Information Gathered by UNSCOM Was
Shared with the U.S. Military and Used in
Targeting During the December 1998
Bombings of Iraq (Operation Desert Fox)

 

Contents


"Controversy mounts over role of UN inspectors in Iraq,"
By Martin
McLaughlin, World Socialist Web Site,
December 18, 1998

"Chief U.N. weapons inspector rejects spying
allegations,"
CNN, January 6, 1999

"UN inspectors in Iraq spied for the CIA, Martin
McLaughlin, World Socialist Web Site, January 7, 1999

"U.S. silent on new Iraq spying allegations,"
BBC, January 7, 1999

"
Desert Fox Delivery Precision Undermined Its Purpose: Department
of Defense’s  U.S. Central Command releases details on Desert
Fox targets; Success of operation was greatly aided by UNSCOM
inspections,"
William M. Arkin, The Washington Post, January 17, 1999

"
The Case of the Spies Without a Country," Tim Weiner,
The New York Times (web), January 17, 1999


 


 

Controversy mounts over role
of UN inspectors in
Iraq


By Martin McLaughlin

World Socialist Web Site
December 18, 1998


The role of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq has come under public attack, with charges that the UN weapons inspectors deliberately provoked a confrontation with Iraqi officials to provide the Clinton administration with a pretext for launching its air war.

Russian officials at the UN Security Council denounced UNSCOM chief inspector Richard Butler, saying that the crisis "was created artificially as a result of irresponsible acts" by Butler. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov demanded that Butler resign, charging that he "bore personal responsibility for this turn of events."

Both UN and US officials have confirmed the extraordinary degree of collaboration between UNSCOM and the Pentagon and CIA. Secretary of Defense William Cohen indicated that US officials had been kept informed of UNSCOM activities minute-by-minute during the month between the last previous confrontation with Iraq, which ended November 15, and the launching of Wednesday's air strikes.

While President Clinton claimed that Butler's report on UNSCOM's inspection activities during the past month, officially delivered to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, was the trigger for the air raids, both UN and Pentagon officials said that the US government actually participated in the drafting of the document, essentially writing its own pretext for war.

The actual record of UNSCOM activities shows virtually complete cooperation by Iraq with even the most provocative demands of the UN inspectors. UNSCOM inspectors carried out 299 visits to previously inspected sites and 128 visits to new sites during the period from November 15 to December 14. Of those 427 visits, there were a total of 5 in which they claim to have encountered "obstacles" from Iraq.

These five incidents, the supposed cause for the massive US air strikes, include one instance where UN inspectors were kept waiting for 45 minutes, another where Iraqi officials sought to limit the number of inspectors to four, and two more where entry was denied at locations where the entire work force had gone home because it was Friday, a day of rest in many Moslem countries.

In their attempts to deflect criticism that Clinton launched the air strikes to divert public attention from the impeachment drive in Washington, US government spokesmen have revealed that the war against Iraq was being planned down to the last detail for at least a month.

From the time that Clinton called off air raids November 15, with US B-52 bombers actually in the air and headed for Baghdad, the Pentagon planners had targeted the week beginning December 14 as the next possible window of opportunity for air strikes, because the new moon provides the best conditions for nighttime air raids.

The "routine" recycling of US military forces, allowing those stationed in the Persian Gulf for the past six months to return home for the holidays, meant that during the week before Christmas there would be two aircraft carriers in the region, one arriving and one preparing to leave, thus doubling the available forces. Similarly, two groups of B-52 bombers are now at the US base on Diego Garcia island, in the Indian Ocean, from which they have launched devastating cruise missile attacks.

There is no doubt that the actions of the UNSCOM inspectors, as well as the timing of Butler's report to the Security Council, were just as carefully planned as the movement of ships and planes. According to General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since Butler's report was due to be delivered December 15--a fact known well in advance--December 16 was always the prime target day for US air strikes.

UNSCOM not only cooperated in providing the political pretext for the attacks, the UN inspectors served as virtual bomb spotters for the Pentagon. A series of reports in the American press provides extraordinarily blunt confirmation of the intelligence gathering role of the supposedly neutral and "professional" agency.

