News Release

NSA Leaks Reveal Spying on G20 — Recalls “Illegal” Spying on UN


As G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland, the Guardian reports: “Turkey, South Africa and Russia have reacted angrily to the British government demanding an explanation for the revelations that their politicians and senior officials were spied on and bugged during the 2009 G20 summit in London.” The governments were responding to the recent Guardian story: “GCHQ Intercepted Foreign Politicians’ Communications at G20 Summits,” based on Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks.

The British Government Communications Headquarters is the equivalent of the NSA. In early 2003, GCHQ officer Katharine Gun leaked an NSA memo outlining plans to increase surveillance UN Security Council members to get them to back a resolution authorizing the Iraq war.

Daniel Ellsberg, who himself leaked the Pentagon Papers, has called Katharine Gun’s leak “the most important and courageous leak I have ever seen. … No one else — including myself — has ever done what Gun did: tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it.”

KATHARINE GUN, kthgun at
Available for a limited number of interviews, in early 2003 Gun leaked an NSA memo about a spy “surge” targeting UN Security Council members. She has said that she leaked the NSA document because “I was particularly concerned about the reason behind the bugging, because it was in order to facilitate an invasion in Iraq.”

MARCIA MITCHELL, mtapper123 at
Mitchell is co-author of The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion. She just wrote the piece “Spying on the G20 Summit” and “A British Precursor to Snowden Case,” which states: “A decade ago, this same powerful agency [GCHQ, with NSA] launched a spy operation against representatives of six members of the UN Security Council in an attempt to convince those members to vote in favor of a U.S.-UK resolution legitimizing the invasion of Iraq.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to determine just how personal information about the six diplomats could be used to influence their vote to — according to NSA’s secret memorandum — ‘obtain results favorable to U.S. goals.’ In the ten-year-old case, newspapers worldwide (except in the U.S.) ran banner headlines about ‘U.S. Dirty Tricks at the UN.’ Readers wondered about a game of high-stakes blackmail.

“Katharine Gun, a British Secret Service officer stationed at GCHQ in Cheltenham, England, received a copy of NSA’s invitation to join in the illegal UN Security Council operation, and made the same decision as did Snowden. She leaked the information. She was 27 at the time. Snowden is 29.”

While officials of the U.S. government have claimed that the NSA programs revealed by Snowden are “legal” — and critics have replied that they are unconstitutional but have been “made legal” — Mitchell states that spying on the UN is illegal, pointing to “Three sources of relevant international law: The 1946 convention on the privileges and immunities of the UN, which lays out the rules concerning the inviolable nature of its premises; the 1947 agreement between the UN and the U.S., which places certain obligations on the U.S. with regard to the UN; and the 1967 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. These accords make it plain that spying on the UN Security Council was and is illegal.”

For extensive background on the Katharine Gun case, see: