United Nations Activities in Iraq

Materials presented in chronological order.

Gellman, Barton. "Annan Suspicious of UNSCOM Role: U.N. Official Believes Evidence Shows Inspectors Helped U.S. Eavesdrop on Iraq." Washington Post, 6 Jan. 1999, A1. "Did the UNSCOM Inspectors Eavesdrop?" Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 11 Jan. 1999, 15.

"U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has obtained what he regards as convincing evidence that United Nations arms inspectors helped collect eavesdropping intelligence used in American efforts to undermine the Iraqi regime."

Lippman, Thomas W., and John M. Goshko. "'Spying' by UNSCOM Denied." Washington Post, 7 Jan. 1999, A18.[]

"Clinton administration officials acknowledged [on 6 January 1999] that the United States has received intelligence information about Iraq from United Nations weapons inspectors but described the flow of data as a byproduct of the inspectors' mission."

Weiner, Tim. "U.S. Spied on Iraq Under U.N. Cover, Officials Now Say." New York Times, 7 Jan. 1999. []

U.S. officials have said "that American spies ... worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors ferreting out secret Iraqi weapons programs." The officials added that "American intelligence agencies provided information and technology to the United Nations Special Commission, known as Unscom. In turn, they said, the United States and other nations received information on Iraqi weapons programs from the inspectors."

Weiner, Tim. "U.S. Aides Say U.N. Team Helped to Install Spy Device in Iraq." New York Times, 8 Jan. 1999. []

In March 1998, the United States sent "a U.S. spy into Baghdad to install a highly sophisticated electronic eavesdropping system. The spy entered Iraq in the guise of a U.N. weapons inspector and left the eavesdropping device behind. For 10 months, the device let the United States and a select elite within the ... inspection team monitor the cell phones, walkie-talkies and other communications instruments used by the military and intelligence officers who protect Saddam and conceal Iraq's weapons." See also, Thomas W. Lippman and Barton Gellman, "U.S. Says It Collected Iraq Intelligence Via UNSCOM," Washington Post, 8 Jan. 1999, A1.

Weiner, Tim. "The Case of the Spies Without a Country." New York Times, 17 Jan. 1999. []

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.... When the going got tough for Unscom, it sought U.S. spy technology.... 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.... The experiment in international intelligence is over."

Nelan, Bruce W. "Bugging Saddam." Time, 18 Jan. 1999. []

This is a remarkably detailed report on the activities of U.S. intelligence activities in support of UNSCOM.

Shenon, Philip. "C.I.A. Was with U.N. in Iraq for Years, Ex-Inspector Says." New York Times, 23 Feb. 1999.

"The CIA began placing American spies among U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq only a year after the end of the Persian Gulf war of 1991 and worked closely with the United Nations to organize the inspections, a former arms inspector says. The former inspector, Scott Ritter, said in a new book [Endgame] that he and a senior CIA official operating under an assumed name had planned some of the largest and most complex inspections undertaken by the United Nations and that the United Nations inspection teams had included 'CIA paramilitary covert operatives.'"

Shenon, Philip. "Former U.N. Arms Inspector Is Criticized by State Dept." New York Times, 24 Feb. 1999. []

"The State Department said on [23 February 1999] that a new book by Scott Ritter ... was inaccurate, misleading and could 'only serve Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine.'"

Gellman, Barton. "U.S. Spied on Iraqi Military Via U.N." Washington Post, 2 Mar. 1999, A1. "There's Information-Gathering and There's Spying." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 8 Mar, 1999, 16-17.

According to government employees and documents describing the operation, U.S. "intelligence services infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency that it used to disguise its work."

