Scott Ritter Tells the Complete Story Why We're in Iraq
It Begins with the CIA's Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow
November 15, 2005
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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 faηade 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
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 Ekιus, 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
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
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
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
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
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)