"Spying on Saddam"
Airdate: April 27, 1999
Produced by Stephen Talbot
NARRATOR: Last December President Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq to punish Saddam Hussein for failing to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors. Saddam survived the four-day bombing, but the U.N. inspection program he defied might not.
Since the end of the Gulf War, UNSCOM, the U.N. weapons inspection team, has been searching out and destroying Iraq's deadly arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and confronting the Iraqi authorities who tried to stop them.
SCOTT RITTER: [to Iraqi official] If you don't give us immediate access to this, it's going to be null and void! Do you want that?
NARRATOR: The Iraqis accuse the weapons inspectors of really being spies for the West. Now one of UNSCOM's own inspectors is saying the U.N. team was infiltrated by the CIA and fatally compromised.
SCOTT RITTER: In the end, the United States took over the whole program. UNSCOM wasn't in control of anything. It became a United States operation, not a United Nations operation.
RICHARD HAASS, Former Adviser to President Bush: These charges have done UNSCOM, the United States and indeed, I would think, most of the civilized world, a great disservice.
Tonight on FRONTLINE, the story of UNSCOM, a story of spies, Saddam, and his secret weapons.
Pres. GEORGE BUSH: This nation has watched its sons and daughters with pride. And as president, I can report to the nation aggression is defeated. The war is over.
NARRATOR: But when the Gulf war ended, Saddam Hussein and his elite military units were still in power. Saddam controlled huge stockpiles of deadly weapons. It would be left to the United Nations to deal with the threat Iraq still posed to the world.
In April, 1991, the Security Council voted to create UNSCOM, a special commission to find and dismantle Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. U.N. Resolution 687 imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, declaring that they would remain in force until the regime eliminated all those weapons.
THOMAS PICKERING, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: [at U.N. session] This resolution is unique and historic. It fulfills the hope of mankind to make the United Nations an instrument of peace and stability. This is a time of testing for the United Nations, and a time of destiny, as well.
NARRATOR: The oil fields of Kuwait were still burning when the first U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad to begin their unique mission. No international arms agency had ever attempted to disarm a country against its will.
One of UNSCOM's first assignments was to investigate Iraq's nuclear weapons program. An American, David Kay, led the team.
DAVID KAY, Former Inspector, UNSCOM: We were going to use the full powers we had under Resolution 687. We were going to carry out a zero-, no-notice inspection because otherwise we weren't going to find anything.
So we suddenly appeared at the gate of a military facility at a place called Abu Ghraib and demanded access. The poor commander of the base that day said, "I have no orders to let you in," but he made what turned out to be a genuinely fatal mistake for him. He said, "You can put up as many members of your team as you want to on this water tower, which is right inside the gate."
NARRATOR: The inspectors on the water tower spotted Iraqi trucks slipping out the back gate. Kay immediately ordered his team to chase after them.
INSPECTOR: Go get 'em, Pee Wee! Go get 'em, boy! Folks, this is cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians in the desert.
NARRATOR: The U.N. Land Rovers caught up with the trucks and tried to pull them over. The Iraqis refused to stop.
DAVID KAY: In the process, the Iraqis decided to fire shots over their head, but we did get the photographs. And the photographs are damning as to what the Iraqis were doing.
NARRATOR: The photographs showed the trucks were carrying calutrons -giant iron magnets which can be used to enrich uranium.
DAVID KAY: Well, this was the proof that no one could deny. It was physical evidence of a very, very large uranium enrichment program. And it was also the evidence of concealment, that from the very beginning, the Iraqis had not been living up to their obligations. And you couldn't deny that.
[at Iraqi military site] You are in serious violation, a flagrant violation of Resolution 687, and it will be up to the Security Council and the Secretary General of the United Nations to determine how they will react.
NARRATOR: The inspectors learned that Saddam's nuclear scientists had made a feverish attempt to build at least one crude atomic bomb in time for the Gulf War. Saddam's chief bomb maker, Dr. Khidir Hamza, later defected to the West.
Dr. KHIDIR HAMZA, Iraqi Nuclear Scientist: Yes, there was a program to- that's called the "crash program," to use the French fuel, which is bomb-grade, what contains bomb-grade uranium, extract the uranium out of it. The process of cutting the fuel and preparations started, and the bomb model was made, a complete bomb mock-up without the fuel. It was a little too big.
NARRATOR: When the war started, Iraq was still trying to miniaturize the bomb into a warhead that could be carried on a missile.
KHIDIR HAMZA: It was close. They had the mock-up. All they needed was the fuel, and the fuel was there. All they needed was to process it. But it was not a deliverable weapon.
DAVID KAY: It turned out they had spent over $10 billion in the 1980s to develop a program that explored practically every known way to enrich uranium and to craft a nuclear weapon. This was not a small program. It was one that was so extensive that, as an inspector, when you faced it, your mind just boggled.
NARRATOR: In September, 1991, David Kay led another surprise raid, this time invading a government building in downtown Baghdad, where his team discovered a hidden archive of documents detailing Iraq's plans to make an atomic weapon.
DAVID KAY: We suddenly were in the building, and the Iraqis realized we had the damning evidence, the full extent of their program, which even then we didn't know. And this laid out exactly in black and white that they were proceeding to produce a nuclear weapon.
They kicked us out of the building, literally by force, and said, "You can leave the parking lot, but you're not taking these documents." We said, "If the documents don't go, we're not leaving the parking lot."
