Not since UN officials helped Saddam Hussein literally steal his citizens’ lunch money has the United Nations been caught in a bigger scandal than what we found out this weekend.
The UN’s Gaza headquarters sat directly above Hamas’s massive intelligence station, built under the feet of top UN staff with their knowledge that the facility (if not its specific purpose) was being built the whole time. In 2014, part of the parking lot at the UNRWA complex started to sink from construction underneath. “No one talked about what was causing the collapse, but everyone knew,” a former top UNRWA official told the Wall Street Journal.
Indeed, everyone knew. A row of Hamas’s computer servers was beneath UNRWA’s own server room, with wiring running between the two in order to share electricity. Aside from the officials who had to have participated in this setup, the other UN employees were hardly in the dark: Servers aren’t quiet, and neither are the air-conditioning systems needed to keep them cool.
The Hamas center’s location was planned and deliberate. During peacetime, Israeli troops would never be anywhere near it. And even during wartime, the UN knows Israel’s army would leave its headquarters untouched. The Israelis only recently found it by following intelligence gleaned from captured Hamas terrorists. It was, therefore, essentially a joint UN-Hamas compound, constructed on-site so that the UN could protect Hamas from discovery or interference by the Israelis.
Interference in what? Well, we found that out on October 7.
There are certain similarities between this scandal and the oil-for-food scandal mentioned above. In 1996, Iraq was under international sanctions. The UN allowed Baghdad to sell oil in order to keep food stores stocked for Iraqi civilians hurt by the sanctions. Saddam Hussein took advantage of the opening to sell oil contracts to firms who’d agree to kick back some of the money to the dictator. Further, the head of the UN’s oil-for-food program was found to have helped friends obtain contracts.
That last part is an important detail. Like oil-for-food, the UNRWA scandal implicates the agency’s top officials. The higher up the UNRWA food chain you are, the more likely you are to have aided a terrorist group that massacred 1,200 people, raped untold victims, murdered children, and took hundreds hostage.
What does that mean specifically for American policy? First and foremost, the temporary suspension of aid to UNRWA should be made permanent. It’s not clear it would even be legal to do otherwise. In response to the oil-for-food scandal, U.S. law enforcement agencies and congressional committees investigated American companies for trade violations and other transgressions in helping Hussein circumvent sanctions through corrupt arrangements. Regarding UNRWA, Congress should investigate in as detailed a way as possible how American money to the UN was spent. Violations of anti-terrorism laws as well as international agreements should also be investigated and prosecuted. The UN’s Turtle Bay headquarters should be stripped of its extraterritoriality and treated as being fully under U.S. jurisdiction to enable a proper investigation. And if the secretary-general doesn’t like it he can move the headquarters to Canada, where it belongs, at his earliest convenience.
Americans were killed and taken hostage in the October 7 attacks and, in the aftermath, Americans were killed by Hamas’s patrons. Nothing about this is theoretical.
Finally, there needs to be a stronger mechanism for probing the UN. The organization does appoint “independent” investigators occasionally, but the chairman of the independent inquiry in the oil-for-food scandal was Paul Volcker, who had been director of the United Nations Association in the U.S.—hardly an impartial observer.
The United States is the largest donor to the United Nations, accounting for about a fifth of its overall budget. The UN was complicit in an attack that killed three-dozen Americans. Let a tidal wave of consequences wash away the rot and the corruption that have been left to fester for too long.