MIAMI, Fla. – As the Obama administration and other Western powers remain on a war footing against Syria, U.S. technology and assistance provided to the regimes ruling Iran and North Korea by a scandal-plagued arm of the United Nations may be indirectly benefiting the Syrian regime.
Prominent critics of the technical assistance offered to the two rogue states by the major UN agency complained that the aid was a violation of numerous national laws and potentially international sanctions.
Instead of remedying the situation and holding those responsible accountable, however, the international organization and its leadership have doubled down – allegedly punishing whistleblowers while continuing to assist the two dictatorships.
Advertisement - story continues below
Just this summer, WND has learned, the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, was once again on a "technical assistance" mission to Pyongyang, infuriating international observers and U.S. lawmakers who were already outraged over the previous round of aid.
The controversial mission to North Korea, which ran from June 24 through June 28, was led by WIPO's "infrastructure modernization division," but specific details about the cooperation are hard to come by.
"It's extremely disturbing to see that WIPO once again provided technical assistance to North Korea," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who has been a leader in the congressional effort to hold WIPO accountable, told WND in a statement.
"Last year, under Director [Francis] Gurry's watch, WIPO sent U.S.-origin technology to North Korea and Iran and then purposely withheld these transactions from member states," she added. "I've been calling on WIPO to make much needed reforms so it operates in a more transparent and efficient manner, yet it would appear that none of these reforms have been made as it continues to disregard the fact that North Korea is one of the world's worst offenders of intellectual property and is a continual counterfeiter."
Advertisement - story continues below
"It's long past due for WIPO to make some wholesale changes," Ros-Lehtinen concluded.
It was not immediately clear how WIPO could justify assistance under the guise of "intellectual property" when the communist regime does not recognize private property rights at all.
WIPO refused to comment on the issue or explain the purpose of its latest mission to North Korea despite repeated requests by WND.
Meanwhile, Gurry – whose tenure leading the well-funded UN agency has been notable primarily for the seemingly never-ending series of controversies surrounding his administration – was just re-nominated by the new Australian government for another six year term.
He had already announced publicly that he would stand for a second term, though opposition to his candidacy is growing worldwide, diplomats in Geneva tell WND.
Advertisement - story continues below
The UN agency, which reportedly has among the largest budgets, is charged with supervising the global intellectual property regime.
WIPO came under severe international scrutiny and criticism last year after it was publicly exposed handing technology, software and technical assistance to the dictatorships ruling over North Korea and Iran.
Advertisement - story continues below
Among other aid, WIPO provided servers, computers, software, and firewalls, which numerous experts said could be considered "dual-use" technology with potential military applications.
A spokesperson for WIPO sent WND two letters from a UN Security Council committee claiming that the assistance did not violate international sanctions.
However, an inquiry demanded by critics and commissioned by WIPO itself was far more critical. The review of the scandal also blasted WIPO and its leadership.
"[W]e simply cannot fathom how WIPO could have convinced itself that most member states would support the delivery of equipment to countries whose behavior was so egregious it forced the international community to impose embargoes, and where the deliveries, if initiated by the recipient countries, would violate a member state's national laws," stated the report, which is published on the agency's website.
Analysts noted that UN reports purporting to "exonerate" WIPO leaders for the assistance to rogue regimes should not be taken seriously, as the UN would be highly unlikely to admit that its own agencies were breaking international sanctions and violating laws.
As critics say has become typical at the UN and its agencies, nobody has been held accountable except the whistleblowers who were reportedly punished for exposing the scandals.
Lawmakers in the United States, though, were outraged by the news.
"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 bipartisan leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a letter after the scandal was exposed.
The senior lawmakers also expressed concerns that the UN agency would seek to punish the whistleblowers rather than the perpetrators, and that appears to be the case, multiple sources told WND.
WIPO again refused to comment on whether anyone had been held accountable or whether serious safeguards had been put in place to prevent transfers to rogue powers.