The Los Angeles Times wrote December 17, "The Pentagon has been accumulating information since the Gulf War that it could use for such an assault. It has a pile of information from the work of the United Nations Special Commission." The Washington Post, in its front-page account of the preparation of the air strikes, wrote, "U.S. planners benefited immensely from seven years of intelligence gathered by UN weapons inspectors."

The Wall Street Journal spelled out the UN role in the most detail, writing: "American military planners know a lot more about Iraq than they did in January 1991. Back then, the targeting followed just six months of hurried work by military-intelligence specialists, much of it guesswork. By contrast, the campaign that began yesterday draws on seven years of study, bolstered by the findings of UN weapons inspectors and the revelations of several high-level Iraqi defectors."

These reports cast a new and sinister light on the activities of UNSCOM during the past year, when the agency's inspectors have focused their attention on surprise visits to so-called presidential sites within Iraq, i.e., the various public buildings and residences set aside for the personal use of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The question is posed: were UNSCOM's operations dictated by the need of the Pentagon to gather intelligence on the movements of the Iraqi leader, so that he could be targeted for US attack?

In a television interview Thursday, retired General Norman Schwarzkopf, the chief US commander in the Persian Gulf war, said that on the first night of US air strikes on Iraq in January 1991 bombs and missiles had hit every known residence and hiding place of the Iraqi president. There is no doubt that similar efforts are being made in Operation Desert Fox. One of the sites hit in the first night's attacks was the home of the Iraqi president's daughter.

From a tactical standpoint, the current air strikes are the closest thing to an assassination attempt which the US military can carry out. From the point of view of the political goals declared by Clinton and other administration officials, the raids will be a strategic success only if the Iraqi president himself is killed. And according to one analyst cited in the Wall Street Journal, the US is also launching covert operations using Iraqi exiles with the goal of killing Saddam Hussein during the current crisis.

 

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Chief U.N. weapons inspector
rejects spying allegations


CNN,
January 6, 1999

 

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler on Wednesday denied reports that his teams were used to monitor sensitive Iraqi communications in a U.S. effort to undermine Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

 

Butler was asked about a Washington Post story saying UNSCOM -- the U.N. special commission in charge of dismantling and monitoring Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- had provided aid to U.S. intelligence operatives.

 

"I've said in public that it's simply untrue," Butler said, adding that he would comment further Wednesday afternoon.

 

The Boston Globe and The Washington Post -- citing anonymous sources -- said an electronic eavesdropping operation allowed U.S. intelligence agents to gather secret communications among military units guarding Hussein.

 

The Washington Post said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had convincing evidence that U.N. arms inspectors helped collect eavesdropping intelligence used in U.S. efforts to undermine the Iraqi regime.

 

The Boston Globe reported that U.S. intelligence agents were able to listen in on secret communications between elite military units responsible for Hussein's security.

 

A White House spokesman refused to comment on "intelligence matters," noting only that the United States was one of the member states in the United Nations providing support to the U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq. A State Department spokeswoman also declined to comment.

 

Secretary-General Annan Informed about Reports

 

The Post quoted unnamed confidants close to Annan as saying he had learned that UNSCOM helped Washington listen to some of Iraq's most sensitive communications.

 

Annan had received classified U.S. intelligence, passed to him through intermediaries, about the eavesdropping activities, the Post said.

 

The sources acknowledged that the eavesdropping was aimed in part at helping the inspectors hunt down forbidden weapons, or the means to conceal them, but told the Post that Annan was convinced that Washington used the operation to penetrate the security apparatus protecting the Iraqi president.

 

"The secretary-general has become aware of the fact that UNSCOM directly facilitated the creation of an intelligence collection system for the United States in violation of its mandate," the Post quoted one Annan adviser as saying.

 

U.N. reassessing its role in Iraq

 

"The United Nations cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most fundamental way, that is what's wrong with the UNSCOM operation," the source was quoted as saying.

 

The United Nations has been reassessing what role UNSCOM has to play in Iraq after U.S. and British airstrikes against the country last month. In the wake of those airstrikes, Baghdad said that the arms inspections had been terminated.

 

The latest revelations will likely heighten Iraq's suspicions about the commission and make it less likely that any arms inspectors will be allowed back in.

 

UNSCOM was created by the U.N. Security Council after the 1991 Gulf War. The commission withdrew all its personnel before the December 16-19 U.S. and British airstrikes.

