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UN Dodges from Afghan Deaths through Moonlighting to MMB, Hacks of Computers

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 19 -- The UN’s spokesman Martin Nesirky, in place for over four months now, has recently descended into try to silence questions and to limit their number, while his Office doles out answers to one media’s questions to another more favored source, if they answer at all.

  Whether the question is about the deaths of UN staff in Afghanistan or something as simple as who invited former UN official Mark Malloch Brown to speak to the Ban Ki-moon administration's Chief Executives Board, Nesirky last week acknowledged questions, said he would get answers -- but give days later, nothing. Here's from the April 14 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: Two questions... In Afghanistan, there are these reports that Chris Alexander, when he was the Deputy SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in Afghanistan, raised to Canadian authorities that he thought that the Governor of Kandahar, Mr. Asadullah Khalid, was involved not only in human rights violations but was actually responsible for a bombing that killed five UN personnel. I am wondering if you can…this has now been reported, based on Canadian documents. Can you say whether, within the UN system, particularly Mr. Alexander when he was a UN official, believed that a sitting Governor of Kandahar was responsible for the death of UN staff?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Not here and now. I would need to find out, but thank you for bringing it to my attention....

Inner City Press: The CEB [Chief Executive Board] meeting, were you there?

Spokesperson: For part of it.

Inner City Press: The second day, I wanted to know, I have heard that Mark Malloch Brown, former Deputy Secretary-General, was present. If it is the case, in what capacity and what is his affiliation with the UN system at present?

Spokesperson: My understanding is that the CEB, which as you know brings together the heads of the agencies, funds and programmes and key individuals from the Secretariat Headquarters, on that second day there was a decision -- not taken on that day but in advance -- that it would be useful to have an outside view of the way that the UN works. I am not privy to what exactly was said, but there was a conscious decision to have an outside speaker to brief the CEB members. I do not have any further details and I was not in the room. We can find out more.

Inner City Press: Including who invited him and on what topic.

Spokesperson: As I say, it was a conscious decision not for this to be simply inward looking, but to have some outside input into it. The details of who made the invitation and so on we can find out very easily.

  It would have been easy to find out -- but the information as not been provided as of April 19. Nor has any response been made on the first Afghanistan question. On a second Afghanistan question, about UN staff death by friendly fire or execution, despite repeated questions by Inner City Press based on a information from a UN whistleblower in Kabul, Nesirky's Office gave its response to another media.

  The pattern extends throughout Nesirky's team. Taking the week before as a sample, we find a slew of questions left unanswered, culminating in answers give to some but withheld from the media which asked. Whether this is retaliation or more ineptitude was asked, but not answered.

  On April 7, Inner City Press asked Mr. Nesirky deputy Marie Okabe

Inner City Press: there is a report by the think tank at the University of Toronto, reported on BBC, about alleged hacking from within China of both the Dalai Lama and his supporters. And also, it says that a UN computer system, I believe ESCAP [Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific] but maybe another one, was compromised by these China-based hackers. Are you aware of the report? Can you confirm, or will you look into and confirm, that a UN system was compromised in this way?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: I am aware of the press reports, but I have not heard anything from our agencies confirming what you have just said.

Question: Do you think they are going to? It seems like this is widely enough circulated that it… Do you think they will actually come out and say "this happened to us" or "this did not happen to us" or will they just grin and bear it?

 The UN has yet to answer about the reading of its e-mail by China-based hackers. On April 8, Nesirky's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq held the noon briefing while having told the Press that head UN Peacekeeper Alain Leroy would be speaking at the Security Council stakeout elsewhere in the UN basement. When Inner City Press sent Haq questions in writing, he ended up replying

"That's all I got from Myriam [of ECA], that one sentence I sent you. Please ask her for more. Matthew, I've already answered quite a lot of questions and realise you can easily respond with many more. You must appreciate it's easier to ask them then to obtain the right answers. I will leave you to do the work on your latest ones with the relevant parties; UNDP for questions on Kim Bolduc and the boat."

 But the UN’s "Love Boat" in Haiti was rented by the World Food Program, not UNDP. This buck-passing came before Haq bypassed Inner City Press the next week, handing an answer to a question Inner City Press had asked to another media.

