House panel to probe UN agency's computer shipments to Iran, North Korea

A House committee announced Monday that it will probe the shipment of computers and other sophisticated equipment to North Korea and Iran via an obscure United Nations agency, after first reported that the State Department was investigating.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., announced that the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which she chairs, will move forward with its own investigation.

"The revelation that a U.N. agency has been supplying the brutal regimes in Iran and North Korea with sensitive technology is deeply disturbing, and must be thoroughly investigated," she said in a statement. "Providing these thugs with sensitive technology has the potential to enable their dangerous agendas. This serious offense cannot go overlooked or unpunished."

The congresswoman went on to say that throughout the U.N. "there is a tendency to elevate and enable brutal dictatorships while denigrating free democracies.

"Even with U.N. sanctions in place, officials at U.N. agencies have gone out of their way to flout these measures and help the outlaws in Tehran and Pyongyang," she said.

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The U.N. and U.S. have imposed sanctions against both governments aimed at blocking their development of nuclear weapons.

The U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization reportedly claims it was just shipping "standard IT equipment" and did not violate sanctions. Both the State Department and the House panel will now look into that.

The inquiries raise questions about the ways in which U.N. agencies have managed to sidestep restrictions that the world body expects the rest of the world to obey in halting the spread of sensitive technologies to nuclear-ambitious pariah regimes.

It also calls into question how much U.N. member states know about the activities of agencies they supposedly approve and supervise.

In this case, there are hints that the top official at the U.N. agency, the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, "has not yet been fully open" to the inquiries, according to a senior U.S. official.

The State Department probe came in the wake of Fox News revelations in April about the actions by WIPO in sending such sensitive equipment to North Korea by a complicated method that seemed designed to bypass U.N. Security Council sanctions against the country.

The shipments took place in late 2011 or early 2012, and were financed through the Beijing offices of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The WIPO actions also violated the sweeping restrictions of the equipment manufacturer, Hewlett-Packard, which forbids any HP equipment from being sent to such regimes.

The U.S. is a member of WIPO, yet apparently knew little or nothing about the controversial delivery of computers and sophisticated services. And within a month, the State Department discovered the problem went beyond North Korea, a spokesman said in response to questions from Fox News.

The spokesman added that State is now "working with like-minded countries" to press WIPO's director general, Australia-born Francis Gurry, to "conduct an independent, external fact-finding exercise into past WIPO projects in countries under [Security Council] sanctions" presumably to discover if there are further unpleasant surprises in store, and also to "ensure future development projects are properly reviewed prior to being approved and implemented."

In the case of Iran, the WIPO computer shipment included 20 Hewlett-Packard Compaq desktop computers, now outmoded in the U.S. but which nonetheless still gave Iran's Industrial Property Office significant computing power. In the case of North Korea, the equipment included both more sophisticated computers and data-storage servers.

As was the case in North Korea, WIPO experts made technical visits to Iran in advance of the shipments to scope out the project, help orchestrate financing and payment by the local office of UNDP in Tehran, and OK the deliveries, according to WIPO's documentation.

Fox News' George Russell contributed to this report.