NARRATOR: The Iraqis hauled off the originals, but UNSCOM inspectors held on to their photographs of the documents. The confrontation continued through the night.
DAVID KAY: [to Iraqi official] Photography is particularly permitted under 687, under the agreement we have signed with you, and I am not prepared to turn over film. They're our documents.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: I'm afraid you'll have to, because I will not let you leave until you turn over the films.
DAVID KAY: Then you're in a for a very long situation.
NARRATOR: The stand-off lasted four days. The weapons inspectors were held hostage in the parking lot outside the building.
UNSCOM INSPECTOR: [to Iraqi official] Last night was unacceptable, but this is more unacceptable. We gave you back the documents. I got people, he's got people lined up in the sun. We're ready to go, and there are two cars blocking our way. We are inspectors. We want out!
NARRATOR: The United States declared it was prepared to intervene militarily on behalf of UNSCOM.
RICHARD HAASS, Former Adviser to President Bush: The only reason Saddam Hussein was going to comply with UNSCOM was because he feared the American-led military reaction. And UNSCOM knew this, as well. They knew that we would not leave them in the lurch.
NARRATOR: The threat of force worked.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: [to UNSCOM inspectors] I hope there is a decision that will at least alleviate this agonizing situation for you and for me. Okay? Please. Please!
NARRATOR: In the end, the inspectors were allowed to leave with all their evidence.
DAVID KAY: When I came out of that parking lot raid, I went back to a private member- meeting of the Security Council, all members of the Security Council. The first two states to speak in support of what we had done after I finished a briefing were Cuba and Yemen, neither states generally friendly to the United States nor personally friendly to me at any time in my career. But they were united. This was not something led by the United States or the British. There was a strong Security Council purpose.
NARRATOR: But that sense of purpose would soon begin to fade.
ROBIN WRIGHT, "Los Angeles Times," Middle East Analyst and Author: Within a year the United States began to see deep fissures in the coalition that it had built, with three critical members of the Security Council - China, Russia and France - all beginning to call for some kind of easing of sanctions and to review the entire process.
They all had economic interests that were more important than the regional security threat. China and France both looked for economic deals, both for reconstruction of Iraq and in the oil business. And for Russia- of course, it was owed billions from Saddam Hussein for weapons it had bought before the Gulf war.
RICHARD HAASS: And you've got to remember, when Resolution 687 was written after the Gulf war, in the back of people's minds this was not a 10-year resolution. People were thinking in terms of months. It was very telescoped. And I think the willingness, almost the psychological preparation of the international community, was fairly short-term.
NARRATOR: In the summer of 1992, a year after coming to Baghdad, UNSCOM launched a major inspection at Iraq's Ministry of Agriculture. But this time the inspectors would find they could no longer rely on solid support from the Security Council. One of the inspectors that day was an American, Scott Ritter.
SCOTT RITTER: First target we hit, agricultural ministry. Surround it, and the Iraqis say, "You can't come in." "This is a ministry. This is a symbol of our national sovereignty." And we said, "All right, you want to play that game? We're parking. We're surrounding it. Nobody's going in and out unless they run through our inspectors." The Iraqis went, "All right, we'll play that."
And we said, "Okay." "Security Council, they're not letting us in." Nothing. Day goes by. "Excuse me, gentlemen. We're parked out in front of the agriculture ministry. They're not letting us in. We want to do an inspection." Silence. Nothing.
UNSCOM INSPECTOR: [at agriculture ministry] We are still out here, and we are still awaiting a decision from New York with result to the deliberations that will go on today in the Security Council level as to what our next step is.
SCOTT RITTER: Now the situation starts to deteriorate because the Iraqis are looking around, going, "Nothing's happening. All right, let's jack up the pressure." Demonstrations started occurring, first small demonstrations. Then as each day goes by, the demonstrations get bigger and bigger and bigger, until we literally have thousands of Iraqis storming the agricultural ministry, egging our cars, throwing rotten vegetables at us, shaking the cars. And the Security Council's doing nothing! Zero!
And ultimately, we got to a situation where the Iraqi security service brought in somebody who tried to stab an inspector through a window. And at that point, the lives of the inspectors were at risk, and we had no other choice than to withdraw the team.
UNSCOM INSPECTOR: [at agriculture ministry] We're leaving here now for security reasons.
NARRATOR: UNSCOM was now stymied. It had to find a new way of doing business. To hunt down the weapons Iraq was hiding, UNSCOM decided it must act more like an intelligence agency.
DAVID KAY: It became necessary because the Iraqis did not live up to their obligations under the resolution to declare everything they had and let the inspectors go in and identify, tag it, and destroy it. Once you were dealing in a clandestine, competitive environment, you needed access to satellite photography, access to signals intercepts.
NARRATOR: One of UNSCOM's most important tools became the U-2, the world's most famous spy plane, the same plane the U.S. flew over Russia during the cold war. Using a U-2 on loan from the CIA, UNSCOM collected surveillance photos of Iraq.
DAVID KAY: I'm happy to say I don't think I would have ever found anything without information being provided from satellite photography and by other means as to how the Iraqis were playing the shell game of moving material around.
SCOTT RITTER: We fly the U-2 aircraft over Iraq. Now, in the old days, that was called spying. The Russians shot down a U-2 aircraft over Sverdlovsk for doing the same thing. But for us, it's a mandated activity. But you don't- I mean, what do you do, pick up the phone and call the United Nations photographic interpretation center? "Hi. Yeah. How many people do you have that are experienced in looking at U-2 photographs? None? Gee, sorry," because there is no such organization.
