UPDATE 6 (2012-9-24): The Associated Press reports that WIPO didn’t violate sanctions. According to the article:
The U.N. patent agency says it has been cleared of breaking sanctions against North Korea by sending computers to the regime in Pyongyang.
The Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization said Monday that a U.N. panel found it had not violated any of three U.N. Security Council resolutions by providing technical assistance to North Korea.
In July, the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives launched an investigation into whether WIPO had violated U.N. sanctions by sending computers and other technology to Iran and North Korea.
WIPO has insisted it did nothing wrong in providing ‘‘standard IT equipment’’ to the patent and trademark offices in those two countries. The Iran review is still pending.
UPDATE 5 (2012-7-24): A preliminary assessment by the State Department has concluded that WIPO did not violate U.N. sanctions when it sent materials to the DPRK. According to a State Department briefing on July 24:
QUESTION: Two small things. One on WIPO, if that’s how it’s pronounced. WIPO. So following suggestions that WIPO allowed the transfer of banned technology to Iran and North Korea, has the United States been able to mount its own investigation of this?
MS. NULAND: Well, first and foremost, to repeat what we said here last week, we share the concerns raised here in Washington, in the media, regarding these equipment and software transfers by WIPO. We’ve been concerned since we first learned that they had transferred equipment to both North Korea and Iran. We’ve been in contact with WIPO and urged them to institute substantive safeguards.
Our own preliminary assessment, but we are still seeking more information from WIPO, is that there doesn’t appear to have been a violation of UN sanctions. However, this has now been referred to the sanctions committee for them to make their own determination, so we will await the views of the respective UN sanctions committees. We are also seeking more information from WIPO so that we can conclude our own work on whether there was any violation of U.S. law, but we don’t yet have everything that we need in order to make that assessment.
QUESTION: I understand that you don’t yet have everything you need to make a final assessment. But based on what you have, are you able to make a preliminary assessment as to whether or not any U.S. laws were broken?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a preliminary assessment for you. We’re still seeking some more detail from WIPO.
QUESTION: And then one last thing. I believe there was supposed to have been a hearing in the House today on this that got canceled, I think because the WIPO officials were not going to be available to testify. Are you – given that you don’t yet have all the information that you want, are you satisfied that you are getting enough cooperation from them?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are continuing to work with them, and that is a conversation that is ongoing. I think we are – we have seen a number of positive steps from WIPO with regard to their procedures going forward that are important. For example, they have agreed to a commission that will have an external and independent auditing ability with regard to their projects to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. As I said, they’re going to seek a retroactive opinion from the sanctions committee, which wasn’t evident at the beginning of this. And they’re also going to ensure that any future projects are reviewed by their legal counsel. But we are still working with them on some of this U.S. stuff that we need.
QUESTION: But you don’t feel like they’re stonewalling you on this?
MS. NULAND: We do not. No.
Here is what the Chicago Tribune had to say about the canceled House committee hearing:
On Tuesday, the ranking Republican and Democrats on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee accused Gurry of preventing two senior WIPO staff members from testifying before a planned committee hearing, forcing its cancellation.
The staff members asked to testify were James Pooley and Miranda Brown, a source familiar with the matter said.
“Director-General Gurry is obstructing this committee’s investigation of WIPO’s transfer of U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes under international sanctions â€” a transfer that occurred on his watch,” Republican chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and ranking Democrat Howard Berman said in a statement.
A WIPO spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment on the statement. Gurry told Reuters late last week that he would allow “a properly competent person” to testify.
Lawmakers have suggested that the United States freeze contributions to WIPO until they are satisfied it is cooperating, although this would likely have a limited impact on the U.N. agency, which relies on member state contributions for only 10 percent of its budget.
UPDATE 4 (2012-7-19): WIPO has issued this statement on their web page:
Information and Clarifications Concerning WIPO’s Technical Assistance Programs
Geneva, July 19, 2012
Following some recent media attention and requests for information from certain member states relating to WIPO’s technical assistance programs, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry provided the following information and clarifications concerning the actions that have been undertaken, or are being undertaken, by the Organization in relation to the provision of technical assistance to countries that are the subject of United Nations (UN) sanctions.
The Director General reiterated that the Secretariat is treating concerns relating to the Organization’s technical assistance programs to countries that are the subject of UN sanctions with the utmost seriousness.
