WASHINGTON (Aug. 31)
A seven-year veteran of the U.N. inspection team monitoring weapons in Iraq is denying that he illegally shared classified information on Saddam Hussein’s weapons program with various countries, including Israel.
Scott Ritter, who is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly leaking classified U.S. documents, has meanwhile quit the U.N. weapons inspection commission for Iraq, known as UNSCOM. In a scathing resignation letter, he accused the Security Council and the United States of making a “mockery” of the program.
Israeli officials had no direct comment on the charges. One Israeli official said the Clinton administration notified the Israeli Embassy in Washington earlier this week about the investigation.
While acknowledging that he shared information with Israel, among other countries, Ritter, who did not respond to a request for an interview, said the exchange was fully authorized and proper.
“All information that I worked with at the special commission belongs to the executive chairman and the special commission,” Ritter said when asked about the investigation on “NBC’s Today Show.”
“If the executive chairman takes a decision that I am to liaison with a foreign government, I have every right to do that.”
Ritter’s colleagues defended him, telling The Washington Post that he stands on solid ground in his fight against the FBI.
Sources said Ritter’s information-sharing was explicitly authorized by the head of the weapons inspection program, Richard Butler, and his predecessor. In addition, because Ritter did not maintain his American security clearances, any U.S. information provided to him was declassified, the Post reported.
Butler did not comment directly on the FBI investigation. He did, however, call Ritter a “man of integrity.” Ritter denied reports from his colleagues who reportedly said the FBI probe contributed to his decision to leave the U.N. post.
“It’s very frustrating. In fact, it makes you quite mad that this is happening. But that had no bearing on my resignation,” he said on the NBC program. Ritter was expected to face questions later this week at a speaking engagement at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Ritter worked at UNSCOM’s New York headquarters from 1991 to 1998. During the past two years, he frequently drew the ire of Iraqi officials as he tried to uncover Iraqi attempts to conceal its remaining capabilities to develop missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
After Ritter resigned, Iraq claimed to have exposed his links to the Mossad and the CIA.
“The resignation of the American-Zionist intelligence officer Scott Ritter from the Special Commission is because his connection with the Zionist Mossad was uncovered,” the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and Information said in a statement.
“Scott Ritter is an intelligence officer at the American army and had taken part in the American imperialist aggression against Iraq in 1991,” the statement said. “All plans of the Special Commission and its programs and the behavior of its chairman and its competent members are hatched in American and Zionist intelligence rooms.”
When asked whether he is an Israeli agent, Ritter told CNN that there is “no truth to that whatsoever.”