UN's Ban and OSSG's Nesirky: questions taken, answers not shown

  Since Haq ended up rebuffing questions posed in writing, Inner City Press made sure to attend his noon briefing on April 9 and asked

Inner City Press: Sure, Farhan. I wanted to get a description of which offices of the UN -- DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or DPA [Department of Political Affairs] -- were involved in this "road map [towards] peace" for Darfur, the uniting of rebel groups under a single umbrella that took place in Doha and was ultimately signed by an, until 8 March, UN staff member. So, you referred me to ECA [Economic Commission for Africa] and I have gotten some answers from this, but what I want to know is: was there UN involvement in the process? I am aware of that, and so I want to know… it is not ECA; they say they had no engagement in it. So was it the Department of Peacekeeping Operations or the Department of Political Affairs or some other UN unit that was involved in seeking to unify the Darfur rebel groups under the leadership of Mr. Al-Tijani Al-Sissi?

Associate Spokesperson: I will have to check and see which part of the system deals with that topic.

Inner City Press: Well, I guess I want to know, and you have referred me to ECA, I have gotten their answers and now I am just asking you. Given that they say that Mr. Al-Tijani Al-Sissi was paid by the UN system from 2005 through 8 March 2010, and during that time made public statements about his desire to unify Darfur rebel groups and to become the leader, what does the UN Secretariat have to say about this use of staff time, violation of staff rules, and, in fact, involvement in the political process of Darfur by a UN staff member?

Associate Spokesperson: Certainly, if any staff member for ECA is involved in inappropriate activities, it is for the Economic Commission for Africa to look into that. As you know, there are rules and regulations that prohibit certain types of political activity for staff of the United Nations.

Inner City Press: Is it entirely an ECA matter, or are the UN staff rules consistent throughout the system and policed by OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] and others?

Associate Spokesperson: There are staff rules and regulations throughout the system. Obviously, each different entity is responsible for monitoring and examining the actions of their own staff to make sure that they are appropriate and conform with the appropriate rules.

Inner City Press: But just to tie this one up, this is the reason I am asking -- when you look into which UN units, DPKO or DPA, were involved in the process of unifying the groups, can you ask how they were not aware that the person who emerged and who spoke and wanted to become the leader of these united groups was, in fact, a UN staff member? I just see it as sort of a fragmented response. It seems like the UN has a paid staff member that did it. To refer all the questions to ECA just seems like a way to let DPKO, DPA or the Secretariat off the hook.

Associate Spokesperson: The questions having to do with his employment in ECA have to be referred to ECA. That is simply logical.

Inner City Press: How about the question of how DPKO or DPA could be working with somebody and not know they were a UN staff member when everyone else knew?

Associate Spokesperson: Well, let’s not speculate about what they were or were not doing.

Inner City Press: But can I get an answer on that, not from ECA?

Associate Spokesperson: Do not speculate. But first, let's get the details about what precisely did happen on that.

  But this information has still not been provided, nor has any action been taken on violation of the rules. With Nesirky back on stage, Inner City Press on April 12 asked

Inner City Press: the question is as follows: very simply, it now appears clear that an individual employed by UN ECA [Economic Commission for Africa], Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem, was paid by the UN until 8 March 2010. It also appears clear that he made public statements in September 2009 saying, “I want to lead the Darfur rebellion.” He spoke with Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé -- this is a newly emerging fact -- who, in my understanding, was aware that this individual was a UN staff member. What is going to be done? I mean, I was referred by Farhan [Haq] to ECA, but it seems like the UN system as a whole… If these facts are correct, the rules were openly broken in terms of political activity of a UN staff member in a high-profile political situation of Darfur. Therefore, what is going to happen?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, a couple of things. Strange as it may seem, even when I was not here, I was aware of what is going on and I know that you had extensive exchanges with Farhan and others about how to get information on this particular question and that is in the works. You have been in touch with them and you can continue to be in touch with them at ECA, which is based Addis [Ababa], as you know.

Inner City Press: The reason I am asking is that ECA has said, on the record, that they were unaware of this individual’s political activities, which frankly I find hard to believe because there were public statements in Addis reported in the press in Addis that he wanted to lead a Darfur rebel group.

Spokesperson: Well Matthew, I am not going to second-guess what my colleagues on the ground have said. I am not going to second-guess them. The only thing I will add is what you have already heard the Secretary-General say, which is a general statement of principle about the inadmissibility of political activity as a UN official. Now, please, I would suggest that you continue with your line of inquiry with ECA, okay?

Inner City Press: What if they just say they are unaware of things that took place?

Spokesperson: That presumably means that they are unaware, Matthew.

Inner City Press: If it lines up as a straight violation of the rules -- I am sorry, I will not go on and on -- I am just wondering who enforces these staff rules to not be involved in political activity while employed by the staff?

Spokesperson: The United Nations enforces the rules, Matthew. The United Nations enforces them.

Inner City Press: Which unit?

Spokesperson: You have heard what the Secretary-General said. The rules are there for everybody.

Inner City Press: Right, but who is going to enforce them? What is going to happen in this case? If the facts are not true, fine. If they are, what happens?

Spokesperson: This could go on forever, and as I have said, please do go back to the ECA. That is the correct conduit.

But the ECA has stopped providing answers. So on April 13, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Purely factually, does the Joint Mediator [for Darfur], Djibril Bassolé… is he paid by the UN and who speaks for him? Does he have a separate spokesperson or are you, in a sense, his spokesperson? Or is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] his spokesperson? To whom would I direct questions to Mr. Bassolé in his UN capacity.

Spokesperson: Let me find out.

  But six days later, Nesirky has not provided this basic information. There followed, in the next three days, a series of non-answers about the death of UN staffer Louis Maxwell in Afghanistan, after which when Nesirky’s office finally had an answer, they gave it to another media, not Inner City Press which had been asking for days.

   When Inner City Press objected, Nesirky tried to shut questioning down by invoking the staff death. One long time reporter called this power play "disgusting." And, three days later, no explanation or response has been forthcoming. And so it goes at the UN.

* * *

UN Admits Afghan 'Friendly Fire' May Have Killed US Staffer, US Mission Dodges

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, April 15 -- The UN covered up information that Afghan national forces killed its staff member Louis Maxwell, and then when asked by Inner City Press, belatedly disclosed an FBI investigation and said that "the preliminary conclusions of the mission's investigation raised the disturbing possibility that a specific UN staff member may have died due to “friendly fire”, caused directly by responding Afghan security personnel" -- to another media, not the one which asked.

Management of information is one thing, but cover up and lies are another.

On April 14, based on a tip from a UN source in Afghanistan, Inner City Press asked about the death of UN staff member Louis Maxwell, a U.S. citizen, outside the UN's Kabul guesthouse on October 28, 2009. Given time to response, the UN send Inner City Press an email that the case was subject to a Board of Inquiry and FBI investigation, and that therefore there would be no more comment.

On April 15, Inner City Press asked again, including when the Board of Inquiry began, and why the UN had not retracted Secretary General Ban Ki-moon 2009 statements that the Taliban were responsible for Louis Maxwell's murder. UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky told Inner City Press to "be careful" what words it used, and later said only that the Board of Inquiry began in January.

Nesirky's Associate Farhan Haq, however, issued a quote to another media -- which had not asked any questions at the UN's noon briefing -- that

"The preliminary conclusions of the mission's investigation raised the disturbing possibility that a specific UN staff member may have died due to 'friendly fire,' caused directly by responding Afghan security personnel. Once the BOI is finalized, we will share our findings with the Government of Afghanistan and if warranted we will ask for a thorough investigation surrounding the death of this UN employee and the circumstances of the deaths of the other UN employees."

  One questions why the UN didn't disclose this "disturbing possibility" when it became aware of it, and then refused to disclosed it to accredited media which asked about it in open UN noon briefing sessions. This UN goes lower and lower every day.

UN Photo of coffins of UN staff killed in Kabul, disclosure not shown

  Meanwhile, Inner City Press asked the US Mission to the UN

This is a request for comment on newly emerged information about the death in Afghanistan on October 28, 2009 of U.S. citizen Louis Maxwell.

At the time, Ambassador Rice said

I condemn in the strongest terms the brutal and cowardly attack in Kabul today on United Nations workers and members of the Afghan National Security Forces. An American citizen was among those who lost their lives. My heartfelt condolences and sympathies go out to the families and friends of all of the victims.

The United Nations has been doing vital work for the Afghan people for more than fifty years. The United States strongly supports the leadership and staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as they work bravely each day under incredibly difficult circumstances, and we are grateful to the Afghan National Security Forces for their commitment and sacrifice.

The international community stands together in its commitment to defeat those extremists seeking to halt democratic progress in Afghanistan. The United States stands firmly with the people of Afghanistan as they prepare for the November 7 presidential runoff elections.

Yesterday, after I asked a question at the noon briefing, the UN Spokesperson's office sent me this

From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply
Date: Wed, Apr 14, 2010 at 1:00 PM
Subject: Your questions on Louis Maxwell
To: Inner City Press

(further response on Louis Maxwell)

The United Nations has followed due process in investigating the death of staff in Afghanistan last October by instituting a Board of Inquiry after an initial fact-finding by staff in Kabul and New York. The United Nations has been in contact with the responsible Afghan authorities in the course of its inquiries. The Board will submit its report in due course. Further actions by the United Nations will depend on its findings. The specific circumstances in which Louis Maxwell died are currently being investigated and it would be premature to comment further at this stage.

