They left the building with them. They were immediately surrounded by Iraqi
security, and then began a standoff which lasted several days, during which the
Iraqis stopped short of using physical force to take the documents away. But
they told them they were not leaving until they handed them back. |
Now, as it turned out, the first thing they did was to smuggle some of the
documents out before they were surrounded by Iraqi security. So, as they were
sitting here captive with sometimes live international television coverage in
the parking lot, in Washington and New York they were already receiving the
first fruits of this information. And so one day you had David Kay listening
to a broadcast in which Colin Powell, back in the Pentagon, was disclosing that
they had obtained their first proof of Iraqi nuclear weapons programs, and
David Kay said, "Here's your U.S. government at work for you, making your life
easier," because he thought he was in big trouble at that point.
What if the Iraqis had grabbed them at any point?
Well, what if the Iraqis had done worse than grab them? The inspectors became
acutely aware of their vulnerability from this incident, and so did UNSCOM, and
so did the United States, its principal backer. And although it's never been
announced or acknowledged, after that incident, the United States government
pre-positioned the famous Delta Force hostage rescue team in the region for the
next several inspections in case UNSCOM inspectors got themselves into serious
trouble. They were ready to do what the special forces fondly call an
If UNSCOM had worked the way the U.N. Security Council wanted it to, what
should Iraq have done?
Well, it sort of sounds funny now. Because if you go back to the original
resolution, 687, Iraq had 15 days to declare fully--they called it the "full,
final and complete disclosure"--of its nuclear, biological, chemical weapons
programs and any missile programs capable of delivering a warhead more than a
150 kilometers. The U.N. was supposed to destroy, disable, dismantle, those
capabilities, and put in a system of monitoring for any dual-use equipment,
stuff that could be used to make it again or it could also be used for civilian
purposes. And that was all supposed to happen in April of 1991.
And instead what happened?
Well, instead, as we now know, Iraq set in motion a very sophisticated and
highly resourced effort to cover up most of its capabilities. They formed what
UNSCOM has come to call the "Joint Committee" of the most senior security
service leaders and the inner circle of Saddam Hussein. They decided what
their story would be to UNSCOM. They decided which part of their program they
would sacrifice. After all, they had used chemical weapons extensively in the
Iran-Iraq War, so they couldn't say they didn't have that program. They
decided to sacrifice their oldest and least sophisticated chemical weapons.
They were available in quantity to do so. They made a great show of bringing
these to UNSCOM. UNSCOM laid dynamite across them and blew them up and buried
them in pits and everyone felt they were making great progress.
But they were also carefully culling their files to make sure that the
advanced binary chemical weapons, that the entire existence of a biological
program, that some of their missile facilities, and the existence of any
nuclear weapons program at all, were carefully hidden.
Over the past eight years, how would you assess what UNSCOM has been able
Well, there's no doubt that UNSCOM has had huge accomplishments. They have
destroyed, as they often say, and it's absolutely true, far more of Iraq's
special weapons than the whole Persian Gulf War did, even though those special
weapons were one of 12 major targets that the American-led Allied Forces
bombed. So, they've gotten rid of enormous quantities of chemical munitions,
of gravity bombs, of missiles, of production facilities, and so on.
They have not been able to satisfy themselves that they've destroyed Iraq's
most sophisticated and dangerous weapons. For example, in the chemical field,
VX, the world's most lethal nerve gas. In the biological field, they're very
much unsatisfied with what they know. And there are certain nagging doubts on
the nuclear side and the missile side as well.
Isn't one of the big problems whether they still have the computer disks,
documents, and intellectual capability to reconstitute these weapons, even if
they have been destroyed?
Sure. The cookbooks, so to speak, are very valuable to the Iraqis. And
frankly, a lot of that is in the minds of men and women, and so it is very hard
to be sure that the knowledge of how to reproduce these things is expunged from
Iraq. But it would be quite useful for delaying that reconstitution if we
could find the cookbooks, many pages of technical manuals, the assembly
drawings, for example, and destroy those. It would take a long time to
The current controversy is over to what the extent the CIA or other western
intelligence agencies infiltrated and perhaps undermined UNSCOM's mission over
the years. However, in the beginning, was UNSCOM ever independent of western
Oh sure. It depends, I guess, how you define independent. UNSCOM needed
government and non-government help to do its job. It was relatively small,
relatively thinly resourced, sitting in this sort of green glass skyscraper in
New York. And it is given the job of disarming Iraq. So essentially the first
thing it does is it puts out a call to all member states of the United Nations:
"Please help us. Tell us what you may know about Iraqi weapons programs." It
may be that you have a company that was supplying growth media for biological
cultures. It may be a fermentation apparatus. It may be precision machining
equipment. So, an enormous amount of international business traffic and this
sort of stuff, and they knew they had to get to this stuff in order to find the
Because the West, for a long time -- Germany, U.S., France, Russia -- had been
Absolutely. And so one of the first things they did was they wanted export
records. German, French, British manufacturing equipment and know how. They
also wanted, frankly, intelligence information. They tried not to use that
word. They created what amounted to an intelligence section in UNSCOM, but
Rolf Ekeus, the first Executive Chairman, and a good Swedish diplomat, said,
"By definition, the United Nations cannot have an intelligence program.