The actions undertaken include:
1. Following the expression of initial concerns over the provision of standard IT equipment to patent and trademark offices for the processing of intellectual property (IP) applications, new internal procedures were established and made operational on May 1, 2012. Under these procedures, all managers must refer any activity proposed in a country subject to UN sanctions to WIPO’s Legal Counsel for guidance and clearance. The Legal Counsel will, wherever necessary, consult the appropriate UN Sanctions Committee. Additionally, any work plan for a country subject to UN sanctions will be submitted at the commencement of each calendar year for guidance by the appropriate Sanctions Committee.
2. The provision of standard IT equipment to the IP offices of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Islamic Republic of Iran that occurred in the preceding years, within the context of the Organization’s business modernization program for IP Offices in developing countries, is being referred to the relevant UN Sanctions Committees for their information and guidance.
3. The initial steps are being undertaken for a full external and independent review of the technical assistance provided to countries subject to UN sanctions.
4. A new internal instruction has been issued ending any provision of IT hardware in any of WIPO’s technical assistance programs.
The Director General reiterates his commitment to transparency and re-affirms the readiness of the Secretariat to continue to provide any information requested by any of the member states of the Organization.
While the legal advice received with respect to the technical assistance provided to DPRK 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.
For further information, please contact the Media Relations Section at WIPO:
Tel: (+41 22) – 338 81 61
Fax: (+41 22) – 338 81 40
UPDATE 3 (2012-7-12): US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) have brought their attention to bear on the WIPO case. According to The Hill:
House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) on Friday said the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) plans to review whether it allegedly supplied Iran and North Korea with computers and other sensitive technology fell “far short” of their demands to open an investigation into the issue.
The two had called for the United Nations agency to launch an independent, external investigation into the alleged transfer of technical equipment to the two countries.
“Instead, the WIPO leadership has announced that it will institute a mere ‘review,’ which falls far short,” Ros-Lehtinen and Berman said in a joint statement. “What’s needed is an immediate and credible investigation.”
The committee and State Department have launched separate investigations into the matter.
The two lawmakers said WIPO should cooperate with the committee and State Department’s investigations and provide “immediate, unfettered access to all 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,” the committee leaders said.
WIPO said in a release on its website Thursday that “initial steps are being undertaken for a full external and independent review of the technical assistance provided to countries subject to U.N. sanctions,” among a list of other actions. It added that the organization is treating concerns relating to the agency’s technical assistance programs in U.N. sanctioned countries “with the utmost seriousness.”
UPDATE 2 (2012-7-6): The US State Department is now looking into the WIPO project. According to the Daily NK:
The U.S. State Department is investigating allegations of United Nations sanctions violations relating to transfers of technology to North Korea by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which is actually a part of the UN.
In a departmental press briefing on July 5th, State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell explained that the U.S. is engaged in an ongoing review of WIPO development projects “for both Iran and the DPRK”.
“We’re working with both the Director General and other member-states to institute reforms that will ensure future development projects are properly reviewed prior to being approved and implemented,” Ventrell went on to explain. “And we’re working in New York to ensure that the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees play a more active role in advising international organizations on how to remain compliant with UN sanctions.”
UPDATE 1 (2012-4-17): George Russell writing in Fox News follows up on WIPO’s effort ship computers to the DPRK:
A United Nations agency that quietly shipped computers and computer servers to North Korea several months ago apparently was violating restrictions on the equipment’s use imposed by Hewlett-Packard, the U.S.-based maker of the computers and computer servers, which bars any HP equipment from being sent to the communist dictatorship as part of its supplier agreements.
Those agreements oblige distributors to comply with U.S. export laws, which also forbid electronics exports to North Korea, in support of UN sanctions that were levied in the wake of the regime’s illegal explosion of nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.
“HP is thoroughly investigating the matter,” a corporate spokesperson told Fox News in a statement Monday. “Compliance with U.S. and international trade laws is a high priority for HP. HP investigates any credible breaches of contractual obligations by our partners and resellers.”
The company’s export ban applies to suppliers regardless of where they are located and whether they are international organizations.
