The following documents detail correspondence between the UN and FOX News with respect to a Breaking Point investigation, “United Nations Blood Money,” that aired on FOX News Channel and was posted on FOXNews.com. UN Under-Secretary Shashi Tharoor has written two letters outlining inaccuracies in the FOX report. FOX acknowledges receipt of the first letter but did not correct nor defend the inaccuracies listed in Mr. Tharoor’s first letter, prompting him to repeat the information in yet another letter.
Letter to FOX News Senior Vice President John Moody from Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information
Dear Mr. Moody,
I am, once again, compelled to write to you concerning David Asman’s Breaking Point story “UN Blood Money,” the latest incarnation of which aired on Fox on 9 February 2005.
It was with genuine disappointment that we, at the UN, noted this new edition repeated many of the errors we had drawn to Fox’s attention in September last year, and even added some new inaccuracies.
I am most grateful to Fox for giving me the chance to correct some of these problems on air, during the Geraldo Rivera segment that immediately followed the broadcast.
However, in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I would appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight on matters I simply did not have the time to confront during that three-minute appearance. To that end, I would be grateful if you would post this letter on the Fox News website along with the attached update to the ‘The Facts about the Oil for Food Programme’ sheet that you originally posted in September last year.
As my colleague, UN Chief of Staff Mark Malloch Brown, made clear at a press conference in February, the Volcker Inquiry’s interim report demonstrated that some of the problems Fox News and others identified about the Oil for Food Programme were clearly correct. We thank you for helping bring these to light. Secretary-General Annan has already instituted changes to our management practices that will improve accountability and transparency, and should make such failings less likely in the future.
That said, highly exaggerated accounts of what went wrong (and why) only do a disservice to everyone, including your viewers. In the short term it is the UN that suffers, but such claims can only ultimately damage the credibility of Fox News itself. I certainly hope that Fox and other media outlets maintain their scrutiny of our efforts, just as I hope that they insist on reporting their findings in an accurate, fair and objective fashion.
for Communications and Public Information*****
UN Document Provided to FOX News
THE FACTS ABOUT OIL FOR FOOD
A response from the United Nations to allegations made on Fox Breaking Point (13 February 2005)
The Fox Breaking Point show that aired on 13 February concerning the Oil for Food Program contained a number of factual errors, half-truths and omissions which, taken together, paint a distorted picture of the UN Oil-for-Food Program. As the United Nations Secretariat’s offer to discuss the content of the documentary in a live studio interview immediately after its broadcast was not acceptable to Fox, we have chosen to put our observations in writing and have asked Fox to place this response on its Oil for Food website.
Oil-for-Food did not replace sanctions: Correspondent Eric Shawn states, “After Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, the U.N. slapped sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions later became Oil-for-Food.” This is factually incorrect. The Oil-for-Food Program never replaced the sanctions regime. Instead, it was devised to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on innocent Iraqis. This is a critical distinction because the sanctions, as fashioned in 1990, were to be enforced by UN Member States that have land borders with Iraq (i.e. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran) and in the Persian Gulf by a multinational interception force mandated by the Security Council but was neither operated nor overseen by the Secretary-General or his staff. Nothing in the Oil-for-Food Program altered that arrangement. The UN as such was never given the responsibility – or the necessary means (ships and other equipment) – to police smuggling in the Gulf or across Iraq’s land borders.
Role of oil smuggling ignored: Fox states that Mr. Volcker “drew no conclusions about who was ultimately responsible for letting Saddam turn the aid program into his personal multibillion dollar cash machine.”
This ignores a central point made in Mr. Volcker’s interim report: “the major source of external financial resources to the Iraqi regime resulted from sanctions violations outside the Programme’s framework.”
Mr. Volcker also pointed out that oil smuggling was an open secret. “There was certainly violation of sanctions, and I say ‘what is called smuggling’ because much of it went under protocols, trade protocols between Iraq and Jordan and Iraq and Turkey that was known to the Security Council, that were at least in one instance noted by the Security Council,” he told the press.
Fox also alleges that “secret weapons [were] financed with U.N. blood money,” again failing to note that the UN was never charged with the responsibility to prevent smuggling – the major source of revenue – nor provided the resources necessary to do this. The UN was charged with destroying Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and carried out this task by overseeing the destruction of his arsenal, apparently to great effect.
Fox’s interview with Dr. Richard Spertzel is sensational but not news. As early as 25 March 1998, all British ports were put on alert for a possible Iraqi terrorist biological strike after intelligence sources warned of a plan to smuggle to the United Kingdom lethal anthrax germs in bottles of perfume and alcohol.
