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CNN Diplomatic License

Did the U.S. Use Iraqi Weapons Inspections to Spy on Hussein?

Aired July 21, 2001 - 04:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secrecy, darkness work in favor of those operating illegally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't about James Bond. This is about disarming Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never know what you're going to find out from the United Nations.


RICHARD ROTH, HOST: He was once a leading symbol of an aggressive United Nations in the field, but he returned to the U.N. this week as the distinct outsider.

Hello, I'm Richard Roth. Welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.

Scott Ritter was at the podium inside the U.N. Correspondence Club on Wednesday. The former U.S. Marine was a team leader for U.N. weapons inspections inside Iraq. But Ritter, who was derided as a spy by the Iraqi government is now a welcome guest in Baghdad. Ritter was back at the U.N. in person and on film to discuss the turnaround and spy allegations, captured in a new documentary that he helped produce called "In Shifting Sands."


NARRATOR: Once again, under the threat of U.S. military aggression, Saddam reluctantly agreed to let UNSCOM continue its work.


ROTH: The point of Ritter's film is that the U.S. manipulated inspections to spy on President Saddam Hussein and provide political cover for military action against the regime.

Joining me, some of the U.N. moviegoers, all of them U.N. correspondents, when the popcorn runs out. Here with me, Afsane Bassir Pour of "La Monde." At the United Nations, James Bone of "The Times of London." And from "The New York Times" in perhaps her final appearance on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE, Barbara Crossette of "The New York Times." More on that later. The film, "In Shifting Sands," traces the duel in the sands between Scott Ritter's UNSCOM U.N. inspection agency and the Iraqi authorities. Eventually, Ritter says, U.S. intelligence agencies pressured the U.N. teams to find weapons of mass destruction, even though Ritter says he and his superior, Ralph Acheas (ph), thought Iraq was fundamentally disarmed.


NARRATOR: Now forced to disregard their own assessments in favor of the CIA's sudden assertion, UNSCOM inspectors had no choice but to return to the fields of Iraq. Their mandate was the same: to uncover the truth; but that truth would prove increasingly elusive as this new round of inspections wore on.

Rising to meet the CIA's challenge, the UNSCOM inspection mechanism took on a more high tech appearance. The familiar white U.N. helicopters were refitted with sophisticated ground penetrating radar, designed to scan huge swathes of the Iraqi desert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of two things would happen. A, we would either find the missiles buried underground, which is a great success; or B, we'd find nothing and the U.S. couldn't challenge that response.

NARRATOR: The radar-equipped helicopters flew over Iraq for nearly two months at the behest of the CIA, probing the landscape below for any signs of the hidden missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We found nothing.


ROTH: The film was produced with about a half a million dollars, not a big budget by Hollywood standards. The film's star explains why he made it.


SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR IN IRAQ: This film hopefully will compel people to start asking the questions, "What is the level of disarmament? Do we accept at face value the data that comes out of Washington, D.C. and London? Do we accept the face value of the data that comes out of any place?"


ROTH: Well, a lot of data in this film to examine.

James Bone, you saw the movie. What do you think?

JAMES BONE, "THE TIMES OF LONDON": Well, I can only hope that Scott really a better spy than he was a journalist, Richard. I mean, the film left out an awful lot of salient facts, particularly about Scott Ritter's own involvement in what relatedly will be revealed as operations that will -- U.N. operations that were compromised by the United States. At one point, Scott Ritter took in a safe to the U.N. center in Baghdad that contained special uplink to satellite. And the American's were intercepting communications and feeding it up to their satellites through this safe. And when we ask Scott Ritter whether he took that in for the Americans or for the U.N., he said well at that point, the control of that safe was under discussion. So lots of questions remained unanswered and unaddressed by that documentary.

ROTH: Across the aisle to Barbara Crossette, who saw this film.

BARBARA CROSSETTE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I was at first actually surprised at how I thought relatively balanced it was. And a good history of UNSCOM. And it pulled no punches on Saddam Hussein's failures to cooperate his deceptions and so on.

Obviously, toward the end, it became more opinionated on Scott Ritter's part. And there were, I agree, lots of, lots of things missing. Also, I think he has distorted slightly the events of that final year. There were ample opportunities when the United States could have bombed. The United States had said for a long time that it had the right to take out a serious -- that the Iraqis would pay serious consequences and so on.

