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[IWAR] CIA Saddam's Best Friend pt 1 (fwd)

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Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 10:53:24 -0700 (PDT)
From: 7Pillars Partners <partners@sirius.infonex.com>
Reply-To: iwar@sirius.infonex.com
To: g2i list <g2i@xmission.com>, IWAR list <iwar@sirius.infonex.com>
Subject: [IWAR] CIA Saddam's Best Friend pt 1


   13 April 1999. Thanks to DI.
   The New Yorker, April 5, 1999, p. 32
                             ANNALS OF ESPIONAGE
                            Saddam's Best Friend 
     How the C.I.A. made it a lot easier for the Iraqi leader to rearm. 
                             By Seymour M. Hersh 
   Last December, after Saddam Hussein threatened to end seven years of
   United Nations arms-control inspections, President Clinton ordered
   American attacks on Iraq. Once again, the world watched, on television,
   as missiles fell on carefully picked targets. The purpose of the
   attacks, Clinton told reporters, was to "degrade" Iraq's capacity for
   waging war, and he added, "I gave the order because I believe we cannot
   allow Saddam Hussein to dismantle UNSCOM and resume the production of
   weapons of mass destruction with impunity."
   The President was mistaken. The United Nations Special Commission for
   Iraq, known as UNSCOM, had already been effectively dismantled, by the
   shortsighted policies of his own Administration. Then, a few hours after
   Clinton spoke, William Cohen, the Secretary of Defense, appeared on
   television. "One thing should be absolutely clear," he told reporters.
   "We are concentrating on military targets." That, too, was a
   misstatement, for two of the targets were sites where Saddam was known
   to entertain mistresses, and they were specifically struck in the hope
   of assassinating him.
   Saddam responded to the bombing--and the bungled assassination
   attempt--by formally ousting UNSCOM and turning anew to Russia,
   historically his most important trading partner. Today, eight years
   after the Gulf War, American policy has collapsed in Iraq, and a Cold
   War mentality has returned. Saddam is unchecked by U.N. inspectors as he
   pursues his goal of becoming a nuclear power, with the aid of Russian
   strategic materials. Saddam's ally in these efforts is Yevgeny Primakov,
   the Russian Prime Minister, a longtime friend who, according to highly
   classified communications intelligence, received at least one large
   payment from Iraq--by wire transfer--in November of 1997. The distrust
   of Primakov throughout the American intelligence community is acute. One
   former C.I.A. operative told me, "I don't know how many times we had to
   say this to Strobe"--Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State--"but
   Primakov is just not a good guy."
   The targeting of Saddam had grown, in part, out of an extraordinary
   intelligence coup by a team of UNSCOM arms inspectors. The team--headed
   by Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer--had
   been trying for two years to unscramble the encrypted communications
   system that Saddam has used since the end of the Gulf War to hide the
   full extent of his strategic stockpile. Ritter and his UNSCOM colleagues
   knew that there were missiles and warheads to be found. They also knew
   that Saddam, who travelled frequently in and around Baghdad, lived in
   constant fear of attacks on his life--from both inside and outside
   Iraq--and had surrounded himself with a huge apparatus of bodyguards,
   known as the Special Security Organization. Saddam frequently
   communicated, through aides, with his entourage from secure telephones
   scattered around Baghdad and from a radio telephone in his car. UNSCOM
   also knew (from a high-level Iraqi defector) that these forces had
   orders to do more than protect Saddam: they were also responsible for
   safeguarding Iraq's hidden weapons.
   The encryption system on Saddam's telephones, made in Sweden, was as
   sophisticated as any on the international market. The phones had a
   series of channels, and on each channel were algorithms that chopped the
   signals into hundreds of bits as the channels were switched. To get at
   the signals, Ritter's people took the extreme risk of operating, under
   the cover of the U.N. flag, an interception station in UNSCOM's offices
   in Baghdad and in a mobile unit.
