UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION-GATHERING FOR PEACE AND SECURITY
|A. WALTER DORN
This paper was originally published as Chapter 10 in Peter Hajnal (ed.), International Information: Documents, Publications and Information Systems of International Governmental Organizations, Libraries Unlimited, Englewood, CO, 2001.
Introduction: The Information Cycle
The documents of the United Nations (UN), numbering over 15,000 a year1, are the principal means of disseminating official UN information both within the organization and to the outside world. In order to produce these documents, UN staff not only accept submissions from governments but also actively gather large volumes of information covering the spectrum of human and international issues. This chapter examines this vital but little studied part of the information cycle, information-gathering, as it relates to one of the UN's most important tasks: the maintenance of international peace and security.
At the UN, information on peace and security is received from and disseminated to numerous entities, including member states, field offices and peace-keeping missions around the world. The UN Secretariat in New York is the main focal point and clearing-house for such information. The Secretary-General (SG), as the head of the Secretariat and the chief administrative officer of the organization, is the main agent for the transmission of communications, documents and reports to the Security Council and the General Assembly, the two organs responsible for UN policies and actions on peace and security matters. He/she is also responsible, subject to governmental oversight (mainly through the Committee on Information), for dissemination of information to the general public.
The cycle of information-gathering, analysis and dissemination—in computer jargon: input, processing and output—is frequently repeated on a given issue, since the main bodies continually request the Secretary-General to collect new information and to report back to them. For example, in 1999, the Security Council, the body with primary responsibility for peace and security matters, asked for reports from the Secretary-General in three-quarters of its resolutions.2 The Secretary-General may also offer his views and provide new information to the Council at his own initiative, especially in matters relating to threats to peace and the administration of UN operations.3 Daily briefings are given by the Secretary-General or his representative to members of the Council to keep them informed of the most recent developments in UN operations.
The Secretariat also provides administrative support to the subsidiary bodies of the Security Council, which have multiplied in number, scope and responsibility since the end of the Cold War. From 1990 to 1995, the Council created five sanctions committees (for Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, Somalia and Haiti), a compensation commission (Iraq), sixteen peace-keeping operations, a weapons inspection/destruction body (Iraq) and two international criminal tribunals (for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda). To service the Yugoslavia Sanctions Committee in 1994 alone, the Secretariat had to process 45,000 communications to the committee.
The UN, not wanting to be a secretive organization, makes available to the general public most of the official documents it issues. It produces a thorough historical record of the actions of its parliamentary bodies through its Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council and Repertory of the Practice of United Nations Organs. But many significant documents dealing with sensitive issues (for example, records of private Security Council meetings and most sanctions committee meetings) are restricted or otherwise not made available.(4) In order to gain insight into the inner workings of the UN it is often necessary to refer to the autobiographies of current or former staff members and diplomats, of which there are now an impressive number. A list of selected memoirs of staff memoirs is provided in the Appendix.
The UN also produces a large number of journals, magazines, bulletins and brochures, most of which are not widely known, distributed, advertised nor indexed, even by the UN. Materials in this "grey literature" can be a unique and valuable source of information, both within the UN and externally. However, for the external user, they can be hard to find. Frequently such documents do not carry UN document symbols or sales numbers. They can be obtained or even purchased upon request-providing the researcher knows what to request and to whom to make the request. This chapter should help researchers on peace and security issues to identify some of these difficult-to-find materials.
Information Sources and Methods
Figure 10.1 illustrates the information cycle at the UN and lists some possible responses to new information and events. It also lists the principal information sources and the legal authorities upon which UN information-gathering is based. The major sources of information, reviewed in detail below, are: governments, the media, field missions and offices, other international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals, and academia.
The gathering, analysis and dissemination of information leads to action, which, in turn, leads to the need for more information. Also listed in this figure are the main information sources, the uses of information for the maintenance of international peace and security, and the potential sources of authority for information-gathering. Artwork>>>
By far, the largest and most important source of information for the UN is its member states. The UN, as an organization of governments, has well-codified procedures for receiving and automatically disseminating written and formal oral communications from governments. Letters intended for general distribution, with attachments if any, are customarily addressed to the Secretary-General or to the Presidents of the Security Council or the General Assembly, usually with an explicit request for circulation as documents5.
Official speeches made in the main deliberative bodies are a regular and important, though often redundant, information source. Mostly, they provide the current policies and views of nations, but they occasionally include breaking news or essential background to recent events. Speeches are recorded so that translations, transcriptions, and/or summaries can be provided by the Secretariat as part of the written record.
Much important information is, of course, conveyed verbally through informal discussions in the offices and corridors at the UN and at government missions. This is an essential service which the UN, as the world's largest standing diplomatic conference, provides. "Corridor diplomacy," which facilitates the informal exchange of information and views, will always be essential to the maintenance of the world's peace and security. Still, it is the public, written record that must provide the foundation and justification for UN actions. A detailed written record is essential to create the transparency necessary for the UN to work towards the "common ends" described in the Charter.
He immediately requested the UN Commission on Korea, which was based in Seoul, to provide a written confirmation. This came several hours later and was circulated among Council members as part of the terms of reference of the urgent Council meeting to deal with the situation.7 Similarly, Secretary-General U Thant learned of the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War in a 3 AM phone call from Under-Secretary-General Ralph Bunche. Bunche had received a cable from the commander of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF), stationed in the region, containing the first information on the outbreak. At an urgent meeting of the Security Council later that day, U Thant duly reported "all the information [he] had received."(8) More recently, Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar learned about the launch of Operation Desert Storm in a call from US President George Bush only an hour before the operation began on 16 January 1991.(9) The President's televised announcement followed later in the evening. Detailed press reports immediately filled the newswires and airwaves and the attack received front page coverage in the world's daily newspapers the next morning.