And so, it seemed a stretch that the United States would have to push this far for an opportunity, because it wasn't intending to go to the Security Council for approval anyway.

ROTH: One of Ritter's allegations, which were contained earlier in his book, is that the chief weapons inspector at the time, Richard Butler, used a board to explain in two separate timelines how the inspectors to provoke an incident and when the U.S. led attacks could star.


AFSANE BASSIR POUR, "LE MONDE": Well, you have to first of all ask what brought on this change of heart. As you said in the introduction, Scott Ritter was the personification, the self-righteous personification of U.S. policy in Iraq. And now suddenly, he's saying Iraq is disarmed basically. That's what he's saying.

Now I think he's done a disservice, along with Richard Butler, to everyone by provoking these incidents. Because remember, through Scott Ritter's actions and Richard Butler, there have been no inspections, no inspectors in Iraq since December of '98. And they're not likely to go back in there.

Now they've done this. The whole thing is in a big mess. Iraq's hand is really strengthened now, not only by Scott Ritter's declarations, but also by Russia's new policy.

ROTH: All right. Well, UNSCOM chief or the former chief, Richard Butler, heatedly denies Ritter's accusations that he led an effort to manipulate accusations and manipulate investigations to provoke military assaults on Iraq.


RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, they're completely false. They're wrong, absolutely wrong. I'm really sad and astonished that Scott has decided to make these claims. I have no idea why.

The worst aspect of it is that he's now saying that Iraq is effectively disarmed. Now, he knows that is not true. When he worked for me, he repeatedly wrote to me, advised me to the contrary. So what's happened since then? Where's the evidence? Where's the information that says that Iraq has now disarmed? Was he not telling me the truth when he worked for me? Or is he not telling the truth now?


ROTH: Ritter says that Iraq is disarmed 90 to 95 percent -- James.

BONE: Well, I mean, Scott Ritter once bragged about being the alpha dog on the U.N. inspection teams, going and kind of putting a scent wherever he wanted to. When he quit, he complained that Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. Secretary of State, was blocking him from inspecting the sites he wanted to inspect. So he came off as being a hawk when he quit.

Now a couple of years later, he's coming off as a dog, saying that actually, he was trying to avoid Richard Butler provoking a war. So it's very inconsistent. "Shifting Sands" of the title I think refers to Scott Ritter's own position, rather than to anything else.

POUR: Well, you know, the guy wants to go back to the point of how this strengthens Iraq's hand. And it doesn't help anybody. One, that the Iraqis are saying, you see, your own inspector is saying "We're disarmed." Secondly, Russians, Vladimir Putin, has written a love note to Saddam Hussein, you know, saying that he's -- undying allegiance, and saying basically, "We will do everything to lift these sanctions."

Now he has burnt his bridges -- Russia has burned its bridges to the Security Council, which you know, four members -- four permanent members, U.S., U.K., France and China are on one side. And then you have Russia on another side. Basically, Russia is saying, "Let's lift the sanctions. Let's let Iraq spend all the money it wants in exchange for sending inspectors back in there."

Whereas the U.S. is saying, "No. Let's keep the sanctions and the money and let's cooperate with the neighboring states to stop Iraq from disarming." Now the problem with the U.S. strategy is that he neighboring states don't want to cooperate.

So this puts Iraq in a very strong position at this point in time.

ROTH: All right, I want to keep going on Ritter because he's sort of new in this saga here. It's still an interesting thing. James, I think you're ready to say that he had a bit of a connection with someone who we've discussed on the show in the last few weeks, someone who used to be at the U.N. for Iraq.

BONE: Oh, yes. Well, one of the funny aspects of this is that he had a fix that helped him get into Iraq. He only went to Iraq for one visit. And they were actually hoping to introduce Saddam Hussein himself, somewhat unlikely scene, seeing Scott Ritter interview Saddam Hussein. But of course, it never happened.

But the fixer was a member of the Iraqi delegation to the U.N. And he has since defected, which was one little interesting sidelight on the whole thing.

ROTH: Ritter says he didn't provoke a confrontation with Iraq when he was there in Iraq in March 1998. Instead it was Australian Roger Hill in December, shortly before the U.S. led attacks started.