 

Iraq has repeatedly accused UNSCOM of spying for the United Sates, rather than following its U.N. disarmament mandate.

 

Pressure on Butler

 

The Boston Globe, citing information from unnamed U.S. and U.N. officials, said the plan to penetrate Iraq's intelligence apparatus was believed to be ongoing.

 

It said it was unclear if the operation, which it said began in February 1996, was designed to topple the Baghdad regime.

 

The Globe said U.S. officials "privately acknowledged that they were engaged in the operation."

 

The Post said Annan's advisers acknowledged that the secretary-general was trying to put pressure on Butler to resign in favor of a successor who might win the consent of Iraq and its defenders on the Security Council.

 

The paper quoted Assistant Secretary-General John Ruggie as saying that if the allegations were proven true, "they would pose a serious challenge for the United Nations with regards to our disarmament work in Iraq and multilateral arms control efforts generally."

 

 

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UN inspectors in Iraq
spied for the CIA


By Martin McLaughlin

World Socialist Web Site
January 7, 1999


United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq served as a cover for US intelligence-gathering, including efforts to track the movements of Saddam Hussein and other key Iraqi officials, according to reports published Wednesday by the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.

The intelligence provided by the weapons inspectors was later used to target US air strikes during Operation Desert Fox, the US-British assault on Iraq last month, with the aim of killing the Iraqi president.

These reports vindicate the denunciations of UNSCOM over the past several years by Iraqi spokesmen, who have pointed to the close links between the UN inspectorate and American and Israeli intelligence agencies. Both the Globe and the Post confirmed that UNSCOM collaborated extensively with the Israeli Aman (military intelligence), the CIA and British intelligence.

One implication of these revelations is clear. As US officials demanded ever more intrusive searches of alleged weapons facilities--which they knew had already been effectively dismantled by the Persian Gulf war and eight years of inspections and sanctions--they had another purpose in mind. They were engaged in profiling the Iraqi security apparatus and monitoring Saddam Hussein's movements, to assist in efforts to kill the Iraqi leader, either through outright assassination, a coup attempt or as a consequence of US air strikes.

The front-page reports on the spy role of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) cited advisers to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, US intelligence officials and former UNSCOM official Scott Ritter, the American ex-Marine who resigned from the agency last August. Both UN spokesmen and Clinton administration officials denied the reports, but provided no factual refutation.

The Post quoted a source close to Annan declaring, "The secretary-general has become aware of the fact that UNSCOM directly facilitated the creation of an intelligence collection system for the United States in violation of its mandate. The United Nations cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most fundamental way, that is what's wrong with the UNSCOM operation."

According to the Globe account, which was far more detailed than the Post 's, UNSCOM's relationship with US intelligence services, always close, underwent a significant change in February 1996. At the initiative of Scott Ritter, UNSCOM began to target not merely alleged Iraqi nuclear, biological and chemical weapons facilities--its mandate from the Security Council--but also what Ritter labeled the Iraqi "concealment mechanism," i.e., the entire internal security and counterintelligence apparatus which is the font of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial power.

US intelligence agencies supplied UNSCOM with high-tech equipment that made it possible for the UN inspectors to eavesdrop on secret communications between the elite military units responsible for Hussein's personal security. These units, the Special Republican Guard and the Special Security Organization, were the principal targets of the US-British bombing raids on December 16-19.

In September 1996, then-chairman of UNSCOM, Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus, complained in a letter to CIA Director John Deutch that the US agency was not sharing the fruits of the electronic monitoring conducted by UNSCOM inspectors on the ground in Baghdad. This was the first of a series of clashes between UNSCOM and the CIA over control of the joint operation.

These arguments, which reflected conflicts between rival powers on the Security Council, especially France and Russia versus the US and Britain, culminated in March 1998, when the CIA took over the electronic monitoring, automating it so that UNSCOM participation was no longer necessary. The equipment continues to function to this day, the Globe reported, nearly a month after all UNSCOM personnel were withdrawn from the Iraqi capital.

The Globe quotes Ritter saying that UNSCOM inspectors tracked Saddam Hussein's own movements. "We knew a hell of a lot of information about presidential security," he said. A Clinton administration official all but acknowledged that UNSCOM was spying on Hussein under cover of searching for "weapons of mass destruction." "Saddam's personal security apparatus and the apparatus that conceals weapons of mass destruction are one and the same," he said.

