Arms Inspectors 'Shake the Tree'
UNSCOM Adds Covert Tactic

By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 1998; Page A01

Second of two articles

In the last stage of the contest between U.N. arms inspectors and Iraq, the Iraqi secret services hardly bothered to disguise the nature of the game.

That became clear with the spectacle that met the U.N. Special Commission on March 7. Chief inspector Scott Ritter arrived that day on the first search for clues to Iraq's illegal arsenal since a crisis over access to "sensitive" and "presidential" sites had nearly led to war. He and his team drove to a field headquarters of the feared Special Security Organization, or SSO, a complex forbidden to them in the past.

The building went dark in an unexplained power failure, the kind that often marked the arrival of U.N. inspectors. Ritter and his inspection team moved by flashlight from room to room. In each one they found empty shelves, a bare desk and a man with a mustache. One after one, when asked, the men said they worked as marriage registrars.

"It almost showed a sense of humor," said Chris Cobb-Smith, a former British army major who took part in the inspection. "Each desk had its piece of paper and its sharpened pencil and five empty files, and every office was the same. They'd done a very efficient job of sanitizing, and they'd obviously made it obvious that they were sanitizing. Enraging? Yes, absolutely. They're no fools."

But there was another level of the game that day, and there the advantage was UNSCOM's. Ritter called it "Shake the Tree," an image meant to suggest falling fruit from branches too high to reach.

Ritter shook the tree at a second site, the SSO's transportation directorate, where Iraq did not expect him. There, according to accounts from UNSCOM and the U.S. government, inspectors deliberately triggered Iraq's defenses against a surprise search and used a new synthesis of intelligence techniques to look and listen as the Baghdad government moved contraband from the site.

It was the culmination of more than three years of work -- conceived by Ritter, executed episodically from 1996, and relying at various stages on American, British and Israeli intelligence agencies. "Something very sensitive had been done to Iraq" without the knowledge of even most inspectors, as one senior U.S. official put it.

The inspectors believed Iraq held a technical reference library and some of the critical components to build or rebuild its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, along with the ballistic missiles to carry them. Iraq had usually managed to move this material a step or two ahead of the inspectors. The ability to track Iraq's movements in "real time," the U.N. panel believed, set the stage for an accelerating campaign that would finally overtake the concealment efforts and put the hidden arms and documents in UNSCOM's hands.

That campaign did not take place and now appears unlikely. A struggle for control arose over the new intelligence technique, involving which country would conduct the most sensitive work and which individuals would have access to the results.

More fundamentally, UNSCOM's covert plan provoked diplomatic and military crises that passed the breaking point of its support on the U.N. Security Council. After attempting to back UNSCOM in this losing battle -- even pushing it, in 1996, more aggressively than Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus wished -- the Clinton administration shifted course. By April of this year, high-ranking U.S. officials said, an interagency review decided that Washington could no longer support the threat of war to compel UNSCOM's access to the inner sanctums of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's secret services.

Iraq halted all new inspections on Aug. 3.

In interviews, Ritter would not discuss the mechanics of the operation he created. The Washington Post agreed to U.S. government requests to withhold publication of operational details on national security grounds. But the broader story of Shake the Tree explains not only Ritter's angry resignation on Aug. 26 but the unraveling of what UNSCOM's leadership regarded as their best hope to complete Iraq's disarmament.

Weaving a Network

By late 1994, as the U.N. inspectors learned the extent of the Iraqi apparatus deployed to thwart their work, each of UNSCOM's subject teams -- chemical, biological, missile, import-export -- was working overtime to devise new methods of catching deception. One team, formed around Ritter, gave exclusive attention to what he called "the concealment mechanism."

UNSCOM had long relied on intelligence provided by sympathetic governments and even dissidents who sought the overthrow of the Baghdad regime. It had an international mandate to find Iraqi weapons under the terms that ended the Persian Gulf War, and it regarded assistance from any quarter as welcome.

