Politics & Policy

Did the Clinton Administration Spy On Princess Diana? No.

The Lord Stevens report is released.

On Tuesday, writing about stories in the British press that U.S. intelligence services spied on Princess Diana, I wrote, “The first thing to remember…is that British press accounts can be notoriously unreliable.” Then I wrote, “We’ll know more about the story on Thursday morning, when results of the Lord Stevens inquiry into Diana’s death are released to the public.”

Well, the Lord Stevens report was released Thursday morning, we do know more, and it turns out the British press accounts were notoriously unreliable.

Perhaps the key aspect of the British reporting was the Evening Standard’s claim that American intelligence agencies “were bugging Princess Diana’s telephone over her relationship with a U.S. billionaire” — identified as American businessman Theodore Forstmann. Forstmann is a U.S. citizen; if he were being spied upon as part of an inquiry into Diana’s activities, that would have raised issues of warrants and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. For an American intelligence agency to listen in on the international communications of a U.S. person without a warrant would have been a major issue, just as it has been a major issue with what President Bush calls the terrorist surveillance program and what Democrats call “domestic spying.”

So that would have been a big deal. But the Lord Stevens report contains no mention of Forstmann and no description of anyone like him, nor does it have any evidence that anything like the Forstmann scenario took place. The closest thing is information the Stevens inquiry received from American writer/investigator Gerald Posner, who, in the course of working on the story of Diana’s death, heard that American intelligence authorities had listened to one of Diana’s calls:

Gerald Posner told of further information apparently being collected relating to the Princess of Wales during a telephone conversation she had with a friend, Lucia Flecha de Lima. Gerald Posner was played a short extract from what he believed to be a recording of a telephone conversation. He stated that this conversation was “evidently intercepted by the NSA”…”having originated from the Brazilian Embassy in Washington” which might have been the subject of surveillance or monitoring. At the time of the alleged conversation, the Brazilian Ambassador to Washington was the husband of Lucia Flecha de Lima. 

In another part of the report, Lord Stevens passes on a statement from Posner:

Lucia Flecha de Lima was among those I interviewed. Prior to this I was able to listen to a small portion of a conversation that had apparently taken place between her and Diana, Princess of Wales during a phone conversation. That conversation was evidently intercepted electronically by the NSA, having originated from the Brazilian Embassy in Washington. I could only decipher a British woman and a woman with a slight Hispanic accent talking about hairstyles. However when I mentioned the details to Lucia Flecha de Lima she confirmed this conversation had taken place between herself and Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Lord Stevens report concludes, “The inference from Gerald Posner’s information was that the embassy, and not the Princess of Wales, was the subject of any telephone interception.” Why the U.S. might have been bugging the Brazilian embassy is another question, but one that most likely involved legitimate national security concerns.

Beyond that, the NSA, which in the late 1990s admitted that it had a small trove of documents on Diana — 39, to be exact — gave Lord Stevens a bit more comprehensive explanation than it gave the press a couple of days ago. The report quotes a top NSA official saying, “I can categorically confirm that NSA did not target Princess Diana nor collect any of her communication. The NSA documents, acquired from intelligence gathering of international communications, contain only short references to Princess Diana in contexts unrelated to the allegations being made…”

Reading the report, it seems clear that most of the sensational claims that circulated in the media run-up to the Lord Stevens report originated with Mohamed Al Fayed, the millionaire father of the late Dodi Al Fayed, who was Diana’s boyfriend at the time of her death. Many of the unquestionably irresponsible decisions that led to her death — most notably, the use of a stone-drunk driver to take the princess through the streets of Paris at more than 100 m.p.h. — were the work of Dodi Al Fayed and his father, and Mohamed Al Fayed has been conducting a nearly decade-long campaign to blame someone other than himself and his son. The Stevens report is largely the result of that campaign.

In any event, there appears to be no evidence in the report to support a claim that the Clinton administration spied on Theodore Forstmann or Princess Diana.

  Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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