It also declined an opportunity to respond to accusations of retaliation against whistleblowers.
Aid to Syria?
Now, as WND and other media outlets have reported recently, both of the autocracies supplied by WIPO are working with Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad and his military.
"Iranian and North Korean experts are directing an operations room for the Syrian army ahead of a possible showdown with Western powers, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials speaking to KleinOnline,"reported WND's Aaron Klein in late August as the war drums were beating in Washington.
Furthermore, Klein added, "The Iranians and North Koreans, based inside Syria, are focusing their efforts on ensuring the viability of Syria's air defense systems while maintaining the embattled country's vast missile arsenal, the officials said."
Despite repeated requests, WIPO did not answer questions from WND about whether it had investigated North Korean and Iranian assistance to Syria or whether the aid the UN agency provided had benefitted Assad.
Sources close to the WIPO scandals, however, highlighted the aid by the two WIPO-assisted regimes to Syrian authorities as a serious matter that needs to be addressed.
"Talk about working at cross purposes," said Edward Flaherty, a Geneva-based international attorney representing the WIPO Staff Council in legal proceedings against the UN agency's leadership.
"This is exacerbated by Gurry's assertion that WIPO, which is funded primarily by patent application fees from U.S. inventors, is not bound by U.S. law," Flaherty told WND.
WIPO and U.S. interests:
According to Flaherty, the broader story with WIPO is "both about abuse of power and mismanagement of an international organization, as well as the foolishness of the U.S. government in backing" the leader of the agency "whose views and actions are so clearly inimical to U.S. interests."
The latest scandals, he added, are another example showing that with the UN, "immunity often means impunity."
"The U.S. government was about to go to war with Syria, which has benefited from aid from its patron Iran as well as North Korea – nuclear, chemical, arms, and more," he continued. "Yet the U.S. State Department has been supporting WIPO Director General Gurry, who sent computer equipment to both North Korea and Iran, which could potentially be used for military and WMD applications, certainly in violation of U.S. sanction laws, and arguably in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
"Even worse, the shipments were allegedly made as a quid pro quo for North Korea and Iran's votes in the director general's initial election in 2008, which Gurry won by one vote," he added.
Indeed, in a suit filed in a UN tribunal, WIPO chief Gurry was accused by a suspended senior manager with the agency of having pledged the equipment to the two regimes in exchange for their votes during the nomination battle.
"The evidence suggests that the director general has a track record of manipulating appointments to WIPO professional posts in exchange for votes," added the brief filed with the International Labour Organization's Administrative Tribunal, or ILOAT.
Reuters has also documented the serious allegations of purchasing votes from the North Korean and Iranian regimes, both of which supported Gurry, in exchange for technical assistance.
WIPO refused to answer questions about the vote-buying allegations, but Gurry has denied the accusations in the past.
"No job pledges were made in exchange for political support," he said in a statement. "I believe that any document purporting to list pledges must be a work of fabrication."
Sources in Geneva have told WND that they believe the allegations are credible, however, and Reuters cited WIPO employees who agreed but refused to speak on record over fears of retaliation by the organization's leadership.
WND reached out to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which works closely with WIPO, to determine whether the Commerce Department agency had any concerns about the technology transfers and assistance – especially in light of the huge sums routed to the international agency from American patent fees. WND also asked if the U.S. patent office was taking action to deal with the problem.
PTO declined the opportunity to comment.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, meanwhile, noted in an e-mail to WND that the U.S. government had led a review to ensure that the technical cooperation provided by WIPO is "fully transparent" to member states.
"Several important reforms occurred as a result of our review," the spokesperson said, pointing to an alleged prohibition on transferring technology and having a WIPO "legal adviser" review all future assistance to governments under UN sanctions.
"The United States continues to press for member states to receive regular updates from the organization on technical cooperation projects, in order to ensure better transparency and accountability," the State Department spokesperson added.
