Up to their old tricks again: New intelligence leaks expose American spying on UN chief Gutteres
Among the classified documents allegedly leaked by US Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, as part of a huge trove, is one exposing how the US is spying intently on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and is deeply unhappy that he is engaging with Moscow.
What do we learn from this leak?
Several files that Teixeira shared with other members of a private Discord chat, an action that may land him in a US supermax prison for the rest of his life, show Washington is keeping a very close eye on all Guterres’ sensitive private communications. One accuses him of “accommodating Russia to preserve [the] grain deal.” According to “FISA-derived signal intelligence,” Guterres is “taking steps to accommodate Russia in an effort to protect the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI).”
“[Guterres] considers [BSGI] a pivotal UN success and key to addressing global food insecurity, and his actions are undermining broader efforts to hold Moscow accountable for its actions in Ukraine. In early February, he urged Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov in a letter to renew the BSGI before its term expires on 18 March and Guterres emphasized his efforts to improve Russia's ability to export, even if that involves sanctioned Russian entities or individuals.”
The document is likely to have been written in late February or early March, before Russia and Ukraine agreed to extend the grain deal. To broker it, the UN said it would facilitate the export of Russian fertilizer and grain, which was blocked by Western sanctions despite exemptions for agricultural goods. Since the resumption, several governments have rejected grain flowing from Ukraine due to its poor quality.
Numerous other leaked documents contain accounts of Guterres’ private conversations with aides on diplomatic matters and meetings, along with accompanying commentary from US intelligence officials. Some suggest his relationship with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky is far from cordial. One document referring to his trips to Iraq and Qatar in early March notes he was “not happy” about the prospect of traveling on to Kiev days after returning from Doha, despite the Ukrainian government’s request.
It’s uncertain why Guterres was resistant to visiting Kiev, but the trip went ahead, and included a private meeting with Zelensky and a joint press conference on March 8. The UN secretary-general regretted going. Another document records a conversation between Guterres and his personal spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, in which he was “really pissed off” about an unexpected public ceremony in honor of International Women’s Day during the visit.
The document indicates aides later discussed how Zelensky had sprung the event, which included the presentation of medals to uniformed soldiers, on Guterres without warning or his consent, and later posted misleading photographs and videos that implied he was congratulating Ukrainian military personnel alongside the president. It is recorded in the file that the UN secretary-general “emphasized that he made a point of not smiling the entire time” in later conversations with aides.
No alarms and no surprises
“[Guterres] is not surprised by the fact that people are spying on him and listening in on his private conversations,” Dujarric has commented on the leaks. “What is surprising is the malfeasance or incompetence that allows for such private conversations to be distorted and become public,” the spokesman added.
Guterres’ lack of surprise that he is spied on by the US is understandable, given the country’s history of espionage targeting the UN and its senior officials. The organization’s founding charter is the product of such activity.
The US sought to manipulate the form and content of the UN by conducting espionage operations against the charter’s signatories, intercepting coded cable traffic to and from other members. This granted the US intimate advance knowledge of the negotiation positions of all 49 countries. Academic Stephen Schlesinger says the US was able to “write the UN Charter mostly according to its own blueprint” through this operation.
The US has since been repeatedly caught spying on the UN. In 2003, as the Security Council prepared to vote on the Iraq War, the NSA conducted a “dirty tricks” campaign against delegations in New York to win votes in favor of intervention. This included interception of the home and office telephones and emails delegates.
A memo from the NSA’s chief spoke of stepping up intelligence gathering operations “particularly directed at...UN Security Council Members” minus the US and UK, to gain up-to-the-minute intelligence for Bush administration officials on the voting intentions of UN members regarding the issue of Iraq.
Then, in 2010, it was revealed that Washington was running a secret intelligence operation targeting the leadership of the UN, including then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and permanent Security Council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK. A classified directive was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton’s name the previous year, demanding forensic technical details about communications systems used by UN officials, including passwords, personal encryption keys, and even detailed biometric information and credit card numbers.