If you want to look at photographs, you have to get people who do it for a living, and they come from governments. Now, who in governments look at photographs from U-2 aircraft for a living? People who work in intelligence organizations, either civilian organizations or military. So we recruit those kind of people, bring them in to help us.
NARRATOR: In New York, the Chairman of UNSCOM, a soft-spoken Swedish diplomat named Rolf Ekeus, found himself doing something the U.N. had never done before: assembling a staff of intelligence agents.
INTERVIEWER: You, with the United Nations behind you, were running a kind of international intelligence operation.
ROLF EKEUS, Former Chairman, UNSCOM: Yes. Well, one could say- information gathering, I would prefer to call it.
NARRATOR: One of the first people Ekeus had hired was Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer. During the Gulf war, Ritter served on the staff of General Norman Schwarzkopf, where he disputed his commander's claims about the number of Iraqi SCUD missiles the allies had destroyed.
Gen. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: [Gulf war briefing] I would like to report to you that using similar tactics last night in western Iraq, we also attacked and destroyed three SCUD-
SCOTT RITTER: My job was to report to the chain of command how effective they were in killing SCUDs. And my assessment, based upon my analysis, said we weren't very effective at all, and that's the report I delivered.
BARTON GELLMAN, "The Washington Post": Scott Ritter was the guy, in effect, who sent the message up the chain to General Schwarzkopf that missiles he said he destroyed at yesterday's news conference were not missiles at all. And he stood by that, even when his superiors made clear that that was not the right answer.
NARRATOR: Ritter had also been an arms control inspector in the former Soviet Union, where he met and later married a Russian government translator, a marriage that set off alarms in the U.S. intelligence community.
BARTON GELLMAN: If you marry a foreign national, especially a foreign national who once had some vague relationship with a foreign intelligence service, it raises questions. It is a reason why the Marines declined to renew his security clearance.
SCOTT RITTER: I knew that by marrying my wife I would probably have terminated any chance of ever continuing an intelligence relationship with the United States. Even though I was a darn good intelligence officer, that part of my life was over.
NARRATOR: But UNSCOM didn't seem to mind his checkered past. Rolf Ekeus thought Ritter was a brilliant inspector, both aggressive and creative.
BARTON GELLMAN: Ekeus saw Ritter as someone who needed to be controlled, a guy who had a thousand ideas and 800 of them were bad, but he more than made up for that with the 200 that were good.
NARRATOR: Ritter went to work for UNSCOM in 1991, at first interpreting the U-2 surveillance photos. He soon became dissatisfied with the quality of the photo analysis he was receiving from the CIA, so with the permission of his boss, Rolf Ekeus, Ritter took the photos to a rival intelligence agency.
BARTON GELLMAN: What Scott wanted to do, and what he did do, was take pictures to Israel and say, "Here's a picture of a building. Here's what we know about the building. What do you know about this building?" And the Israelis could add information that they had from other data sources. They might say, "Well, we know that so and so works there," or "We know that such and such a cargo went in or out." And you put this together, and eventually you learn a great deal. Now, of course, the Israelis were getting something out of this, too. They were getting access to American imagery.
NARRATOR: But as usual, Ritter's bold idea was ruffling some feathers, especially at the CIA.
SCOTT RITTER: Now, some people in the U.S. Government understood why we were doing it and concurred. Others in the U.S. Government were dead set against it because they started losing control of the process. Information is power, and in this case the United States had lost control of the flow of information to UNSCOM.
NARRATOR: UNSCOM was pleased with the U-2 photo analysis and the other intelligence provided by Israel. But on the ground, UNSCOM inspectors were frustrated. When they arrived at a suspected weapons site, it would invariably be empty. The Iraqis insisted they were no longer concealing any banned weapons. They wanted UNSCOM to go home.
ROBIN WRIGHT, "Los Angeles Times," Middle East Analyst and Author: In 1995, Saddam Hussein actually appeared to be winning in his strategy of "cheat and retreat." He had actually managed to hide so many of his weapons that many of the U.N. weapons inspectors thought that he had turned over most of them. But the defection changed everything.
NARRATOR: In August, 1995, Hussein Kamel, a high-ranking Iraqi general, announced at a press conference in Amman, Jordan, that he had defected. Kamel was Saddam Hussein's son-in-law. He was also the commander of the SSO, the special security organization that guarded Saddam. The SSO was the same elite military unit that was hiding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
In Jordan, Kamel began to tell UNSCOM about a vast arsenal of weapons it had failed to uncover, and how the Iraqis were hiding them.
HUSSEIN KAMEL: [through interpreter] [courtesy of CNN] We were ordered to hide everything from the beginning, and indeed much information was hidden, and many files were destroyed in the nuclear, chemical and biological programs. These were not individual acts of concealment, but the result of direct orders from the Iraqi leadership.
BARTON GELLMAN, "The Washington Post": Now, Hussein Kamel's defection tells UNSCOM that not only have they been missing something, but they've been missing a huge, huge amount of what they were supposed to be finding, way more than they had ever suspected.
SCOTT RITTER: And it's out there, laid before the world. Iraq is cheating. Iraq is lying. Iraq has not complied, and not complied in a big way. What are you going to do about it? Now all the brakes are off. Ekeus said, "Go."
