"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Letter to the Editor

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Former UNSCOM Inspector Criticizes Butler Interview

To the Editor:

I read your interview with Richard Butler ("The Lessons and Legacy of UNSCOM," June 1999), the former executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). I was very disturbed by Ambassador Butler's tendency toward revisionist history that is misleading and, in my case, grossly inaccurate.

Butler calls into question my credibility as a witness to events concerning UNSCOM, alleging among other things that I claim he had met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Bahrain. He has built his entire case on specific wording in my book Endgame where I referred to a "meeting in Bahrain" between Butler and Albright in August 1998. Butler is correct when he states that here was never a face-to-face meeting (as is well known, the secretary of state was not in Bahrain at that time). The event in question was a telephone conversation between Butler, who was at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, and the secretary of state in which Albright prevailed upon him to terminate an inspection he had already approved and deployed to Baghdad. Butler cannot dispute this conversation—the secretary of state has publicly acknowledged both its timing and content.

Rather than deal with this incident and its undertones of American manipulation of UNSCOM directly, Butler has chosen to focus on semantics in an effort to discredit my position. He ignores the fact that I had discussed this incident fully and accurately in the text of my book, in my testimony before the U.S. Senate and in an opinion piece I authored in The Wall Street Journal.

Instead of diverting attention from the specifics of his conversation with Albright, Butler should set the record straight about this and five other documented instances of U.S. intervention to curtail or terminate UNSCOM inspection activity between November 1997 and August 1998. It was Butler's role in enabling such manipulation that has caused the independence and objectivity of UNSCOM to be called into question.

Butler's claim that, during his tenure, intelligence assistance provided by member states was reduced is likewise inaccurate and misleading. During his tenure the level of assistance from intelligence agencies of member states in fact expanded dramatically. In most instances, this increase in cooperation was to the benefit of UNSCOM. Unfortunately, with certain of UNSCOM's most sensitive information collection activities, Butler enabled the United States to assume total operational and technical control. As a result, information collection activities ostensibly carried out in support of the Security Council mandate were in fact serving the unilateral objectives of a single member state. I protested this loss of control to Butler no fewer than six times prior to my resignation. That he chose to disregard my counsel was his prerogative; that he has misrepresented the facts is shameful.

Butler's assertion that he was surprised when Operation Desert Fox unfolded is disingenuous, given his prior coordination with the White House. A meeting was held between the National Security Adviser and Butler at the end of November 1998, when UNSCOM plans for a confrontational inspection were again correlated with U.S. military strike plans. This meeting has been acknowledged by both White House officials and Butler. Having allowed the UNSCOM inspection process to be used as a trigger for unilateral military action outside the framework of the Security Council he purportedly served, Butler bears full responsibility for the demise of UNSCOM as a credible entity.

In his interview, Butler characterized me as both dishonest and delusional. I strongly reject this. I have been assiduous in setting forth the facts and chronology related to my work with UNSCOM, and vouch for the accuracy of everything I have reported on. Unfortunately, Butler offers no substantial facts of his own in rebuttal. He has chosen to smear my reputation in an effort to divert attention away from the serious nature of my charges against him. I was appalled that you allowed your journal to be used as a vehicle for spreading these unfounded and harmful attacks. At the very least, Arms Control Today should have demanded from Butler details and facts to back up his inflammatory statements or, lacking this, contacted me for comment before publishing such a vindictive interview. I hope this letter helps set the record straight.

Scott Ritter, Former UNSCOM inspector

September 16, 1999