   Early in the spring of 1998, the gamble paid off. The algorithms were
   unscrambled, and Saddam's most closely protected communications were
   suddenly pouring into UNSCOM. "It was one of the most valuable
   operations since the Cold War," one informed U.N. adviser told me. But
   UNSCOM's mission was to uncover Iraq's complex system of concealing its
   weapons program; the mechanics of Saddam's personal security were a
   benefit only if they could lead to hidden arms caches. The Central
   Intelligence Agency, which had been helping UNSCOM interpret its
   intelligence findings since 1991, had a different agenda. Its goal,
   authorized by President Clinton, was to work with Iraqi dissidents, in
   Saddam's Special Security Organization and elsewhere, to overthrow the
   regime, by any means possible. In the C.I.A.'s view, Ritter's
   intelligence unit was always in the way--and, in any case, could not be
   trusted with sensitive information; the C.I.A. felt that any important
   intelligence it might supply to UNSCOM would inevitably find its way
   back to the Iraqi regime. "There were killer fights about getting
   involved with the U.N.," one former C.I.A. official told me. "We don't
   get involved with international organizations."
   In March of 1998, a high-tech team from the National Security Agency,
   which is responsible for American communications intelligence, flew to
   Bahrain to review the telephone intercepts. One official recalled that
   when the intercepts had been decrypted and translated, the Americans
   told themselves, "Here's the best intelligence that we've ever had!" The
   official went on, "Saddam is suddenly exposed for the first time. He's
   the Godfather! He gets drunk, starts raving like a madman, and his
   secretary will get on and say he's lost his mind--ordering murders. We
   never had him on this level before." Like Mafia leaders, Saddam rarely,
   if ever, uses the telephone himself, but relies on aides to relay his
   commands. The overheard "secretary" was Presidential Secretary Abid
   Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam's closest aide, who was much feared by Iraqis. At
   the same time, the official said, senior N.S.A. managers were
   "panicked," because the information from the telephone intercepts was
   "controlled by the United Nations."
   The Americans felt that Ritter's intelligence was too important to be
   left to arms controllers. For the first time, with the aid of
   intercepts, Saddam's hour-to-hour whereabouts could conceivably be
   tracked--and even anticipated. Within a few months, the Clinton
   Administration persuaded Richard Butler, an Australian who in the summer
   of 1997 had been appointed the executive chairman of UNSCOM, to tell
   Ritter and his men in Baghdad that they would have to get out of the
   signals-intelligence business: Washington, and not UNSCOM, would now
   decide whom and what to listen to. (Butler disputes this account.)
   Thus, in April of 1998, operational control of the Saddam intercepts
   shifted to one of America's least publicized intelligence units, the
   Special Collection Service. The S.C.S., which is jointly operated by the
   C.I.A. and the N.S.A., is responsible for, among other things, deploying
   highly trained teams of electronics specialists in sensitive areas
   around the world to monitor diplomatic and other kinds of
   communications. Its operations are often run from secure sites inside
   American embassies.
   The UNSCOM team in Baghdad felt betrayed, and believed that it would now
   be vulnerable to capture and prosecution by Iraq on espionage charges.
   The team's equipment was still intercepting crucial telephone calls, but
   the United States was controlling the "take." Ritter, desperate to keep
   the operation under U.N. control, asked the Israelis to process the
   telephone intercepts. (Israeli intelligence had been the first group to
   tell UNSCOM about the importance of Saddam's Special Security
   Organization.) The Israelis refused (under pressure from Washington),
   and the UNSCOM operation was shut down until July, when the Americans
   unilaterally installed their own collection devices in the UNSCOM
   offices in Baghdad.
   Ritter was reluctant to discuss the specifics of the UNSCOM intelligence
   program with me, but in a series of interviews recently he stressed that
   there was an enormous difference between accumulating information on
   behalf of the United Nations and accumulating it on behalf of the United
   States. "Stuff was being collected"--by the Americans--"without our
   knowledge and without Butler's knowledge," Ritter said. "That's
   espionage. My team was worried. I told Butler about it"--the American
   operation--"and said we have to shut it down. It didn't happen."
   Once the American technicians were in control, they focussed on
   Saddam--and not on his missiles and warheads. They eventually found a
   pattern in Saddam's movements, as tracked by intercepts, which they
   believed might lead to a successful attempt to eliminate him. Saddam
   regularly saw his mistresses in two sites--one a retreat at Auja, near
   his ancestral home, Tikrit, and the other at his daughter's villa in
   Babil, in suburban Baghdad. When the American forces attacked Iraq in
   December, cruise missiles destroyed both targets.