As far as protecting whistleblowers who exposed the scandals, the spokesperson said the U.S. government "strongly supports the protection of whistleblowers at WIPO and across all UN organizations."
The State Department "welcomed" WIPO's latest whistleblower policy but added that it would monitor its implementation.
Despite WIPO claims about protecting whistleblowers, numerous sources within and outside of the agency say that the retaliation is still in full swing.
On September 30, in a letter obtained by WND about the "campaign of victimization and harassment by Francis Gurry," an attorney representing Christopher Mason, a senior WIPO official who helped expose the alleged vote-buying and was subsequently targeted for dismissal, said Mason, "has been the subject of an extraordinary campaign of harassment and persecution by the Organization's Director General, Francis Gurry, that continues to the present day."
Multiple investigations cleared Mason and called for his reinstatement, but Gurry has so far refused to comply.
U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have been complaining about the alleged retaliation against whistleblowers since last year.
A letter sent to Gurry by House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders, for example, expressed serious concerns that a cover-up was underway.
"Even more troubling are allegations that your primary focus on this issue has not been full disclosure of all relevant information on these projects in Iran and North Korea, but rather discovering and punishing whistleblowers who initially alerted outside bodies about these transactions," the lawmakers wrote.
Additionally, the powerful members of Congress slammed WIPO's refusal to cooperate with U.S. investigations into the schemes.
"There is no rational basis for this refusal," the letter stated, adding that if Gurry had nothing to hide, he should be willing to work with investigators on the matter.
According to multiple sources and documents, Gurry has also refused to allow top WIPO officials to testify or offer evidence about the scandals to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Even American WIPO Deputy Director General James Pooley was denied the opportunity to cooperate by Gurry.
The embattled director general has also been accused of abusing local police authorities in his efforts to identify critics within the agency.
Incredibly, according observers and diplomats in Geneva, Gurry has just been re-nominated to lead WIPO for another six years by the new conservative Australian government.
"Francis Gurry is a distinguished Australian who is well respected for his outstanding contribution to the development of the international intellectual property (IP) system," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement e-mailed to WND, adding that Australia would urge other WIPO members to support the nomination.
American lawmakers, however, were outraged. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a bipartisan coalition of representatives urged the administration to oppose Gurry's bid.
"Early last year it was discovered that he had been using WIPO funds to send secret shipments of expensive American-made computer equipment to North Korea and Iran," they wrote. "This is activity that would have put any U.S. citizen behind bars, but when caught in the act, Gurry did not stop or even apologize. Instead he claimed that U.S. law was of no concern to him or WIPO. Then he refused to allow WIPO witnesses to testify in a bipartisan investigation being conducted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs."
"Gurry's erratic and secretive behavior and colossal lack of judgment must disqualify him from receiving support from the U.S. government," the lawmakers concluded. "We call on the administration to work diligently to identify and support an alternate candidate for leadership of this most important agency."
The State Department told WND that it had not yet decided on whether or not to support Gurry.
"The formal nomination period is now open, and candidate nominations will be accepted through Dec. 6, 2013," a spokesperson said. "We will make a determination on which candidate to support when the final list of candidates is available."
International attorney Ed Flaherty in Geneva, who represents the WIPO Staff Council, said the "the U.S. should be pushing for an external director general to come in and clean up the mess."
"Alternatively, one of the existing deputy director generals, Jim Pooley, is an American who was elected with the Obama administration at the beginning of Gurry's term," Flaherty said. "He could step in and do the same thing."
The Nigerian government's mission to Geneva also told WND that it was backing the nomination of Nigerian Geoffrey Onyeama, saying he would work to bring transparency to the organization.
Critics of the UN often point out that the planetary institution is dominated by dictatorships and has a long history of collaborating with brutal tyrannies.
The WIPO scandals, however, are particularly serious, according to analysts.
While sources tell WND that the uproar is probably far from finished, critics say it is past time for member-state governments to at least get serious about accountability.