The United Nations is also cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its inquiries into the incident. The United Nations has briefed the Maxwell family on the progress of its initial inquiries and is determined to support the family.

Questions: when did the US State Dept and, separately, Amb. Rice become aware of a credible alternative factual explanation of the attack and death, and of the US FBI's involvement in investigating this alternative explanation?

Why was Amb Rice's statement not amended at that time?

Is the statement going to be amended or supplemented now?

  While the US Mission to the UN declined to respond in writing, as part of a telephone conversation the Spokesman of the US Mission, Mark Kornblau, provide this on the record response:

"As the UN Spokesman noted yesterday, there are ongoing investigations by the UN and FBI. It would be premature for us to comment at this time."

  Some note that given the political situation between the Obama Administration and Hamid Karzai, the disclosure of a the murder of a U.S. citizen by Afghan national forces under Karzai's command would be inconvenient, to say the least. Asked about this concern, the US Mission to the UN had no on the record comment. Watch this site.

Footnote: the UN and US State Department might want to start changing their close to the chest communications strategy on this -- Inner City Press' Kabul sources say that ABC News has a crew on the ground now investigating Louis Maxwell's murder.

From the April 15 UN transcript:

Inner City Press: After yesterday’s noon briefing, your office issued a statement about the situation in Afghanistan -- the deaths of the UN staff, including Louis Maxwell -- saying, among other things, that “the United Nations is cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in its inquiries into this incident”. Because at times there have been some issues around UN cooperation with United States law enforcement, including in this building -- whether they have jurisdiction to come into the building, whether evidence is shared -- can you say when this cooperation began, of what it consisted, and ultimately isn’t it the UN’s responsibility? Who is leading the charge to find out who, in fact, killed these four UN staff members?

Spokesperson Nesirky: There is a Board of Inquiry, as I think you know. The United Nations instituted this Board of Inquiry after initial fact-finding by staff in Kabul and New York. The United Nations has been in contact with the responsible Afghan authorities in the course of its inquiries. The Board will submit its report in due course. Any further actions by the United Nations will depend on the findings, and it would be premature at this point to comment further.

Inner City Press: Like you had said, “as you were aware”, but I was not aware until yesterday afternoon that there was a Board of Inquiry.

Spokesperson: That is why you were aware, because you were told yesterday afternoon.

Inner City Press: Sure. Mr. Ban said clearly at the stakeout that this was an attack by the Taliban that had done it. Once the UN became enough aware that they created this Board of Inquiry, was there any thought given to saying “things are not as we first presented them”? And secondarily, on these boards of inquiry, how many of them are there? Are there just UN staff on it? Is it an outside Board of Inquiry? How many, I mean…

Spokesperson: There is a standard way to institute a board of inquiry, and I am sure that you are familiar with that. You have been here far longer than I have. The UN takes extremely seriously any incident which results in the loss of life in whatever circumstances of a UN staff member, and will investigate it thoroughly. And clearly the UN, as I mentioned, has been cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its inquiries into the incident. As we have also mentioned -- and I think you need to take that into account, too -- the United Nations has been briefing the family of Mr. Maxwell on its initial inquiries and will continue to support the family.

Inner City Press: Thanks for saying that, but this Board of Inquiry, you are saying, whenever staff are killed, the UN moves to this. Was this Board of Inquiry set up at the time that these five staff members were murdered? Or was it created at some later date, and what triggered its creation?

Spokesperson: Matthew, I should be very careful in the words that you are using. There is a Board of Inquiry and there is an investigation going on that involves the FBI. And the Afghan authorities are also investigating this, and it is part of -- as I mentioned earlier in a different context -- due process when you are investigating. Be very careful what words you are using.

Inner City Press: Is there any question… it is a question of who did the murder?

Spokesperson: There is an investigation going on.

Inner City Press: Right. Is it a new investigation? This took place in October and we are now in April. Has it been going on since October? I will just leave it at that. When was the date that this Board of Inquiry was instituted, since it is such a well known procedure how these things are done? When was it done? When was this created?

Spokesperson: I will let you know.

[The Spokesperson later added that, in January, the United Nations established a high-level Board of Inquiry to establish the facts and look for lessons learned.]

  "Lessons learned," indeed. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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