Global News Journal
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has dismissed suggestions that her diplomats are part-time spies, as suggested by the latest batch of documents released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
“Let me be very clear — our diplomats are just that, they’re diplomats,” Rice told reporters at the United Nations where she was peppered with questions about the latest chapter in the WikiLeaks scandal. “Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests and work to find common solutions to complex problems.”
She didn’t exactly deny the charges of espionage. But the top U.S. diplomat in New York did reject the idea that there would be any diplomatic fallout from the release of thousands of documents obtained by WikiLeaks, some of which have been published by The Guardian and other newspapers.
One U.S. diplomatic cable published by The Guardian shows how the State Department instructed diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere around the world to collect credit card and frequent flyer numbers, work schedules and biometric data for U.N. officials and diplomats. Among the personalities of interest was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as were the ambassadors of the other 14 Security Council member states.
There is nothing new about espionage at the United Nations, but it’s always embarrassing when classified documents proving it happens surface in the media.
Most Security Council envoys declined to comment on the WikiLeaks documents as they headed into the council chambers on Monday for a meeting on North Korea. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, told reporters, “Surprise, surprise.”
Churkin should know. One of the diplomats in his charge was implicated earlier this year in a high-profile Russian espionage case in the United States in which nearly a dozen people were accused of being part of a Russian spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for Moscow. The U.S. Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations had delivered payments to the spy ring.
And then there was the man known as “Comrade J”, a Russian spy based in New York from 1995 to 2000. Working out of Russia’s U.N. mission, Comrade J directed Russian espionage activity in New York City and personally oversaw all covert operations against the United States and its allies in the United Nations. According to a book about his exploits, Comrade J eventually became a double agent for the FBI.
Nor does the history of U.N. espionage end there. In 2004, a former British cabinet minister revealed that British intelligence agents had spied on Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor Kofi Annan, who fell afoul of Washington and London by opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was also the victim of a phone-bugging operation, according to media reports from 2004. He had also opposed the invasion of Iraq and angered the United States by saying that their intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s alleged revival of his nuclear arms program was not only incorrect but partly based on falsified evidence. U.S. officials pored over transcripts of ElBaradei’s telephone intercepts in an attempt to secure evidence of mistakes that could be used to oust him from his post, the reports said. Not only did they fail to unseat him, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.