In my drinking circles when the question of Scott Ritter came up it was never in the context of “Why did he change his mind?” but always, “What do the Iraqis have on him?” Of course, we are all national-security community folks in one way or another, and pretty much look at life through the realist lens. We might come across as cynical, especially after a few rounds, but more often than not we get things right. When allegations of Ritter’s planned sexual encounters with under-aged girls surfaced this week, the collective response was a professionally objective, “Oh, so that was it.” There was not a lot of outrage. It was hard to take Ritter seriously in recent years. His rhetoric had escalated to fringe levels, his reasoning had become somewhat eccentric, and he really had run out of anything new to say factually. He sustained public-figure status through being a fixture in the appointment books of television producers and reporters seeking interesting quotes, but one was always struck by the sense that there was no particular reason to listen to him. He had been out of the game a long time. What was the point?
Now, of course, Ritter is hotter than ever, but he has not performed well in recent appearances. He rambled on about his situation on CNN, citing legalisms both real and imagined: “we should never forget that when a case is dismissed, what the law says is that — by dismissing the case — it brings with it the presumption of innocence. And by sealing the file, it’s designed to prevent the stigma attached with any unsubstantiated allegations from arising. So, as far as I’m concerned, as far as everyone should be concerned, this is a dead issue.” This was after Ritter prevaricated about a June, 2001 arrest; a case of mistaken identity he averred, until the mug shot surfaced. His defenders, such as Dr. Alan Chartock, who appeared on MSNBC January 21, take the line that one should “divorce the man from the message” because “his political message is very important.” The possibility of Iraqi blackmail is not important because “in America you are innocent until proven guilty,” and besides, “the message is what’s really important.”
Nevertheless, Ritter’s access to the media was never based on his message. Harry the Hippie has the same message, and may be even more articulate, but Ritter had man-bites-dog appeal. He was an outspoken hard-line inspector who transformed suddenly into a rather forceful apologist, and thus became instant producer-bait. Lacking that context, he was just some guy with something to say. This is why it is hard to compartmentalize man from message. The alleged sex scandal does not directly challenge the substance of Ritter’s views, but it does call into question his legitimacy. And not because someone who may go to chat rooms looking for liaisons with underage girls cannot have a valid political message — I guess — but because the behavior could be directly linked to why the message changed. The sex story — mostly because it is a sex story, and of a particularly unfashionable type — will keep Ritter an in-demand media property, but for the wrong reasons. And it makes him less bankable for the peace movement, since they wouldn’t want to be tainted by association (that is, with someone possibly turned by the Iraqis. I am sure to them the other alleged thing falls under “lifestyle choice”).
O.K., so why even discuss it? Ultimately this is not a matter of prurient interest but national security. The Iraqi blackmail angle is certainly plausible, and similar operations may be ongoing against the current inspection effort. Police states excel at recruiting foreigners, and creating informers is one of the Mukhabarat’s (the Iraqi intelligence service) primary jobs. Iraqi society, like that of the Soviet states on which it is largely modeled, is thoroughly infested with civilian stoolies controlled by the secret police. Every foreigner who goes to Iraq is watched, especially those on official business, who are considered enemy intelligence agents anyway. Some of them are subjected to subversion operations. There are many methods available to intelligence services seeking to suborn officials, but mostly it comes down to three addictions — money, drugs, and sex. These are individual weaknesses that allow intelligence services to play the role of enabler or blackmailer, or frequently both. They are trusted, time-honored levers of control, effective singly or when used in combination. They can destroy careers, and ruin lives — and that is why they work.
I recently spoke to a former site inspector who was active during the Cold War period and served on teams in various European countries. He said that security was always a concern, and serving on a delegation required a high level of clearance. It takes a long time to get it, and potential inspectors are themselves inspected minutely. The investigators pay particular attention to seeking out financial and “lifestyle” information. This is done with a view towards weeding out those who might more easily be compromised, or who might embarrass the United States. Alcoholics, drug addicts, those who gamble or engage in sexual activities that might open them to foreign recruiting generally do not make the cut. (That is, if the investigators successfully uncover these habits.) People with family or friends in foreign countries are also given special scrutiny, not only because foreign contacts might suggest other allegiances, but because pressure might be put on family members as a means of getting to the official. For example, while the exact national composition of the UNMOVIC team has not been released, it is doubtful that any of the inspectors have family in Iraq who might be held accountable should the inspector not reach conclusions favorable to Saddam’s regime.
While in Moscow, my source’s teams were tracked by the KGB, overtly, covertly, and persistently. One could assume that there was never a moment when they were not being monitored one way or another, probably videotaped, definitely audio taped. In bars and restaurants and other off-duty settings he kept running into attractive, very interested women. “I didn’t chalk it up to my personal charisma,” he said. The Soviets were well known for trying to set people up in compromising positions, and the KGB ran a program that trained men and women in the arts of seduction. The case of Clayton J. Lonetree and other guards at the Moscow embassy who traded “secrets for sex” in the mid-1980s is one of the more famous examples. If a foreign intelligence service learns that a target has a predilection for an unsavory sexual practice (and decide for yourself what “unsavory” could be, people have such varied thresholds these days), a trap is laid in which the victim is placed in a situation too tempting to resist, in a room wired for sound and video. Nature takes its course, and later the recruitment pitch is made, complete with visual aids.
Bear in mind, these types of threats are widely known in the inspection community, and indeed, to anyone who reads intelligence literature. (Those who are interested can find good links to information sources at the Overseas Security Advisory Council website.) The UNMOVIC inspectors are not folks who just fell off the back of the turnip truck. On the other hand, they lack experience with Baghdad; UNMOVIC has around 270 inspectors from 48 countries, three quarters of whom are first time visitors to Iraq. The U.N. held six five-week training courses last year to ready inspectors for their prospective mission, and at an introductory lecture Hans Blix characterized the demeanor of an inspector as “keeping some distance — but not arrogant or pompous. Friendly — but not cozy.” They cannot be wholly isolated from the Iraqis they have to work with, but at the same time they are not there to make friends, or something more. Ideally, the inspectors would be a group of committed professionals, visiting Iraq to do their jobs and nothing else, not tempted by the various opportunities, large or small, that might manifest themselves in propitious moments, seemingly unplanned, all somehow too good to be true. But as my veteran source said, “At the end of the day, they are all human beings.”
— James S. Robbins is a national-security analyst & NRO contributor.