Annan: Arms Inspectors Helped U.S.
Wednesday, January 6, 1999; 7:41 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- United Nations weapons inspectors may have been used to help collect sensitive Iraqi communications for U.S. efforts to undermine Saddam Hussein's regime, according to published reports.
The Boston Globe and The Washington Post quoted anonymous sources in today's editions as saying the electronic eavesdropping operation allowed U.S. intelligence agents to listen in on secret communications among military units responsible for the Iraqi leader's safety.
The Post quoted confidants close to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as saying he is convinced Washington used the operation to penetrate the security apparatus protecting Saddam.
However, the Los Angeles Times reported today that Annan has told key staff members he has no knowledge of the activities alleged by the Post.
``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,'' one Annan adviser told the Post. ``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.''
Annan accumulated enough evidence on the eavesdropping, some through intermediaries passing on classified U.S. information, to ask Richard Butler, head of the weapons inspection team, about the reports last month, the Post said.
According to two of the confidants, Butler denied them to Annan. The newspaper quoted some Annan advisers as acknowledging that Annan would like to pressure Butler to resign in favor of a replacement who might win the consent of Iraq and its defenders on the U.N. Security Council.
The Globe quoted former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine, as saying, ``We knew a hell of a lot of information about presidential security.'' But Ritter said if his team found any information related to Hussein's personal safety, ``we would dump it.''
``Anything we did, we did on our own initiative,'' Ritter said on NBC's ``Today.'' ``The United Nations was in total control.'' His inspection team, Ritter added, ``was not a party to any effort to overthrow the president of Iraq.''
The Globe said the surveillance equipment allowed U.N. inspectors to listen in on radio, cell phone and walkie-talkie communications by members of the Iraqi security network.
The Globe said Rolf Ekeus, former executive chairman of UNSCOM, declined to discuss operational elements of the system, but said the program was run and controlled by the United Nations inspectors, not the United States.
Ritter told the Globe that changed in March 1998 when the United States pressured British and Israeli intelligence to stop supporting the U.N. eavesdropping operation and took it over itself.
``The U.S. decided this system is too sensitive to be run by UNSCOM,'' Ritter told the paper. ``They bulled their way in and took it over. Now any data collected by the activity is not being assessed by UNSCOM. Now, the U.S. gained 100 percent access and is not feeding any of it back.''
``A number of member states have assisted UNSCOM in various aspects of its work, and one of those is the United States,'' Butler told the Post Tuesday night. ``But as far as I am concerned I have always been assiduous in insisting that any assistance given to us be strictly related to our disarmament mandate. I have never approved of any assistance to any member state which would serve their unilateral purpose.''
While Annan acknowledges that the eavesdropping operation was meant in part to aid inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction, he also believes UNSCOM enabled the United States to listen in on some of the most sensitive communications of the Baghdad regime, his confidants told the Post.
A Clinton administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post, ``We've already established that Saddam's personal security apparatus and the apparatus that conceals weapons of mass destruction are one and the same.'' Distinguishing between them would be impossible for intelligence-gathering efforts, he added.
The CIA, State Department and White House declined requests for formal comment.
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