The US Is Spying on the UN Secretary General

The Washington Post is reporting that the US is spying on the UN Secretary General.

The reports on Guterres appear to contain the secretary general’s personal conversations with aides regarding diplomatic encounters. They indicate that the United States relied on spying powers granted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to gather the intercepts.

Lots of details about different conversations in the article, which are based on classified documents leaked on Discord by Jack Teixeira.

There will probably a lot of faux outrage at this, but spying on foreign leaders is a perfectly legitimate use of the NSA’s capabilities and authorities. (If the NSA didn’t spy on the UN Secretary General, we should fire it and replace it with a more competent NSA.) It’s the bulk surveillance of whole populations that should outrage us.

Posted on June 30, 2023 at 7:02 AM18 Comments


Clive Robinson June 30, 2023 9:10 AM

@ Bruce, ALL,

“There will probably a lot of faux outrage at this, but spying on foreign leaders is a perfectly legitimate use of the NSA’s capabilities and authorities.”

I suspect the outrage will be genuine but not about the NSA, but the hypocrisy involved.

Most Western Nations spy on each other, but have the good sense not to,

1, Make it obvious to all.
2, Say but “We are the good guys, so that’s OK”.
3, Say to others “Do as we say, not as we do”.

I’m realy not sure who the US Politicals are trying to kid, I can only think that they think the US population is in the main “Dumber than a stump”. Or worse don’t care because they know there is nothing the US citizens can do to stop them.

The problem I see for Jo(e) Citizen in the US is getting rid of their politicians who are most certainly not working for them…

ResearcherZero June 30, 2023 9:31 AM

It’s probable the lack of foresight, or “dumbness”, is located somewhere in the congress, state politicians, and amongst a few within the supreme court.

“Across the country, math scores saw their largest decreases ever. Reading scores dropped to 1992 levels. Nearly four in 10 eighth graders failed to grasp basic math concepts. Not a single state saw a notable improvement in their average test scores, with some simply treading water at best.”

“The declines in reading were more pronounced for lower performing students, but dropped across all percentiles.”

“Most concerning, however, are the gaps between students.”

“Confirming what many had feared, racial inequities appear to have widened during the pandemic.”

No part of the country was exempt. Every region saw test scores slide, and every state saw declines in at least one subject.

In this 1 academic year (2021-22) alone, 1600+ books were irregularly banned from school districts across America.

“We did entertain the viewpoint from ban advocates that the books being banned are largely driven by age-inappropriate content. This viewpoint does not align with publisher provided maturity ratings [in 98.4% of cases].”

Irregular bans tend to be ideologically driven. They are supplemental to and fall outside of the standard book exclusion process (e.g. standard exclusions prevent books that promote violent, hateful, or “mature/17+” topics from being placed on school bookshelves).

Z.Lozinski June 30, 2023 10:02 AM

News at Ten. UN Sec. Gen. talks to people; some of them are not very nice. Who knew?

This is comparable to Jack Anderson blowing the NSA capability to eavesdrop the radiotelephones of the Soviet Politburo in the early 1970s. Not helpful.

The more important question surely is why did a junior AF analyst need to know about political intelligence from a sensitive source about a sensitive target. Therefore, why did he even have access?

Sir David Ormand (one time head of GCHQ, and one-time head of the Joint Intelligence Committee) describes briefing Mrs Thatcher with the intercepted signals instructing the Argentinian fleet to sail, this on the day before the Falklands invasion in 1982. The signals decrypts were hand-carried and shown to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister by Ormand personally (he was the Whitehall liaison). (This is described In the book “How Spies Think”, which by the way is an excellent description of how to think about the conflicting, noisy, inconsistent intelligence that is civil servants and politicians have to deal with.)

A useful contrast

SocraticGadfly June 30, 2023 12:15 PM

The US has been spying on UN Secretaries General since Dag Hammarskjöld 65 years ago.

Ted June 30, 2023 6:24 PM

Do you all like podcasts? The WaPo has two excellent episodes on the Jack Teixeira leaks. See here and here.

Regarding UNSG Guterres, I’m amused at a statement made by his spokesman. Guterres said he was not surprised that people were spying on him, but more at the “malfeasance or incompetence that allows for such private conversations to be distorted and become public.” Ooh touché.

Erdem Memisyazici July 1, 2023 4:42 PM

Well said Mr. Schneier. There is no point in destroying paradise to protect it.

Security Sam July 1, 2023 6:32 PM

António Gutierrez is well versed in physics
He is very dedicated and does work nonstop
He knows quite well that there are certain limits
And lets the tempest spill out of his own tea cup.

Boris July 2, 2023 4:14 AM

It makes me wonder what an organisasation such as the UN must do to gain sufficient security. Pretty much all of the equipment they use and the operating systems on their phones, laptops, servers etc is manufactured or owned by a US company. Even their HQ is in the US.

Leon Theremin July 2, 2023 8:24 AM


There will be no computing freedom until the silicon trojans embedded in all US designed CPUs are removed. If you want freedom, you will have to ensure that no unseen radiation is enabling remote control of your devices. Ask me anything about BadBIOS and hardware trojans.

Who? July 3, 2023 5:39 AM

There will probably a lot of faux outrage at this, but spying on foreign leaders is a perfectly legitimate use of the NSA’s capabilities and authorities. (If the NSA didn’t spy on the UN Secretary General, we should fire it and replace it with a more competent NSA.)

…and, if NSA did, then the United States should be fired from UN.

Seriously, the world is broken beyond any hope of repair. I am ashamed of the entire world, not just the United States, or Europe, or NATO or whatever you put here.

Bruce, are you seriously justifying surveillance of all international leaders, all foreign citizens, and all non-domestic business?

When surveillance of non-terrorists was considered acceptable?

As said, I am ashamed of the world we have created in the last decades. At least, a few decades ago the world was split in two blocks. Now anyone spies to anyone for a cheap economical advantage.

@Who? July 3, 2023 3:57 PM

“Seriously, the world is broken beyond any hope of repair.”
This is an understatement!
And the cracks are inversely proportional to the technological progress.

@Who? July 3, 2023 5:05 PM

And the cracks are [not] inversely proportional to the technological progress.

vas pup July 3, 2023 7:40 PM

NSA is doing fine when information is related national security. I mean Title 50, not Title 18 of US Code.

What is the other option?

Move UN Headquarter to the Moon? May be Switzerland?

jstosskopf July 5, 2023 8:59 AM

US spying on UN Secretary General is not news. It’s been happening basically since the UN got started.

The Secretary General is a post that’s spied upon heavily. You can bet the permanent 5 will try damn hard doing it.

ResearcherZero July 8, 2023 3:01 AM


When was surveillance of non-terrorists considered acceptable?

Always. That is why it is referred to as “spying”. That is what all those covert operations have been in aid of. The history dates back thousands of years.

The Caesar Cipher, used by Julius Caesar around 58 BC, is a substitution cipher that shifts letters in a message to make it unreadable if intercepted.

As with all single-alphabet substitution ciphers, the Caesar cipher is easily broken and in modern practice offers essentially no communications security.

“Freedom of the press is going up in smoke.”

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