In addition, two former members of a UN-appointed panel of experts monitoring the North Korean restrictions have told Fox News that they found the technology transfer by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization “horrible” and “egregious” in the words of one — “somewhat incompetent and possibly shady,” in the words of the other, in light of the sanctions the UN and its members are supposed to be enforcing.
News of the under-the-radar computer shipment — and now, the revelation that it was delivered in violation of the manufacturer’s rules — comes on the crest of heightened tensions between the UN Security Council and the nuclear-ambitious, rogue North Korean regime.
According to George Lopez, a professor of political science at Notre Dame University, who served on the North Korea sanctions panel of experts from November 2010 to July 2011, WIPO’s lack of communication with the sanctions committee is a puzzle.
“Were I still on the panel of experts,” he said, “I am sure some of us would insist that the UN secretariat issue a memo to all agencies reminding them that no movement of goods or individual experts into a sanctions state should occur without some exchange of ideas and views with the panel and/or the UN sanctions committee for that case.”
Lopez also pointed out that the UN sanctions against North Korea prohibit the shipment of “luxury goods” to the regime and even if they did not qualify in any other way, the computers sent to Pyongyang fit that description.
“The Japanese have actually arrested and indicted people who have illegally exported computers to the DPRK in at least two instances,” he said, citing reports of a shipment to a North Korean computer center believed to be a focal point for hacking attacks on South Korea.
According to Victor Comras, member of a UN panel of experts from 2009 to 2010, “something is not kosher when a UN agency takes advantage of being immune to knowingly violate U.S. laws.”
“They are walking through the cracks and loopholes of the sanctions regulations,” he told said. “There should be some recognition that international organizations themselves are obliged to follow the rules.”
“It clearly has hurt the credibility of the U.N. and its sanctions. To what end?”
ORIGINAL POST (2012-4-3): George Russell writes for Fox News:
An agency of the United Nations has quietly shipped computers and sophisticated computer servers to the government of North Korea, despite ongoing U.N. sanctions against the regime for its efforts to build nuclear weapons, Fox News has learned.
The complicated method chosen by the Geneva-based agency, the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, to carry out the transaction seems designed to bypass safeguards specifically created by U.N. authorities to prevent a repeat of previous U.N. scandals involving shipments to North Korea.
Among other things, procurement and payment for the WIPO goods appears to have been arranged between WIPO’s Geneva headquarters and China, bypassing the U.N. offices in North Korea. Those North Korean offices operate under a special oversight regime established after the last scandals erupted in 2008 over financial and technology transfers in North Korea, to ensure that money and goods do not end up in the regime’s nuclear programs.
WIPO’s payment of $52,638 to a Chinese supplier and installer for the computer shipment, however, did not go through. It was blocked at the beginning of last month, according to U.N. emails, by Bank of America, which is the host bank for U.N. accounts in China, on the grounds that the money transfer for goods shipped to North Korea was a possible violation of U.S. Treasury rules.
When asked by Fox News about its actions, Bank of America declined to comment. A State Department spokesman, asked a variety of questions by Fox News about the cash-for-computers deal, said only that “we’re looking into it.”
According to documents obtained by Fox News, WIPO is still looking for ways to make the payment.
Concerns about the WIPO computer shipment apparently led to a meeting between the U.N. agency’s top official, Director General Francis Gurry, and a number of foreign ambassadors in Geneva on March 29. Among them, according to one source, were representatives of the U.S., Canada, Japan and South Korea.
The diplomats first learned of the shipment after the head of WIPO’s staff council, Moncef Kateb, voiced concerns in a letter to a special U.N. watchdog in Geneva known as the Joint Inspection Unit.
In that letter, also obtained by Fox News, Kateb declared that so far as WIPO staffers could tell, WIPO’s member states “had not been consulted and have no knowledge of this project. Thus, they were not given an opportunity to review or object to it.” The project, Kateb said, “was allegedly approved directly by the director general.”
Gurry denied at the meeting with diplomats that WIPO’s technology transfer violated any international sanctions efforts. He subsequently circulated to the attending ambassadors a WIPO legal memorandum — written by the office of WIPO legal counsel Edward Kwakwa — which claimed that the computer exports were “part of WIPO’s technical assistance program,” which “does not violate any U.N. Security Council sanctions.”
