A senior U.S. diplomat's in a little trouble for saying something undiplomatic. Victoria Nuland thought she was having a private phone conversation while talking about developments in Ukraine with America's ambassador to that country, but someone was listening in and recording it. Victoria Nuland used an old Anglo-Saxon epithet and later apologized to allies in Europe for it.

So who was recording the diplomat's conversation? NPR's national security editor, Bruce Auster, has this report on how the phone call might have been intercepted.



AMBASSADOR GEOFFREY PYATT: I think we're in play.

BRUCE AUSTER, BYLINE: They had no idea just how much in play. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Victoria Nuland were discussing what to do about the political crisis in Ukraine; who to support among the opposition, who not.


NULAND: So I don't think Klitsch should go into the government. I don't think it's necessary, I don't think it's a good idea.

AUSTER: What they were saying was being taped. Nuland won't talk now about what she called a private diplomatic conversation, although she did admit it was, quote, "pretty impressive trade craft that tripped her up." So who did it and how?

RICHARD BEJTLICH: Somehow this phone was tapped.

AUSTER: That's Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at cyber security company, FireEye. He thinks Russia is behind this, and he's not alone. Here's what might have happened. The phone call would likely not have been on a secure line. That's actually not so unusual among diplomats. And if the call was in the open, Bajtlich says the decent quality of the audio is a clue to how it was intercepted.

BEJTLICH: Given you've got a very nice, clear conversation between both parties, you know, just hear one clearly and the other one very faintly, it's much more likely that the telephone system itself was tapped.

AUSTER: It might also have been done by malicious software on the phone itself. Now, we need to be clear. Russia has denied involvement, but the White House and the State Department have pointed fingers at Moscow. And Bajtlich suspects that Russia can target the call of a high profile American using Ukraine's phone network.

BEJTLICH: So if the ambassador is located in the Ukraine, that call has to get out through Ukraine and at that point it's open for interception.

AUSTER: Odds are, calls like this one have been intercepted for years and not just by Russia. What's different this time, rather than listen to the tapped call, learn from it and file it away, someone decided that the real payoff was to get the audio out on YouTube. Eavesdropped plus social media equals diplomatic embarrassment. Bruce Auster, NPR News, Washington.

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