Undermining the UN Mission in Iraq

by JASON LEOPOLD

More evidence emerged Thursday about the United States and Britain’s underhanded tactics aimed at undermining the United Nations Security Council as it considered a U.S.-backed resolution in launching a preemptive strike against Iraq last year.

Clare Short, a former member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet, told the BBC that British intelligence officials spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during the run-up to war in Iraq so it could learn how Security Council members would vote on the resolution. Short said she read transcripts produced by British spies who allegedly bugged Annan’s office before the Iraq war.

A UN spokesman said any such espionage, if true, would be illegal.

This latest revelation is just another example of how the U.S. and Britain tried to undermine UN missions ahead of the United States’ invasion of Iraq and calls into question whether intelligence used to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction–which the Bush administration cited as the key reason for waging war-was indeed "sexed up" so the U.S. could launch a preemptive strike.

In January 2002, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the major architects of the war in Iraq, in an unusual move, asked the Central Intelligence agency to investigate the performance of Swedish diplomat and former UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix while he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997. Wolfowitz was hoping the CIA would find evidence he could use to discredit Blix for failing to find an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq during IAEA inspections there. Wolfowitz asked the CIA to investigate Blix a month before UN weapons inspectors were gearing up to return to Iraq for the first time since 1998. At the time, Wolfowitz and other hawks in the Bush administration feared that renewed inspections in Iraq would undermine their overall goal to launch a military campaign against Iraq.

The CIA followed through with its secret probe of Blix and sent a report to Wolfowitz in January 2002 that said Blix conducted inspections of Iraq’s nuclear power plants "fully within the parameters he could operate" during his tenure at the IAEA.

According to published reports, Wolfowitz "hit the ceiling" because it failed to provide ammunition to discredit Blix and, by association, the new U.N. weapons inspection program. The request for a CIA investigation underscored the fears by Wolfowitz and others in the Pentagon that new inspections could dismantle their plans for a military strike to remove Hussein from power.

"The hawks’ nightmare is that inspectors will be admitted, will not be terribly vigorous and not find anything," a former U.S. official told the Washington Post in an April 15, 2002 story on the issue. "Economic sanctions would be eased, and the U.S. will be unable to act."

Kofi Annan said in April 2002 that the CIA probe against Blix was tantamount to intimidation. Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for Annan, said in a prepared statement in April 2002 that the CIA investigation into Blix’s past work was "an attempt at intimidating an international civil servant and that of course would be unacceptable."

It’s possible that British spies may have been eavesdropping on Annan at the time as well

The steps taken by Wolfowitz to push a war agenda underscores the steps the Bush administration was willing to take to manipulate and or exaggerate intelligence information to support it’s claims that Iraq posed an immediate threat to the United States and that the only solution to topple Saddam Hussein by using ground forces.

Nearly a year after the first bombs were dropped in Iraq, U.S. military forces has yet to find any evidence of WMD. President Bush recently announced the formation of an independent commission to investigate the accuracy of prewar intelligence. In addition, congressional and senate committees are conducting their own probe to find out if the Bush administration exaggerated the Iraqi threat and manipulated prewar intelligence to win support for a preemptive strike against the country.

In June 2003, Blix accused the Bush administration of launching a smear campaign against him because he could not find evidence of WMD in Iraq and, he said, he refused to pump up his reports to the U.N. about Iraq’s WMD programs, which would have given the U.S. the evidence it needed to get a majority of U.N. member countries to support a war against Iraq. Instead, Blix said the U.N. inspectors should be allowed more time to conduct searches in Iraq for WMD.

In a June 11 interview with the London Guardian newspaper, Blix said, "U.S. officials pressured him to use more damning language when reporting on Iraq’s alleged weapons programs."

"By and large my relations with the U.S. were good,” Blix told the Guardian. "But toward the end the (Bush) administration leaned on us."

JASON LEOPOLD may be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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