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'This raises broader questions'

'This adds to the lies about WMD'

What they said about ...

UN bugging row

'This adds to the lies about WMD'

International responses to the allegations

Saturday February 28, 2004
The Guardian

Christoph Schwennicke and Gerhard Zitelsberger Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany, February 27

"The row over the Iraq war will not let go of Tony Blair. On Thursday the former international development minister, Clare Short, said the British secret service spied on the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, in the run-up to the US-British invasion of Iraq.

"From experience it is unlikely that the case is over for Mr Blair - or President George Bush. If the British government does not eliminate the spying accusation, London will lose even more credibility. Mr Blair is also under pressure because in the 10 months since the end of the Iraq war no weapons of mass destruction have been found."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial, US, February 27

"Mr Blair says Ms Short's allegations are 'deeply irresponsible'. But the very same condemnation surely could be made of spying on Mr Annan during the run-up to the Iraq war.

"The stain of this new scandal surely will taint the White House as well. At best, snooping on diplomats at UN headquarters is inhospitable. At worst, it may be illegal. If true, these allegations would, if nothing else, suggest that the Blair and Bush administrations were both desperate and paranoid in their efforts to persuade the world to go to war in Iraq."

Gulf News Editorial, United Arab Emirates, February 27

"Mr Blair has refused to comment on the allegations other than to say that [they] were 'deeply irresponsible'. That in itself is tantamount to a confession of guilt, for otherwise he would have categorically denied the charges.

"Interestingly, though, thus far the UN has made little comment. It may be that the bureaucrats need time to consider an appropriate response. On the other hand, as some observers have claimed, the UN officials expect to be bugged by one secret service or another, so this disclosure will not unduly alarm them. After all, if the diplomats anticipate that their every word is being overheard and taped, then all they have to guard against is saying anything interesting."

Peter Nonnenmacher Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany, February 27

"Mr Blair is being haunted by the war he went into with Mr Bush. The latest allegations which [have been] levelled against him are particularly embarrassing. For a head of government, who insists on referring to the legality of his actions, a secret operation against the highest UN diplomats would be a risky affair; at the same time such an operation is considered illegal in New York.

"Mr Blair is keeping quiet about the contents of the accusations - supposedly out of consideration for his spies. This silence, however, is bringing the prime minister new difficulties. With this silence his problems show no sign of going away."

El País Editorial, Spain, February 27

"Mr Blair must have believed that he had an international licence to spy and lie on the road to war in Iraq. But history is stubborn and the revelations about some of this trickery are coming back to haunt him. This row adds to the lies about the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The tricks used to go to war will continue to persecute Mr Blair for a long time. He is lucky that he does not have to deal with a political opposition, for the most critical voices come from his own party."

Blix: I was a target too

Chief UN weapons inspector believes he was bugged

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Saturday February 28, 2004
The Guardian

The United Nations spying row widened yesterday when its former weapons inspector, Hans Blix, told the Guardian he suspected both his UN office and his home in New York were bugged in the run-up to the Iraq war.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Blix said he expected to be bugged by the Iraqis, but to be spied upon by the US was a different matter. He described such behaviour as "disgusting", adding: "It feels like an intrusion into your integrity in a situation when you are actually on the same side."

He said he went to extraordinary lengths to protect his office and home, having a UN counter-surveillance team sweep both for bugs.

"If you had something sensitive to talk about you would go out into the restaurant or out into the streets," he said.

Mr Blix's darkest fears were reinforced when he was shown a set of photographs by a senior member of the Bush administration which he insists could only have been obtained through underhand means.

His accusations came after the former cabinet minster, Clare Short, claimed that US-British intelligence bugged the office of the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan.

Speaking from his home in Stockholm, Mr Blix said that what galled him most was the possibility of being bugged by a country, the US, that he had assumed was on the same side. He said that surveillance was only to be expected between enemies or in cases where serious criminal activity is being monitored.

"But here it is between people who cooperate and it is an unpleasant feeling," he said.

Mr Blix, a Swedish diplomat who was head of the UN arms inspectors for Iraq between 2000 and 2003, said he had no conclusive evidence that the US bugged him. But his suspicions were raised when he had repeated trouble with his phone connections at his New York home.

"It might have been something trivial or it might have been something installed somewhere. I don't know," he said.

