by Sandy Kendall

Corporate Donations to the War Crimes Tribunal Get Stuck in Red Tape

Sep 15, 20003 mins

How IBM's good intentions went nowhere fast.

In the summer of 1999, IBM made a generous donation of equipment to the United Nation’s war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. For Michael Johnson, it meant a crash course in the torturous subtleties of high-tech export licensing.

Johnson, Merrimack County district attorney in New Hampshire, was one of a handful of American prosecutors to go to the Tribunal to help with a backlog of cases. Working closely with the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in The Hague, Netherlands, the Americans confronted an organizational challenge far greater than most U.S. prosecution offices could imagine. It wasn’t that the caseload was that high. But the magnitude of information behind each case was staggering. “And they were doing all this with technology that has been patched together as the task has ballooned in the last three to four years,” Johnson says.

The prosecutors returned to the States determined to do something to help the two Tribunals. They formed a not-for-profit foundation called the Criminal Justice Resource Center to enable tax-deductible donations and to underwrite or organize donated shipping. Polaroid donated 20 investigative camera kits, including forensic-quality cameras and film3essentially digital cameras whose output can’t be doctored. So far so good.

Then came a real coup. IBM made a donation early in 1999, initially worth $750,000 but ultimately reaching $3 million, the largest donation from a private source to the Tribunal. Johnson says, “This would never have happened but for the dedication of John Boyle,” former consumer solution executive and public safety consultant at IBM. Boyle pushed IBM, all the way up to CEO Lou Gerstner, for the donation of four AS/400 servers, a resource used by many U.S. law enforcement organizations, along with workstations, software and training.

Doing the right thing, however, was only half the battle. Because of the Tribunal’s security needs, the AS/400 had 128-bit, or strong, encryption, and strong encryption required a special export license.

In August 1999 the servers went on display at a press conference in Boston. They were supposed to go straight from there to their new home in The Hague. They didn’t. Instead, they went straight to a storage facility in Concord, N.H., and waited there for permission to ship. Johnson and a few other prosecutors spent the next few months fussing over the required paperwork and, with the help of the office of U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer and the Department of Commerce, finally obtained an export license in October 1999.

By then, however, the Tribunal’s IT staff was reluctant to adopt the new technology during the tense home stretch of Y2K anticipation. And the shipping, also donated, would now have to wait for the Christmas rush. Meanwhile, Johnson’s group is raising money to pay for the training.

At press time, the four AS/400 servers were still safe and sound and, unfortunately, stateside.