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The Making of an Activist, Part Two: Kill the Messenger
In this second installment of the “Making of an Activist” series, the author describes the efforts undertaken by Joe Biden and the Clinton administration to attack his credibility in the aftermath of his resignation from UNSCOM in August 1998.
“I envy your position. I sincerely do. I envy the ability to have such clarity on this issue.”
Listening to those words, coming as they were from Senator Joe Biden, one of the most vociferous defenders of the policies of the Clinton administration, I knew I was in for a grilling. I was seated, alone, at a table reserved for witnesses, giving testimony to a joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees about the reasons behind my resignation.
Arrayed before me, in semi-circle fashion, were some of the most powerful and influential people in the United States, if not the world. The combined membership of these two committees totaled 36 Senators, a little over one-third of the entire membership of that esteemed body. More than 20 were present at the hearing and, over the course of the next hour and a half, I was to be questioned, in detail, by seventeen of them, none of whom seemed to object to my presence more than Biden.
“Let me ask you a question,” Biden continued. “Do you think you should be the one to be able to decide when to pull the trigger?”
It had been a week since my resignation. Matt Lifflander’s media strategy had worked exceptionally well, and the story of my resignation had spread like wildfire. I had resigned on a Wednesday. By Friday Matt had received a call from the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, requesting my presence next Thursday, September 3, before a joint session of that committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Scott Ritter will discuss this article and answer audience questions on Episode 60 of Ask the Inspector, streaming live this week on Wednesday instead of Tuesday.
I was concerned about the optics of such testimony. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee was a Republican, and I didn’t want any potential testimony to become embroiled in partisan politics. I was no fan of the Clinton administration, and as a registered Republican myself, I was more than sympathetic to those who had an agenda that countered that of the White House. But my purpose was to effect a change in policy, not to politically undermine the Clinton administration. My message would have no credibility if it were seen in any way as being anything other than politically neutral and fact-based. “We need to make sure that both sides of the aisle are comfortable with my testifying,” I told Matt. He agreed and worked the phones to line up meetings with Republican and Democratic Senators alike prior to my hearing so I could make that point in person.
Matt also believed that I should do my best to set the agenda of my testimony. “It’s about a failure of policy, and the undermining of the work of the inspectors. You need to frame your position before you testify. That way the Senators are responding to the points you want to make,” he lectured me in his wood-paneled office, which smelled of old leather and cigars. “Otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of their questioning, and they may succeed in re-shaping your message.”
Matt knew about which he spoke. As a former aide to Senator “Scoop” Jackson, he had learned the insider’s tricks to shaping public opinion and influencing policy making. “You need to write an op-ed that gets published right before you testify, preferably the morning of your testimony. Write something that fleshes out your contention that the U.S. government interfered with the work of the inspectors. Get me a draft, and I’ll shop it around to see if there is any interest.”
I worked on the op-ed over the weekend, and on Monday morning Matt looked at what I had written. “Too long and complex,” he said. “You need to shorten and simplify.” I re-worked the copy and handed it back to him. “Too sparse on the details. Add some color. It’s your story. Don’t be afraid to tell it.” In addition to being a top-notch corporate lawyer, Matt apparently had a bit of the editor in him, as well.
By Monday afternoon I had a draft that Matt was prepared to run with. I thought he would seek to place it in either the New York Times or the Washington Post, but I was wrong. “You’re over-exposed in both of those papers now. They’ve told your story several times over. There’s no incentive for them to run this now.” Matt pushed for the Wall Street Journal. “You’d be new to their pages, and your story is politically acceptable,” he said. Matt was a life-long Democrat with a strong liberal bent, but his credentials as a “Scoop” Jackson man made it easy for him to seek out a conservative platform to tell a story he felt needed to be told for the sake of national security.
I wasn’t so attuned to the art of the compromise. “What about appearing to be partisan?” I asked. “This op-ed bashes the Clinton administration, and by running it in the Wall Street Journal, I’ll be seen as simply kicking sand in the president’s face.”
“Washington, DC is a political town,” Matt replied, calmly. “You’re going to come under criticism no matter what you do or say. The Wall Street Journal is a credible forum. Everyone will read the piece, and it will be the content, not the platform, they will talk about.”
Within an hour of placing a call to the Wall Street Journal, we were contacted by Max Boot, who edited the Op-Ed page for the paper. “We’d love to run your piece,” he said. “But we need to tighten it up a bit.” Max was a stickler for facts, and repeatedly asked me for the source of any assertion I made in the text. “You don’t want your message watered down or lost because of one contested fact,” he explained to me. “We need to nail every detail down. It’s about your credibility and ours.” I was drawing upon a trove of documents and notes, and was able to assuage most, if not all, of Max’s concerns. By the close of business Tuesday, the op-ed was ready to go to press.
Or so I had thought. Matt and I were scheduled to fly to Washington, DC on Wednesday afternoon. We had gone to his office that morning to put the finishing touches on my opening statement, and to finalize my itinerary while in the nation’s capital. When we arrived, Matt’s able secretary, Helen Guelpa, passed us a message. It was from Max Boot. “Secretary Albright made a speech last night attacking you. We need you to incorporate a response into your op-ed.”
I was unaware of Ms. Albright’s statements, and had to do a quick search of the news before I found what I was looking for. Sure enough, Madeleine Albright was interviewed on CNN, where she lambasted me personally, saying that I “didn’t have a clue about what [the U.S.’s] overall policy has been [toward Iraq]…that we [the U.S.] are the foremost supporters of UNSCOM.” I quickly modified the opening paragraphs of the draft op-ed to the satisfaction of Max Boot, and then did the same to the text of my opening statement to the Senate.
It seemed clear to Matt and me that the purpose of Albright’s statement to CNN was to set the tone of the upcoming hearings by painting a picture of a disgruntled employee out of touch with the big picture. It was imperative that I shift the onus away from me and back on the administration’s Iraq policy.
“I do have a clue,” I wrote in my opening statement, “in fact several, all of which indicate that that our government has clearly expressed its policy one way and then acted in another,” noting that, contrary to Albright’s claim of unfettered support for the inspectors, “the United States has undermined UNSCOM’s efforts through interference and manipulation, usually coming from the highest levels of the administration’s national security team, to include Ms. Albright herself.”
