Mar 11, 2014
“Where Are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?”
Posted on Aug 11, 2008
By Scott Ritter
The problem with disbelieving was there were too many pieces of this puzzle that seemed to fit together. The timing of the threat coincided too neatly with my communication with the CPA about my plans while in Baghdad. People in the CPA certainly had the information if they decided to pass it on—I had telephoned and sent faxes and e-mails providing my dates of travel, where I wanted to stay and how I wanted to interact with the CPA. The ability of the U.S. intelligence community to monitor my e-mail communications with Mohammed was a given. And then there was the disturbing fact that, since the time that I had notified the CPA of my intent to travel to Iraq to write this story for Harper’s Magazine, I had been red-flagged by the United States government. On both occasions that I left the United States on assignment for Harper’s Magazine (once to London and Prague, the other to Amman), I had been pulled aside by U.S. immigration and customs officials upon my return for special treatment.
Apparently taking their cues from computer instructions, the customs officials involved were very interested in where I had traveled, whom I had met with, and any documents I might be carrying. When I asked a senior customs official in Washington’s Dulles Airport what the problem was, he simply shrugged. “I guess it’s just because you are who you are,” he said. A customs officer in New York’s JFK Airport, after looking at instructions sent to him on his computer, looked up to me. “You used to work for the U.S. government?” he asked. Prompted again by the computer, he called over a supervisor, who was very interested in documents I had in my possession concerning Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. In both cases, the only thing that seemed to save me from an even greater intrusion into my personal belongings was a letter from Lewis Lapham identifying me with Harper’s Magazine. The letter was carefully examined by customs officers and photocopied, and became the apparent subject of intense exchanges between the customs officers and whoever was on the other end of the computer. In both cases, my First Amendment rights prevailed over the concerns of the U.S. government, and I was allowed to proceed with my notes intact.
Mohammed’s dire warning aside, it seemed clear that my new assignment for Harper’s Magazine had caught the attention of someone in the U.S. government. What about my probing into the weapons-of-mass-destruction issue could prompt such extreme measures? What would make the U.S. government so afraid as to justify its attempt to intimidate a journalist—even an activist journalist such as myself—from carrying out his work? As a former weapons inspector with the United Nations, I was intimately familiar with the fraudulent case made by the Bush administration before the 2003 invasion, and had quite publicly challenged the president’s allegations. I do not believe the Bush administration would undertake any activity, directly or indirectly, beyond simply harassing me, because of my stance on pre-war WMD claims. However, knowing that I was going to Baghdad to meet with Iraqis who had firsthand knowledge of what had transpired since the invasion was another matter. What could I have learned that troubled them so? I will relay the story as I received it from Mohammed.
On a bright morning one day in late June 2003 Mohammed waited patiently on the side of a street in the Jadariyah district of Baghdad. As a former official in the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein, he had knowledge of programs and activities of interest to the Americans who now occupied the palaces of the former Iraqi president; these programs and activities included but were not limited to weapons of mass destruction. Mohammed had been summoned to a meeting with a special intelligence cell that reported not to David Kay’s Iraq Survey Group, but instead directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Shortly before 9 in the morning, a small convoy consisting of three unmarked Toyota Land Cruisers pulled up alongside Mohammed. Seated in the front passenger seat of the lead vehicle was a short, stocky blond woman named Stacey. One might not have guessed from her plain khaki cargo pants and simple white T-shirt that she was a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. Stacey motioned for Mohammed to enter the vehicle, and the small convoy sped off.
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