Therefore, we will call this the Information Assessment Unit." And that's what
they called it.
In effect, it becomes almost the first U.N. Intelligence Agency.
It certainly begins to function in that way. And it is very much outside the
norms of the U.N. in lots of ways. First of all, it operates under what the
U.N. calls "Chapter 7 Authority," which means war-making authority. It is the
same authority under which the United States led a coalition to fight the
Persian Gulf War, which is, the Security Council says to a member state, "You
must do the following, and if you don't, all means necessary will be used to
enforce it." That's U.N. speak for military force.
Now, UNSCOM is under this mandate. There are very few international operations
that do operate under this mandate. And so, always in the background was
hovering the threat of a resumption, in effect, of the Persian Gulf War.
And that was supposed to be the club, along with sanctions, to induce Saddam
You had -- exactly -- two clubs to induce Saddam to cooperate. One was the
threat of military force, and the other perhaps wasn't a club; it was the
continued economic strangulation of the country.
Iraq has, in effect, one export of any consequence. That's oil. There was a
complete embargo, and it remains to this day -- a complete embargo -- on the
export of Iraqi oil. Now, after 1995, I believe, Iraq does export oil, but it
doesn't get the money. The money goes to another U.N. agency, the U.N. agency
decides what can be bought, principally food and medicine, and the U.N. agency
supervises its distribution inside Iraq. So, essentially, Saddam Hussein has
been deprived by now of $120 billion of oil revenues since the Persian Gulf War
because UNSCOM has not certified that he's disarmed.
Did people in the U.N., in the U.S. government, ever believe that this
might work relatively easily with Saddam, that he would give up being a
military leader with expansionist plans?
I think that the U.S. government did believe fundamentally that this would
work. For a long time they believed it. They believed it for at least two
reasons. First of all, they knew that they had simply turned the spigot and
shut down the entire Iraqi economy. They believed that was a fairly strong
inducement to disarm.
And second of all, they did not think Saddam Hussein would still be around
today. They were openly predicting that Iraqi leaders would not tolerate a
president who had brought his country to ruin, but invaded Kuwait and brought
about the destruction of his own military. They thought, and people like
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney predicted in public forums that he would be
gone in a matter of months.
Rolf Ekeus, fairly early on decides that UNSCOM needs a U2, needs a spy
UNSCOM knew after a very short time that the Iraqis were not cooperating. They
needed more and more information about what was going on behind their backs to
try to catch them at it. They had, in the early days, sort of heroic examples
of individual initiatives that led to information being found.
For example, the same David Kay I talked to you about before, who led the
inspection at the parking lot incident, he brought a team to another facility
where U.S. satellite photos had told him there was suspicious activity that
they thought was related to the nukes. He was stopped at the gate. He was
told he could not come in. He said, "Well, I want to just stand here and make
sure nothing comes out that's not supposed to." And the guard at the gate
said, "Okay, that's fine."
And then David Kay said, "Do you mind if I send someone to climb that water
tower over there?" So he sends an Army Major up to the water tower and he
stands there as a spotter. He sees a convoy of trucks beginning to sort of
make a break for it out of a side gate where they're not standing, he comes
down, jumps in his car, drives alongside of this convoy and is taking
photographs. And the convoy's got these sort of hastily loaded trucks with
something very large on the back, and tarps sort of flapping in the wind. And
he can't quite tell what it is, but he's taking pictures. He eventually gets
stopped by gun waving Iraqi minders. He hides the film. He smuggles it back
And it turns out that what he's photographing are calutrons. Calutrons are
devices used to enrich uranium to weapons grade, actually the same device used
to create the first atomic bombs at the end of the Second World War. And Iraq
has an extensive program of uranium enrichment, which no one knew about, and
which were proved in effect by this one act of initiative.
But, as the Iraqis got more competent and learned more sophisticated ways of
hiding what they were doing, UNSCOM needed more sophisticated help. And so
they asked for helicopters. They would use essentially cameras with long
lenses from helicopters to take pictures. And you can get closer than any
satellite that way. But the problem is, everybody knows where you are.
Everyone knows what you're shooting. The helicopter is quite visible. So they
also asked for aerial surveillance that led to the American offer to designate
a U2 spy plane for UNSCOM.
Was that a turning point, when Rolf Ekeus said, "I need a U2 plane"?
Well, he has just put himself in the position of wanting to task, as they call
it in the intelligence world, a relatively sensitive national intelligence
gathering asset of the United States. He certainly isn't going to be able to
task satellites. They're not going to let anyone, even an ally from Sweden,
know enough about our satellites that he can do so. U2 is older technology,
though it's been updated with much better equipment. The plane is the same,
but what it carries is much better these days. And he in effect is
interjecting himself, and in turn is being infiltrated by national intelligence
The U2 isn't the only special equipment he's looking for. For example, there
was a big question about how many SCUD missiles Iraq had. UNSCOM believed,
correctly, that Iraq had obtained the capability of manufacturing them, and had
begun to do so. They thought it possible that there was a great desert
graveyard where the Iraqis had buried an enormous number of components that
they could excavate later and make operational. They wanted to find these
things, but you have this huge desert to search in.
