The U.S. government peered deep into Iran’s communications while diplomats were in the country for previous United Nations summits, and appears ready to do so again in coming days, according to NBC News.
In 2007, the White House gave the National Security Agency (NSA) permission to bug the phones of then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his entire 143-member delegation, NBC reported, citing former intelligence officials and a three-page, top-secret document.
The agency also monitored in-person conversations, Skype calls and video conferences.
Teams of five or six analysts were on duty for 19 hours a day to keep track of those talks and map out the deepest web of Iranian politics and personal connections.
Once a secretive federal court gave the go-ahead, the NSA “had to ensure that the proper procedures would be in place … to efficiently tackle the anticipated influx of traffic,” the agency claimed in an October 2007 newsletter, according to NBC.
The NSA is likely to mount a similar effort during the U.N. General Assembly next week, former intelligence analysts told the news outlet, as part of a “full court press.”
The report comes weeks after the U.S., Iran and other world nations finalized a pact to allow inspectors to have access to and closely monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on its oil and financial sectors.
The agreement could pave the way for additional talks between the two nations, U.S. officials have hoped, despite the years of animosity that stretch between them. New signs of spying could appear to threaten that fragile relationship, though NBC cited an Iranian official who said that the delegation always believed it was being monitored. The former translator for Ahmadinejad largely shrugged her shoulders at the news that Iranian officials had been closely monitored by the NSA.
As host of the U.N., the U.S. is in a tricky position. Intelligence officials are unlikely to let a top target like the president of Iran pass through their country without monitoring, yet they are expected to keep their hands off foreign diplomats.
"We would expect every member state to respect the inviolability of communications to and from the United Nations, whether by phone or Internet,” a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told NBC.