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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Penetrated 

Via Zemblan patriot M.D.: former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter lifts the lid on a CIA plot to topple Saddam Hussein back in 1996 -- a plot that failed in spectacular fashion, with gruesome consequences for all involved. "Not only was the 1996 plot chiefly a 'wag the dog' scenario," writes Ritter, "but once again, any chance of Iraq disarming under UN supervision had been cynically undermined by the larger US objective of regime change":
Steve Richter, the head of the CIA's Near East Division, had decided that the CIA would extend a helping hand - as long as they could exploit Unscom's work to further its plans for a coup against Saddam Hussein. This newfound enthusiasm for Unscom was only confirmed when the CIA saw how weapons inspectors were increasingly gaining access to some of the most sensitive sites in Iraq, including bases belonging to the Special Republican Guard - Saddam's personal bodyguard.

The CIA coup plan went like this: if Unscom inspections could somehow be used to trigger a crisis, that would create a pretext for a US military attack against the Special Republican Guard, then Saddam's personal security force could be decapitated. This would clear the way for the plotters, led by Mohammad Abdullah al-Shawani, a former commander of Iraqi Special Forces who had defected to Amman in Jordan and been recruited by the CIA, to make their move. . . .

The Iraqis, meanwhile, were well aware of the potential intelligence value of the access gained by the weapons inspectors. The Iraqi secret service, the Mukhabarat, already maintained a unit dedicated to Unscom. The Mukhabarat's priority was to get sanctions lifted - Iraq's number one national security priority. Its director had been told by Saddam Hussein himself that Iraq had disarmed, and no longer had any interest in developing any WMD capability. But sanctions could not be lifted until Unscom inspectors reached that conclusion for themselves.

So the Mukhabarat's objective was not to obstruct our work; quite the reverse, they had an interest in getting the Iraqi experts who were our counterparts to cooperate. Their problem was that these officials were petrified of the Special Security Organisation, run by Saddam's son Qusay Hussein. If their cooperation with Unscom was seen as compromising the regime's security, the consequences for the individuals involved would have been brutal.

Because they regarded such locations as Special Republican Guard units as off-limits, the Special Security Organisation demanded early warning of any inspection effort targeting presidential security. As a consequence, the Mukhabarat redoubled its efforts to penetrate Unscom - with outstanding success. First, electronic surveillance of our computers in Baghdad, Bahrain and New York was established. Then, with French technical assistance provided via the French economic liaison in Baghdad - whether by rogue element, or with official permission is still unknown - the Mukhabarat broke Unscom's encryption system, so they could listen in on all "secure" phone calls between Baghdad and New York. With their advance knowledge of Unscom's plans, the Iraqis were able to pre-empt inspections at will . . . .

The only problem was that this coup, supposedly planned in great secrecy, was well known to the Iraqi government. Many of the defectors being used by the CIA were actually Mukhabarat double agents. Then, through a series of tragic mistakes, the Mukhabarat took control of one of the CIA's secure satellite communications units used by the INA to communicate with the plotters in Baghdad. So the Mukhabarat learned every detail of the plan - including the fact that the CIA was linking the timing of the coup with the Unscom inspection in early June . . . .

The ramifications of the collapsed coup had yet to sink in. Any remaining hopes within the CIA were quashed when, on June 26, the Agency's Amman station allegedly received a transmission from one of their secure satellite phones. On the line was the Mukhabarat, who told astonished CIA agents that the game was up. Within days the CIA team in Amman vanished. The US had witnessed a covert action fiasco of a kind not seen since the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Saddam's security services had rounded up more than 800 suspected plotters, most of whom were tortured and executed.

All traces of the CIA's involvement in a coup plot against Saddam were eliminated. It was the last time I, or anyone in Unscom, saw Moe Dobbs and his colleagues.

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