So, UNSCOM came up with the idea, in coordination with the United States, to
use ground penetrating radar. They had a whole, very secret at the time,
operational plan which they called Operation Cabbage Patch. And this comes
form the name of a Russian city where the Soviet Union had a missile
manufacturing plant where they had taught the Iraqis how to hide missiles from
enemy intelligence. The idea was that UNSCOM was going to approach the Russian
government, ask for help, to learn exactly how the Iraqis had been taught to
bury missiles, and what missiles would look like on ground penetrating radar,
if they were found.
So they wanted to take these radar, they wanted to overfly this quite sensitive
Russian installation now, see what a buried missile looked like, develop a
profile for it, and then try it out in Iraq. In the end, they never did
approach the Russians. Politics interceded. And they did their practice run
at Edwards Air Force Base, out in California. But, they did finally get this
very sensitive ground penetrating radar, they took it over Iraq, with Iraq not
knowing what it was, and they found nothing, exactly nothing. So, this was an
example of using a very sophisticated technology to rule out something, to
disprove a hypothesis. They then knew that there was not this big graveyard to
worry about, and they could focus somewhere else.
But it was another case in which they were borrowing or making use of fairly
sophisticated Western intelligence technology.
Right. And it was a case that led to a lot of mutual discomfort between UNSCOM
and the contributing governments, because UNSCOM, in effect, had in its hands
information which in the U.S. system is called classified. And every other
system is classified by their own standards. U2 imagery is typically
classified "Secret," more sensitive than "Confidential," less than "Top
Secret." UNSCOM had to get this stuff, and that also meant that foreign
employees of UNSCOM in some cases had to get it. And so they came up with this
sort of uncomfortable dodge of declassifying the photos. It would say "SECRET:
RELEASE UNSCOM/IAEA ONLY," and they tried to establish procedures within UNSCOM
to control who got to see it. But they were never quite sure who to trust.
Scott Ritter tells the story that there was a Frenchman on his team who learned
about Operation Cabbage Patch under strict rules of confidentiality. He was
forbidden to tell anyone else, including his own government. And next thing
Scott knew, he sees a letter in French in Rolf Ekeus's out basket describing
Operation "Le Cabbage Patch" to the French Defense Ministry. And this kind of
thing happened all the time.
So, in the Cabbage Patch incident, you had a French representative on UNSCOM
reporting back to his own government...
Well, certainly keeping tabs on UNSCOM. And believe me, the United States did
that from the beginning. In the story I told before, when David Kay was in the
parking lot and smuggled out documents, Washington heard at least as soon as
New York did about the contents of those documents. And in fact, Rolf Ekeus
was angry about it and forbade direct communications like that again. I'm
quite confident they continued.
So this is all very complicated. It is a story not only of Iraqi
deception -- lies and cheating -- but then within UNSCOM, you're having to deal
with all these different national goals of the countries represented on the
Security Council. Boxes within boxes.
Yes. Think about who are the permanent five member of the Security Council.
The United States and Britain. You have France, which has enormous interests
in Iraqi oil fields. You have Russia, which is owed, I believe, on the order
of $3 billion by Iraq, which cannot be repaid until the end of the oil
embargo. You have China, which throughout its history has been profoundly
suspicious of any international intervention across national boundaries.
And so you had quite different ideas about what was this UNSCOM and what was it
going to do. Inside the Commission you had experts from numerous countries.
You had from the beginning an effort to make, in effect, an inner circle in
UNSCOM that would be American, British, Australian, Canadian. The Executive
Chairman never was, but there was always an American deputy. There as always
an American Director of Operations. And there were always Americans in
What about Scott Ritter. You have written about him in the Washington
Post. Who is Ritter?
Scott Ritter is a very well-known archetype of a certain U.S. military
officer. Very hard talking, very ambitious, zealous, and completely consumed
with carrying out his mission. He's a guy who, throughout his career, I would
say, did not break rules, but he worked around road blocks. He said to me that
he would always try to explain what he was doing and to convince someone to
help him. But if they decided to stand in his way he would roll right over
them. And that's Scott to a T.
Scott has a background in U.S. military intelligence. He joined the Marine
Corps, knew from the start that he wanted to be a Marine intelligence officer,
had intelligence training, had an initial post out in California at Camp
Pendleton, and eventually found himself on what's called the J2 staff of the
U.S. Central Command, J2 meaning the intelligence section of the Joint
His job during the Persian Gulf War was to assess bomb damage after bombing
runs and, in particular, in the missile fields. So his job is to find out
whether they're breaking the SCUDs they're aiming for. And SCUDs, as you
recall, were a hugely important part of the war. They were Iraq's only usable
offensive weapon for a long period of time during most of the bombing campaign.
They were politically damaging to the Coalition, and it became a very high
priority for General Schwarzkopf to destroy these things. 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.
He was going up against the commander of the entire operation.
Yeah. Not only the commander of the entire operation, but one of the most
intimidating general officers in the recent history of the U.S. Army. Widely
disliked, frankly, within UNSCOM. Threw huge temper tantrums, and kind of a
scary guy. And Ritter was told that the CINC said "Those are missiles." And
he said, "Where does it say in my job description that the CINC's opinion is
intelligence? I've looked at these photographs, and what they are is fuel
trucks. And I'm sorry, I'm not going to sign that report." And he
Were Scuds being destroyed?