"One of Rolf's great strengths and one of his brilliant insights was that from the very first American intelligence brief he realized UNSCOM could not afford to be totally dependent on one source -- or in those days two sources, the U.S. and the U.K. -- because it could be vulnerable to being manipulated on the basis of intelligence handed to it," said Tim Trevan, who was Ekeus's political adviser until late 1995.

Ekeus, who now serves as Sweden's ambassador to Washington, said in an interview that UNSCOM preserved its independence in part by combining information from many countries, not all of which spoke to one another or were willing to have their contributions known. In doing so, UNSCOM took on a role in consuming and acquiring intelligence that was unprecedented for an international organization.

"In the end we became the top guy on the block, knowing about Iraq's weapons, because we could investigate personnel, we could do physical inspection and control the results," he said.

But the story was not quite as simple as that, because mutually escalating efforts -- by Iraq to obstruct UNSCOM and by UNSCOM to pierce the obstruction -- led to growing demands by the U.N. panel on the most sensitive capabilities of its contributing governments. The means UNSCOM embraced to perform its mission entangled it in the agendas -- sometimes overlapping, sometimes not, and often opaque -- of others.

Vanishing Gyroscopes

In August 1995, UNSCOM learned from Israel's Military Intelligence organization, Aman, that Iraq was expecting delivery of Russian-made precision gyroscopes and accelerometers. Salvaged from decommissioned submarine missiles, the components were among the few essentials for ballistic missile guidance that Iraq could not manufacture itself.

The tip was of some importance, if true, because it represented the first demonstrated Iraqi effort to acquire forbidden weapons during the period of U.N. disarmament inspections. The Central Intelligence Agency's Nonproliferation Center, according to U.S. officials, passed a similar tip to the commission.

Ritter and Nikita Smidovich, a Russian diplomat who led UNSCOM's ballistic missile team, worked with Israel to track the whereabouts of a Palestinian middleman and his shipment of gyroscopes through Jordan.

In November, Ritter flew to Amman and met with Ali Shukri, private secretary to King Hussein. He set up a secure telephone link, and Ekeus asked the king's confidant to find and seize the gyroscopes on UNSCOM's behalf. Jordan did so the same night. In New York, the U.N. panel's weapon scientists prepared for a treasure trove.

Accounts diverge on some of what happened next, but U.S. and UNSCOM officials agree that the CIA's Near East division chief dispatched a team to Amman to take the gyroscopes. Ritter later accused the agents of giving Jordan the impression they worked for UNSCOM. Ekeus, in an interview, said only that he never received the gyroscopes as expected. He professed to have no idea why.

U.S. government officials described the CIA and UNSCOM efforts on the gyroscopes as parallel and essentially complementary. One knowledgeable official said Washington feared Iraq would steal the shipment back. "We wanted to get those gyroscopes out of Jordan as quickly as possible, and as I remember at that time we were in a better position to get them out than the UNSCOM people were," he said. A second official said the results of the U.S. government's "exploitation" -- or analysis -- were conveyed to the disarmament panel.

That raised the question of who did the exploiting and for what purposes. American analysts certainly shared an interest in disarming Iraq, but they may have had other interests as well, such as enhancing their knowledge of Russian missile guidance or black market military sales. Ritter always -- and his supervisors usually -- took the position that UNSCOM should control the analysis of information acquired on its behalf.

"Ritter feuded with virtually everyone in the intelligence community," Trevan said, "because he's so passionate about things. He doesn't always know when to give up. If he's managed well, he's entirely a positive."

Over corn muffins and seven Diet Cokes, Ritter put it differently in a long interview last month at a coffee shop near Rockefeller Center.

"If somebody puts a roadblock in my way, I'll try to talk my way around the roadblock, but if I can't move the roadblock I'm going to run right through it," he said. "Now if that's a bull in a china shop, tough luck. It's about getting the job done. It's about mission accomplishment. I won't apologize for it."

Colliding Interests

By all accounts, the U.S. government gave unsurpassed support -- financial, technical, military and otherwise -- to UNSCOM. But there were also conflicts, and the gyroscope episode set the tone for what some people who know both men called a running feud between Ritter and his CIA Near East counterpart. By policy, The Post does not name covert agents.

