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American Morning

Interview with Richard Butler

Aired September 10, 2002 - 09:14   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Even as the Bush administration says it has evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that nation's foreign minister says the burden of proof is on the U.S. to back up its claim. Well, yesterday on our show, Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector, insisted Iraq is no threat. Ritter also took a swipe at his old boss, the former U.N. chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler. Butler disagrees with Ritter, and believes history has show that Iraq plays a shell game with its weapons, making the inspections ineffective.
Here is what Mr. Ritter had to say right here on AMERICAN MORNING yesterday.


SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: ... with rebuilding its economy, et cetera. But, you know, Richard Butler knows for darned sure that the Iraqis were not moving weapons from his weapons inspectors.

The weapons inspectors were trying to get into some of the most sensitive facilities in Iraq that dealt with presidential security. I was the guy leading these inspections and Richard knows that he allowed the United States to use my inspections to spy on Iraq, which is why they don't trust the inspection process.

So let's not bring up Richard Butler. Frankly speaking, he has no credibility on this issue.


ZAHN: We are joined now by his former boss, former Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Richard Butler, who joins now from Sydney -- good morning, Richard. There is a lot for you to react to here. For starters, your reaction to his accusation that you allowed the inspectors to be used as spies for the U.S. government?

RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, it is really pathetic. I don't know what has come over Scott to make him say these things and behave in the way that he is. Iraq -- one of Iraq's charges against us four years ago is that we were American spies. We were not. It was most obvious possible thing for them to say as they sought to avoid inspection, as they sought to shut us out to protect their weapons program.

It is pathetic and sad to hear Scott repeating their propaganda. Look, I want to make this clear. Until the day he left UNSCOM, Scott was robustly advising me, in writing -- you know, the papers are out there to prove it -- in writing that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He begged me to authorize him to go in and do what he called kick in the doors and find those weapons. Sometimes, I authorized him to lead inspections, sometimes I rejected his proposals because, quite frankly, they were a little bit off the wall.

Now, his advice to me then, on the basis of good evidence, which I knew, was that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He resigned. A few months later, he crossed the road and for some reason, I don't know why, I am not a psychoanalyst, but he crossed the road and started to tell the world that there were no such weapons.

So I put it to you this way. Either he was misleading me when he worked for me, or he began to mislead the world's public later. Now, I know which one it is. He was misleading me -- he was not misleading me, rather, he is now misleading the world's public, and I find that sad, wrong, and frankly, a touch dangerous.

ZAHN: What do you think is his motivation if your charge is in fact accurate here?

BUTLER: I said -- I don't know. I can't -- I don't know why he has decided to do this. I know what the facts are. I find it incredible to hear some of the things he is saying, when he knows what the facts were then and are today. I don't know why he is doing this. As I said, I am not a psychoanalyst. I don't know.

ZAHN: Richard, what about the very specific accusation, -- quote -- that you knew for "darn sure that the Iraqis were not moving weapons from his weapons inspectors." That is his quote.

BUTLER: It is nonsense. I mean -- I don't know what to say to you. It is he said, he said, but, look, this is so utterly documented. Utterly. When we were thrown out of Iraq, we were under the most difficult political circumstances, in particular the Russians wanted us to be disassembled, dismissed and to, you know, taken out of Iraq forever. We had the most hostile environment in the U.N. Security Council. Nevertheless, I furnished the council a final report on Iraq's weapons status. The Russians, hostile though they were, insisted that there be an independent investigation because clearly nothing that I or my organization said could be accepted. That independent investigation took place, at the end of which, notwithstanding all of that hostility, the will on the part of the Russians and others to say that Iraq was clean and clear, they concluded, that independent investigation concluded, that Iraq continued to retain weapons of mass destruction, and that they had misled us, that they had concealed weapons.

Now, you know, that is as clear as possibly can be. It is in documents, on the record, backed up by evidence. So, you know, what Scott Ritter has been saying is baffling, but whether or not it is baffling, it is this: it is wrong.

ZAHN: All right, Richard. You shot down his accusation that you allowed your inspectors to be used as spies by the CIA, but I wanted to play a small part of the interview that Bill Hemmer did earlier this morning with Senator Hagel, when the senator confirmed that he thought there were a couple interesting issues that Scott Ritter has raised. Let's listen together.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Certainly we cannot use the inspectors as a front for our intelligence operation. Intelligence is part of this. Of course it is. Everybody understands that. But we have to be careful. And I think the only way we are going to be able to get the world community with us on this is, in fact, to have a real team of inspectors and not have it suspected of being or, in fact, of being a CIA front.


ZAHN: So what is the role, Richard, as you see it for an inspector, and when the senator raises the issue of not using them for a front for intelligence operations?

BUTLER: Look, looking for weapons of mass destruction is a very, very tough business. Above all, it is a technical and scientific business. Your basic stock and trade is information, to know where to go, where to look, what possible weapons programs to look for.

Now, intelligence was provided to my organization, for that purpose. In fact, that was completely legal. When the Security Council created the inspectors, it called on all states, all member states of the U.N., to give us all possible assistance. Now some 40 countries did that, and many of them provided us with intelligence information. I made that clear then, and I repeat it now. You can't do that job unless you have intelligence information, and it was legal that that be provided to us. It -- that is what was called for, and it was done by, you know, up to 40 countries.

Now, some proposed, some proposed to us, and I have already made this plain, in public, years ago, that, you know, we ourselves undertake intelligence-type investigations. I rejected that. I made very clear that our mandate was to look for the weapons, not to look for other kinds of intelligence. That would represent a distortion of our mandate, and activities and those are the facts.

ZAHN: All right, Richard. We are going to have to leave it there today. Thank you for joining us, late on the clock in Sydney, Australia. We appreciate your answering some of those charges that were made here, right here yesterday by Scott Ritter, the man that used to worked for you.