The Secretary-General has the responsibility to "immediately bring to the attention of all members of the Security Council ... all communications from states, organs of the United Nations, or the Secretary-General" concerning any matter relevant to the mandate of the Security Council.10. Any UN member wishing to "bring a matter to the attention of the Security Council" (that is, place it on the agenda), must do so through a written communication, which is distributed by the Secretary-General at least forty-eight hours before the next meeting, except in urgent circumstances. Such communications usually become part of the terms of reference of the meeting.(11)
Hours after Iraq originally invaded Kuwait on 30 July 1990, the President of the Security Council received two letters asking for an immediate meeting of the Council from the representatives of Kuwait and the United States.12 The Secretary-General was then responsible for contacting Security Council members (by fax to the missions in New York) about the meeting and providing them with copies of the letters.
After an important security issue seizes the attention of the highest levels of government, the Secretary-General often receives a rush of letters from UN ambassadors attaching statements or pronouncements by senior government officials. For instance, in the week following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Secretary-General received and disseminated, as separate documents, 49 letters on the invasion. Most of these communicated, in annexes, condemnations of Iraq by high level officials (for example, ministers of state or government), and by regional organizations (for example, in the first four days statements were submitted for the European Community, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the League of Arab States, Organization of the Islamic Conference). This kind of response is one way of measuring the degree of importance an issue has gained for the international community.
Sometimes, important letters are hand-delivered to the Secretary-General for maximum speed, as well as for confidentiality. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Secretary-General U Thant sent identical messages to President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev containing several compromise proposals to de-escalate the crisis. Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin, who had been denied any information from his government about Soviet nuclear arms in Cuba, criticized the Secretary-General for giving credence to the US position, for seeking compromise and for not denouncing the "illegal" blockade. Shortly after he had admonished the Secretary-General, a courier from the Soviet mission arrived on the 38th floor of the UN Secretariat with an urgent message from Chairman Khrushchev. To the great embarrassment of the Ambassador, the Soviet leader thanked the Secretary-General for his important intervention in a perilous situation and accepted his proposal.13
Governments can request circulation of their communications to the Secretary-General as UN documents. The Secretariat provides a document symbol, translates it into the six official languages of the Security Council and the General Assembly (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish)14, prints it, distributes it (typically within two days) and, finally, maintains proper preservation of it for future reference.
Sometimes governments use (or misuse) their right to have letters and attachments copied and circulated, in order to embarrass other governments. For example, on 20 October 1984, Nicaragua requested dissemination of a CIA manual that had been provided to Nicaraguan rebels (the Contras), entitled "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare." Despite US protests, copies of the manual were duly distributed two days later.15 Similarly, Cyprus embarrassed Turkey by requesting the circulation of an Amnesty International report entitled "Turkey: Continuing Violations of Human Rights"16.
Sometimes governments voluntarily inform the UN about their own military actions. Just after Egypt launched an attack against Israel in 1948 in coordination with other Arab countries, it informed the Secretary-General of its actions. Similarly, the United States informed the Security Council in 1964 that it had landed troops in the Dominican Republic. By providing their versions of events and their rationale to the UN first, they hope to influence the debate about UN responses.
More frequently, member states complain about the military actions of their neighbors. Iran and Iraq registered countless charges with the Secretary-General during their Gulf war (1980-88). The Secretary-General received detailed complaints during and after each campaign in the war, including long Iranian lists of incidents of Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Even after its defeat in the Second Gulf War (1991), Iraq continued to complain to the Secretary-General about violations of its airspace, in this case by US, British and French aircraft17. Usually even the most serious complaints are conveyed in diplomatic language. The Permanent Representative of Pakistan wrote to the Secretary-General in such a style: "I have the honour to inform you that, on 22 May 1989, a Scud missile was fired by Kabul troops from within Afghanistan and fell near Bhakkar [Pakistan]"18.
Governments circulate materials not only to defend their own actions, but also, on occasion, the actions and opinions of their nationals who are working under the Secretary-General. For instance, in 1960 the President of Ghana requested circulation of a report given to him by the Ghanaian contingent commander in the UN operation in the Congo19, severely critical of the operation. The Secretary-General dutifully circulated the report and soon thereafter circulated the comments of his Special Representative in the Congo, Mr. Ralph Bunche, containing a rebuttal to the criticisms (which were said to be "neither valid nor fair")20.
At some dramatic meetings of the Security Council, the US has shared one of its most prized possessions, secret intelligence. In 1962, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson displayed on two easels in the Council chamber large pictures of Soviet missile bases in Cuba taken by high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. Similarly, in 1983, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick played recordings of radio conversations between the Soviet interceptor pilots and ground control at the time of the shooting down of a Korean Air Lines jet (KAL flight 007) in 1983. The US did the same in 1996 when the Cuban Air Force shot down a plane belonging to the anti-Castro group, "Brothers to the Rescue." Such electronic eavesdropping is achieved through specialized and top secret satellite and airborne surveillance platforms. The decision to reveal such intelligence is usually preceded by vigorous inter-agency debates in Washington.
After the end of the Cold War, an unprecedented number of subsidiary bodies were created by the UN Security Council with new mandates for sanctions monitoring, complex peacekeeping, weapons destruction and the prosecution of war criminals. These bodies require a great deal of specialized information and intelligence from governments. This includes declarations by governments about their own activities and intelligence reports on the behavior of other nations; for example, suspected sanctions breakers. The Sanctions Committee, set up to monitor the implementation of sanctions against Iraq (the "661 committee")21, has relied to a large extent on questionnaires asking governments to report on their own compliance. One month after the resolution, the Secretary-General was able to report that 106 countries had replied.22 The committee then followed up on answers that were incomplete or unsatisfactory. Oral testimony was provided by intelligence officials, including the Director of the CIA. Similarly, the UN Special Commission, charged with finding and destroying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, received much information from Western intelligence sources, particularly when it began its operations in 1991.
