British intelligence employee questioned on NSA memo leak

Message revealed rise in spying on members of U.N. Security Council

March 11, 2003|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

A British intelligence employee is under criminal investigation in connection with the leak of a National Security Agency memorandum calling for stepped-up eavesdropping on countries whose United Nations Security Council votes on Iraq could be crucial, police reported.

The investigation of a 28-year-old female employee of Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, appears to confirm the authenticity of the NSA memo printed last week in The Observer, a British newspaper.

An NSA spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

Inspector Richard Smith of the Gloucestershire Constabulary said the GCHQ employee, who lives near the agency's complex in Cheltenham, England, was arrested Wednesday and held overnight at a police station before being released on bail Thursday.

Smith said the employee, whom authorities declined to name, has not been charged but is being investigated "on suspicion of contravening the Official Secrets Act," the British statute protecting sensitive intelligence.

The Jan. 31 memo, marked "top secret" and sent by Frank Koza, described as chief of staff for "regional targets," said NSA had begun a "surge" of extra eavesdropping on communications by officials from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan, all among the 15 members of the Security Council.

All the countries are being furiously lobbied by the United States to back the use of force against Iraq and by France to block or delay any war.

While the recipients of the electronic message were not revealed, it appeared to be directed to eavesdroppers at GCHQ or other closely cooperating foreign signals inteligence agencies. "We'd appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts," it said.

When The Observer printed the memo March 2, several intelligence experts speculated that the memo might have been leaked to the British paper by a GCHQ officer unhappy with the U.S. push for war against Iraq.

The public reactions from the targeted countries ranged from mild complaint to a sort of jaundiced shrug, since most U.N. foreign officials are well aware that NSA engages in aggressive eavesdropping.

Pakistan's U.N. ambassador told reporters eavesdropping "is considered one of the privileges of the host country."

Still, the embarrassing leak of U.S. spying at such a sensitive time might add to the feeling overseas that the United States is bullying other countries to support a war, said James Bamford, author of two books on NSA.

"It's one more negative for the U.S.," he said. "It may push one or two delegations over the edge" into opposition to any U.S.-backed resolution on Iraq.

Daniel Ellsberg, the former National Security Council member indicted in 1971 for leaking the Pentagon Papers, said the NSA leak is important because it could influence a U.N. vote on an Iraq war, which he strongly opposes.

"This `coalition of the willing' is actually a coalition of the bugged," he said.

Leaks related to NSA's highly classified eavesdropping are rare and considered damaging to U.S. intelligence because they can prompt the targets to begin encrypting communications or taking other steps to protect their secrets.

Sun staff writer Ariel Sabar contributed to this article.

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