Whistleblower's Trill on Iraq | The Nation


Whistleblower's Trill on Iraq

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

There is no question that the US government--most centrally through its bombing in December--is responsible for the death of UNSCOM. But in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Scott Ritter "doesn't have a clue." We now know that UNSCOM, in legitimate pursuit of its Security Council mandate, was forced to establish an unprecedented intelligence capacity to break through Iraq's incredible wall of lies regarding its weapons-of-mass-destruction program. The international consensus to get to the bottom of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons was virtually unanimous. Even Security Council member Cuba voted in 1991 to allow U-2 spy flights over the country.

About the Author

William M. Arkin
William M. Arkin is a columnist for washingtonpost.com and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

To build the necessary internal technical expertise and to avoid dependence on the United States--or any other nation--the first UNSCOM chairman, Swedish ambassador to the US, Rolf Ekéus, created a multinational knowledge base and a permanent organization. It was a good thing: UNSCOM remained focused on its singular task even though there were many occasions when world interest in Iraq waned. Yet this organization, created with the expectation that it would finish its work in six to nine months, soon celebrated its second, then its third and then its fourth anniversary, and there was no real end in sight.

The amazing chronology of UNSCOM bravery, discoveries, confrontations and accomplishments is worthy of a book. In this regard, Endgame is a squandered opportunity. But more important, Endgame fails to reflect on the fatigue and frustration that naturally became a part of going up against the Iraqi regime. As each year passed and the fragile bargain of disarmament-on-the-road-to-lifting-sanctions was precariously pursued, the culture of UNSCOM changed. Iraq was not the only adversary. The organization saw itself defending its work and honor from the UN bureaucracy, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iraq's friends on the Security Council and finally the US government itself.

Through it all, Baghdad was maddeningly consistent in its inconsistencies. Ever more intrusive methods were called for, better forensics were needed, finer information was required. Ekéus was determined that UNSCOM was not going to be a rubber stamp or a front company for Washington coup plotters and operators. Yet as the years depressingly mounted and the commission had to resort to more and more confrontational and covert methods to fulfill its task, it became just that.

Frustration, Ritter says, led him and his colleagues to conceive of a new way to break through the wall of Iraqi lies to find the final documents, the machine tools, the chemicals, the biological fermenters, even the missiles (UNSCOM didn't really know), to finish their work. The Iraqis developed a system of secret-police organizations and committees to thwart UNSCOM's efforts and preserve the ability--Iraq analysts believed--to regenerate weapons of mass destruction.

All evidence seemed to indicate that the regime was never really going to come clean. Instead, UNSCOM decided to expose the "concealment mechanism." Ritter is most honest here. In typically arrogant style, he dismisses the organization's entire"material balance approach"--that of verifying Iraqi declarations with physical evidence--as "hopelessly flawed." Only the new Ritter method of pursuing the concealment effort itself had hope. That method, Ritter says without a hint of reflection, would be "at the heart of every major confrontation between Unscom and Iraq from that point until the December 1998 US military strike, Desert Fox."

The goal of the concealment inspections was to provoke a response from Iraq. An inspection targeted on a secret-police facility suspected of being involved in concealment would set in motion a set of protective measures. UNSCOM, with its agents, U-2s, external satellite intelligence support and eavesdropping inside Iraq, was positioned to catch the Iraqis in a mistake or, better, to get inside an actual deception--"crack the code," Ritter says--to be able to swoop down on a convoy of contraband.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.