Governments provide the UN Secretariat with highly classified information only rarely and usually only on a "need to know" basis, that is, when the government thinks that specific UN officials, such as the Secretary-General, need to know. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Secretary-General's Military Adviser, Major-General Indar Jit Rikhye, was given Pentagon clearance to receive U-2 reconnaissance photographs of the Soviet missile sites in Cuba.23 He visited the Pentagon to receive detailed briefings. By contrast, during the prolonged Congo crisis (1960-64), the US refused to share any intelligence, although it had dozens of agents in the country. In that case, US intentions were not always in harmony with those of the UN (for instance, the US sought to secretly assassinate Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba24 and it was the UN's responsibility to guard him).
Following the end of the Cold War, the US has shared more intelligence with the UN than ever before. In part, this was because the UN has been sponsoring important operations which the US wanted to see succeed. Also, the end of the Cold War decreased the intensity of the superpower espionage game and reduced the fear that information in the hands of Soviet/Russian officials in the Secretariat would be automatically passed on to Moscow. Furthermore, the US intelligence community has been looking for new reasons to justify its existence; support for certain UN operations provides one rationale. Sophisticated intelligence was shared with the operations dealing with Iraq (UNSCOM), Somalia (UNOSOM), Bosnia (UNPROFOR) and others.
In some peace-keeping operations in the Middle East, the US has routinely shown, but not given, satellite photographs to UN force commanders, in order to aid the force in the performance of its monitoring and supervisory tasks. According to former force commander Major General Hannes Philipp (ret'd) of Austria, US officials once informed him of an army vehicle illegally intruding into the UN-supervised buffer zone.25 Shortly after he had raised the matter with the side possessing the vehicle, he received word from the US that everything was now satisfactory. There had been no aerial overflights over the area, so he concluded that big brother was, indeed, watching-from space!
A special computer in the Situation Centre of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations permits rapid communications to the US mission, and through the mission to other US government departments, including the Pentagon. This access has, however, proven to be of limited utility. According to an official in the Centre, little new information is conveyed and the US does not carry out research to answer specific questions from the Secretariat apart from determining if there is a US study already produced which sheds light on the matter. Furthermore, there is a continuing concern by other member states about information bias and dependency. When the US offered (for $2-20 million) to set up an advanced system for the Situation Centre in the areas of information and communications, the proposal was declined for fear of relying too heavily on a single government and of the increased vulnerability of the communications system to US interception.
Secretariat officials rely much more on publicly-available government materials than they do on secret ones. Most governments provide public information, including periodic summaries of events in their countries, through their UN missions in New York and their information services, publishing offices, as well as their embassies or consulates in foreign countries. For instance, the US government and its agencies provide a wealth of public information on international issues: human rights reports from the US Department of State, background reports of the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, situation reports from US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Situation Centre routinely uses "open source" material from CIA, including the CIA World Factbook, which is available to anyone with access to the internet.26
The UN relies heavily on the media for information about current international events, as do most organizations and persons, but the UN does so only in an unofficial fashion. Media articles are never referred to in UN resolutions (unlike reports of the Secretary-General which are referred to in the majority of resolutions) and are rarely used in an uncorroborated fashion in reports of the Secretary-General.
The UN requires a standard of reporting that is more objective than is normally the case for the media, or at least as it is perceived by member states. In particular, there are concerns over accuracy, emphasis and bias in the media. Different newspapers from the same country even provide widely divergent accounts of the same events and emphasize entirely different aspects. The media of different countries can be even more divergent. Furthermore, the Western media is mostly privately owned, while the media in most developing countries is mostly controlled or supported by governments. The perception among the developing world of an "information hegemony" has even resulted in calls for a "new world information and communication order." In both the North and the South, it is clear that the media can be susceptible to considerable governmental and non-governmental influences, as well as self-serving sensationalism, that prevent it from being used in an official way at the UN. In practice, however, the media serves to inform most persons in the UN system and thus provide the unofficial background for UN decisions. The UN relies, however, disproportionately on the Western media.
Prominent among the media providing input to the UN are the major international daily newspapers (for example, New York Times, International Herald Tribune) and global television networks, especially Cable News Network (CNN). In addition, "local" independent news journals called the Diplomatic World Bulletin and UNDiplomatic Times27 are widely circulated in UN circles and provide useful news on recent UN announcements, appointments (with detailed background on the appointees), testimonies, interviews and corridor "gossip." Secretariat News, which sometimes provides otherwise unreported news on UN activities and personalities, is published bimonthly by the Staff Activities and Housing Unit of the UN Secretariat.
For crucial and time-sensitive decisions, information from the media is often far from sufficient. During the Six-Day War in June 1967, the situation was changing hourly. One representative of a middle-power on the Council, Canadian Ambassador George Ignatieff, complained that the two superpowers were at a distinct advantage because they had regular reports on what was happening, through satellite reconnaissance and other intelligence sources, while other representatives had to wait for the New York Times to find out what had happened the day before.28 This was a tremendous handicap for those without information.
Many governments29 and the UN Secretariat rely on in-house and external clipping services to filter and collate relevant articles from newspapers and other periodicals. The UN Secretariat's Department of Public Information (DPI, News Distribution Section) circulates to Secretariat staff the "Daily Press Clippings" of some 40-50 pages containing articles relate to the UN and its work.30 In addition to photocopied clippings, the document includes news summaries from UN Information Centres and other field offices based on press reports received there. Such summaries are included in English or French, the two working languages of the UN Secretariat.
The Department of Political Affairs (DPA) produces a similar collection, called "Daily Press Clippings from DPA", an internal document which is circulated to senior officials in DPA and other selected departments. It is typically 30-40 pages long, with clippings from major newspapers (Washington Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Le Monde and others), wire services (Associate Press, Agence-France Presse, Itar-Tass, Reuters and so on), and other press services (for example, IPS Daily Journal31). The documents also include daily summaries from certain UN offices (such as Daily Highlights produced by Central News, and the Daily Press Briefing of the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General) and UN agencies (for example, The World Bank's Development News).
