Posts Tagged ‘Ron Suskind’

‘Where Are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?’

August 13, 2008

Truthdig, Aug 11, 2008

AP photo / Bullit Marquez

A U.S. soldier checks the radiation level of a canister that was looted during the invasion from the nuclear facility in Tuwaitha, Iraq. A Harris poll released July 21, 2006, found that 50 percent of U.S. respondents said they believed Iraq had nuclear arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003.

By Scott Ritter

In the past two decades I have had the opportunity to participate in certain experiences pertaining to my work that fall into the category of “no one will ever believe this.” I usually file these away, calling on them only when events transpire that breathe new life into these extraordinary memories. Ron Suskind, a noted and accomplished journalist, has written a new book, “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism,” in which he claims that the “White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush [Tahir Jalil Habbush, the director of the Mukhabarat], to Saddam [Hussein], backdated to July 1, 2001.” According to Suskind, the letter said that “9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq—thus showing, finally, that there was an operational link between Saddam and al Qaeda, something the Vice President’s Office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq.”

This is an extraordinary charge, which both the White House and the CIA vehemently deny. Suskind outlines a scenario which dates to the summer and fall of 2003, troubled times for the Bush administration as its case for invading Iraq was unraveling. I cannot independently confirm Suskind’s findings, but I, too, heard a similar story, from a source I trust implicitly. In my former line of work, intelligence, it was understood that establishing patterns of behavior was important. Past patterns of behavior tend to repeat themselves, and are thus of interest when assessing a set of seemingly separate circumstances around the same source. Of course, given the nature of the story line, it is better if I introduce this information within its proper context.

In the summer of 2003 I was approached by Harper’s Magazine to do a story on the work of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), a CIA-sponsored operation investigating Saddam’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. David Kay, a former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector who served briefly in Iraq in 1991 and 1992, was at that time the head of the ISG. By October 2003 the group had prepared a so-called interim report, which claimed to have eyewitness evidence of Iraqi WMD-related activities prior to the invasion in March. The key to the ISG’s interim report was the testimony of “cooperative sources,” Iraqis of unstated pedigree purportedly providing the ISG with unverifiable information. With one exception—an Iraqi nuclear scientist who had been killed by coalition forces—David Kay failed to provide the name or WMD association of any of the sources he used for his report, making any effort to verify their assertions impossible. Many of the senior Iraqis who had openly contradicted Kay’s report were, and still are to this day, muzzled behind the walls of an American prison in Baghdad. But there was another group of Iraqis, the former scientists and technicians involved in Iraq’s WMD programs who were known to have been interviewed by the ISG, and who were released back into Iraqi society. These scientists held the key to deciphering the vague pronouncements of the ISG interim report, and could help to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Continued . . .

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How Tenet Betrayed the CIA on WMD in Iraq

August 10, 2008

Analysis by Gareth Porter | Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug 8 – Journalist Ron Suskind’s revelation that Saddam Hussein’s intelligence chief was a prewar intelligence source reporting to the British that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) adds yet another dimension to the systematic effort by then Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet to quash any evidence — no matter how credible — that conflicted with the George W. Bush administration’s propaganda line that Saddam was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

According to Suskind’s new book, ‘The Way of the World’, Iraqi Director of Intelligence Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti had been passing on sensitive intelligence to the UK’s MI6 intelligence service for more than a year before the U.S invasion. In early 2003, Suskind writes, Habbush told MI6 official Michael Shipster in Jordan that Saddam had ended his nuclear programme in 1991 and his biological weapons programme in 1996. Habbush explained to the British official that Saddam tried to maintain the impression that he did have such weapons in order to impress Iran.

Suskind writes that the head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, flew to Washington to present details of the Habbush report to Tenet, who then briefed National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Soon after that, the CIA informed the British that the Bush administration was not interested in keeping the Habbush channel open, according to Suskind’s account.

Tenet has called the story of the Habbush prewar intelligence a “complete fabrication”, claiming Habbush had “failed to persuade” the British that he had “anything new to offer by way of intelligence”. His statement actually reinforces Suskind’s account, however, by indicating that he had simply chosen not to believe Habbush. “There were many Iraqi officials who said both publicly and privately that Iraq had no WMD,” said the statement, “but our foreign intelligence colleagues and we assessed that these individuals were parroting the Baath party line and trying to delay any coalition attack.”

Contradicting Tenet’s claim that the British did not take the Habbush report seriously, MI6 director Dearlove told Suskind he had asked Prime Minister Tony Blair why he had not acted on the intelligence from Habbush.

Another high-level U.S. source in the last months of the Saddam regime was Saddam’s foreign minister Naji Sabri. Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s chief of clandestine operations for Europe from 2001 until 2005, recounts in his book ‘On the Brink’ that Sadri was passing on information to an official of a European government in early autumn 2002 indicating that hints of a WMD programme were essentially a “Potemkin village” used to impress foreign enemies.

Sidney Blumenthal wrote in Sep. 2007 that two former CIA officers who had worked on the Sabri case identified the foreign intermediary as being France and said he had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the CIA and French intelligence to provide documents on Saddam’s WMDs.

Drumheller told ‘60 Minutes’ that Sabri “told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction program.”

On Sep. 17, 2002, the CIA officer who had debriefed Sabri in New York, briefed CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, according to Blumenthal’s account. McLaughlin responded that Sabri’s information was at odds with “our best source”. That was a reference to ‘Curveball’, the Iraqi who claimed knowledge of an Iraqi mobile bio-weapons lab programme but was later found to be a professional liar.

The next day, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri’s intelligence, but Bush rejected it out of hand as “what Saddam wanted him to think”.

French intelligence agents later tapped Sabri’s telephone conversations and determined that he was telling the truth. But it was too late. One of Tenet’s deputies told the CIA officers, “This isn’t about intelligence. It’s about regime change.”

Yet another highly credible U.S. source on the WMD issue in Sep. 2002 was Saad Tawfik, an electrical engineer who had been identified by the CIA as a “key figure in Saddam Hussein’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme”. The story of the CIA’s handling of his testimony is told in James Risen’s ‘State of War’.

In early Sep. 2002, Tawfik’s sister, who lived in Cleveland, flew to Baghdad with a mission from the CIA to obtain details about Saddam’s nuclear weapons from her brother. But when she returned in mid-September, the CIA didn’t like the report from her conversations with the source.

Tawfik told his sister that Saddam’s nuclear programme had been abandoned in 1991. When she told him the CIA wanted her to ask such questions as “how advanced is the centrifuge” and “where are the weapons factories”, Tawfik was incredulous that the CIA didn’t understand that there was no such programme.

Tawfik’s was only one of thirty cases of former Iraqi WMD experts who reported through relatives that Saddam had long since abandoned his dreams of WMD, according to Risen.

Both the Sabri evidence and the evidence from Tawfik and other former Iraqi experts was available to the CIA during the work on the Oct. 2002 National Intelligence Estimates (NIE). But the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence kept all of that evidence out of the NIE process.

No report based on any of that evidence was ever circulated to State, Defence or the White House, according to Risen and Blumenthal.

The disappearance of all that credible evidence reflected a deliberate decision by Tenet. The White House Iraq Group had just rolled out its new campaign to create a political climate supporting war in early September, and Tenet knew what was expected of him. As an analyst who worked on the NIE told Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, “The going-in assumption was that we were going to war, so this NIE was to be written with that in mind.” That means Tenet’s account of the CIA’s role in the WMD issue in his 2007 memoirs completely ignored the credible evidence from Habbush, Sabri and the former Iraqi specialists that there was no active program, as well as his own role in suppressing it.

Tenet even brazenly claimed that a “very sensitive, highly placed source in Iraq” about whom “little has been publicly said” had “reported that production of chemical and biological weapons was taking place”. The reporting from the source, continuing through the NIE and beyond, “gave those of us at the most senior level further confidence that our information about Saddam’s WMD programmes was correct.”