Ritter told colleagues at UNSCOM and confidants in the U.S. government that the CIA's operations directorate seemed to fear he would get in the way of efforts to foment a coup against Saddam Hussein, which came to a failed crescendo in 1996. The same secret services protected the president and his weapons programs, and Shake the Tree amounted to a competing operation.

A senior official with knowledge of both programs denied this, saying Ritter's analysis had "only a passing plausibility." There was "no perception of conflict in any part of the U.S. government between whatever else the U.S. government was doing and what UNSCOM was doing."

Another source of tension was a misplaced -- or withheld -- piece of intelligence. It described an underground storage facility at Jabal Mokhul, one of Saddam Hussein's presidential complexes on the west bank of the Tigris River north of Tikrit. In the summer of 1994, the opposition Iraqi National Congress received a defector who had been site engineer at Jabal Mokhul. The defector said Iraq had built an underground hiding place at the junction of two tunnels there, and great quantities of weapons parts and documents in crates had arrived.

Sources at the Iraqi National Congress said the INC's intelligence chief, Ahmed Allawi, passed the tip soon after to the CIA's Near East division.

More than three years later, in November 1997, Ritter paid a call on the INC's president, Ahmed Chalabi, at his home in London's Mayfair district. "I mentioned Jabal Mokhul," Chalabi recalled in an interview. "He lighted up and said, 'What do you know about Jabal Mokhul?' I said, 'Didn't you get our report?' He said, 'What report?' I said, 'The report we gave Washington in '94.' " Ritter's reply, Chalabi said, was angry profanity about the Near East division chief.

American officials said any failure to pass the tip was "strictly an accident," one of "the vagaries of the business." For UNSCOM, it was a missed opportunity. In June 1997, inspectors had tried to inspect the 4th battalion headquarters of the Special Republican Guard at the same complex in Jabal Mokhul. The inspectors knew at the time, from an early exercise of Shake the Tree, that they were being held in place while material was evacuated to an adjacent hiding spot. Had they known of the underground facility, they could have moved there next.

More Than Ice Cream

UNSCOM's pursuit of Iraq's security system led it in some surprising directions. There was the trail, for instance, of the Baghdad ice cream trucks.

"The big thing with concealment was movement," Ekeus recalled. "Ritter excelled at his ability to penetrate organizational structures."

What he found, initially with Israeli help, was that the SSO used two dedicated fleets of vehicles to move weapons contraband. By day it used red-and-white refrigerator trucks painted with markings of the Tip Top ice cream company. At night, it used unmarked green Mercedes tractor-trailers from the fleet of Segada Transportation Co., named for the wife of Saddam Hussein.

The essence of the Iraqi shell game was this: The trucks shuttled from "storage sites," which were changed every 90 days in the early years and every 30 days after 1997, to a network of temporary "hide sites" when U.N. inspectors approached. Physical security for the hiding places fell to the 2nd and 4th Brigades of the Special Republican Guard, while other units performed related functions.

Shake the Tree was premised on the assumption that Iraqi guards would never let inspectors into storage sites until the trucks were gone, if at all. Inspectors wanted to put stress on the concealment system, forcing it to react in ways that could be observed. Those observations, in turn, would feed an accelerating campaign of subsequent inspections. Eventually, one UNSCOM official said, "you might get lucky. We tried to design something that would allow us to catch them on the rebound."

But just as UNSCOM tried to penetrate Iraq, Iraq tried to penetrate UNSCOM. Ritter and his superiors learned, to their disquiet, that the Baghdad government showed signs of having six to ten days notice of most surprise inspections. They responded by compartmentalizing information ever more tightly, inventing classifications like "Code Green" to limit access to information.