Oh, it's quite clear now, on the basis of evidence gathered after the war,
that Scott was right and the people telling Schwarzkopf otherwise were wrong.
Those were fuel trucks.
So Ekeus recruits Ritter to UNSCOM--the Swedish diplomat brings in the
Ekeus saw the hard-charging Marine as a very valuable asset. He was well
versed in Iraq's special weapons; he was well versed in intelligence techniques
for finding them; he was very creative. It turned out that his operational
creativity and ability to maneuver was one of his greatest assets. He was very
flexible. He could redraw plans on the fly, come up with answers to the
technical problem of what do we do about this particular road block, and so on.
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. That was Ekeus's view.
Now, after he's been around for awhile, Ritter decides he's not getting the
best assessment of his U2 surveillance photos -- aerial photos -- from the United
States, and he goes to Israel to have the Israelis assess these photos.
Well, think about the hunt for weapons in Iraq as a detective mystery, and
then go through what they always say--"Who has motives, means, and
opportunities to help UNSCOM find weapons in Iraq?" Who more than Israel?
They're neighbors with Iraq, they're the only country that has been subjected
to that many SCUD missiles, they have very good intelligence, and they're very
worried about Iraq's future capabilities. So, it was obvious to UNSCOM that it
would be helpful to get information from Israel.
What happened in this case is not so much that Scott was not getting good
enough interpretation of the U2 photos. It's that all intelligence is
cumulative, that you're trying to put together the pieces of a mosaic. And
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. The Americans officially were not
happy about that. Unofficially, they gave their blessing at the time. Scott
Ritter maintains that no one has been able to contradict him that I'm aware of,
that every time he went to Israel, every time he shared information with any
other government, he did it with the explicit consent of Rolf Ekeus or Ekeus's
successor, Richard Butler.
So, Ritter went to Ekeus and said, "I have these pictures, and I've learned
something from them. I think I can learn more if I bring them to Israel."
Ekeus said, "What do the Americans think about that? It says, "SECRET RELEASE:
UNSCOM ONLY." Ritter arranged for a meeting with an American intelligence
contact, with Ekeus, and they raised the question, "Can we do this?" And they
got the nod.
Ritter made the first of many trips to Israel. He brought with him
undeveloped U2 film rolls. They're not called negatives with the U2. They're
called positives, because of the way they're shot. The Israelis processed them
and essentially cross-tabulated them with other information they had. In the
process, they got at least to see and possibly to copy American U2 imagery.
But it was helpful to UNSCOM.
It was definitely helpful to UNSCOM. There was one case up in the north --
one of the presidential palaces -- where UNSCOM had pictures of a building, and
Israel had, by way of cutouts, information about something that was underneath
the building. It had to do with crates of documents being hidden at a junction
of two underground tunnels. And they could point to a spot in this photograph
and say, "Between these two buildings, right here, there's a U-shaped junction,
and this is where we've learned from a defector report that Iraq is hiding
crates of documents." UNSCOM was able to attempt to go in and inspect that
site. It was blocked from doing so. But it was good information.
Why is it that, supposedly, the FBI has an investigation-- as I understand
it, still ongoing -- into Ritter's connections with Israel for possible
Well, this is a hard question, and it's ultimately unknowable by those of us
who are outside the investigation. We know that the investigation began, oddly
enough, when Scott Ritter was recruited to apply for a job at the CIA. He was
working closely with the CIA throughout his time on UNSCOM. He had in the past
held high security clearances for his work during the Gulf War. And his friend
in the CIA said, "Come join us," and he thought he might like to do that. He
applies for the job. He takes the standard polygraph examinations, in the
course of which they ask, "Have you ever had contact with any foreign
intelligence agencies," and Scott Ritter says, "Yes."
Now, this is not the answer they're hoping to hear on these polygraphs. And
when he's asked, "How many, and how many times," the answers are large. So
this sort of gets everyone in the counterintelligence business all aflutter.
Many of them are not aware of the extent of cooperation between the Agency and
UNSCOM and between UNSCOM and other agencies. And they're not aware that this
was authorized at some level. And so they very quickly make the decision-- I
think they're very nervous about these matters in the wake of several spy
scandals-- to take it out of their own hands and put it in the hands of the
FBI, whose job it is to investigate these cases. Once you set that train in
motion, it's going to keep on rolling for awhile, because nobody wants to give
somebody a clean bill of health and find out later that they shouldn't
So as far as I know, this thing is still ongoing. The suspicion is,
evidently, a) that he could have passed U.S. classified information, without
authorization, to Israel, or b) that he allowed himself to be used or was used
by Israel as an agent.
In the polygraph test, isn't another point of contention the fact that Mr.
Ritter is married to a Russian?
She's actually a Soviet Georgian. His wife, Marina was born in Soviet
Georgia and was actually assigned as one of the interpreters for Scott Ritter's
team when Scott worked for a U.S. Defense Department agency called the On-Site
Inspection Agency. It was one of his first jobs. He was a young lieutenant.