Governments occasionally refer to press reports in their speeches. During the Cold War, Soviet representatives liked to cite critical Western press reports and opinion pieces to bolster their arguments, somehow thinking that if a Western paper criticized a Western government, then the criticism must be right. In one speech on the evils of the South Korean regime in 1950, a Soviet representative quoted six critical western newspapers (the New York Times, the New York Post, the London Times and the British Journal of Commerce, The Statist and the Italian 24 Ore) and told the Australian representative that he "would be well advised to read the lines" in the Australian periodical Age.32
The Secretary-General very rarely refers to specific press reports in his official statements and reports. References in a more general fashion are sometimes made, especially at times when the Secretary-General must react to a situation for which the only source of information is such press reports. For example, the Secretary-General stated in a press release in 1994 that he was "deeply concerned by press reports of an Israeli air attack" in Lebanon.33 No mention was made if the UN peace-keeping operation in the country (UNIFIL) was able to confirm these reports.
The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) provides English translations of current media reports from around the world, and this helps the UN monitor official government pronouncements, especially in conflict zones. Although an arm of the US government, the FBIS produces Daily Reports which are considered unbiased and accurate translations of items in foreign media, including whole texts or extracts from foreign radio and television, news agency transmissions, newspapers, books and periodicals. FBIS claims that its items are processed from "the first or best available sources".
The very latest news is usually obtained not in print but rather from broadcasts (and, more recently, from the internet). Secretary-General Trygve Lie learned of the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia in a newscast on his car radio.34 Similarly, twenty years later, U Thant learned of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia through a radio newscast.(35) On an earlier occasion, U Thant, then the Burmese ambassador to the UN, first learned that he was being considered for the Secretary-Generalship in an article in the New York Times, published before he was approached by any delegation. In the past, it was common for diplomats and Secretariat officials to tune into the BBC World Service using a short-wave radio to obtain the latest news. Now CNN television has taken the premier position in the offices of the UN. During the Second Gulf War (1991), additional monitors were set up in corridors of the Secretariat to allow staff to follow developments during the day. Computers in the Situation Centre are now equipped to receive, record and display current CNN programs, even while other software programs are running. In the future, it should be possible to select from an internet library of recently televised programs.
The computer information age only recently reached the UN. In 1989, the former UN information-collection agency, the Office for Research and the Collection of Information (ORCI), was still using teletype machines to print out reports from the wire services. Now, the Situation Centre uses a commercial computerized news service, "NewsEDGE," to monitor the media, particularly the wire services (such as Reuters, Agence France-Presse). Articles carrying specified keywords can be captured from a large range of publications. Computers also permit rapid searches of the World Wide Web and other parts of the internet. The very latest news, for example, can be obtained from the homepage of CNN(36). The Situation Centre sends out daily reports on areas where there are UN operations which combine information from the media on the internet and reports from the missions themselves.
If it can be said that UN headquarters houses the brains of the organization, then its field operations are its own eyes and ears, and often its limbs as well. Field operations and missions are frequently established in troubled areas in an effort to contain or resolve conflicts. The vast majority of Security Council resolutions deal with conflicts in which the UN has field operations which report regularly; 94 per cent of Council resolutions in 1994 were of such a nature. UN field operations are created to watch and to respond to events. They help calm hostilities, mediate settlements and then verify them (especially troop withdrawals and cease-fires), separate warring factions, and provide objective information to UN headquarters and negotiators on a continuing basis.
The smallest UN "missions" sent to an area of conflict consist of an individual, often a personal or special representative of the Secretary-General, with some administrative assistants. The mission may have a declared mandate that is different from fact-finding, such as the conduct of negotiations, but fact-finding is always a central task and the individual is expected to report back observations on conditions in the state. In some cases, fact-finding is the main task. In 1970, in order to head off a dispute between Iran and the United Kingdom, Secretary-General U Thant sent a personal representative to Bahrain to "ascertain the wishes of the people." The conclusion, that the people wanted an independent state, led to the establishment of Bahrain as a state separate from Iran in 1971. This mission was one of the forerunners of modern UN electoral activities which have, after notable successes (for example, in Nicaragua, Namibia and South Africa), become a recognized UN function, especially as a part of conflict resolution. It has also become common for the Secretary-General to send preliminary fact-finding missions prior to the establishment of large peace-keeping operations (for example, ONUCA in Central America and UNTAC in Cambodia).
Peace-keeping operations (PKOs), which are field operations with a military component, typically employ standard military procedures of reporting (with plenty of acronyms!). When soldiers on patrol or in an observation post (OP) or at a checkpoint (CHP) witness an unusual event, they are expected to file an incident report (INCREP) with their unit. Information is combined with other sources in a report to the PKO headquarters. From there information is further collated before a situation report (SITREP) is prepared, usually on a daily and/or weekly basis, for transmission to New York. For serious incidents, an operational investigation may be carried out, time permitting. Less frequently, periodic summaries (PERSUMS) are sent to New York to give an operational and administrative summary of major events over the period (for instance, monthly), along with the views of senior persons in the field. PERSUMS are usually sent by the force commander (FC) to the Under-Secretary-General (USG) responsible for peace-keeping operations. Reports done outside the regular schedule, sometimes called supplementary information reports (SUPINFOREPs), may describe recent events of an important nature. In emergencies, reports are sent to the Secretary-General directly. Secretaries-General U Thant and Kurt Waldheim, for example, first learned of the outbreak of war in 1967 and 1973 from urgent messages from peace-keeping operations in the Middle East.37
Regular lists of personnel, non-lethal casualties and accidents are routinely sent to New York. The death of peace-keepers, as an extremely serious matter, is reported immediately and will be handled by DPKO as well as the office of the Security Coordinator, which is responsible for the security of UN personnel world-wide. For the most serious cases, a formal Commission of Inquiry might be established by the Secretary-General, the General Assembly or the Security Council, to investigate the circumstances leading to the deaths. For instance, the Security Council did so after some two dozen Pakistani soldiers were ambushed in Somalia in 1993. In 1961, three commissions were set up by the General Assembly to investigate the deaths in separate incidents of the Congolese Prime Minister (Patrice Lumumba), Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, and the Prime Minister of Burundi. In spite of thorough investigations, however, there still remains mystery and controversy surrounding the deaths of the Lumumba and Hammarskjöld.
To minimize the loss of life and to run a successful peace-keeping operation, an effective information-gathering system in the field is essential. This was one of the early lessons of the UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC, 1960-64). After the UN found itself under attack by the Katangese gendarmerie and mercenaries, and in order to suppress the secessionist efforts of Katangese leader Moise Tshombe, a Military Information Branch (MIB) was established in 1961.
The MIB used extensive means of information/intelligence gathering, more than any other UN field operation until the advent of the new generation of PKOs in the early1990s. It intercepted Katangese radio communications and, when required, proceeded to decode encrypted messages. When radio interceptions revealed Katangese plans to bomb airfields used by the UN, the UN made its final and successful push into Katanga. Aerial reconnaissance using Indian and Swedish planes facilitated estimations of the size of the Katangese Air Force and identification of ammunition stockpiles. Captured mercenaries underwent a formal interrogation procedure, using lawful and humane techniques. This did not yield as much useful information, however, as the reports of informants and asylum seekers. On one occasion, the UN was able to confiscate 40-50 aircraft engines in an Elisabethville warehouse, after being tipped off by an informer of their whereabouts. On a daily basis, the MIB helped keep ONUC headquarters informed of developments and supplied information which was then passed onto UN headquarters. Still, the MIB constantly felt itself underequipped and understaffed, which is certainly true in comparison with most national expeditionary forces or the NATO forces sent to Bosnia (IFOR/SFOR) since 1995 or Kosovo (KFOR) in 1999. In spite of recent progress, the UN Department of Peace-Keeping Operations still lacks adequate means for training for on-site investigations, for analysis of information both in the field and at headquarters, and means to fulfil urgent field requests for information and documentation. The various limitations on UN information/intelligence-gathering in peace-keeping have been explored in publications by the author of this chapter.38
Time-sensitive communications with UN headquarters in New York are now routinely handled by fax, though the older methods of cable and, of course, mail (via diplomatic pouch, not subject to national inspection) are also used. Fax messages are labeled with certain standard attributes. The urgency of delivery is denoted on a communication as either routine, priority, immediate or most immediate. The security classification is also indicated: unclassified, confidential or secret. Messages can be marked crypto, to denote encryption by a special device attached to the fax machine. The Situation Centre's 24-hour operations room at New York headquarters has a bank of such fax machines equipped with encoders and decoders. Before the arrival of the fax machine in the late 1980s, most urgent messages were sent by cable, either coded or "in the clear." In some operations, the UN adopted a "clear" (no encryption) policy in order to build transparency, to ease potential fears of the antagonists, or to promote its impartiality in cases where only one side is capable of decryption. Finally, placing the word "only" next to the name of the addressee prevents the message from being copied or circulated widely on reception. Normally the highest security classification on communications is secret but the words "for SG's [Secretary-General's] eyes only" have been used at times.
To maintain the confidentiality of messages the UN has, on occasion, resorted to some unconventional means. One humorous incident happened during Secretary-General U Thant's visit to Havana during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Secretary-General wanted to communicate important information to New York without letting the Cuban authorities know the contents of the message, recognizing that the phones were likely tapped. Having no enciphering equipment, it was decided that the Secretary-General's military adviser, Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, should speak on the phone with his Indian colleague in New York headquarters, C.V. Narasimhan, using the Indian language Hindi. The message was successfully, if painstaking, communicated but after Rikhye's return to New York, a senior US official remarked to him that he had better improve his Hindi!(39) The US was listening!
Electronic mail (e-mail) communications were first used using commercial software (Higgins, or CC Mail) with limited encryption capabilities. However, a software package with a more advanced encryption capability (LotusNotes) is now being introduced, especially for sensitive areas in the UN. Some but not all field missions have e-mail connections to headquarters. Virtually all permanent UN offices have such a connection.
In response to criticisms that headquarters officials were "hard to reach after hours", even in cases of emergencies in the field, the Secretary-General established the Situation Room under the Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO) in April 1993. Upgraded to the Situation Centre (SITCEN) a year-a-half later, it is tasked with maintaining uninterrupted communications with all UN peace-keeping missions and to be able to communicate with all other UN missions around the globe. Another more ambitious mandate is to monitor potentially dangerous situations to UN peace-keepers and personnel. A 24-hour duty room receives regular reports from the field missions, mostly by fax but increasingly by electronic mail. Duty officers must know whom to contact in the Secretariat for given questions and how to contact them at any time in case of emergencies.
Peace-keeping missions provide over half the volume of information that comes to the Situation Centre. The media provide roughly another one third, with governments and other sources providing the rest. Media reports are collected both in the field and monitored at headquarters using an online system, NewsEDGE. If the SITCEN receives an indication of important developments or potential threats from one source, then it may query specific governments and the field missions.
Over time, the SITCEN hopes to increase its analytical capacity. This includes the provision of computer databases able to respond to intelligent queries such as: "How many violations of the no-fly zone occurred in Iraq in the past year?". Ideally, an integrated database will be developed to sort, organize, prioritize and disseminate incoming information and be accessible to field units as well as to headquarters.
The SITCEN produces consolidated summaries for each operation. The Daily Mission Highlights of one or two pages for each mission, naturally, draws mainly upon the Daily Mission Reports but also upon media reports. A weekly Situation Report is also prepared.
Situation Centre staff provide daily briefings to senior UN officials. Both the SITCEN and the Department of Political Affairs prepared weekly reports for the Secretary-General. In turn, the Secretary-General submits periodic reports to the Security Council on the PKOs, typically every six months, or as specified by the Council (for example, "as soon as possible"). Such reports usually include the mission's status, current activities, recommendations and requests.
