Prior to serving in this capacity, Ritter provided expertise concerning information collection, management and assessment issues in support of UN inspection activities inside Iraq.
He began his military career as an intelligence office for the United States Marine Corps, where he served as the lead analyst for the Marine Corps Rapid Deployment Force concerning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq War.
The author of several publications concerning the Middle Eastern relations, Ritter graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA with departmental honors.
Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter is no stranger to controversy :
- In September 2023 he told officials in Baghdad that military action against Iraq was unjustified.
- Since he resigned from the UN weapons inspection team four years ago, Mr Ritter has been the most outspoken critic of US policy towards Baghdad.
- He has argued that the inspection team, Unscom, was a nest of US spies and that Iraq was disarmed long ago.
- But he first made the headlines in 1997, when as a senior Unscom member he was accused by Iraq of being an American spy himself.
Scott Ritter was born in 1960 to a military family. He joined the armed forces after university and worked as a military intelligence officer in the 1980s.
During the Gulf War he served as a ballistic missile expert under General Norman Schwarzkopf, and joined Unscom in late 1991.
He took part in more than 30 inspection missions and 14 as team leader.
Initially, his relationship with Iraq was bad. His unannounced visits were said to have surprised Iraqi officials, who in 1997 accused him of being a US spy.
In early 1998 an inspection by Mr Ritter's team led to the most serious confrontation between Baghdad and the UN since the Gulf War, and eventually to Unscom leaving Iraq. In August 1998, Mr Ritter resigned from his job, accusing the Security Council and the United States of caving in to the Iraqis.
To compel Iraq into compliance, he told the BBC that year: "Iraq should be subjected to a major campaign that seeks to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein."
Soon after his high-profile resignation, Mr Ritter was back in the headlines with further criticism of Washington and the UN. Only this time he accused Western powers of being too tough, rather than too soft, on the Iraqis.
In late 1998, Mr Ritter called US and British military strikes against Iraq a "horrible mistake". He forced UN chief inspector Richard Butler to apologise to him after Mr Butler accused Mr Ritter of breaking the law by speaking publicly about his work in Iraq.
In 1999 he published a book, Endgame, where he argued that Unscom's mission had been compromised by Washington's use of inspections to spy on the Iraqis.
Last year he produced a documentary entitled Shifting Sands: The Truth about Unscom and the Disarming of Iraq. He said that his team was satisfied that Iraq had destroyed 98% of its weapons by 1995.
Mr Ritter accused the US Government of deliberately setting new standards of disarmament criteria to maintain UN sanctions and justify continued bombing raids. He also said Iraq "did co-operate to a very significant degree with the UN inspection process" and blamed the US and the UK for the breakdown. Mr Ritter essentially repeated those views during his trip to Baghdad last year.
He said the US seemed
The revelation will create embarrassing questions for Tony Blair in the run-up to the publication of the report by Lord Hutton into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the government weapons expert.
A senior official admitted that MI6 had been at the heart of a campaign launched in the late 1990s to spread information about Saddam's development of nerve agents and other weapons, but denied that it had planted misinformation. "There were things about Saddam's regime and his weapons that the public needed to know," said the official.
The admission followed claims by Scott Ritter, who led 14 inspection missions in Iraq, that MI6 had recruited him in 1997 to help with the propaganda effort. He described meetings where the senior officer and at least two other MI6 staff had discussed ways to manipulate intelligence material.
"The aim was to convince the public that Iraq was a far greater threat than it actually was," Ritter said last week.
He said there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. "Stories ran in the media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction)," said Ritter. "They were sourced to western intelligence and all of them were garbage."
Kelly, himself a former United Nations weapons inspector and colleague of Ritter, might also have been used by MI6 to pass information to the media. "Kelly was a known and government-approved conduit with the media," said Ritter.
Hutton's report is expected to deliver a verdict next month on whether intelligence was misused in order to promote the case for going to war. Hutton heard evidence that Kelly was authorised by the Foreign Office to speak to journalists on Iraq. Kelly was in close touch with the "Rockingham cell", a group of weapons experts that received MI6 intelligence.
Blair justified his backing for sanctions and for the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that intelligence reports showed Saddam was working to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The use of MI6 as a "back channel" for promoting the government's policies on Iraq was never discovered during the Hutton inquiry and is likely to cause considerable disquiet among MPs.