The Globe noted that the chief of Hussein's personal security operations, Abid Hamid Makhmoud, was specifically targeted during Operation Desert Fox. His home was blown up by a US bomb or cruise missile.

There are discrepancies between the Globe report and the Post report which have a political significance. The Post is silent on the role of Ritter and provides far fewer details of the electronic intelligence-gathering operation. The Washington newspaper revealed that it had withheld such details from an earlier article, published October 12, which first made public the name of the CIA-UNSCOM joint venture, "Operation Shake the Tree." The Post said that, at the CIA's request, it was continuing to suppress these details.

 

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U.S. silent on new Iraq
spying allegations


BBC
January 7, 1999



The
United States government has refused to comment on new press reports, alleging that United Nations weapons inspectors helped it collect vital information ahead of last month's air-strikes against Iraq.

 

Two prestigious American dailies, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, reported on Thursday that US intelligence agents were included in the UN inspection teams.

 

They also said the UNSCOM inspectors had given the American National Security Agency a direct feed of conversations between Iraqi security agencies.


The head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, and the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, have already rejected less-specific spying allegations that appeared in two other US newspapers on Wednesday.

 

Iraq says the reports vindicate its charge that UNSCOM is working with the US to undermine President Saddam Hussein.

 

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

 

 

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Desert Fox Delivery Precision
Undermined Its Purpose


Department of Defense’s U.S.
Central Command releases
details on Desert Fox targets;
Success of operation was greatly
aided by UNSCOM inspections

 


By William M. Arkin


The
Washington Post
January 17, 1999

 


William Arkin, an independent defense analyst, spent two months in
Iraq
after the Gulf War and has written extensively on Operation Desert Storm.

 

 

When U.S. bombs and missiles fell on Iraq on the evening of Dec. 16, one of their principal targets was Saddam Hussein's sleeping quarters on the outskirts of Baghdad. But that was only one of the sites on the military's list of places to bomb in the sprawling Radwaniyah complex adjacent to the now-vacant Saddam International Airport.

 

The targeting list was stunning in its specificity. Bombs were dropped on separate buildings that house secret units of the infamous Special Security Organization (SSO) and the Special Republican Guards (SRG), including the barracks of the 5th Battalion of the 1st Brigade, the 8th Battalion of the 2nd Brigade, the 3rd Artillery Battalion, and the 1st Armored Battalion of the 4th Brigade.

 

Thanks to the hard work of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), U.S. targeters know a lot more about the Iraqi regime today than they did during the Gulf War in 1991. The United States and Britain now have a diagrammatic understanding of the Iraqi government structure, as well as of the intelligence, security and transport organizations that protect the Iraqi leadership. The same mission folders that UNSCOM put together to inspect specific buildings and offices in its search for concealed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) became the basis for the targeting folders that missile launchers and pilots used in December.

 

Welcome to the true Operation Desert Fox.

 

It is clear from the target list, and from extensive communications with almost a dozen officers and analysts knowledgeable about Desert Fox planning, that the U.S.-British bombing campaign was more than a reflexive reaction to Saddam Hussein's refusal to cooperate with UNSCOM's inspectors. The official rationale for Desert Fox may remain the "degrading" of Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction and the "diminishing" of the Iraqi threat to its neighbors. But careful study of the target list tells another story.

 

Thirty-five of the 100 targets were selected because of their role in Iraq's air defense system, an essential first step in any air war, because damage to those sites paves the way for other forces and minimizes casualties all around. Only 13 targets on the list are facilities associated with chemical and biological weapons or ballistic missiles, and three are southern Republican Guard bases that might be involved in a repeat invasion of Kuwait.

 

The heart of the Desert Fox list (49 of the 100 targets) is the Iraqi regime itself: a half-dozen palace strongholds and their supporting cast of secret police, guard and transport organizations. Some sites, such as Radwaniyah, had been bombed in 1991 (Saddam's quarters there were designated "L01" in Desert Storm, meaning the first target in the Leadership category). Other sites, particularly "special" barracks and units in and around downtown Baghdad and the outlying palaces, were bombed for the first time.

