Thursday, December 14, 2006

Closing the Diana File

Conspiracy buffs will be disappointed with today's U.K. police report into the 1997 death of Princess Diana. Requiring three years to complete--and at a cost of $7.3 million--the report concludes that Diana's demise in a Paris automobile crash was a "tragic accident," and not the result of some dark conspiracy involving (take your pick)

  • Britain's royal family
  • British secret services
  • U.S. intelligence
  • French security agencies
  • Little green men from outer space
  • All the above

The BBC has an excellent summary of the Stevens Report, named for the former London Police Commissioner who headed the investigation. The British report essentially confirms the result of the original French inquiry, conducted following the crash.

As a former spook, the only part of the investigation that really interested me were claims that "U.S. secret services" were monitoring Diana's phone calls during the months leading up to her death. After reading Chapter 15 of the Stevens Report (which deals with those surveillance allegations), it appears those claims are essentially false. Interviews with U.S. intelligence officials confirm that the National Security Agency has at least 39 documents that mention Diana, but none of that material is relevant to the crash. In a 2006 letter to the British investigative team, the agency's director of policy, Louis Giles, stated "I can categorically confirm that the NSA did not target Princess Diana nor collect any of her communication."

Indeed, the only NSA "connection" in the case comes from investigative journalist Gerald Posner, who was interviewed by British investigators. According to Posner, an "NSA source" told him that Diana's driver, Henri Paul, was called to a meeting with his handler at the French intelligence agency (DGSE) on the evening of her death. Mr. Poser also provided a snippet of a conversation between Diana and a Brazilian friend that was supposedly intercepted by the NSA. The Stevens report says that the identities of the parties cannot be corroborated; the topic of the conversation appeared to be hairstyles, and the Brazilian woman has confirmed that she spoke with Diana on the date in question. Hardly a "smoking gun" that would support allegations of detailed surveillance.

Also conspicuously absent from Chapters 15 and 16 of the report (which cover the intelligence allegations) is any mention of American businessman Teddy Forstmann, who was Diana's boyfriend for a brief period before the crash. Earlier this week, the British press was abuzz with rumors that British security officials had rejected Diana's plans to vacation with Forstmann in the Hamptons in the summer of 1997, prompting her to accept an invitation to join Dodi Fayed in Paris. Speculation about the deliberate wiretapping of Mr. Forstmann and the former princess appears to be just that--speculation.

It should be noted that Lord Stevens and his investigators are taking U.S. intelligence at its collective word. As reported previously, American spy agencies refused to allow the panel to examine their holdings on Diana, saying that such disclosures would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to U.S. national security. Stevens notes that such objections are "standard" for intelligence agencies, concerned about the possibly divulging sources and methods used to gather information.

Amazingly, Lord Stevens' massive report (more than 800 pages in length) will not close the Diana file. The next step in the "investigative" process is an inquest by the royal coroner, which begins in January. The fodder from today's report--and those proceedings--should be sufficient to sustain the tabloids (and the conspiracy buffs) well into the next decade.

At the risk of being linked to the conspiracy crowd, we'll maintain our assertion that British authorities had sufficient motive to keep an eye on Diana after her divorce from Prince Charles. But there's nothing in the Stevens Report to indicate those motives were ever acted on--or that the job was actually "farmed out" to U.S. intelligence services. Absent more compelling evidence, we'll leave future conjecture on this matter to the National Enquirer and the Coast-to-Coast AM audience. However, it would be interesting to examine those NSA reports, and learn the context in which Diana's name appeared.

1 comment:

redtown said...

Bottom line: a drunk driver was driving 60-90 mph in a 30 mph zone and crashed into a barrier. End of discussion. No assassin on a grassy knoll, no Prince Philip hit squad, no alien abductions.

The late Quentin Crisp spoke the truth, if bluntly, that Princess Diana's fast and shallow lifestyle contributed to her own demise: "She could have been Queen of England -- and she was swanning about Paris with Arabs. What disgraceful behavior. Going about saying she wanted to be the queen of hearts. The vulgarity of it is so overpowering." (Atlanta Southern Voice, 1 July 1999).