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UN Reaffirms It Investigates Leaks and Whistleblowers to Inner City Press, Claims It's For Member States

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video, Video II

UNITED NATIONS, March 15 -- The UN has been targeting not only Inner City Press for censorship, but also its sources, for retaliation.

It was reported and quoted here:  "Looks like UN is making efforts to ID people who send stuff to media: 'Identified a computer used to print an email that was later leaked to Inner City Press, by correlating an URL on the top of the leaked document with Webmail & DHCP logs.' Are they punishing whistleblowers?"

Well, yes. And the investigative Press.

On March 14, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about the above-quoted and he said, since the UN has confidential information it can and does investigate leaks and leakers. Video here.

But isn't that, in leaks to Inner City Press ranging from Burundi to Cameroon to cover ups to North Korea, going after whistleblowers? Haq dodged, and Inner City Press asked if a person who leaked the memo to Kofi Annan about impending genocide in Rwanda would be investigated. Apparently yes - but Haq again claimed that there is no retaliation. What about Anders Kompass, fired after releasing a document bout French peacekeepers' rapes in Central African Republic? Or Miranda Brown? Or Emma Reilly? On March 15, after asking Haq about threats of retaliation made at and by UNAIDS, Inner City Press asked what type of leak the UN investigates, and for whom. Haq said any kind the UN wants, and ostensibly for member states. Video here.

From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: On the issue of investigations, given what you said yesterday, I took the time to digest it.  I've also heard from some people that were surprised by it.  I want to just be clear. You said the UN can absolutely investigate perceived leaks because it deals with confidential information, if I take you correctly.  I mean, you said that it can do that, but you seem to also claim that no one is retaliated against.  So, the two things I wanted to know is, when can the UN investigate?  Is it… does it have to be information labelled confidential?  Can it be… in what cases does it… and… and if the Anders Kompass case or the Miranda Brown case or the Emma Reilly case, these are all cases of retaliation.  So, can you explain what you were saying yesterday?

Deputy Spokesman:  With the cases you're referring to, these are cases where the system itself examined what was happening.  We do that in compliance with our rules and our procedures, and we certainly make sure that all the whistle-blower protections are put in place.  That is why we look into those individual cases.  What you were talking about was a general question of:  Can leaks be investigated?  And with the United Nations, as with any other entity, you have the right to do that to make sure that the confidentiality of sensitive documents is protected.

Inner City Press: So, for example, the UN's request to the 1718 Committee for a waiver and the use of a correspondent bank that was leaked, and I did publish it, can that be investigated?  Is that considered… what's… does it require the showing of harm to the UN to investigate it or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those are ultimately the judgments that are made by relevant officials.  It's clear, as with any number of institutions, whether State institutions or private institutions, that documents leak out.  But, it's also clear that, for the diplomatic work of the UN to continue, Member States have to feel secure in the confidentiality of many of those communications.  And so that is a judgment that individual managers will have to make.

Inner City Press:So, is it Member State information?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said it's a decision that managers would have to make in terms of what they feel is important and sensitive.

Inner City Press: Can you see why with the UNAIDS guy's comment about "I can investigate my enemies", why the two put together, an unfettered or unclear ability to investigate any leak, combined with threats from UN officials to investigate any opponents, might be problematic?

Deputy Spokesman:  There is no effort and, certainly, there is no encouragement to any sort of effort to pursue people who are making complaints.  Those are something… that's something that's entitled within the system.  And, as you know, there are a series of protections throughout the system for people who make complaints about issues at the workplace, whether sexual harassment or otherwise.  Again, I'm just stressing the basic point of principle that the UN does have the right, just as a point of principle, to protect the confidentiality of its communications." We'll have more on this. Here's how the UN transcribed it: Inner City Press: it's been said here by OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management], which did a press conference that UN — and you just said it, in fact — that UN staff are free to speak.  So, I wanted to ask you, this is a quote of a document obtained by the journalist Lauren Wolfe, who's recently written about “#MeToo” at the UN.  And the document, it's a UN document, says: "Identified a computer… a computer used to print an email that was later leaked to Inner City Press by correlating an URL at the top… URL at the top of the leaked document with web mail and DHCP logs," which is Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol.  Basically, it reflects that UN — and I believe it's OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] — is conducting electronic investigations to determine which UN staff member leaked documents showing UN wrongdoing, they believe.  And so, how does this square with the idea that people are free to blow the whistle and that the UN wants wrongdoing and malfeasance to be confronted in any way possible?  And is it appropriate to… to identify whistle-blowers that communicate with investigative journalists?  Is that appropriate?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, whistle-blowers should be protected.  At the same time, as you know, there's a huge amount of confidential information in the United Nations, information that needs to be handled with great sensitivity.  And it is appropriate for different offices to monitor how those… that information is handled.

