Press Releases

    DSG/SM/242
         14 January 2005

    Transcript of Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Louise  Frechette at United Nations Headquarters, 13 January 2005

    The Deputy Secretary-General: As you all know, I think, we have carried out a very comprehensive review of our security system over the last year, which culminated in the adoption, just before Christmas, in resolution 59/276, which establishes the new Department of Safety and Security, that’s a new department that combines what is currently called the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD) plus the internal security services. It professionalizes our security system, with the hope of providing much more robust protection for our people and ensuring that we can continue to operate in safe conditions in the very challenging environments in which we are very often called upon to operate.

    The General Assembly agreed with the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish the leadership of this Department at the Under-Secretary-General level. It is my great pleasure today, on behalf of the Secretary-General -- this is one of the perks of being able to act on his behalf —- to introduce, and to inform you that the Secretary-General is appointing Mr. David Veness of the United Kingdom to head that Department as Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security.

    Mr. Veness is one of the most accomplished security professionals in the field. He is currently serving as Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations, in the Metropolitan Police Service in London. He was appointed Commander in 1987, and served with the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Service until 1990. During this period, he was also responsible for security arrangements at major State and ceremonial events. In 1991, he was promoted to Deputy Assistant Commissioner, and took command of the specialist crime squads at Scotland Yard, which included organized and international crime, the fraud and flying squad, the crime operations branch and criminal intelligence. In 1994, he was promoted to Assistant Commissioner and assumed charge of all specialist operations, including protection, terrorism, security and organized crime. Mr. Veness has wide experience and hands-on background. Thus, you can imagine how pleased we are with this appointment. He will begin his term of office on 28 February.

    Finally, the Secretary-General has asked me to personally thank Catherine Bertini for her outstanding work as she served as the United Nations Security Coordinator ad interim for over 15 months. She will continue to serve as Acting Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security until Mr. Veness takes up his position, on 28 February. I think it would be appropriate to give Mr. Veness a chance to say a few words.

    Mr. Veness: May I, first of all, echo the words of the Secretary-General in relation to the contribution that Catherine Bertini has undertaken and the assistance that she has given me in assimilating the role, which is in the very early stages. I think there are probably three broad comments I would wish to make.

    One, I think this is an absolutely formidable responsibility. The more that I am briefed, the more that I begin to become aware of the global undertaking and the nature of the task that lies ahead. I would not claim for one moment to have anything other than a tenuous grip on those issues at the moment. But I am very keen to learn, and the process of briefing has been outstanding.

    Secondly, it is already apparent that the task is absolutely enormous. But, although enormous, it is relatively straightforward: it is to support and enable the mission of the United Nations, in all of its component parts, by fulfilling the vital role of ensuring the safety and security of those who are in the employ of the United Nations and, indeed, dependants and their families, across 150 countries across the world.

    Lastly, may I say that I think that the creation of the Department of Safety and Security, of which I am proud to be the first head, is an exciting, a timely and extremely welcome initiative that I think will bring the requisite professionalism to bear in respect of the enormous security challenge that the United Nations, regretfully, has to confront.

    Question: First of all, thank you very much for coming here, Deputy Secretary-General. Welcome, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association and Mr. Under-Secretary-General, welcome to the United Nations.

    Again, I throw it in a little too soon, obviously, but you have already raised the issue of security in the field. In a broad sense, particularly -- I guess, maybe, specifically -- on Iraq, but in a broader sense, since it is quite clear that humanitarian personnel are being deliberately targeted —- and it is increasing by the year -- what broad perspective can you offer to try to reverse this trend and protect people?

    Mr. Veness: I think the challenge for my team is, probably, to confront the grim reality. We would not wish it to be the case that humanitarian and other activities are in any way bedevilled by extremist, terrorist or other violent threats. But the grim reality is that that is the position.

    It seems to be a critical part of the tasks that I confront is to advise the Organization in how we might achieve some degree of balance, because, clearly, there is an imperative need to deliver the humanitarian mission. But, at the same time, we need to do that in a way that the risks that are attendant upon those who are performing those missions is to some degree managed. Clearly, as you indicate, there are key locations across the globe where that balance is more difficult to achieve than in others. I very clearly see that the task of the head of this new Department is actually in those locations, and not primarily in New York.

    Question: For Ms. Fréchette. What can you tell us about what the current assessment is of security in Iraq, in terms of opening up the new offices, getting them staffed and sending more people over there prior to elections on 30 January?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Well, we now have a significant complement in Baghdad, including a significant number of electoral workers. I think we have enough people on the ground at the moment to be able to perform our responsibilities with respect to assistance to the Iraqi Electoral Commission in preparation for the election. It was indicated a few weeks back that we were planning to reopen small offices in Irbil and Basra. We are in the process of conducting the necessary security assessment and outfitting the office for deployment of a small complement in the two locations.

