UN arms inspection team `spied for US'

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The Independent Online
THE FUTURE of Unscom, the United Nations disarmament mission in Iraq, was again thrown into doubt last night after the publication of allegations that intelligence it gathered on the security apparatus surrounding Saddam Hussein was secretly conveyed to the US.

The reports, in US newspapers, said evidence that it had become a surrogate spy agency for Washington had been presented to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary- General. The claims triggered a crisis at UN headquarters, where a divided Security Council is struggling to formulate a new policy on Iraq since last month's bombardment by the US and Britain.

Behind the furore are suspicions that aides to the Secretary-General, if not Mr Annan himself, may wish to promote the claims to weaken Unscom and seek its replacement by a less aggressive mechanism and the ousting of its head, Richard Butler. Relations between Mr Annan and Mr Butler have been at rock bottom since the air attacks.

A spokesman confirmed that Mr Annan approached Mr Butler about rumours of the leaks; Mr Butler reportedly denied it. While Unscom seeks assistance from countries including Britain, Israel and the US in its efforts to monitor activities in Iraq, it would be illegal for it to share any information it gathers with those governments.

Responding to the reports, in the Washington Post and Boston Globe, the UN spokesman denied the UN had evidence of wrongdoing. Mr Butler said the reports were unfounded: "Have we facilitated spying? Are we spies? Absolutely not," he told reporters.

Since 1995 Unscom has accepted technical help, including the loan of American U-2 aircraft, to eavesdrop on Iraq and its security operations. The question now is whether any of the information was passed to the US to help it in its efforts in Iraq to destabilise the regime.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said it was naive to suppose that the United States does not use material that UNSCOM collected. "The United States, like every government, obtains information and analysis judgements wherever it can. That's the way governments do business," added Rubin.