NARRATOR: One of the first places UNSCOM struck was Al Hakam. Hussein Kamel had said that this was Iraq's top-secret germ warfare production facility. The Iraqis had steadfastly denied having any biological weapons program.
But here the UNSCOM inspectors discovered Russian-built fermenters used to produce anthrax and growth medium used to grow biological toxins. The inspectors buried 17 tons of it, and then blew up the entire facility.
Next Rolf Ekeus unleashed Scott Ritter. Ritter's idea was to crack the Iraqi wall of concealment by launching a series of aggressive, highly intrusive inspections. Now a chief inspector, he would fire up his team before they went into action.
SCOTT RITTER: Basically, what I said is, "Look, when we go into Iraq, they're going to try and intimidate you. To them, fear is like blood around a shark. They smell fear, they're going to come at you. They're going to come at you hard, and they're going to try and make you lose focus on what you want to do. They're going to bring out guns. They're going to yell. They're going to posture."
And I said, "It isn't going to work with this team because there's only going to be one alpha dog in country, and that's me. When the Iraqis come at you with their tail up, my tail goes higher. When they growl, I growl louder. When they bark, I jump on them and I kick them to the ground because I'm in charge, and you work for me."
[to Iraqi official] This is now a proscribed activity. We're coming up on one half an hour denied access.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: [unintelligible]
SCOTT RITTER: We- the modality clearly states that we will be allowed immediate access- [crosstalk]
IRAQI OFFICIAL: You know that inside there is a- a-
SCOTT RITTER: I know nothing!
IRAQI OFFICIAL: -a civilian camp-
SCOTT RITTER: I know nothing!
IRAQI OFFICIAL: [unintelligible]
SCOTT RITTER: All I know is I want to go down this road, and I'm being told I can't!
[to interviewer] "As long as I'm standing there, proud, in charge, in control, you don't have to worry about a thing. Don't worry about anything else that's going around you because I'm in charge. I'm the alpha dog. And when they situation calms down, I'm going to turn you on task, and I want you perform."
[to Iraqi official] Right now, we're in violation. Therefore we have to assume that something's happening down there.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: What happen?
SCOTT RITTER: I have no idea. That's why we're filming.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: No, I thought that you are looking for this guard because we are told that-
SCOTT RITTER: We're filming this. We're filming- see this roadblock? See that guard with the gun? That's a violation.
NARRATOR: Ritter called this new campaign "Shake the Tree." Its real purpose was to try to find out how Iraq was concealing its weapons.
First Ritter's team would arrive unannounced and stir up the Iraqis. At the same time, high above, a U-2 plane would photograph the raid, trying to spot any suspicious Iraqi movements. On the ground, the inspectors monitored Iraqi radio traffic using listening devices provided by the CIA. To carry out this sophisticated intelligence operation, Ritter would rely on a team of CIA operatives led by an agent he calls "Moe Dobbs."
SCOTT RITTER: Some of the CIA's best operational planners come from their covert actions branch, para-military specialists who do a number of things- plot coups, but also know how to operate in hostile territory, get things done. "Moe Dobbs" was such a person, a senior member of this CIA element who worked with UNSCOM to help us carry out inspections, to get intelligence sent to us and help us operationalize this intelligence.
I had a very close relationship with this guy and his team, very professional. But he also is a CIA employee. Rolf Ekeus knew this. We didn't talk about it. It was just one of those things. You know, you said- you asked for this capability, this is what you get.
DAVID KAY, Former Inspector, UNSCOM: I realized it was always a bargain with the devil. Spies spy. The longer it continued, the more the intelligence agencies would, often for very legitimate reasons, decide that they had to use the access they got through cooperation with UNSCOM to carry out their missions.
NARRATOR: The deeper the relationship grew, the more UNSCOM began asking itself who were the CIA operatives really working for?
SCOTT RITTER: On one occasion, I uncovered activity that I viewed as being suspicious, and that it was being done on behalf of the United States. The deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Deulfer, is an American, the senior American. So I went to him with my concerns, and I laid it out, and I said, "Charles, this is what I think's happening. What are we going to do about it?"
Well, his response was, "Scott, I can't talk about it, and my advice to you is to stop digging, son, because you're getting into national security areas, and if you keep moving, you'll have a problem with the FBI. It's a law enforcement problem. It's espionage, and you'll lose that game."
NARRATOR: And there were growing conflicts between Ritter and the CIA over who would control certain operations.
In late 1995, the Israelis tipped Ritter that the Iraqis had dumped crucial parts for long-range missiles in the Tigris River near Baghdad. UNSCOM hired local divers to scour the river bottom, and they turned up dozens of Russian-made gyroscopes the Iraqis were trying to hide from the inspectors. It was a coup for UNSCOM.
ROLF EKEUS, Former Chairman, UNSCOM: [press conference] So there it is. It is taken out of the river. It has been in the water three months, roughly. It is very beautiful. If you open up, inside it is very beautiful technology, I can tell you, very beautiful.
NARRATOR: Ritter, acting on information from the Israelis, tried to intercept another shipment of Russian gyroscopes at the Jordanian border, planning to track them back into Iraq. But the CIA stepped in and confiscated the devices. The agency was reportedly worried that the gyroscopes might actually fall into Iraqi hands. They were also worried about Ritter's close relationship with Israeli intelligence. Ritter was furious.
