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UN Admits Misspoke on Frequent Flyer Miles But Does Not Explain, Ethics Office Makes Excuses

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, November 30 -- The UN has reversed course and admitted that its officials and staff keep for personal use the frequent flyer miles connected to their official travel paid by the UN.

On November 29, inquiring into the documents released by Wikileaks including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's request that US diplomats seek the frequent flyer miles account numbers of UN officials, Inner City Press asked UN acting Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq, “What does happen with the frequent flyer miles of Ban Ki-moon or other [UN staff] when they fly around?”

Haq replied that “the frequent flyer miles of UN officials are essentially possessions of the United Nations...this is all part of the Organization.”

Since Inner City Press had been told that UN staff keep the frequently flyer miles, and even that top UN envoy in Liberia Ellen Loj was heard yelling at UNMIL's Travel Office about “mismanaging” her frequently flyer miles account, Inner City Press asked Haq again, “can you state, for example, for SRSGs that travel, it goes to the UN or do they keep it personally?”

Haq insisted, “on work that you do for the Organization, this is part and parcel of the Organization... this is held by the Organization.” UN transcript here.

On the evening on November 29, multiple UN staff members contacted Inner City Press to say that what they had heard Haq said, including as reported in Inner City Press' November 29 article, was false. They stated that they kept their miles, that they had never been asked to return them.

On November 30, with no correction having been offered at the noon briefing, Inner City Press pointed back at the November 29 answer and said that many UN staff said different, did Haq wish to correct what he had said?

Haq did not, instead saying that he was awaiting guidance from the UN Ethics Office.

Inner City Press pointed out that what should happen -- the stated purview of the Ethics Office -- and what actually DOES happen are too separate questions. Still, Haq would not answer.

Later on November 30, at precisely the time that November's Security Council president Mark Lyall Grant began speaking at the Council stakeout position, Haq went onto the UN's internal “squawk” system and read out a statement about frequent flyer miles. Since it was impossible to hear, Inner City Press asked him to email what he had read. It followed some minutes later:

From: Farhan Haq <>
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 1:13 PM
Subject: Re: Please email me what you read- am at stakeout
To: Inner City Press

The UN has no policy on frequent flyer miles program because only individuals can accrue them and since they are not transferable, they cannot be recovered or converted by the Organization for official travel. Therefore, using mileage accrued as a result of official travel is not a violation of the Organization’s rules.

  Of course, this was not the question asked (and even then, the answer is dubious). What was asked on November 29 was whether UN officials' and staff's frequently flyer miles went back to the UN, and the UN acting Deputy Spokesman twice said yes.

  The November 30 statement makes clear that the answer given on November 29 was false. Why not then acknowledge it? On the Wikileaks scandal, Ban Ki-moon was in Kazakhstan saying how transparent the UN is. But is it?

  On November 26, when Ban's Spokesperson's Office canceled its noon briefing despite the UN ostensibly being open, Inner City Press asked some questions in writing. Left unanswered four days later are questions about UN payments in Haiti and Sudan, humanitarian access in Sri Lanka, even who sponsored a particular press conference in the UN's briefing room. The Spokesperson's office wouldn't never confirm that Ban's chief of staff was going to Myanmar when he was already there. And: how did he fly?

UN's Ban in airplane aisle, policy and OSSG candor on frequent flyer miles not shown

  Meanwhile, it now appears that the current UN Ethics Office under Joan Elise Dubinsky tries to find reasons that seeming misappropriations of UN resources and staff time are acceptable. We will have more on this.

Footnote: while Haq instead of sending Inner City Press the response to the question it asked on November 29 choose to read it out over a broadcast system that only reporters who were NOT at the Security Council stakeout covering the Council President's statements on Somalia and Haiti could hear, his Office put out a written response by UN official Francis Deng purporting to refute “assertions of... the Inner city Press” by name.

  Deng's statement, which was only put out once the noon briefing had begun -- such that it could not be read and responded to as Haq summarized it -- ends with the statement that Deng “met with the Director of the Ethics Office on 23 November to seek her advice on these matters. She assured me that she found no basis for concern.” We will have more on all this -- watch this site.

* * *

As US Sought UN Frequent Flyer Miles, Misuse of Miles Alleged in Liberia

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 29 -- In Wikileaks' release of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's directive to collect computer passwords, credit card account numbers and “biometric data,” she included a request for “frequent flyer account numbers.”