In the documentary, Ritter reveals a conversation he says he had with Inspector Hill before the mission.


RITTER: I found out Roger was coming to New York to prepare to go in, I went out to dinner with him. And we had a long discussion about what he was getting involved in. And I cautioned him. I said, "Roger, you know, you've been part of UNSCOM since 1991. You and I both know that we fought long and hard to preserve the independent character of UNSCOM. Be careful, friend. I think you're being used. I think you're inspection team is a set up. I think you're going to be used to precipitate a military conflict with Iraq."


ROTH: All right, Scott Ritter talking about the provocations there. Of course, weapons inspectors, for all of you who may have fallen asleep the last few years are not in Iraq. They were pulled out by the U.N. A lot of people say, "Oh, Iraq booted them out." Afsane?

POUR: Well, you know, again, I want to go back to Richard Butler. As we said, the decision to pull out the inspectors in December in '98 was made by Richard Butler. Richard Butler is accusing Scott Ritter of lying. Now who is lying here? Is it Scott Ritter or is it Richard Butler? Because according to Richard, Richard Butler was the one who was cooperating with the U.S. to try and provoke.

Now is Richard Butler lying? Now who can answer this?

BONE: Well, Afsane, I don't think there's any doubt sufficiently well established now that the Americans used UNSCOM, which is the name of the inspectors at the time, to map their own spying operations. The question is, were the -- how much were the American members of UNSCOM involved in the spying?

One of the things the Americans did was they installed communication intercepting devices in relay stations the U.N. had all around the country to relay video signals back to its headquarters.

Now we asked Scott Ritter about his own involvement in planting those devices, whether he was involved, and all he could say was that he faced the threat of prosecution if he revealed anything about that covert operation.

ROTH: Barbara?

CROSSETTE: Just one quick thing. I think we ought to all remember is that the Iraqis are still under sanctions. And the Iraqis are going to stay under sanctions however they frayed they become, until some kind of arrangement is made, by which at least monitoring can begin.

So that what where we are now is on hold. And although, Iraq may have come out stronger and there may still be debates over history, the fact is that something is going to have to be done or the Iraqis will stay under sanctions for...

BONE: Well, the sanctions have changed a lot over the last few years, Barbara. Now Iraq can sell as much oil as it wants. And there's a proposed, as you know, a British American proposal to further relax the sanctions on civilian goods. So...

CROSSETTE: It's not relaxing sanctions. It's relaxing trade with Iraq. It's...

BONE: Well, that is a relaxation of sanctions.

CROSSETTE: No, it's not. What remains...

BONE: That is a relaxation of sanctions.

CROSSETTE: ... in place is the Iraqis cannot control their money.


CROSSETTE: ... and the French have been very strong , along with the United States and Britain on that. And that, that is the critical factor. That is why Saddam Hussein really wants out of these sanctions. He wants to control his money.

BONE: That's true.

CROSSETTE: He doesn't care how many hospital beds he provides.

BONE: That's true, but it's also true that over the last few years, Iraq has been able to sell not just $5 billion worth of oil a year, but now some $20 billion worth of oil a year. The money goes to the U.N. escrow account, but that is a big difference.

POUR: Now the reason these sanctions are still in place, we keep forgetting, is that we want to keep Iraq disarmed.

ROTH: Who's we? POUR: Now -- the international community. Now if they're no inspectors there and there's no long term monitoring, we cannot do this. That's why I think, and you know my paper thinks also, that this is a misguided U.S. policy.

ROTH: All right.

POUR: It's not use if you can't inspect Iraq's, you know, armament industry.

ROTH: All right. We ask every viewer to buy "Le Monde" on the newsstand for more on this situation.

I want to get back to the film. An Iraqi American may have financed it, but Scott Ritter says he is solely responsible for its contents.


RITTER: If you have a problem with the film, the buck stops here. But this is not a piece of Iraqi propaganda. Who is the target audience of this film? Plain and simple: the American public and the public in Europe and...



ROTH: As we hinted, this may be the last appearance for "New York Times" U.N. correspondent Barbara Crossette on our show. And we have a parting gift being brought in now to the Security Council. Oh, look, it fell. Well, don't cry over spilled over milk. Barbara will be here and she'll be at "The New York Times."