SCOTT RITTER: We ran head to head with the bureaucratic self-interest of a number of agencies and organizations who viewed us as competition. They weren't there to facilitate the work of UNSCOM, they were there to kill UNSCOM. Why? Because UNSCOM was on their turf. We became- it became a turf war.
[to Iraqi official] I request that you contact Mr. Tariq Aziz and tell him that you are in the process of scrapping the joint program of action, okay?
IRAQI OFFICIAL: I am not in the process of scrapping-
SCOTT RITTER: If you don't give us-
IRAQI OFFICIAL: -the joint program.
SCOTT RITTER: -immediate access in there, it's going to be null and void. Do you want that on your shoulders?
NARRATOR: Ritter was struggling with the CIA and the Iraqis, who now were accusing UNSCOM of spying.
SCOTT RITTER: [to Iraqi official] You're blocking the camera [unintelligible]
IRAQI OFFICIAL: No. You want- [crosstalk] You want to help them, and you want to [unintelligible]
SCOTT RITTER: That's a false accusation, a false accusation. I want to conduct an inspection.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: So what is your justification, then?
SCOTT RITTER: I have to provide you with no justification.
NARRATOR: What was rattling the Iraqis was that UNSCOM was now trying to inspect presidential palaces and other so-called "sensitive sites," which housed Saddam and his elite guard, the SSO.
Dr. KHIDIR HAMZA, Iraqi Nuclear Scientist: Saddam used his own special security organization to be in charge of the weapons systems. Now, if you spy on the SSO to try to find where the weapons is, you get some extra information. And this is what happened in many cases. Gradually, you have to get in deeper and deeper into the layers of the Iraqi government, and closer and closer to Saddam, to know what's going on.
RICHARD BUTLER, Chairman, UNSCOM: Exactly the same military units that whisked away weapons or weapons-related materials when we were getting close to them were the same guys who protect the president. So that's rough water for us to get into.
NARRATOR: Australian Richard Butler took over as chairman of UNSCOM in 1997. He was determined to keep the pressure on Iraq.
RICHARD BUTLER: They have an enormous bureaucracy established for the purpose of defeating UNSCOM. I mean, Tariq Aziz directs this. And there's no question that for every person we would put into the field, they would have 10. I mean, I wonder whether it's not the second largest industry in Iraq, after the oil industry. I mean, it's a very big show.
NARRATOR: In the beginning, Butler continued to authorize aggressive UNSCOM inspections. In September, 1997, he approved a surprise inspection of an Iraqi food laboratory suspected of running tests on biological weapons. The raid was led by inspector Diane Seaman.
SCOTT RITTER: She caught them. She intimidated them. She was the alpha dog. She opened up the briefcases and started rifling through, and the first thing she sees is the letterhead of the Special Security Organization. And she starts flapping through, and she sees biological activity staff of the SSO. Man! Looked through more- clostridium perfringens, gaseous gangrene, something the Iraqis had weaponized, a prohibited toxin. No further questions. Locks it up, hands the briefcases to one of her inspectors, says, "Take them down to the car, and get out of here."
NARRATOR: They now had the first hard evidence that the SSO was developing biological weapons. Ritter and Seaman confronted the Iraqi authorities with their discovery.
SCOTT RITTER: So after a while, I interrupt the meeting and I say, "We can do it the easy way, or we can do it the hard way. The easy way is, we ask a question, you answer it to our satisfaction, and we'll confine this discussion to this room, and we'll be done tonight. The hard way is, we ask a question, you don't answer it to our satisfaction, and then we're going to run a night inspection. And I'm telling you, you're not going to like it." [www.pbs.org: Read Ritter's full interview]
NARRATOR: The Iraqis refused to talk, so Ritter retaliated. A convoy of 14 UNSCOM vehicles set out at night through the streets of Baghdad, headed for a showdown at the offices of the SSO. As they closed in on their target, the lead car, recording the action on a video camera, got separated.
SCOTT RITTER: Light turns yellow at that point, so he accelerates through. As he accelerates, an Iraqi Special Republican Guard, one of the elite troops protecting Saddam Hussein, who's supposed to be manning this roadblock, had apparently been snoozing on the side, wakes up and goes, "My God, cars!"
NARRATOR: The Iraqis caught and blocked the lead car. Back at the intersection, an armed soldier confronted Ritter.
SCOTT RITTER: The guy's screaming, getting ready to shoot, and I'm thinking, "That's it. We're dead." Meanwhile, another guy comes up, a Special Security Organization uniformed officer, pulls his pistol, points it at this Iraqi colonel, then points it at me. He's got it leveled at my head, and he's going back and forth. The soldier's going back and forth, screaming at the top of the voice. And I'm thinking, "This is really interesting."
We got it calmed down, and we were able to get people focused on the matter at hand, which was, do we- are we going to be allowed to proceed to the Al Hyatt building? The answer, in short, was no. But it was a tough situation, and it's about the closest, I think, we came to getting a lot of people killed.
NARRATOR: The Iraqis were furious. Accusing Ritter and the American inspectors of spying, they threatened to shoot down the U-2 flights, and expelled all the Americans. Richard Butler then pulled out the entire UNSCOM contingent. And the American president threatened war.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [November 14, 1997] This is a crisis of Saddam's making. It can be unmade only when he can no longer threaten the international community with weapons of mass destruction.
