New blow to UNSCOM, Butler

UNITED NATIONS: Jan 7 (South News)- New allegations that the United States used the already-battered UN Special Commission on Iraq for spying purposes surfaced in US papers Thursday.

Today's report, in The New York Times, said the US had deliberately placed spies under cover inside Unscom to penetrate Iraq's security apparatus.

The Wall Street Journal reported that an eavesdropping device supplied by the US to UNSCOM to help it to crack President Saddam Hussein's communications was set up to beam what it heard directly to the National Security Agency in Maryland via satellite. While some of what the NSA learnt was given back to UNSCOM, other details were used to identify targets in December's attacks, the paper said.

Media reports on Wednesday cited unnamed US officials suggesting that the country had used intelligence gleaned as part of UUNSCOM's operations to help in the planning of the joint American and British bombing campaign last month. Some US reports indicate that British and Israeli intelligence analysts also have access to the UNSCOM data.

The reports in the Washington Post and Boston Globe came at a crucial time for UNSCOM, because the agency's masters in the 15-member UN Security Council are currently attempting to redefine UN strategy regarding Iraq in the light of last month's Anglo-American air strikes.

A senior US official in Washington acknowledged the United States was able to collect some military information on Iraq as part of its contribution to UNSCOM but insisted that there was "no artificial barrier" between the two information-gathering operations.

The accounts that UN chief Kofi Annan was concerned that UNSCOM may have violated its UN mandate by facilitating an intelligence gathering system for the United States "don't do us any good," said one UN arms inspector.

Immediately Annan received a telephone call from a livid US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at his New York residence after the Post reported that the UN chief was concerned that the United States was using UN intelligence in its efforts to undermine the Iraqi President.

Albright's spokesman James Rubin said she telephoned the UN chief at his New York residence to "ask for an explanation" in the wake of the report, which cited Annan "confidants.

At UN headquarters Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, cautiously replied on Wednesday: ``We not only have no convincing evidence of these allegations". "We have only rumors.

"Let me first remind you that the Secretary-General has no operational oversight responsibility for the Special Commission -- that is the Security Council's job, because UNSCOM is a subsidiary body of the Council. He therefore had little detailed information on day-to-day operations.

Neither the secretary-general nor any member of his staff has access to classified U.S. intelligence, although UNSCOM does," Fred Eckhard,said.

"Obviously, were these charges true, it would be damaging to the United Nations' disarmament work in Iraq and elsewhere,'' Eckhard aid, adding that Annan knew little about the day-to-day operations of UNSCOM, which is a subsidiary of the Security Council.

He said Annan had been aware for some time that a number of journalists had been ``pursuing this story.''

``When he first heard of these allegations, he asked UNSCOM's executive chairman...about them. Ambassador Butler categorically denied them.''

But in a first indication that Butler may be tiring of the attacks on UNSCOM and on himself, he told The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that he was contemplating leaving his post on 30 June when his current contract expires. With both Russia and China calling for his resignation, however, it is questionable whether he will be able to hang on even until then.

On Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov complained that UN Special Commission chairman Richard Butler had convened a meeting of UNSCOM's advisory panel without seeking council approval.

Security Council president Celso Amorim told reporters after a closed-door council session that he had discussed the issue with Butler who said that "in the present circumstances he would not and he will not summon a meeting of the UNSCOM commissioners without guidance from the Security Council."

In Baghdad the BBC's Caroline Wyatt said if these reports are true, they will be a vindication of what Iraq says it has known for some time. She said it is likely to kill off any chances of Unscom returning to Baghdad in its current form.

Iraqi officials have frequently accused UNSCOM of acting as an intelligence agency on behalf of the US and Israel, a charge denied by the UN. It has also complained about the dominance of US and British officials on the inspection teams.