The op-ed piece scheduled to run in the Wall Street Journal was a perfect companion to this statement, providing as it did a detailed chronology of the very sort of interference and manipulation I was highlighting in my opening statement. Rather than undermining my upcoming hearing, Albright’s statements to CNN helped me refine the message I was trying to deliver.
Washington, DC has always been a strange place for me. The politics involved in (literally) every aspect of its being makes it as foreign to most Americans as any distant corner of the earth. I had cut my teeth on Washington, DC political antics during my time with the On-Site Inspection Agency, at first trying to help sell implementation of the INF treaty to Congress, the Department of Defense and the service branches, and civilian defense industry, and then later, as an inspector, finding out the hard way that, for politicians, honesty isn’t always the right policy.
Of six senators contacted by Matt Lifflander for pre-hearing meetings, only three responded—including John McCain and Trent Lott, both Republicans. The Democrats—the Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle, together with John Kerry and Joe Biden—all refused to meet. We didn’t know it at the time, but Matt and I had walked into the middle of a major political spat between Democrats and Republicans over my testimony. The Clinton administration did not want me to testify at all and had put pressure on the Senate to cancel the hearings. When this failed, the Democrats then asked that the hearing be delayed, since they viewed it as inappropriate to have hearings of this nature while the President and Secretary of State were out of the country.
The Republicans, who controlled the Senate, refused. Their hand forced, the Democrats then refrained from providing the unanimous consent required for the rare joint hearing to go forward. The Republicans responded to this parliamentarian tactic with one of their own—the majority leader, Trent Lott, in a maneuver unprecedented in the history of the U.S. Senate, put the Senate into recess, allowing the hearing to proceed without the consent of all present. All of this was happening, unbeknownst to me, while I was meeting with the Republican senators.
My final meeting was with the Majority Leader, Trent Lott, who then surprised me by escorting me out of his office and to a waiting sedan, which drove us to the hearing. Senator Lott then escorted me into the hearing room, introduced me to several Republican senators, and then shook my hand, wishing me luck before the hearing started. The Democratic senators looked on at the spectacle, glaring. My non-partisan hearing had just become very, very partisan.
As a veteran watcher of C-SPAN, I had witnessed innumerable congressional hearings, especially those involving either the Senate Armed Services Committee or Foreign Relations Committee, since both of those bodies provided a forum for high-ranking witnesses discussing matters of great importance. I never imagined that I might one day be seated before a joint session of these two committees, providing testimony on one of the major issues of our time—Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Yet here I was, a key participant in what was the grand theater of American politics. The hearing was everything I could have imagined, with distinguished senators asking pointed questions, often accompanied by lengthy statements of their own to highlight this or that point. With one notable exception, the senators were respectful and polite, even when we might have disagreed.
While I am very proud of how I comported myself during the hearing, there were two answers I provided which, I believe, best sum up the points I was trying to make. The first was in response to a question from a fellow former Marine, Charles Robb (D-Virginia) (who also noted that “I believe it’s the first time that the majority leader of the Senate has actually escorted a witness to a hearing and put the Senate in recess so that this hearing could take place,” my first indication that something was amiss politically). Senator Robb’s question dealt with the issue of perspective, whether the Security Council, charged with enforcing Iraq’s disarmament obligation, might have a different take on the consequences of Iraq blocking a given inspection.
“The inspection process is about inspections,” I responded. “You cannot have a process of inspections unless you are allowed to carry out individual inspections…you cannot say ‘Don’t do this inspection,’ or, ‘Don’t do that inspection,’ and expect the inspection process to have any validity. Which inspection would you ask us to stop? The one that leads us to a biological weapons plant? The one that leads us to retained VX [nerve agent]? The one that leads us to the hidden SCUD missiles?” The Senator had no response, other than to admire my “single-mindedness of purpose.”
Senator Robb was followed by Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), who pointed out the contradictions between the statements made by President Clinton on April 6, 1998, promising to support the work of the inspectors in Iraq, and the subsequent actions of his administration in stopping the inspections I was charged with leading. Was I really trying, he asked, to dictate policy to the administration in pushing for inspections?
“I’m not presuming to be in a position to make decisions on behalf of [the president] or on behalf of the Secretary of State,” I replied. “What I’m doing is holding a mirror up to the Senate, to this administration and to the American people, and I’m asking you to look into it. In 1991, you tasked the Special Commission to carry out disarmament inspections of Iraq. And you said that Iraq, if they don’t do it, because we passed this resolution under Chapter 7 [of the United Nations Charter], we will enforce this resolution. And in 1998, today, I stand before you to say that, A, Iraq is not disarmed; and B, the United States, as a member of the Security Council which gave us this mission, is doing other than it said it wanted to do.”
As Matt had predicted, the Wall Street Journal op-ed I wrote (and which was published the morning of the hearing) did in fact shape the focus of many of the senators present. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), referred to the article while asking me questions about the role played by Great Britain in support of UNSCOM inspections, and the phone calls Richard Butler had regarding the August crisis with Iraq, including those with American officials.
Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) also used the op-ed to guide his questions about the specific nature of the telephone call between Richard Butler and Madeleine Albright that occurred on August 4, 1998. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) did the same to elicit commentary on the role played by Sandy Berger, the National Security Advisor, in interfering with my work as an inspector. And there was no doubt that the op-ed influenced the questions of numerous other senators as well, as they probed the issue of American interference in the inspection process. All in all, the op-ed turned out to be a very positive influence on the hearing, and Matt was correct in pushing for me to write it.
But there was a downside, as well. Senator Joe Biden had taken umbrage over the fact that the hearing had been allowed to go forward without the presence of either the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense to offer balance, especially when, as he couched the issue, I was trying to push the United States to war with Iraq.
“Isn’t that what this is about?” he demanded. And despite my answers to the contrary, Biden then proceeded to lecture me on the limitations of my position as an inspector. “I respectfully suggest that they [the Secretaries of State and Defense] have responsibilities slightly above your pay grade…that’s why they get paid the big bucks. That’s why they get the limos, and you don’t.”
The issue, Biden said, was more complex than simply a question of “Old Scottie Boy didn’t get in.” It was a decision “above my pay grade,” and the jobs of those charged with making that decision were “a hell of a lot more complicated than yours.” It was about as insulting an experience as one could imagine, and it took all my willpower to sit there, still and silent, and take it unflinchingly.
