Buzzflash Scott Ritter IV - "Why We're in Iraq"
Scott Ritter Tells the Complete Story Why We're in Iraq
It Begins with the CIA's Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Interview Conducted by BuzzFlash Senior Editor Scott Vogel
The foundation of our involvement in Iraq is corrupt. You can't build anything positive from this corrupt foundation. If you want to speak of solving the Iraq problem, we have to go back to how we got into this mess to begin with. … The same people who deceived us getting into Iraq are deceiving us on a daily basis about what's going on in Iraq, and we can't ignore this.
There is a shocking truth behind the invasion of Iraq, which Scott Ritter reveals in Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein (a BuzzFlash premium). Scott Ritter was a top UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 through 1998, frequently serving as the chief inspector. That gives him direct knowledge of what happened in Iraq, historical context for interpreting what happened, and -- another key -- independence from domestic politics, because the UN employed him, not our own executive branch. Those are powerful keys to understanding the mess the U.S. finds itself in today, and telling the truth about it. Before working for the UN, Ritter was a major in the U.S. Marines and a ballistic missile adviser to General Schwarzkopf in the first Gulf War. In this unadorned, plain speaking interview, Scott Ritter tells BuzzFlash readers just what got us into Iraq the second time.
BuzzFlash: Iraq Confidential documents your experience as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from '91 to '98, with the objective to disarm Iraq of any and all weapons of mass destruction. You were a senior member of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the organization created by the Security Council to oversee weapons inspections. In order to find potential weapons of mass destruction or weapons programs in Iraq, you had to rely on intelligence from the CIA to know where to inspect. During the inspection process, the CIA eventually infiltrated UNSCOM's mission to use the inspections to set up a coup against Saddam Hussein. How was the CIA able to do this?
Scott Ritter: Well, it's a lot more complicated than that. The corruption of the UNSCOM inspection process by the CIA was two-fold. Let's talk about the exterior corruption.
The disarmament process itself was used by the CIA not to disarm Iraq, but to contain Saddam Hussein by providing a façade of legitimacy for the continuation of economic sanctions. From the very beginning, the CIA's approach to the weapons inspectors was not one of let's assist the inspectors in carrying out their mandated task to disarm Iraq, but rather, how can we use the inspection process to facilitate the unilateral policy of regime change in Iraq. That policy was ordered by the Executive Branch of the United States Government, starting with George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991 and going through the Clinton Administration, and then of course on to the current Administration of George W. Bush.
From an inspector's standpoint, we were fully aware of the American policy of regime change – this was a stated policy. The problem is that the United States is a senior member of the Security Council. It has a veto capability. We as inspectors work for the Security Council. We had a problem in Iraq that the Iraqis were not telling us the truth early on. We needed to gain access to information.
If you think of inspections as an automobile, and gasoline is that which powers the motor of an automobile, information powers the inspection motor. Without information about where the weapons are, you can't do an inspection. So we needed information. We had to turn to the Security Council members and other members of the United Nations community for intelligence support. So the CIA did not infiltrate the inspection process. We opened the door and welcomed them in because we needed assistance in tracking and finding these weapons to disarm Iraq. And we welcomed the CIA and any other intelligence organization, as long as they were assisting us in implementing our mandate.
The problem comes when you bring in a CIA official who says that he or she is going to help you, but their real orders are coming not from the United Nations but from Washington, D.C. or Langley. And those orders are to use the inspection process to facilitate regime change in Iraq. They inherently corrupt the process. It's not that we were duped by the CIA. It's that the CIA behaved in a disingenuous manner.
BuzzFlash: UNSCOM essentially was between a rock and a hard place. You needed assistance and intelligence on where to look for Iraq's weapons programs. And yet at the same time, reaching out to the various intelligence communities and agencies, did you feel like you were letting the genie out of the bottle once you requested and accepted their assistance and intelligence?
Scott Ritter: You had it – we were between a rock and hard place. As I point out in my book, in 1991-1992, Rolf Ekéus, the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, was meeting with Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister and chief negotiator on WMD issues. Aziz confronted UNSCOM and said, look, the United States has a policy of regime change. It says sanctions will never be lifted, even if we cooperate fully with the inspectors. What is our incentive to cooperate? So we knew that this was the case. We knew that there was this huge political issue.
The decision that we made was to let the Security Council sort out the political problems with the United States. All we could do as inspectors was focus on our mandated task. So we separated these two issues, and we just went straight to work, trying to disarm Iraq. We kept our eyes open for any overt activities by American personnel or any other nation that were inconsistent with our mandate. And if we found somebody doing something that wasn't mandated, they were asked to leave the team. So we were assiduous in maintaining the integrity of the inspectors. But it's the process that was corrupted, not the individual inspector. We would gather information that would be shared with governments, and it's how governments used this information that ultimately, I think, highlighted the attacks on the credibility of the inspection process.
BuzzFlash: From the very beginning, Iraqi intelligence officers were obviously suspicious of your mission, and were assigned to monitor and spy on you and the other inspectors. And later on, Iraqi intelligence officers actually infiltrated UNSCOM's mission, at least your communications system. Could you talk about how they were able to do this?
Scott Ritter: Let's first talk about the mission given to the Iraqi intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. When you say the Iraqi intelligence service was targeting UNSCOM, the first thing that comes to people's minds is that the Mukhabarat was part of a deception program designed to hide weapons of mass destruction. We need to emphasize, at this point in time, it's something we weren't certain of as a weapons inspector, but today we know that the Iraqis had destroyed all of their weapons of mass destruction in the summer of 1991.
So the work conducted by the Mukhabarat after that point in time was not about hiding weapons of mass destruction. It was for some other reason. Iraqi intelligence was tasked with protecting Iraq, specifically from foreign-based threats. With the United Nations weapons inspectors, you have this element of intrusive foreign presence in Baghdad that incorporates representatives from the United States and Great Britain, two nations that have sworn to remove Saddam Hussein from power. So the Mukhabarat was very concerned about the activities of the inspectors, especially as we started digging closer and closer to the security institutions surrounding Saddam Hussein himself.
BuzzFlash: So what you're saying is Iraqi intelligence was between a rock and hard place because they needed UNSCOM to confirm Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction so the sanctions could be lifted. However, Saddam Hussein and Iraqi intelligence didn't want to tell the rest of the world we really can't defend ourselves all that well.
Scott Ritter: They also don't want the process to set in motion events that cause their President to be assassinated. They were very concerned that the inspection process was being used by the United States to gather information about the security of Saddam. So yes, the Iraqis were in the same quandary we were.
And the Mukhabarat's job – the Iraqi Intelligence Service's job – was to ascertain what the true intention of the inspection process was. Was this a legitimate vehicle of disarmament? Or is this nothing more than a Trojan Horse that the CIA was using to spy on Saddam? And what they found out is that it was both. The majority of the activities were legitimately related to disarmament. But there was an aspect of the inspection process that had been infiltrated by the CIA and was being used by the United States to target Saddam Hussein.
So now the Mukhabarat's job was to parse this out even further. And this required them to aggressively spy on the work of the inspectors. They would break into our hotel rooms, ruffle through our bags, and find any documents people might leave lying around. They would put listening devices in our cars, listening devices in our hotels. They would recruit people on the inside of the inspection team. And they were very effective at doing this, not only in Baghdad but also in New York.
The individuals I spoke to in the Iraqi intelligence services wouldn't give away names, but they said that they had a source inside the Executive Office of the Special Commission who was passing them almost real-time information about weapons inspections. They got French government assistance to break the codes of our secure phone so they could listen to our conversations between Chief Inspector and the Executive Chairman, not because they were trying to hide things, but because they were trying to figure out what it is the inspectors are up to.
BuzzFlash: At some point during this process, Iraqi intelligence officers learned that the CIA was planning a coup. How exactly did they learn about the coup, and what happened as a result?
Scott Ritter: By this time in 1996, the Iraqis had put together a fairly sophisticated matrix of who the inspectors were and who they ultimately worked for. So whenever we submitted a roster of inspectors to the Iraqis, they were pretty locked in on what kind of inspection it would be, and what kind of emphasis there would be, and who on the inspection team they should be concerned about. So they have a good feel for that. But the Mukhabarat also had to deal with aspects of protecting Saddam Hussein that had nothing to do with UNSCOM, such as the CIA's own efforts to recruit people inside Iraq to target Saddam. And what the Mukhabarat did is they were tracking these two separate issues and found that there was crossover – that the CIA was using the inspection process to facilitate a coup d'etat by another group of Iraqis that was being handled by the CIA outside the framework of the weapons inspections.
And the Iraqis tracked this. They infiltrated the coup and they pulled the plug on it, executed the plotters and terminated the CIA's effort. But in the process, they got definitive proof that the CIA was using the inspection process as a vehicle not only to gather intelligence, but to trigger a coup d'etat. And it destroyed the integrity of the inspection process.
BuzzFlash: When did you become fully aware of the planning of the coup d'etat in Iraq?
Scott Ritter: I had no knowledge of the coup until after the fact. The failed coup was uncovered in June, after our inspection team had been pulled out. By July, we're getting an inkling that something had occurred. As we started digging around and taking a look at the stories we heard and then sifted through some data, it became evident that we were unwittingly part of this effort.
