UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prepared a list of information on U.N. officials and diplomats that it wanted U.S. envoys in New York and around the world to gather, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
According to one cable published by The Guardian newspaper, the State Department asked U.S. envoys at U.N. headquarters and elsewhere to procure credit card and frequent flyer numbers, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, passwords and other confidential data from U.N. officials and foreign diplomats.
That cable mentioned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a target for information-gathering activities by U.S. 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 U.S. diplomats to gather was overseen by the CIA. However, the diplomatic cable itself was drafted by the State Department, the newspaper noted.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month, described WikiLeaks’s daily release of new cables and memos as an “unpleasant and awkward experience.”
While she did not explicitly deny the allegation that U.S. envoys have been encouraged to do espionage work, she reiterated that the job of the U.S. diplomatic corps is not to spy but to promote U.S. 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 is a “reprehensible act that is completely unexcusable and counter-productive.”
It is not the first time that documents suggesting that the United States or other nations have engaged in espionage at the world body have reached the media. U.N. diplomats admit privately that spying is commonplace at U.N. headquarters in New York and at other U.N. centers around the world.
U.N. officials like Ban’s predecessor Kofi Annan or former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief have also been put under surveillance.
Nor is U.N. spying limited to U.S. 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 deep-cover Russian spy ring in the United States that recruited political sources and gathered information for Moscow.
The U.S. Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations had delivered payments to the spy ring.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by