Some of his fellow senators thought Biden’s lecture was too much. John McCain noted that “some of us who fought in another conflict wish that the Congress and the American people had listened to someone of your pay grade during that conflict.” He was joined by Chuck Hagel, who pointed out that “We realize, Major Ritter, as far as we know, that you did not have a limousine; you did not make the big bucks…we understand that, like sergeants and junior officers and people who carry the rifles and actually do the fighting and do the inspecting, that you may have a perspective that the big-bucks people don’t.”
Biden’s outburst, as insulting as it was, was perhaps the best thing that could have happened during the hearing. The very incongruity presented by the senior senator from Delaware lecturing me in such a demeaning fashion gave the hearings the kind of newsworthiness that they otherwise might have lacked. It certainly resonated with those who witnessed it, and not the way Senator Biden would have wanted.
The first clue that Biden had overreached was in the standing-room only reception I was given afterwards at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where I had been invited to speak on “Uncovering Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: Past Achievements, Current Challenges” at a luncheon following my televised testimony. Normally, I could have expected your normal policy-wonk affair, where I would eat over-cooked chicken, speak, take questions, and go home. Instead, I found myself in a firestorm of conservative outrage over the behavior of Joe Biden.
While I appreciated the support, it was clear than any hope of keeping my resignation a nonpartisan affair had gone out the window. I was in the midst of a full-scale Republican rebellion against the policies of the Clinton administration, fueled as they were by the ongoing controversy surrounding the president’s affair with a White House intern. While this embrace was a welcome respite from the rancor of Joe Biden, it was uncomfortable nonetheless as I realized its cause had more to do with the embarrassment my stance was causing the Clinton administration and less to do with the careful nuances of my position. People believed what they wanted to believe, and for the moment mine was a cause the conservatives could rally around, especially given the PR boost Biden’s inopportune comments provided.
That this issue had resonated beyond the typical band of beltway partisans became clear upon my return to New York City, where I received a phone call from the former businessman-cum presidential candidate, Ross Perot, praising me for my performance and announcing that he was going to petition Congress to award me with a Congressional Gold Medal for my patriotism (he never did.)
Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Dear Mr. Ritter, Rumsfeld wrote.
I watched you on C-SPAN as you presented your testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was a superb job. You presented your position thoughtfully, constructively and forcefully, and were not blown by the winds from the other side of the table. Congratulations on your testimony. Congratulations on your performance on behalf of the UN and the United States. Know that you have my best wishes for what I am confident will be a superb future. We need more people like you in our wonderful country, and the example you are setting is a proud one.
A few days later I received another letter, this one from Paul Coverdell, the Republican senator from Georgia. During my testimony before the Senate, Coverdale had focused his initial round of questions on the controversial January 1998 inspection, and the pressure placed on Richard Butler by the Clinton administration to withdraw the team in the face of Iraqi refusals to cooperate, and a follow-up series of questions on the equally controversial March 1998 inspection, in particular the pressure placed on Richard Butler by the Clinton administration to include as a target the Iraqi Ministry of Defense Headquarters, despite the fact that there was no compelling arms control reason to go there other than confronting a “red line” that had been drawn the previous December by Tariq Aziz, who noted that any attempt by UNSCOM to inspect the Ministry of Defense “would mean war.” Senator Coverdale wrote to thank me for my testimony, before noting that “I want also to commend your poise in the face of unfair criticism directed toward you during the hearing. You have done your duty as you saw it, and the American people will appreciate your character and your service.”
The sentiments expressed by both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Coverdale were largely echoed in the media, which proved not as constrained in calling out Biden by name. The Washington Times offered a particularly biting commentary, accusing Senator Biden of having “slipped his cams completely” by engaging in “a public display of surpassing chutzpah by lecturing Scott Ritter on U.S. Iraq policy” using a tone that was “condescending and wildly inappropriate to the occasion. He [Biden] owes Mr. Ritter an apology.” The Washington Post likewise slammed the administration’s tactics, noting that “turning the dogs loose” on me was “a new low.”
But Senator Biden was used to being called out by the media and politicians from the opposite end of the political spectrum. The more painful letters were the kind he received from the electorate, similar to one “lifelong Democrat” who wrote that she was “astonished at the reek of elitism and snobbery present in your [Biden’s] five minute attack” on Mr. Ritter, adding that “I thought you were supposed to be asking thoughtful, searching questions to get to the heart of this very serious matter.” Mr. Ritter, the letter writer noted, “works to find the truth while you work to win a vote…I only wish that I lived in Delaware, so I could vote against you in the next election.”
Apparently, Biden’s office was flooded with similarly themed letters, faxes, and telephone calls. When constituents talk, politicians listen, and as a result the Senator from Delaware placed a telephone call of his own to Matt Lifflander, asking if I would be able to schedule some time to visit with him in private when I was next in Washington, DC. I was currently scheduled to speak before several House committees in the middle of the month, so we agreed to meet with Senator Biden on the afternoon of September 15, once I was finished testifying.
I had a bigger problem facing me than being belittled by a partisan senator. I had been forewarned by Larry Sanchez, the CIA’s liaison to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, that the FBI would be gunning for me after I resigned. He wasn’t lying. The day I submitted my letter of resignation to Richard Butler, the CBS Evening News broadcast began its coverage not by discussing my resignation, but rather the fact that I was being investigated by the FBI for passing sensitive information to the Israelis.
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Reports about the FBI investigation appeared in the national media the next morning. Matt Lifflander immediately went on the attack, writing a letter to Louis Freeh, the Director of the FBI, about the leak, an action Matt called “inconsistent with professional law enforcement standards” and “violative of Mr. Ritter’s constitutional rights.” Matt challenged the alleged basis of the FBI’s interest in me, noting that my job at UNSCOM “involved exchanging intelligence with different members of the United Nations,” and that my work “was always conducted within the parameters of applicable American legal restrictions,” and that I “only used information that was legally provided by the United States government to UNSCOM, whose Chairman authorized its use.” Matt signaled my willingness to meet with FBI agents and take their questions, submit to a polygraph test and provide the FBI with access to my personal financial records, if this would help close their file. “We are deeply concerned,” Matt closed, “about the character assassination and the politicization of this situation by whoever is in a position to misuse the Bureau.”