We had twelve CIA people on our team in June, from a special operations unit with the CIA, and they were there ostensibly responsible for logistics support and communications support. After the coup, they disappeared. We never saw them again. We gathered information inside Iraq that talked about facilities that we wanted to inspect that the CIA told us not to inspect. And it turns out that this was the unit that the CIA had recruited to help get rid of Saddam Hussein. And we saw evidence of this unit being cleaned up by the Iraqi government. So by the middle of July, end of July, and early August, myself and others were getting this sinking feeling that we had been had.
BuzzFlash: The CIA undermined a true experiment: Could the UN aggressively and effectively disarm a country of WMDs peacefully and avert a war? Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but if the CIA had let UNSCOM do its job, do you believe that your mission would have confirmed – as history has proven to be true – that Iraq was complying with the UN resolution and that perhaps we never would have invaded Iraq in the years that followed?
Scott Ritter: Oh, there's no doubt. First of all, it's not just the CIA. We have to remember the CIA doesn't make policy – it implements policy. If the United States government had been serious about disarming Iraq, and serious about complying with the mandate when the U.S. voted for Security Council resolutions calling for the disarmament, and then lifting sanctions once Iraq was verified as being disarmed, then this problem could have been cleared up by 1993-1994 at the latest. We would have been able to wrap this up and conclude our business in Iraq, and there would still be inspectors in Iraq today conducting long-term monitoring of Iraq's industrial infrastructure to make sure that they never again reconstituted any of these weapons. It would have been a tremendous victory for disarmament, for arms control, for non-proliferation, and for international peace and security. That's one of the tragedies that nobody wants to really focus on is just how good the inspectors were, and what a loss it was to the international community that the United States – not just the CIA, but the United States – corrupted the integrity of this operation.
BuzzFlash: By 1998 how were you able to conclude that Iraq had destroyed its WMDs and was in compliance with the UN resolutions?
Scott Ritter: First of all, it's a conclusion I never made. If you track my speaking and my writing, all the way up to the beginning of our invasion in March of 2003, I never gave Iraq a clean bill of health. What I've said is that we had ascertained that we could account verifiably for 90 to 95% of Iraq's weaponry. We had questions about a certain small percentage of unaccounted-for material. We had no evidence that this material was being retained by Iraq, but we just couldn't tell you what had happened. And so we were moving down the path of trying to figure out what happened to this material.
We were monitoring Iraq – the totality of its industrial infrastructure – with the most intrusive, technologically advanced, on-site inspection program in the history of arms control. And through this monitoring, we were unable to detect any evidence of either a retained capability or a reconstituted capability in weapons of mass destruction.
We could mitigate against the Iraqis having built anything new. And the longer we carried out our investigation, the less viable any potential retained stockpiles of WMD become. For instance, if Iraq had produced anthrax and lied about its destruction, and was holding on to it after a year or two, it's irrelevant because that anthrax becomes goo. The same is true for chemical agents. There came a point by 1996-1997, that even though we could not fully account for the totality of the weapons, we could ascertain that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed, meaning that there was no chance of viable weapons of mass destruction existing in Iraq. But our mandate wasn't for "fundamental disarmament" – it was for complete disarmament. And so we had to come to grips with that unaccounted-for five to ten percent, and that's what we were trying to do.
It's not as though we in UNSCOM were saying, look, we've done everything. We're done. We're finished. It's time to go home. We were saying there's still a job to be done, according to the mandate we were given, and we'd like to finish this job. But if someone's going to stand up and say that Iraq posed a direct threat to the international peace and security from stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, this was an absurd speculation not based on reality.
BuzzFlash: In 2002, you were an outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq. I remember watching you running around like your head was on fire, trying to tell the world that the Bush Administration's case for invading Iraq was not accurate. History has proven you were right all along, and now over 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. The Middle East has been destabilized. By the CIA's own account, there are more foreign fighters and terrorists trained to carry out further attacks against the United States and our allies. After no WMDs were found in Iraq, what was your reaction when the rationale for invading Iraq evolved into getting rid of Saddam, then bringing freedom to Iraq?
Scott Ritter: Here we are today looking for an exit strategy in Iraq, whether it's declaring victory or achieving some sort of new definition of victory. We're searching for a solution to the Iraq problem. And I don't believe that you can talk about finding a solution to a problem that you haven't properly defined.
It's widely accepted that we went to war for one reason and one reason only, and that was to disarm Iraq - a recalcitrant Saddam Hussein who was holding on to weapons of mass destruction that he might share with the forces of international terror. This was the stated reason for going to war by the President and his Administration. It's spelled out in a letter from John Negroponte who at that time was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to the Security Council. It lists why we went to war. None of the new justifications were spelled out there. And we now know that the reason for going to war was a bald-faced lie -- that it was a result of fixing intelligence around policy, as opposed to a policy derived from sound intelligence.