    Question: Will they be open in time for the elections?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I am not sure that we will have these offices fully operational by the time of the election. But in any case, they will not have a responsibility with respect to support for the election per se.

    Question: Could you just update us on the numbers. You were talking about significant numbers overall [inaudible] election workers?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: We have over 200 people now in Baghdad. Of course, many of those are security-related staff, because we need a complement of guards for our people and our premises. But I do not know what the latest number is. Do you have the latest number?

    Mr. Dujarric: It is around 20, 25 electoral workers. But the ceiling is unchanged on substantive personnel. I think it is still at 61.

    Question: Just on facts and figures, could you remind us how big your Department is going to be —- how many operatives you are going to have in the field? I am just wondering how it is going to work. Are you going to have policy input as to how the United Nations takes decisions, and are your staff going to be gathering information, through intelligence, on the political, whatever, situations in the countries in which you are involved, which will then feed in, in some way, to policy decisions by the United Nations?

    Mr. Veness: I will start at the end of that, if I may. This is unequivocally not an information-gathering service in a political sense. The mission that I would seek to undertake as head of the team is to protect those who are engaged in the employ of the United Nations and, indeed, their families and dependents. That requires an informed view as to what the dangers are of terrorism, violence, extremism, indeed, other forms of unwanted crime. In order to form a wise view one needs information in order to do that; that is nothing unusual. That is the currency of security evaluations the world over and in any organization which deploys staff to areas where they might be in harm’s way.

    So this is not an intelligence-gathering function; this is a function to gather information in order to enhance the security of those who might be in that predicament. And you cannot make those judgements without there being some form of knowledge -- be it open source or, indeed, access to rather more covert information sources.

    As regards the structure of the Department, I would be very premature, I think, to be talking in terms of scale and numbers at the moment. The intended pyramid is built upon the existing UNSECOORD arrangements, but it includes now the arrangements for security that exist within the other component funds, agencies and programmes of the United Nations. Part of the critical task that lies ahead in the next few weeks is to bring that together, bring it shape and to bring the arithmetic of personnel who are engaged in those activities.

    What is encouraging, what is exciting, is that this is growth, this is development, and this is extra staff for the security of the United Nations mission.

    Question: Two questions. First, could you tell us whether you are going to have any responsibilities at all for security of staff in this building. From what you said, you indicated that you see a lot of your work outside this building, in the field. Do you plan yourself to go do some initial travelling to get a real feel for the job? What kind of coordination are you planning to do with different police and security organizations internationally?

    Mr. Veness: Let me address the first, initially, if I may. Certainly, the responsibility unequivocally includes the security of United Nations headquarters facilities, including this location and the outbuildings here in New York. So that is a foundation of the security responsibility. What I think is different with the Department of Safety and Security is that the responsibilities are truly and literally global. So it is wherever the United Nations footprint is to be found, wheresoever, and where there is safety of staff to be addressed, or dependents and families, then that is where the writ of responsibility runs.

    In relation to field operations, I am a practical counter-terrorist by background, and that is what I have been for a great many years. I am very clearly of the view that one needs to see the situation on the ground in the theatre, and that is precisely what I will do. I think I need to be advised as to where that would be most appropriate, but I certainly want to engage with those who are engaged in programme activities, wherever they may be -- I think, you will understand, with priority to those locations in the world were harm looks to be the most likely in the short and medium term.

    Question: Madam Fréchette, could you review again where exactly you are in the initial request for –- $97 or $99 million, $900 million -- what was it -- $100 million and 700 staff for security?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: The proposal that we put forward involved nearly $100 million-worth increase in the budget and several hundred staff. This went through a review by ACABQ, which pared it down a little bit. Then that was endorsed, essentially, by the General Assembly. So I must say we are very pleased.

    I can give you the final numbers, but it represents a significant increase in the number of staff -- some increase in New York for the coordination and the policy-making function in New York, but then a significant increase in terms of the numbers of field security officers that we will be able to deploy. That’s I think that nearly 400 posts were approved, of which 249 are established permanently, and another 134, I think, are temporary, to be reconfirmed as we go. As you can well imagine, the population of field security officers fluctuates with the requirements and the new deployments, and so on.

    I think the other thing that was very important in this reform was the unification of the various security services. Remember the McCann operation, which is that the New York Headquarters operation was part of the Department of Management; you had UNSECOORD that did field security for missions. But DPKO had responsibility for security for peacekeeping missions, civilian personnel. All of this is being unified under the leadership of Mr. Veness.

