UNSCOM and US Used Spy
Gear On Saddam For Three Years
By Thomas Lippman and Barton Gellman
The Washtington Post
The United States intermittently monitored the coded radio communications of the innermost security forces of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein for nearly three years using equipment secretly installed in Iraq by United Nations weapons inspectors, US and UN officials say.
In 1996 and 1997, the Iraqi communications were captured by off-the-shelf commercial equipment carried by the inspectors, from the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom), then hand-delivered to analysis centres in the US, Britain and Israel for interpretation, officials said.
However, last March, when Unscom decided it was too dangerous for its inspectors to carry the equipment, the US took control of the operation and replaced the store-bought scanners and digital tape-recorders with more sophisticated automated monitors.
The intercepted Iraqi communications were sent by satellite relay in a nearby country to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, where they were decoded and translated into English, the officials said.
Information relevant to the work of the inspection team, which was searching for Iraq's prohibited weapons or the means to conceal them, was shared with Unscom's chairman and his deputy, officials said. Other information, including material that might be helpful to the US in destabilising Saddam, was retained by Washington.
US officials confirmed the monitoring operation in an effort to rebut allegations that the US had inappropriately used Unscom as a tool to penetrate Saddam's security and promote his downfall. Until Thursday, US officials had denied using intelligence gathered in connection with Unscom for US purposes.
US officials have said the purpose of the radio intercepts was to help Unscom do the job assigned to it by the UN Security Council. To the extent the operation provided additional information was a bonus that did not deviate from Unscom's mandate, the officials said.
US and UN officials said the Unscom effort to get inside Saddam's security apparatus began early this decade, after Unscom concluded that Iraq planned to defy UN security council resolutions requiring it to destroy its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Intelligence agents from several countries, including the US, Britain, Israel and Australia, had been assigned to work on Unscom teams, but US officials insisted that no Americans reported to Washington outside Unscom channels.
Instead, US officials and others said, it became apparent over time that Iraq was bent on concealing its banned weapons, and that the security forces assigned to that task were the same as those assigned to Saddam's security.
The former Unscom chairman Mr Rolf Ekeus, now Sweden's Ambassador to the US, said he briefed members of the Security Council in early 1997 on this discovery and on the possibility that tracking weapons could also end up gathering information that might be helpful in tracking Saddam.
Mr Ekeus approved these so-called "special collection missions" in 1996.
Inspectors were soon able to map the frequencies used by the Iraqi special security apparatus and intercept communications including those of the Special Republican Guard and the Office of the Presidential Secretary.
Communications intercepted included warnings to weapons facilities that Unscom inspectors were on their way and instructions to hide contraband material. But that information did not help the inspectors at the time, officials said, because it had to be relayed to Israel and Britain - or, at a later date, to the NSA - to be decoded and translated.
Last March the US took over the operation. A spy entered Iraq in the guise of a UN weapons inspector and arranged for the installation of the more sophisticated, stationary equipment.
US officials said Mr Ekeus and his successor, Mr Richard Butler, had been concerned that inspectors' lives would be endangered if the Iraqis discovered the portable equipment they were carrying. Once the US's so-called "black boxes" were installed, that danger was eliminated, officials said.
Mr Butler has categorically denied that Unscom was used for spying on behalf of the US.