He was assigned to monitor Russian destruction of intermediate range ballistic
missiles. This guy's been in the missile business for a long time. The
Russians assigned these young women to be translators for them, and the
assumption on all sides was that they were debriefed regularly about what the
inspectors were doing by Russian intelligence services. There's no accusation
that Marina was an intelligence agent herself, but it raises questions. Again,
if you marry a foreign national, especially a foreign national who once had
some vague relationship with a foreign intelligence service, it raises
As far as I know, this is not part of the FBI investigation, but it is a
reason why the Marines declined to renew his security clearance.
This seems exceptionally complicated. Here you have a person being
recruited by the CIA, then turned down by the CIA because in his work for
UNSCOM he's dealing with Israel, and possibly also because he's married to a
Russian or a Georgian. And then, this is a person who is now accusing the CIA
of undermining UNSCOM's work.
Well, you begin to get a picture of just how convoluted, how Byzantine, the
politics and operations of this world's first experiment in multi-national
intelligence could be. You are necessarily drawing on the most closely guarded
techniques and capabilities of member states. You are bringing a coalition
together that has quite different ideas about what UNSCOM should be doing, and
suspicions of each other, and secondary agendas which could be served by this
interesting device of an agency which gathers all of this kind of information.
And it just became a mess. Ultimately, I think that's what destroyed
UNSCOM is dead?
Clearly. UNSCOM as presently constituted, is never going back into Iraq. I
think that the era of intrusive, on-demand inspections in Iraq is probably
over, as well.
Who killed UNSCOM?
It may be that UNSCOM simply had an impossible mission from the beginning.
The French have been saying for awhile -- and I think the American government
has come around to this view -- that the only way to disarm a country against
its will is to occupy it. We did it after the Second World War with Germany
and Japan. Came in, wrote a new constitution for Japan. Expunged everyone
that the U.S. wanted to expunge from the Japanese power structure. And started
George Bush made a conscious decision not to do that in Iraq. Norm
Schwartzkoff had contingency plans for pressing on to Baghdad, toppling the
government, and installing a new government. George Bush said, "That's not
what we're going to do." They then passed a resolution backed by these
overwhelming military forces that said, "You, Iraq, are going to disarm from
these special weapons or else." They did not put the ground forces in place to
compel that behavior. They thought they could do it with threats and with an
oil embargo, and they couldn't.
But what killed UNSCOM is that these rivalries and these overlapping and
competing agendas ultimately ate away at it from within.
UNSCOM destroyed a lot of weapons. However, what happens now with the
weapons of mass destruction that are either left or could possibly be
Well, first of all, in the accomplishments category, besides just the mass
of what UNSCOM destroyed, if you look at it from an American policy point of
view, for eight years you get to switch off Iraq's national economy and have
enormous amounts of influence over its weapons program, both because Iraq is
not able to buy weapons from abroad; not able to build many of weapons because
it's being inspected. UNSCOM was a huge constraint on Iraq all these years.
If you have a hostile power that you want to keep a lid on, you don't get
many better deals than UNSCOM these past eight years. And it's coming to an
Now, what happens next is probably that Iraq begins to reconstitute some of
its weapons. It still has constraints. First of all, it still denies that
these weapons exist. So, to build them, deploy them, to use them, undermines
an important part of its political case. It essentially admits that it's been
lying all these years.
Second of all, it matters most whether you can deliver these weapons. The
Iraqi Air Force has been reduced to virtually nothing, and the weapons programs
that most matter, from an American and ally point of view, now, are missiles.
Operation Desert Fox, the bombing campaign in December, was said by the U.S.
Central Command to have set back Iraqi missile programs by two years. So in
effect, you cannot stop Iraq from growing nasty bugs in the basement. You can
stop them from putting operational warheads on working missiles and launching
them at their neighbors.
Ritter is now making a series of charges in the press and, in his book.
Why is he making these charges now?
He's very hard to follow for people who have been watching this thing all
this time, and I think probably the best way to understand Scott Ritter is a
very zealous, very serious guy who believes in what he was doing, tends to
believe by temperament that his way is by far the best way, and felt he was
being held back for illegitimate reasons.
He got very frustrated. He eventually quit because he believed the United
States had shifted from being UNSCOM's principal supporter to a participant in
holding UNSCOM back. And after he quit, he just turned against the people he'd
been working with because he saw them all, ultimately, as compromisers. And
for him, compromise is kind of a dirty word.
So, he ends up breaking a code that a lot of things should remain
Well, he certainly spilled a lot of beans. He told a lot of things that had
been considered sensitive secrets. He said in an interview with a newspaper in
Israel that Israel had been one of UNSCOM's major intelligence contributors.
And that was not something UNSCOM had been eager to advertise.
You recently reported an exercise in which the CIA was able through UNSCOM
to monitor Iraqi military communications.
What's confusing here is there are actually two eavesdropping operations
that went on for a long time against Iraq. One of them was devised primarily
by UNSCOM, and carried out with help from the United States, Britain and
Israel. This was the use of initially portable and later fixed scanners on the
ground to listen to Iraqi radio communications during the course of
inspections, and to get help from the United States, Israel and Britain at
various times, to break the codes and translate from the Arabic those
communications. And they could correlate those things with their inspection
activities. They could learn after the fact, usually, that as they walked up
to the front door of a site they wanted to inspect, there was a big burst of
radio traffic and someone said, "Move the stuff. Bring it to the next site."
