British agents spied on the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the Iraqi war, the former International Development Secretary Clare Short claimed today.
Ms Short - who quit the Cabinet in protest against the war - made the claim while being interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today program about the implications of the collapse of the case against GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun.
Asked whether British agencies had been involved in spying activities against Mr Annan, Ms Short said: "I know, I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations.
"Indeed, I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war thinking 'Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying'."
Ms Short was asked whether she believed that British spies had been instructed to carry out operations within the United Nations on people such as Kofi Annan.
A file photograph shows then International Development Secretary Clare Short (L) being greeted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the United Nations in New York on March 19, 2003. Short said on Thursday that Britain conducted spying operations on United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the run-up to last year's war on Iraq. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine-Files
She replied: "Yes, absolutely."
Ms Short was asked whether she knew about such operations when she was in Government.
She said: "Absolutely, I read some of the transcripts of the accounts of his conversations."
Asked whether she believed that was legal, she said: "I don't know, I presume so. It is odd, but I don't know about the legalities."
Asked about the Gun case, Ms Short said on the Today program: "This centers on the Attorney General's (Lord Goldsmith) advice that war was legal under resolution 1441, which was published, but was very very odd.
"The more I think about it, the more fishy I think it was. It came very, very late. He came to the Cabinet the day Robin Cook resigned, sat in Robin's seat, two sides of A4, no discussion permitted.
"We know already that the Foreign Office legal advisers had disagreed and one of them had said there was no authority for war."
Ms Short went on: "My own suspicion is that the Attorney General has stopped this prosecution because part of her (Mrs Gun's) defense was to question the legality and that would have brought his advice into the public domain again and there was something fishy about the way in which he said war was legal."
She added: "The major issue here is the legal authority and whether the Attorney General had to be persuaded at the last minute, against the advice of one of the Foreign Office legal advisers who then resigned, that he could give legal authority for war and whether there had to be an exaggeration of the threat of the use of chemical and biological weapons to persuade him that there was legal authority.
"I think the good old British democracy should keep scrutinizing and pressing to get the truth out.
"The tragedy is that Iraq is a disastrous mess. Ten thousand Iraqis have died, American troops are dying, some of our troops have died, the Middle East is more angry than ever.
"I'm afraid that the sort of deceit on the route to war was linked to the lack of preparation for afterwards and the chaos and suffering that continues, so it won't go away, will it?"
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd