Pentagon wants look at arms expert's book

Ex-U.N. inspector's lawyer says demand is attempt to prevent publication

February 21, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Reversing itself for a second time, the Pentagon has demanded that Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspector, provide it with an advance copy of a book in which he is expected to accuse the Clinton administration of hindering the search for evidence of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons.

In a letter to Ritter's lawyer on Thursday, the Defense Department said Ritter was required to turn over the book for a security review before it could be published. A security review would almost certainly delay publication of the book, which is scheduled to be printed and distributed to booksellers next month.

Ritter's lawyer, Matthew Lifflander, described the letter as an effort to intimidate his client into silence.

Ritter, he said, would refuse to agree to the Pentagon's demand for a security review, raising at least the possibility that the Defense Department would go to court to try to block publication.

"I understand that the book is basically at the printers," Lifflander said in an interview.

"So you could easily conclude that this is a last-minute effort to delay publication. I don't think they have a legal leg to stand on. I find this a very destructive approach."

The Pentagon's latest letter reflected another sharp and potentially embarrassing turnaround in its strategy for dealing with Ritter's book, which is expected to include accusations that senior administration officials repeatedly hindered the work of U.N. arms inspectors.

The book is being published by Simon & Schuster. A spokeswoman said the publisher had no immediate comment on the government's dispute with Ritter.

Ritter, a former Marine intelligence officer, resigned from the United Nations last summer and accused the administration of a vacillating policy on Iraq that had led to repeated U.S. meddling in the arms-inspection program, undermining the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

He said the United States interfered with the arms inspections in an effort to avoid direct confrontations with Iraq.

The entire arms-inspection program was ended late last year when President Saddam Hussein of Iraq shut it down, a decision that resulted last December in the largest U.S. airstrikes against Iraq since the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

The Defense Department, which paid Ritter's salary while the retired Marine worked for the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, initially demanded a prepublication security review of the book in a letter to Ritter last month.

But on Jan. 17, the day that news reports first appeared about the demand, the Pentagon reversed itself, insisting that the letter had been sent in error and that there had been no attempt to intimidate Ritter.

Last week the department reversed itself again. In its letter to Ritter's lawyer on Thursday, the general counsel of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the agency of the Pentagon that paid Ritter's salary under contract, said that it expected Ritter to "comply with his responsibilities" and turn over the book for a prepublication review.

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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