This was an important part of understanding how they were being gamed by the
Iraqis and devising a plan for beating the Iraqis at their own game.
Not everyone at UNSCOM knew about this. In fact hardly anyone did. But
Rolf Ekeus knew, Richard Butler knew, Scott Ritter knew, and a few key
Operation Number Two is something that the United States does without
telling UNSCOM, and not primarily for UNSCOM's purposes. And it goes like
this: Everyone knows that UNSCOM has cameras that monitor distant sites in
Iraq that have been used or could be used for making special weapons. This is
part of the ongoing monitoring and verification system. There are some 300
sites involved. And the way the cameras used to work was they would run
continuously, on batteries, record on the tape, 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. So you have from 300 sites around Iraq, you have
cameras and actually other sensors as well, operating, and the information is
being fed back to a room in the former Canal Hotel in downtown Baghdad.
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. It's actually a joint operation of the CIA
and the National Security Agency. They operate a service called the Special
Collection Service, and it's quite skilled at building hidden antennae and
covert listening devices. And these are quite large mass, these antennas, and
they're spaced throughout the Iraqi countryside and they beam signals. They're
like repeater stations used in commercial radio transmissions.
But they built into these a hidden antenna capable of detecting microwave
communications. This is not their open purpose. And they stationed some of
these antennae near critical nodes of Iraqi microwave communications. Now what
do the Iraqis use these microwaves for? These are very high band width, high
capacity communications links that operate from hilltop to hilltop, in line of
sight. They beam a very tight, narrowly focused beam from one point to the
other, which makes them relatively harder to intercept. They can't be
intercepted, usually, from space or from aircraft, because the angle's too
oblique and the signal gets dissipated. If you want to get at their signals,
you need someone nearby on the ground to do it. So they essentially built a
Trojan horse with these radio masts that they built for UNSCOM that was also
feeding other Iraqi traffic back to the CIA. So you learned a lot about Iraq's
military from that. Most of it was not related to special weapons or to
So this is the CIA and the NSA essentially piggy-backing on UNSCOM, taking
advantage of an opportunity that UNSCOM creates?
That's right. If you look at it from their point of view, they have a very
high priority mission to collect information about Iraq, both conventional and
special weapons, and the command structure, and how Saddam Hussein works, and
who the inner circle is, and all the stuff that a military intelligence
operation would want to know about a hostile power.
They have all kinds of equipment overhead. They have readily available
cover for human agents. There's an international trade embargo on Iraq, so
there's no businessmen coming in and out, and no flights in and out. They
don't have academic exchanges and so on. They don't have all the usual covers
that they use. Here they're given the opportunity, on a periodic basis, to
include Americans on UNSCOM inspection teams, and to carry large amounts of
equipment and to build things and leave them in Iraq. The temptation was
simply too great.
From their point of view it makes perfect sense. From UNSCOM's point of
From UNSCOM's point of view it's a betrayal. UNSCOM knows perfectly well
that all these contributing states are pursuing their own agendas, are learning
as much as they can, are putting the information they learn to their own uses.
That's part of the deal. But UNSCOM is trying very hard throughout its history
to preserve its independence.
For example, it established a principle from the beginning, that it would
never swap intelligence. It would never say, "I'll give you something you want
if you give us something we want." To the extent that they provided
information to other countries, it was only because they had to do so in order
to get the information that they wanted. Just for example, you go to the
government of Germany and say, "We have reason to believe that Company X sold
these fermenters to Iraq. We'd like to know if you know whether they sold any
more fermenters or any other equipment, or any other company that did the
same." You can't get that information without saying, "We know about these
fermenters." Likewise, you can't get Israeli help interpreting photographs
without showing them the photographs.
But UNSCOM fiercely guarded its independence. It knew that it could become
hostage to other people's agendas. They insisted that there be no chain of
command over its inspectors, which were lent to it, other than through UNSCOM.
And so to have covert American operations using UNSCOM as cover, not only
undermines UNSCOM, but these are dedicated arms controllers, and they're very
worried that it's going to undermine the idea of intrusive multinational
inspections in other agencies and other countries.
Back to Ritter -- he comes up with an idea that has the name "Shake the
Tree." Would you describe it and give your assessment about how that changed
"Shake the Tree" was, you could say, the last desperate effort of UNSCOM to
break through Iraq's concealment mechanism. You had in Iraq many overlapping
layers of special services, whose principal job was to foil UNSCOM's work, to
anticipate where UNSCOM would go, to build cover stories, to evacuate the
material. There were networks of temporary and more permanent hide sites.
Sometimes they tried to develop a good cover story for UNSCOM, and sometimes
they didn't even bother.
Toward the end, this competition was increasingly open. One of the last
inspections that Scott Ritter did, he shows up at the headquarters of Special
Security Organization Directorate in downtown Baghdad. It's a site from which
he's been barred before. They've recently been given permission to go back
into Iraq. So he shows up at this site. As he's driving up, the power -- quote
unquote -- fails. Lights go dark. Unexplained power outage. "Sorry about
that, Scott." He goes into the building, using flashlights through the
hallways, and in every office, he finds a clean desk, a man with a mustache
with two or three sharp pencils and two or three empty file folders, and they
ask him, "What do you do here?" And he says, "I register marriages." This is
at the Special Security Organization headquarters in Baghdad.
