Blix hits back at Powell's UN presentationBy
Peter Spiegel in Washington
[Financial Times - London - 14 Feb]
If US secretary of state Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations last month was an attempt to show that weapons inspectors could not perform the job under current conditions in Iraq, Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector, used his time in front of the Security Council on Friday to hit back.
Arguing that Mr Powell's presentation was not all it purported to be, Mr Blix told the Council that, despite the claims made by Mr Powell, in the 400 inspections made at more than 300 sites, inspectors had "in no case. . . seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming".
But Mr Blix did not stop there. Referring specifically to one series of satellite photos displayed by Mr Powell - which were at the centre of his presentation accusing Iraqi officials of cleaning up sites before inspectors arrived - the Swedish diplomat noted they depicted a self-declared weapons site that the Iraqis knew would be inspected, making any surreptitious activity unlikely. "The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity as a movement of proscribed munitions in anticipation of imminent inspection," he said.
Mr Blix's attack brought to a head a long-simmering dispute between the UN and the US over intelligence sharing. US officials have been reluctant to publicise some of their best information, arguing that it could jeopardise the human sources who provided the intelligence.
But at the root of US objections has been a suspicion that the inspectors have been compromised, either through Iraqi spying or outright leaks to Iraqi officials.
"In the 1990s there were reports that Iraqi intelligence recruited UN inspectors as informants," said Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy US defence secretary. "Recent reports [show] that Iraq continues these kinds of efforts."
Mr Blix insisted shared intelligence "will be kept in strict confidence and be known by very few people". He added that intelligence which had been handed over thus far had been helpful, in one case turning up documents at a private home on the enrichment of uranium.
But in other cases, such information has turned up no evidence, only reinforcing Mr Blix's belief that the US may be confusing the movement of conventional arms with attempts to hide chemical and biological weapons.
On Friday Mr Powell said he would soon present more evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. But Mr Blix is not the only person to criticise US intelligence sharing in recent days.
Senator Carl Levin, top Democrat on the armed services committee, on Wednesday harangued George Tenet, director of the CIA, for claiming the Bush administration had provided the UN with intelligence on all sites the US knew about.
"While I can't go into classified details in an open hearing, I can say that the information the CIA has provided me made it very clear that we have shared information only on a small percentage of the suspect sites," Mr Levin said. "If we haven't shared yet all the useful information that we have with the UN inspectors, that would run counter to the administration's position that the time for inspections is over."