U.S. Spies and Lies in Iraq

Revolutionary Worker #991, January 24, 1999

For many years, the U.S. government used the United Nations weapons inspection teams as justification to punish and bomb Iraq. The U.S. repeatedly blasted the Iraqi government for not allowing the inspection teams (known officially as UNSCOM, for UN Special Commission) into any and all military installations, government offices and industrial facilities. And the U.S. declared that Iraq's "non-compliance" with UNSCOM called for maintaining the harsh economic sanctions --which causes the deaths of thousands of children every month in Iraq.

Last December, UNSCOM filed its latest report accusing Iraq of obstructing the inspections. Just hours later, the U.S. pointed to the report to justify three nights of heavy bombings against Iraq.

Now, recent news reports and official admissions are confirming what the U.S. long denied but many around the world suspected: UNSCOM is a U.S.-controlled spy operation.

With the UN weapons inspections as a cover, the U.S. set up high-tech bugging devices to monitor communications within high levels of Iraq's government and military, including the security forces guarding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The intelligence obtained from this bugging flowed directly to the U.S.--which has made no secret of its intention to overthrow and even assassinate Saddam Hussein.

Even after the exposure of their lies about spying in Iraq, U.S. officials are making no apologies; they claim that the intelligence operation was a legitimate effort to stop Iraq from developing "weapons of mass destruction." Meanwhile, the economic embargo enforced by the U.S. with its vast arsenal of "weapons of mass destruction" continues to strangle the people of Iraq.

"Alpha Dog" Inspectors

The UN weapons inspections began after the 1991 Gulf war. The U.S. and its allies were not satisfied with pounding Iraq with massive bombings and killing hundreds of thousands of people. The weapons inspections--along with economic sanctions and setting up "no flight" zones over large parts of Iraq--continued the attacks on Iraq, with the aim of replacing Saddam Hussein with a regime more in line with U.S. imperialist interests. Iraq, under threat of new military attacks, was required to let the UNSCOM teams into all kinds of sensitive sites and set up video cameras to monitor activities.

From the start, the U.S. had a large hand in the weapons inspections. The New Yorker magazine (Nov. 9, '98) noted, "The United States energetically supported UNSCOM--indeed, helped to direct it, to a considerable degree." And UNSCOM relied greatly on help from U.S. intelligence. The U.S. "lent" one of its U-2 spy planes to UNSCOM to take aerial surveillance photographs. (This is the same type of plane that the U.S. used against its imperialist rival, the Soviet Union.) But the U.S. continued to keep control over the actual operation of the plane and the photos it took. In other words, the U.S. used the UN as a front to fly a spy plane over Iraqi territory.

In part, the weapons inspections were a way for the U.S. to humiliate and weaken the Hussein government and to degrade Iraq's sovereignty. Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer, headed up one of the UNSCOM teams. Here's how Ritter described his method in carrying out the inspections in Iraq: "When I go into a site I am going to be polite, I am going to shake their hand, but I am the alpha dog. I'm going in tail held high. If they growl at me, I'm gonna jump on 'em, I'm gonna let 'em know who the boss is here....When we go to a site, they're gonna know we're there, we're gonna raise our tails and we're gonna spray urine all over their walls--that's the equivalent of what we're doing. So when we leave a site they know they've been inspected."

Eavesdropping on Iraqi Communications

Three years ago, UNSCOM began what they called "special collection missions." Israel, the main U.S. ally in the Middle East, provided UNSCOM with all-frequency radio scanners and recording equipment. The inspectors were soon eavesdropping on secret communications of the Iraqi government and military. According to the Washington Post (Jan. 8, '99), the information captured on tape was then "hand-delivered to analysis centers in Britain, Israel and the United States for interpretation."

According to the New York Times (Jan. 8, '99), "The eavesdropping equipment was brought into Iraq on each inspection mission, and used to listen in as Iraqi security officers, speaking in code and using scrambling devices, worked to conceal weapons and protect President Hussein."

UN officials denied that this was a CIA operation. But the Times reported, "American intelligence officials read everything gleaned from the effort and distributed the intelligence to Pentagon planners. `Did we evaluate everything we got from UNSCOM? Of course,' one said. American spy agencies also interviewed inspectors extensively, the officials said."

Installing the "Black Box"

Last year, the U.S. moved to upgrade the bugging operation in Iraq and to take more direct control. Ritter says he was ordered to bring in sophisticated U.S. listening devices into Iraq. The spy equipment, known as the "black boxes," were disguised to look like an office safe and placed in the inspectors' work space in Baghdad. According to the Washington Post, "The black boxes automatically tracked Iraqi frequencies that the National Security Agency was interested in, skipping others, and relayed the communications to a satellite uplink in a nearby country." The satellite then beamed the data to the NSA, based at Ft. Meade, Maryland, where it was decoded.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune (Jan. 10, '99), "Ritter said the information gathered by the device between July and December of last year, when it was removed by departing UN inspectors, was controlled solely by the United States during his tenure as inspector. He said the U.S. targeted conversations between high-level Iraqi officials and did not use the device to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which was the mission of UNSCOM."

Ritter says he wanted the spying to concentrate on finding Iraqi weapons, but he was overruled by his superiors. In part because of this dispute, Ritter quit UNSCOM in August 1998.

The story of the "black boxes" is now all over the media, and U.S. officials openly admit to the intelligence operation in Baghdad. But the Washington Post admits that it had this story last fall. The Post agreed not to publish it then--"after U.S. officials said the disclosure would damage national security."

What the U.S. officials meant by "national security" was that they were preparing for a new military assault on Iraq in December. And the U.S. undoubtedly used the secret data from the spy devices placed in Iraq to map out bombing targets. Now--after the missiles and bombs have fallen, after more Iraqis have been killed, after the "black boxes" have been safely withdrawn --the story is allowed to appear in the media. This is an example of how "democracy" and the "free press" under monopoly capitalist rule really work.


The U.S.-British bombing campaign against Iraq in December put an end to the weapons inspections, at least in their previous form. The U.S. continues to carry out blatant military aggression against Iraq. U.S. warplanes guard the "no flight zones"--which have robbed the skies over more than two-thirds of Iraqi territory. Any sign of Iraqi self-defense is called a "provocation" and considered grounds for retaliation.

The U.S. is leaving open the possibility of another round of sustained bombing campaign of Iraq. And every day the economic sanctions add to the huge toll of stolen lives in Iraq.

The spy intrigues in Iraq add to the long list of crimes of U.S. imperialism in Iraq. The U.S. war against Iraq is totally shameful, dishonorable and dirty.

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