On occasion, the Security Council receives oral reports directly from the leaders of UN operations and missions in the field. This is particularly true for fact-finding missions established by the Council, as was the case, for example, for a fact-finding mission to Burundi after the 1994 Rwandan massacre(40). Rolf Ekeus, the Chairman of the Special Commission (1991-99), which was charged with supervising the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, also frequently appeared before the Council, since an evaluation of Iraqi compliance was considered essential in the on-going consideration of the imposed sanctions.
UN Information Centres, Field Offices and Agencies
Unlike UN peace-keeping operations and missions, which are established on a temporary basis in a host state, the UN Information Centres (UNICs) and UNDP field offices are permanent. The primary function of these offices is not to gather information but rather to disseminate information and provide development assistance to the host state. Given their location, however, these centres and offices are well positioned to collect information for UN headquarters about activities in the state and region. At times, such information collection requires delicate diplomacy, since host countries do not want to be "spied upon." The UN has always denied that information gathering is done covertly, although it does admit to the information-gathering function of these offices. For instance, it well-known and well accepted that the UNIC in Washington keeps tabs on bills before Congress relating to UN affairs, especially those relating to UN financing.
As the concepts of early warning and preventive diplomacy became increasing fashionable after the end of the Cold War, the capacity of these field offices to play a role in such activities was recognized. In 1987, UNICs were requested by the Secretary-General's office to provide information to headquarters on potential sources of conflict. Specifically they were asked to submit weekly reports on disputes and tensions, unusual events, displaced peoples, disasters (natural and man-made) as well as commentaries on the UN system. They were to base their reports primarily on official statements and media reports in the country, but first-hand observation was not discouraged.
The UN Information Centres and Information Services are located in 78 countries of the world. In contrast, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has field offices in over 130 countries, including some of the poorest and most conflict-ridden areas of the world. Even though the UNDP operates at arms length from the UN Secretariat and is not directly responsible to the UN Secretary-General, there has been a recent push to utilize its capacity as well.
Given the persistent financial crisis facing the UN, it was decided in 1992 to merge eighteen UNICs and UNDP field offices in order to present a unified image of the UN in the field, to enhance information activities in all areas and to achieve economies through shared services. This experiment is generally viewed as successful. When new "interim offices," pending the creation of integrated offices, were created in the countries of the former Soviet Union in 1993, the offices combined the UNDP and UNIC functions into one.
Given that the information-gathering mandate is a relatively recent one, it is not surprising that personnel in the UNICs and UNDP offices receive no standardized training in observing, assessing and reporting on conflicts. But certain offices have acquired, by necessity, specific expertise when they operate in conflict zones of are involved in peacebuilding, as for example the UNDP in its weapons collection programs in Albania. The new interim offices and similar UN field offices, e.g., the "small political offices" in conflict zones such as the Great Lakes region of Africa, were given a strong mandate for fact-finding both because of the areas in which they are located and because they are created with this objective in mind.
Several agencies within the UN system regularly provide the General Assembly and Security Council with useful information on issues relating to their specialty. Since refugees are a common occurrence during conflict, it is natural to expect that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides information on conflict areas, in addition to the numbers, locations and conditions of refugees. Refugees are usually first-hand witnesses of tragic events. Similarly, increasing human rights abuses are indications of current or impending conflict. The Human Rights Commission in Geneva provides the Security Council with reports from its Special Rapporteurs when so requested, as does the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. These rapporteurs monitor human rights focus on areas where the violations are most egregious, for example in the former Yugoslavia.
Within the UN system, two agencies which are mandated to carry out inspections according to arms control treaties are the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In order to implement nuclear safeguards in the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, the IAEA headquarters in Vienna sends out inspectors to nuclear sites in some 70 countries. The IAEA Director General makes annual reports to the General Assembly and, under special circumstances, also tables reports before the Security Council, as was the case for reports for Security Council-mandated inspections in Iraq and when North Korea was shown to be in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement. The OPCW, located in The Hague, has the most intrusive inspection rights of any permanent international organization. In a challenge inspection, it may carry out an inspection at any site at short notice (12 hours), to locate any possible chemical weapons (or chemical precursors) present in contravention of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Treaty.
Since the governing bodies of these various agencies are composed of governments which are also members of the UN proper, it can be expected that information made available in one body will be transmitted to others through the governmental members.
NGOs and Individuals
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals are capable of gathering information in ways that would be out of bounds for the UN. When a state refuses the UN entry into its territory, the UN must generally desist in respect of that nation's sovereignty. Some NGOs manage to "fly under the sovereignty radar" because they have acceptable functions to perform in the state (such as humanitarian work) or because they can disguise or justify their investigative work or because they have sources within the state, such as conscientious citizens, who provide them with information. The UN, as an organization of state members, has to deal carefully and unofficially with complaints from individuals in its member states for fear of being accused by the state of violating their sovereignty. NGOs are less inhibited, in general, of investigating atrocities, of criticizing governments and of being criticized by states. These observations are especially true of NGOs in the human rights field. Because violations of human rights are often coupled with armed conflict, human rights NGOs can be especially valuable sources of information.
A case in point is Human Rights Watch (HRW) which established an Arms Project to monitor weapons deliveries to areas where human rights violations are occurring. The Washington-based organization, using eye-witnesses, uncovered a transfer of more than eighty tons of weapons through Zaire to Rwanda in June 1994, as genocide was systematically being carried out and in violation of the UN embargo. Their findings prompted, in part, the formation of a UN International Commission of Inquiry in September 1995.41 In presenting its report to the Security Council, the Commission acknowledged the HRW report as "a primary source of detailed information, much of which the International Commission was subsequently able to confirm for itself."42 However, Zaire refused to cooperate with the Commission, leading to weak conclusions. HWR claimed that the UN report was incomplete and that it permitted governments who aided the Rwandan genocide, including Zaire and perhaps France, "to continue to evade accountability."43 It is pressing for UN monitors to be stationed at airports in Zaire to prevent any further flow of armament to Rwandan rebels.
