- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | At least 20 U.N. outposts in dangerous corners of the world suffer from inadequate security despite rising threats to the organization, the U.N. director of security says.

Gregory B. Starr, a former State Department security specialist named as U.N. security coordinator a little more than three months ago, cited U.N. offices in Iraq and Afghanistan for particular concern.

He also classified outposts in Somalia, Sudan’s Darfur region, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon as dangerous spots for U.N. international and local staff.

Mr. Starr spent much of his first three months on the job assessing the needs of U.N. bureaus in Africa, Asia and even New York City. Having completed an initial review, he told The Washington Times that he was especially concerned with security conditions in at least 20 U.N. sites.

He offered his assessment to The Washington Times a year and a half after a deadly car bomb leveled the U.N. headquarters in Algeria.

The Dec. 11, 2007, attack in the capital city of Algiers killed 22 people, including 17 U.N. staffers. A local insurgent group claiming to be affiliated with al Qaeda took responsibility for the blast.

The U.N. Department for Safety and Security “is responsible for 145,000 staff and consultants around the world,” Mr. Starr said. “We owe it to them to minimize the risks they face.”

Before joining the United Nations, Mr. Starr worked with the State Department to protect U.S. embassies and personnel abroad, and to ensure that foreign officials and diplomats were protected while visiting the United States.

The specter of terrorist attacks has prompted many U.N. agencies and programs to beef up security. Often, they hire security contractors to help deliver and distribute humanitarian goods, to relocate mission staff to more stable neighboring countries, and to develop protocols for movement and protection in dangerous postings.

The danger has risen dramatically over the past decade as radical Islamists have grown increasingly suspicious of the United Nations and many of its goals.

In addition, many developing countries see the United Nations as an arm of the U.S. government, a fact noted by veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who said the blue U.N. flag is now more of a target than a safety blanket.

Just as bollards and blast walls have gone up near U.N. offices in remote locations, the organization has bumped up security at its New York headquarters by installing electronic gates that swing open only with the swipe of a valid U.N. ID card.

When the iconic U.N. headquarters building is remodeled, blast-proof windows will make up its exterior walls.

The Algiers bombing was the second major assault on U.N. property this decade.

In August 2003, Iraqi insurgents drove a truckload of explosives onto a small road behind the U.N. compound in Baghdad. The attack killed 22 people, including Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. official in Iraq.

Eager to avoid another Baghdad- or Algiers-type tragedy, the organization has run one investigation after another to ascertain what went wrong.

To date, there have been three critical reports on facts and faults in Algeria, none of which was formally released to the public.

The first, written by the former head of security in the weeks after the December 2007 bombing, laid out a compelling timeline illustrating how the security coordinator in Algiers repeatedly begged New York for reinforcements, and also appealed through a U.N. intermediary to the Algerian government to shut down a small street in front of the building.

A copy of that report was obtained by The Times.

Mr. Starr said a half-dozen safety and security officers were disciplined after the third report, mostly for failing to follow U.N. security rules. The organization will not confirm their names.

The chief of U.N. security at the time, David Veness, issued a letter of resignation but stayed on for the six months it took to recruit his successor, Mr. Starr.

Mr. Veness’ deputy, longtime security administrator Diana Russler, took early retirement.

Marc de Bernis, the senior U.N. Development Program officer and de facto liaison between Algiers and the United Nations at the time of the bombing, was reassigned to Brussels.

The U.N. security coordinator in Algiers, Babacar Ndiaye of Senegal, was killed in the blast that he had tried to prevent.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has returned to Algiers with a full program but is working in a safer location, Mr. Starr said.

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