WASHINGTON — The United States has spied on some of the most secret communications of the Iraqi government by using intelligence gathered by United Nations arms inspectors, two US newspapers reported yesterday.
The Washington Post said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has convincing evidence that UN arms inspectors helped collect eavesdropping intelligence used in US efforts to undermine the Iraqi regime. The Boston Globe said US intelligence was able to listen in on communications among elite units responsible for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's security. [The Los Angeles Times said yesterday Mr. Annan told key staff members he has no knowledge of the activities alleged by the Post.]
A White House spokesman refused to comment, noting only that the US was one of the member states in the UN providing support to the UN arms inspectors in Iraq. A State Department spokeswoman also declined to comment.
The Post quoted unnamed Annan confidants as saying Annan had learned that the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), in charge of dismantling Iraqi weapons systems, helped Washington listen to some of Iraq's most sensitive communications. Annan had received classified US intelligence through intermediaries about the eavesdropping, the Post said.
The sources acknowledged that the eavesdropping was aimed in part at helping the inspectors hunt down forbidden weapons, but told the Post Annan was convinced Washington used the operation to penetrate Saddam's security apparatus.
The paper quoted Assistant Secretary-General John Ruggie as saying: "The secretary-general does not exercise direct oversight of UNSCOM, which is a subsidiary organ of the Security Council. Consequently he has no knowledge of any of these alleged activities." Yesterday Richard Butler, the UN's chief weapons inspector, denied UNSCOM was being used by the US.