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In UN, a Diplomatic Cesspool in Illegal Pipes, Flip Flops on Making the Press Pay

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 3 -- Deep in the third sub basement of the UN's Headquarters east of First Avenue in Manhattan, there are toilets in trailers with otherwise illegal white plastic PVC pipes, the effluent of which, sources show and tell Inner City Press, collect in septic tanks full of excrement.

   Twice during even this initial phase of the UN's Capital Master Plan, the septic tanks have been threatened with being broken, by jackhammers and otherwise. A "diplomatic cesspool," one UN staff member called it to Inner City Press.

   The head of the UN's Capital Master Plan, Michael Adlerstein, took eight questions from Inner City Press on June 3, along with a lengthy but still unresolved back and forth about the UN's attempt to charge the Press $23,000 to maintain office space to cover the UN (click here for Inner City Press' May 30 story.)

   On the PVC pipes, Adlerstein said, "I saw your blog this morning, PVC is illegal in any permanent building in New York... our engineers are looking into it, if any violation."

But why did it go in, before the UN had even checked on its ability to use otherwise illegal materials? Perhaps the equally troubling cesspool or septic tank is in furtherance of the UN's argument that these super wide trailer toilets, to be used for five years, are "temporary."

On the pre-press "swing space" called ill-smelling and unsafe by those moved there, Adlerstein said that people will be rotated in and out of there. He dismissed the concerns of the Security Council interpreters, saying that asbestos abatement takes place all over and is safe.

   Regarding asbestos removal in the library, he said "the picture on your blog is erroneous." But how can an undoctored photograph be erroneous? Click here for Inner City Press' May 28 story. Adlerstein said he will post counter-photos on the CMP's web site, to which we'll link when possible.

  Inner City Press asked Adlerstein about litigation against Skanska for asbestos. Adlerstein claimed that the case(s) had been resolved when he'd said there was not open litigation, but that then the case re-started. Video here, from Minute 53:08. We'll have more on this.

Digging at the UN: watch out for septic tanks, cesspools

   Much of the press corps focused on Adlerstein's unilateral announcement last week of charges of $23,000 and $70,000 to maintain closed office space in the UN. More than one reporter asked, why were previous agreements violated?

  Inner City Press attended previous meetings with the Department of Public Information in which correspondents were told that the decisions would be up to DPI. Then Adlerstein changed what DPI had said. But for whom? Adlerstein said, like you, were are a team.

Inner City Press asked about a memo, by staff of the Department of Management's Angela Kane, that Kane wanted to collect precedents of other institutions which charge the media for space. Inner City Press asked Adlerstein if this memo, which Inner City Press had published, was related to the switch to impose charges, and that the survey had found.

   Adlerstein said he hadn't seen any detailed results, and resisted answering for Kane. She indicated -- in the hallway, we might add -- that she is willing to give more press conferences. Her predecessor Alicia Barcena aimed for a briefing once a month. Ms. Barcena also promised a UN freedom of information act. Under Ms. Kane, neither has happened. Adlerstein said he will make his next presentation on charges to the press in writing, watch this site.

As the last questions allowed, Inner City Press asked Adlerstein why the Security Risk Assessment are not yet completed, since staff has already been moved to the so-called swing spaces, and if the Madison Avenue swing space will be protected from foreseeable attacks. Video here, from Minute 1:17:36.

  Adlerstein said that the RSAs are up to the Department of Safety and Security, adding that a June 24 completion had been projected by former chief David Veness.

  But Veness resigned and left; his successor Gregory Starr has yet to speak to the Press. The DSS official at the root of the problem, sources say, in Bruno Henn. When asked about SRAs, Henn told Inner City Press, "no comment."

   Adlerstein concluded by saying that he, the CMP and UN are "very transparent," while telling Inner City Press that the Security Risk Assessments are confidential. As with PVC and septic tanks in midtown Manhattan, only at the UN.

At UN, Wasted Paper and PVC Pipes, Master Plan Flushes Out the Press

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 2 -- Down in the bowels of UN headquarters, a trailer of toilets with white plastic PVC plumbing illegal in New York has been constructed. In the nearby Publishing unit of the UN, enormous rolls of recycled paper previously stored in climate-controlled rooms stand open to the elements -- "getting destroyed," whistleblowing staff members tell Inner City Press. Pre-press specialists have been relocated down a long hallway from the machines they are in charge of, to a room with little ventilation that smells of chemicals.

   All this is in the name of improving the UN, the so-called Capital Master Plan, in which asbestos removal is being done on the weekend in spaces adjacent to and not separated from the library where staff and reporters use computers. Both the UN's general contractor Skanska, and its putative asbestos expert ATC, have been sued for asbestos handling or Clear Air Act violations.