The FBI Director never responded to this letter, nor did the FBI, at that time, acknowledge that such an investigation was taking place. I had been operating under the mistaken assumption that this matter had been closed earlier this year, when Sanchez shared with me the letter from the CIA’s legal counsel to the Justice Department. Obviously, this was not the case. Fortunately for me, the media also took a jaundiced look at the FBI’s alleged interest in me. A New York Times editorial declared that “Mr. Ritter has been rewarded for this truth telling with…a Federal criminal investigation into his association with Israel…this treatment is an embarrassment to the country.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a similar editorial, scolded the Clinton administration further, writing “don’t blame the messenger, Scott Ritter, for publicizing the problem, and don’t repay his efforts with a questionable FBI investigation.” And, in a rare moment of bi-partisan cooperation regarding my resignation, two Senators – Richard Shelby, of Alabama, and Bob Kerrey, of Nebraska, the leading Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, respectively, wrote a letter to the Clinton administration demanding an investigation into the leak. The net effect of all this attention from the media and politicians alike was silence. The Clinton administration and the FBI refused to comment on the issue, and the specter of a criminal investigation into allegations of espionage hung over my head like an executioner’s sword.
In New York I continued to do various media interviews regarding my resignation and the fallout from my Senate testimony. It was a hectic time, made even more so by the need to prepare for my return to Washington, DC in less than two weeks’ time to testify all over again, this time before several House committees. Common sense dictated that I should slow things down a bit. But instead I opted to take a break from the rigors of managing my message and indulge myself in a bit of nostalgia.
The roots of this undertaking dated back to January 1998, when an inspection team I headed was being blocked from doing its job by the Iraqis. Among the newspapers that were covering the story were those read by the residents of Lancaster, Pennsylvania – home to Franklin & Marshall College, where I had graduated in 1984 with a degree in history. Even the student newspaper—The College Reporter—got into the act, running a front page article replete with a photograph of me dating back to my senior year. When I got back from Iraq, I was inundated with requests for interviews from—literally—every major media outlet in the world (over 60 distinct queries were received in the span of a few days.) I had no interest in any more media exposure, and fortunately my masters at UNSCOM shared this view.
The only exception I made was to take a phone call from Linda Whipple, the editor of the College’s magazine, Franklin & Marshall, who conducted a brief interview that she planned on turning into an article for the spring issue. The article turned into a cover story, and my status as a minor celebrity within the Franklin & Marshall community was cemented.
As such, I wasn’t overly surprised when, in July 1998, I received a letter from Richard Kneedler, the President of Franklin & Marshall, informing me that I had been selected as a “Presidential Distinguished Fellow” by attaining “special distinction” in my professional field of endeavor, and that the college was inviting me back to the campus to receive the award and to share my insights with students, faculty and invited guests. The suggested date for this visit was September 9, 1998, and I gladly accepted. Neither I nor the college could have known the firestorm of controversy that would be surrounding me by then. Later, once the level of reaction to my resignation became clear, I received a frantic call from President Kneedler’s office to make sure I was going to be able to keep my appointment. I told the person on the other end that I wouldn’t miss it for the world. The college made the announcement, but given the level of attention I was receiving, the administration decided that they would limit attendance to the “F&M community only.”
I arrived on campus only to be immediately confronted by an article that had appeared that morning in the New York Times quoting my former boss, Richard Butler. “Mr. Butler said in an interview that Mr. Ritter’s [Senate] testimony was often inaccurate in chronology and detail…Mr. Butler has been most disturbed by Mr. Ritter’s accusations that [UNSCOM] cancelled investigations as a direct result of pressure from Ms. Albright. ‘Unfortunately, Scott Ritter’s chronology of events is not accurate,’ Mr. Butler said. ‘You can’t go about making claims like this about who did what with which and to whom on dates and times and places unless you get the story right, or otherwise it’s misleading.’” The reporter, Barbara Crossette, did note that Butler “refused to provide details or examples, saying only that the overall impression Mr. Ritter gave ‘is not accurate.’”
The content and timing of Butler’s comments to the New York Times was curious. The interview’s date of publication—September 9—coincided with three related events: Madeleine Albright’s speech to the members of the American Legion, the testimony of Martin Indyk, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a vote by the Security Council to suspend all future sanctions reviews until which time Iraq resumed its cooperation with UNSCOM.
Albright took issue with “some in Washington” who “have suggested that the United States has not done enough to support the U.N. inspectors—it has even been suggested that we have tried to prevent UNSCOM from doing its job.” Albright disputed this, noting that “the United States has been by far the biggest international backer of UNSCOM,” and that when it came to dealing with Iraqi intransigence, “We have not taken any option off the table, including military force.”
Martin Indyk was even more scathing, telling the Senate committee, “Mr. Ritter works from a different set of facts and as Chairman Butler told the New York Times today, the testimony he gave as to these facts was often inaccurate in chronology and detail and was therefore misleading.” Like Butler, Indyk failed to provide any details as to where I failed in terms of either chronology or detail.
However, Indyk’s testimony, far from contradicting anything I might have said, seemed to corroborate the very essence of my contention regarding American interference in the work of UNSCOM inspectors. “We had questions…about a particularly intrusive inspection planned by UNSCOM in July,” Indyk told the Senate. “It is also true that on a few occasions our advice to UNSCOM was more cautious. For example, this past January, when our military preparations were incomplete and the Muslim holy season of Ramadan was under way, was not the right time for a major confrontation.” Indyk went on to state that, “In pursuing our goal of Iraqi compliance, we have sometimes made tactical suggestions to UNSCOM about questions of timing and procedure…If the allegation is that we sought to influence the pace of UNSCOM inspections, we did.”
Indyk didn’t mention the events of August 1998 at all, and his statements were characterized by deliberate understatement and obfuscation. However, while it clearly wasn’t his intent, Indyk’s testimony, in its details, only underscored the accuracy of my claims, both in chronology and detail. But the New York Times, so quick to give voice to Butler’s charges of flawed chronology, left out any mention of Indyk’s characterization of American interference in the work of UNSCOM, and only reported those portions of Indyk’s testimony where he complained to the Senate that my allegations “had profoundly undermined the perception that UNSCOM is independent—and that will make it harder for UNSCOM to do its job.” My credibility as an eyewitness to the events in question, together with my motive for speaking out, was under attack, and due to a confluence of luck and circumstance, the campus of Franklin & Marshall College was going to provide the forum for me to respond to these charges. In retrospect, I couldn’t have asked for a better deal.
