UN steps up anti-spying measures as Blix reveals belief he was bugged

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Indy Politics

The United Nations has stepped up anti-bugging measures at its New York headquarters in the wake of a claim by Clare Short, the former Cabinet minister, that she had seen a transcript of a private telephone conversation by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General.

A UN spokesman, Farhan Haq, told The Independent on Sunday: "The UN routinely takes technical measures to guard against invasions of its privacy." He said such measures would be increased after Ms Short's comments in an interview last Thursday on the BBC's Today programme.

Amid the storm caused by the former International Development Secretary's comments, Boutros Boutros Ghali, the former UN Secretary-General, as well as Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, and one of his predecessors, have said they believed they were spied on.

Dr Blix said he suspected that his UN office and his home in New York were bugged by the US during the run-up to war in Iraq, when he was in dispute with the British Government and the Bush administration over his demands for more time to complete his search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Dr Blix, who gave lectures in Edinburgh and Cambridge last week ahead of the publication of his book, Disarming Iraq: the Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, is promising "some big revelations". The actions of Tony Blair and George Bush in the period leading up to the war would be closely scrutinised. Asked by the IoS if he was more critical of the Prime Minister or President Bush, Dr Blix replied that he "had something to say about everyone concerned".

In an interview with The Guardian, which is serialising the book, the former chief inspector said a UN counter-surveillance team had swept his home and office for bugs. But his fear of surveillance was reinforced when John Wolf, a senior member of the US administration, showed him a set of photographs that he said could only have been obtained from the UN weapons office.

"I asked him how he got them and he would not tell me, and I said I resented that," Dr Blix said. He added that he had expected to be spied on by the Iraqis, but found it "disgusting" that he was treated the same way by his own side.

Another former chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, said he would go to New York's Central Park for confidential conversations with his contacts, because it was "plainly silly" to think such a conversation could be held in his office without it being monitored. Dr Blix said he, too, would go to the restaurant at the UN building or "out into the streets" for sensitive discussions.

Ms Short's allegation gave rise to speculation that Britain had planted a listening device in the UN Secretary General's office, but intelligence experts believe it is far more likely that if his calls were monitored, it would be part of the traffic intercepted electronically by the National Security Agency in the US and GCHQ in Cheltenham.

There have also been suggestions that what the former minister might have seen was a copy of notes routinely made of Mr Annan's telephone calls by a UN employee made for the organisation's own records.

Additional reporting by Bryan Coll