And so it was very much in your face by the end. The Iraqis saying, "We
know what you're trying to do and we're never going to let you do it. You're
not going to catch us at it." So "Shake the Tree" is an effort to puncture
through all these walls of deception and cover up. And it goes like
There will be a very open effort by UNSCOM inspectors to come upon a
sensitive site. Simultaneous with that, there will be covert efforts to look
and listen to what the Iraqis are doing in response to the UNSCOM approach.
Now from the start, they've synchronized U2 overflights with these inspections.
They've synchronized some other overhead assets like U.S. satellites or signals
aircraft that are operating on the edges of Iraq. This time, they're using
these ground based scanners to listen to Iraqi radio communications.
This is significant because Iraq has no reason to believe that these can be
listened to. First of all, they're encrypted, using the best European
technology that money can buy. Second of all, they're VHF signals, meaning
that they are quite short range, and that means it's very, very hard to hear
them from space or even from aircraft. So, they have good reason to think that
these are secure. UNSCOM, in cooperation with the United States, Israel and
Great Britain, has brought in these scanners which are capable of intercepting
these signals and recording on the digital tape. The tapes are then brought
out and they are stripped, which is the intelligence term for breaking the
code, and they are then translated from the Arabic. And even then, you need to
understand the way Iraqi communications security works.
Even when it's encrypted, they're still speaking in a kind of code. For
example, they would never use the word "missile." Sometimes they would say,
"eagle" when they meant "missile." But, gradually UNSCOM is learning a great
deal about Iraqi concealment methods and who's ordering it and who's running
the organizations. For example, they find out that the people who look like
traffic cops on all the streets where UNSCOM is driving are operating on the
network of the intelligence services, and are being given information and
providing information about UNSCOM's movements in real time. Because one of
UNSCOM's cardinal principles was no advance notice. You would know which site
was being inspected when the inspectors turned up. But you'd know a little
sooner, because you knew which direction they were heading, and the traffic
cops were reporting back and so on. This is perhaps not surprising. But
UNSCOM broke through the mechanism of the concealment in an effort to come up
with a way of catching these hidden caches, either in place or on the open
road. If they ever got to a point where they arrived where the materials were,
and they were under guard, then they would simply be turned away, and then it
becomes a matter for the Security Council.
Every now and then, though, they would catch the Iraqis where the stuff
isn't under guard. There was the case back in '91 where the Army Major managed
to photograph the calutron. There is a case much more recently -- I think it's
September of '97 -- when a diminutive female microbiologist from the University
of Florida -- decides to go in the back door instead of the front door of a food
laboratory which she's inspecting, because all those sorts of laboratories are
dubious. And two great big, husky, Iraqi security guards clutching briefcases
literally run into her on their way out the door as she's on her way in. And
she says, "Stop." And they don't know what to do. There's this woman standing
in front of them. And they turn back around and run back inside the building.
And this woman starts running and chasing them. And she catches them. And at
this point I guess they could either shoot her or give her the briefcases, and
they gave her the briefcases.
And this is the kind of thing that "Shake the Tree" was supposed to create:
more and more opportunities like this, in which UNSCOM finally would get its
hands on the hidden stuff.
By the mid-'90's, UNSCOM is under a lot of political pressure to say about
Iraq, "You're free and clear. We've destroyed weapons. It's all gone." And
at that point, a very significant person defects from Iraq.
Well, two things are happening by the beginning of 1995. There's a lot of
pressure on UNSCOM to declare the discovery phase of its work complete and to
move on to ongoing monitoring and verification. "We found all the bad stuff.
Now we just have to put in place a mechanism to prevent them from rebuilding
it." The reason is they haven't found anything very important for a long time.
The other thing that happens is the defection of Hussein Kamel, who is Saddam
Hussein's son-in-law, along with his brother, Saddam Hussein's other
son-in-law. And Kamel was the head of the military industrial commission in
Iraq. He had the rank of Lieutenant General. He was a principal developer of
the program for creating special weapons in Iraq. He was one of the few
trusted confidantes in Saddam Hussein's inner circle. He married Saddam's
daughter. He came from the same clan. And he was absolutely critical to
Saddam's building of a weapons program.
He had a running feud with Saddam's somewhat crazy oldest son, Uday. He had
fears about his continued status in Iraq, perhaps his continued safety. And
one day in August of 1995 he drives his family across the border with Jordan
and announces that he wants to defect. This opened an enormous opportunity
for UNSCOM and for every foreign intelligence service that was interested in
Kamel was able to describe for them where the stuff was, what was built,
the existence of an extensive biological weapons program, the existence of a
far more extensive nuclear program than was known, who was running the
deception operations, how they worked, and so on.
Iraq had a big problem on its hands, because it needed a new explanation for
all this. And the explanation they hit upon was, "We are shocked, shocked, to
discover that under our very noses, Kamel all this time has been hiding all
kinds of weapons and documentation. We've discovered it on his chicken farm,
and here it is. You may have it all." And they deliver to UNSCOM one million
pages of newly-declared documents, which show a lot of biological weapons
programs, which show a lot more chemical weapons programs, which show material
shortfalls, which show missile stuff, which show nuclear stuff. But-- and it
took a long time to do this-- as UNSCOM went through these million pages of
documents, and hundreds of crates, they found that there were interesting gaps.