NGOs that provide humanitarian aid can also be valuable sources of information. Because such NGOs have a presence in the field, they can obtain first-hand reports of events in troubled areas. These NGOs also have a moral right to make inquiries of their host governments on the state policies and activities that may have a bearing on their operations.
The broadening of the mandate of humanitarian NGOs would certainly help the cause of peace. It is particularly opportune now, well after the end of the Cold War, when most conflicts occur within states and have economic, social and ethnic roots. There are many areas where such an expanded mandate is natural; for example: early warning of refugee flows is closely linked with determining threats to peace.
Furthermore, cooperation in the humanitarian field between the UN and NGOs is already well developed. The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has created an excellent internet-based system, ReliefWeb, which has greatly enhanced information-sharing between NGOs, UN agencies and governments.(44) The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), also created by OCHA to further coordinate relief efforts, meets at the executive-head level several times a year. The NGO community is represented by Inter-Action (American Council for Voluntary International Action), the International Council of Voluntary Agencies and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response.45 Inter-Action, for instance, supplies useful Situation Reports on various countries, summarizing the development and humanitarian work of NGOs in these areas.
There are fewer NGOs specializing in peace and security matters which have field experience but several are notable. International Alert seeks to identify situations of potential violent conflict and then ways of promoting prevention. It has been involved in efforts to resolve conflicts in Sri Lanka, South Africa and the former USSR. It sent fact-finding missions to Tatarstan and northern Caucasus and has been associated with missions to Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia and Estonia. The Secretary-General meets occasionally with the heads of humanitarian organizations, such as International Alert and Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as human rights organizations. UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar revealed in his memoir that "before each trip abroad I was briefed confidentially by Amnesty International on individual cases of human rights abuse on which I might usefully intervene."46
In recent years, as the notions of preventive diplomacy and early warning became increasingly popular, some new NGOs and networks were formed, including the Preventive Diplomacy Initiative of the US Institute of Peace, the Centre for Preventive Action of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. The latter is an "independent conflict-monitoring charity" whose bulletin, "War Report", includes reports by leading journalists and other observers of conflict.
The UN is not prohibited from receiving information from individuals and NGOs who are "in the know." The United Nations Special Commission benefited greatly from an Iraqi informer who provided information that led to the revelations of clandestine Iraqi nuclear weapons development projects and a high-level defector who revealed the continuing existence of a large clandestine biological weapons program. Similarly, the UN Operation in the Congo found that informants and asylum seekers were particularly valuable (though not trustworthy in all cases) sources of information. Planned attacks on UN forces and large weapons depots were thus identified.
The Centre for Human Rights in Geneva actively solicits information from individuals and NGOs about human rights violations. Victims, their relatives and non-governmental organizations are invited to send information to a 24-hour fax "hot line" set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The information is then used by special rapporteur in investigations and, in the case of urgent, potentially life-saving information, by the Special Procedures branch of the Centre.
Letters from individuals and NGOs to the Security Council are not circulated unless they are annexed to a letter from a government or the Secretary-General but they are listed under thematic headings in a circulated document titled: "Communications received from private individuals and non-governmental bodies relating to matters of which the Security Council is seized."47
The UN sometimes draws upon the academic community for expertise in information gathering. For example, Cherif Bassiouni, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, was appointed in 1993 chairman of the Commission of Experts established by the Security Council to investigate war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. The resulting monumental work (of some 3,000 pages)48 was subsequently used as a basis for the work of the Prosecutor and the judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who have themselves were seconded from the legal systems of nation states for the duration of their work.
Commercial organizations also provide useful information. For instance, the Economist Intelligence Unit publishes Country Reports every three months. They include analyses of political, economic and business developments in over 180 countries, as well as some forecasts in the short term. Similarly, Jane's Information Group publishes various reports, including Jane's Information Review, with detailed updates of situations around the world.
In this "information age," there exists a veritable ocean of information from which the UN can draw in its efforts to keep the peace in a troubled world. However, the concomitant problems of "information overload and underuse" have arisen. While organized databases and rapid computer "search engines" of systems like the internet are making retrieval faster, these new means of information-gathering add enormously to the pool of information. As a result, UN officials are often overwhelmed with data, and there is a natural tendency to overlook important sources of information.
The solution to this problem is to develop a greater analytical capability in the UN Secretariat. Currently, there are too few who analyze incoming information: perhaps two or three persons to cover each continent. To compound the problem, these analytical tasks are done in addition to many other assignments within the Departments of Peace-keeping Operations and Political Affairs. Thus, what the UN needs in order to become more effective, especially in its efforts for conflict prevention and early warning, is a greater analytical capability to turn raw information into processed information targeted to meet the current needs of the organization (some would use the term "intelligence" to describe such processed information).
Given the current financial crisis and the resulting strain on staff resources, it is difficult for the UN to consider such institution-building. But once the immediate crisis has passed, there is ample reason for the Secretary-General and member states to build the UN into a stronger instrument for rapid information-gathering and preventive action in order to achieve one of the main tasks for which it was created: the maintenance international peace and security.
Appendix: Memoirs of UN Officials and Peace-keepers
The memoirs of UN staff and peace-keepers provide some of the best insights into the inner workings of the UN, as demonstrated by the use of such writings in this chapter. A bibliography is provided here.
UN Secretariat Staff (including Secretaries-General)
Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. Unvanquished: A U.S.-U.N. Saga. New York: Random House, 1999.
Lie, Trygve. In the Cause of Peace: Seven Years with the United Nations. New York: Macmillan, 1954.
Narasimhan, C.V. The United Nations: An Inside View. New Delhi: UNITAR, 1988.
Narasimhan, C.V. The United Nations at 50: Recollections. Delhi, India: Konark Publishers PVT, 1996.
Pérez de Cuéllar, Javier. Pilgrimage for Peace: A Secretary-General's Memoir. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Picco, Giandomenico. Man Without a Gun : One Diplomat's Secret Struggle to Free the Hostages, Fight Terrorism, and End a War. New York: Times Books, 1999.