The memo acknowledged that payment for the computers had been blocked by U.S. sanctions laws “enacted in part to implement” the binding U.N. sanctions. But it also declared that “WIPO, as an international organization, is not bound by the U.S. national law in this matter” and was still looking for ways to pay for the shipment.
In response to questions from Fox News about the technology transfer and the routing of its payments, a WIPO spokesman described the program as routine — 27 country offices were serviced in similar fashion in 2011 — and largely ignored questions about payments and where they came and went.
“As part of WIPO’s technical assistance program — and through a mandate from its member states — the Organization has been supporting IP [intellectual property] offices in developing countries to facilitate the processing of patent and trademark applications since the 1990s,” the spokesman said. “The assistance in question was part of this program.”
The assistance “is intended to enhance the efficiency of the operation of registration for patents by replacing the current ICT equipment with more efficient ICT [information and communications technology] equipment,” the spokesman continued. “WIPO followed all due processes –procurement and other — applicable in this context.”
Technology transfers to North Korea — a truculent communist dictatorship with a thirst for nuclear weapons, whose often-starving citizens are brutally kept in line by a military-dominated elite with widespread international criminal ties — are hardly routine, however. The country has been under varying degrees of U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006, when it first set off an illegal nuclear explosion, followed by another in 2009.
The cash-for-computers scheme comes at a new tinderbox time for international relations with the rogue North Korean regime, which shocked the world in mid-March with the announcement that it would launch a satellite-bearing missile next month. That announcement flew in the face of a newly-minted deal with the Obama administration that was intended to send 264,000 tons of food aid to North Korea in exchange for its putting an end to nuclear bomb-related activities.
Many countries, and especially the U.S., see the North Korean satellite program as a cover for further work on missile-ready nuclear weapons. According to North Korea, the satellite launch is a peaceful, scientific effort — the same argument for satellite launches that is being used, as it happens, by Iran, another country with a clandestine and illegal nuclear weapons program — and close ties with the North Korean regime.
As a result of the latest North Korean announcement, the Obama administration last week canceled its just-announced food aid program for North Korea until further notice. North Korea, under its new leader, Kim Jung Un, is still fueling up a rocket for its satellite launch, currently scheduled for mid-April.
On the surface anyway, the latest WIPO technology transfer has little to do with nuclear weapons or satellite launches. It involves laptops, printers and servers intended to create a high-speed digital archive for North Korea’s Inventions Office — the equivalent of the U.S. Patent Office. (In all U.N. correspondence, North Korea is known by its formal name of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK.)
The archive plan, which goes by the name of the Patent Databases Upgrade Project, would allow North Korea, among other things, better access to the gigantic trove of international patents held by WIPO, which is the international repository for such legal documents.
According to WIPO’s website, more than 2 million patents are accessible via database technology to 142 signatories of the Patent Cooperation Treaty, one of 24 international agreements administered by WIPO. The PCT offers the access to the patents in its archive in exchange for greater guaranteed protection of intellectual property rights, especially in developing countries. By far the biggest patent producer in the world is the U.S., which also supported WIPO to the tune of $1.3 million last year.
North Korea signed on to the treaty in 1980 — just months before Kim Jong Un’s erratic father, Kim Jong Il, took over the reins of the family-run communist dictatorship from his own father, Kim Il Sung. How well the country adheres to the treaty is another question, given North Korea’s notoriety as a center for drug smuggling, the production of illegal pharmaceuticals and counterfeiting, notably of U.S. $100 bills.
North Korea signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty five years after it joined the patent treaty — in 1985. It has since been cited repeatedly for ignoring the NPT with its illegal shipments of nuclear materials and equipment, and other prohibited technology, to Syria among other places, as well as its own bomb-making efforts.
“North Korea is trying any way it can to augment its computer power,” observed John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and, prior to that, head of a U.S. State Department initiative to police illegal efforts at nuclear proliferation, notably from North Korea.
“Any augmentation of North Korean computer power is something that can be used immediately in their nuclear program,” said Bolton, who is a Fox News contributor. “For the United Nations system itself to violate the sanctions is reprehensible.”
WIPO’s detailed plan for improving North Korea’s patent access was a lengthy process, which really took off after a five-day visit to North Korea in March 2011, by William Meredith, a senior WIPO technician. North Korea signed off Meredith’s proposal for the data upgrade the following July.
