FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

UN Spying and the Evasions of US Journalism

by NORMAN SOLOMON

Tony Blair and George W. Bush want the issue of spying at the United Nations to go away. That’s one of the reasons the Blair government ended its prosecution of whistleblower Katharine Gun on Wednesday. But within 24 hours, the scandal of U.N. spying exploded further when one of Blair’s former cabinet ministers said that British spies closely monitored conversations of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq last year.

The new allegations, which have the ring of truth, are now coming from ex-secretary of international development Clare Short. “I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations,” she said in an interview with BBC Radio. “In fact I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war thinking ‘Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying.'” Short added that British intelligence had been explicitly directed to spy on Annan and other top U.N. officials.

Few can doubt that some major British news outlets will thoroughly dig below the surface of Short’s charges. But on the other side of the Atlantic, the journalistic evasion on the subject of U.N. spying has been so extreme that we can have no confidence in the mainstream media’s inclination to adequately cover this new bombshell.

For 51 weeks — from the day that the Observer newspaper in London broke the news about spying at the United Nations until the moment that British prosecutors dropped charges against Gun on Wednesday — major news outlets in the United States almost completely ignored the story.

The Observer’s expose, under the headline “Revealed: U.S. Dirty Tricks to Win Vote on Iraq War,” came 18 days before the invasion of Iraq began. By unveiling a top secret U.S. National Security Agency memo, the newspaper provided key information when it counted most: before the war started.

That NSA memo outlined surveillance of a half-dozen delegations with swing votes on the U.N. Security Council, noting a focus on “the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policy-makers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals” — support for war on Iraq. The memo said that the agency had started a “surge” of spying on U.N. diplomats, including wiretaps of home and office telephones along with reading of e-mails.

Three days after the story came out, I asked for an assessment from the man who gave the Pentagon Papers to journalists in 1971. Daniel Ellsberg responded: “This leak is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers. … Truth-telling like this can stop a war.”

But even though — or perhaps especially because — the memo was from the U.S. government and showed that Washington was spying on U.N. diplomats, the big American media showed scant interest. The coverage was either shoddy or non-existent.

A year ago, at the brink of war, the New York Times did not cover the U.N. spying revelation. Nearly 96 hours after the Observer had reported it, I called Times deputy foreign editor Alison Smale and asked why not. “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting,” Smale replied. She added that “we could get no confirmation or comment.” In other words, U.S. intelligence officials refused to confirm or discuss the memo — so the Times did not see fit to report on it.

The Washington Post didn’t do much better. It printed a 514-word article on a back page with the headline “Spying Report No Shock to U.N.” Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times published a longer piece emphasizing from the outset that U.S. spy activities at the United Nations are “long-standing.” For good measure, the piece reported “some experts suspected that it could be a forgery” — and “several former top intelligence officials said they were skeptical of the memo’s authenticity.”

Within days, any doubt about the memo’s “authenticity” was gone. The British media reported that the U.K. government had arrested an unnamed female employee at a British intelligence agency in connection with the leak.

By then, however, the spotty coverage in the mainstream U.S. press had disappeared. In fact — except for a high-quality detailed news story by a pair of Baltimore Sun reporters that appeared in that newspaper on March 4 — there isn’t an example of mainstream U.S. news reporting on the story last year that’s worthy of any pride.

In mid-November, for the first time, Katharine Gun’s name became public when the British press reported that she’d been formally charged with violating the draconian Official Secrets Act. Appearing briefly at court proceedings, she was a beacon of moral clarity. Disclosure of the NSA memo, Gun said, was “necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.” And: “I have only ever followed my conscience.”

A search of the comprehensive LexisNexis database finds that for nearly three months after Katharine Gun’s name first appeared in the British media, U.S. news stories mentioning her scarcely existed. When Gun’s name did appear in U.S. dailies it was almost always on an opinion page. News sections were oblivious: Again with the notable exception of the Baltimore Sun (which ran an in-depth news article about Gun and Ellsberg on Feb. 1), mainstream U.S. news departments proceeded as though Katharine Gun were a non-person. She only became “newsworthy” after charges were dropped.

“Mr. Blair’s spokesmen were conspicuously silent on Wednesday, apparently hopeful that the case would disappear from the public agenda,” the New York Times reported in Thursday’s paper. But the case had never been on the public agenda as far as the Times news department was concerned.

(Background about the Gun case has been posted at www.accuracy.org/gun, a web page of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where my colleagues and I have worked to make information available about the U.N. spying story.)

Overall, the matter of Washington’s spying at the United Nations has been off the American media map until February. Whether the major U.S. news outlets will do a better job on the subject this spring remains to be seen. But it would be a mistake to assume that they will.

Although the prosecution of Gun has ended, the issue of U.N. spying has not. At stake is the integrity of a world body that should not tolerate intrusive abuses by the government of its host country.

We can assume that Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, a former Mexican ambassador to the United Nations, did not speak lightly when he made a strong statement that appeared in an Associated Press dispatch from Mexico City on Feb. 12: “They are violating the U.N. headquarters covenant.” He was referring to officials of the U.S. government.

That statement now resonates more loudly than ever. With British and American intelligence agencies working closely together, both have been locked in a shamefully duplicitous embrace. In the interests of war, their nefarious activities served as direct counterpoints to the deceptions coming from 10 Downing Street and the White House. In the interests of journalism, reporters should now pursue truth wherever it might lead.

NORMAN SOLOMON is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco. He is co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You. (Context Books, 2003).

 

 

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail