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Excerpt: Iraq Confidential

In his book, 'Iraq Confidential,' the author is faced with overwhelming evidence that the CIA is using the U.N. inspections team in Iraq as cover for its own intelligence collection.
Author's Note: I wrote Iraq Confidential because I felt there was a real need to set the record straight about the reality behind the myth -- the fact that the now-debunked case made by the Bush administration for invading Iraq revolving around the alleged existence of WMD in Iraq was not a product of innocent mistakes made by the CIA in assessing Iraqi capabilities. Rather, it was the result of a concerted effort on the CIA's part to maintain the public perception of non-compliance by Iraq as part of an overall strategy of regime change.

AlterNet has chosen to highlight one of the passages in my book which illustrates this reality in a dramatic fashion: the moment when I am confronted with the fact that my own government has not only lied to me about what it was doing in Iraq, but also that these actions were undermining the credibility of the inspection process and placing the lives and well-being of inspectors at risk.

I had, since February 1996, been running a sensitive operation in Iraq known as the Special Collection Element, or SCE. The SCE team was comprised of British military personnel who would intercept Iraqi communications in order to ascertain whether or not the Iraqis were hiding any weapons of mass destruction, or WMD.

I had approached the CIA, for assistance in this effort. At first it appeared that the CIA was cooperating, but after a tip-off from British intelligence that something was afoul, I began to investigate the true nature of the CIA's so-called "assistance."

Much to my dismay, I found that the CIA was using the SCE as a cover for the conduct of its own intelligence collection effort, which was focused not on the search for WMD, but rather America's unilateral policy of regime change in Iraq.

The following excerpt picks up when I started looking into the role of a U.S. Air Force officer (whom I called "the Engineer") in the CIA's Iraq planning.

***

As I continued to dig, the case of the Engineer became even murkier. From September 1995 to June 1996, he had undertaken numerous "maintenance" visits to Iraq which bypassed the normal United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) chain of approval. The UNSCOM communications officer, an experienced Australian major, had raised several questions to Colonel James Moore, the UNSCOM director for operations, about the Engineer's activities, and tried to bring them under tighter UNSCOM control.

The Engineer told the Australian major to mind his own business, and in an extraordinary exchange witnessed by several, did the same to Colonel Moore, although Moore outranked the Engineer. In a stunning turn of events, Colonel Moore tried, in late 1995, to file charges of insubordination against the Engineer, only to be rebuked by a senior air force general, who told Colonel Moore that if he continued to obstruct the work of the Engineer it would be he, not the engineer, who would be facing charges.

This episode had gone by largely unnoticed in 1995, with other issues such as the Jordanian gyro intercept mission taking center-stage. But in retrospect, it made perfect sense. UNSCOM 120, with its communications intercept mission, was proceeding too fast for the CIA's own plans for a communications intercept operation in Iraq, and had to be slowed down. That is why the CIA deliberately downgraded the promised level of support at the last minute, offering us utterly substandard recording devices to take into the field in November 1995.

Steve Richter [head of the CIA's Near East Division], we now knew, had been planning a coup against Saddam Hussein. The CIA needed the best possible intelligence about the security of Saddam Hussein, so that the coup plotters would be able to know exactly where to strike and when. The CIA also needed to keep track of the Iraqi military order of battle; that is, where specific military units were, how many men they had, what kind of training they had had, and whether they'd be likely to defect.

Gradually, as my investigation progressed, through a number of different sources, a picture emerged. The information that the CIA needed, and more, could be accessed through an effective communications intercept program. The CIA, and their colleagues at the National Security Agency, had done this sort of work before, usually using U.S. embassy buildings as a base from which to carry out their information collection. But there was no U.S. embassy in Iraq, no place for them to operate from. Moe Dobbs and his CIA paramilitaries had actually carried out a test communications intercept operation in September-October 1993, using the UNSCOM 63 inspection as the cover. The goal was to determine if a sufficient collection operation could be carried out from the hotels where the inspectors stayed. In the end this plan was scrapped as too risky.