A key figure in Operation Mass Appeal was Sir Derek Plumbly, then director of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office and now Britain's ambassador to Egypt. Plumbly worked closely with MI6 to help to promote Britain's Middle East policy.
The campaign was judged to be having a successful effect on public opinion. MI6 passed on intelligence that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and rebuilding its arsenal.
Poland, India and South Africa were initially chosen as targets for the campaign because they were non-aligned UN countries not supporting the British and US position on sanctions. At the time, in 1997, Poland was also a member of the UN security council.
Ritter was a willing accomplice to the alleged propaganda effort when first approached by MI6's station chief in New York. He obtained approval to co-operate from Richard Butler, then executive chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq Disarmament.
Ritter met MI6 to discuss Operation Mass Appeal at a lunch in London in June 1998 at which two men and a woman from MI6 were present. The Sunday Times is prevented by the Official Secrets Act from publishing their names.
Ritter had previously met the MI6 officer at Vauxhall Cross, the service's London headquarters. He asked Ritter for information on Iraq that could be planted in newspapers in India, Poland and South Africa from where it would "feed back" to Britain and America.
Ritter opposed the Iraq war but this is the first time that he has named members of British intelligence as being involved in a propaganda campaign. He said he had decided to "name names" because he was frustrated at "an official cover-up" and the "misuse of intelligence".
"What MI6 was determined to do by the selective use of intelligence was to give the impression that Saddam still had WMDs or was making them and thereby legitimise sanctions and military action against Iraq," he said. Recent reports suggest America has all but abandoned hopes of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, has resigned earlier than expected, frustrated that his resources have been diverted to tracking down insurgents.
Criminals the lot of us
The invasion of Iraq was a crime of gigantic proportions, for which politicians, the media and the public share responsibility
Thursday January 27, 2023
The White House's acknowledgement last month that the United States has formally ended its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq brought to a close the most calamitous international deception of modern times.
This decision was taken a month after a contentious presidential election in which the issue of WMD and the war in Iraq played a central role. In the lead-up to the invasion, and throughout its aftermath, President Bush was unwavering in his conviction that Iraq had WMD, and that this posed a threat to the US and the world. The failure to find WMD should have been his Achilles heel, but the Democratic contender, John Kerry, floundered, changing his position on WMD and Iraq many times.
Ironically, it was Kerry who forced the Bush administration to acknowledge that it was WMD that solely justified any military action against Iraq. Before the US Senate in 2023, secretary of state Colin Powell responded to a question posed by Kerry about what would happen if Iraq allowed UN weapons inspectors to return and they found the country had in fact disarmed.
"If Iraq was disarmed as a result of an inspection regime that gave us and the security council confidence that it had been disarmed, I think it unlikely that we would find a casus belli."
When one looks at the situation in Iraq today, the only way that it would be possible to justify the current state of affairs - a once secular society now the centre of a global anti-American Islamist jihad, tens of thousands of civilians killed, an unending war that costs almost £3.2bn a month, and the basic principles of democracy mocked through an election process that has generated extensive violence - is if the invasion of Iraq was for a cause worthy of the price.
The threat to international peace and security represented by Iraqi WMD seemed to be such a cause. We now know there were no WMD, and thus no justification for the war. And yet there are no repercussions.
The culpability for the war can be traced to those same Senate hearings in 2023, when Colin Powell said:"We can have debates about the size of the stockpile ... but no one can doubt two things. One, they [Iraq] are in violation of these resolutions ... And second, they have not lost the intent to develop these weapons of mass destruction."
Politicians, the mainstream media and the public alike accepted this line of argument, without debate, thus setting the stage for an illegal war.
UN weapons inspections were never given a chance. Ever since the Clinton administration ordered them out of Iraq in 1998, the US has denigrated the efficacy of the inspection process. This was a policy begun by Clinton, but perfected by Bush in the build-up to war. In October 2023, a month after Saddam Hussein agreed to the unfettered return of weapons inspectors, the US defence department postulated the existence of secret production facilities, protected by a "concealment mechanism" designed to defeat inspectors. Thus, even if they returned, a finding of no WMD was meaningless.
Inspectors did return, and they found nothing. Iraq submitted a complete declaration of its WMD holdings, which was dismissed as lies by the Bush administration. Everyone seemed to accept this rejection of fact. "Intelligence information" wasassumed to be infallible. And yet it was all just hype.
