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March 1, 2003

Secret History: Via Atrios, a revelation from the London Observer:
The United States is conducting a secret “dirty tricks” campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.

Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.

The disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency. […]

The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the UN headquarters in New York—the so-called “Middle Six” delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the US and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for UN inspections, led by France, China and Russia.

The memo is directed at senior NSA officials and advises them that the agency is “mounting a surge” aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also “policies”, “negotiating positions”, “alliances” and “dependencies”—the “whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”.

They’ve got the text of the memo, the name of the guy who wrote it, and they managed to confirm the existence of the guy before his assistant thought to start stonewalling them on the phone. Not a slam-dunk, but it seems pretty credible to me. The question isn’t whether this will convince Steven D. Warblogger that the US isn’t operating in good faith, since it won’t. The question is what Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, and Pakistan will make of it. (Assuming they’re even remotely surprised.) [09:17 PM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Secret History::

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2003, 10:29 PM:

I'd hope they'd be surprised as I hope this sort of thing isn't SOP for any of the delegations. I'm probably hopelessly naive. It certainly demostrates bad faith, but I'm having a hard time being surprised about that. This afternoon I read out a paragraph from a CNN story about how Iraq had actually started destroying their missles. Says I, "This is good." And Jordin replied, "Yes, but in today's paper there was a story quoting the Bush administration as saying just complying with the UN resolutions wasn't enough. They have to depose Saddam if they don't want to get invaded." How's that for stunning bad faith? And isn't that actually illegal? Not that that would stop the current batch of malign thugs.


Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2003, 10:34 PM:

I think in the offical US interpretation of UN Resolution 1499, Saddam is in fact required to cut down the largest tree in the forest with a herring.

Of course, even if he does, it won't matter. The thugocracy running the US needs an invasion for some reason, so that's what we'll get. Given Turkey's refusal, even with an enormous bribe, I fully expect people to start surving Freedom Birds at Thanksgiving.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 01:44 AM:

"The question is what Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, and Pakistan will make of it. (Assuming they92re even remotely surprised.)"

Even if *diplomats* expect such surveillance, the fact that it's been made public will allow their governments to come out as being Shocked, *Shocked,* and thus able take a much harder stand.

Either against the new resolution, or for a higher price for their co-operation.

* * *

You know, I wonder what it WOULD take to convince Steven D. Warblogger that the Administration is out of control. Somewhere between dropping nukes on civilian targets and disappearing domestic opponents?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 01:51 AM:

Anyone got a list of who they have disappeared to know that they haven't?

The nukes have yet to occur, though they position papers on nuke use are troubling.

John Bono ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 02:04 AM:

OK, if this memo is from an American source, how come favorite is spelled with a u, how come the date is in European format, and how come recognize is spelled recognise, and emphasize is spelled emphasise? Americans don't spell things that way. The Observer got scammed, either by a British source, or by a European source who learned the Queen's English.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 04:04 AM:

Not at all. British newspapers routinely civilise the orthography of stuff they reproduce, just as they routinely barbarise languages which use non-ascii letters.

I can't say I's surprrised, or that diplomats would be surprised. As the child of British diplomats, who spent five years in Jugoslavia, I grew up in the expectation that our homes were bugged. Perhaps not in Stockholm, but certainly in Belgrade and Bonn. Of course, nothing was ever said out loud about this until much later, when my father pointed out that the reason the Russians had built their diplomatic quarters at the top of the hilll where everyone else's were, was so they could point nasty devices down at us.

It really would be a very unprofessional diplomat who thought his lines weren't being tapped in New York at the moment.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 06:16 AM:

I would want to know if this is par for the course in UN lobbying, and if it is par for the course for other countries as well. I would be very surprised if France or the former USSR or China or the Saudis never bought votes or pressured delegates from minor countries.

No, it's not nice, and we should be above such things. But the leap to "shocked! shocked!" and "disgusted with America" response is a bit naive. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

After all the UN is the organization that censured Israel for rescuing its citizens from Entebbe but never censured Idi Amin for kidnapping them in the first place. Are you going to tell me no vote-buying was involved in those types of resolutions which were issued with disgusting frequency? You don't think oil or the Cold war alliances had anything to do with the way delegates voted in the 50 years of the UN?

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 07:24 AM:

Utterly bogus, IMHO. Why would a member of NSA refer to NSA as "the Agency" rather than as "NSA"? Why would he feel the need to explain that UNSC is an acronym for "UN Security Council"? Why would he refer to "the SecState" rather than just "SecState"? To whom could this massive As-You-Know-Bob possibly be addressed? It reads as if it were meant for members of the general public rather than members or associates of the intelligence community.

Getting to the newspaper story, by what odd reasoning could sigint possibly be termed a "dirty trick"? If someone told me that NSA was doing sigint on various UN delegations, I'd reply "I certainly hope so." Further, if the delegation from Cameroon wasn't aware that the United States (and Russia, China, Spain, Italy, Germany, Israel, South Africa, Canada, Great Britain, France, and Egypt, among a host of others) was doing sigint, they could have called me on the phone and asked. I'd have told them.

