UK `ignored' over Unscom spying theory

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S INTELLIGENCE chiefs became suspicious almost two years ago that the United States was covertly using Unscom, the United Nations special commission on disarming Iraq, to spy on Saddam Hussein, but were turned away when they sought confirmation from their counterparts Washington, it was reported yesterday.

It was said that the US not only dispatched agents to infiltrate Unscom's operations but that everybody was kept in the dark about what was happening, including the leadership of Unscom.

In early 1997 British signals intelligence intercepted and decoded an intriguing message from an Iranian spy in Baghdad to his superiors in Iran. He said that when US U-2 spy planes flew over Iraq there was often an unexplained burst of transmissions from the ground. It speculated that the Americans were using the UN weapons inspectors' headquarters in Baghdad as cover for their own espionage operation.

The Iranian agent's theory created interest in Britain's General Communications Headquarters, in charge of collecting and decoding radio signals. It asked its American counterpart, the National Security Agency, in Maryland, for an explanation.

It did not provide one. "We don't tell the British everything, even if they are our closest intelligence ally," one US official was quoted as saying in yesterday's Washington Post. "They don't tell us everything they are doing either."

According to the Washington Post the Central Intelligence Agency and other American intelligence services systematically infiltrated its agents and equipment over three years into Unscom teams on arms control in order to intercept Iraqi military communications.

The newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, reported that US intelligence services sent technical experts to rig Unscom equipment and offices without permission to enable the interception of ordinary Iraqi military communications, that were of considerable interest to Washington but of no interest to Unscom. Britain began asking questions when its operatives intercepted the radio comm-unication sent by the Iranian spy and challenged the US in May 1997.

The White House yesterday insisted that America's only interest in Unscom was to help it unearth weapons. "Everything the United States did was to support Unscom in its effort to break Iraq's concealment of its weapons of mass destruction," a spokesman said.

Richard Butler, the chairman of Unscom, refused to comment.