Exclusive: Scott Ritter in His Own Words

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Former UN inspector Scott Ritter at an antiterrorist training camp in Iraq

Scott Ritter was the UN's top weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, when he resigned claiming President Clinton was too easy on Saddam. Now he says the dictator doesn't seem to have weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that trying to oust Saddam is "extremely dangerous." TIME's Massimo Calabresi asked the voluble former marine about his recent private trip to Baghdad, Jane Fonda, and accusations he's a spy for Israel, Iraq or Russia.

Time: What were you doing in Baghdad?

Ritter: Waging peace. My goal in Baghdad was to facilitate a debate here in the United States on America's policy toward Iraq, a debate that's been sadly lacking. We're facing a critical moment in American history and I believe this is something that has to be more thoroughly looked at. Why go to Iraq? You're talking to me now because I went to Iraq. I've been saying the exact same thing for years and I didn't get the call from Time magazine.

Who paid for the trip? Were any of your expenses paid for by the Iraqis?

No. The only thing that could be construed as an Iraqi expense is that they provided a vehicle that drove me from the hotel to the meetings with the government officials. I did not reimburse them for the gas used or the time of the driver.

Some on the right call you the new Jane Fonda, and joke about what you'll call your exercise video.

(Long pause?) Those on the right who say that disgrace the 12 years of service I gave to my country as a Marine. I love my country. I'll put my record of service up against anyone, bar none. If they want to have an exercise video then why don't they come here and say it to my face and I'll give'm an exercise video, which will be called, "Scott Ritter Kicking Their Ass."

In 1998, you said Saddam had "not nearly disarmed." Now you say he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Why did you change your mind?

I have never given Iraq a clean bill of health! Never! Never! I've said that no one has backed up any allegations that Iraq has reconstituted WMD capability with anything that remotely resembles substantive fact. To say that Saddam's doing it is in total disregard to the fact that if he gets caught he's a dead man and he knows it. Deterrence has been adequate in the absence of inspectors but this is not a situation that can succeed in the long term. In the long term you have to get inspectors back in.

Iraq's borders are porous. Why couldn't Saddam have obtained the capacity to produce WMD since 1998 when the weapons inspectors left?

I am more aware than any UN official that Iraq has set up covert procurement funds to violate sanctions. This was true in 1997-1998, and I'm sure its true today. Of course Iraq can do this. The question is, has someone found that what Iraq has done goes beyond simple sanctions violations? We have tremendous capabilities to detect any effort by Iraq to obtain prohibited capability. The fact that no one has shown that he has acquired that capability doesn't necessarily translate into incompetence on the part of the intelligence community. It may mean that he hasn't done anything.

Are you being investigated for espionage?

I've been called a spy of Israel since 1996, and since I made my documentary film in 2000 the FBI has investigated me as an agent of Iraq. The FBI has also opened up an investigation into my wife calling her a KGB spy. So there is this form of harassment taking place.

Did you write a report, at the time you were doing inspections in Votkinsk in the Soviet Union in 1988 that said the group your wife worked for was full of spies?

No. I indicated that given past models of Soviet penetration techniques that these young girls, of which my wife was one, who were brought in by the Soviets to carry out translation services had been used in the past to attempt sexual compromise. I subsequently wrote a series of reports that said this did not appear to be the case in Votkinsk. In fact, because of the human intelligence work I did in the Soviet Union I was able to ascertain that the girls were actually dissatisfied with the Soviets. They showed a tendency to speak out against the KGB to the U.S. inspectors.

You've spoke about having seen the children's prisons in Iraq. Can you describe what you saw there?

The prison in question is at the General Security Services headquarters, which was inspected by my team in Jan. 1998. It appeared to be a prison for children — toddlers up to pre-adolescents — whose only crime was to be the offspring of those who have spoken out politically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a horrific scene. Actually I'm not going to describe what I saw there because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I'm waging peace.

You told the Iraqi parliament that Saddam had legitimate complaints about the prior inspection regime. What did you mean?

The U.S. had a track record of putting pressure on the weapons inspectors program during my entire seven years there. It's ironic that everyone has focused on the struggle of the inspectors vs. Iraq. Not too many people speak of the struggle between the weapons inspectors and the U.S. to beat back the forces of U.S. intelligence which were seeking to infiltrate the weapons inspectors program and use the unique access the inspectors enjoyed in Iraq for purposes other than disarmament. Iraq has a clear case that under this past inspection regime unfortunately it was misused for purposes other than set out by the Security Council resolution.

Did you get any spying done on your trip?

Haha. Did I spy on Iraq my most recent trip? I wasn't there to collect intelligence on Iraq. To be frank, I didn't see barricades in the streets or earthen berms being erected or fortifications underway. I did see a lot of troops in the streets and I saw that Iraq had beefed up their air defense in the capital. I saw that they were moving these air defense units frequently to avoid a strike. But I wasn't there to carry out a full canvas of Iraq's military capabilities.