UNITED NATIONS – The Russian ambassador, appropriately enough, considered it part of the game. The Bulgarian envoy said it was a badge of honor.
Just behind disarming Iraq, Monday’s topic of the day in these genteel halls was whether the U.S. is spying on security council delegations, as reported this weekend in London’s Observer and picked up by other newspapers in Europe and Australia
America’s secretive National Security Agency, according to a memo leaked to the Observer, is monitoring the phones and e-mail of U.N. delegates in New York.
Targeted countries include Bulgaria, Chile, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and Pakistan, whose Security Council votes are considered crucial to the Bush administration’s resolution to use force against Iraq.
The purpose of spying on these and possibly other delegations is “to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence for Bush officials on the voting intentions of U.N. members regarding the issue of Iraq,” according to the published memo.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer declined comment Monday. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said, diplomatically, “We haven’t received any confirmation from a member state nor are we aware that any government raised an objection.”
At the sprawling U.N. complex, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said he expects his phone to be tapped.
“It’s a way of life. It comes with the profession, with the job,” said Moscow’s envoy, whose country has been historically familiar with such issues.
His Bulgarian counterpart, Stefan Tafrov said there was something akin to a “prestige factor” in being spied on. “It’s almost an offense if they don’t listen,” he said.
Despite such assumptions, an awful lot of talking continued to go on, much of it the cellular variety, one of the least secure methods of communication. On escalators, in elevators, and at the U.N. cafeteria line, women in business suits and men in African robes mash mobile phones to their ears and chatter away.
Because of the sheer amount of information exchanged via phone and e-mail, Cristian Maquieira, the deputy ambassador from Chile, wondered if anyone could keep track of it all.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, there are some guys that are worried about it around here … I think it would surprise some of my colleagues who talk to their girlfriends on the phone.”