Shaking the Tree

As early as 1994, after Ritter and Smidovich made informal proposals on Shake the Tree, the United States offered to provide the needed support in what one official called a "U.S. eyes only" operation. Apart from Ekeus, only security-cleared Americans would know of its existence. Ekeus broke that condition immediately in a U.N. rose garden stroll with two of his closest advisers, Trevan and fellow Briton John Scott. The three men considered the plan, but let it die.

What resurrected the idea was the 1995 defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel Hassan Majeed. His debriefings, and the 1.5 million pages of new documents Iraq released in response, shocked Ekeus and UNSCOM with the enormity of what they had missed.

The first experiment with Shake the Tree began in March 1996, with the team designated UNSCOM 143. Thereafter UNSCOM began attaching a second designation to some of its inspections, in a numbered series beginning ASS-1 for the Apparatus of State Security, the organization run by Saddam Hussein's son, Qusay. Asked about the acronym, Ritter replied, "I loved it. Like, 'Kick your ass.' "

The experiment failed at first. The United States collected and processed a great deal of information about Iraq's reactions to the inspectors, but it reported back to UNSCOM that it picked up nothing that helped. Again in June, and still again in July, the results were roughly the same.

Two crises of confidence ensued between Ekeus and Washington.

The first came over a compromise Ekeus agreed to make in the July inspection. Because of UNSCOM's new interest in its security services, Iraq had invented a new designation, and new restrictions, on what it called "sensitive sites." UNSCOM's position was that it could go anywhere it liked, but Ekeus agreed to special procedures. When Ritter tried to test them in July, he was turned away.

An atmosphere of military menace built in Washington, which had previously punished Iraqi defiance with cruise missile attacks. Ekeus later told confidants he was convinced the United States was looking for a showdown. The Clinton administration was busy lining up Security Council support for a resolution finding Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations, a legal justification for use of force to secure compliance.

Ekeus believed an American attack would be fatal to UNSCOM's long-term diplomatic support. Washington's strategy, he told aides, was deeply wrong. Against the advice of the administration -- and of Ritter, who was stewing in Baghdad -- Ekeus cut a deal by telephone with Iraqi Lt. Gen. Amir Mohammad Rasheed: Ritter would give Rasheed advance notice of the site he wished to visit, and Rasheed would escort him there.

In August, then-deputy national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and others conveyed their disappointment to senior UNSCOM officials. Madeleine K. Albright, then U.N. ambassador, also protested. The administration was angry with Ekeus, and it wanted to know whether he planned to press ahead with the effort to probe Iraq's sensitive sites. After internal consultations, UNSCOM's answer was yes.

But there was another problem to resolve. Ekeus and his senior deputies were not convinced they were learning all they should from Shake the Tree. They were synchronizing their inspections with American collection efforts, and they expected to obtain detailed results.

In September 1996, Ekeus met with CIA Director John M. Deutch and complained to him in writing that "to date the Commission has been denied access to the data collected" in the operation. American officials were reluctant to discuss this dispute, but they said the commission's top leaders eventually were convinced that they were getting all the relevant "nuggets" that fell in Shake the Tree.

During the same meeting with Deutch, Ekeus emphasized the difficulty of cracking Iraq's concealment efforts and asked for new forms of technical help: the Predator surveillance drone and better sensors for the U-2 -- which the United States had publicly loaned the United Nations for overflights of Iraq -- including the high-resolution camera, infrared lense for night operations, synthetic aperture radar to track truck movement, and electro-optical imaging for real-time transmission of pictures. UNSCOM got some, but not all, of what he asked for, the exceptions being explained by scarcity.

With Ekeus's blessing, Ritter meanwhile went to London and Tel Aviv in an effort to secure more independence for UNSCOM on Shake the Tree. In effect, he displaced the United States as sole sponsor, and three sources said the commission got much more access to information as a result.

A Revealing Exchange

In June 1997, during an inspection in Baghdad, Ritter received a summons to the oil ministry. For nearly an hour, he held a stunningly frank verbal sparring match with Lt. Gen. Rasheed, the oil minister and, UNSCOM believed, a central figure in Iraq's weapons concealment.