“Embattled arms inspector says his allegations on U.S. policy ‘accurate,’” the newspaper sub-heading read, underneath a headline that declared “F&M grad Ritter stands by charges.” I was in Lancaster to receive an award from my alma mater, but the article in question made no mention of this. Instead, the story was the charges leveled by Butler (“I think my chronology is very accurate and not misleading,” I told the reporter. “I’d be curious to see where he feels my chronology was wrong, because I was very careful in construction of the chronology”), as well as reports that I was under investigation by the FBI for spying on behalf of Israel (“It was part of my job,” I said, in response to a question about the FBI’s interests in me. “I did nothing beyond the parameters of my job.”)
In the game of politics, bait and switch is a standard tactic designed to distract an audience from an inconvenient issue or topic. Rather than address my charges of interference in the work of the inspectors, the Clinton administration (and its de facto proxy, Richard Butler) sought to put me on the defensive by questioning my narrative of events (without providing one of their own) and attacking my patriotism through unsustainable allegations of espionage. Had I been anywhere but on the campus of Franklin & Marshall, the game might have worked. But I was on friendly turf, where the trite tactics of the smear failed to gain any traction. The initial news coverage, done by a paper (the Lancaster New Era) with tight deadlines (it went to press the evening of the day of my visit) was designed to hit the hot button topics, and as such played into the administration’s hands.
By the morning of September 10, however, the tenor and content of the reporting had changed completely. Unlike the Lancaster New Era, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal focused primarily on my visit to Franklin & Marshall, noting that I “spent all day Wednesday answering questions posed by students, faculty, residents and journalists about his role in the Iraqi weapons conflict. Ritter, an F&M history major and football player, accepted an invitation to visit the campus as a presidential distinguished fellow.” I also took the time to speak to two government classes, have lunch with a select group of history and political science majors, give an interview to the college newspaper, and visit with the football team during its afternoon practice, where I gave a pep talk in advance of its first game of the season (to no avail: F&M lost, 24-7, to Randolph-Macon). As the reporter accurately observed, my visit to F&M “wasn’t work…this was fun.”
The reporter also noted Albright’s bristling critique of my understanding of U.S. policy toward Iraq, and repeated Butler’s concerns about chronology and detail, but there was no mention whatsoever of an FBI investigation into alleged acts of espionage on my part. To counter Albright’s comments, I simply repeated my arguments made before the Senate on September 3, and then took advantage of the Security Council vote on Iraqi sanctions to take a swipe at the Clinton administration’s overall policy toward Iraq: “A U.S. policy in Iraq that’s based solely upon the extension of sanctions is a wrong policy. It’s a self-defeating policy.”
But the best part of the interview, from my perspective, was the vote of confidence I got from F&M President Kneedler after I spoke to a full-capacity audience at the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center, who called me an “extraordinary human being…a natural teacher, just filled with integrity and the most charming humility. I stand in awe of him, I really do. He really represents the kinds of values we need to see in our leadership.” I don’t know what sort of news coverage the Clinton administration wanted to generate based upon the events of September 9, but I am certain this wasn’t it. The politics of the smear had, for the time being, been thwarted.
My testimony before the Senate had sent shockwaves through the Clinton administration. Knowing that I was scheduled to provide testimony before the House International Relations Committee later in the month, Madeleine Albright placed a call to the committee’s chairman, Representative Benjamin A. Gilman (R-New York, who coincidentally happened to represent the very district where I resided). According to the Washington Post, “Albright warned Gilman that open discussions of U.S. consultations with the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, would give ammunition to Iraqi claims that the inspectors are tools of Washington. ‘We do believe that there are risks and dangers to full public exposition of many of these issues, because they tend to play into the hands of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein and his supporters in the Security Council,’ State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday.”
Albright’s concerns over congressional action were magnified by the statement made by Senator Strom Thurmond on September 8, 1998 during the morning business on the Senate floor. After articulating his impressions of me and my testimony in glowing terms, Senator Thurmond went on to note that, “During the hearing, Major Ritter was asked all the most difficult questions to challenge his judgment and veracity. His challengers were unsuccessful. He simply told the truth, and the truth is a national embarrassment. Although Major Ritter had the courtesy not to say it, his message was clear: ‘Congress, I have done my job. Now do yours.’”
Albright’s nightmare was about to become reality.
Matt and I decided we would try, in preparation for the House testimony, to repeat the op-ed strategy that had served us so well with the Senate. Having been derided by Madeleine Albright as “not having a clue” about the Clinton administration’s Iraq policy, I decided to pen a piece which discussed that very issue, contrasting stated policy objectives with what was really happening. “The current policy,” I wrote, “of the United States on Iraq – born out of frustration over its inability to maintain the 28-nation alliance carefully assembled to prosecute the Gulf War – is a failure.”
I then went on to articulate my view of what the “current policy” was: control of the Iraqi checkbook by the United Nations through continued application of economic sanctions, continued disarmament of Iraq, continued containment of Iraq, and “destabilization and/or overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” These four “pillars” of American policy had all failed, I wrote. International sanctions fatigue, combined with an oil-for-food agreement that gave Iraq access to hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, meant that the UN had control of the Iraqi checkbook in name only.
“The sanctions-oriented policy of the United States,” I noted, “is being largely rejected by Iraq’s neighbors and the world at large. Rather than contain Iraq, the continued imposition of economic sanctions is allowing Iraq to make common cause with its economically depressed neighbors.”
On disarmament, I simply repeated what had, by this time, become my mantra: “Iraq is not disarmed, and the interference of the Clinton administration [in the work of the inspectors] is doing nothing to alter this fact.” On regime change, I stated that the Clinton administration “seems incapable of mounting a serious threat to Baghdad,” and “has no viable plan in place to accomplish this most difficult of tasks.”
I liked the article, and so did Matt. Unfortunately, both the New York Times and the Washington Post passed on the piece. It seemed these papers were more interested in highlighting controversy and scandal than facilitating a policy debate between me and the Secretary of State. In any event, Matt ended up submitting it to an agent who specialized in placing op-ed articles, and we were able to get it published in the Washington Times on Sunday, September 13—two days prior to my hearing.