Inner City Press: I just wanted to ask one… just… because it seems like there's… there could be a conflict between saying that whistle-blowers are free to speak, but we're free to investigate them because we're an organization that has confidential information.  So, I'm asking about this specific… and I believe you can answer on this one…

Deputy Spokesman:  Every institution, including all Governments, are free to conduct leak investigations, and they do so.  We try to make sure… and there are, as you know, different offices and different avenues for protection for whistle-blowers.  There's a whistle-blower protection policy, and that has to be enforced.

Inner City Press: So, if somebody leaked — for example, I'm going to go back so it's not a hypothetical, an actual document — the Rwanda memo that went to Kofi Annan that said weapons are being stored and a genocide is about to happen, somebody leaked it to the press, would the UN… would it be appropriate for the UN to investigate who blew the whistle on human rights violations, which is the case in this…?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there have been many different types of sensitive documents over the history of the UN that have, in fact, leaked to the press and no one has faced any consequences for that, precisely because it was in the public interest.  At the same time, a lot of business of the UN simply could not be conducted, the sensitive diplomatic work we're supposed to do could not happen if there was the presumption that all documents would leak. 

  The decay or need for reform at the UN Department of Public Information was shown again on March 12, when DPI's UN Photo called Arancha Gonzalez of the ITC the UN National Security Adviser, here. This came the business day after March 9, when DPI's now flagship UN News mis-named the UN's scandal plagued peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic “MONUSCO” instead of its actual name MINUSCA. Photo here; DPI also mistakenly called Najat Rochdi a "High Commissioner." That came on the same day that DPI chief Alison Smale was criticized, both fairly and unfairly, in a General Assembly meeting held in the Trusteeship Council. Inner City Press, covering the meeting but only with the escort or minder that Smale's DPI requires of it but not more than a hundred less prolific, less critical and seldom present correspondents, put questions after Smale's holdover adviser Hua Jiang sped out of the meeting to a critic, then politely to Smale herself. She acknowledged little action to date on the criticisms, at least one of which should have been directed to the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. But all bureaucratic niceties aside, how can a former New York Times editor have presided without explanation or response over a system of press accreditation with no rules, with blatant targeted restrictions, for more the six months? In October Smale said she acknowledged the need for the “courtesy” of a response to the Press' petitions - which has yet to come - and on March 9 seemed to indicate an acknowledgment of the need for rules. But where are they? After the reiterated exchange, Inner City Press demurred for days. On March 12 it reiterated the request for rules, to Smale, Guterres and his chief of staff, and Deputy Amina J. Mohammed: "Dear USG Smale, SG Guterres, DSG Mohammed & CdC Ribeiro: I am writing to formalize my oral request to USG Smale on March 9. Specifically, that Inner City Press be given an opportunity to be heard on why, after now more than two years of restricted access to the UN for having pursued the Ng Lap Seng UN bribery story into the UN Press Briefing Room, it should be restored to its long time office and resident correspondent status. Beyond my particular case - on which Special Rapporteur David A. Kaye wrote to DPI about the lack of due process, here. There is as I mentioned again to USG Smale on March 9 the need for UN rules not only on how a journalist gets due process before any eviction, but also for how a once-evicted journalist can pursue reinstatement. I have been told I am not even on any list, as correspondents who ask less and produce less than I do about the UN have come after I was evicted, and been made resident correspondents. I have covered, among other stories, Cameroon, DPRK, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Sudan, the new (Nov 2017) UN bribery case of Patrick Ho and CEFC China Energy and the issues raised by a UN Security Inspector openly praising a controversial GA speech (the Iran bomb fuse cartoon speech), in both 2016 and this month - and for this last story, I'm told I face further complaints or restrictions. Similarly lawlessly, as I live-streamed on Periscope a recent SG photo op with Egypt's new Ambassador I was suddenly told by UN Security that I could not record audio, even as UNTV recorded audio. This is Kafka-esque and must end, this month which marks the 25th month. I will be trying to cover the UNSC and CSW, with the absurdly required DPI minder or escort. A meeting on this should be held this week by USG Smale or one of you." 24 hours, nothing. We will continue on this. The deadline is now. Watch this site.


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