It's like when you leave a movie theater, you always kind of discuss the film and it just -- you go through the night talking about it with somebody, but that's how we're on the like on the Scott Ritter film. I want to just keep talking about one more burst here.

Barbara, you interviewed Scott Ritter over the years. How does his story check out with what he's saying now?

CROSSETTE: Well, he's changed his story several times, including was Iraq disarmed effectively in '95, '97? As late as '98 after the bombing, he told "The New York Times" that Iraq had a fantastic deception policy and that there were all sorts of ways that the American's could have missed what they were going for, which now he says wasn't there or something like that.

I don't mean to attack him because as I said, I felt, he had done a good history of UNSCOM. And he had resisted the temptation that I'm sure he was pushed in the direction of making it look like sanctions was the sole cause of all the suffering of Iraqis. He didn't do that. But he certainly has changed his story several times.

And he was also disaffected with the U.N. at the time that that bombing took place. He had just left in a blaze of acrimony.

ROTH: Well, prior to the tear gas in Italy, G8 foreign ministers, I believe, even put out a statement on Iraq, saying it was time for a new approach, which then U.S. officials were quick to kind of backtrack on, saying, "Well, this U.S. approach is what you referred to earlier, James, and Afsane, this British-French resolution on...

BONE: Well, Richard, just to say one thing on that -- just to make it simple for the viewers, they're only really two realistic policies on Iraq now. One is sanctions and no inspectors, which is what we have now. And the other is inspectors and no sanctions, which is what the French tend to favor. And that's...

POUR: The Russians rather.

BONE: ... a choice.

ROTH: The Russians.

POUR: Yeah.

ROTH: All right. Moving more on the G8, they talk about the Mideast and you hear that the command from them, let's have some international observers sent to the Middle East.

POUR: Yes, by international observers, of course, they don't -- specially don't mean U.N. observers. If there are to be any observers, which for now has been rejected by Israel, it would be American observers. They want a kind of a third party. The Europeans decided on this. And then, now the G8 has endorsed it. That's -- there should be some kind of third party observers to see what's going on, who's shooting at who, who's starting the violence.

ROTH: Oh, yes. James.

BONE: Actually, this is going beyond the Mitchell report.

ROTH: Yes, I don't remember the Mitchell report calling on this.

BONE: The investigation into the conflict in the Middle East because the Mitchell report said that they couldn't propose observers because one of the size, maybe the Israeli government, wasn't in favor of them, wouldn't allow them in.

So the G8 are now pushing Israel to accept that idea.

ROTH: All right, another story going on, especially at the U.N. this weekend marked the end of the two week global small arms conference. The public wasn't allowed into the private meetings, but exhibits were available. 45 caliber chairs, you might say. A display of chairs made from guns, rifles, and small weapons of all kinds, weapons that have been used during the Civil war in Mozambique.

One village there collected 500 weapons and decided to turn them into art. But right from the start to the end of the conference, it was really the United States in the hot seat. Right, James?

BONE: Well, the Americans domestic, you have a big problem with gun control. And that domestic issue spread over to the U.N. conference, where the Americans were dead set against this conference yielding any legally binding instrument or even yielding a review conference in five years' time that might lead to some legal regulation of the international arms trade.

And also, the Americans dead set against any restrictions on civilian ownership of guns.

ROTH: Barbara?

CROSSETTE: They want to -- they particularly wanted to mention anywhere of national legislation and national policies. An American official used the phrase at one point "political genetic -" whatever the phrase was.

The idea that somehow it's in our politics that this is unacceptable. I question whether frankly, have there been a reasonable outcome to this, that everyone could have agreed on. I can't imagine the American public would have run to the ballot boxes and thrown the government out at the next possible opportunity.

I think this was once again proved a very small lobby, a very, very outspoken, persistent people.

ROTH: The gun lobby?

CROSSETTE: The gun lobby has made, out of what was never intended to be a move to remove guns from the United States, into an issue that just wasn't there. And it has cast a pall over the whole world's efforts to stop this.

