Sneaking into the UN is finger-lickin' easy
At huge cost, the United Nations installed a sophisticated swipe-card security system at its headquarters in New York a couple of years back - and made the entrance points doubly secure by posting guards at them all. Who knew you could breach it just by turning up dressed like Harland "Colonel" Sanders, founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food chain?
Not only did a Col. Sanders impersonator penetrate the building a few days ago, we learned Monday that a UN guard escorted him past the security checkpoints. Little matter that the real Colonel Sanders, whose trademark white suit and string bowtie made him one of the most recognizable guys on the planet, has been dead for almost 30 years.
"It should not have happened - that I will stress, and very strongly," said Michele Montas, spokeswoman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. She said there was "some lapse in security" and that a guard, whom she insisted acted "on his own initiative," ushered the intruder "into the UN."
Oh, how his pearly white duds will have contrasted with the ubiquitous grey suits of the diplomats and government officials. Yet guards inside continued to be oblivious to the presence of the unauthorized figure. And what about the security rule that says people in restricted areas must wear their passes "on the outside of clothing" at all times? With the outfit this guy was wearing, you couldn't get a more vivid background to highlight that he had no pass.
Col. Sanders redux entered the second floor of the Secretariat building, where he got a handshake from the UN General Assembly president, Dr. Ali A. Treki of Libya. He also entered the General Assembly chamber, where he posed for a picture beneath the hall's giant UN logo. He was sat in the seat Treki himself occupies when the chamber is in session, and from which the Assembly president introduced the world's leaders last month during the UN summit.
Montas said security officials were "still trying to find out exactly what happened." Guards are shipped in from all over the world, in keeping with the international nature of the UN, so perhaps they don't have KFC where this particular one comes from. Or perhaps the "colonel" just looked so distinguished, he had to be important. Last year, even George W. Bush had to undergo a security check.
The ruse was apparently part of a KFC publicity stunt as the chain promotes a grilled alternative to its signature fried chicken. The company had a man identified as Robert Thompson dress up as Colonel Sanders, and also wrote to the Secretary General. The letter, signed by KFC president Roger Eaton, asked Ban to register the "Grilled Nation" of grilled chicken eaters as the 193rd UN member state.
This gave the UN an excuse to show indignation Monday. Montas's voice even sounded a little angry as she warned the UN could take legal action against the company. "That letter is absolutely void to us; it has no meaning whatsoever," she fumed. "The UN cannot be involved in a commercial venture. Period. This is being touched upon by our legal department."
Speaking in a similar tone was Treki's spokesman, Jean-Victor Nkolo, as he answered an inquiry about whether he could confirm the General Assembly president and the "colonel" had "met."
"I wouldn't call that a meeting," he bristled. "There was no meeting. No appointment scheduled with the actor impersonating Colonel Sanders ... there was a brief encounter with the president of the General Assembly."
He explained Treki shook the impersonator's hand because he's a "he's a very polite man, in a sense."
UN TV crews eventually raised the alarm when the impersonator approached cameras set up for diplomats and began making claims about the extent of the "Grilled Nation." At that point, additional security guards arrived and escorted him from the building. No word on whether the guard who let him in will be fried or grilled.
Steven Edwards is Canwest News correspondent in New York
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