Powered by WebAds

Saturday, November 17, 2007

US supporting UN program that helps Syria monitor borders

Fox News reported last night that the US has been secretly supporting a UN program that provides sophisticated surveillance equipment to Syria to help it monitor its borders.
After years of harsh talk and escalating rounds of sanctions against Syria for supporting terror and seeking weapons of mass destruction, the United States is quietly supporting a United Nations program to supply the Syrian regime with sophisticated surveillance equipment and computers to monitor its borders.


The gap between the Bush Administration’s anti-Syrian rhetoric and reality emerges in the book-keeping of the $5.2 billion United Nations Development Program, the U.N.’s flagship development agency, which has come under heavy fire for its improper funneling of cash to the regime of North Korean dictator and nuclear proliferator Kim Jong Il.

This time the issue is UNDP’s ties — and those of the U.S. and the European Union — to the Baathist regime of Syrian President Bashir Assad, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. for its sponsorship of international terrorism, destabilization of Lebanon and its shipping of terrorists and weapons to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Syria’s own ties to North Korea and its clandestine attempts to gain weapons of mass destruction were dramatically underlined on Sept. 6, when Israeli Air Force F-15s blasted the secret nuclear facility.

All of which makes especially mysterious UNDP’s purchase and supply to Syria of more than $2.1 million worth of computers, servers, local and wide area networking equipment, networked surveillance cameras and other high-tech goods, under the bland heading of “Modernization of Syrian Customs Directorate.”

Included among the goods are network routers and other equipment manufactured by Cisco, a longtime UNDP partner, which are U.S. manufactured equipment that would be covered under any export ban.

The money for the goods comes from the Syrian government itself, part of an $8.1 million construction and equipment deal that has been going on quietly since Feb. 1, 2005. UNDP is spending some $480,000 of its own on the deal, and it expects to refund nearly $1.6 million in unspent funds to the Syrian government.

The deal also involves the purchase of some $2 million worth of specialized software from another U.N. branch, the Geneva-based United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

According to UNDP, the customs modernization deal is entirely on the up-and-up. A UNDP spokesman told FOX News in response to e-mailed questions that it “will benefit the business environment and the private sector through transparency, trade facilitation, simplification and consistency of procedures, efficient clearance of goods, remote filing and national entry processing.”

The customs upgrade has been mentioned in UNDP official documents that have been approved by a 36-nation executive board, which includes the United States.

(The mention consists of a half-dozen words at the end of a single sentence in a dense 12-page document. As the UNDP spokesman noted, by way of explanation in response to FOX News questions, “UNDP’s Executive Board approves country programs, not specific projects.” Purchase of goods for the project was specifically approved, per UNDP procedures, by Akiko Yuge, head of UNDP’s Bureau of Management, and by the organization’s No. 2 official, Associate Administrator Ad Melkert.)

Most importantly, UNDP’s high-tech undertaking is covered by a U.S. export license from the Department of Commerce, Industry and Security for the sensitive Cisco goods, meaning that the U.N. organization can export them without penalty under U.S. law. The license, which is granted to Cisco, is numbered D357459. It was issued on Sept. 6, 2006 — exactly one year before the strike on the mysterious Syrian nuclear facility.
The Fox story follows with a lengthy analysis that claims that this is part of the US's trade-for-peace strategy with Syria, and that the program is actually legal because the trade sanctions resolution included a Presidential waiver provision.
But the September 2006 U.S. export control license is a strong sign that the original 2004 export controls, which allow a presidential waiver for exports “in support of activities of the U.S. government,” among other things, have been allowed to develop a loophole big enough for a high-tech overhaul of Syria’s borders — and perhaps other holes as well.

If so, they are holes that the Bush Administration is not anxious to discuss. Repeated requests by FOX News to the Department of Commerce, Industry and Security to glean information on the high-tech exports and their legality were met with silence. And even though UNDP has freely answered questions posed by FOX News about the nature of the customs project and its history, sources within the organization report that UNDP staff have been grilled as to how FOX came to learn sensitive details of the project in the first place.

It may be that the biggest reason for the silence in Washington is the bombing of Syria’s suspected nuclear facility — an action that Israel has not admitted or discussed. The existence of the facility — which had been under construction for an estimated two or three years — apparently involved clandestine cooperation with North Korea, a view widely accepted in diplomatic and national security circles.

The now-destroyed secret facility casts a large shadow of skepticism over any notion that a program of trade improvement, trade preferences and technology transfers is enough to induce the Assad regime to give up terrorist meddling and cease any quest for weapons of mass destruction.

Moreover, it underlines the extent to which the negotiators of the trade-for-peace strategy may have been lulled into believing that their approach would contain the proliferation appetite of the Syrian regime.

Indeed, the design and construction of the secret Syrian facility was evidently taking place during all the time that the customs modernization project was itself being negotiated and built. The facility was evidently well underway by the time the Bush Administration issued its export certificate for UNDP to ship embargoed components of the system to Syria.
The Europeans are also deeply involved in providing this equipment to Syria.

Ironically, CISCO does a lot of business in Israel and has an Israeli subsidiary.


Post a Comment

<< Home