The CIA prepared a list of information on UN officials and diplomats that it wanted US envoys in New York and around the world to gather, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
According to one cable published by the Guardian, the US State Department asked US envoys at UN headquarters and elsewhere to procure credit card and frequent flyer numbers, cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, passwords and other confidential data from UN officials and foreign diplomats.
That cable mentioned UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a target for information-gathering activities by US diplomats.
It also urged them to get hold of “biometric information” — such as fingerprints, DNA or other data — on ranking North Korean diplomats.
Without citing any sources, the Guardian reported on Thursday it had learned that preparation of the list of information it wanted US diplomats to gather was overseen by the CIA. However, the diplomatic cable itself was drafted by the State Department, the newspaper noted.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month, described WikiLeaks’ daily release of new cables and memos as an “unpleasant and awkward experience.”
While she did not explicitly deny the allegation that US envoys had been encouraged to do espionage work, she reiterated that the job of the US diplomatic corps was not to spy, but to promote US interests and work with its allies.
“Our diplomats here are just that — they’re diplomats,” Rice told reporters on Thursday. “They do the good work and the traditional work that only diplomats do in advancing our interests and working collectively with the partners to solve global problems.”
She added that leaking secret cables was a “reprehensible act that is completely unexcusable and counterproductive.”
It is not the first time that documents suggesting the US or other nations have engaged in espionage at the world body have reached the media. UN diplomats admit privately that spying is commonplace at UN headquarters in New York and at other UN centers around the world.
UN officials like former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, and former UN International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei have also been put under surveillance.
Nor is UN spying limited to US diplomats. A Russian envoy was implicated earlier this year in a high-profile case in which nearly a dozen people were accused of being part of a Russian spy ring in the US that recruited political sources and gathered information for Moscow.
The US Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the UN had delivered payments to the spy ring.