NEWS

U.N. Staffers' Security Failures Blamed for Algiers Terrorist Attack

By Matthew Harwood

An independent panel organized by the United Nations has assigned blame to ten U.N. staffers for security failures concerning the terrorist bombing last year that rocked the international organization's offices in Algeria's capital city, Algiers.

On December 11, a suicide truck bomb sped through a checkpoint and crashed its explosives-laden payload into the United Nations offices in the center of Algiers. Twenty-four people were killed, 17 of which were U.N. staff.

The North African terrorist organization, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility for the attack. The group has carried out a string of attacks in al Qaeda's name since its official merger with the international terrorist organization on September 11, 2006.

According to a summary of the 88-page classified report from U.N. General Secretary Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office, the panel's inquiry showed "significant lapses in judgement and performance":

There was a lack of adequate supervision and guidance on the part of senior managers which, it said, can only be partially excused by the lack of resources. Senior managers were preoccupied with Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan. Algeria was not on the radar screen.

The panel recommended that six individuals receive administrative measures while four face disciplinary measures. According to the UN News Centre, the panel's chair, former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, told a press conference that an administrative measure could be as light as a letter of reprimand while disciplinary action could result in something as serious as termination.

The panel also assigned collective blame, according to the summary, by making a "recommendation that amounts to an administrative measure in respect of an organ of collective responsibility." Security lapses were not solely the product of individual job performance but organizational structure as well. The panel called the U.N.'s security management system "a work in progress." While a lack of resources certainly played a role in the system's malfunction, the summary noted that the panel attributes the successful terrorist strike as a "failure on the part of those who designed it and those who implemented it."

Specifically, according to the summary:

At the root of the design fault of the system is the lack of executive authority of the Under-Secretary-General, Department of Safety and Security and the role of the Designated Official. The former official was given responsibility without authority and the latter was expected to function as the head of security in the field office and as the programme manager, responsibilities which are often inherently contradictory, a flaw mirrored to a lesser degree in the role assigned to members of the security management team.

In an e-mail to The Washington Times, United Nations Development Programme spokesman Stephane Dujarric wrote, "As Mr. Zacklin said, there are clearly built-in tensions between the twin responsibilities, of security and program delivery, assigned to the head of a U.N. field office. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we address these built-in ambiguities in the U.N. system's security architecture so as to better clarify issues of functional and personal roles and responsibilities in the future."

The summary did not identify the names of the U.N. staffers that face censure because of safety and "due process" concerns, according to U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas as reported by the Associated Press.

The panel also noted that U.N. personnel did not fully cooperate with its investigation, which led it to conclude that U.N. employees do not believe in the principle of accountability.

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