Is there any reason to think that this memo was written in Washington, DC, rather than Paris, France? No. No reason at all. (Or London, Prague, Moscow, Berlin, Jakarta, Baghdad, Riyadh, or a host of others.)

What a lot of nonsense.

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 07:58 AM:

As noted elsewhere, The Observer routinely through-writes into English English.

I'm inclined to believe the memo -- it's not remotely surprising that the US would be bugging UNSC embassies at this point. What's interesting to speculate on is the possible reasons why J. Random European Intel Agency released it at this time. Some indirect lobbying of non-aligned Security Council seats is indicated ...

And some of the other Observer headlines today bear reading, notably this one:


Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 09:30 AM:

I'd have thought that even the dimmest bulbs would be able to reason out that Anglicizing the spelling in an NSA internal memo that they want the world to believe is a genuine, leaked, internal memo of the NSA, but I'll accept the testimony of Charlie and Andrew that that minimal level of common sense really isn't to be expected of the Observer, or of British newspapers generally.

Does this also explain the substitution of "the SecState" for "SecState", "the Agency" for "NSA", and the careful note that "UNSC" means "UN Security Council" ? Does it explain the "as you know, Bob" tone of the memo, explaining things that must be obvious to the sender and all intended recipients?

I don't doubt for a minute that the US intelligence community is engaging in intelligence gathering with regard to Security Council members and anyone else they think is likely to be a significant player in this. Nor would I be surprised to learn, with this crowd, that they're crossing the line of what's considered standard practice, in the absolute conviction of their right to do what they please.

I also don't doubt for a minute that this supposedly leaked NSA memo was actually written in London or Paris, or someplace else with decent intelligence but a tin ear for American language.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 10:50 AM:

Considering the language in the alleged memo that gives these countries an excuse to vote against the USA's position...

I'd expect an organisation like the NSA to circulate an internal memo in different versions, possibly created automatically, to give away just who might have leaked it, if it ever is. And it sounds like quite a few of the changes, such as alternative spelling and "the SecState", are of the sort which could be used for such tagging without altering the meaning.

And, since this is something that happens in the UK, and is known to happen, it doesn't surprise me that a UK newspaper might change the spelling to UK standards, and do the same sort of light copyedit, to try to protect their source.

And if it was leaked by somebody in the know inside a US government agency, they'd be doing the same.

I think I'm getting confused...

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 10:53 AM:

Secretary of State Stimson, back in 1929, replied to a suggestion that State develop a code-breaking branch, "Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail." He was regarded as hopelessly naive in European capitals. Subsequent events proved that he was, in fact, hopelessly naive.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 11:17 AM:

Checking the Guardian style guide, online at...


you'll find that most of the changes would have been made by the Guardian -- I don't know if the Observer follows this, or another, guide. But some of them would have seen to us as rewrites. We'd accept "UNSC (United Nations Security Council-Ed.)", but not "United Nations Security Council (UNSC)"

I note that RT and QRC aren't expanded, and are used in very much an American style -- probably because the Observer editor didn't know what they were, thus, didn't know how to handle them, so, stet. The sentence "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" not only sounds American, it sounds very middle-manager American. (RT may be "Regional Target", see the "From" line. I would have guessed "topi's" to be "topics", but that doesn't fit context.)

I read QRC as "Who pays the bill?" but that's the old radiotelegraphy Q code system, still partially in use by amateur radio operators. Search on "Q codes" for more info. I've no idea what QRC is, here.

The biggest thing that doesn't ring true with me is an NSA staffer referring to the NSA as "the Agency" (this weird capping is UK style, again, we'd say "The Agency." Everyone in the US intellegence community knows who "The Agency" is -- the CIA, not the NSA. Rereading it, the author may be saying "The CIA's doing this, and we should backstop them", in which case, the use of "The Agency" is a sign that whoever wrote this knows US lingo.

The other thing is "COMINT." That, in itself, rings true -- COMINT is a standard US intelligence shorthand for "Communications Intellegence." But COMINT operations producing data are a jewel of great price, and the NSA is loathe to put anything on paper about them. COMINT producing data produces those sorts of quandries that make for very sleepless nights. "We know the Germans are going to bomb Coventry, but the only way we know is via realtimed Enigma traffic, and if we defend Coventry, the Germans may realized we've broken thier comms. Do we warn Coventry?"

So that header bothers me.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 11:38 AM:

For what it's worth, the text the Observer claims is a memo has been changed and now has the following appended:

7 Footnote: This email was originally transcribed with English spellings standardised for a British audience. Following enquiries about this, we have reverted to the original US-spelling as in the document leaked to The Observer.
Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 12:01 PM:

Since the Guardian> own the Observer, they ought to use the same style book. On the other hand, since I write for lots of bits of the Guardian myself, I'm not surprised by the discovery that it is a less than wholly efficient operation.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 02:35 PM:

So what we've got here is a memo hailing from the wilderness of mirrors. We can hypothesize anything, from a very clever high school student playing tricks, to the Bush administration releasing the story itself in order to defuse in advance any reports of real dirty tricks.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 03:48 PM:

I make this someone's attempt at disinformation; likelihood of it being the memo that it's claimed to be approaches zero.

