Reprinted for educational purposes from New York Times November 23, 1997


By William Safire

"Penetrating the inspection team."

WASHINGTON: As Bill Clinton continues to pretend that no concession has been made to Iraq, Saddam Hussein has arranged with Russia's Yevgeny Primakov to remove the element of surprise from the U.N. Special Commission's searches for long-concealed germ-warfare facilities. The key is in Primakov's statement, swallowed whole by Clinton officials, that he negotiated an agreement to make inspections "more effective." In Orwellese, that means penetrating the U.N. team with Russian spies.

Mr. Primakov, lest we forget, is the world's most experienced spymaster. As a K.G.B. agent in his youth, he learned Arabic, improved his image by changing his name from Finkelstein to the Ukrainian word for "step-son" and aligned himself with a ruthless Arab rising star. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, it was the K.G.B.'s Primakov who worked frantically in Moscow and Baghdad to prevent the U.S. intervention. When Boris Yeltsin appointed him Foreign Minister to replace a pro-Westerner, Primakov moved quickly to help his friend Saddam anticipate inspections that might interrupt secret Iraqi work on terror weapons.

However, the Russians on the U.N. team -- in New York and in the field in Iraq -- had been recruited by officials who wanted only inspectors who took seriously the U.N. mission to enforce Iraq's agreement to destroy weapons. These included Russian Army veterans familiar with germ war. Here's news the White House does not know: When Primakov threatened the livelihood of Russians who did not cooperate in sharing information, U.N. officials put the most vulnerable on the U.N. payroll. Frustrated, Russia's spymaster-diplomat has recently had consular underlings threaten to pull certain of their nationals' passports.

Espionage adage: When penetration fails, accuse the other side of trying to penetrate. As U.N. inspections focused on the toxicological work of Iraq's "Dr. Germs," Rihab Taha, Saddam Hussein accused the U.S. nationals on the inspection team of being C.I.A. spies. Saddam knew he could not permanently bar inspections without inviting a substantial military strike. But by kicking over the traces, and complaining about U.S. spying, Saddam and Primakov hoped to reconstitute the U.N. team that was giving them trouble.

It's working. Clinton fell for it. In a meeting reminiscent of Molotov and von Ribbentrop, Primakov and Tariq Aziz agreed to "more effective" inspection. Our U.N. delegate hastily declared Saddam had "blinked," our national security adviser insisted "no concession was made" and Clinton hailed his own "achievement."

Forget about our concession to increase Iraqi oil sales by 50 percent. Our much more dangerous appeasement -- to be denied by the White House until the last dog dies -- is to allow Primakov to reshuffle the inspection deck.

Expect Russians not prepared to tip off Moscow to sensitive inspections to be "rotated." Expect the naming of a new executive committee to "make more effective" the commission's plans, and to reveal the names of team leaders on specific missions. Expect Rachel Davies, a tough-minded Brit at Unscom's Information Assessment Services in New York, to be replaced or find her office "reinforced."

As Primakov's penetration proceeds, Mr. Clinton will continue to strike his resolute pose. Television cameras will show our carrier force churning about. Rattled State Department aides will keep hinting, in effect, that if only the Israelis would hand over East Jerusalem, the Arab world would join an anti-Saddam coalition overnight.

But spymaster Primakov is good at penetration; Saddam has an unlimited budget to buy secrets; the U.N. has no counterintelligence capacity. As a result, the compromising of inspections is a clear danger. Because few violations would then be found, Russia and France would toss Clinton a multilateral. Expect him to declare peace in our time and accede to the fraying of sanctions.

"We must not let our children be exposed" to germ-war terror, intones Mr. Clinton. But unless Primakov's subversion of inspection is stopped, even this generation will be so exposed. And this President, "adamant for drift" in Churchill's phrase, will be remembered as the man who let it happen.

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