Uncovering Iraqi Intrigue
By Michael S. Serrill/New York
(TIME, March 9) -- Since the first days after the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq has been playing cat and mouse with U.N. investigators charged with finding and destroying the Baghdad regime's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants have repeatedly lied to and misled members of the U.N. Special Commission, all the while moving records of weapons production and perhaps the weapons themselves from site to site, sometimes one step ahead of UNSCOM teams in hot pursuit. Now it has been disclosed that the effort at concealment was systematic and controlled by top Iraqi officials.
According to an hourlong report on Cable News Network's Impact, produced by TIME and CNN, the main group assigned to hide Iraq's weapons program is the Special Security Organization, a shadowy agency that also provides protection for Saddam. The SSO's director is Saddam's younger son, Qusay Saddam Hussein. The agency's activities, Impact reports, have always been well known to Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, who has vehemently denied there is any effort at concealment. Asked by TIME whether he discussed the SSO with Aziz and Saddam, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "I did not get into that at all."
The SSO was handed the job of hiding the weapons programs at the end of the Gulf War, during the 15-day period when Iraq was ordered by the U.N. to list all its instruments of mass destruction. Over the next four years, the SSO did such an effective job of deception that by July 1995, UNSCOM was ready to declare its task done and close up shop. Then an extraordinary event happened: Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Lieut. General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, who had been in charge of Iraq's secret-weapons development, defected to Jordan, where he went public with details of the concealment program.
The Iraqi government tried to portray Kamel as a lone rogue who was himself concealing records; they thus led U.N. investigators to a Kamel-owned chicken farm, where they found more than a million pages of documents on Iraq's banned weapons programs. "The chicken-farm documents gave us a clear indication of how much we had missed," says UNSCOM deputy executive chairman Charles Duelfer.
Instead of disbanding, the U.N. redoubled its effort to find hidden documents and weapons, creating a "counterconcealment team," headed by former U.S. Marine intelligence officer Scott Ritter. At one point, when Ritter and his team tried to enter an SSO facility in downtown Baghdad, a guard pointed a loaded gun at his head and prepared to fire. In the end Ritter, who spoke in depth for the first time about his work to CNN, did his job too well: he was accused of being a CIA spy and denied access to sensitive sites.