Vest, Jason, and Wayne Madsen. "A Most Unusual Collection Agency: How the U.S. Undid UNSCOM Through Its Empire of Electronic Ears." Village Voice, 2 Mar. 1999, 46-48, 52. []

According to multiple sources, "the U.S. government's prime mover in Iraqi electronic surveillance was most likely a super-secret organization run jointly by the the CIA and the NSA ... called the Special Collection Service." Clark comment: This lengthy article -- full of "it is possibles," speculation from supposedly "informed" non-government personnel, Scott Ritter charges, and Mike Frost "exposes" -- includes a brief discussion ("The Radome Archipelago," p. 48) of NSA Sigint acitivities and concludes with a list of "locations of ... ground-based" NSA sites around the world.

Ritter, Scott. Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem Once and for All. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Clark comment: Ritter is the former U.S. Marine who served as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until his resignation in 1998 as chief of UNSCOM's Concealment Investigations Unit. He, then, went public with criticisms of the Clinton administration's policies involving Iraq and the UN inspections. Ritter seemed to damn President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright from every conceivable angle, accusing them of being too soft on Saddam Hussein by undercutting the UN inspections regime and being too aggressive in using the cloak of the inspection teams to conduct U.S. intelligence operations. Only a fool would not expect the latter activities to be going on by whatever nationals are on such inspection teams. Ritter's protestations ring hollow, and are suspect as being political in origin.

Ajami, Washington Post, 18 Apr. 1999, also finds that there seem "to be many Ritters, often at odds with each other.... There was Ritter the 'international civil servant,' incensed that UNSCOM had become an instrument of American power.... There was Ritter the cloak-and-dagger man, boasting that he had supplied American intelligence with the address of Saddam Hussein's mistress for use in a possible assassination attempt. There was Ritter the hawk, dismissing Operation Desert Fox as a 'relatively puny' endeavor that did nothing to change the standoff with Saddam. And there was Ritter the dove, concerned about the endless sanctions imposed on Iraq."

For Cohen, FA 78.4 (Jul.-Aug. 1999), Endgame would be fascinating "if Ritter's writing were not so disjointed." The author also shows that he has "little talent for policy analysis," and produces "particularly weak policy recommendations." Dorn, IJI&C 12.4/446/fn.46, comments that although "the interpretive and prescriptive elements of Ritter's analysis are questionable, his detailed description of his own UNSCOM experiences and its information-gathering methods appear[s] to be valid."

Hersh, Seymour M. "Saddam's Best Friend: How the C.I.A. Made It a Lot Easier for the Iraqi Leader to Rearm." New Yorker, 5 Apr. 1999, 32 ff. []

This is a lengthy review of the use by U.S. intelligence of UNSCOM inspectors for espionage purposes. Much of it is a reiteration of the opinions of Scott Ritter, and of accusations against Steven Richter, who headed CIA's Near East Division.

Miller, Judith. "Arms Aide Who Quit Assails U.N. on Iraq." New York Times, 1 Aug. 1999. []

In an article in the inaugural issue of Talk monthly magazine, former UN Special Commission head Richard Butler accuses "Secretary General Kofi Annan of trying to destroy the commission because it was 'too independent.' Butler ... also savagely criticizes virtually everyone else associated with the protracted effort to disarm Iraq. The exception is the Clinton Administration, which he says, contrary to allegations by Scott Ritter..., was largely alone in its efforts to 'hold Saddam's feet to the fire.'"

Riley, Mark. "UN Chief Spied on Arms Team: Butler." Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Aug 1999. []

The former chief UN arms inspector in Iraq, Richard Butler, told the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 August 1999 that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan "hired a former CIA agent to secretly investigate the operations of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq as part of a campaign to destroy the arms team.... Butler also revealed that the United States and other nations had put proposals to him to use UNSCOM to spy on Iraq, but that he had rejected them."

Ritter, Scott. Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein. New York: Nation Books, 2005.

Peake, Studies 50.2 (2006), comments that "Ritter’s story of the problems experienced by the inspection team is interesting but not new. His depiction of the primacy of his role in the events is surprising and unlikely to be accepted by others familiar with the situation.... Iraq Confidential should be read with caution."

Return to 1990s Table of Contents

Return to Covert Action - Iraq