- The United States intermittently monitored
the coded radio communications of the innermost security forces of Iraq's
President Saddam Hussein for nearly three years using equipment secretly
installed in Iraq by United Nations weapons inspectors, US and UN officials
- In 1996 and 1997, the Iraqi communications
were captured by off-the-shelf commercial equipment carried by the inspectors,
from the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom), then hand-delivered
to analysis centres in the US, Britain and Israel for interpretation, officials
- However, last March, when Unscom decided
it was too dangerous for its inspectors to carry the equipment, the US
took control of the operation and replaced the store-bought scanners and
digital tape-recorders with more sophisticated automated monitors.
- The intercepted Iraqi communications
were sent by satellite relay in a nearby country to the National Security
Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, where they were decoded and translated
into English, the officials said.
- Information relevant to the work of the
inspection team, which was searching for Iraq's prohibited weapons or the
means to conceal them, was shared with Unscom's chairman and his deputy,
officials said. Other information, including material that might be helpful
to the US in destabilising Saddam, was retained by Washington.
- US officials confirmed the monitoring
operation in an effort to rebut allegations that the US had inappropriately
used Unscom as a tool to penetrate Saddam's security and promote his downfall.
Until Thursday, US officials had denied using intelligence gathered in
connection with Unscom for US purposes.
- US officials have said the purpose of
the radio intercepts was to help Unscom do the job assigned to it by the
UN Security Council. To the extent the operation provided additional information
was a bonus that did not deviate from Unscom's mandate, the officials said.
- US and UN officials said the Unscom effort
to get inside Saddam's security apparatus began early this decade, after
Unscom concluded that Iraq planned to defy UN security council resolutions
requiring it to destroy its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
- Intelligence agents from several countries,
including the US, Britain, Israel and Australia, had been assigned to work
on Unscom teams, but US officials insisted that no Americans reported to
Washington outside Unscom channels.
- Instead, US officials and others said,
it became apparent over time that Iraq was bent on concealing its banned
weapons, and that the security forces assigned to that task were the same
as those assigned to Saddam's security.
- The former Unscom chairman Mr Rolf Ekeus,
now Sweden's Ambassador to the US, said he briefed members of the Security
Council in early 1997 on this discovery and on the possibility that tracking
weapons could also end up gathering information that might be helpful in
- Mr Ekeus approved these so-called "special
collection missions" in 1996.
- Inspectors were soon able to map the
frequencies used by the Iraqi special security apparatus and intercept
communications including those of the Special Republican Guard and the
Office of the Presidential Secretary.
- Communications intercepted included warnings
to weapons facilities that Unscom inspectors were on their way and instructions
to hide contraband material. But that information did not help the inspectors
at the time, officials said, because it had to be relayed to Israel and
Britain - or, at a later date, to the NSA - to be decoded and translated.
- Last March the US took over the operation.
A spy entered Iraq in the guise of a UN weapons inspector and arranged
for the installation of the more sophisticated, stationary equipment.
- US officials said Mr Ekeus and his successor,
Mr Richard Butler, had been concerned that inspectors' lives would be endangered
if the Iraqis discovered the portable equipment they were carrying. Once
the US's so-called "black boxes" were installed, that danger
was eliminated, officials said.
- Mr Butler has categorically denied that
Unscom was used for spying on behalf of the US.