   Saddam, of course, survived. One senior Clinton Administration
   intelligence official acknowledged the failure, but he added, "In our
   business, you never have one-hundred-per-cent assurance. Let's assume
   you know he's there. You've got a time delay. How do you know a guy
   doesn't finish the business with his mistress and go on his way, or to
   the bathroom. It may be a double"--someone posing as Saddam--"or he may
   have changed locations. There's so much potential for a slip between cup
   and lip."
   A Republican who served at a high level in the Reagan and Bush
   Administrations told me that he had learned before the December raid
   that the Administration had "a fix" on Saddam's whereabouts.
   Administration officials, he said, "were touting" the fact that they had
   good intelligence. "People treat Saddam as an idiot," he said, referring
   to Clinton and his senior aides. He added that the failure of the
   bombing was evidence that Saddam had been aware of the penetration of
   his telephones. In his opinion, the man said, "He was doubling or
   tripling on the coms"--intelligence jargon meaning that Saddam was
   deliberately generating misleading or incorrect statements.
   Other high-level intelligence officials I spoke with had reservations
   about the Administration's eagerness to eliminate Saddam in the absence
   of any long-term strategic plan for dealing with the region. "I'm not
   against nailing the guy," one fully informed military officer said to
   me, "but then what do you do?" Assassination, he added, "is not a
   policy. It's a tool of policy." (Officially, of course, "assassination,"
   which is barred by Executive Order, was not the purpose of the raids.) A
   former intelligence official who still consults at a high level in the
   Clinton Administration told me, "Eventually, they'll succeed. And then
   what do we get?"
   The result of the American hijacking of the U.N.'s intelligence
   activities was that Saddam survived but UNSCOM did not. "The American
   government walked on its dick--and with golf shoes," a dispirited U.N.
   official told me. "They just goofed us."
   In retrospect, given the inherent conflict between the C.I.A. and
   UNSCOM, the remarkable fact is that UNSCOM lasted as long as it did. In
   early 1991, during the Gulf War, the member states of the United Nations
   had helped the United States roll back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The
   spirit of post-Cold War cooperation promised a miracle: UNSCOM,
   operating on behalf of the U.N. Security Council, would utilize the
   secret intelligence agencies of its member states, Communist and
   non-Communist alike, to investigate the Iraqi arsenal. Dozens of nations
   joined Washington in providing intelligence support--and their most
   sophisticated intelligence operatives--to the early UNSCOM inspections.
   The first executive chairman of UNSCOM, Rolf Ekeus, of Sweden, was a
   diplomat and arms-control expert with an amiable personality that masked
   a determination to run UNSCOM as an independent U.N. operation, and not
   as an adjunct of American foreign policy. Ekeus did turn to an American,
   however, for help in setting up an intelligence unit. He chose Scott
   Ritter, who had served as an intelligence officer in the Gulf War. In
   the security-conscious world of intelligence, Ritter arrived at the U.N.
   with high-risk baggage: earlier, while serving in a top-secret Pentagon
   arms-control job in the Soviet Union, he had been suspected of being
   romantically involved with a Georgian national. (He subsequently married
   the woman.) With this shaky security file, he was nobody's choice in
   Washington for the UNSCOM job, and some C.I.A. officials chose to be
   skeptical of his bona fides. Initially, the agency insisted that Ritter
   be excluded from its own intelligence briefings to UNSCOM, although
   Nikita Smidovich, a former Russian diplomat and arms-control expert, who
   was also assigned to UNSCOM's intelligence unit, was allowed to attend
   them. An internal C.I.A. review by a senior intelligence official named
   Samuel Hoskinson, however, quickly concluded that Ritter was not a
   security risk, and the agency dropped its restriction. "I never thought
   Ritter was going to give anything away," Hoskinson told me. "Anyway,
   we're not stupid. We don't share everything with the U.N."
   The proposed sharing of intelligence had some American proponents. "It
   was the first time we ever turned over [intelligence] assets to a group
   like the United Nations," recalled David C. Underwood, a retired Air
   Force colonel who in 1991 was assigned to serve as a State Department
   liaison to UNSCOM. "I'm a twenty-six-year veteran---a Cold War warrior,"
   he told me. "We had the greatest scientists and the great intelligence
   analysts of forty countries working together, with all hands on top of
   the table." He then described a dramatic early meeting of UNSCOM at
   which a Russian military expert briefed his counterparts from the
   Defense Department on how the Iraqis had camouflaged their fleet of
   mobile Scud missile launchers, with Russian help, before the Gulf War.
   (Only a few of the Scuds were destroyed by Allied bombing during the
   war.) "I had a colonel from Russian intelligence and one from the C.I.A.
   at the same table," Underwood said.
   Not everyone in Washington shared Underwood's enthusiasm. "Some people
   in our government could not stand it," he explained, referring to the
   senior officers of the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Operations. "You have to
   understand the culture. People in the C.I.A. are a mixture of
   professionals and careerists overlaid with a Cold War mentality. The
   impulse is to spy." In the months before Iraq's August, 1990, invasion
   of Kuwait, however, Saddam had been relentless in driving potential
   American spies out of his government and military. "His
   counterintelligence blew them away," I was told by a former C.I.A.
   operations officer. "All the significant assets we had in Iraq died in
   1989. The agency had zilch." The operators in the C.I.A. inevitably saw
   UNSCOM--if such an agency had to be tolerated--as a vehicle for
   collecting intelligence on Iraq. The U.N. inspectors were on the ground
   in Iraq, where the C.I.A. could not be.
   The struggle between UNSCOM and Washington intensified in September of
   1991, when a U.N. inspection team was detained by Iraqi forces in a
   Baghdad parking lot for four days, after its leaders refused to return
   newly discovered documents dealing with efforts by Iraq to obtain
   nuclear weapons. To Ekeus's surprise, some details of the parking-lot
   standoff were made public by the Bush Administration--an American member
   of the UNSCOM delegation had been signalling privately to the United
   States via a secure satellite-telephone link. Ekeus upbraided the
   American for his back-channel reporting to Washington, and soon received
   an angry telephone call from Richard Clarke, the director of the State
   Department's office of political-military affairs.
   "He said they"--the American inspectors--"should report to him and not
   to the United Nations," Ekeus recalled, adding dryly, "We had a nasty
   conversation." Ekeus held his ground, and refused to authorize any
   independent reporting from his inspection teams to Washington. "The
   Americans were irritated at us because they could not control the flow
   of information," he said.
   Before leaving office, President Bush, politically embarrassed by
   Saddam's defiance after the Gulf War, secretly authorized the C.I.A. to
   begin plotting a coup. When Clinton succeeded Bush, he and his
   national-security adviser, Anthony Lake, renewed that authorization. But
   the new President and his aides wanted to keep Iraq off the front page.
   Ekeus recalled, "Lake used to say to me, 'Don't give us sweaty
   palms'"--that is, don't create any crises. Dealing with Iraq became a
   secondary issue for the Washington bureaucracy, and the day-to-day
   management was left to junior officers in the Pentagon and the State
   Department--and, of course, to the C.I.A. Lake and one of his senior
   aides on the National Security Council, George Tenet (who was named
   C.I.A. director in 1996), became fervent supporters of a quick fix--the
   elimination of Saddam Hussein by a bloody coup d'etat. At various times,
   they suggested that it was to be triggered by the Iraqi exile movement
   or from within Saddam's immediate circle of advisers. The failure of the
   White House to understand the severe limitations of the C.I.A.'s
   Directorate of Operations--only a few officers in the Near East Division
   spoke Arabic, for example--would mar Iraqi policy and create enormous
   difficulties for UNSCOM.
   One agency officer in particular, Steven Richter, who eventually took
   over Iraqi operations as head of the Near East Division, opposed
   UNSCOM's independence. Renowned inside the agency as a territorial and
   single-minded manager, Richter had grown up in the Directorate of
   Operations, and had served two decades abroad, much of it in the Middle
   East. Before he was recalled to Washington to run the Near East
   Division, he had been chief of station in Amman, Jordan, which was the
   overseas center for the C.I.A.'s coup plotting inside Iraq. Just before
   his promotion, Richter had been deeply involved in the machinations of a
   group of high-level Iraqi defectors who he and his superiors thought
   provided the best hope of eliminating Saddam.