As it turned out, the Times and the Post weren’t the only ones not interested in engaging in a broader policy discussion on Iraq. My hearing before the House International Relations Committee was largely a replay of my Senate testimony, both in terms of questions asked and answers given. This time, however, there was none of the political drama that had existed during my Senate appearance. “This is about as far from an adversarial hearing that Congress is capable of holding,” Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, remarked to me during the hearing.
He was right. The reason for this seemed to be the backlash against Democrats that had occurred because of Senator Biden’s outburst on September 3.
The tone of the House hearing was set during the opening statement by Representative Jerry Solomon, a Republican from New York and a former Marine, a link he proudly proclaimed when introducing me as a “fellow Marine and a role model for our country.” Representative Solomon told the assembled members of the International Relations Committee that “for showing courage in resigning over principle, Scott Ritter was attacked by small-minded people in big offices who should know better—and ought to be ashamed of themselves. To belittle Scott that ‘he doesn’t have a clue’ insults him directly and by inference all men and women in the field, both those in uniform and those in civilian capacity, all fighting against the forces of totalitarianism and evil. It is also petty and arrogant by those who have never worn a uniform to mock Major Ritter’s name and attack him personally from an untouchable position of power. This is the action of a bully.” He finished up by stating that “it is an honor to be here today with Scott Ritter. I know he will be treated with the respect he earned in war and peace.”
Representative Lantos was right—no one was going to even ruffle a hair on my head after an introduction like that. The resulting lack of the kind of probing dissent that had existed during my Senate testimony made the House hearing rather anti-climactic. The same can be said of the hearing I had with the House National Security Committee the next day, and even the behind-closed-doors meeting I had with staffers from the House Intelligence Committee in Room 2117, a secure work space. The Biden fallout had served to stifle critical debate at a time when it was most needed and led to a simplistic understanding on the part of the various congressmen in attendance of the complex realities inherent in the disarming of Iraq by inspectors.
Perhaps the most telling consequence of the Biden blow-up was my meeting with the senior senator from Delaware himself, on the afternoon of September 15, 1998, in his Senate office. Biden bent over backwards to be accommodating while at no time offering anything resembling an apology for his words and actions. He seemed more interested in pinning me down on the issue of military action against Iraq as a way of justifying his point that I, as an inspector, was trying to pull the trigger of American military power. I reiterated my stance that this was not the purview of an inspector.
“But,” I noted, “if the Senator was asking my opinion as a former Marine intelligence officer who had participated in the planning and execution of an air campaign against Iraq in 1991, then I would say that there probably exists a mix of targets known to the US military because of the work of UNSCOM inspectors that, if subjected to a sustained bombing campaign of between four and six weeks, could probably create the conditions for the weakening of the regime of Saddam Hussein to the point that he could be removed from power. This would be the surest, quickest path to disarming Iraq. Short of this kind of commitment,” I added, “of political and military power, the best option would be to get inspectors back to work in Iraq. Any half-measures would only kill the inspection process without achieving either the disarmament of Iraq or the removal of its regime.”
I think Biden was taken somewhat aback by the directness and forcefulness of my position regarding a solution to the Iraq problem. He told me that he understood why I couldn’t have said anything like this during the hearing, and that he would take my words under advisement. We shook hands, and that was it—we both agreed that it would be best not to publicize the fact that we had met, or what we had discussed.
I was home for less than 24h ours before I headed back out on the road, this time not to Washington, DC for more political wrangling, but rather to an elite gathering in Aspen, Colorado – the 1998 Forstmann Little Conference. I had received a letter from Theodore “Teddy” Forstmann, the Chairman of Forstmann Little & Company, a New York-based leveraged buyout and holding company, extending an invitation to attend the event, which had “no set business agenda” other than “to bring together interesting people for a weekend of thoughtful discussion, entertainment and relaxation.” I conferred with Matt, and after he made a few phone calls, he got back to me. “You’d be a fool not to attend,” he said. “This is one of the most exclusive gatherings around. You’re sure to make many valuable contacts.”
I accepted the invitation, and was flown (first class) to Aspen, Colorado on September 17, 1998. There a limousine transported me to the Hotel Jerome, where I was checked into a luxurious suite complete with a well-stocked gift basket, all courtesy of Teddy Forstmann. The next morning I gathered with the other guests at the hotel conference center, and was awed by a pair of panels, both moderated by Charlie Rose, that included Colin Powell (at that time, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Advisor), Mike McCurry (the White House Press Secretary), Andrew Grove (the Chairman, Intel Corporation), and Dr. Beck Weathers (a survivor of the deadly 1996 climbing season on Mount Everest) speaking on “Managing a Crisis,” and Dr. Ian Wilmut (the man who cloned “Dolly the sheep”), Dr. Michael DeBakey (a pioneer in open-heart surgery), Dr. Stephen Rosenberg (a leading immunologist who pioneered gene therapy in the treatment of cancer) and Dr. C. J. Peters (a leading expert in epidemiology and infectious diseases) who discussed “New Frontiers in Science and Health.” It was like watching C-SPAN, but only live and interactive. And it wasn’t just the panelists who impressed; the guests in attendance represented a “who’s who” of the American establishment, drawn from corporations, government and media. I couldn’t have been more out of place, or more pleased to be where I was.
After the morning panel, buses arrived to take everyone to lunch at the Maroon Creek Country Club, an Aspen institution. I sat next to the actress, Shirley MacLaine, and her escort, Andrew Peacock, the Australian Ambassador to the United States, both of whom, sensing that I was feeling very much like a fish out of water, did their best to engage me in conversation and make me feel comfortable. Lunch was held outdoors, under a giant tent. The food was delicious, but for me the meal was abbreviated, as I was the designated speaker for the lunchtime discussion session, an event that was, like the morning panels, moderated by Charlie Rose.
I was a huge fan of public broadcasting’s “Charlie Rose” show and, like millions of Americans, tuned in weekly to watch Mr. Rose conduct probing, informative interviews of major national and international figures. As I took my seat next to Mr. Rose, on a raised platform that put me front and center before some of the most powerful and influential people in America (if not the world), I started to question my decision to accept Teddy Forstmann’s invitation to come to Aspen. Shirley MacLaine winked at me and smiled from out in the crowd to help me relax, but the truth of the matter was that I felt very alone and exposed. As it turned out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
Charlie Rose’s interview was everything I could have asked for, and more. He asked intelligent, often leading questions, and then provided me with more than adequate time to answer them. Nothing was off-limits—he probed me about Richard Butler’s comments regarding “chronology and detail,” Secretary Albright’s criticisms that my perspective was “limited” and that I wasn’t aware of all the facts, and the FBI’s interests in my work as a UN inspector. Teddy Forstmann had made it clear that all questions and answers were off the record, so I was able to answer the questions without worrying about how my words would appear in the morning paper. When Mr. Rose finished with me, he opened the floor to questions from the audience. I was shocked by what happened next.