NARRATOR: But at the last minute the Russians intervened, convincing their old friends, the Iraqis, to back down. Immediately, the inspectors returned. Ritter was back in action. He was hot on the trail of a report that the Iraqis had tested biological and chemical agents on inmates at this prison. But once again the Iraqis blocked Ritter's inspection and denounced him as a spy.
REPORTER: [January 14, 1998, press conference] When you were mentioning Scott Ritter on Monday trying to find evidence of experimentation on human beings, can you say at any time whether in the 1980s or the 1990s-
TARIQ AZIZ, Iraq Foreign Minister: Never.
REPORTER: -whether or not Iraq ever-
TARIQ AZIA: Never. This is a sheer lie. It was used as a pretext to enter into that site.
NARRATOR: Richard Butler once again recalled all the U.N. inspectors.
SCOTT RITTER: [in Iraq] The departure of this team in no way reflects a change in UNSCOM's determination to conduct inspections or to have these inspections led by an inspectors of the executive chairman's choosing, to include myself. We'll be back.
NARRATOR: In Washington, the president again threatened military action if Saddam did not back down.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [February 10, 1998] The choice is up to Saddam Hussein. Let the weapons inspectors back on the job with free and unfettered access. But if Saddam will not comply with the will of the international community, we must be prepared to act.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, SECRETARY OF STATE: [town hall meeting] -and that there is no one that has done to his people or to his neighbors what Saddam Hussein has done or- [audience jeers]
NARRATOR: President Clinton dispatched his top foreign policy advisers to a town hall meeting at Ohio State University to marshal public support for a U.S. military strike against Saddam Hussein.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: -therefore he is qualitatively and quantitatively different from every brutal dictator that has appeared recently. And we are very concerned about him, specifically, and what his plans might be.
1st AUDIENCE MEMBER: What do you have to say about dictators in countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to, yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor? What do you have to say about Israel, who is slaughtering Palestinians, who imposed martial law? What do you have to say about that? Those are our allies. Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when it commits similar problems?
2nd AUDIENCE MEMBER: We are not going to be able to stop Saddam Hussein. We are not going to be able to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction, all of them. President Clinton admitted it. All he wants to do, Clinton said, was send a message to Saddam Hussein. We, the people of Columbus and central Ohio and all over America, will not send messages with the blood of Iraqi men, women and children! If we want to deal with Saddam, we deal with Saddam, not the Iraqi people! [audience cheers, boos]
ROBIN WRIGHT, "Los Angeles Times," Middle East Analyst and Author: The Town Hall meeting at Ohio State really was a tremendous embarrassment for the administration. It was clear that the administration hadn't done a very good job in bringing the public along. It was also clear that Saddam Hussein's propaganda had actually had an impact inside the United States, as well.
NARRATOR: With war no longer a political option, the U.S. supported U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's mission to Baghdad to negotiate a compromise which allowed the inspectors back in but restricted their access to sensitive sites. Annan returned home to a hero's welcome. UNSCOM inspectors felt let down, but the Clinton administration was actually relieved.
ROBIN WRIGHT: I think the United States was frankly exhausted by this ongoing confrontation with Saddam Hussein. He'd win a round, and then the West would win a round. It was back and forth. And it was becoming incredibly costly. Twice the U.S. had to send additional troops to the region, and maintain a strong military presence. It was costly. It wasn't very popular. The coalition basically was falling apart.
SCOTT RITTER: [to Iraqi official] I protest this, and I declare it as a violation of the modalities. And we will-
IRAQI OFFICIAL: No, please- [crosstalk]
SCOTT RITTER: Then let us go this way.
IRAQI OFFICIAL: No.
NARRATOR: With the U.S. no longer eager for a military confrontation with Saddam, Scott Ritter was convinced that his aggressive inspections made him a big problem for the Clinton administration.
SCOTT RITTER: And now the State Department had to be confronted with the reality of, "You let Scott Ritter continue to run these inspections, the Iraqis will block him. If the Iraqis block him, what do we do?" The answer is, "We don't know what we're going to do. We're not prepared for that." The solution: Stop Ritter from doing the inspections.
NARRATOR: UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler told FRONTLINE he was pressured to control Ritter.
RICHARD BUTLER: There were concerns expressed to me about Ritter, not just by the United States, by the way, but others, as well. I mean, I discussed the - quote - "Ritter factor" - unquote - with Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations. You know, there were concerns about this. I said to Scott sometimes that, you know, he should keep his head down a bit. On other occasions, I stood up for him and said, "This `Ritter factor' stuff is the stick that you're being beaten up with for simply trying to do your job, and I won't have it."
NARRATOR: Back in Iraq, UNSCOM was getting nowhere. Despite their promises to Kofi Annan, the Iraqis remained belligerent. And Scott Ritter's world was crumbling. The Israelis stopped sharing intelligence with him, the CIA cut off his access to electronic surveillance, and the FBI was investigating him for espionage.
SCOTT RITTER: People started spreading the word that somehow I was an Israeli spy, that I wasn't doing the work of the United States or of UNSCOM, I was doing the bidding of Israel. So this is absurd. Everything I've done in Iraq is approved by Richard Butler, is in conformance with the mandate of the Security Council, and furthermore, has been reported and approved by the United States government. How dare you investigate me for something you've approved of!
NARRATOR: Frustrated with the Iraqis and his own government, Ritter planned one last surprise raid into the heart of the Iraqi government, the Ba'ath party headquarters in Baghdad.