The foundation of our involvement in Iraq is corrupt. You can't build anything positive from this corrupt foundation. If you want to speak of solving the Iraq problem, we have to go back to how we got into this mess to begin with. And today, nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to talk about the deception, the lies, the distortion that took place. They say, look, we all may disagree about how we got into Iraq, but that's old. Now we have to focus on the new situation. And it's very frustrating, because you can't focus on the new situation without comprehending how we got there to begin with.
We must delve into the deception and the manufacturing of information, because that represents a pattern of behavior and intent that is still present in the same people who are running the Iraq war today. The same people who deceived us getting into Iraq are deceiving us on a daily basis about what's going on in Iraq, and we can't ignore this. We can't forget about this.
It's very frustrating that so many people seem willing to just say, ah, you know, that was a mess about how we got in, but let's not talk about it. And that's why I think my book is very important -- I liken it to the Rosetta Stone. If you read this book, you will understand that Iraq was not an intelligence mistake, per se, meaning oops, we got it wrong. Iraq is a product of over a decade of deception and deceit, and misinformation and fabrication, on the part of the United States government and its intelligence services.
BuzzFlash: In my opinion, there was nothing that anyone could have said that would have stopped the Bush Administration from invading Iraq. It seems that it would have come hell or high water. UNSCOM said that Iraq was, as you said, "fundamentally disarmed." Those memos and reports were given and distributed to the CIA. What do you believe the motives truly were, if in fact Iraq did not pose a threat to its neighbors and to the rest of the world with weapons of mass destruction?
Scott Ritter: It evolved over time. The initial motive, in 1991, was strictly born out of the fact that Saddam Hussein's continued survival after the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait represented a political problem to George Herbert Walker Bush. In October of 1990, in selling a war with Iraq to the American people, George H.W. Bush said that Saddam is the Middle-East equivalent of Adolf Hitler, who must be dealt with a Nuremberg-like retribution.
That's powerful rhetoric. When you call Saddam Hitler, he becomes the personification of evil. He becomes the devil incarnate. You can't do a deal with the devil. It eliminated any possibility of a diplomatic solution. Saddam had to go. And we had gone to war, and many people in America believed we were going to war to remove Saddam. But when the war ended, and Kuwait was liberated, and American troops came home, Saddam was still in power. This was a political problem -- not a national security problem, but a political problem -- for George Herbert Walker Bush.
All they wanted was for Saddam to go away. It didn't matter if a Sunni general killed Saddam and stepped in, and governed Iraq in the exact same fashion. Saddam would be gone and the political problem would go away. When President Bush was not reelected in 1992, the Clinton Administration was actually working very hard on coming up with a policy that would allow for the lifting of economic sanctions, and a normalization of relations with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But politicians on both sides of the political spectrum, Republican and Democrat alike, told Clinton that this was impossible – that they had told their respective constituencies that Saddam was Hitler. Saddam was evil. And now Clinton wanted to do business with the devil? That was politically not an option.
So the Clinton Administration inherited this policy of containment and regime change, as passive as it was. With Clinton in office, the Republicans started beating him up, saying that you're not dealing with Saddam. You're not dealing with him effectively. By 1998, the Republicans had capitalized on this strategy that the Clinton Administration policy towards Saddam was ineffective. The Republican-controlled Congress pushed through the Iraq Liberation Act, which put the policy of regime change into law and allocated close to $100 million of U.S. taxpayers' funds to fund opposition groups to get rid of Saddam. And then the Clinton Administration was seen as ineffective in implementing this.
This now becomes another domestic political issue. The Republicans use the Clinton Administration's unwillingness or inability to deal with Saddam as the centerpiece of their argument that the Clinton Administration has no valid international peace and security, international security, national security program.
Regime change in Iraq became a centerpiece of the 2000 George W. Bush Presidential campaign regarding foreign policy. This was a domestic political issue. And then it was used further because the American public had been pre-programmed into accepting at face value any negative characterization of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It was used even more after 9/11 as a vehicle to sell a neo-conservative agenda regarding how the United States interacts not only with Iraq and the Middle East, but the entire world.
The truth is the Iraq problem has never been about national security or international peace and security. It's always had its roots in the domestic political debate here in the United States of America.
BuzzFlash: Scott Ritter, thank you for your time.
Scott Ritter: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Interview Conducted by BuzzFlash Senior Editor Scott Vogel.
Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein by Scott Ritter, with introduction by Seymour Hersh, a BuzzFlash Premium.
Profile: Scott Ritter (BBC News)
Scott Ritter (Wikipedia entry)