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[casi] Networks Shun U.N. Spying Story

>From Fair:

March 11, 2003

With media attention focused intensely on the U.N. Security Council debate
over Iraq, the London-based Observer newspaper broke a major story on
March 2: The United States is apparently engaged in a spying campaign
against the diplomatic delegations from several Security Council nations.
Despite the timeliness and relevance of the Observerís scoop, some major
news outlets in the United States have taken a pass on the story.

The Observer reported (3/2/03) that the surveillance plan "involves
interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of U.N.
delegates in New York."  The paper's report is based on a National
Security Agency memo that directs the agency to increase its surveillance
of Security Council nations in order to monitor their deliberations over
Iraq; a "friendly" intelligence service-- evidently Great Britain-- was
asked to participate in this operation.  The principal targets the
surveillance plan is aimed "against" are Angola, Cameroon, Chile,
Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan-- nations the Observer dubs the "middle
six," whose votes are considered crucial to an upcoming Security Council
resolution that would authorize the use of military force.

In the wake of the Observer article, reports in the Washington Post and
the Los Angeles Times seemed to downplay the importance of the matter. The
L.A. Times headlined its March 4 piece "Purported Spy Memo May Add to U.S.
Troubles at U.N.," while the subhead read: "'Top secret' document
discusses bugging of council members. Forgery or no, some say it's nothing
to get worked up about."  The lead sentence referred to a "long-standing
U.S. practice of spying at the United Nations."  The Washington Post's
March 4 story, headlined "Spying Report No Shock to U.N.," was similarly
unimpressed with the Observerís findings.

The New York Times has yet to even mention the story, now a full week
after it first broke.  The Times did, however, find a spying story it
deemed worth of coverage (3/10/03): the fact that the White House "has
asked more than 60 countries to find and expel several hundred Iraqi
diplomats that the C.I.A. and others have identified as suspected
intelligence agents."  The Times put the article on its front page,
although it noted that "it is unclear what proof, if any, the United
States [government] is providing to back up its claims that the diplomats
are in fact Iraqi intelligence agents."

The network news shows have also not aired any reports about the Observer
story either, though that's not to say they weren't initially interested:
According to (3/4/03), one of the report's authors, Martin
Bright, "said that he had agreed to interviews with NBC, CNN, and Fox News
Channel-- and that all three had called and canceled."  Salon added that
the story "has quickly spread throughout the world."

The lack of media interest in the U.S. was partly attributed to the sense
that spying on diplomats is not noteworthy.  The prominent reporting of
this story in the rest of the world, as well as follow-up reporting by the
Observer, might suggest otherwise: The paper reported on March 9 that the
U.N. is conducting a "top-level investigation" of the matter, while
Chilean president Ricardo Lagos is demanding an explanation from British
prime minister Tony Blair.  The Observer also reported that an employee at
Britain's Government Communications Headquarters was arrested "on
suspicion of contravening the Official Secrets Act" in connection with the
leaked document.

Why is a story that is having such wide impact around the world being
nearly ignored by the U.S. press? With a pending U.N. vote on military
force perhaps just days away, it would seem newsworthy that the United
States is, in the words of the NSA memo, "mounting a surge" in order to
obtain "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."  For some reason, though, major American media outlets have
taken a pass.

ACTION: Please contact the networks and the New York Times and ask them if
they plan to cover the reports of U.S. surveillance of U.N. diplomats.

New York Times
Toll free comment line: 1-888-NYT-NEWS

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NBC Nightly News

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