 

National security insiders, blessed with their unprecedented intelligence bonanza from UNSCOM, convinced themselves that bombing Saddam Hussein's internal apparatus would drive the Iraqi leader around the bend. "We've penetrated your security, we're inside your brain," is the way one senior administration official described the message that the United States was sending Saddam Hussein.

 

Without the target list, such a view seems like sheer bravado. With the target list, a host of new questions arises: Is the administration's view of Saddam Hussein's hold on power in line with reality? And what is the feasibility, not to mention the legality, of what amounts to an aerial assassination strategy?

 

The origins of the Desert Fox target list go back to October, when high-level discussions in Washington led to the conclusion that military action was not only inevitable, but that it might actually achieve something. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), headquartered in Tampa, began to articulate the military mission of "degrading" and "diminishing" Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Gen. Anthony Zinni, the CENTCOM commander, insisted that the United States only bomb Iraqi sites that had been identified with a high degree of certainty, according to officers involved in the process.

 

Given the UNSCOM data flowing in, there was no end of choices. Seven broad target categories were created, including two--"WMD security" and "command and control"--that would accommodate the new intelligence reports and cover an effort to shake the Iraqi regime to its core.

 

By November, a plan was in place. WMD targets themselves were small in number, given Zinni's directive. The main emphasis would be on Iraq's short-range missile program. The Bush administration had acceded to a Soviet proposal in 1991 to allow Iraq to have missiles with a range under 150 kilometers. U.S. intelligence had concluded that Iraq was using the short-range facilities as a cover for redeveloping long-range missiles.

 

All of the suspected facilities--Ibn al Haytham, Karama, Al Kindi in Mosul, Shahiyat, Taji and Zaafaraniyah--were under UNSCOM camera monitoring. In fact, UNSCOM had cataloged specific pieces of irreplaceable equipment that, if destroyed, would set back any conversion effort.

 

There were non-missile WMD targets as well: the Biological Research Center at Baghdad University, which UNSCOM concluded was the office of the head of Iraq's biological weapons program ("Doctor Germ," they dubbed her), and two airfields--Al Sahra near Tikrit and Tallil in the south--which were believed to house drone aircraft that could deliver a biological cloud in an attack.

 

Some have criticized the Desert Fox campaign for not going after suspected production sites of biological or chemical agents. The common refrain is that the United States avoided such targets because of the potential for collateral damage, but this is not true. The targeters could not identify actual weapons sites with enough specificity to comply with Zinni's directive.

 

At a Pentagon briefing on Jan. 7, Zinni said the ease with which chemical and biological agents can be manufactured, particularly for terrorist type use, made bombing of potential dual-use facilities (such as pharmaceutical plants) futile. "There isn't going to be anything militarily" to eliminate or signficantly degrade those capabilities, he said, "if they're that easy to . . . establish."

 

How could a 70-hour bombing campaign possibly generate an outcome that the utter defeat of the Iraqi army and tens of thousand of airstrikes over 43 days failed to deliver? The answer is again in the target list--and in the administration's belief that ever more accurate bombs and unprecedented target data can have far-reaching reverberations.

 

Desert Fox's most significant departure from Desert Storm is its targeting of offices associated with Saddam Hussein's entourage and advisers, the Iraqi intelligence and Ba'ath party organizations, and the security and transport apparatus that is so essential for Saddam's survival. Many of these top-level targets were hit in 1991 (Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls them "highly visible symbols of the regime"), but the 1998 campaign locked in on sites not even known eight years ago. For example, the office of Abed Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam Hussein's chief of staff, was attacked, albeit under the innocuous target name of "Secretariat Presidential Building."  The SSO computer center as well as intelligence archives also were targeted. In 1991, only two installations associated with the protection of Saddam Hussein were hit. In Desert Fox, this group makes up 20 percent of the total of all targets.

 

Other targets also reflected the strategy to weaken the regime's control. Two corps and four division headquarters installations of the "regular" Republican Guards were hit, as were helicopter bases at Samarra East, K2 airfield near Baiji, Taji and Kut. Like the decision to allow short-range missiles, the United States was snookered into allowing Iraq the use of its helicopters after Desert Storm, and they were subsequently used to suppress the Shiite and Kurdish rebellions.

 

The misstep has stuck in the U.S. craw ever since.

