Published July 20, 2012
A United Nations agency under fire for shipments of computers and other equipment to North Korea and Iran announced internal changes this week in response to withering criticism — but Capitol Hill lawmakers said the changes fall “far short” of what’s needed.
The World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, which made the shipments over the course of the last year, detailed the changes in a statement Thursday. The agency announced it would refer the matter to U.N. sanctions committees, consult those committees on any future shipments to sanctioned countries and stop providing “IT hardware” altogether.
Amid tough calls from the U.S. for an independent probe, the agency also announced that “initial steps” are being taken for a “full external and independent review” of assistance to sanctioned countries.
Not good enough, said the top lawmakers on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We will accept nothing less than an independent investigation, full cooperation, and complete accountability,” said Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., the chairwoman and ranking Democrat on the panel.
The lawmakers earlier in the week accused WIPO of rebuffing State Department calls for such a probe. They said the newly announced “review” doesn’t cut it.
“We have written to WIPO demanding an independent, external investigation of how WIPO could have provided sophisticated U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran. Instead, the WIPO leadership has announced that it will institute a mere ‘review,’ which falls far short. What’s needed is an immediate and credible investigation,” they wrote.
The lawmakers also said the agency “must fully cooperate” with separate probes by the State Department and their own committee by providing “unfettered access” to documents and personnel.
“Those responsible for this outrageous misuse of U.S. technology and U.S. taxpayer dollars must be held fully accountable, and meaningful safeguards must be put in place to prevent these kinds of technology transfers in the future,” they said.
The State and committee inquiries have raised questions about the ways in which U.N. agencies have managed to sidestep restrictions meant to halt the spread of sensitive technologies to nuclear-ambitious pariah regimes. It also calls into question how much U.N. member states know about the activities of agencies they supposedly approve and supervise.
The State Department probe came in the wake of Fox News revelations in April about the actions by WIPO in sending such sensitive equipment to North Korea by a complicated method that seemed designed to bypass U.N. Security Council sanctions against the country.
The shipments took place in late 2011 or early 2012, and were financed through the Beijing offices of the United Nations Development Program.
A State Department spokesperson, though, said Friday that their “preliminary assessment is that there was no violation of UN sanctions.”
Still, the spokesperson said they would await the “views” of the sanctions committees, and said the department could not yet determine whether the shipments violated “U.S. controls.”
As for the latest changes, the spokesperson described them as “positive,” while adding the department shares “the concerns raised by members of Congress” about the transfers.
“We have been in constant contact with WIPO to learn more and to urge it to institute substantive safeguards to ensure appropriate levels of oversight, transparency and accountability,” the spokesperson said.
The WIPO actions also violated the sweeping restrictions of the equipment manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, which forbids any HP equipment from being sent to such regimes.
In the case of Iran, the WIPO computer shipment included 20 Hewlett-Packard Compaq desktop computers, now outmoded in the U.S. but which nonetheless still gave Iran’s Industrial Property Office significant computing power. In the case of North Korea, the equipment included more sophisticated computers and data-storage servers.
As was the case in North Korea, WIPO experts made technical visits to Iran in advance of the shipments to scope out the project, help orchestrate financing and payment by the development program’s local office in Tehran, and OK the deliveries, according to WIPO’s documentation.
The agency continued to defend itself in its statement Thursday.
“While the legal advice received with respect to the technical assistance provided to (North Korea) and Iran was that the technical assistance was not in breach of UN Sanctions, it is hoped that the measures outlined above will provide assurance that the Organization is treating this matter with the seriousness that it warrants,” the statement.
Fox News’ George Russell and FoxNews.com’s Judson Berger contributed to this report.