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27 November 2008

Bugs, bugged and special relationships

By Aloysius McDowell

The Bible says, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” – as Tony Blair, a devout Christian, will know. After presiding over a significant increase in surveillance in his own country, he may have greeted reports that the United States bugged his private conversations with an ironic smile (impossible to know: his office was referring all calls to the White House as the news broke).

The story came from an interview with a former “communications intercept officer”, David Mufee Faulk, on ABC News. He revealed that he had come across an intelligence database, called Anchory, which included material on Mr Blair and another supposed US ally, the then Iraqi president, Ghazi al-Yawer. So far, reaction this side of the pond has been muted. However, some of the exchanges, recorded at an intelligence base in Fort Gordon, Georgia, during 2003 and 2006, are said to be of an intimate nature, including “courting, wooing” and “pillow talk” between Mr al-Yawer and his fiancée, then an official in the interim government.

One wonders what intimacies in No 10 were overheard during those years. Did Mr Mufee Faulk pull back from his earpiece as Gordon Brown shouted to Mr Blair, “I can’t believe a word you say any more”? Did the more prudish Americans reel at the foul-mouthed rantings of Alastair Campbell? And what of John Prescott? Was he heard describing George W Bush as “crap”?

There are suggestions that the eavesdropping was intended only to provide “entertainment for bored spies”. Nonetheless, the image of the “shoulder- to-shoulder” alliance that Mr Blair did so much to forge with the Americans has been tarnished. One partner in the special relationship was clearly Big Brother.

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