Sunday, March 21, 2004

If the White House wants to know which foreign leaders support presidential candidate John Kerry, it should check with the CIA, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said yesterday.

Although the intelligence agency is prohibited from domestic spying, Mr. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, suggested that the CIA knows which countries support Mr. Kerry through surveillance at the U.N. building in New York.

“All we have to do is go down the list of members of the United Nations to find out where the support is. The CIA knows it. They work for the president. They can give him the names of all of those countries,” Mr. Kennedy told “Meet the Press” in an interview yesterday.

Mr. Kennedy was “alluding to the well-known fact that the CIA and other domestic intelligence agencies have a good handle on what is discussed at the United Nations,” his spokesman Jim Manley said after the interview.

The Washington Times surveyed embassies of key countries opposing the U.S.-led war in Iraq — including France, Russia, Canada and Mexico — and embassy officers said there had been no meetings since the beginning of 2003 between Mr. Kerry and visiting presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers.

A review of Mr. Kerry’s public schedules showed no opportunities for face-to-face meetings between the senator and any foreign heads of state or heads of government.

Mexico’s former U.N. Ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, accused the United States and Britain of spying on diplomats before the Iraq war, saying “privileged” information was obtained through “eavesdropping.” The Chilean government says its telephones at the United Nations were bugged.

A CIA spokesman yesterday declined to comment on Mr. Kennedy’s assertion.

The mission of the CIA is to collect foreign intelligence and foreign counterintelligence, but it cannot involve the domestic activities of U.S. citizens, according to frequently asked questions on the agency’s Web site.

Domestic spying restrictions were placed on the CIA in the 1970s after the Rockefeller Commission investigation found the agency spied on antiwar demonstrators at the direction of Presidents Johnson and Nixon.

Mr. Kerry has “met with leaders over a period of time” and it “isn’t a big mystery,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“If the White House is really interested in those leaders, they control the CIA — the CIA gives them those lists,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Everyone knows at the United Nations where the countries stand.”

The Bush campaign said it would be improper for the White House to direct the CIA to spy on Mr. Kerry.

“This isn’t about the White House; this is about the American people,” said Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman. “The American people have the right to know what that candidate has told foreign leaders in order to get that endorsement and why those foreign leaders might support him.”

The Kerry campaign said last week the senator would not accept endorsements from foreign leaders, after former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has said Jews secretly run the world, endorsed the senator. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain’s Socialist prime minister-elect, also has voiced support for Mr. Kerry.

“The American people would be curious to know why the former Malaysian anti-Semitic dictator said he supports Senator Kerry,” Mr. Mehlman added. “Why does the North Korean government apparently support him?”

Earlier this month, Mr. Kerry said he met face to face with foreign leaders who want him to beat Mr. Bush in the fall election but has refused to name names.

“We are the ones who get to determine the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders,” Vice President Dick Cheney said last week, and Mr. Bush challenged Mr. Kerry “to back it up with facts.”

• Bill Sammon contributed to this report.

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