SCOTT RITTER: "Let's bring it to a head. You want us to disarm Iraq? Fine. We're going in. We have high quality intelligence. Stuff's in that building. We can prove it through our intelligence operation, and now what are you going to do about it, Security Council? Big, bad, tough Chapter 7 Security Council. Here we are, the weapons inspectors you created. We're doing our job."
And the fact is, the Security Council wasn't up to the task. The United States wasn't up to the task.
NARRATOR: When the Iraqis objected to the inspection, Richard Butler postponed it. Ritter quit in disgust.
RICHARD BUTLER: And I think he was disappointed that he couldn't do some of the things that he wanted to do, that I said no to some of the operations that he'd thought up. I had to because they wouldn't have worked. They would have harmed us politically. We've got to live to fight the next day if we're going to get this job done. And he'd had enough of that and walked.
SCOTT RITTER: [Senate committee hearing, September 3, 1998] Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, last week I resigned my position with UNSCOM out of frustration because the United Nations Security Council, and the United States as its most significant supporter, was failing to enforce the post-Gulf war resolutions designed to disarm Iraq.
NARRATOR: Ritter brought his complaints to Washington, becoming the most famous renegade Marine since Oliver North.
SCOTT RITTER: [Senate committee hearing] Iraq today is not disarmed and remains an ugly threat to its neighbors and to world peace. Those Americans who think that this is important and that something should be done about it have to be deeply disappointed in our leadership.
Sen. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS): Mr. Ritter, I want to thank you for appearing before us today. I think you're a true American hero and that future generations will look back and-
NARRATOR: While Senate Republicans praised Ritter, Democrats criticized him for being a cowboy, trying to force a military confrontation with Saddam and usurp the powers of President Clinton's foreign policy team.
Sen. JOE BIDEN (D-DE): I respectfully suggest they have responsibilities slightly above your pay grade - slightly above your pay grade - to decide whether or not to take the nation to war alone, or to take the nation to war part-way, or to take the nation to war half-way. That's a real tough decision. That's why they get paid the big bucks. That's why they get the limos, and you don't.
DAVID KAY, Former Inspector, UNSCOM: I will say that Scott's decision to leave and to resign was the result of a failure of leadership, and not of Scott's leadership. It was the failure of American leadership. This administration tried to run a dual-track policy, in one track saying publicly that they were pressing the Iraqis as hard as they could - they were fully supporting UNSCOM and the inspection missions, they wanted aggressive inspections - while privately arguing that UNSCOM should be careful in these days and not provoke a crisis because UNSCOM- if UNSCOM became the focus of a crisis, the Security Council would fracture.
NARRATOR: But in December, following a report from UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler saying the Iraqis refused to allow the arms inspections they had promised, Clinton finally acted. On the eve of the House impeachment vote, the president ordered Operation Desert Fox.
The four-day bombing campaign by the U.S. and Britain was launched without the approval of the U.N. Security Council. For Scott Ritter, this was final proof that the United States had taken total control of the U.N. mission in Iraq.
SCOTT RITTER: I was pretty disgusted with the process. I told Richard Butler from the start, "We're not in charge anymore. We're not calling the shots. You, Richard Butler, are responding to pressure from the United States of America. That's wrong."
NARRATOR: Ritter unleashed a new series of charges against the United States. In high-visibility articles in The Washington Post and The New Yorker, Ritter claimed the CIA had infiltrated UNSCOM and used his intelligence operation for its own ends.
SCOTT RITTER: In the end, the United States took over the whole program. UNSCOM wasn't in control of anything. We didn't know what was being collected. We didn't know how much was being collected, when it was being collected. We had no control over the process.
NARRATOR: One of Ritter's stories, first revealed in The Washington Post, involves video cameras installed by UNSCOM to monitor Iraqi weapons facilities.
BARTON GELLMAN, "The Washington Post": The way the cameras used to work was they would run continuously on batteries, record on the tapes, and periodically someone from UNSCOM had to drive out to whatever city it was in, change the batteries, change the tapes, bring the tapes back for analysis.
UNSCOM said, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could watch what was happening on the cameras remotely in real time?" The United States offered to build UNSCOM a system of radio relay towers which would feed that signal back to the Baghdad headquarters of UNSCOM.
Now, what the CIA did not tell UNSCOM is that the people that they sent to install these radio relays were also covert operatives. And they rigged this equipment to have a second purpose. They built into these a hidden antenna capable of detecting microwave communications. They learned a lot about Iraq's military from that. Most of it was not related to special weapons or to UNSCOM's mission. So they essentially built a Trojan horse. From UNSCOM's point of view, it's a betrayal.
ROLF EKEUS, Former Chairman, UNSCOM: I think that was wrong. I think it was a fatal lack of judgment of those who ordered this operation, and I felt it was the wrong thing to do. I hope that it will never be repeated.
RICHARD BUTLER: If that happened, that would have been wrong because it puts in jeopardy our ability to say to the world beyond Iraq that our business is disarmament and we will do it fairly.
NARRATOR: But Ritter's colleagues are skeptical of many of his new charges, especially the claim that U.S. intelligence used information gathered by Ritter's team to target Saddam Hussein and his elite guards during Operation Desert Fox.
