Australia 'knew of UNSCOM deception'

Melbourne: Jan 27 (South News) - A former UNSCOM insider accused the Australian government Wednesday of being well aware Australians working in Iraq were illicitly supplying intelligence to the United States.

Former US marine Scott Ritter, who led a special investigations unit of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq until last August, said "I think the Australian government ended up being used by the US as well."

Ritter told The Canberra Times in an interview published Wednesday that under heavy pressure from Washington last July the UNSCOM was directed to relay intelligence data back to the United States, breaching UN rules.

``The July operation was known to the Australian government in almost every detail but the caveat was that it would be played honestly and that it would be shared with (UNSCOM head) Richard Butler and his deputy,'' Mr Ritter said.

Ritter, who quit UNSCOM after what he said was a US move to rein in UNSCOM by controlling its intelligence gathering, added: "I know the Australian liasons down in Washington and the Australian people in New York were 'read in'."

Ritter said there was a clear distinction between spying and inspecting. Any passing on of sensitive information was a direct breach of the United Nation's own guidelines and potentially put at risk the lives of inspectors.

Ritter said he controlled the type of intelligence data issued on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, with data going to several nations and its release was consistent with UNSCOM's mandate. But in July new directions from the United States were delivered through Butler to Ritter, who said the data would be sent directly to the United States, no questions asked.

After the changes were made last July, Mr Ritter said Australian intelligence agents came to him in Baghdad in August and expressed concern about what they were doing, saying they felt they were being used by the US."The Australian operators came to me and said in typically Australian fashion, 'Mate, we're being used'," he said.

 "The [Australians] they provided were experts in their field. They knew the game, and they know what was happening. They just took a look at what was transpiring, how much data was being collected, how it was being collected. They just put two and two together and realised there was no UN direction on this."

Over the past 12 months, up to 30 Australian Defence Organisation personnel were sent to work for UNSCOM in Iraq, and that three Australian Defence Force officers were permanently stationed there. It is understood that among the Australians sent to Iraq were several intelligence officers expert in electronic interception, originating from the Defence Signals Directorate or the Seventh Signals Regiment, the Canberra Times reported in the front page article.

Meanwhile at the UN, Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov said trying to revive UNSCOM would not help council discussions. ``The only way out is to concentrate on the future. We need a new assessment on the ground and see what needs to be done...if we ever want to see U.N. back on the ground.''

He again advocated limiting future disarmament work in Iraq to long-term monitoring rather than accounting for past arms programmes as well as using some experts from UNSCOM. Lavrov pointed to a widely-circulated report last Friday from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which agreed in general with his proposals.