“Diplomats are honest men, sent to lie by their Governments”, or so runs the old adage. Ironically, Britain’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir John Sawers, is a good man who to my knowledge does not lie, so rather disproving the old saw. But he must be good at spying, because Sir John – easily one of the most popular of contemporary diplomats – is now head of Britain’s security services.
Now picking up and passing on intelligence has been part and parcel of the diplomat’s life since time immemorial. No one should be surprised to learn that the United Nations is probably one of the happiest of hunting grounds for diplomats on the hunt for nuggets of information to pass on to their Governments.
But what is genuinely shocking and utterly unacceptable is to discover, courtesy of the partially redacted ‘Wikileaks’ of top secret US intelligence information, is that the United Nations Secretariat and the UN Secretary General, Ban ki moon, became targets for some of the most invasive spying methods – and at the express command of the US administration. Clearly in breach of the United Nations Charter, of which the United States is a supporter, we find that information is demanded on the private and official data of some of the World’s most senior United Nations officials, including Ban ki moon himself. Their passwords, emails, their contacts, their bio-metric information, how they relate to one another and specifically Ban ki moon’s style of management are all solicited and subject to un-mediated comment. Even ‘frequent flyer account numbers’ of senior UN officials were deemed fair game.
To some extent, we have been here before. Britain stands accused of bugging the office of Ban ki moon’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, in the run up to the Iraq War. But the extent of the US administration’s penetration of the United Nations will send shock waves around the World. If we didn’t know better – the Bush administration is after all, history – observers of this outrage might conclude that the US administration actually views the UN and its leadership as some sort of threat to its interests, rather than being the best hope there is for global peace and justice.
One might understand if what we were viewing were leaks of US intelligence reports and demands for more, on North Korea, but this is the United Nations for heaven’s sake! Is nothing sacred?
Meanwhile the ‘Wikileaks’ themselves – or rather the people who decided to publish and send out information contained in over 250,000 US embassy cables from across the World – have been attacked for risking operatives and operations. The information contained within them, could be used against the US and her allies.
That may well be the case – but there are no indications so far that newspapers such as the New York Times and The Guardian have behaved irresponsibly in what they have chosen to reveal from the ‘Wikileaks’. But what is disturbing is the unvarnished truth, that political leaders the World over play hard and fast, and all too frequently very dangerously indeed. What is also utterly astonishing is how such sensitive information ends up on a memory stick and then goes viral.
Was no one who joined the secret services ever asked if they could - keep a secret?