"We are very concerned about exposing our security organizations to experts from outside of Iraq," Rasheed said. When Ritter justified the intrusion by alleging a coverup, Rasheed accused Ritter of "McCarthyism" and said, "I could say that I know your links to intelligence."

Ritter, according to notes taken by another participant, shot back: "I deal with governments for information. I deal with the people who handle this kind of sensitive information, not a bunch of tea-drinkers." Iraq had lied repeatedly about its weapons programs, Ritter said: "As such, we have no choice but to use the tools which we have available. . . . You brought this on yourselves."

Rasheed demanded to know what Ritter thought he was hiding. Ritter replied in detail: VX nerve toxins in salt form for long-term storage; a mobile biological weapons production facility, including fermenters and a drying and grinding apparatus; dried anthrax; five to seven operational ballistic missiles and up to 25 in disassembled form; and possibly a nuclear weapon "minus the core of HEU," or highly enriched uranium that would make it a bomb.

"I'm sorry, I have to run," Rasheed replied, finally. "I would love to stay and talk to you for hours about your flawed concepts. However, I thank you for explaining the pretext for your inspection."

UNSCOM knew it was playing a very dangerous game. In February 1996, Ekeus received what he regarded as a credible intelligence tip that Iraq planned to kill him with slow-acting poison. The Swedish diplomat's family was frightened, and Ekeus confronted Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's U.N. ambassador, with the report. Hamdoon replied that the notion was absurd, as Ekeus's murder would delay the lifting of economic sanctions. Ekeus found the answer somehow flattering, comparing the price on his head to a year's oil revenue.

Adding to the commission's anxiety was knowledge that should Iraq decide to take inspectors hostage or kill them there was no rescue force immediately at hand. For nearly two years after a September 1991 parking lot incident, in which inspector David Kay and his team were held at gunpoint for four days, the Army's Delta Force had deployed to Kuwait during UNSCOM inspections. When Shake the Tree began in 1996, it did so one last time, even staging an inspector rescue exercise first in Utah. But the U.S. military halted that support, and inspectors knew they were exposed.

Change of Commanders

When Ekeus left the commission on July 1, 1997, the political and operational questions around UNSCOM's use of intelligence were beginning to come to a head. The man who inherited them was a voluble Australian of large charms but blunt affect, little loved among the guardians of U.N. protocol.

Richard Butler, Ekeus's replacement, is the subject of several unadmiring stories told by confidants of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. One has it that Butler attended a dinner party hosted by then-U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson, packed with ambassadors and international civil servants. The pleasant buzz of conversation ground to a halt at Butler's loud interjection: "Are you out of your bloody mind?" After an awkward silence, Annan's confidant recounted, someone piped in: "That's Australian for diplomacy."

But the real source of unease about Butler within the U.N. secretariat and Security Council was UNSCOM's provocative probing of Iraqi secret services. Annan -- his special envoy to Iraq, Prakash Shah, told Butler -- wants "peace at any cost."

On Aug. 4, barely a month after taking office as executive chairman, Butler called a 90-minute meeting to put his stamp on the commission's most sensitive work. Three others attended: Charles Duelfer, the deputy chairman; Rachel Davies, who leads the Information Assessment Unit, UNSCOM's euphemism for intelligence; and Ritter.

Butler knew there was nothing more controversial for UNSCOM than Ritter's efforts to probe Iraq's special security organs. But those organs were the center, he said, of "the defeat UNSCOM industry." The commission was entitled to "take a lively interest" in any activity aimed at thwarting its work. He put Ritter in charge of a new Special Investigations Unit, repackaging the team Ritter already ran, and gave his blessing to continued use of the Shake the Tree channels from London and Tel Aviv.

The Clinton administration was more and more worried about Ritter, and about Israel. During a polygraph examination in late 1996, taken as part of his application for a job at the CIA, Ritter was asked about his overseas work. "They ask, 'Have you ever had contact with a foreign intelligence agency?' " said one U.S. official. "You say yes and it sends these guys . . . into orbit. Scott came in with a list."