 

More than a dozen eavesdropping and jamming units, telephone exchanges, and radio and television transmitters were attacked in Baghdad, Basra and the south, Abu Ghraib, Rashidiya (just north of the capital) and Tikrit. Part of the goal of disrupting telephone and television service was to impede military communications and undermine Iraqi propaganda efforts. But attacking secret police archives and intelligence stations also has the purpose of disrupting Baghdad's ability to monitor the internal situation.

 

Desert Fox pleased many active and retired officers who played a role in the 1991 air war. These Desert Storm insiders say they feel vindicated by the administration's decision to target the Iraqi leadership. They felt they were constrained Saddam Hussein in earnest in 1991, and argue that the United States and the world is still paying the price for Washington's hesitation at the time.

 

But there is also disquiet. "A good concept, but too little, too late,"  said one senior officer. Not only was Desert Fox constrained by time, breadth and the sheer physical destruction possible with 1,000 weapons, but a host of other priorities--to minimize civilian deaths, prevent U.S. casualties and deflect political fallout--undercut the overall goal.

 

According to military sources, there was no leeway in the strict timetable, and the decision to achieve surprise before Ramadan served to give Iraq a 30-day break. Attacks were mounted only at night, ceding daylight hours for recovery and dispersal. An Iraqi sanctuary existed above the 35th parallel. And certain targets were avoided altogether, such as electrical power sites, for fear of a cascading effect on the civilian population and negative publicity.

 

To administration officials, the plight of the Iraqi people is the only hot-button issue that could undermine their "topple" strategy.  Saddam Hussein and his cronies have built installations and institutions to insulate themselves and their lives from Iraqi society at large.  Saddam's guardians have been showered by extra pay and treatment.  To inflict further harm on this privileged inner circle, CIA analysts added the Tikrit food warehouse and a distribution manifold on the Gulf coast south of the Basra refinery to the bombing list--part of an "economic strangulation" plan to disrupt the illicit cash and rations pipeline.

 

Two pitiful targets to achieve that goal?  More than anything else, it is the very precision and economy of Desert Fox that ultimately undermined its true purpose. "The Iraqis are professional cruise missile recipients," one recently retired four-star general observed in December as bulldozers and laborers arrived at bombed sites on the Monday after Desert Fox ended. With almost half the population unemployed, rebuilding is as close as anything to a national jobs program in Iraq.

 

CENTCOM estimates that it will take Iraq from one to two months to restore the smuggling operation from the Basra refinery. And then it will undoubtedly be bombed again.

  

Zeroed In

 

Of the 100 targets on the list for Operation Desert Fox in Iraq, 87 were hit. A breakdown of the seven categories and their key areas is as follows:

 

COMMAND AND CONTROL: 18 of 20 targets hit

 

WMD INDUSTRY AND PRODUCTION: 12 of 12 targets hit

 

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION (WMD) SECURITY: 18 of 18 targets hit

 

REPUBLICAN GUARDS: 9 of 9 targets hit

 

ECONOMIC: 1 of 1 targets hit

 

AIRFIELDS: 5 of 6 targets hit

 

AIR DEFENSES: 24 of 34 targets hit

 

Sources: U.S. Central Command, Department of Defense

 

Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

 

 
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The Case of the Spies
Without a Country


By TIM WEINER

 

The New York Times (web)
January 17, 1999



WASHINGTON -- Throughout this murderous century, diplomats and dreamers have envisioned a world in which nations would transcend their boundaries, dispel their differences and band together to preserve peace against dictators and despots.

 

This vision of world federation helped create the United Nations. And it engendered the U.N. Special Commission, charged with disarming Iraq after the 1991 gulf war.

 

The commission, known as Unscom, became an international intelligence service for the new world order. It was the first of its kind -- and, it now seems, maybe the last.

 

For the more secret its work became, and the more estranged the enforcers of disarmament grew from each other, the less Unscom could withstand accusations of serving the last superpower, its main supplier of spycraft: the United States.

 

More than 7,000 weapons inspectors from around the world served Unscom over seven years, spying on Iraq, surveying its military and industrial plants, trying to do what smart bombs could not: destroy nuclear, biological, chemical and missile programs hidden by Saddam Hussein.