The CIA had long been involved in placing a remote camera surveillance system in Iraq, using the Engineer. Back in early 1995, when the discussion of mounting a coup against Saddam Hussein started gaining momentum, someone at the CIA posed the question, "Why not convert the camera monitoring system into a communications intercept system?"

Steve Richter liked the idea, but wanted to go one step further. Covert operations need to have an aspect of deniability. If things go wrong, or someone gets caught, a good covert operation builds into its plan a way to shift blame away from the true sponsor of the effort. If the CIA was going to use the United Nations weapons inspection process to insert a covert communications intercept operation into Iraq, there was already an element of deniability: if the operation was compromised by the Iraqis, the U.N. would get the blame. But any such effort, if compromised, would create a huge crisis for the USA with the United Nations, and particularly inside the Security Council. The fallout from such a crisis could put at risk a number of U.S. policy objectives, namely maintaining economic sanctions against Iraq. But if UNSCOM was asking the CIA for communications intercept support, to help operate its own communications intercept operation in Baghdad, then if the CIA's effort was compromised, the CIA could shift responsibility to the United Nations, saying they were only doing what the U.N. wanted them to do.

It became apparent to me that the CIA's support of the SCE was never intended to provide UNSCOM with intelligence; the CIA would be getting its own intelligence from the Engineer's communications intercept operation. The SCE effort was only supported insofar as it facilitated the operational security of the CIA's activities. In November 1995, the CIA had trashed the [signals intelligence] (SIGINT) concept. Now, in early 1996, they were suddenly all in favor of supporting the UNSCOM initiative. They just had to make sure that the UNSCOM communications intercept program never really worked. If UNSCOM gained access to the intelligence the CIA was collecting, it could threaten any covert operations the CIA was planning based on that intelligence. The SCE would be allowed to be deployed; it just wasn't going to be allowed to succeed.

The Engineer needed to get his operation in order first. Again, through my contacts at [the U.S. Department of Defense's On-Site Inspection Agency] (OSIA), I found out that OSIA was managing a warehouse on behalf of the Engineer and the CIA, used to store the equipment for the remote camera monitoring system. OSIA had no records of what was stored in the warehouse, and anyone who asked for an accounting was rebuked on the grounds of national security. The equipment stored in this warehouse poured into Iraq from September 1995 through June 1996. UNSCOM was never provided with a list of what the Engineer was bringing in, but was rather presented with a fait accompli.

I thought back to the incident involving the installation of the covert antenna for Gary's SCE team back in February 1996. The Engineer had been given that task by [pseudonym for CIA operative] Burt without my knowledge or permission of anyone at UNSCOM. And he did this work using an antenna already in place inside Iraq. To me, this meant the Engineer was already involved in a communications intercept effort, and had his own cache of equipment already in place inside Iraq before UNSCOM had formally approved the SCE intercept program.

I dug out the old personnel records of inspectors assigned to support the Engineer's missions. These individuals, known as "sensor technicians," were responsible for manning the remote camera monitoring system's suite in the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Center, an "American-only" area off-limits to everyone but the sensor technicians. Prior to January 1996, these positions had been filled by reservists from the Engineer's air force reserve unit in Ohio. But January 1996 brought about a critical change in the nature of the personnel assigned to this position. Steve Trumbell (pseudonym), a retired Delta Force commando under contract to the CIA, arrived at the BMVC. I knew Trumbell from his time as an inspector during UNSCOM 45. He was a savvy operator with significant covert operations experience, not the sort one would assign to rudimentary electronic babysitting chores.

In March 1996, Steve was replaced by Tony Bracco, the gregarious character who rapidly became known by his radio call-sign, "Zulu," and whom I later met at the White House during my briefing in the Situation Room following the UNSCOM 182 inspection. Zulu took a special interest in the work of Gary's SCE team, and made a particular effort to bond with British operators during their off hours. Zulu told Gary and the SCE team that he was a retired combat swimmer from the U.S. Navy on contract with OSIA and, with his long hair, wild walrus moustache and casual beach boy attitude, this cover story was indeed convincing. I, too, had fallen for it, as had the others, until I bumped into him at the White House debriefing. Then, he had a short haircut, clean-shaven face, sunglasses and coat and tie, and was in the company of Robert McCall, a senior operations officer with the CIA's Near East Division. Zulu was paramilitary operations all the way.

