... The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable."
According to one former official, "The administration pushed the envelope by tapping their home phones."
Koza's email, a copy of which is included at the end of this report, says the "Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc."
"The whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises. In RT, that means a QRC surge effort to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters."
The email was sent out just four days after Blix filed his Iraq weapons report with the U.N. through a top secret surveillance network set up by the NSA, the British Government Communication Headquarters and similar intelligence agencies based in Australia, New Zealand and Canada known as Echelon.