 

Ideally, intelligence can achieve victory without war. But espionage is a uniquely national enterprise. While nations may share interests, spy services rarely do. "There are friendly states, but no friendly intelligence services," notes a spokesman for Russia's foreign intelligence agency. When spies from two countries shake hands, they are often trying to pick one another's pockets.

 

When the going got tough for Unscom, it sought U.S. spy technology. U.S. intelligence gladly provided it but would not share it with the world. The more secretive Unscom's work became, the less open it could be with its member nations.

 

"If secret information is open to all member states, it won't work," said Gordon Oehler, former director of the CIA's Nonproliferation Center. "If you let in the French, the Chinese, the Russians -- that would kill it."

 

So much for international cooperation. In March the special commission adopted a U.S. eavesdropping system so secret that only a handful of Americans, British, Australians and New Zealanders had full access to it.

 

This, understandably, led to tensions, notably between the Americans on one side and the Russians, the Chinese and the French on the other.

 

The special commission began as a unique experiment. It was assembled quickly after the 1991 gulf war, when Iraq was shattered and powerless and the world seemed united in the determination to disarm that country. It assumed unconditional power to do its work.

 

"It brought together communities -- intelligence, military, non-proliferation -- from around the world, and it brought new thinking about how to do inspections," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, who served as a nuclear-weapons inspector in Iraq. Its leaders thought they could disarm Iraq in no time -- "possibly as little as a year," its chairman, Richard Butler, said last week.

 

But, as Butler conceded, "it has taken eight years, and the job is still not completely finished."

 

Not until 1995 did the inspectors understand that Iraq had an extraordinary system to hide its secret weapons programs. Now three more years have gone by trying to pierce that shield. And as it turned out, the secret weapons -- the foundation of Saddam's power, the ace in the hole with which he might someday trump the world -- were hidden by the same soldiers and sppies whose duty it is to make sure that the Iraqi dictator dies peacefully in bed. That made piercing the Iraqi veil far more difficult than anyone had expected, and prompted the Americans to roll out the particularly sophisticated and sensitive equipment that yielded a product they were reluctant to share too widely.

 

"Iraq is a sovereign nation, and there are limits to what you can do if that nation wants to hide things from you," Oehler said. "The best you can do is make it very painful for them if they won't go along." Iraq has endured great pain -- including perhaps $150 billion in lost oil revenues -- to defy disarmament.

 

"The lesson is you can't disarm a country unless you're willing to occupy it and forbid them the trappings of a sovereign nation, such as a military force and the right to built that force," Oehler said.

 

But no one has been willing to conquer Iraq in the name of world peace. And America's French and Russian partners on the Security Council are increasingly eager to resume business with Baghdad, which owes them billions of dollars.

 

Now the international coalition assembled by President George Bush for the gulf war has dwindled to two nations: the United States and Britain. Their four-day attack on Iraq in December was "the first time in history that a nation has gone to war to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the nonproliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

 

If so, it failed, said Scott Ritter, the former marine who resigned from Unscom in August to protest what he called a lack of U.S. support. His accusations have helped raise suspicions that the Americans used information supposedly gathered for Unscom to precisely target Iraqi units closely linked to Saddam.

 

The attack was a final blow with which "the U.S. killed Unscom," Ritter said. "The U.S. brought its own credibility and objectivity into question. And the U.S. lost a lot of its moral authority to lead on this issue."

 

Now Unscom is banished from Iraq and bloodied by international infighting. The United States is back to taking potshots at Iraq, playing Globocop, a role that alienates it from much of the rest of the world. America's allies in the region are fed up with Saddam, but their patience for U.S. bombing raids is wearing thin.

 

Butler bravely hopes for a new and improved Unscom. But now the French and the Russians are proposing lifting the oil embargo on Iraq in exchange for a new system of overseeing Iraqi weaponry -- and the Russians want to abolish the special commission altogether. The United States is against those proposals. In any case, Iraq will not submit to more inspections unless it is freed entirely from the eight-year-old economic embargo.

 

The experiment in international intelligence is over. No one knows how a new arms control regime can be installed in Iraq. And no one knows how much more pain Iraq is willing to endure to hide its secret cache.

 

Today, on the eighth anniversary of the launching of the gulf war, Iraq's chances of rebuilding a secret arsenal look good. The future for world federations devoted to disarmament looks bleak.

 

 

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