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Shock and shame over UN bugging

Sir: My first reaction to reports of bugging the UN was shock. It was one thing to spy on the Soviet Union or a dictatorship like Saddam's; but another to give similar treatment to fellow members of the Security Council and even the Secretary General.

But your reports now indicate that spying on UN officials has become routine, and many governments attempt it. If that is so, and assuming the accuracy of Clare Short's allegation, why does Tony Blair not admit it - laugh it off, even? He and other heads of government could then consider how far international diplomacy is handicapped when it has to be conducted furtively on pavements or in noisy cafeterias rather than in normal offices.

Or could it be that he is ashamed to own up to bugging the UN? After all, it is supposed to be illegal.

Havant, Hampshire

Sir: Much as I support your stance on most issues, with this story I can only wonder which world you are living in.

Our Government has a responsibility to safeguard our country's welfare and interests. Like any other country that has the capability, of course we collect whatever intelligence we can gather that might help protect ourselves and our allies. In fact I would expect us to be also trying to obtain information about our allies, let alone an organisation which, though it may be of great value, can hardly be considered to be packed with countries that share our values or have our interests at heart. The only concern I have is that we should, for the sake of good international relations, avoid being caught. It is not overly simplistic to say that we, despite our many faults, are the "good guys".

As for Ms Short, whose plain speaking I used to have some admiration for; it seems that she is seeking to damage the Government for her own personal reasons. Where were these scruples when she was in government?

So, enough with the pretend horror; most people will be either bemused at the fuss or envious that their own governments lack the capability to undertake such operations.


Sir: It is interesting how many people are claiming to speak with authority on behalf of our intelligence services in criticising Katharine Gun and Clare Short.

Well, I am a former intelligence officer and I personally support their actions. I fail to see how lives or matters of grave national security have been jeopardised. It strikes me that if one thing has been put in danger by the events of the last few days, then it is Tony Blair's political future.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: Could Mal Steel (letter, 28 February) have served in the security services? He has certainly signed up for the full "they know best" slate. He seems not able to envisage any circumstances which could justify "simpletons" like Katharine Gun "blabbing".

Chillingly, Mr Steel believes "she betrayed the trust placed in her and the discipline (that she volunteered for) of simply doing her job like the rest of the team and letting those above (and more capable than her) make the decisions". Perhaps she shouldn't have worried her pretty head about it, Mal? Nürnberg taught the world that following orders was no defence against a charge of guilt through acquiescence.

The "grown-ups" would seem to be relaxed about our spooks being sub-contracted by the US to bug officials of six UN member states in attempts to get their votes for war: my country (and the US), right or wrong!

Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Sir: In an open, free and democratic society, it is inevitable that when people see something seriously wrong being done secretly in their name by the state, someone will eventually speak out.

The argument that people should be grateful for living in freedom and therefore keep their mouths shut is an absurdity. It denies the fact that our freedoms were not handed down to us from on high: they were won in a civil war and by protests and demonstrations over recent centuries by ordinary people demanding their democratic freedoms in the teeth of death and imprisonment.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the war on Iraq had nothing to do with any threat to this country. Any terrorist threat to this country is the direct result of the Blair government allying itself with the Bush administration that had planned long before 2003 to invade and occupy Iraq. It is equally clear that Tony Blair had already committed this country to this illegal act with or without the support of the United Nations.

Katharine Gun and Clare Short belong in the tradition of those who have been prepared to sacrifice their futures in the struggle against the abuse of power for the upholding of our rights and freedoms.


Sir: I do not understand why anyone should be surprised that the Attorney General was "leant on to sanction war". Lawyers are often leant on to sanction courses of action which their clients wish to follow. The lawyer is often required to provide a cloak of legitimacy for an activity which otherwise cannot be carried out, at least without greater risk.

If a lawyer expresses doubts about a course of action it is perfectly legitimate for the client to test the strength of the view and to seek to change it with additional facts or arguments. Nor will all lawyers always agree on a particular question. Some questions may be so finely balanced that very little is needed to change the opinion.

What is important is that the lawyer does not compromise his position by giving the advice which the client wants to hear, unless the lawyer honestly believes it to be the right advice. That is a matter for the lawyer's conscience, because we cannot know for certain what any man believes. It is also a matter for the client's conscience if he knows, or suspects, that his lawyer's view is not honestly held. This also we cannot know.

However, a client and a lawyer who are confident of their positions will allow the legal advice to be examined and questioned by those who share responsibility for the resultant action - which may be a board of directors or, in the present case, a Cabinet.

Beenham, Berkshire

Sir: If it is right that that the military sought clarification as to the legality of the war before committing troops they were acting out of a sense of legal duty rather than self interest, in that the International Criminal Court (ICC) does not yet have jurisdiction to try matters involving the act of going to war. This means they would only have faced the unlikely possibility of a prosecution in this country.

However the way the war was conducted (upon which the Attorney General has not published an opinion), involving such matters as the targets and type of munitions deployed, is a matter for the ICC, but again this is initially a matter for the domestic courts and would only become a matter for the ICC if our courts declined to consider the charges, if any, which were made.

Gray's Inn, London WC1