   Richter was a controversial, and intimidating, manager--brilliant, but,
   as even his defenders acknowledge, with considerable faults. "Steven
   really knows his business," one colleague told me. "He's probably one of
   the savviest operational guys. But he's still dealing with a deck from
   the Cold War era. It's the D.O. mentality--very turfish." Another
   colleague said that Richter's insistence on making all decisions himself
   had been extremely destructive to the Near East Division. "He's in
   control, and you don't question him," the intelligence officer told me.
   "He's driven off the talented core of Arabists." A former White House
   official similarly depicted Richter as consistently letting "his ego get
   in his way on the job," and explained, "He takes any person with
   independence and says, 'Get out of here.' Everybody who has any
   clue--it's 'Out of here.'" The result, the former official added, was
   that Richter ended up surrounded by "tail-wagging idiots" and found
   himself constantly being outmaneuvered by Saddam.
   The Near East Division was internally polarized as the result of an
   earlier Richter assignment, as the director of a secret operations
   center in Germany in the late nineteen-eighties. The center's mission
   had been to collect intelligence from Iranians who were spying, at great
   personal risk, inside Iran. The operation was primitive. From Iran, the
   agents mailed their intelligence reports to a seemingly innocent private
   home or a mailbox in Germany--known in the trade as an "accommodation
   address"--to which the C.I.A. had access. "There were only two
   accommodation ad dresses" for Iran inside Germany, one of Richter's
   former associates told me. "It was assumed that Iranian
   counter-intelligence was locked onto them and saw them." Richter
   discounted the warnings of colleagues and ordered the agents to double
   their reporting. (At the time, as everyone involved understood, a basic
   measure of a station chief's success was sheer volume of intelligence
   reports.) Astonishingly, as a subsequent internal C.I.A.
   counter-intelligence investigation showed, letters sent to Richter's
   agents in Iran were often addressed in the same hand and mailed in
   batches that included the return accommodation addresses. The Iranians
   quickly became suspicious and blew the network apart. More than thirty
   Iranian informants were seized and put to death. Many of Richter's
   associates remain convinced that the requirement for more message
   traffic was their undoing. One associate told me, "Everybody in the
   organization who has a memory of this knows that Richter was guilty of
   the worst sin a senior operations officer could be accused of--being
   In early 1994, Rolf Ekeus was privately approached by an Israeli
   intelligence official, and he agreed to open discussions with Israel on
   the sharing of UNSCOM information. The first meeting, in New York,
   provided an electric moment. The Israelis had turned over a stack of
   intelligence reports, and the UNSCOM staff began rapidly flipping
   through the pages. At first, the documents seemed humdrum--"mostly an
   account of Iraqi stockpiles," Scott Ritter recalled. But one paragraph
   revealed the existence of the Iraqi weapons-concealment operation and
   the elite units in Saddam's Special Security Organization that were
   assigned to it.
   Ritter now saw an opportunity, and envisaged a joint Israeli-United
   Nations signals-intelligence (SIGINT) operation aimed at Saddam's
   Special Security Organization. This prospect triggered acute anxiety at
   the C.I.A. What's more, Ritter and his colleagues wanted Washington's
   permission to share U-2 reconnaissance photographs of Iraq with the
   Israelis, whose photo interpreters were highly regarded. That was a hard
   sell, and it took more than six months. Ekeus himself had to intervene
   with John M. Deutch, who became C.I.A. director in May of 1995. Ekeus
   had enormous leverage in the dispute, for the U-2 flights were under the
   direct control of UNSCOM and could not be challenged by Saddam. If
   Washington rejected Ekeus's request and insisted that the U-2 film not
   be shared with Israel, all parties understood that Ekeus would simply
   stop the U-2 flights. Ekeus got his way, but only after a bitter
   The Directorate of Operations resisted the move. "I can't tell you how
   much the D.O. sandbagged UNSCOM on the U-2 dispute," one former C.I.A.
   official told me. "They used to spin Deutch up"--that is, raise constant
   complaints about UNSCOM's intentions--"and get him to call Ekeus and
   Lake" with complaints. The D.O. also did not want UNSCOM to get involved
   with SlGINT at all. "Basically, they went to the Israelis and said,
   'Don't help the United Nations'" with signals intelligence. "Why?" The
   C.I.A. man answered his own question in a bully's tone: "'Iraq is my
   country. What in the hell are you doing in my country?'"

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