The UN, thanks to Dr. Spretzel and other experts, was never under any illusion that Saddam Hussein was anything but an unrepentant and brutal tyrant. It was under the UN’s auspices that much of his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction was destroyed.
Secretary-General’s actions distorted: Fox is correct in reporting that the Secretary-General went to Iraq in February, 1998 at the request of the Security Council to negotiate an end to the weapons-inspection impasse. However, Fox is totally incorrect in asserting that the Secretary-General “wanted to use the carrot instead of the stick. He offered to allow Saddam to sell more oil under the Oil-for-Food Program and to give Saddam more freedom to spend that money on what he wished.”
A glance at the chronology of events refutes this claim. The Security Council adopted a resolution raising the ceiling on Iraqi oil exports on 20 February 1998. The Secretary-General went to Iraq from 20 to 23 February 1998. Thus the expansion of the Oil-for-Food Program had already been decided, and played no part in the Secretary-General’s negotiations in Baghdad. The Memorandum of Understanding he concluded with the Government in a bid to restart the weapons inspections was confined entirely to that subject, and was endorsed by all Security Council members in a unanimous resolution adopted on 2 March.
Fox asserts that “a U.N. secretary-general could still talk about trusting Saddam Hussein,” grossly mischaracterizing Mr. Annan’s comments, cited in the show: “Can I trust Saddam? We’ll see. I think I can do business with him.” This remark was made in response to a press question just after the Secretary-General had concluded the diplomatic mission assigned to him by the Security Council by negotiating the agreement which paved the way for the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq.
The Secretary-General’s response did not imply that he trusted Saddam Hussein; in private comments he indicated repeatedly and forcefully that the Iraqi dictator could not be trusted. Instead, the Secretary-General was attempting to facilitate the return of weapons inspections to Iraq. No diplomat in that position could have said less without jeopardizing the agreement and, by extension, the lives of the Iraqi people, but that was not an indication of “trust” on Mr. Annan’s part.
Concerning Rwanda, Fox quotes former Force Commander Romeo Dallaire selectively. But contrary to what the show implies, key members of the Security Council, including the United States, were in fact informed about the warnings General Dallaire received.
Fox correctly notes that the Secretary-General expressed regret about the international response to the genocide in Rwanda in his tenth anniversary speech, but fails to inform viewers that on that occasion he also outlined a five-point Action Plan to Prevent Genocide which calls for addressing root causes, protecting civilians, ending impunity, setting up early warning systems and taking decisive action.
Fox also fails to report that once Kofi Annan became Secretary-General he appointed a team of independent experts, headed by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, to examine what the UN’s failings were in Rwanda. A similarly thorough and blunt report was produced on the failures that led to the fall of Srebrenica. The Secretary-General accepted all of the recommendations and criticisms in both these reports, and used them as the basis for his subsequent efforts to revamp UN peacekeeping so that the UN will not fail in the event of another Rwanda-style genocide.
The Secretary-General is committed to ensuring that the world responds to such situations, as he has made clear in his own efforts to make sure that the Security Council and Member States deal firmly with the atrocities in Darfur, Sudan.
Administrative funds were managed properly: Fox asserts that “Volcker largely confirmed the now widespread reports that Oil-for-Food was grossly mismanaged.” To the contrary, when Mr. Volcker released his interim report, he stated: “I emphasize, we have not found systematic misuse of funds dedicated to the administration of the Oil-for-Food Program. It was, in fact, careful budgeting, not all the funds budgeted were spent, and the accounting trail is adequate.”
In a televised interview shortly after the report’s release, Mr. Volcker, responding to suggestions that his inquiry had “somehow discovered fraud and corruption up and down in the UN,” stressed that, “This is definitely not the case.”
Fox reports that the U.N. collected $1.4 billion for administrative costs in running the Oil-for-Food Program, but fails to mention that expenses came in well under budget, and more than a quarter (27 per cent) of that money was transferred to the separate account used to purchase humanitarian supplies so that it could be used to directly benefit the Iraqi people.
No evidence of rampant corruption: Fox alleges that “high U.N. officials [were] getting oil handouts from Saddam.” Only one UN official – Benon Sevan, the former head of the Office of the Iraq Program – was found to have solicited allocations of oil under the Program. Mr. Volcker is still investigating whether or not Mr. Sevan personally benefited from this activity. Fox fails to inform viewers that as soon as he received Mr. Volcker’s report, the Secretary-General immediately began disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Sevan, who has been suspended and is no longer allowed on UN premises except to summon his defence.
No other official has been named in connection with anything remotely similar to the actions attributed to Mr. Sevan.
Omission of the Program’s positive impact: Fox states that the UN Oil-for-Food Program “was supposed to pay for food and medicine for the Iraqi people but Saddam Hussein stole billions.” In fact, the scheme funded the import of food and medicine to Iraq on a scale that was not possible before the Program began, and thereby partially reversed the deterioration of living standards there.