Ritter's answers were referred to the FBI, which began a counterintelligence investigation. Among the concerns was his August 1991 marriage to Marina Khatiashvili, a former Soviet Georgian interpreter for the American team that had monitored an arms control pact in Votkinsk. Ritter had been married when they met, and he and colleagues insist that his romance with Khatiashvili began after he left Votkinsk. But her job had required her to report to the KGB, and Ritter knew he was imperiling his security clearance by marrying her, even afterward. "I was in love with Marina," Ritter said.

Troublesome Link

The bigger problem for Clinton administration policymakers was Ritter's connection to Israel. Present and former officials at UNSCOM insisted that Ritter had authority for all he did there, and several U.S. officials agreed. But they said the mere fact of an FBI investigation involving Ritter and Israel raised unacceptable diplomatic risks if exposed.

"What you don't want is what the Iraqis are doing now, which is charging UNSCOM with having a secret Israeli connection," said one high-ranking official.

Twice this year, as Shake the Tree progressed, the Clinton administration asked Butler to remove Ritter from the spotlight. On Jan. 15, as a crisis over access to suspected weapons sites began to swell, and the administration oversaw a military buildup in the gulf, Washington asked Butler to withdraw Ritter from Baghdad and abort his planned search of the SSO headquarters the next day. And in March, when it came time to test an inspections deal by Annan that had narrowly averted massive U.S. airstrikes a month earlier, Albright and Berger, by this time respectively the secretary of state and national security adviser, pushed for UNSCOM to send anyone but Ritter for the job.

One U.S. official, explaining the efforts, said, "it could be in the national interest, to make UNSCOM work, but not in Scott Ritter's personal interest."

Richardson, who generally supported UNSCOM's arguments that Ritter was uniquely qualified, successfully outflanked efforts by Albright in the first days of March to persuade Butler otherwise. Butler had wrestled with the decision, finally permitting Ritter to fly to Baghdad for the inspections that would bring him face to face with the marriage registrars. But on March 3, as the inspectors assembled, Butler telephoned to relieve Ritter of command.

At the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Center, UNSCOM's forward headquarters, the remaining leaders of the team revolted. Cobb-Smith, Gabriele Kraatz-Wadsack, Cees Wolterbeek and Bill McLaughlin sent a "chairman's eyes only" fax back to Butler urging him to call off the whole inspection because, without Ritter, it would be a failure. They argued that Iraq, which had loudly accused Ritter of being a spy, would also see his removal as a victory for its approach of launching propaganda attacks on individual inspectors.

Richardson, in New York, got wind of the rebellion and set out frantically to find Butler at Time magazine's 75th anniversary dinner. He was determined to speak to him before Albright did, according to witnesses, and rushed through Radio City Music Hall past such celebrities as Mikhail Gorbachev and Lauren Bacall. Finally he found Butler and urged him to let Ritter keep the job. Then he flagged down President Clinton, who knew nothing about the dispute, and arranged for a congratulatory compliment for Butler on UNSCOM's work.

"I've talked to the president himself, and you're on," Ritter remembers hearing Butler say by telephone not long afterward.

The March exercise of Shake the Tree proved the richest haul yet of evidence on the manner in which Iraq moved its contraband, according to knowledgeable officials. Soon afterward, for reasons that remain hard to assess, the United States resumed its principal role in support of Shake the Tree and Israel and the United Kingdom withdrew.

Four people with knowledge of those events gave four different accounts of the reasons -- attributing the change, variously, to Butler's anxieties about the previous arrangement, the unwillingness of London and Tel Aviv to continue, American wishes to remove the risk of an Israeli role, and mere substitution of a superior technical approach.

Washington got much of the control it wanted in 1994: An operation supported under U.S. classification rules. Duelfer, the deputy chairman, has American security clearances. Butler is cleared through CANUKAUS, the intelligence-sharing arrangement among Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. One result of the change, intended or not, is that Ritter was left out of the information loop.

