compulsory reading, US Politics

Some Things, They Never Change…

So someone sent The Observer an email that is rather embarrassing for the Bush administration and even more so for the US agency community. They will probably have to sit down and discuss the meaning of “secret” after this. And for the media effect, it does not even matter if it’s really true. I doubt there will be any official reply to the alligations. So it will take some decades until we will finally know what really happened – if at all.

What happened – according to the Oberserver’s article

“[t]he disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency – the US body which intercepts communications around the world – and circulated to both senior agents in his organisation and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for its input. The memo describes orders to staff at the agency, whose work is clouded in secrecy, to step up its surveillance operations ‘particularly directed at… UN Security Council Members (minus US and GBR, of course)’ to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence for Bush officials on the voting intentions of UN members regarding the issue of Iraq.”

Seriously folks, what’s the story here? The only interesting thing I can see is that a classified email leaked from the NSA, should that actually be the case. As The Observer backs the story somewhat credibly, someone could lose his job and pension over this. But the eavesdropping bit?

Honestly. How surprising is it that the U.S. administration is actually using its intelligence services to gather intelligence about foreign diplomats living on US soil? You’re right. Not at all – as those observed will know and as The Observer finally admits –

“While many diplomats at the UN assume they are being bugged, the memo reveals for the first time the scope and scale of US communications intercepts targeted against the New York-based missions.”

Fair enough. As for previous scale and scope of US eavesdropping on the UN delegations – below are a few paragraphs about the humble beginnings of both the NSA and the UN from James Bamford’s book “Body of Secrets – Anatomy Of The Ultra-Secret National Security Agency” [taken from pp 21, hardcover edition]. These paragraphs really offer something for everyone, even notorious French-bashers… some things, they really never change. Enjoy.

“On April 25, 1945, as TICOM [Target Intelligence Committee, a predecessor of the NSA ] officers began sloshing through the cold mud of Europe, attempting to reconstruct the past, another group of codebreakers was focused on a glittering party half the earth away, attempting to alter the future.

Long black limousines, like packs of panthers raced up and down the steep San Francisco hills from one event to another. Flower trucks unloaded roses by the bushel. Flashbulbs exploded and champagne flowed like water under the Golden Gate. The event had all the sparkle and excitement of a Broadway show, as well it should have. The man producing it was the noted New York designer Jo Mielziner, responsible for som of the grandest theatrical musicals on the Great White Way. ‘Welcome United Nations’ proclaimed the bright neon marquee of a downtown cinema. The scene was more suited to a Hollywood movie premiere than a solemn diplomatic event. Crowds of sightseers pushed against police lines, hoping for a brief glimpse of someone famous, as delegates from more than fifty countries [yup, a little bit of diversification has occurred since…] crowded into the San Francisco Opera House to negotiate a framework for a new world order.

But the American delegates had a secret weapon. Like cheats at a poker game, they were peeking at their opponents’ hands. Roosevelt fought hard for the United States to host the opening session; it seemed a magnanimous gesture to most of the delegates. But the real reason was to better enable the United States to eavesdrop on its guests.

Coded messages between the foreign delegations and their distant capitals passed through U.S. telegrpah lines in San Francisco. With wartime censoship laws still in effect, Western Union and the other commercial telegraph companies were required to pass on both coded and uncoded telegrams to U.S. Army codebreakers. … By the summer of 1945 the average number of daily messages had grown to 289,802, from only 46,865 in February 1943. The same soldiers who only a few weeks earlier had been deciphering German battle plans were now unraveling the codes and ciphers wound tightly around Argentine negotiating points. …

The decrypts revealed how desperate France had become to maintain its image as a major world power after the war. On April 29, for example, Fouques Duparc, the secretary general of the French delegation, compalined in an encrypted note to General Charles de Gaulle in Paris that France was not chosen to be one of the ‘inviting powers’ to the conference. ‘Our inclusion among the sponsoring powers,’ he wrote, ‘would have signified, in the eyes of all, our return to our traditional place in the world’. …

The San Francisco Conference served as an important demonstration of the usefulness of peacetime signals intelligence. … From the very moment of its birth, the United Nations was a microcosm of East-West spying. Just as with the founding conference, the United States pushed hard to locate the organization on American soil, largely to accomodate the eavesdroppers and codebreakers of NSA and its predecessors.”

And now that I have actually written something about the NSA in my blog… I would like to welcome you guys and your computers. Enjoy my posts.