  CMP director Michael Adlerstein initially claimed to reporters that all cases against Skanska had been resolved, that admitted that a major civil suit continues. Staff, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, say that all Adlerstein cares about it trying to get back on schedule, not safety, nor reason (as in the case of waste in the Publishing Division).

   Most recently, Adlerstein and his boss Angela Kane, director of the UN Department of Management, have told the Press that to maintain similar office space in the UN during the CMP, $23,000 will have to be paid. On May 29, Inner City Press called Adlerstein and his spokesman for an explanation of what Adlerstein had told other reporters. Neither even responded, four days later.

   Angela Kane was approached on June 2 by Inner City Press and two other reporters. In a discussion that all three journalists agreed was not off the record, as Ms. Kane never made any such request, Ms. Kane veered from what Adlerstein had said only the previously week, and said that the goal was not to collect the $23,000 what Adlerstein requested, but to convert the whole press corp to "the open plan," cubicles without doors or privacy.

CMP reaches into ceiling, basement PVC and asbestos not shown

  One of the reporters noted that journalists compete and therefore need privacy. Inner City Press said that for the journalism of accountability -- a word Kane uses much -- whistleblowers must be able to approach the Press without being subject to surveillance by authorities. Kane shrugged and said we are going with an open plan.

RIP: we note, as her staff complain that Ms. Kane hasn't, the passing away on May 5 of previous Under Secretary General of Management Connor. Inner City Press spoke with a range of longtime UN staff members, and heard much praise of Connor as a man "who listened to everyone," who was always "open to a new idea," contrasted with the present. DM insiders say that Ms. Kane promised to "do something" for Connor, which they took to mean at least have prepared an article and memoriam for the UN's in-house iSeek web site. Twenty six days later, nothing has been done. We are working up a more detailed obituary.

UN Targets WSJ, Fox and Inner City Press, According to Minutes, Google De-Listing Mulled

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 2 -- The day after after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech about freedom of the press, minutes show that his Spokesperson and three of his Under Secretaries General met about "reporting by the press, particularly Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Inner City Press," at which it was proposed to write "cease and desist" and "letters before action" and, "with regard to Inner City Press... complaining to Google News."

   At the UN noon briefing on June 2, UN Spokesperson Michele Montas confirmed her participation, while arguing that she doesn't have to account for her participating in such meetings. Video here, from Minute 14:49 to 18:41.

   The minutes, prepared by Under Secretary General Angela Kane’s Department of Management, recite that Ms. Kane met on May 8 with "Mr. Akasaka, Ms. Montas, Ms. O’Brien [the UN’s top lawyer and] Mr. Meyers" [sic, chief speechwriter and Director of Communications Michael Meyer] to devise a strategy to counter negative coverage of the UN by the three above-named media outlets.

  "We propose writing to professional journalistic bodies which regulate the journalists concerned as well as letters to the editors with copies to their companies' legal counsel," the minutes state.

  "With regard to Inner City Press, we should also consider complaining to Google News (they host Inner City Press)," the minutes continue.

  While extraordinary, this would not be without precedent. In February 2008, after a similar complaint, Inner City Press was temporarily removed from Google News.

  The delisting, and the UN, were criticized by the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-DC whistleblower protection organization, and were covered by Fox News.

   Since January 2009, Inner City Press has not only covered whistleblower issues within the UN Medical Service and but has persistently questioned the UN’s and Ban Ki-moon’s inaction as thousands of civilians were killed in Sri Lanka, including the UN’s double standards and withholding of satellite photos and its estimates of civilian casualties.

   This is precisely the watchdog role that Ban Ki-moon’s May 7 press freedom speech praised the press and specifically bloggers for. Ban noted that "some 45 percent of all media workers who have been jailed worldwide are bloggers....I urge all governments to respect the rights of these citizen journalists."

   But the next day, his highest officials met in secret to devise a strategy to deliver legal threats to three media organizations, and to constructively censor one of them, by seeking to delist (or "de-host") Inner City Press from Google News.

UN's Ban and Montas: one praises bloggers, the other... not so much

   The section of the minutes on these senior UN officials' anti-Press meeting of May 8 is preceded by a discussion of the suspension of the UN's National Competitive Exam (click here for Inner City Press' May 1 article), and is followed by a section on "business continuity training" in light of the swine flu / H1N1. Click here for Inner City Press' May 5 article on Angela Kane's space grab in the Capital Master Plan, here for Inner City Press article on "the wrath of Kane" on May 7, the day before she convened the anti-Press meeting.

   Ironically, in light of Kane's purported basis for attacking the Press, that it does not quickly enough publish her response, she has stated in writing to Inner City Press that she has no time to answer questions, and to ask them all at the UN's noon briefing. There, more often than not, questions are left unanswered, or not allowed at all, ostensibly due to time constraints.

   Now, as Inner City Press exclusively reported on May 30, Kane's department is seeking to charge the Press $23,000 to maintain office space in the UN which has previously been given without charge, to facilitate coverage.