More worrying was a confrontation with a senior member of the US adminstration. Mr Blix said John Wolf, the US assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, visited him a fortnight before the war broke out at a time when debate was raging over whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and whether Mr Blix should be given more time to find them.

Mr Wolf presented him with two pictures of an Iraq drone and a cluster bomb, photos Mr Blix believed could only have been secured from within the UN weapons office. Mr Blix said: "He should not have had them. I asked him how he got them and he would not tell me and I said I resented that.

"It could have been some staff belonging to us that handed them to the Americans. I don't think it is very likely but it could have happened - I don't have 100% control of everybody. It could also be that they managed to break into the secure fax and got it that way."

Tony Blair, still feeling the aftershocks of Ms Short's allegations, made little reference to the bugging issue in a speech to the Labour party in Scotland. He did, however, condemn Ms Short for the second day running, accusing her of being in alliance with the Tories.

As well as the claim that Mr Annan was bugged, another former secretary general, Boutros-Boutros Gali, also expressed suspicions yesterday. Richard Butler, a predecessor of Mr Blix as chief UN weapons inspector, joined in too, saying it was "plainly silly" to think his phone calls were not being monitored during his tenure.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported an intelligence official who said Mr Blix's mobile phone calls were routinely monitored from Iraq and the transcripts shared between the British, American and Australian intelligence services.

Mr Blix was inundated with calls from journalists worldwide yesterday. Speaking only to the Guardian, he said he thought it was unlikely it happened in Iraq "because I did not use my mobile phone there. In any case, we were totally aware that Iraqis would have microphones in the walls".

Instead, he expressed his conviction that the UN headquarters in New York was much more likely to have been targeted. "The suspicions have been directed at the Americans for bugging and I think that is more likely in New York in the run-up to the votes in the security council."

Mr Blix was given the job by the UN security council of determining whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. His reports to the security council were eagerly awaited for any evidence of a "smoking gun" that would have triggered war. As such, both the US and British governments were keen to know what he had found and was thinking, and what the Iraqis were saying to him.

An international lawyer as well as having been a career diplomat, Mr Blix said legal and moral questions were raised by bugging. The Vienna convention prohibiting such behaviour "should be applicable to the UN headquarters".

Mr Blix, whose book giving an inside account of the run-up to the war with Iraq will be serialised in the Guardian next week, said it was unlikely that the US would have gained any advantage from bugging him: "They might have heard things in a more naked manner than in the diplomatic tones I would use publicly."

But the only information he regarded as ultra-sensitive was the location and timing of surprise inspections of potential Iraqi weapons sites. This would have been of use only to the Iraqis.

Such information was never delivered electronically, he said. "We would never talk about such matters on telephones, never use electronic devices at all. Instructions to inspectors were hand-carried."

Mr Blix, who came out of retirement to lead the UN team, said he had been given the authority by the security council to carry out the job and assumed he had the trust of its members. He was disappointed to find later that the Pentagon was briefing against him. He said the Pentagon had a low opinion of the inspectors as a whole or possibly himself.

He described the suspected bugging as hypocritical: "You are cooperating with the people who sit across the desk one day and if the next they are listening to you, it is an unpleasant feeling."

Asked if it was morally questionable, he replied: "Well, I don't know what morals they have. Questionable, yes."

He challenged the British government's legal basis for going to war in Iraq, in the light of the collapse of the case against Katharine Gun, the former British intelligence officer. When he worked at the UN he was not able to speak out but now he said that the decision to go to war should have been a matter for the whole of the security council, not a minority of it.

Mr Blix is sceptical about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the period immediately before the war. He now believes that both Mr Blair and President George Bush should have been more open to the evidence emerging from Iraq. "I think we should have had more critical thinking on the part of the political leadership. They should have heard the evidence. They should have heard the dissenting opinions.

"It is one thing to advocate the building of a railroad and you go ahead a little carelessly with the argumentation. But if it is a question of starting a war, one would like to have a more solid basis."

Hans Blix: my story

Hans Blix's explosive book about the events leading up to the Iraq war, Disarming Iraq: The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, is serialised on Guardian Unlimited next Saturday. In his account, published by Bloomsbury, he reveals the extraordinary pressure put on him and his fellow arms inspectors to justify the war by producing evidence of banned weapons. And he discloses the lengths to which the British and American governments were prepared to go in their unsuccessful attempt to bend him to their will.


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