UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations said Wednesday it has received assurances from the U.S. government that U.N. communications networks "are not and will not be monitored" by American intelligence agencies. But chief U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky would not comment on whether the world body had been monitored in the past, as reported recently by the German magazine Der Spiegel.
Nesirky said the United Nations had been in contact with Washington about the reports that surfaced two months ago and has received a U.S. guarantee of no current or future eavesdropping.
"Back in August when these reports first surfaced, we said we would be in touch with the relevant authorities," he said. "And I can tell you that we were indeed in touch with the U.S. authorities. I understand that the U.S. authorities have given assurance that the United Nations communications are not and will not be monitored."
Nesirky would not elaborate on whether spying had taken place and declined to answer related questions. For emphasis, he held up a piece of paper that said: "No comment."
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that "The United States is not conducting electronic surveillance targeting the United Nations headquarters in New York." The official, who was not authorized to be named, spoke on condition of anonymity.
It was not clear whether foreign U.N. missions in New York could be monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, who held the post at the United Nations from 2005-2006, would not comment on "what may or may not have gone on in the past" because he's no longer in government.
"That said, it seems to me that the United Nations and everybody walking through the U.N. building are perfectly legitimate intelligence targets, and I think any decision by any president to say we are not going to eavesdrop on U.N. headquarters is a mistake," he told the AP.
"There's nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says you may not eavesdrop on the U.N.," Bolton said. "Silence and a deeply emphasized 'No comment' is how you should deal with all these intelligence questions."
Der Spiegel reported that documents it obtained from U.S. leaker Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency secretly monitored the U.N.'s internal video conferencing system by decrypting it last year.
Der Spiegel quoted an NSA document as saying that within three weeks, the number of decoded communications had increased from 12 to 458. Der Spiegel also reported that the NSA installed bugs in the European Union's office building in Washington and infiltrated the EU's computer network.
The United Nations lodged objections. U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in August that international treaties protect U.N. offices and all diplomatic missions from interference, spying and eavesdropping.
"The inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations, has been well-established in international law, and therefore all states are expected to act accordingly," Nesirky said Wednesday.
The 1961 Vienna Convention regulates diplomatic issues and status among nations and international organizations. Among other things, it says a host country cannot search diplomatic premises or seize its documents or property. It also says the host government must permit and protect free communication between the diplomats of the mission and their home country.
However, wiretapping and eavesdropping have been used for decades, most dramatically between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.