According to documents released by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, American diplomats have been running a sweeping spy campaign against UN officials since 2009.
A global partner in peace or paranoid superpower hungry for secrets?
According to the documents released by WikiLeaks US diplomats around the world were directed to gather details including facial images, fingerprints, iris scans and even DNA from UN officials. Among the targeted were ambassadors from Russia, China, France and Great Brittan. Even secretary general Ban ki-Moon was targeted.
"Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests, and work to find common solutions to complex problems. That’s what they do," said Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN.
Many journalists and watchdog groups have criticized Washington for not clarifying information disclosed in the leaked diplomatic cables.
“Many people didn’t understand what that meant. Did that mean that diplomats do spying on the side?"said Matthew Russell Lee, journalist and founder of Inner City Press.
The order for the operation allegedly came from the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the US assumes the presidency of the UN Security Council these revelations will probably be seen as an undesirable distraction, but few are paying it any attention. Only Belgium has openly criticized the US for mixing diplomatic work with espionage.
Official reaction from the UN itself only went as far as reminding member states that international treaties prohibit spying at the United Nations.
"We don't have any judgment at this stage on the authenticity of the document," said Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson.
The US is the UN's fattest financier, set to contribute more than $2.5 billion dollars in 2011. But does money buy forgiveness?
“Their response has been so weak to being spied on by the US. In large part because the US is the behemoth of the UN. They pay a lot of the bills they have the ability to veto another second term for Ban Ki-moon,” said Lee.
In 2003, the US was reportedly caught spying on the global community. The National Security Administration was allegedly conducting a secret surveillance operation provide intelligence on the voting intentions of UN members leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
This time around diplomats were asked to provide information on computer upgrades, security measures, passwords, and personal encryption keys of their UN colleagues. The level of details allegedly demanded about top UN officials has not only left the US red faced, but also caused some to speculate whether Washington was ultimately laying the ground work for surveillance or hacking operations here at the world body headquarters.
"For governments that are constantly talking about democracy, transparency, blah, blah, blah in the world. Then invading countries in order to promote a democratic spirit. And then they behave this way? I’m sorry but I think it’s time for some outrage," said James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum.
While Washington repeatedly claims to be rebuilding and repairing relations around the world, the image of the US as big brother watching at the UN may be irreparable.
"Is this US policy going forward? It clearly was in the past. Is it the policy going forward? If so, people better hold on to their wallets around here,” said Lee.
Russian officials say they deeply doubt the credibility of fresh allegations against the country, released by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.
The secret U.S. diplomatic cables brand Russia a hub for organized crime and corruption,with some even calling the country a "mafia state".
Allegations were also made against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, claiming he'd amassed a fortune in foreign banks during his time as President.
Putin's press secretary has dismissed this information as utter rubbish, saying they are groundless rumors.
Scott Bates, Vice President of the Centre for National Policy in Washington, said it is a direct task of a diplomat to probe the internal affairs of a nation they are in, so the cables published by WikiLeaks are just “impressions of diplomats out in the field” and do not represent official U.S. policy.
“WikiLeaks has an agenda which is very clear they are trying to hamper America’s ability to act in the world,” Bates claims.