A House panel launched an investigation Monday into whether a United Nations agency sent computers and other technology to Iran and North Korea in possible violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The Foreign Affairs Committee probe comes on the heels of a State Department review of the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization, which insisted last week that it did nothing wrong in providing "standard IT equipment" to the patent and trademark offices in the two countries. The 185-member organization focuses on patents, copyright, trademarks and designs.
Those assurances failed to mollify members of Congress.
"Providing these thugs with sensitive technology has the potential to enable their dangerous agendas," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the committee, said in a statement. "This serious offense cannot go overlooked or unpunished."
In Geneva last week, WIPO legal counsel Edward Kwakwa said none of the technology or training provided to Iran and North Korea violated U.N. Security Council sanctions. However, he said that because of American concerns the U.N. agency will "systematically refer relevant cases of technical assistance" to sanctions officials.
State Department officials were pressed on the issue last Thursday. They said they were aware of allegations that the transfer or material may have violated U.N. sanctions and they were reviewing development projects for both countries.
"We're working with both the (WIPO) director general and other member-states to institute reforms that will ensure future development projects are properly reviewed prior to being approved and implemented," said spokesman Patrick Ventrell. "And we're working in New York to ensure that the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committees play a more active role in advising international organizations on how to remain compliant with U.N. sanctions."
Last month, Rep. Howard Berman, the Foreign Affairs Committee's top Democrat, raised concerns about the transfer with Commerce Department officials.
"I have been closely following reports that WIPO officials have been transferring computers, firewalls, and other technological devices to the governments of North Korea and Iran," said the California congressman. "Needless to say we find this highly distressing, not only because it potentially violates a slew of U.N. Security Council Resolutions and very possibly our country's policies on internet freedom, but also because these technology transfers were carried out by an organization largely funded by U.S. inventors."
Teresa Stanek Rea, deputy undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and deputy director of the Patent and Trademark Office, told Berman and members of the House Judiciary Committee that the office found the allegations disappointing.
"From what I understand (WIPO) Director General Francis Gurry has not yet been fully open as to all of the issues and that more information will likely be forthcoming," Rea said. "The World Intellectual Property Organization is operating in our U.S. innovators and stakeholders best interest, but this issue is something that's particularly distressing to us at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and that in collaboration with other U.S. government agencies we will do and handle it in a way that's appropriate."
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