Overreacting to Accusations of Spying on Iraq: Making Appropriate Arrangements for Information Sharing

by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein

November 25, 2002

It is shortsighted to try to insulate the inspectors from accusations of spying by completely cutting off the flow of information from the inspectors to the member states, as some senior inspectors have advocated. To do their job effectively in Iraq, inspectors need to share key information with the United Nations (UN) member states, and receive helpful feedback in return. This two-way sharing of relevant information under a controlled procedure is not the same as using the inspectors as spies, and may be vital to the success of the inspection effort as a whole. This kind of two-way sharing was critical to many of the most successful inspection efforts in the 1990s. Member states have a large amount of information gathered from various intelligence and open sources that would inform the inspectors’ work. For example, a state could have information directly related to a site, facility, procurement, or individual that needs to be investigated further by the inspectors on the ground. They may have gathered the information from satellites, agents, defectors, or communication intercepts.

If the inspectors pursue a specific piece of information provided by a state, the inspection agency should be able to give information on its findings back to national governments in order to inform the member states’ analysis. As a result of this exchange, states will revise and update their assessments. In turn, they can give additional or improved information back to the inspection teams. This give and take can yield the most valuable information available to the inspectors. There are important reasons for information to be shared, in addition to the strengthening of the inspection effort. Member states can learn whether their information is accurate, helping them assess their sources and their analyses. For example, if information provided by a particular source is repeatedly proven false, the value of additional information provided can be evaluated accordingly. Also, states can learn whether the information they are providing the inspectors is being used effectively and appropriately. This process builds confidence for states’ to continue to provide useful information to the inspectors.

One particular aspect of the inspections that is prime for this kind of information sharing is the investigation into Iraqi procurement activities. Member states should be informed as to whether the equipment and technology they say is in Iraq is found, and if so in what condition. This can help member states refine their assessments of Iraq’s procurement networks, the reliability of sources, and the status of Iraq’s proscribed weapons activities. In addition, states can use the information provided by the inspectors to prosecute violators of export control laws in their own countries. In the past, the inspectors also sent information to member states for further analysis or development. For example, if the inspection found a piece of dual-use equipment, the inspectors routinely queried the supplier country for more information.

It is important to distinguish this information sharing from spying. States should not use the inspection process to carry out specific intelligence gathering missions that run contrary to the inspection missions, or are outside the mandate of the inspectors. UNMOVIC Chairman Hans Blix is right in taking steps to ensure that the inspectors are impartial and independent actors. However, denying two-way information sharing with state governments that can greatly assist in the inspection effort would be a mistake, and would harm the effectiveness and the credibility of the inspection effort.

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