During the heat of the recent 'smart sanctions' debate, a
flurry of news reports claimed that Iraq had been evading sanctions and
buying weapons. The reports cited the "Wisconsin Project on Nuclear
Arms Control", a putative watchdog group, whose findings were presented
as based on unpublished arms inspection data.
The true story is more murky, as Jeffrey Weiss uncovers
I should add that the AP (whose June 19 story Weiss
investigates) was actually 'scooped' on this story by the NYTimes' Barbara
Crossette, who reported a day earlier. In fact, the Wisconsin Project
has been cited by - or been the basis of - stories by Crossette at least
four times since 1996.
Below is a) Weiss's report, b) a listing Crossette/Wisconsin
Project stories (NYT search engine), and c) Crossette's June 18
Published on Wednesday, July 11, 2001
Media Deception & Iraq
by Jeffrey Weiss
The Associated Press
released a story on June 19, written by Edith Lederer, that was published in
many newspapers in the United States alleging that Iraq was importing
weapons despite economic sanctions. I conducted a brief study to find out
the genesis of the article.
The local Des Moines Register
picked up the AP story from the wire and gave the title: "Iraq evades
arms sanctions, U.N. reports say." The story was based upon findings by
Gary Mihollin, director of the Washington-based Wisconsin Project on Nuclear
Arms Control. According to the group, Iraq "evaded U.N. sanctions in
the 90s importing weapons from companies in Eastern Europe and Russia."
The "UN Reports" cited in the headline were in
fact, according to the text of the story, "unpublished" reports
released by "U.S. arms-control researchers" who got them from
"sources outside the United Nations."
The category of "weapons" provided by companies in
the study is never identified; AP writer Edith Lederer, however, makes a
reference to Iraq's "nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons
On June 25 I called Edith Lederer in Washington, D.C. at the
AP bureau. The conversation went like this:
"I can answer one question and give you 15 seconds of my time so
Jeffrey: "Have you ever seen the
unpublished U.N. report that is the subject of the story?"
Jeffrey: "Have you ever read any of the text of this unpublished
report that is the focus of your story."
Jeffrey: "Do you think I can
get a copy of this report from Gary in Wisconsin?"
Edith: "I doubt there is any chance that could happen .. Gary is
Jeffrey: So how do we know this
Edith: You can read the story in
Jeffrey: "I looked upon the
web site and found out the Wisconsin Project's Iraq program is funded in
part by the Pentagon. You describe them as a non-profit watchdog group.
Edith: "I have to go now, but you can find the story in
On June 26, I got an e-mail response from the Wisconsin
Project on my request for the report. According to Kelly Motz, the
"report (she put the words in quotes!) is "actually an article in
Commentary, for those who don't know, is published by the
American Jewish Committee. The July/August issue includes an article,
"Shopping with Saddam Hussein," by Milhollin and Motz. The piece
relies upon "confidential" reports before 1998 from "UN
inspectors" ostensibly interviewed by the authors but never identified.
If the report was written, it was during the years the U.S.
and U.K. acknowledged they had stacked UNSCOM with intelligence officers. A
further irony is that the top weapons-inspector at the time of this report,
former Marine Scott Ritter, says Iraq is "qualitatively disarmed"
and that "there can be no honor in a policy that that leads to the
death, through malnutrition and untreated disease, of 5,000 children under
the age of 5 every month." (Boston Globe, 3-9-2000)
The AP story describes the Wisconsin Project as a
"nonprofit watch-dog group" but fails to include a passage from
the organization's web site: "In the year 2000, the Project launched a
joint effort with the Pentagon to improve export controls in the former
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe."
The story gets better.
A previous report from the Wisconsin Project alleging Iraq
had carried out a successful nuclear test was published in newspapers across
the United States on June 10. On June 11, the chief UN arms inspector Hans
Blix said there had been no nuclear tests and that "the information is
totally wrong." Terry Wallace, professor of Geosciences at the
University of Arizona, said there was no reason to believe the story is
"anything but a hoax." Reuters distributed this piece that was
picked up by a small number of newspapers in the U.S.
Every year UN agencies such as UNICEF and the Food and
Agricultural Organization (FAO) release reports providing statistics of the
deaths of children in Iraq under economic sanctions but they don't appear in
many papers (see the work of Project Censored). Unfortunately, "UN
reports" from the Wisconsin Project are deemed legitimate.
Jeffrey J. Weiss <JWeiss@afsc.org> is the Education
Director/Central Region for the American Friends Service Committee, 4211
Grand Avenue/Des Moines, IA 50310515-274-4851, ext. 16 or
Date: June 18, 2001,
U.N. Sanctions Didn't Stop Iraq >From Buying
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
Two American arms control experts, combing through unpublished
reports by a disbanded arms inspection commission, say they fo...
Date: December 18, 1999, Saturday
Divided U.N. Council Approves New Iraq Arms Inspection Plan
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
Security Council voted today to create a new arms inspection system for Iraq
with the promise to President Saddam H...
Date: December 19, 1998, Saturday
ATTACK ON IRAQ: THE MONITORS; U.N. Is Urged to Plan For Nuclear
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
When the bombing of Iraq ends, arms control experts say, the United
Nations Security Council should not abandon inspections b...
Date: August 13, 1998, Thursday
Toughening Stand on Weapons, Iraq Foils Long-Term Monitoring
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
Iraq is not
only freezing all current United Nations weapons inspections but is also
threatening the long-term monitoring tha...
