U.S. Spied On Iraqi Military Via U.N
Tuesday, March 2, 1999
United States 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, according to U.S. government employees and documents describing the classified operation.
By all accounts the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, did not authorize or benefit from this channel of U.S. surveillance. This contrasts with previous statements in which the Clinton administration acknowledged use of eavesdropping equipment but said it was done solely in cooperation with UNSCOM to pierce Iraqi concealment of its illegal weapons.
As recently as last week, the administration asserted again that its intelligence work within UNSCOM was invited by the panel's senior leaders and directed at rooting out Iraq's forbidden missiles and its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
Deputy State Department spokesman James Foley said in a Feb. 23 briefing that charges of U.S. espionage inside UNSCOM are "unfathomable except as elements which can only serve Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine." Any unrelated intelligence gathered under UNSCOM's umbrella, a high-ranking official told reporters invited to a previous briefing, "was a kind of windfall" resulting from the fact that the Iraqis who worked to thwart UNSCOM were also members of President Saddam Hussein's inner circle.
In fact, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, the United States rigged UNSCOM equipment and office space -- without permission -- to intercept a high volume of ordinary Iraqi military communications. Those communications, carried between microwave towers and linking Iraqi commanders to infantry and armored forces in the field, were of considerable value to U.S. military planners but generally unrelated to UNSCOM's special weapons mandate.
U.S. government officials said they considered the risk of discrediting an international arms control system by infiltrating it for their own eavesdropping. They said the stakes were so high in the conflict with Iraq, and the probability of discovery so low, that they deemed the risks worth running.
Microwave channels are line-of-sight communications, typically transmitting a narrow beam from hilltop to hilltop and difficult to intercept by aircraft or satellites. American intelligence agencies saw an opportunity to tap into those signals when UNSCOM changed the arrangement it used to monitor distant sites in Iraq with video cameras.
Pioneered in May 1993, UNSCOM's "remote monitoring system" grew over the years to encompass more than 300 arms installations and research facilities in Iraq. For the first three years of operation, the video images and logs of electrical power use were recorded onto magnetic tape at the remote sites. Inspectors based in Baghdad periodically drove out to collect the tapes.
In March 1996, with Iraq's consent, UNSCOM began transmitting images from the cameras back to Baghdad using radio signals. The signals were boosted by relays, known as repeater stations, arrayed along the paths from the camera sites to Baghdad. The new system gave UNSCOM's inspectors a view of distant facilities in "near real time," a significant improvement.
But unbeknownst to UNSCOM, the U.S. signals and sensor technicians who installed and maintained the system were intelligence operatives, and the repeater stations they built had a covert capability. Hidden in their structure were antennas capable of intercepting microwave transmissions, and the U.S. agents placed some of them near important nodes of Iraqi military communications.
The principal designer of the new system was a military intelligence operative described by a former supervisor as a brilliant engineer and "a pure, energetic, walking, talking slide rule." The engineer and his team undertook repeated "maintenance" missions in Iraq from September 1995 to June 1996, disclosing so little to UNSCOM of their work that the commission's director of operations, Air Force Col. James Moore, clashed repeatedly with the engineer and eventually was recalled by Washington. At least two other technicians lent by the U.S. government to run the remote camera system for UNSCOM were employees of the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine service. At the request of the U.S. government, the three names are being withheld.
UNSCOM sought out technical resources from the United States and elsewhere. After years of frustration, the commission gradually built what amounted to the first U.N. intelligence-gathering operation. But its reliance on contributing governments led to deceptions within deceptions that eventually helped destroy the special commission.