    Question: [inaudible]?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: No, no, no, we are pretty close to what we asked for. With the necessary scrutiny of ACABQ, that did pare down a little bit. But on the whole I think we are quite happy with the response of the Member States. I think it represents a significant supplementary effort on their part in terms of financing this part of the budget of the United Nations. But there was a recognition by the Member States that it was absolutely necessary to strengthen the security system of the United Nations, and they have responded in a way that we are very pleased with.

    Question: Catherine Bertini, who is leaving her post now –- is she being considered for another post at the United Nations, or will she be precluded from any appointment?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I do not know whether she is leaving. I have read rumours in the newspaper that she is, but I do not know whether she is leaving or not.

    Question: The letter that the Secretary-General sent to the General Assembly a couple of days ago regarding the compensation claims for the barrier in the West Bank -- the Palestinians are now saying that they are not interested in compensation claims; they are interested in having the wall dismantled. I wonder if you could comment on that.

    And also if you could comment on the other point about the settlements. Kieran Prendergast briefed the Security Council this morning when, and he talked about an increase in the population of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians again are saying that the United Nations keeps talking about these increases as a violation of the road map, not international law. I wonder if you could also comment on that.

    Mr. Dujarric: Keep these general questions about security and this appointment.

    One last question, and I will let the Deputy Secretary-General go.

    Question: This is for Mr. Veness. I wonder if you could clarify: your responsibility would seem to cover Iraq and the staff there. Can you tell us at this point any priorities you have, anything you can tell us about your approach there or your assessment at this point on security there?

    Mr. Veness: I think that would probably be premature at this stage. My formal appointment begins at the end of February, and clearly there are individuals who carry my responsibilities at the moment. I will vigorously examine the balance of risk in relation to all locations, including Iraq, where United Nations staff are deployed. As we have already touched upon, it is finding that difficult judgement between the essential and vital nature of the task to be performed -- which will vary, of course, from location to location -– and at the same time ensuring that there is adequate protection, balancing the risk, managing the risk, in particular venues around the world. But I think for me to form a glib judgement in relation to Iraq at the moment -– I do not think you would expect me to do that.

    Mr. Dujarric: We will let the Deputy Secretary-General go.

    Question: Mike McCann, who was the previous head of the Security and Safety Service, once said to us that the issue of another terrorist attack on New York in general, and the United Nations in particular, was not a question of if, but when. I wonder if you share that view, or is the city, this country, in the grip of a sort of a 9/11 syndrome of ramping up fear? In other words, are you aware of specific threats that have been made of an attack on United Nations Headquarters?

    Mr. Veness: It would be wrong of me to comment on specific threats, particularly to this location. I need to be better informed on that, which I am rapidly becoming. What I can comment on, because it is a job that I do at the moment, that I think all of us who are responsible for counter-terrorist activities, particularly defending western cities throughout Europe, and indeed America, are aware of the range of threats. When colleagues describe the likelihood of an attack at some stage within a span of European and North American targets as being if, not when, I would not in any way demur from that judgement. Looking at what we know of activities within western Europe, it is a reality that, had it not been for the intervention of international endeavours across, certainly western European theatre, that further attacks would have occurred in the forty months since 9/11. So you mention, are security counter-terrorists ramping this up? I regret to say that the reality is rather grim. I think we have a duty, those engaged in security, to produce a balanced view of what the reality of the threat is, it abides.

    Question: Just to clarify a little bit more about how you go about doing your job. I mean, there is obviously kind of hard perimeter security and those kind of things, but then there are... first of all, you say you are not an intelligence agency, but will there be efforts to send people out and actually try and, you know, infiltrate organizations and work out what the threats might be to the United Nations specifically? And also, will you have any input into... I mean, traditionally humanitarians have protected themselves by creating good relationships with the community around them and so forth. Will you have input into policy in terms of what kind of image the United Nations is putting forward, how its stance should be, vis-à-vis the local populations. How much is your role in that, or is it just hard?

    Mr. Veness: No, I hope it’s balanced. I’m not employed as a politician. I’m employed as a security professional in order to give honest, considered and balanced advice, and that is what I intend to do, together with those engaged in the department. Those activities in relation to creative and, as it were, pro-active intelligence gathering, I would regard, and I am sure many others would, as the proper province of host governments within their own jurisdictions. But, nevertheless, every responsibility which is borne by a major organization which has a large number of staff, needs to view the information that is available that would assist wise judgements, then to form a view of the risk and then to put measures in place which balance that risk. There is no question of eliminating the risk, even in the most peaceful city in the world. What we have got to achieve are operating circumstances which are reasonable, against the imperatives of the mission which is being performed, and in the case of the United Nations, overwhelmingly a humanitarian mission.

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