UN protests to US over spying, 'interference'

Secret documents floating in social media and chat groups showed that the administration of President Joe Biden has been spying on UN officials as well as other international leaders, including US allies.

Arul Louis Apr 19, 2023
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Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

The UN has protested to the US against the spying on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other officials calling it an “interference” by Washington, according to Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. 

He said on Tuesday, “The UN officially expressed to the host country its concern regarding recent reports that the communications of the Secretary-General and other senior UN officials have been the subject of surveillance and interference by the US government”. 

“The UN has made it clear that such actions are inconsistent with the obligations of the United States of America enumerated in the UN charter and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations”, he added.

Secret documents floating in social media and chat groups showed that the administration of President Joe Biden has been spying on UN officials as well as other international leaders, including US allies.

Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old techie with a military organisation, has been arrested and charged with the leaks.

In the latest airing of the documents, The Washington Post reported that they included conversations between Guterres and Dujarric, as well as other officials from as recently as March.

In public, the Biden administration has made a show of opposing eavesdropping, putting sanctions on NSO Group, an Israeli company that developed the Pegasus software allegedly used by other governments for spying.

“The whole notion of using this type of technology against civil society, or regime critics, or journalists, or anybody like that through extrajudicial means is always concerning,” Dean Thomson said in 2001 when he was the Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs amid allegations that India had used Pegasus emerged.

India has denied the allegations.

When the first reports of the spying on Guterres emerged, he appeared to brush it off as something routine.

Dujarric said last week that Guterres "has been in politics and a public figure for quite some time. So he's not surprised, I think, by the fact that people are spying on him and listening to his private conversations".

But the UN lodged a formal protest as more reports of the US spying emerged with the potential to harm its relations with national leaders.

In one such revelation, the Post reported that Guterres was annoyed that Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen wrote to him rejecting his plans to visit the country's Tigray region where attempts were being made to end the civil war.

Earlier, the BBC reported that the documents included reports of conversations between Guterres and Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in which she criticised Kenya’s President William Ruto.

The Post said that at least some of Guterres's conversations were collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which authorises spying on foreign targets without a warrant.

Some of the spying on Guterres relate to Ukraine, an area of intense concern to the Biden administration, with the leaked reports showing that Washington considered him soft on Russia.

BBC reported that leaked documents claimed that Guterres accorded priority to protecting the Black Sea grain agreement that the UN along with Turkey worked out with Russia to allow foodgrain exports from Ukraine.

The deal was made to avert famines in some developing countries that relied on Ukrainian foodgrain and to stabilise international food prices.

"Our efforts, his efforts, have been to mitigate the impact of the war on the world's poorest, and that means doing what we can to drive down the price of food and the price of grain and fertiliser worldwide", Dujarric said.

One of the leaked documents revealed spying on a private conversation between Guterres and Miguel Graca, the director of his executive office when he reportedly expressed displeasure with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky's request to visit his country.

Guterres, however, visited Ukraine three times since the Russian invasion, most recently last month when he reiterated categorically, "The position of the United Nations, which I have consistently expressed, is crystal clear: Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the UN Charter and international law".

The Post said that a document reported that Guterres told Dujarric that he was “pissed off” by a surprise International Women’s Day ceremony during his Kyiv visit last month.

That ceremony without prior warning included the presentation of medals to Ukrainian soldiers and photographs and videos of the event were posted “that implied the secretary general was congratulating military personnel on one side of the Russia-Ukraine war”. The Post reported. 

Teixeira, who posted the documents on the video gaming chat site Discord that found their way to Twitter, Telegram and 4Chan, was not even a member of the regular military, but a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, the equivalent of the Territorial Army in India.

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