The first person to rise and speak was Colin Powell. I had engaged in a brief conversation with him that morning over breakfast, and we had reminisced about the war and the early years of UNSCOM inspections. Now one of the most highly regarded Americans alive at that time was standing before one of the most powerful and influential audiences imaginable and singing my praises. “A great American hero,” Powell said of me, before providing a glowing assessment of my character and integrity. There was no question, just a statement. Powell was followed by George Schultz, the former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan who, like Powell before him, spoke approvingly of me as a “man of courage and conviction.” After Schultz came Sam Nunn, the former Senator from the State of Georgia, who specialized in military and national security policy. Senator Nunn continued in the vein of Powell and Schultz before him, speaking highly of my “courage” in “speaking truth to power.”
The last man to rise was Henry Kissinger, the legendary former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who served as the de facto dean of the American foreign policy establishment. Dr. Kissinger offered the audience a favorable assessment of my analysis of the Clinton administration’s Iraq policy, making a point to refute Madeleine Albright’s assertion that I “didn’t have a clue.”
In the space of a few minutes time, I had received the seal of approval from four of the most influential foreign policy voices in America. And while this event took place in an isolated field tucked away on the outskirts of Aspen, high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the members of the audience, soon to return to their respective corners of America come Sunday, would make sure that this level of support was known to everyone they interacted with (including Mike McCarthy, who would be heading back to the White House). In speaking at Aspen, I had provided Teddy Forstmann and his associates the opportunity to evaluate me and my message firsthand. I had not been found wanting.
I remained awestruck, nonetheless. After the lunch, I got to meet Jack Nicklaus, one of my personal idols since childhood, and get a lesson from the legendary golf instructor, Jim Flick, before playing a round of golf with a foursome that included the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Bob Woodward. That night I was personally introduced by Teddy Forstmann to the most powerful CEOs in America, before watching James Taylor perform live.
The next day, September 19, was more of the same—impressive panels, a powerful lunch speaker (George Schultz), more golf, dinner introductions to CEOs and high-level officials, and a second post-dinner concert by Ray Charles. But this was all very much “the lifestyle of the Rich and Famous,” and as much as I enjoyed my time in Aspen, I was more than a little bit relieved to return to the normalcy of my life with my family in the modest home we rented on High Street in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
A few days after my return from Aspen, I received a letter from Senator Biden, which reflected a different attitude toward my thoughts on Iraq than he had exhibited during my Senate testimony.
Dear Mr. Ritter, Biden wrote. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Your insight into this complex issue is invaluable and I appreciate your candid thoughts regarding the continuing challenges we confront in Iraq. I hope that I can call on your knowledge and expertise in the future as we move forward in making some difficult choices.
As I stated during our meeting, I commend you for forcing the American people to deal with the policy choices confronting them. Your actions have led to a spirited debate in our Nation and your courageous decision to resign because of your disagreement with the Administration’s policy has moved this debate forward.
Once again, thank you for your continued dedication to our Nation and I wish you the best of everything in your future endeavors.
Biden signed the letter, adding a handwritten note—PS I hope to speak with you again.
The Biden reversal wasn’t the last word concerning the attack on my credibility by the Clinton administration following my resignation. There was one more issue, which had started strangely enough as a simple question from an ideological ally—Senator John McCain—during my September 3 testimony before the joint Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees: “Do you believe that Saddam Hussein today has three nuclear weapons assembled – lacking only the fissile material?”
My answer was succinct and to the point: “The Special Commission has intelligence information which indicates that components necessary for three nuclear weapons exist, lacking the fissile material. Yes, sir.”
When asked a similar question by Representative Benjamin Gilman during my September 15 testimony before the House International Relations Committee, I reiterated that “I have indicated in the past…that the Special Commission had received sensitive information of some credibility which indicated that Iraq had the components to assemble three implosion-type devices, minus the fissile type material.”
These simple answers to direct questioning set off fireworks in Washington, DC that provided the Clinton administration another opportunity to attack my credibility as a witness to US policy on Iraq. After my testimony to the House International Relations Committee, officials within the Clinton administration were dismissive of what I had said, claiming that the US had never received such a report from UNSCOM and that they did not regard my claims as being credible. For instance, a State Department official told the Nuclear Control Institute, a private watchdog group, that the U.S. government “didn’t have any information along the lines outlined by Ritter.” Another official, assigned to the National Security Council, told NCI that the U.S. government “didn’t think the information [Ritter testified to] was accurate.”
I found it ironic that, given the distance the US government was putting between itself and my testimony on the suspected Iraqi nuclear capability, it was the CIA that first introduced me, in July 1995, to the intelligence source that was at the heart of these allegations. At a meeting held in a secure conference room at the State Department, a CIA officer responsible for northern Europe briefed me on the existence of a systematic mechanism within the Iraqi intelligence and security services to conceal material and documents from UNSCOM. The source was a defector that was being debriefed jointly by the CIA and the host government, and the information derived from these debriefings, as presented to me, was extremely detailed—enough so that I was able to create several inspection targets from that information alone.
More than a year later I was approached by a Dutch inspector, who had been serving as a member of the chemical weapons team. “My government would like it if you could come down to Washington, DC and meet with some of our embassy staff,” he told me.
“For what purpose?” I asked.
“It is best if I let them explain that,” he replied, smiling. “But trust me when I say you will like the reason. But please, do not publicize this visit to anyone in UNSCOM. You travel to Washington a lot to meet with the Americans. Use your next visit as an opportunity to take a side trip to the Dutch embassy.”
I did as requested and found myself in a meeting with the Dutch Ambassador and a member of his staff who was a senior officer in the Dutch national security service, known as the Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst, or BVD. I was asked many questions by the ambassador about the nature of my work with the Special Commission, and the role I played in facilitating intelligence exchanges between UNSCOM and other countries.