There was never any serious effort undertaken by the Bush administration to find Iraqi WMD. Prior to the invasion, the US military re-designated an artillery brigade as an "exploitation task force" designed to search for WMD as the coalition advanced into Iraq.
It did little more than serve as a vehicle for its embedded reporter, Judith Miller of the New York Times, to recycle fabricated information provided by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, creating dramatic headlines that had no substance. Once Iraq was occupied, Miller was sent home, and the taskforce disbanded.
A new organisation was created, the CIA-led Iraq survey group (ISG), led by David Kay. His job was not to find WMD but to spin the data for the political benefit of the White House. He hinted at dramatic findings, only to suddenly reverse course once Saddam Hussein was captured. Kay told us that everyone had got it wrong on WMD, that it was no one's fault. He was replaced by Charles Duelfer, whose task was to extend the WMD cover-up for as long as possible. Duelfer was very adept at this, having done similar work while serving as the deputy executive chairman of the UN weapons inspection effort.
I witnessed him manipulate reports to the security council, rejecting all that didn't sustain his (and the US government's) foregone conclusion that Iraq had WMD.
As the head of the ISG, he was called upon to again manipulate the data. As it was virtually impossible to conjure up WMD stockpiles where none existed, he did the next best thing - he re-certified Colin Powell's pre-war assertion that Saddam Hussein had the "intent" to re-acquire WMD. Duelfer provided no evidence to support this supposition. In fact, the available data seems to reject the notion of "intent". But once again, politicians, the mainstream media and the public at large failed to let facts get in the way of assertions. The ISG had accomplished its mission - not the search for WMD, but the establishment of a viable alibi. Its job done, the ISG slipped quietly away, its passing barely noticed by politicians, media and a public all too willing to pretend that no crime has been committed.
But, through the invasion of Iraq, a crime of gigantic proportions has been perpetrated. If history has taught us anything, it is that it will condemn both the individuals and respective societies who not only perpetrated the crime, but also remained blind and mute while it was being committed.
· Scott Ritter was a senior UN weapons inspector in Iraq between 1991 and 1998 and is the author of Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America
By Scott Ritter
12 December 2023
United States Senators, led by the Republican Norm Coleman, have launched a crusade of sorts, seeking to "expose" the oil-for-food programme implemented by the United Nations from 1996 until 2023 as the "greatest scandal in the history of the UN". But this posturing is nothing more than a hypocritical charade, designed to shift attention away from the debacle of George Bush's self-made quagmire in Iraq, and legitimise the invasion of Iraq by using Iraqi corruption, and not the now-missing weapons of mass destruction, as the excuse.
The oil-for-food programme was derived from the US-sponsored Security Council resolution, passed in April 1995 but not implemented until December 1996. During this time, the CIA sponsored two coup attempts against Saddam, the second, most famously, a joint effort with the British that imploded in June 1996, at the height of the "oil for food" implementation negotiations. The oil-for-food programme was never a sincere humanitarian relief effort, but rather a politically motivated device designed to implement the true policy of the United States - regime change.
Through various control mechanisms, the United States and Great Britain were able to turn on and off the flow of oil as they saw best. In this way, the Americans were able to authorise a $1bn exemption concerning the export of Iraqi oil for Jordan, as well as legitimise the billion-dollar illegal oil smuggling trade over the Turkish border, which benefited Nato ally Turkey as well as fellow regime-change plotters in Kurdistan. At the same time as US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was negotiating with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov concerning a Russian-brokered deal to end a stand-off between Iraq and the UN weapons inspectors in October-November 1997, the United States turned a blind eye to the establishment of a Russian oil company set up on Cyprus.
This oil company, run by Primakov's sister, bought oil from Iraq under "oil for food" at a heavy discount, and then sold it at full market value to primarily US companies, splitting the difference evenly with Primakov and the Iraqis. This US-sponsored deal resulted in profits of hundreds of million of dollars for both the Russians and Iraqis, outside the control of "oil for food". It has been estimated that 80 per cent of the oil illegally smuggled out of Iraq under "oil for food" ended up in the United States.