ROTH: But how do you prepare for this? Shouldn't the U.N. have known. Even before the conference started, they were already saying, "Hey, we're not trying to take away your guns." I mean, of the issue by a smooth, good lobbying effort, they've commanded the headlines and took away...

POUR: But by doing this, the U.S. not only disrupted the whole conference, but other countries who are selling arms and don't want any mechanism like Russia...

ROTH: There was the hide.

POUR: ... China, of course. They're keeping a low profile because the -- you know, the National Rifle Association is doing their work. So that this conference ends with the lowest common denominator. And whereas the Europeans have been very good on this, the Europeans now have criteria in place, where they cannot sell arms to any country unless the human rights record is good, unless that country is not spending more on arms than it is on development. This good criteria, which I hope would be universal, but now because of the U.S. it won't be. Nothing much has come out of this conference. BONE: And Richard, just one more thing, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, he's back, John Bolton, now an Assistant Secretary in the second Bush administration. He was an assistant secretary and responsible for the U.N. during the first Bush administration and was one of the most right wing voices on American policy towards the United Nations.

ROTH: All right.

BONE: So he was the one that came in and laid it out down the American red lines at the very beginning of this conference.

ROTH: Bolton was -- his assistant secretary...

CROSSETTTE: ... undersecretary for arms control.

ROTH: The women correcting all of us and trying to talk about small arms, but we're not going to let her, is Barbara Crossette. She's leaving the United Nations post for "The New York Times" after seven years. Barbara, as we shift gears here dramatically, just briefly, you were there for seven? What are your thoughts on the U.N. now under Secretary General Kofi Annan?

CROSSETTE: Well, I think we all know that the U.N. tried to discover what it was after the end of the Cold War. And it had some very -- bad ups and downs with Bhutros Ghali. Peacekeeping everywhere, then peacekeeping nowhere, an overextension of itself and then a withdrawal and a lot of criticism from, not just only the United States.

I think the Secretary -- this Secretary-General has -- it's very interesting because it's -- he's still pursuing, in a way, the redefinition of the U.N. and making it as someone said, relevant. But he's done it interesting ways. He's opened it up so much more.

And from we're hearing about anti-globalization. And he's managed to head that off by dealing with big corporations and at the same time, dealing with the people who object to them. And he's working so many different ways and so many different areas that, you know, he has a good chance.

Now the tragedy is, if he runs into this kind of constant trouble from the Bush administration, the withdrawal of the United States from international affairs. And I hate to see -- I should have said in that last discussion that the tragedy also here is that the people who don't agree with the National Rifle Association didn't make their presence at the U.N. known as well. And that doesn't help. So that leaves the floor to the minority.

So he may have a difficult time. At just the moment when he's free in his second term, the Secretary-General, to do a lot of the things that he feels personally need to be done. He's going to have to do it without the world's largest nation behind him.

ROTH: Right. And "The New York Times" would allow you 1,000 more words. We have to cut you off there. And thank you for your help and contributions on this program. I know you say the U.N.'s human rights, excuse me, the racism conference coming up in Durbon later in the year is going to be very significant. We'll look for potentially some -- an article, final articles.

Where are you going to next, though, for "The New York Times?" Where are you covering?

CROSSETTE: I'm going to be correspondent in Canada.

ROTH: All right, well, we know who to blame now. Afsane Bassir Pour of "Le Monde," thank you. You're going on a break. We'll see you after some rest, I think. James Bone of "The Times of London," hopefully we'll see you soon.

A visitor for former President jailed at the International War Crimes Tribunal this week. Mira Markovic, wife of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, got to see her husband for six hours, her first visit since he was flown out of Belgrade. Milosevic was defiant in his only public court appearance. He was also quite confident a couple of years ago when the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark met with him a few months before air assaults on Milosevic's nation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I understand you told Ambassador Holbrooke that Kosovo is more important than you neck. And I was going to go into a discussion of how important Kosovo is. He says, "That is not correct." I said, "Well, what did you say?" He said, "I said Kosovo is more important than my head."



ROTH: Life isn't always a bed of roses, as this youngster learned, trying to take a photo in the gardens of the United Nations. The roses look lovely though, don't they?

No need to send us flowers, just your blooming thoughts. E-mail us a

And that's it for this week's DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. I'm Richard Roth; thanks for watching.