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Butler calls Iraq weapons claim 'pathetic'

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has raised eyebrows recently with his assertions that there is no evidence Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that the United States used the weapons inspectors to spy on Iraq.

Ritter also criticized his ex-boss, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler, saying that Butler allowed the inspection process to be corrupted.

Butler forcefully disagrees, and he stated his case in an interview Tuesday with CNN's Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: There is a lot for you to react to here. For starters, your reaction to [Ritter's] accusation that you allowed the inspectors to be used as spies for the U.S. government?

BUTLER: Well, it is really pathetic. I don't know what has come over Scott to make him say these things and behave in the way that he is.

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One of Iraq's charges against us four years ago is that we were American spies. We were not. It was most obvious possible thing for them to say as they sought to avoid inspection, as they sought to shut us out to protect their weapons program. It is pathetic and sad to hear Scott repeating their propaganda.

Look, I want to make this clear. Until the day he left UNSCOM, Scott was robustly advising me, in writing -- you know, the papers are out there to prove it -- that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He begged me to authorize him to go in and do what he called "kick in the doors and find those weapons." Sometimes, I authorized him to lead inspections; sometimes I rejected his proposals because, quite frankly, they were a little bit off the wall.

Now, his advice to me then, on the basis of good evidence which I knew, was that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He resigned. A few months later, he crossed the road and for some reason -- I don't know why, I am not a psychoanalyst -- but he crossed the road and started to tell the world that there were no such weapons.

So I put it to you this way. Either he was misleading me when he worked for me, or he began to mislead the world's public later. Now, I know which one it is. He was not misleading me, rather, he is now misleading the world's public. And I find that sad, wrong, and frankly, a touch dangerous.

ZAHN: What do you think is his motivation if your charge is, in fact, accurate here?

BUTLER: I don't know. I don't know why he has decided to do this. I know what the facts are. I find it incredible to hear some of the things he is saying, when he knows what the facts were then and are today. I don't know why he is doing this. As I said, I am not a psychoanalyst. I don't know.

ZAHN: What about the very specific accusation that you knew for "darn sure that the Iraqis were not moving weapons from his weapons inspectors." That is his quote.

BUTLER: It is nonsense. I mean -- I don't know what to say to you. It is "he said, he said."

But, look, this is so utterly documented. Utterly. When we were thrown out of Iraq, we were under the most difficult political circumstances, in particular the Russians wanted us to be disassembled, dismissed and, you know, taken out of Iraq forever. We had the most hostile environment in the U.N. Security Council.

Nevertheless, I furnished the council a final report on Iraq's weapons status. The Russians, hostile though they were, insisted that there be an independent investigation because clearly nothing that I or my organization said could be accepted.

That independent investigation took place, at the end of which -- notwithstanding all of that hostility, the will on the part of the Russians and others to say that Iraq was clean and clear -- they concluded, that independent investigation concluded, that Iraq continued to retain weapons of mass destruction, and that they had misled us, that they had concealed weapons.

Now, you know, that is as clear as possibly can be. It is in documents, on the record, backed up by evidence. So, you know, what Scott Ritter has been saying is baffling, but whether or not it is baffling, it is this: It is wrong.

ZAHN: All right, Richard. You shot down his accusation that you allowed your inspectors to be used as spies by the CIA, but I wanted to play a small part of the interview that Bill Hemmer did earlier with Senator [Chuck] Hagel, when the senator confirmed that he thought there were a couple of interesting issues that Scott Ritter has raised.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-Nebraska (ON VIDEO): Certainly we cannot use the inspectors as a front for our intelligence operation. Intelligence is part of this. Of course it is. Everybody understands that. But we have to be careful. And I think the only way we are going to be able to get the world community with us on this is, in fact, to have a real team of inspectors and not have it suspected of being or, in fact, of being a CIA front.

ZAHN: So what is the role, Richard, as you see it for an inspector, and when the senator raises the issue of not using them for a front for intelligence operations?

BUTLER: Look, looking for weapons of mass destruction is a very, very tough business. Above all, it is a technical and scientific business. Your basic stock in trade is information, to know where to go, where to look, what possible weapons programs to look for.

Now, intelligence was provided to my organization for that purpose. In fact, that was completely legal. When the Security Council created the inspectors, it called on all states, all member states of the U.N., to give us all possible assistance. Now some 40 countries did that, and many of them provided us with intelligence information.

I made that clear then, and I repeat it now: You can't do that job unless you have intelligence information, and it was legal that that be provided to us. That is what was called for, and it was done by up to 40 countries.

Now, some proposed to us -- and I have already made this plain, in public, years ago -- that we ourselves undertake intelligence-type investigations. I rejected that. I made very clear that our mandate was to look for the weapons, not to look for other kinds of intelligence. That would represent a distortion of our mandate, and activities. And those are the facts.




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