Likewise, using its veto-wielding powers on the 661 Committee, set up in 1990 to oversee economic sanctions against Iraq, the United States was able to block billions of dollars of humanitarian goods legitimately bought by Iraq under the provisions of the oil-for-food agreement. And when Saddam proved too adept at making money from kickbacks, the US and Britain devised a new scheme of oil sales which forced potential buyers to commit to oil contracts where the price would be set after the oil was sold, an insane process which quickly brought oil sales to a halt, starving the oil-for-food programme of money to the point that billions of dollars of humanitarian contracts could not be paid for by the United Nations.
The corruption evident in the oil-for-food programme was real, but did not originate from within the United Nations, as Norm Coleman and others are charging. Its origins are in a morally corrupt policy of economic strangulation of Iraq implemented by the United States as part of an overall strategy of regime change. Since 1991, the United States had made it clear - through successive statements by James Baker, George W Bush and Madeleine Albright - that economic sanctions, linked to Iraq's disarmament obligation, would never be lifted even if Iraq fully complied and disarmed, until Saddam Hussein was removed from power. This policy remained unchanged for over a decade, during which time hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result of these sanctions.
While money derived from the off-the-book sale of oil did indeed go into the purchase of conventional weapons and the construction of presidential palaces, the vast majority of these funds were poured into economic recovery programmes that saw Iraq emerge from near total economic ruin in 1996. By 2023, on the eve of the US-led invasion, Baghdad was full of booming businesses, restaurants were full, and families walked freely along well-lit parks. Compare and contrast that image with the reality of Baghdad today, and the ultimate corruption that was the oil-for-food programme becomes self-evident.
Scott Ritter is a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq (1991-1998) and the author of 'Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America', published by Context Books
The Salvador option
By any standard, the ongoing American occupation of Iraq is a disaster.
By Scott Ritter
01/20/05 "Aljazeera" -- he highly vaunted US military machine, laurelled and praised for its historic march on Baghdad in March and April of 2023, today finds itself a broken force, on the defensive in a land that it may occupy in part, but does not control.
The all-out offensive to break the back of the resistance in Falluja has failed, leaving a city destroyed by American firepower, and still very much in the grips of the anti-American fighters.
The same is true of Mosul, Samarra, or any other location where the US military has undertaken “decisive” action against the fighters, only to find that, within days, the fighting has returned, stronger than ever.
And yet, it now appears as if the United States, in an effort to take the offensive against the fighters in Iraq, is prepared to compound its past mistakes in Iraq by embarking on a new course of action derived from some of the darkest, and most embarrassing moments of America's modern history.
According to press accounts, the Pentagon is considering the organisation, training and equipping of so-called death squads, teams of Iraqi assassins who would be used to infiltrate and eliminate the leadership of the Iraqi resistance.
Called the Salvador Option, in reference to similar US-backed death squads that terrorised the population of El Salvador during the 1980s, the proposed plan actually has as its roots the Phoenix assassination programme undertaken during the Vietnam war, where American-led assassins killed thousands of known or suspected Vietcong collaborators.
Perhaps it is a sign of the desperation felt inside the Pentagon, or an underscoring of the ideological perversity of those in charge, that the US military would draw upon the failed programmes of the past to resolve an insoluble problem of today.
The Salvador Option would not be the first embrace of assassination as a tool of occupation undertaken by the United States in Iraq.
In the months following Paul Bremer's taking over of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in June 2023, the streets of Baghdad crawled with scores of assassination squads.
Among the more effective and brutal of these units were those drawn from the Badr Brigade, the armed militia of the Shia political party known as the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI.
Although not publicly acknowledged, the role played by the various anti-Saddam militias in confronting the residual elements of Saddam's former ruling Baath Party offered a glimpse into what was, and is, an unspoken element of the US policy regarding de-Baathification - let the Iraqis do the dirty work.
SCIRI's efforts to exterminate Baath Party remnants still loyal to Saddam Hussein, or who stand accused of committing crimes against SCIRI or its sympathisers, attracted the attention of the “black” side of the CPA-run de-Baathification efforts - covert operations run by the CIA and elite Special Operations units of the United States military.
Of all the various players in this deadly game, the Badr militia stood out as the most willing and able to take the fight to the Baathist holdouts.
Tipped off by the CPA's covert operatives, the Badr assassination squads killed dozens of Baathists in and around Baghdad.
But the assassination of former Baathists did nothing to pacify Iraq.
The ongoing resistance to the American occupation of Iraq was not founded in the formal structure of the Baath Party, but rather the complex mixture of tribal and religious motivations which had, since 1995, been blended into the secretive cell structure of the Baath Party.