  Inner City Press asked UN acting Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq on Monday about Secretary Clinton's memo, and about UN officials' frequent flyer miles: are they returned to the UN, which paid for the underlying flights, or are they kept by some UN officials? Video here, from Minute 8:04.

  Haq said he could or would not vouch for the authenticity of Secretary Clinton's memo. On frequent flyer miles, he said these are “essentially the property of the UN.”

  Inner City Press asked, can you confirm that all Special Representatives of the Secretary General give the frequent flyer miles to the UN? Haq spoke in reply of the “work you do for the Organization” being “part and parcel of the Organization... held by the Organization.”

  The reason Inner City Press asked was that sources for example in Liberia tell it different. Specifically, sources describe the Special Rapporteur of the Secretary General at the UN Mission in Liberia Ellen Loj screaming at UNMIL's Travel Unit for mishandling “her” frequent flyer miles.

  This report came to Inner City Press in connection with its confirmed reporting on the conditions for peacekeepers in Liberia and SRSG Loj's UN-managed living quarters on the UNMIL base.

  Since then, the US has become even less responsive, refusing for example to confirm public reports that the US is providing at least back up security to the UN's SRSG in Iraq, Ad Melkert.

  US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who Haq said spoke to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon just before Wikileaks put online the US memo asking that Ban's passwords and frequent flyer miles accounts be collected, was asked

Q: it’s alleged through the WikiLeaks documents that your diplomats would ask to take personal information in some cases, like frequent flyer miles, credit cards, and -- were they asked to do so, and had they used diplomatic resources at the time to do so?

Ambassador Rice: Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests, and work to find common solutions to complex problems. That’s what they do. And they do it extremely well, with great integrity, with hard work. And I want to just underscore that in the complex world in which we live, the work that U.S. diplomats do here in the United Nations and around the world is indispensible to our national security and substantially advances our shared interests in international peace and security.

  But how does gathering UN officials' frequent flyer miles account numbers “substantially advance [anyone's] shared interests in international peace and security”?

UN's Ban flies Saudi, Loj & frequent flyer miles and spying not shown

From the UN's November 29 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: The document says US diplomats should seek to get the computer passwords, frequent flyer miles, credit card numbers, etcetera, not only of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but SRSGs [Special Representatives] and Force Commanders. Would each of those things, according to you, violate the agreement with the host country?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Well, on that, again, bearing in mind that we don’t have any judgement at this stage on the authenticity of the document, bearing in mind that, I do want to read to you a little passage from the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, and this is a direct quote: “The premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable. The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial, or legislative action.”

Inner City Press I had some other ones on Sudan, but one thing that the memo made me wonder is there is this reference to frequent flyer miles that seemed strange. What does happen with the frequent flyer miles of Ban Ki-moon or other SRSGs when they fly around? Are they donated to the UN, do they keep them personally, what happens?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The frequent flyer miles of UN officials are essentially possessions of the United Nations. I don’t have anything, I don’t have any details about what we do with them, but this is all part of the Organization…

Inner City Press: But can you state, for example, for SRSGs that travel, it goes to the UN or do they keep it personally?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, I believe on work that you do for the Organization, this is part and parcel of the Organization. I need to get further detail about what happens to them, but this is held by the Organization.

  Five hours after this statement, no information had yet been provided about "what happens" to UN frequent flyer miles. The answer should be given and should be interesting, particularly but not only with regard to Liberia.  Here's from Secretary Clinton's memo:

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 24 STATE 080163

NOFORN, SIPDIS, E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/31/2034




¶1. (S/NF) This cable provides the full text of the new National HUMINT Collection Directive (NHCD) on the United Nations (paragraph 3-end) as well as a request for continued DOS reporting of biographic information relating to the United Nations (paragraph 2).

...Reporting officers should include as much of the following information as possible when they have information relating to... credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.

...Information about current and future use of communications systems and technologies by officials or organizations, including cellular phone networks, mobile satellite phones, very small aperture terminals (VSAT), trunked and mobile radios, pagers, prepaid calling cards, firewalls, encryption, international connectivity, use of electronic data interchange, Voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP), Worldwide interoperability for microwave access (Wi-Max), and cable and fiber networks.


 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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