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Context of 'March 1996-December 1998: US Intelligence Uses UN Weapons Inspectors to Spy on Iraq Military'

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Rolf Ekeus.Rolf Ekeus. [Source: United Nations]US intelligence services use United Nations arms controls teams to spy on the Iraqi military, without the knowledge of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) that oversees the teams. US intelligence infiltrates agents and espionage equipment into the UN inspection teams. Clinton administration officials have previously admitted inserting eavesdropping equipment into Iraq with the inspectors, but said that they did so in cooperation with UNSCOM to penetrate Iraqi concealment of its illegal weapons. However, US intelligence agents rig UNSCOM equipment and office space, without UNSCOM permission or knowledge, to intercept Iraqi military communications. Most of these communications have nothing to do with UNSCOM’s special weapons mandate. US government officials admit that they considered the risk that discovery of their infiltrations would discredit the UNSCOM teams, but they dismissed the risk as being quite low, and the intelligence gathered on the Iraqi military as critically needed.
US Installs Surveillance Equipment During Upgrade - The surveillance begins in March 1996, when UNSCOM upgrades a widespread video surveillance system to transmit signals from the camera to the inspectors’ offices in Baghdad, and terminates no later than December 1998, when the Iraqis ask all UNSCOM inspectors to leave the country. While the new system gives UNSCOM inspectors views of distant facilities in “near real time,” unknown to UNSCOM officials, the US signals and sensor technicians who install and maintain the system have covert transmission systems built into the UNSCOM transmitters that capture the Iraqi communications. The designer of the new system is a military intelligence operative and engineer; two of the technicians who install the system are CIA agents.
UNSCOM Says Surveillance Destroyed Its Ability to Function inside Iraq - UNSCOM officials now claim that the covert surveillance undertaken by the US has helped to destroy the agency’s ability to function inside Iraq, and have given credibility to Iraqi claims—previously dismissed—that the US was using UNSCOM to spy on their military facilities. (UNSCOM is aware of another, simultaneous surveillance operation called “Shake the Tree,” that used commercial scanners to intercept Iraqi radio transmissions; US officials now say that they chose to pursue the surreptitious eavesdropping because they wanted to preserve their “independence of access” to Iraqi military communications, according to a US official. “We did not want to rely on a multinational body that might or might not continue to operate as it was operating.” The US government decides not to inform either Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish diplomat who is UNSCOM’s executive chairman, or his Australian successor, Richard Butler, about the second eavesdropping operation. However, the CIA does inform the American deputy to both men, Charles Duelfer, to ensure that UNSCOM staff members do not interfere with the operation.
'Played for Suckers' - Ekeus will later say that while he has difficulty believing the US could have built covert antennas into the video relay system without the Iraqis’ knowledge, if the US did so, “We have always stood against that.” Though Butler refuses to comment publicly on the issue, a source reports that privately he is angered by the operation. “If all this stuff turns out to be true, then Rolf Ekeus and I have been played for suckers, haven’t we?” he is reported as saying. “I’ve spent a lifetime of helping build and defend the nonproliferation regimes. Piggybacking in this manner [by US intelligence] can only serve the interests of those who reject meaningful efforts at arms control.” In May 1997, British officials in the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) ask their counterparts, the American National Security Agency (NSA), if such an operation exists, and the NSA does not respond. A US official will explain: “We don’t tell the British everything, even if they are our closest intelligence ally. They don’t tell us everything they’re doing either.” [Washington Post, 3/2/1999]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, United Nations Special Commission, Richard Butler, Charles Duelfer, Central Intelligence Agency, Rolf Ekeus, Government Communications Headquarters, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Katharine Gun.Katharine Gun. [Source: BBC]Katharine Gun, a 29-year old translator for British intelligence’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), leaks the National Security Agency memo documenting the NSA’s electronic and physical surveillance of numerous UN delegates to the Security Council (see January 31, 2003). Gun will be arrested on March 8 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act (see March 9, 2003). Gun leaks the memo, [BBC, 9/15/2004] written by the NSA’s Frank Koza and sent to several US allies via its ECHELON global surveillance system, to Britain’s Observer, which spends weeks verifying the document’s veracity before running the story on March 2. Former NSA intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, now of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the leak illustrates the deep unhappiness among several US allies’ intelligence agencies over US and British attempts to allege ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “My feeling is that this was an authorized leak,” Madsen says. “I’ve been hearing for months of people in the US and British intelligence community who are deeply concerned about their governments ‘cooking’ intelligence to link Iraq to al-Qaeda.’ While surveillance of delegates and other officials at the UN is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, [Observer, 3/9/2003] intelligence experts acknowledge that the US and other nations routinely conduct at least some sort of surveillance on UN members. “One would have to have the innocence of an unborn child to believe that espionage doesn’t go on every day at the United Nations,” says one such expert, Loch Johnson. “From a purist point of view, it’s unfortunate in a way, because after all, we’re the host nation for the United Nations. But the reality is, Europeans and everyone else engages in espionage in New York City, much of it focused on the United Nations.” Experts say what is unprecedented is the leak itself, especially in its timeliness and detail. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
bullet Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times, writes in January 2004, “I can only admire the more timely, courageous action of Katherine Gun…who risked her career and freedom to expose an illegal plan to win official and public support for an illegal war, before that war had started. Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the US bug the phones of all the members of the UN security council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy.…She did what she could, in time for it to make a difference, as indeed others should have done, and still can. I have no doubt that there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now—the Pentagon Papers of Iraq—whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq.…Exposing governmental lies carries a heavy personal risk, even in our democracies. But that risk can be worthwhile when a war’s-worth of lives is at stake.” [Guardian, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Observer, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Wayne Madsen, Loch Johnson, United Nations Security Council, Government Communications Headquarters, Daniel Ellsberg, Katherine Gun, Al-Qaeda, Echelon, National Security Agency, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Frank Koza

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The United Nations launches an investigation into the electronic and physical surveillance of a number of its Security Council delegates by the National Security Agency (see January 31, 2003). The NSA operation, revealed the week before, was apparently leaked to Britain’s Observer by Katharine Gun, who works at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and has been arrested on suspicion of breaking Britain’s Official Secrets Act (see February 2003). The NSA also solicited the assistance of an intelligence agency of an unnamed “friendly foreign government”; it is believed to be Britain. The leak is touted as “more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers” by celebrated whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The leak of the NSA surveillance program has caused deep embarrassment for the Bush administration, which is working to recruit supporters for a second UN resolution authorizing military force against Iraq (see February 24, 2003). The authorization for the NSA operation is believed to have come from National Security Adviser Rice, but US intelligence experts say that such a decision would have had to involve Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. President Bush, by necessity, would have been informed of the proposed operation at one of his daily intelligence briefings. While such surveillance of foreign diplomats at the UN is legal under the US’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. According to international law expert Dr. John Quigley, the Vienna Convention stipulates: “The receiving state shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes…. The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable.” [Observer, 3/9/2003]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, United Nations, National Security Agency, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Michael Hayden, John Quigley, Condoleezza Rice, Katherine Gun, Donald Rumsfeld, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Government Communications Headquarters, George J. Tenet, Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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