The Age
CIA ruined Iraqi weapons hunt


Sunday 2 July 2000

American spy agencies virtually crippled United Nations' efforts to shut down Saddam Hussein's nuclear and chemical warfare arsenals after the Gulf War.

American self-interest threatened the disarmament process in Iraq and peace in the Middle East, according to a book by Sunday Age journalist and author Tania Ewing to be published tomorrow.

As the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, headed by former Australian diplomat Richard Butler, faced threats from gun-toting Iraqi troops, the Americans were using personnel and equipment from the special commission, known as UNSCOM, to gather crucial intelligence, which they then refused to share with Mr Butler's disarmament inspectors.

In The Peace Broker, Ewing analyses Mr Butler's career and his controversial period in the often fractious UN network.

She reveals that the United States hijacked UNSCOM's intelligence-gathering project to such an extent that some staff in Baghdad complained they had been dragged unwillingly into espionage.

UNSCOM members were adamant that some Iraqi targets bombed during Desert Fox - including the bedroom of one of Mr Hussein's mistresses - could only have been picked from information recorded by UNSCOM.

The mantle of American interest hung so heavily over the operation that the boundaries between UNSCOM, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency became blurred.

UN member nations were obliged to help UNSCOM where it did not have the capacity to monitor the deadly arsenals hidden by the Iraqi regime, but they were mandated to hand over the information. Often the US maintained sole access to intelligence they were supposed to decode for UNSCOM.

Even when the US did share information, it was often rendered useless because of long and deliberate delays, enabling Iraq to change tactics and hide arsenals and evidence from UNSCOM.

Ewing also reveals that UNSCOM personnel sometimes thwarted American self-interest by asking personnel from one US agency to decode data without letting the other know about it, and by using other intelligence sources such as the Israelis to decode the data.

At the time, Iraq complained bitterly that UNSCOM was a front for the US and other military powers. These complaints were dismissed as an Iraqi ruse to deny UNSCOM access to its arms data and arsenals.

The book also reveals that UNSCOM installed a listening device in its Baghdad headquarters for disarmament purposes but this was used by the US for monitoring Mr Hussein, an activity not covered under the UN mandate.

A $1 billion Vortex satellite launched by the US to use those frequencies to monitor mobile telephone conversations and radio traffic in Iraq crashed on take-off.

Mr Butler eventually acknowledged the CIA could have been using UNSCOM, but he claimed to have no knowledge of it.

"He refused to concede that, ultimately, the buck stopped with him," Ewing notes.

"All he had to say was, if the CIA did compromise UNSCOM, then he took full responsibility because it happened on his watch. But he didn't, and it damaged him and his organisation."

Original article