As it happens, the WIPO patent data retrieval upgrade was conceived and explored during another period of extensive and pessimistic analysis of the success of U.N.-sponsored sanctions against North Korea.
In the months between WIPO’s exploratory trip and the North Korean agreement to the plan, press reports alleged that China had attempted to suppress a report by a U.N. panel of experts that found U.N. sanctions against North Korea had not been effective, and that alleged prohibited transfers of “ballistic-missile-related items” had taken place between North Korea and Iran.
When the new computers and servers actually arrived in North Korea is not clear from the documents obtained by Fox News. An invoice from the Chinese supplier for the overall cost of the completed project is dated Jan. 20, 2012, but a heavily blacked-out inspection signoff from the Director General of North Korea’s Invention Office does not appear to bear a date.
What is clear, however, is a signed order from WIPO’s Geneva headquarters to the office of UNDP’s Resident Representative in China, dated Nov. 11, 2011, which authorizes payment of the $52,638 total within 30 days of receipt of the invoice and the signoff.
The United Nations Resident Representative in China is Renata Lok Dessallien, a Canadian citizen, who is also the country’s Resident Coordinator, and whose agency, the United Nations Development Program, is responsible for paying WIPO’s China-related bills.
Queried specifically by Fox News about the payments in China for technology installed in North Korea, Dessallien offered no reply before this story was published. A UNDP spokesmen at the agency’s New York headquarters, who was asked similar questions, told Fox News shortly before the story was published that the e-mailed questions had not been received.
That Dessallien or her subordinates approved the payment can be inferred from the increasingly perturbed WIPO email chain obtained by Fox News, which also includes messages from at least one UNDP treasury staffer, Mediana Yudianto, who is based in New York.
The initial messages relay Bank of America’s balking at the payment order, and the fact that the bank wants further information about the actual beneficiaries of the shipment.
The same emails show that by March 13, Bank of America’s questioning of the WIPO computer transfer deal had made some members of the U.N. organization uneasy — especially the man later charged with defending them. The email string includes advice from none other than WIPO’s legal counsel, Edward Kwakwa, suggesting that WIPO abandon the deal “unless you think this arrangement is of crucial importance to WIPO.”
The reason, he said, was that “it does not seem to be of any consequence or benefit to WIPO, and can bring more trouble than benefit ultimately.”
In the legal formal memorandum presented by WIPO Director General Gurry to ambassadors in Geneva, however, Kwakwa’s office took a very different stance. His argument was not whether WIPO should do it. He argued instead that it could do it.
Kwakwa’s legal memorandum takes on the tone of a defense brief in a seven-page look at the specific U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions and itemized lists of sanctioned goods, institutions and people in North Korea before declaring that the specific laptop computers, servers and Iinternet connections contained in WIPO’s shipment do not fit on any of them. In particular, the memo notes “there is no provision excluding general computer technology.”
The memo is even more intriguing, for what it does not say. For one thing, it is silent on whether WIPO consulted in advance with U.N. Security Council sanctions committees that monitor the sanctions against North Korea before the agency entered into the tech transfer deal. Nor does the memorandum address any concerns about “dual use” of technology that could be repurposed to aid a nuclear weapons campaign — and many of the items on the U.N. sanctions list require computerized assistance.
Such concerns about the dual uses of technology have been involved in other U.N. scandals In North Korea — climaxing in a 353-page report in 2008 that itemized numerous infractions by UNDP itself.
A bulletin on UNDP’s country website for North Korea now states that “special attention will be given to equipment to ensure that procurement is in compliance with U.N. rules and regulations and export licenses and that no equipment will be used for dual-use purposes.”
Yet WIPO’s equipment transfer got no such special U.N. attention in North Korea — only an approval by a top North Korean government official.
For his part, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained that the entire affair involving cash and technology transfers was, literally, none of the top U.N. official’s business.
“WIPO is a specialized agency that operates independently of the United Nations and has its own governance structure in which its member states participate,” the spokesman said. “Accordingly, the Secretary-General would not normally be informed of the details of any particular project.”
For the U.S. and most other concerned nations, however, it would be hard to describe anything taking place in a nuclear-ambitious rogue state that frequently threatens its neighbors with annihilation as normal.
Read the full story here:
Cash for computers: Is the U.N. busting its own sanctions in North Korea?