Ignore it. It's noise.

There are other formatting and style errors that I'm not going to describe, in order not to give whoever is doing these things the capability to do a better job next time.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2003, 06:12 PM:

The Observer is as editorially separate from the Guardian as Tor is from St. Martin's Press. Which is to say, very much indeed.

They are (nowadays) owned by the same operation, and The Observer is a Sunday-only paper, and there isn't a Sunday Guardian. But the Observer isn't just the Sunday edition of the Guardian. FWIW.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 08:02 AM:

I blogged this around 1 a.m. Saturday night, though I blogged the memo, not the Grauniad story, since I thought the memo was of interest, and the Grauniad labeling (twice, so no one would miss it) survelliance as "dirty tricks" an interesting deliberate distortion of what "dirty tricks" are considered (such as, say, leaking a phony forged memo).

I'm actually inclined to give the memo's possible authenticity the benefit of the doubt, and I suggest comparing -- so far -- the debunking of it to the similar "proof" of Laurie Garrett's Davos memo being a fake (professionals would never misuse jargon or make errors!; that proves it's a fake!).

Jim MacDonald and others who note that of course diplomats are kept under surveillance by governments the world over are, to be sure, entirely correct.

If the memo were about, say, blackmailing a diplomat with a honey pot scam, or indulging in forgeries, it could fairly be labeled as revealing "dirty tricks." But, then, the NSA isn't supposed to do that as part of their job (that they admit, anyway). They're supposed to do signals intelligence, and if they weren't doing so to fulfill what the National Command Authority tells them is in the US interest, they wouldn't be doing their job.

I'd be pretty surprised if anyone in the Angolan, Cameroon, etc., or any UN delegation were surprised.

If anyone thinks that France and Russia and China, for instance, aren't doing the same thing, well, for a change I can offer shares in the Verrazano Bridge....

Jim's citing of Stimson's famous remark is apt.

k9disc ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 03:20 PM:

A couple of points.

The fact that the US news has not covered this at all leads me to believe that there might be something to it. If it were clearly a fake, then then 'Countdown Iraq', 'Showdown with Saddam', or any of Fox News' pundits would be trotting it out to discredit those 'anti-american peacenicks'; "Oh, look at the lengths these extremists will go to in attacking America!" kind of a thing. I am not sure that I heard it on this thread, but someone likened US coverage of this as a 'black hole'. I find that when a story breaks that challenges the establishment's benevolent facade, and there is a 'black hole' surrounding it, there is usually somthing to it. Otherwise it would be atacked vigorously by those pro-establishment. It will be interesting to see where this story goes in the next week.

I wonder how many Americans are as comfortable with intelligence operations that are conducted against the US as they are with the ones that we conduct. I would wager that most people that have a ho-hum reaction to US spying would have a visceral passionate reaction to this occurring at, say, the Hague, by the French or Germans.

Just a couple of thoughts.

Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 04:57 PM:

k9disc, of course they're spying on America. In other news, water is wet.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 06:26 PM:

I see Steve den B. has gotten around to noting the existence of this text. Just as a counterweight to any claims that we aren't reading about it in the US papers so it must be true, Steve's response was that since the writing was, "...the original version of the letter used British spellings for several words (e.g. emphasise) which made it pretty clear it was probably a forgery."

As to the Observer's footnote about restoring the original text: it's obviously a lie and they wrote it wrong in the first place and only rewrote it when somebody pointed out the UK idioms. `Yeah, right. A likely story. "Reverted", my ass.'

I don't recall, did the original version of the memo include the expression, "Thick as two short planks?"

I also wonder whether his heated response indicates that Steve thinks the US wouldn't eavesdrop, or wouldn't use the results of eavesdropping to pressure foreign delegations, a manner of thinking reminiscent of Ari Fleischer's remark that speculating that the US tried to buy the votes of foreign heads of state was clearly wrong as it required that one believe that foreign heads of state could be bought.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 03:51 PM:

I've corresponded with Laurie Garrett, and the debunking business is just plain silly. You can doubt the authenticity of a letter the same as you can doubt that Ashcroft thinks calico cats are agents of Satan, but that doesn't make the idea unlikely or even remarkable.

The Bush administration has done plenty of ham-handed maneuvers in the past, such that even if this is the work of a clever high school student, it's the administration's basic credibility that's at issue, not the papertrail of this particular instance.

After all, Powell just cited as his "credible evidence" an M16 report, much of which was lifted outright, including mistakes, from a California student's thesis:


If idiocies like this are occuring with the full papertrail in place, why should anyone doubt ones where we don't have all the players admitting to it in interviews?

matt pfeffer ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 06:53 PM:

The Washington Post today reported that U.N. diplomats aren't in the least surprised about the spying claims.