I had seen enough. While I lacked a "smoking gun" in terms of indisputable proof that the CIA was running a covert operation using UNSCOM as cover, I certainly had enough circumstantial evidence to raise this matter to my chain of command which, given the sensitivity of the matter and the American link, meant [deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM] Charles Duelfer. I carefully typed up a point paper outlining my concerns and specifying the information I had gathered, and requested a meeting with Duelfer in the U.N. cafeteria.

I slid the paper across the table to Duelfer, and began my brief. He listened without expressing any emotion, casually reading the paper as I made my case. He sat in silence for some time after I finished, contemplating what I had said. Finally, he looked at me. "Scott, I can't comment on any of this. All I would say is that you probably would do very well not to ever mention it again."

"Charles, we work for UNSCOM," I replied. "If what I have written here is true, we have the potential for a compromise that could not only end UNSCOM, but perhaps endanger the lives of some of our inspectors. We have to inform the executive chairman of this, and at least launch some sort of inquiry with the United States to find out if there is any validity to this, and if there is, to stop it before it's too late."

Duelfer looked at me, frustrated. "Scott, I can't make it any clearer than this. I cannot discuss this. This never happened. And if I were you, I'd drop the matter right now. If you go forward, even to tell [Rolf Ekéus, the UNSCOM chairman] you will be opening a huge bag of trouble for you. I would imagine you'd have the FBI come down on you very, very hard, and you don't want that. Take my advice and back off."

I sat there, letting Duelfer's words sink in. Was he aware of the operation? If so, he didn't seem to have run it by Ekéus. I was in a quandary. I had, since day one, operated under the code that I worked for UNSCOM, and that I did nothing without Ekéus's permission. Now I was sitting on a keg of dynamite that had the potential of blowing up, taking UNSCOM with it. To do nothing was wrong. But to do anything meant bringing disaster down on me and my family.

Finally, I looked up at Duelfer. "As an American, I won't do anything that would jeopardize the national security of my country. So I won't take this to Ekéus. But as an UNSCOM officer, I have a responsibility to report this to my chain of command. So I'm reporting this to you, officially." I pointed at the paper he still held in his hand. "What you have there is evidence of a problem that could ruin UNSCOM. Regardless of what you say about not being able to comment, I am going on the record as having reported this issue to you as the deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM. What you do with it is your business."

Duelfer didn't say a word, but rather folded up my paper, put it into his coat, got up from the table, and returned to his office, never to mention our conversation again.

I stayed at the table for a few moments after he left, frustrated with my own indecisiveness. I was being lied to by the CIA, and the man appointed as my supervisor was not backing me. Part of me wanted to get up and walk away from this mess. The deceit of the CIA, and the man appointed as my supervisor was not backing me. Part of me wanted to get up and walk away from this mess. The deceit of the CIA was a reality I had to live with. But so was the UNSCOM disarmament mission in Iraq. If I walked away from UNSCOM I would undermine its mission, and those in the CIA who had sought to undermine it would have prevailed. If I went public with what I was alleging, the FBI would find a way to silence me. The best way to get back at all those in Washington who were promoting a policy that continued economic sanctions by refusing to permit Iraq to be disarmed was to redouble my efforts to complete the disarmament mission. By pushing Iraq to give up the final vestiges of its weapons of mass destruction programs, or if in fact Iraq was telling the truth, and no such weapons existed, by compelling Iraq to provide UNSCOM with all of the data necessary for UNSCOM to verify the Iraqi claims and sustain a finding of compliance before the Security Council, I would be forcing the USA to admit publicly what everyone knew in private: that the USA had no intention of abiding by the Security Council's promise to lift sanctions once Iraq had been disarmed.

I left the table more determined than ever to get on with my job.

I also left aware about the reality of the role being played by the CIA and Charles Duelfer. I no longer harbored any illusions that they were my friends and colleagues. As far as I was concerned, they were the enemy, and I would have to find a way to neutralize them if I was going to have any success.
Scott Ritter was UN Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 and is author of "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy," (Nation Books, 2005).
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