U Thant. View from the United Nations. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978.
Tavares de Sá, Hernane. The Play Within the Play: An Inside Story of the UN. New York: Knopf, 1966.
Urquhart, Brian. A Life in Peace and War. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.
Waldheim, Kurt. In the Eye of the Storm. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985.
Peace-Keepers and Individuals on Secondment
Bull, Odd. War and Peace in the Middle East: The Experiences and Views of a U.N. Observer. London: L. Cooper, 1976.
Burns, E.L.M.. Between Arab and Israeli. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1962.
Dayal, Rajeshwar. Mission for Hammarskjöld. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.
Erskine, E.A.. Mission with UNIFIL: An African Soldier's Reflections. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Harbottle, Michael. The Impartial Soldier. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
Harbottle, Michael. The Blue Berets. London: Leo Cooper, 1975.
Rikhye, Indar Jit. The Sinai Blunder, Oxford & IBH Publishing Co., New Delhi, 1978.
Rikhye, Indar Jit. Military Adviser to the Secretary-General: United Nations Peace-keeping and the Congo Crisis. London: St. Martin's Press, 1993.
Siilasvuo, Ensio. In the Service of Peace in the Middle East, 1967-1979. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Von Horn, Carl. Soldiering for Peace. New York: David Mackay, 1966.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Estimates of the number of UN documents will, of course, depend on what one considers as a UN document. The current estimate is based on the restrictive definition of "parliamentary documents", almost all of which have been stored on the UN's Optical Disk System (ODS) since 1992. By March 1999, ODS had 407,300 documents in different language versions, needing170 G-bytes of computer space [Private communication, ODS Unit, UN Secretariat, 16 Mar 1999]. ODS lists between 11,000 and 14,000 documents for each year 1992-99 and most of these documents are available in the six official languages of the UN. An estimated number of printed pages is about three-quarters of a billion based on the figure of 735,843,192 page impressions for UN headquarters in 1991 provided by Peter Hajnal in Lyonette Louis-Jacques and Jeanne Korman, Introduction to International Organizations (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1996). Much UN information is now transmitted through the World Wide Web. On a typical day in 1999 (March 12), the UN transferred about 4 G-bytes of information from its websites in 144,000 requests for pages from 9,800 distinct client hosts [Private communication, UN Secretariat, 12 Mar 1999].
The "official Web site locator for the UN system of agencies" is found at .
2. Of the 65 Security Council resolutions passed in 1999, 49 resolutions (or 75 per cent) specifically requested the Secretary-General to provide reports or to keep the Council informed about a matter. Similarly, five years earlier, in 1994, 70 per cent of the 77 Security Council resolutions made such a request.
3. The Secretary-General may make statements to the Council on any question under consideration by it (Rule 22 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council (S/96/Rev.7 or Sales No. E.83.I.4)). Furthermore, the Secretary-General may raise a new issue in the Council if it is one "which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security" (Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations).
4. The proceedings of most of the Security Council's new subsidiary bodies are restricted and unavailable to the public. Furthermore, the UN Archives has a 20-year rule on public viewing of UN papers. Even then, papers older than 20 years which are marked 'confidential' or messages sent by coded cable cannot be viewed without going through a laborious and lengthy declassification procedure.
Brian Urquhart, A Life in Peace and War, (New York: Harper & Row,1987), 192-93. Khrushchev's letter can be found in the UN archives under the symbol DAG-1/188.8.131.52.1-3 #5. It is labeled "confidential" and was only declassified in 1984.
14. The six official and working languages are specified in Rule 41 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council and in Rule 51 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly. The Secretariat itself has only two working languages (English and French).
24. United States Congress, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities [Church Committee], U.S. Senate, 94 Cong., 1 Sess., Report no. 94-465 (20 November 1975).
27. The Diplomatic World Bulletin and Delegates World Bulletin (dedicated to serving the United Nations and the International Community) is published bi-weekly by Diplomatic World Bulletin Publications, Inc., New York. The UNDipomataic Times, which incorporates and replaces the newsletter International Documents Review, is published monthly by Impact Communications Consultants of New York.
29. For example, the U.S. Information Agency's Office of Research and Media Reaction in Washington provides Foreign Media Reaction: Daily Digest. It includes quotes from and summaries of the media around the world.
30. DPI also compiles weekly and monthly dossiers of analytical press articles on the UN and the activities of the Secretary-General. See Proposed Programme Budget for the Biennium 1996-1997, Part VII, Section 25, p.12 in the Official Records of the General Assembly, Fiftieth Session, Supplement No. 6; A/50/6/Rev.1.
, "The Cloak and the Blue Beret: Limitations on Intelligence in UN Peacekeeping", International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Vol. 12, No. 4 (December 1999), 414.
41. The Security Council rarely singles out specific NGOs as providers of information in its resolutions. In resolution S/RES/1013(1995) creating the International Commission, it did not refer directly to the Human Rights Watch report. Instead, it expressed "its grave concern about allegations of the sale and supply of arms and related matériel to former Rwandan government forces in violation of the embargo ...". However, it did call upon "as appropriate, international humanitarian organizations, and non-governmental organizations, to collate information in their possession relating to the mandate of the Commission". The Commission subsequently had meetings with Human Rights Watch.
43. Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch Calls for Further Investigation of Role of France and Others in Re-Arming of Former Rwandan Government Forces, Press Release of March 22, 1996. Their original report was Re-Arming with Impunity: International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide, Human Rights Watch (Washington, D.C., 1995).
44. ReliefWeb provides Situation Reports on complex emergencies (those involving human conflict) and natural disasters. The up-to-date reports from the field come from a wide variety of organizations, including UN missions and agencies and NGOs. It is located at .
St. Martin's Press, 1997), 6.
48. "Letter Dated 24 May 1994 from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, Addendum, Annexes to the Final Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to the Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), Volume I - Annexes I to V," 31 May 1995; UN Doc. S/1994/674/Add.2.