I was very circumspect about the way I answered him, noting that I could not discuss sensitive operational matters, and that any exchange of information between a particular government and UNSCOM, if it in fact took place at all, was the sole business of that government and UNSCOM, and could not be discussed with anyone else. The ambassador said a few words in Dutch to the BVD officer, then shook my hand and left, leaving us alone. “I guess I didn’t impress him too much,” I said.
“On the contrary,” the BVD officer said. “He has cleared you on to the next level.”
The “next level” turned out to be a trip to The Hague, where I was taken to the headquarters of the BVD and introduced to Henny Klück, the Director of Secretariat D4, which handled, among other tasks, non-proliferation issues. After introductions and lunch, Henny turned me over to Aad Koppe, who took me to his office. I was seated in a comfortable armchair, surrounded by the memorabilia representing Aad’s career in the Dutch Marines and law enforcement. Mementoes from a variety of foreign intelligence and security services were hanging on the wall and placed around the desk and office bookcases, including several from the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI. Aad faced me from across his desk. Seated next to him was man named Jan (pseudonym), who was the lead BVD proliferation analyst as well as a case officer handling sensitive human intelligence matters.
Not in the room, but a presence nonetheless, was an Iraqi defector from the Military Industrial Commission’s intelligence and security service, known to me only by his Dutch code name, “Fulcrum.” The BVD had been trying to get intelligence reports based on “Fulcrum’s” information into the hands of UNSCOM for over a year. Their last attempt was when they approached the CIA station chief in The Hague and handed him a packet of information to be turned over to UNSCOM. This resulted in my meeting with the CIA officer at the State Department in July 1995. What I wasn’t aware of was the fact that the head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations’ Near East Division at the time, a man named Frank Anderson, had intervened to cut off any further contact between UNSCOM and the CIA’s northern European office. “Apparently one part of the CIA [the Near East Division] resented another part [the northern Europe office] stepping on its turf,” Aad told me. “When we found this out, we decided it was time to take matters into our own hands.”
Over the course of two days, Jan and I engaged in a verbal exchange, where I would ask questions, and he would leave to do research of the various debriefings he had conducted with “Fulcrum,” and return with the answers. This unwieldy mechanism first exposed me to “Fulcrum’s” reporting on retained nuclear weapons components, which I duly turned into a memorandum that was shared with Rolf Ekéus, the first Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Duelfer and, with the permission of Ekéus, Gary Dillon, the Action Team leader with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This information was also shared with officials with both the CIA and State Department. Later, on a second trip, Jan simply handed me the entire “Fulcrum” file and let me take as many notes as I wanted, along with taking my questions about information in the file directly to “Fulcrum” for same-day responses.
I was able to make use of “Fulcrum’s” exact language concerning the retained Iraqi nuclear weapons components, along with the methodology used to hide them from UN inspectors, as part of a broader analysis of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs that was disseminated to the CIA, State Department, the British Defense Intelligence Staff, and the Israelis in May of 1997. “It is assessed,” I wrote, “that Iraq has retained critical components relating to the most recent [nuclear] weapons design, which has not to date been turned over to the IAEA. These components may comprise several complete weapons minus the HEU [highly enriched uranium] core. They are moved in a small convoy of three to five vehicles.” While the specifics of this particular source were not shared with the IAEA in its entirety, I did provide a synopsis of “Fulcrum’s” reporting to Gary Dillon during a liaison visit to Vienna in the summer of 1997 that served as the basis of broader cooperation between my team and the IAEA inspectors in Iraq when it came to the issue of concealment.
I wasn’t in the business of operating a rumor mill while at UNSCOM. Through my work, I received hundreds of intelligence reports of varying degrees of quality from intelligence services around the world. Much of this information was of such low quality that it was unusable for inspectors. Other information lacked the kind of specificity UNSCOM needed to transform it into a viable inspection target. In the case of “Fulcrum,” most of his information about people and places inside Iraq checked out. For instance, “Fulcrum” provided the precise location and detailed descriptions of the intelligence and security offices of the Iraqi Military Industrial Commission which were later verified by an inspection team I helped lead. He also provided hand-drawn maps of various locations around Baghdad that were used by Iraq to hide materials and documents from inspectors. Israeli photo interpreters were able, using imagery from U-2 spy aircraft provided by UNSCOM, to pinpoint these locations, some of which were later inspected and found to have been previously used as a hide site for proscribed materials.
Given the degree of accuracy that had been exhibited in the “Fulcrum” reports, I had no problem including his information about the retained nuclear weapons components in an overall assessment about Iraqi concealment efforts, since “Fulcrum” was clearly a source with proven access to the kinds of information he was submitting to his BVD handlers. The BVD believed in the credibility of his reporting, and so had the CIA, at least when it passed the information to UNSCOM in July 1995. As such, I was surprised when the US government flat-out denied having ever heard of anything along the lines to which I had testified to about these nuclear components. This reaction made me look like a fabricator, someone who would make up stories to grab the attention of the media. There was no surer way to undermine me and my message than by labeling me as such.
Barton Gellman at the Washington Post felt the same way. He was sitting on a trove of documents which I had provided to help him with a more in-depth exposé of my work with UNSCOM that he was busy researching and writing. Any effort by the US government to discredit me put this effort on the part of Gellman at risk. Gellman flew to New York, and we sat down to hash out the crux of the US claims. I highlighted some of the documents I had already provided him, and added to his collection a few more new ones which bore out my contention that what I had testified to before both the Senate and House was an accurate depiction of the intelligence I had received, and that the US government was fully aware of this intelligence prior to my testimony.
In a front page story published on September 30, 1998, Gellman reported US intelligence officials, reversing their earlier denials, now concurred “on the credibility of the reports” which detailed Iraq’s possible retention of the components for three to four “implosion devices” without the fissile core, and acknowledged that UNSCOM had, in fact, brought the information about the nuclear components to their attention, once in 1995, and then later in 1996.
It was clear that my testimony before both the Senate and House committees had been assiduously accurate in terms of the facts of the reporting. While the Clinton administration could disagree about the overall credibility of the raw intelligence, they could no longer state that I had misled either the House or the Senate—or the American people—in my testimony. Whether it appeared in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, was presented before a congressional hearing, or told to the media, the case I presented about the Clinton administration’s Iraq policy was unfailingly accurate both in terms of chronology and detail. The attack on my credibility had, for the time being, failed.
The question now was what Congress and the American public would do with the information I had provided.
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