    Inner City Press requested comment on theafternoon of June 1 from Ms. Kane, Ms. Montas, Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Akasaka, the head of the UN Department of Public Information.

   This was the e-mail to Ms. Montas to which she did not reply for 20 hours, but rather prepared her statement for the June 2 noon briefing. Similar requests for comment were sent to other listed participants in the May 8 meeting, including USG of DPI Kiyotaka Akasaka, USG for Management Angela Kane (with additional questions), and USG for Legal Affairs Patricia O'Brien, none of whom responded at least for the following 24 hours.

Subj: Hi, request on deadline for comment on May 8 meeting and Press issues, thanks
To: Michele Montas [at], Kiyo Akasaka [at]
From: Inner City Press
Sent: 6/1/2009 4 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Mr. Akasaka and Ms. Montas --

Hi. I am writing a story about a May 8 meeting in which documents indicate you both were involved, regarding “reporting by the press, particularly Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Inner City Press,” at which it was proposed to write “cease and desist” and “letters before action” and, “with regard to Inner City Press… complaining to Google News.”

On deadline -- am resending this to ensure receipt and response -- could you please either deny despite the documents your participation in such a meeting, or to explain how the above is consistent with press freedom, Article 19 and, here, the First Amendment -- and also, for you [Ms. Montas], your previous career as a journalist.

I'd also like a comment, in light of the above, on the UN’s previous denials of involvement in a complaining to Google News and getting Inner City Press temporarily delisted. See,,2933,331106,00.html


  I appreciated and learned from the S-G's recent trip to Sri Lanka, but was troubled to be urgently informed of the above upon return. Also, the proposed $23,000 charge for media wanting / needing similar office space in the Capital Master Plan, if you have any comment on or insight into that.

Thank you in advance, on deadline,

Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press

   For 20 hours after these requests for comment or denial were submitted, no responses were received. Given the UN's stated concern of Inner City Press not waiting to include UN responses (which often come late if at all), Inner City Press held off running this story until receiving confirmation.

  The following day, June 2, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas at the noon briefing, and she responded with what appeared to be a prepared statement. Why she did not email this response, to avoid taking up time in the noon briefing, is not clear. Other reporters opined that Ms. Montas wanted to give a "public tongue lashing." Whether that is an appropriate use by the UN of its noon briefing is also not clear. 

  Ms. Montas began by saying, "I don't have to account to you for meetings I participate in," adding that "senior advisors" to Ban Ki-moon can and apparently do have such meetings all the time. We will pursue this. Video here, from Minute 14:49. Inner City Press asked if her, Ms. Kane's and apparently the UN's complaints have to do with Inner City Press' coverage of the UN's role in the carnage in Sri Lanka. We will continue on this. Watch this site.

* * *

UN Tells Press to Pay $23,000 For Space to Cover It, Sources Say, Scant UN Media Coverage to Further Decrease?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 29, updated June 1 -- The press would for the first time in UN history be charged for space in UN headquarters under a plan announced in a closed door meeting on May 28 by officials of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Since Mr. Ban assumed the position 29 months ago, CNN has stopped covering the UN on a daily basis, and the Washington Post is mulling closing its UN bureau.

    Nevertheless the chief of the UN's Capital Master Plan renovation Michael Adlerstein told press corps members that in the "swing space" for media for the next three to four years, work spaces like the ones they have now for free will require them to pay $23,000, or even $70,000 in the case of broadcast media.

    The same amounts or more will be charged again once the UN Headquarters building is renovated, sources in the meeting told Inner City Press. Despite multiple requests by Inner City Press, neither Adlerstein or his spokesman have commented for this story.

    Already, Mr. Ban's administration receives less press coverage than his predecessor Kofi Annan, who never charged the media. What is not known is if the move to charge the media tens of thousands of dollars comes from and is approved by Mr. Ban, or is a unilateral project of Adlerstein and his boss, Under Secretary for Management Angela Kane.

    Last summer, Inner City Press was provided by a whistleblower with a copy of a Department of Management internal memo reflected that Ms. Kane wanted a review of public institutions similar to the UN to see if they charge the media for space.

  As Inner City Press reported on July 17, 2008 , in a July 15 memo, Principal Officer Lena Dissin said that Angela Kane, the then-new Under Secretary General for Management, "has asked us to quickly get some benchmarks from other organizations to see what facilities if any they may make available to the press," and on what basis.

   But neither the U.S. State Department nor City Hall in New York charge money. While Kane has refused to answer emailed questions, Adlerstein in the hallway of the UN months ago told Inner City Press that the rationale for trying to charge, if they did, would be that for the first time the UN is having to rent a lot of outside space, and so is looking at costs more closely.

