Pre-War Spy Scandal Hits Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arriving at the High Court in London, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003, to give evidence to the Hutton inquiry explaining his role in events leading up to the apparent suicide of Government weapons expert Dr David Kelly. (AP Photo/Arthur Edwards, The Sun. pool)
AP
A sprawling controversy over spying at the United Nations has Prime Minister Tony Blair's government on the defensive, once again, over the Iraq war.

Last week, a former Cabinet minister claimed Britain spied on United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the lead-up to war. Former chief weapons inspectors Richard Butler and Hans Blix said they believed they had also been under surveillance.

Also last week, the British government dropped charges against an intelligence analyst who had leaked a memo from the U.S. National Security Agency detailing plans to spy on Security Council members ahead of an expected vote on the war.

Mexican and Chilean officials have accused the joint U.S.-UK spying operation of derailing a last-minute attempt to avoid war.

A Swiss newspaper reported Sunday that British agents mounted a bugging operation against former Irish President Mary Robinson in 1999 when she was the U.N. chief human-rights official.

British newspapers are reporting that the charges against the intelligence analyst, Katharine Gun, were dropped because defense lawyers planned to question the legality of the war.

Blair has never revealed the original advice he received from Britain's attorney general on whether the war was legal.

The Observer and Independent newspapers report that British military commanders in Kuwait demanded Blair clarify whether the war was legal, because they did not want to expose their troops to war crimes charges.

The newspapers said Blair then sought a second legal opinion, which said the war was legal. That opinion was made legal.

But now Blair's foes are calling for him to release the first opinion. It is the latest controversy to erupt over the war, following rows over intelligence, the BBC and the suicide of a government scientist.

Blair has refused to confirm or deny Short's allegation and branded his former minister "deeply irresponsible" for commenting on sensitive security issues.

In reaction to Short's allegations, the United Nations warned that spying on Annan is illegal and that such spying would undermine his ability to deal with world problems.

Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said he always assumed he was an espionage target.

Butler, the former chief weapons inspectors, said earlier that at least four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council monitored his calls — the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Blix claimed his United Nations office and his New York home were bugged by the United States, and dubbed the bugging "disgusting".

The Guardian reports Mexican and Chilean officials claim the U.S. intervened to halt secret, last-minute talks to try to let the weapons inspectors continue their work for a brief period before invading.

The Jan. 31, 2003 memo — which Gun leaked to the Observer — said the wider U.N. eavesdropping effort was concerned with "the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises."

The memo was drafted by a National Security Agency officer. It said the NSA was "mounting a surge" in surveillance directed at Security Council members "for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc."

The memo then lists the countries this target list would include: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan. All were considered undecided in the run-up to a crucial vote on the U.S.-backed resolution authorizing force. The U.S. ultimately pulled the resolution fearing defeat either because of a French veto or a majority vote.