For example, all the biological stuff was described as research. There was
nothing on weaponization, that is to say, nothing on taking what you know to be
a toxic bug-- anthrax say-- and putting it into a warhead that can be used as a
military weapon. That's a big part of the problem. ... So in each case, Iraq
kept back something important. Usually the most important thing.
What does UNSCOM have to say?
Well, UNSCOM had been worrying throughout '94 and '95, that it was running
out of leads. It did not believe that it found everything, but it had less and
less to go on to demonstrate that. A lot of the intelligence it got was very
productive immediately after the Persian Gulf War, because it was fresh. But
gradually those leads dried up. And by the end of '94 or early '95, there was
more and more pressure from France, from Russia, from China, on the Security
Council, to say "Either put up or shut up. Show us something or let's move
on." And although they had doubts, they were on the verge of doing so.
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. Their
worst nightmare scenario was eclipsed by the documents on this chicken farm,
and it meant the beginning of a major new phase of biological, missile,
chemical, and nuclear investigations.
Richard Butler takes over, from Ekeus, as head of UNSCOM. What do you make
Butler is a very blunt Australian. An experienced diplomat, an experienced
arms controller. But very plain talking, very direct. The style that's well
appreciated in Washington and not nearly as much in the precincts of the United
Nations, where deflection and circumlocution are much more the style.
He and Ritter must have gotten along?
You would have thought so. But it didn't last long. Butler is the kind of
guy--someone who knows him told me--who you really wouldn't want to share an
office with. His way is the only way. He is very much convinced of his
position. And he admits this about himself. This did not always make for
smooth sailing inside UNSCOM, and he was famous for sort of frictions and
shouting matches with colleagues, and so he was a handful.
Did UNSCOM change as a result of Butler coming in?
There is a school of thought out there now that is blaming Butler for
UNSCOM's decline. I'm not sure I agree. Fundamentally, he was dealing with a
different hand. The biggest thing that changed was that sanctions fatigue and
different national agendas set in and UNSCOM support on the Security Council,
which was always uneven, declined.
At the very moment that UNSCOM felt the need to use ever more intrusive and
controversial methods to find Iraq's weapons, the Security Council was more and
more uncomfortable with what UNSCOM was doing. And nobody could have played
that hand successfully, in my opinion.
By the end there simply was not the international consensus to do what
UNSCOM needed to do to find Iraq's weapons.
There's a whole cycle of frustration that repeats itself several times in
those last few years, where under Butler, with Ritter going in on inspections,
they want to push hard at certain points, and then someone steps in. Yeltsin
steps in; Kofi Annan goes to Iraq; and we're brought back from the brink. This
must have been very frustrating for people like Ritter.
Well, it was. You had this delicate balance all throughout the last several
years, in which the United States and UNSCOM and Britain were desperately
trying to hold onto the hammer of military threats to secure Iraqi compliance,
and throughout that period they are watching the Security Council support
For example, Iraq openly defies UNSCOM, shuts down inspections, in the
period of late fall of 1997, and the most the Security Council can do is vote
to deplore this. And when they eventually sanction it, they put a lid on
official travel by several Iraqis who never travel anyway. This is the
sanction. And that wasn't even unanimous. So the United States sees that
support for UNSCOM is declining. So it's trying to manage these coalitions.
It wants to threaten to use force, but it doesn't want to actually have to go
through with using force, because it knows that that will be the end of the
What about Kofi Annan? Now he's saying, again, to use something you
referred to earlier-- "I'm shocked, I'm shocked. There were western
intelligence agencies involved with UNSCOM. I never would have approved that."
Well, something else that Kofi Annan says is, "I don't have supervisory
authority over UNSCOM. Don't think UNSCOM is the United Nations. It reports
directly to the Security Council. There are personnel rules. We had no
control over this." He is distancing himself as fast as possible from UNSCOM,
because what happened with UNSCOM is a big threat politically to the U.N. The
U.N. is an institution founded on the idea of respecting to the nth degree the
sovereignty of its member states. It simply can't be involved in espionage.
It simply can't be involved in efforts by one member state to overthrow the
government of another. He needs to insulate himself from that.
And yet here the U.N. was almost required to be just those things.
Well, this is the paradox of UNSCOM, although the U.S. agenda to change the
regime in Baghdad is no part of UNSCOM's mission and no part of the Security
Council's mandate. That's rather a separate thing. It's another layer of
complexity here, in which the principal sponsor of the war, or the resolutions
and of UNSCOM has another agenda openly stated, to overthrow the government of
What about Ritter's charge in regard to that, that during one UNSCOM
inspection there was a plan to have a coup against Saddam and that there were
more CIA agents than normal as part of the UNSCOM team?
Ritter simply notes the coincidence, and says he's suspicious of
coincidences. There were more than the usual number of CIA paramilitary
operatives in Iraq as part of inspection teams helping him do the things that
he usually did there, and he later learned that this coincided with a coup
attempt in 1996. And he later learned that some of the sites that they
inspected were Special Republican Guard facilities from which part of the coup
attempt had emanated. He considered that not coincidental. I think that many
people would agree.
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