In the shell within a shell that UNSCOM had become, Ritter had no way to be sure who had cut off his information supply. Some American officials said it was Butler. Butler, in an interview, said: "It was not my decision. It's an American one. I never lost confidence in Scott."

A Hero, to Some

In Ritter's celebrity since his resignation, he has been heralded as a hero and mocked as "Scotty boy," trying to make decisions "above your pay grade," as Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) put it last month. Biden apologized afterward in private, but critics continue to doubt Ritter's motives and speculate about what drives the former Marine in his public campaign.

"Unfortunately, if UNSCOM is to succeed, it must, among other things, both be and be perceived to be independent," Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk testified last month. "It is ironic that Scott Ritter and Saddam Hussein both argue that UNSCOM's independence is being compromised by the United States."

Ritter knows he is speaking aloud of things UNSCOM has long kept unspoken. He said he decided to do so because the commission was "terminal if something was not done," and "to go public you have to go all the way.

"I feel very strongly about the concealment mechanism," he said. "You can't find the weapons without defeating the concealment mechanism. One reason I feel comfortable talking about these [intelligence] liaisons is that it legitimizes the concealment investigation. If UNSCOM survives this, and I think they can, then it will add credibility to the charges and put the focus back on Iraq."

Those who know Ritter best, in and out of UNSCOM, are fiercely loyal, even if they are discomfited by impolitic talk of the commission's inner workings. Others, who like his stand in principle, see hubris. "Wouldn't you hate to share an office with him, though?" asked one pro-Ritter congressional staff member. "He's totally driven, he's self-righteous, and his way is the only way."

David Underwood, a retired Air Force colonel who was chief of the State Department's UNSCOM support office, said Ritter is simply "red, white and blue, and it's his culture. . . . His agenda, if I could speak for him, is that Saddam Hussein lives up to that [Security Council resolution], and that's it."

At the state dinner for Czech leader Vaclav Havel on Sept. 16, Albright had another view in a conversation with former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, according to someone at the dinner.

"Is he going to run for office?" Brzezinski asked.

"I assume so. It certainly looks that way. It's another Ollie North," Albright replied.

North, ironically, has left a number of unanswered phone messages for Ritter at the office of his lawyer, New York's Matthew Lifflander. He wants Ritter on his radio show. Ritter was reluctant to explain why he will not appear.

"I won't go on his radio show because I don't identify with his politics," he said finally, when pressed. "The man was a Marine Corps officer, testified in front of the Congress wearing his uniform, and pleaded the Fifth Amendment. And I just find something very wrong with that."

A New Strategy

In the policy review that came last spring, the Clinton administration concluded that a loss of diplomatic support left little room to back intrusive searches by threat of U.S. force. The best the government believed it could do for now is to maintain a broad consensus for economic sanctions. Without saying so much, Indyk acknowledged in his Sept. 9 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. policy in Iraq cannot be effective without the Security Council and "this fact has an influence on the tactical decisions we have to make."

A high-ranking U.S. official said the "conscious policy decision" in April was to "take the trigger out of Butler's hands for going to war" by slowing the pace of the commission's most controversial work. "It wasn't Ritter. Ritter thinks it was him. It was more Butler."

With inspections stopped since Aug. 3 and no prospect in view for their resumption, the administration now plays down their significance.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen praised the inspectors in Senate testimony last Tuesday but counseled "not to overstate what their role is": "If you take a group of 20 or 30 people, and you put them in a country the size of all of New England, plus New York, plus Pennsylvania, plus New Jersey, and say, 'Go find evidence of chemical weapons,' you are asking a great deal of those inspectors."

One American official said as long as UNSCOM continues to function at all, "and as long as [the inspectors] don't report positively" that their work is done, "that's all we need" to keep the sanctions in place. In New York, one inspector said Iraq might yet overreach enough to swing world opinion back in UNSCOM's favor, perhaps by tearing down cameras or by expelling the last passive monitoring teams.

"I still think there's a beat in this body," the inspector said. "The Iraqis could save us, depending on what they do."

Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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