CAIRO: Jan 9 (South News) Chief UN weapons inspector, Richard Butler, admitted in an interview published today that UNSCOM used US equipment to eavesdrop on Iraqi officials.
``We certainly tried to monitor the communications concerning inspections -- namely telecommunications that gave instructions to hide what we were looking for,'' Butler said, quoted in the Arabic language Al-Hayat newspaper.
``But I never authorised eavesdropping to monitor the travel of President Saddam Hussein,'' Butler said, according to a translation of the Arabic text of his remarks in the London-based paper.
Butler, head of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on disarming Iraq, also implicitly admitted that a memorandum from his predecessor Rolf Ekeus ``indicates'' that UNSCOM was aware of US information-gathering on Iraq by UN arms inspectors.
According to Al-Hayat the September 1996 memorandum quotes Ekeus ``complaining that eight months after the start of the eavesdropping, the US intelligence services are refusing to provide UNSCOM information''.
Butler said that when ``I took my job they asked me if I wanted to use this technology'' of eavesdropping. ``I thought about it for a long time and I examined the nature of this technology, its limits and its objectives, and I decided that it was legal for UNSCOM to use it as long as Iraq tried to fool us and hide the truth,'' he said.
Asked if he felt he had been fooled by the Americans, Butler said: ``I cannot use that word now as long as the whole truth is not known.''
Yesterday Butler sought clarifications from US authorities about allegations that Washington used UN eavesdropping operations in Iraq to undermine the Iraqi president.
Butler said he was particularly concerned by a US State Department spokesman's comment on January 7 that ``American support (to UNSCOM) was specifically tailored to facilitate UNSCOM, the UN inspectors' mission, and for no other purpose and was done at the direct request of the UN Special Commission''.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the United States last March ``took control'' of the operation involving sophisticated monitoring devices in Iraq which had been used by the UN weapons inspectors.
The paper said that ``information relevant to the work of the UN force, which was searching for Iraq's prohibited weapons or the means to conceal them, was shared with UNSCOM's chairman and his deputy'', US national Charles Duelfer. ``Other information, including material that might be helpful to the United States in destabilising Saddam Hussein, was retained by Washington,'' the paper said, quoting unidentified US officials.
At issue is the nature of any intelligence sent by UNSCOM inspectors to the US and whether it could have been used to aid a campaign to destabilise the leadership of President Saddam as Clinton threatens with his passing in October of the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998".
Any involvement by UNSCOM in such a campaign would be a direct breach of its charter, shattering its independence and, with it, any chance of returning to Iraq to continue the weapons monitoring program.