UN weapons inspectors 'were also bugged'

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The Independent Online

Claims of a United Nations bugging scandal sparked fresh revelations today, with claims that the phones of former UN chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Richard Butler were tapped while on missions abroad.

Australian radio reported that Mr Blix's phone was bugged whenever he was in Iraq and the information shared between the US, Britain and their allies.

And Mr Butler said he was "well aware" that his phone calls were being monitored during his tenure.

He claimed he was forced to hold confidential talks with contacts on walks in New York's Central Park because of the phone tapping in his office at the UN headquarters while he was investigating Iraq's weapons programme.

He told ABC radio: "Of course I was bugged. I was well aware of it. How did I know? Because those who did it would come to me and show me the recordings that they had made on others to help me do my job disarming Iraq."

Mr Butler, who was chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1997 to 1999, claimed at least four permanent members of the UN Security Council monitored his calls.

He said that while he was weapons inspector he learned from unnamed sources that his office was bugged.

He claimed: "I was utterly confident that when in my attempts to have private diplomatic conversations trying to solve the problem of the disarmament of Iraq, I was being listened to by the Americans, British, the French and the Russians and they also had people on my staff reporting what I was trying to do privately."

Sir Crispin Tickell, former British ambassador to the UN, said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "My conscience is quite clear about these matters and I would not think it necessarily a bad thing at all if it is in the national interest."

He said: "If there is a policy question which comes up about which you are uneasy, there are different ways in which you can go round and say 'I am very unhappy about this'."

The former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros–Ghali called for more to be done to protect the holder of the post from spying, saying it was seriously damaging to the work of the UN, saying: "This is a violation of the United Nations charter."

Responding to claims that Dr Blix's phone had been bugged, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said: "If these reports are true, they will constitute yet another grave embarrassment for the British Government.

"They raise a whole raft of questions, the most important of which is, did such an activity take place with ministerial authority and at what level?"