June 18, 2001
The New York Times
U.N. Sanctions Didn't Stop Iraq From Buying Weapons
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
UNITED NATIONS, June 15 - Two American arms control
experts, combing through unpublished reports by a disbanded arms inspection
commission, say they found evidence that Iraq continued to buy prohibited
weapons or parts long after United Nations sanctions were imposed in
Many of the purchases appear to have been made in Central
and Eastern Europe, the experts, Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin
Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington, and Kelly Motz, a project
researcher, say in a new independent report. They found documents concerning
illegal sales or potential sales by companies in Ukraine, Belarus and
Romania. Among the purchases made by the government of Saddam Hussein were
missile components and high- technology machine tools.
In the past, United Nations arms inspectors for Iraq had
been reluctant to identify countries in public reports, in part because
there have also been suspicions of illegal trading by companies in Russia, a
powerful member of the Security Council.
The report by the Wisconsin Project, to be published on
Wednesday in the magazine Commentary, appears as the United Nations Security
Council is debating a new "oil for food" program for Iraq that
would lift most restrictions on sales of civilian goods to Iraq.
The Council is stymied over American insistence that, given
Iraq's past subterfuges in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the plan
must include an extensive list of items that could only be sold after a
review to make sure they were not intended for military use.
"What this shows is that Saddam's procurement network
is alive and well and has been working steadily despite the sanctions,"
Mr. Milhollin said in an interview on Thursday. "To stop it, we need to
"There are a lot of companies out there willing to
break the embargo, and they're also going to be willing to take advantages
of weaknesses in this list, which means the list ought to be as strong as we
can make it. Given his proclivities to divert things and to stop selling oil
for his people in order to leverage us out of controlling his money, if
there are going to be mistakes made, we ought to make them on the side of
being more careful about what he is allowed to buy."
The sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990, after it invaded
Kuwait. The oil for food program allows Iraq to sell oil to alleviate
suffering of the civilian population under the sanctions. The United Nations
monitors expenditure of the profits, with part going to Kurds in the north
and reparations for the Persian Gulf war.
France, Russia and China are objecting to the American list
of items that would have to be reviewed under the broadened
They contend that some items, beyond clearly prohibited
arms, are unnecessarily restrictive and will prolong hardships in Iraq that
the new oil-sales plan was intended to alleviate.
Some independent experts say United States intelligence
agencies are trying to keep certain items out of Iraq that it could use to
make American eavesdropping harder, if not impossible.
In negotiations this week in Paris and New York, the
Americans agreed to trim the list somewhat, diplomats said. But continuing
disagreements over its scope it could cause the Council to miss another
deadline, July 3, for establishing the new oil-sales program.
In their article, Mr. Milhollin and Dr. Motz dismiss the
debate over the new plan as largely irrelevant. "The new proposal -
whether adopted by the U.N. or not - has little hope of stopping the Iraqis
from sneaking in what they need to rebuild their weapons sites and sneaking
out the oil to pay for it," they wrote. "For the truth is that
even when the U.N. inspections regime was in place, the Iraqis had figured
out how to do just that."
Iraq continues to argue that it has disarmed as required by
the Security Council and that sanctions should be lifted without further
preconditions. Russia and France, the Council members with the closest ties
to Iraq, say that while an automatic lifting of sanctions is not possible,
Iraq should be told clearly what it still needs to do so that sanctions can
at least be suspended as soon as possible.
A United Nations commission was set up after the gulf war to
monitor Iraq's weapons, but the inspectors were withdrawn in late 1998, in
advance of American and British bombing of Iraq. It was that commission's
documents that Mr. Milhollin and Dr. Motz reviewed.
A new arms inspection system was established, but this week
its director, Hans Blix of Sweden, told the Security Council again that
inspectors from his new United Nations Monitoring, Verification and
Inspection Commission must go to Iraq before a suspension can be considered.
Mr. Hussein has barred them.
"The completion of both the inventory of unresolved
disarmament issues and the identification of the key remaining disarmament
tasks," he wrote in a report to the Council, "will only be
possible after the commission's experts have commenced work in Iraq and have
been able to assess what changes may have occurred during the almost
two-and-a- half years when there have been no on-site inspections or
monitoring in Iraq."
Among the examples drawn from the documents of the now
defunct United Nations Special Commission was a case that began in 1995 when
a delegation of Iraqi specialists from the Badr State Establishment, which
made sophisticated machine tools, arrived in Belarus with a shopping list
that included diamond-cutting tools. They can be used for making precision
parts for nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Those tools and other
materials were bought outside United Nations rules, the authors say, and
shipped to Iraq by way of the Jordanian free-trade port of Aqaba.
As late as 1998, before arms inspectors were withdrawn from
Iraq, the Wisconsin Project article says, United Nations experts saw high-
technology lens-making machinery from Belarus being unloaded in Iraq. In
Ukraine, the Iraqis wanted to acquire whole laboratories, with training
assistance and computer software. The Iraqis say they never made the
purchases, and United Nations inspectors never found evidence of them at
missile sites or other places.
Ukraine continues to be publicly active in Iraq, however.
This year, according to news reports from Kiev, more than 100 Ukrainian
companies, some selling space and aviation equipment, exhibited their goods
at a Baghdad trade fair.