By Martin McLaughlin
7 January, 1999
United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq served as a cover for US
intelligence-gathering, including efforts to track the movements of Saddam
Hussein and other key Iraqi officials, according to reports published
Wednesday by the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.
The intelligence provided by the weapons inspectors was later used to
target US air strikes during Operation Desert Fox, the US-British assault
on Iraq last month, with the aim of killing the Iraqi president.
These reports vindicate the denunciations of UNSCOM over the past
several years by Iraqi spokesmen, who have pointed to the close links
between the UN inspectorate and American and Israeli intelligence
agencies. Both the Globe and the Post confirmed that UNSCOM
collaborated extensively with the Israeli Aman (military intelligence), the
CIA and British intelligence.
One implication of these revelations is clear. As US officials demanded
ever more intrusive searches of alleged weapons facilities--which they
knew had already been effectively dismantled by the Persian Gulf war and
eight years of inspections and sanctions--they had another purpose in
mind. They were engaged in profiling the Iraqi security apparatus and
monitoring Saddam Hussein's movements, to assist in efforts to kill the
Iraqi leader, either through outright assassination, a coup attempt or as a
consequence of US air strikes.
The front-page reports on the spy role of the UN Special Commission
(UNSCOM) cited advisers to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, US
intelligence officials and former UNSCOM official Scott Ritter, the
American ex-Marine who resigned from the agency last August. Both UN
spokesmen and Clinton administration officials denied the reports, but
provided no factual refutation.
The Post quoted a source close to Annan declaring, "The
secretary-general has become aware of the fact that UNSCOM directly
facilitated the creation of an intelligence collection system for the United
States in violation of its mandate. The United Nations cannot be party to
an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most
fundamental way, that is what's wrong with the UNSCOM operation."
According to the Globe account, which was far more detailed than the
Post 's, UNSCOM's relationship with US intelligence services, always
close, underwent a significant change in February 1996. At the initiative of
Scott Ritter, UNSCOM began to target not merely alleged Iraqi nuclear,
biological and chemical weapons facilities--its mandate from the Security
Council--but also what Ritter labeled the Iraqi "concealment mechanism,"
i.e., the entire internal security and counterintelligence apparatus which is
the font of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial power.
US intelligence agencies supplied UNSCOM with high-tech equipment
that made it possible for the UN inspectors to eavesdrop on secret
communications between the elite military units responsible for Hussein's
personal security. These units, the Special Republican Guard and the
Special Security Organization, were the principal targets of the US-British
bombing raids on December 16-19.
In September 1996, then-chairman of UNSCOM, Swedish diplomat Rolf
Ekeus, complained in a letter to CIA Director John Deutch that the US
agency was not sharing the fruits of the electronic monitoring conducted by
UNSCOM inspectors on the ground in Baghdad. This was the first of a
series of clashes between UNSCOM and the CIA over control of the joint
These arguments, which reflected conflicts between rival powers on the
Security Council, especially France and Russia versus the US and Britain,
culminated in March 1998, when the CIA took over the electronic
monitoring, automating it so that UNSCOM participation was no longer
necessary. The equipment continues to function to this day, the Globe
reported, nearly a month after all UNSCOM personnel were withdrawn
from the Iraqi capital.
The Globe quotes Ritter saying that UNSCOM inspectors tracked
Saddam Hussein's own movements. "We knew a hell of a lot of
information about presidential security," he said. A Clinton administration
official all but acknowledged that UNSCOM was spying on Hussein under
cover of searching for "weapons of mass destruction." "Saddam's personal
security apparatus and the apparatus that conceals weapons of mass
destruction are one and the same," he said.
The Globe noted that the chief of Hussein's personal security operations,
Abid Hamid Makhmoud, was specifically targeted during Operation
Desert Fox. His home was blown up by a US bomb or cruise missile.
There are discrepancies between the Globe report and the Post report
which have a political significance. The Post is silent on the role of Ritter
and provides far fewer details of the electronic intelligence-gathering
operation. The Washington newspaper revealed that it had withheld such
details from an earlier article, published October 12, which first made
public the name of the CIA-UNSCOM joint venture, "Operation Shake
the Tree." The Post said that, at the CIA's request, it was continuing to
suppress these details.