  Apparently, though, the UN is not looking at precedents, neither of the fact that no previous UN Secretary General charged money to the press, nor that the State Department, White House and City Hall do not. In fact, the UN is directed by General Assembly resolutions that are now sure to be cited to make it easier, and not harder, for the press to cover it.

UN's Ban and Adlerstein view [Press free?] Capital Master Plan, UN Sept. 12, 2008

On May 29, Inner City Press telephoned Adlerstein's spokesman Werner Schmidt, whose voice mail message said his line was busy. Inner City Press left a detailed message about the media charges and asked for confirmation or denial and comment, on deadline, before noon.

  No response was received then or even by 3 p.m., so Inner City Press telephoned Adlerstein's line. His secretary said he was in a meeting for the next hour. Inner City Press again explained the question, and that a response was requested. He will call you back in an hour, Adlerstein's receptionist said. Twenty four hours later there has been no response.

  Ms. Kane has previously told Inner City Press, in writing, that she had no time to answer such questions, and to ask everything at the UN's noon briefing. But on May 29, Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe said from the outset that she would take only two questions from the entire press corp, including on charges that the UN covered up 20,000 civilian deaths in Sri Lanka. According, we publish this story now.

    The explanation above is apparently necessary, because within the embattled Department of Management Inner City Press is informed of a strategy to lash out at the Press for not obtaining comments in advance. But when high officials say they have no time to answer questions and to ask at the noon briefing, at which it is said that only two questions will be taken, it is not the Press' fault.

   In fact, related to the anti-press strategy reported on above, simply in the past four day week, the UN has neglected to provide follow-up answers promised on at least two (mis) management issues.

On May 26, fresh back from traveling with and covering Mr. Ban's trip to Sri Lanka and Copenhagen, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: the Secretary-General went to UNOPS in Copenhagen. There, not long ago, there was a story in I guess, the Washington Post, talking about this UNOPS Director problem in Afghanistan and missing funds and the dispute between USAID and the UN about the return of funds that were improperly diverted to other uses. Is this something that either he raised in his speech at UNOPS or in speaking with Mr. Jan Mattsson? What’s the UN system done since that report came out about missing money?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: We’ll check with UNOPS

   But four days later, no answer has been provide, not even a cursory read-out of Mr. Ban's meeting with UNOPS director Mattsson. On May 27, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Marie, I want to ask a question about a contract that the UN is entering into for outside legal counsel to defend a claim by PCP International. They’re paying an outside legal firm, it appears, $500,000, and then Headquarters’ committee on contracts now shows there are significant irregularities in it. Can you explain on what basis? Doesn’t the UN have its own legal department? When does it hire outside firms and, in this case, if you can look into it, why were the safeguards of procurement overridden?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: This is the first I hear of this, so we’ll have to look into it for you.

    But three days later, no answer has been received to this detailed question that is, like the attempt to charge the press money, in the purview of the Department of Management. The question is based on internal UN documents provided to Inner City Press by a whistleblower. [On June 1, five days after the question, the UN provided a response, which is published below.]

   Currently, such documents whether about the UN's $250 million no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin or irregularities in the UN Medical Service, or even Inner City Press' acknowledged exclusive this week of a leaked copy of the draft Security Council resolution on North Korea can be given to the Press in a closed-door office without monitoring by the UN. Under the new plan of Adlerstein and Kane, absent $23,000, this would not be possible.

   Even now, a person the UN has suspected of being the Medical Services whistleblower has had her e-mail "broken into" by the UN and checked, including to read any communications with the Press. Inner City Press asked at the noon briefing for the UN's comment on the legality of its treatment of the person, but no answer has been given. Welcome to the UN. We will report on any UN responses belatedly received.

Update of June 1 -- five days after the PCP International question above, the UN provided this response:

Subject: response to your question of 27 May
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply
To: Inner City Press
Sent: Mon, 1 Jun 2009 6:27 pm

Question : Marie, I want to ask a question about a contract that the UN is entering into for outside legal counsel to defend a claim by PCP International, they’re paying an outside legal firm, and it appears, $500,000, and then Headquarters’ committee on contracts now it shows there are significant irregularities in it. Can you explain on what basis? Doesn’t the UN have its own Legal Department? When does it hire outside firms and in this case, if you can look into it, why were the safeguards of procurement overridden?

[Answer] The legal contract referred to in the question was bid out on a competitive basis after appropriate due diligence. The contract was recently signed. The acquisition process was reviewed by the Headquarters Committee on Contracts (HCC) and as such the appropriate safeguards and internal control measures, as per the Procurement Manual, were undertaken to ensure that the procurement case is compliant with the established rules and regulations and a best value for money outcome was achieved in the interest of the Organization. As the release of commercial contractual information is a potential for litigation, it is inappropriate for the UN to add any further comment.

  The question was based on internal UN documents being provided to Inner City Press by a whistleblower. 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.

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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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