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Context of 'July 1998: UN Weapons Inspector Says Iraq’s WMDs Almost Completely Neutralized'

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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

UNSCOM weapons inspector Richard Butler states, “If Iraqi disarmament were a five-lap race, we would be three quarters of the way around the fifth and final lap.” [Boston Globe, 3/22/1999]

Entity Tags: United Nations Special Commission, Richard Butler

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler orders the withdrawal of weapons inspectors from Iraq, accusing the Iraqis of not cooperating. His actions follow a phone conversation with Peter Burleigh, the American representative to the United Nations, basically warning Butler that the US intends to strike Iraq (see December 16-19, 1998). [New York Times, 12/18/1998] In his book, Saddam Defiant, Butler will recall: “I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission.… Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be ‘prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.‘… I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.” Butler’s order to withdraw is made without the permission of the UN Security Council. [Butler, 2000, pp. 224] Years later, the American press and government will say that on this day Saddam Hussein “kicked out” inspectors. [Extra!, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: United Nations Special Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, Richard Butler, Peter Burleigh

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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