SCOTT RITTER: When the United States military briefers put up a photograph that shows special Republican Guard barracks in Tikrit that no one knew about prior to discovery by my inspection team, and that the bombs hit the two locations in that site where the commander sleeps and the personal bodyguards of Saddam Hussein sleep- no one could have known that except people who had been in that site. That gives me a strong feeling to believe that they used the information I had gathered. There was only one source of that information, and that was Scott Ritter's inspection team and the work carried out by my inspection team.
RICHARD BUTLER: I don't doubt at all that he has the opinion that what you've just said is true, that the United States used some of our information to do its targeting. Is it a fact? I don't know, and I don't think he would know, either. I strongly doubt it because the U.S. has got a vast array of information at its disposal. I'd be a bit surprised if the Pentagon, which is an extraordinarily professional organization, would rely on any one or particular source of information for something as serious as targeting.
NARRATOR: Ritter says he decided to reveal these top-secret details about intelligence operations only after the U.S. government began leaking information that the FBI was investigating him for espionage.
SCOTT RITTER: When I resigned, I put the U.S. government on notice that I'm going to stick to policy issues, that I have no intention of going out and blowing the cover off of the intelligence operations, that those are truly sensitive and they should not be exposed. What's the first thing that happened? The Pentagon released information talking about an FBI espionage investigation into my relationship with Israel. I didn't bring up the Israeli issue, they did. And by putting it out there, they were calling me a spy. I had to defend myself.
NARRATOR: Ritter's former colleagues seem universally dismayed at his latest revelations. Although many supported his criticism of U.S. foreign policy, they believe telling stories about sensitive intelligence operations is deeply harmful to UNSCOM.
RICHARD BUTLER: He grew up as a Marine, the motto of which is "Semper fidelis" - "always faithful." I'm very sorry to say that most of the people in UNSCOM now feel that he's broken faith with them.
DAVID KAY: Scott has shifted the focus back to what he sees as the impact of U.S. policy and the U.S. intelligence community undermining UNSCOM. UNSCOM was undermined by the Iraqis. And I think Ambassador Ekeus is saying, and I certainly feel - I can speak more confidently on that - that Scott has missed the whole purpose by talking about this. A- I don't think it occurred the way he described it. And B, I don't think that is the problem. The problem is Iraqi behavior. And so I'm saddened by that. You know, I think, in a way- and I don't think Scott meant this, but I think, in a way, Scott has led to what I think is the effective end of UNSCOM.
RICHARD HAASS, Former Adviser to President Bush: So Mr. Ritter and other critics of this process who have come out with all these charges have clearly contributed to the discrediting of UNSCOM. I think that is tragic because it has left Saddam Hussein with a freer hand to go ahead and conceal weapons or develop new ones. So whatever the motives of people, it has clearly come at a great price to us all.
NARRATOR: In New York, the political consensus at the United Nations is that UNSCOM is now dead. The Security Council continues to debate what, if anything, will replace it. [www.pbs.org: Who killed UNSCOM?]
ROBIN WRIGHT, "Los Angeles Times," Middle East Analyst and Author: UNSCOM, as we know it, as UNSCOM, may be finished. But the original U.N. resolution still calls for the dismantlement of all of Saddam Hussein's weapons. So whether it uses another name or not, somebody's got to go in and determine that he doesn't have these things.
NARRATOR: In Iraq, five months after Desert Fox, there are still no weapons inspectors and no immediate prospect they will return. The men who know Iraq's weapons systems best are worried. They fear Saddam Hussein may be using this time to rebuild his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, even perhaps a nuclear bomb.
DAVID KAY: Remember, Iraq knows the secrets of how to make nuclear weapons. What they lack today is not scientific talent. They don't lack the secrets and the technology. They've solved all those problems. What they lack is time and access to nuclear materials.
Dr. KHIDIR HAMZA, Iraqi Nuclear Scientist If it managed to get fissile material either from Russia, from some of the ex-Communist states, one way or the other, then it is within two to six months.
RICHARD BUTLER: I can't tell you what they've done in these last five months because we've not been there to see. But in all honesty, if you look at their track record, there's every reason to assume that they are taking advantage of this time to make new chemical warfare agent, new biological warfare agent, and that's a matter of grave concern.
Remember, this is a person who has used every weapon he's ever had at his disposal. This is serious.
ANNOUNCER: Take a closer look at this report at FRONTLINE's Web site. You'll find a collection of anecdotes on what it took to spy on Saddam, photos and maps of UNSCOM's targets, what was uncovered and what's still unknown, plus more about Scott Ritter and more of the FRONTLINE interviews at www.pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE: In the '60s they were the doves, but in the '90s they have become the hawks.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: If we don't do anything, there will be more massacres, more refugees, more victims.
ANNOUNCER: What did we really learn from Vietnam?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: This is not Vietnam. Give us bombs for peace.
ANNOUNCER: Give War a Chance next time on FRONTLINE.
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ANNOUNCER: Now your letters. Our program concerning Russia's shaky control over its nuclear arsenal drew a variety of comments. Here is a sample.
MICHAEL GIBSON: [Ringoes, NY] Dear FRONTLINE: If we, as Americans, can't even control domestic terrorism from our own disgruntled citizens ... what chance do we have against foreign insurgents like the Russian mafia?
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KEVIN PETTY: [Tempe, AZ] Commercial T.V. has The X-Files and Millennium to instill fear in the public. It's nice to know that PBS can't come up with anything new other than Saddam and Russia.
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