Among other accomplishments, the Program doubled caloric intake, slashed child malnutrition by half, and drastically reduced the incidence of numerous diseases, including eliminating polio entirely across Iraq.
The show claims that the UN “often stuck the Iraqi people with third rate food and medicine that was unfit for human consumption” but ignores information to the contrary that the UN has previously provided to Fox: the World Health Organization (WHO) found only 0.4 per cent of shipments of medicines unfit for use.
Further, under the Oil-for-Food Program, there was a system for conducting complete checks when requested by a member of the Sanctions Committee. In such cases, each box and container for a given contract would be opened and the contents photographed. The United States exercised this option on dozens of occasions. All Committee members had access to a database containing reports on such cases.
U.N. Responds to Oil-for-Food Special
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
NEW YORK – The United Nations (search) has sent a letter to FOX News in response to the special Breaking Point investigation, “United Nations Blood Money,” that appeared Feb. 13 on FOX News Channel and on FOXNews.com.
U.N. officials charged that FOX News erred in declaring that “high U.N. officials [were] getting oil handouts from Saddam [Hussein]” as part of the Oil-for-Food (search) program.
Following is the U.N.’s comment, in a letter from Shashi Tharoor, U.N. under-secretary-general for communications and public information:
“Only one UN official – Benon Sevan, the former head of the Office of the Iraq Program – was found to have solicited allocations of oil under the Program. Mr. Volcker is still investigating whether or not Mr. Sevan personally benefited from this activity. Fox fails to inform viewers that as soon as he received Mr. Volcker’s report, the Secretary-General immediately began disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Sevan, who has been suspended and is no longer allowed on UN premises except to summon his defence.”
The U.N. mention of “Mr. Volcker” refers to Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who was tapped by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to lead an investigation into Oil-for-Food. In an interim report released last month, Volcker singled out Sevan for having a serious conflict of interest with regard to the management of Oil-for-Food.
FOX News Senior Vice President John Moody, who received the U.N.’s letter, said “FOX stands by its groundbreaking reporting on this scandal. Mr. Tharoor is correct in pointing out that as of now, only one U.N. official is known to have received oil handouts from Saddam. It is, however, worth noting that the individual in question ran the Oil-for-Food program.”
Follow-up Letter to FOX News Senior Vice President John Moody from Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information
3 March 2005
Dear Mr. Moody,
Thank you for responding to my letter of 28 February and for taking quick action to post the correction that relates to Fox’s charge that UN officials were “getting handouts,” on your website. However, I am afraid I do not agree that this constitutes “adequate attention” to my concerns. I provided you with a detailed written correction of the errors in the show precisely because I did not have time to address all these errors in my brief appearance on Geraldo. I confess I was a little surprised to note that only one of Mr. Asman’s many errors mentioned in the published correction. I can only assume this is because you have not had time to fully review the material corrections I sent.
In an effort to make my case, let me identify several more errors that require redress. Mr. Asman’s programme alleges that “secret weapons [were] financed with U.N. blood money” generated by oil smuggling. Please note the reference to the UN in that quote. As was explained in my detailed response (and, indeed, has been explained to your reporters before), the UN was never given the authority to prevent oil smuggling. This was the responsibility of a totally different body outside the UN’s control; in effect a ‘coalition of the willing’ led by the US.
Indeed, this important point was a key finding of Paul Volcker’s Inquiry, which stated that “The major source of external financial resources to the Iraqi regime resulted from sanctions violations outside the (Oil for Food) Programme’s framework.”
If we accept the show’s premise that money gained from oil smuggling was used to purchase weapons by the Saddam regime, it is still absolutely incorrect and misleading to term this “U.N. blood money” when its illegal acquisition had nothing to do with the UN.
Mr. Asman’s show also claims that Secretary-General Annan’s choice of “the carrot instead of the stick,” with Saddam led to increases in the amount of oil the Saddam regime was permitted to sell. As my detailed response explained, the oil ceiling increases were established by the Security Council (over which Mr. Annan has no control) prior to the Secretary-General’s negotiations in Iraq. The Security Council adopted the resolution raising the ceiling on Iraqi oil exports on 20 February 1998. The Secretary-General went to Iraq from 20 to 23 February 1998. To attribute the expansion to negotiations that occurred up to forty-eight hours after the decision was taken is plainly absurd.
As I hope these two examples make clear, the short piece published on your website does not address many of the inaccuracies and misunderstandings that mar Mr. Asman’s report. I am afraid I must ask repeat my request that you publish my first letter and the attached fact sheet in full.
Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information