The U.S. spied on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, listening in on conversations he had with aides and other diplomatic officials about his frustrations toward Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other contentious issues, according to highly classified leaked documents – the latest in a massive and apparently ongoing national security breach.
The Washington Post first reported late Monday on two new documents that appear to confirm the U.S. invasion of Guterres’ private communications, piling on to similar revelations last week.
The leaked documents appear to contain a series of quotations by Guterres expressing skepticism about traveling to Ukraine to meet with Zelenskyy and “outrage” over being denied permission to visit Ethiopia, two countries that have been ravaged by war. The documents contain observations by his aides as well as apparent analysis from U.S. intelligence officials about the chief diplomat’s state of mind about these top-priority issues.
The secretary-general now becomes the latest high-profile international official or U.S. ally revealed to be the target of U.S. espionage operations, according to damning information documented in the release of top secret documents in recent weeks through the gaming platform Discord and later disseminated on Twitter and Telegram. Department of Justice Officials last week arrested Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard who had top-secret security clearance, for allegedly orchestrating the leak.
White House and Pentagon officials would not say on Monday whether they believe they had contained the leak, deferring to ongoing investigations by the departments of Justice and Defense.
The surveillance operations targeting Guterres appear to have been conducted under authorities granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, many of which expire this year without a clear path to renewal.
The incidents documented in the intelligence leaks the Post analyzed center on two of the most pressing priorities facing the U.N., including the years-long violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, currently suspended under a tentative peace agreement signed late last year.
Guterres reportedly wanted to confront Ethiopia’s delegate to the U.N. after its foreign minister in a letter denied the secretary-general permission to visit the Tigray region earlier this year to promote the peace process. Guterres reportedly told the U.N. representative that his colleague in the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry “would not have an opportunity to write another letter like that one,” the Post reports.
Another incident details Guterres’ frustration with apparent attempts by Zelenskyy to exploit the secretary-general’s presence in Ukraine amid the ongoing war with Russia. Guterres expressed in advance of his March 7 arrival in Kyiv that he was “not happy about” having to endure the long trip after already having traveled to Switzerland, Iraq and Qatar days before. He then indicated he was not aware of Zelenskyy’s plans to have Guterres accompany him to a ceremony awarding medals to Ukrainian troops – an apparent attempt to make the secretary-general appear to endorse Ukraine’s war efforts.
Guterres has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year as a violation of the U.N. Charter. One of the documents indicated that during the ceremony he emphasized “not smiling the entire time.” He reportedly told his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, that he wanted to help Ukraine but that Ukrainians “do everything to liquidate us.” Dujarric later denied to the Post that Guterres used the word “liquidate,” but confirmed he was “unpleasantly surprised that the medal ceremony was added, without consultation, at the end of his very productive meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian leaders.”
The U.S. intelligence leaks have broadly been damaging to America’s standing abroad, particularly its close relationship with allies. Including stark assessments of the war in Ukraine, some of the leaked documents have revealed other embarrassing episodes, such as supposed U.S. operations to eavesdrop on other leaders in South Korea – a treaty ally – as they considered weapons shipments to Ukraine, a description of Russia’s nearly shooting down a British RC-135 spy plane over the Black Sea in September and indications that Egypt – among the largest recipients of U.S. military aid in the region – was considering selling rockets to Moscow.