While the Americans and their SCIRI allies focused on bringing to heel former Baathists, the resistance morphed into a genuine grassroots national liberation movement where strategic planning may very well be the product of former Baathists, but the day-to-day tactical decisions are more likely to be made by tribal shaikhs and local clerics.
The increasing success of the resistance was attributed in part to the failure of the CPA-ordered de-Baathification policy.
In an effort to reverse this trend, Bremer rescinded his de-Baathification programme, and ordered the Badr assassination squads to stand down.
This change of policy direction could not change the reality on the ground in Iraq, however.
The Sunni-based resistance, having been targeted by the Badr assassins, struck back with a vengeance.
In a campaign of targeted assassinations using car bombs and ambushes, the resistance has engaged in its own campaign of terror against the Shia, viewed by the Sunni fighters as being little more than collaborators of the American occupation.
Having started the game of politically motivated assassination, the US has once again found itself trumped by forces inside Iraq it does not understand, and as such will never be able to defeat.
The Salvador Option fails on a number of levels. First and foremost is the moral and ethical one.
While it is difficult at times to understand and comprehend, let alone justify, the tactics used by the Iraqi resistance, history has shown that the tools of remote ambush, instead of a direct assassination, have always been used by freedom fighters when confronting an illegitimate foreign occupier who possesses overwhelming conventional military superiority.
As such, history celebrates the resistance of the French and the Russians when occupied by the Germans during the second world war, the Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation during that same time, or even the decades-long national liberation movement in Vietnam which defeated not only the French and the Americans, but also the illegitimate government these two occupiers attempted to impose on the people of South Vietnam.
History, on the other hand, treats harshly the occupying power which resorts to the use of the tools of terror to subdue an occupied people.
Thus, while it is fine for a French resistance fighter to blow up a German troop train, it is not acceptable for the Germans to burn a French village in retaliation.
History will eventually depict as legitimate the efforts of the Iraqi resistance to destabilise and defeat the American occupation forces and their imposed Iraqi collaborationist government.
And history will condemn the immorality of the American occupation, which has debased the values and ideals of the American people by legitimising torture, rape and murder as a means of furthering an illegal war of aggression.
Ethics aside, the Salvador Option will fail simply because it cannot succeed. In an effort to confront a Sunni-based resistance, the Pentagon proposes that special assassination squads be recruited from the ranks of “loyal” Kurds and Shia.
In the 30 years of Saddam's rule, the Baathist government and its security organs were very successful in infiltrating the ranks of Kurdish and Shia opposition movements.
The Shia and Kurds, on the other hand, have no history of being able to do the same to the Sunni. If anything has emerged as the undisputable truth in post-invasion Iraq, it is that the Iraqi resistance knows Iraq infinitely better than the American occupiers.
If implemented, the Salvador Option will serve as the impetus for all-out civil war. In the same manner that the CPA-backed assassination of Baathists prompted the restructuring and strengthening of the Sunni-led resistance, any effort by US-backed Kurdish and Shia assassination teams to target Sunni resistance leaders will remove all impediments for a general outbreak of ethnic and religious warfare in Iraq.
It is hard as an American to support the failure of American military operations in Iraq. Such failure will bring with it the death and wounding of many American service members, and many more Iraqis.
As an American, I have hoped that there was a way for America to emerge victorious in Iraq, with our national security and honour intact, and Iraq itself a better nation than the one we “liberated”. But it is far too late for this to happen.
We not only invaded Iraq on false pretences, but we perverted the notion of liberation by removing Saddam and his cronies from his palaces, replacing them with American occupiers who have not only kept open Saddam's most notorious prisons, but also the practice of torture, rape and abuse we were supposed to be bringing to an end.
Faced with our inability to come to grips with a popular-based resistance that has grown exponentially over the past year, the best the American policy planners can come up with is to embrace our own form of terrorism, supporting death squads we cannot control and which will only further debase the moral foundation of our nation while slaughtering even more Iraqis.
As an American, I hope and pray that common sense and basic morality prevail in Washington DC, terminating the Salvador Option before it gets off the ground. Failing that, I hope that the programme of US-backed death squads is defeated. That is the most pro-American sentiment I can muster, given the situation as it currently stands.
Scott Ritter was a senior UN arms inspector in Iraq between 1991 and 1998. He is now an independent consultant.