Tenet was clearly referring to the reporting coming from the Sabri debriefings, but his description of them was a prevarication. As Blumenthal reported, they had written a report on Sabri’s intelligence spelling out his view that there was no active WMD programme, but they later discovered that it had been rewritten and given an entirely new preamble asserting that Saddam already possessed chemical and biological weapons and was “aggressively and covertly developing” nuclear weapons.

Tenet — who was a political operator rather than an intelligence professional — had betrayed the CIA’s mission of providing objective analysis, instead choosing to serve the interests of the Bush administration in preparing the way for war. It is not difficult to imagine how he would have meekly carried out whatever was asked of him by the White House — even forging a document and leaking it to the media, to buttress the administration’s case for war.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist. The paperback edition of his latest book, ‘Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam’ was published in 2006.

New evidence suggests Ron Suskind is right

August 9, 2008

What was an Iraqi politician doing at CIA headquarters just days before he distributed a fake memo incriminating Saddam Hussein in 9/11?

By Joe Conason | Salon.com

Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush

Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Vice President Cheney and President Bush at a White House press conference on Dec. 14, 2007.

Aug. 8, 2008 | If Ron Suskind’s sensational charge that the White House and CIA colluded in forging evidence to justify the Iraq invasion isn’t proved conclusively in his new book, “The Way of the World,” then the sorry record of the Bush administration offers no basis to dismiss his allegation. Setting aside the relative credibility of the author and the government, the relevant question is whether the available facts demand a full investigation by a congressional committee, with testimony under oath.

When we look back at the events surrounding the emergence of the faked letter that is at the center of this controversy, a strong circumstantial case certainly can be made in support of Suskind’s story.

That story begins during the final weeks of 2003, when everyone in the White House was suffering severe embarrassment over both the origins and the consequences of the invasion of Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. No evidence of significant connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the al-Qaida terrorist organization had been discovered there either. Nothing in this costly misadventure was turning out as advertised by the Bush administration.

According to Suskind, the administration’s highest officials — presumably meaning President Bush and Vice President Cheney — solved this problem by ordering the CIA to manufacture a document “proving” that Saddam had indeed been trying to build nuclear weapons and that he was also working with al-Qaida. The reported product of that order was a fake memorandum from Tahir Jalil Habbush, then chief of Saddam’s intelligence service, to the dictator himself, dated July 1, 2001. The memo not only explicitly confirmed that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had received training in Baghdad for “attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy” but also carefully noted the arrival of a “shipment” from Niger via Libya, presumably of uranium yellowcake, the sole export of that impoverished African country.

Very incriminating, very convenient and not very believable. Indeed, it may be hard to imagine that even the CIA at its bumbling worst would concoct such a blatant counterfeit. But there are a few reasons to believe that, too.

On Dec. 14, 2003, the Sunday Telegraph hyped the phony Habbush memo as a front-page exclusive over the byline of Con Coughlin, the paper’s foreign editor and chief Mideast correspondent, who has earned a reputation for promoting neoconservative claptrap. As I explained in a Salon blog post on Dec. 18, the story’s sudden appearance in London was the harbinger of a disinformation campaign that quickly blew back to the United States — where it was cited by William Safire on the New York Times Op-Ed page. Ignoring the bizarre Niger yellowcake reference, which practically screamed bullshit, Safire seized on Coughlin’s story as proof of his own cherished theory about Saddam’s sponsorship of 9/11.

Soon enough, however, the Habbush memo was discredited in Newsweek and elsewhere as a forgery for many reasons, notably including its contradiction of established facts concerning Atta’s travels during 2001.

But the credulous Telegraph coverage is still significant now, because Coughlin identified the source of his amazing scoop as Ayad Allawi. For those who have forgotten the ambitious Allawi, he is a former Baathist who rebelled against Saddam, formed the Iraqi National Accord movement to fight the dictator, and was appointed to Iraq’s interim Governing Council by the U.S. occupation authorities after the invasion.

Although Coughlin quoted Allawi at some length, neither he nor his source revealed how the Habbush memo had fallen into the hands of the Iraqi politician. But the Safire column made an allusion that now seems crucial, describing Allawi as “an Iraqi leader long considered reliable by intelligence agencies.”

Specifically, Allawi was a longtime asset of the Central Intelligence Agency, which had funded his struggle against Saddam for years prior to the invasion. His CIA sponsorship is noted in nearly every news article about Allawi, usually contrasted with the Pentagon sponsorship of his political rival, Ahmed Chalabi, the infamous fabricator of WMD intelligence (and suspected double agent for Iran).

Obviously, Allawi’s relationship with the CIA is worth reconsidering today in light of the charges in Suskind’s book, even though by itself that relationship proves nothing. There is more, however.

On Dec. 11, 2003 — three days before the Telegraph launched its “exclusive” on the Habbush memo — the Washington Post published an article by Dana Priest and Robin Wright headlined “Iraq Spy Service Planned by U.S. to Stem Attacks.” Buried inside on Page A41, their story outlined the CIA’s efforts to create a new Iraqi intelligence agency:

“The new service will be trained, financed and equipped largely by the CIA with help from Jordan. Initially the agency will be headed by Iraqi Interior Minister Nouri Badran, a secular Shiite and activist in the Jordan-based Iraqi National Accord, a former exile group that includes former Baath Party military and intelligence officials.

“Badran and Ayad Allawi, leader of the INA, are spending much of this week at CIA headquarters in Langley to work out the details of the new program. Both men have worked closely with the CIA over the past decade in unsuccessful efforts to incite coups against Saddam Hussein.” (The Web link to the full story is broken but it can be found on Nexis.)

So Allawi was at the CIA during the week before Coughlin got that wonderful scoop. That may not be proof of anything, either, but a picture is beginning to form.

That picture becomes sharper in the months that followed Allawi’s release of the Habbush forgery, when he suddenly returned to favor in Baghdad and eclipsed Chalabi, at least for a while. Five months later, in May 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council elected Allawi as his country’s interim prime minister, reportedly under pressure from the American authorities. Combining subservience to the occupiers with iron-fisted tactics, he quickly squandered any popularity he might have enjoyed, and his INA party placed a humiliating third in the 2005 national elections.

That was the end of Allawi as a politician, yet perhaps he had already served his purpose. And it might be very interesting to hear what he would say today about the Habbush forgery — and his broader relationship to the CIA and the Bush White House — especially if he were to tell his story in a congressional hearing.

Until then there is much more to learn from Suskind’s reporting, including new evidence that Bush and other officials knew there were no WMD in Iraq. Read an excerpt from “The Way of the World” here (where you can also sign up to receive a copy for $1 from Progressive Book Club, which happens to be run by my wife, Elizabeth Wagley).

The Forged Iraqi Letter: What Just Happened?

August 8, 2008

By Ron Suskind | Huffington Post, August 5, 2008

What just happened? Evidence. A secret that has been judiciously kept for five years just spilled out. All of what follows is new, never reported in any way:

The Iraq Intelligence Chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush — a man still carrying with $1 million reward for capture, the Jack of Diamonds in Bush’s famous deck of wanted men — has been America’s secret source on Iraq. Starting in January of 2003, with Blair and Bush watching, his secret reports began to flow to officials on both sides of the Atlantic, saying that there were no WMD and that Hussein was acting so odd because of fear that the Iranians would find out he was a toothless tiger. The U.S. deep-sixed the intelligence report in February, “resettled” Habbush to a safe house in Jordan during the invasion and then paid him $5 million in what could only be considered hush money.

In the fall of 2003, after the world learned there were no WMD — as Habbush had foretold — the White House ordered the CIA to carry out a deception. The mission: create a handwritten letter, dated July, 2001, from Habbush to Saddam saying that Atta trained in Iraq before the attacks and the Saddam was buying yellow cake for Niger with help from a “small team from the al Qaeda organization.”

The mission was carried out, the letter was created, popped up in Baghdad, and roiled the global newcycles in December, 2003 (conning even venerable journalists with Tom Brokaw). The mission is a statutory violation of the charter of CIA, and amendments added in 1991, prohibiting CIA from conduction disinformation campaigns on U.S. soil.

So, here we go again: the administration full attack mode, calling me names, George Tenet is claiming he doesn’t remember any such thing — just like he couldn’t remember “slam dunk” — and reporters are scratching their heads. Everything in the book is on the record. Many sources. And so, we watch and wait….

Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Suskind is the author of The Way of the World. See http://www.ronsuskind.com

Copyright © 2008 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

White House ‘buried British intelligence on Iraq WMDs’

August 6, 2008

August 6, 2008

George W Bush and Tony Blair

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Tony Blair and George Bush both saw intelligence contradicting the rationale for invading Iraq, a new book claims

MI6 told Tony Blair before the invasion of Iraq that a high-placed Iraqi source said that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence was passed to the US but was buried by the White House, according to a new book.

The book claimed that the former Prime Minister sent a top British spy to the Middle East in 2003 — three months before the invasion — to dig up enough intelligence to avoid war but that President Bush and Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, dismissed any claims or possible evidence that would stop military action.

In The Way of the World, the Pulitzer prize-winning author Ron Suskind also claimed that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a backdated, handwritten letter purportedly from the head of Iraqi Intelligence to Saddam. The letter, which came to light nine months after the invasion, was meant to demonstrate a link between the Baathist regime and al-Qaeda.

The forgery, adamantly denied by the White House, was passed to a British journalist in Baghdad and written about as if genuine by The Sunday Telegraph on December 14, 2003. The article received significant attention in the US and provided the White House with a new rationale for the invasion, Suskind claimed. The White House called the allegation absurd.

Suskind said that at the beginning of 2003 MI6 sent one of its top agents, Michael Shipster, to the region. Mr Shipster held secret meetings in Jordan with Tahir Jalil Habbush, the head of Iraqi Intelligence. The meetings were confirmed by Nigel Inkster, former assistant director of MI6.

Mr Inkster also confirmed that Mr Shipster was told by Mr Habbush that there were no illicit weapons in Iraq. Mr Inkster refused to comment last night.

Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of British Intelligence, was also interviewed by Suskind. The author said that Sir Richard confirmed the Shipster meetings and report. He added that he asked why Mr Blair had not acted on the intelligence.

Sir Richard was quoted as saying that the mission was an eleventh-hour “attempt to try, as it were, I’d say, to diffuse \ the whole situation”. He added: “The problem was the Cheney crowd was in too much of a hurry, really. Bush never resisted them quite strongly enough.”

Suskind wrote that Sir Richard flew to Washington in February 2003 to present the Habbush report to George Tenet, then the Director of the CIA. The report stated that according to Mr Habbush, Saddam had ended his nuclear programme in 1991 — the same year that he destroyed his chemical weapons programme — and ended his biological weapons programme in 1996. These assertions turned out to be true.

Mr Tenet briefed Mr Bush and Condoleezza Rice, at the time his National Security Adviser.

Suskind wrote: “The White House then buried the Habbush report. They instructed the British that they were no longer interested in keeping the channel open.”

Rob Richer, a former CIA officer in the Near East division, told Suskind: “The Brits wanted to avoid war — which was what was driving them. Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first days he was in office.”

Mr Habbush was put on the White House’s list of most-wanted Iraqis but according to Suskind he was paid by the CIA in October 2003 to write the forged letter to Saddam, dated July 1, 2001, saying that the putative September 11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had trained for his mission in Iraq. This was the letter publicised in The Sunday Telegraph.

Of the forgery allegation, Mr Tenet said: “There was no such order from the White House to me or, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from the CIA ever involved in any such effort.” Of Mr Habbush, Mr Tenet said that the claims in the book were a complete fabrication. He said that Mr Habbush had “failed to persuade” the British that he had “anything new to offer by way of intelligence”.

Delving deep

Ron Suskind was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000

His serialised stories, following a religious student from a blighted inner-city school to the Ivy League Brown University, won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1995

His 2004 book The Price of Loyalty penetrated the inner sanctum of the Bush Administration

Excepts of his last book, The One Percent Doctrine, were published last month in Time magazine

Source: www.ronsuskind.com

Author Claims White House Knew Iraq Had No WMD

August 6, 2008

Journalist Ron Suskind says Bush ordered forgery linking Saddam, al-Qaeda

by Bob Considine

WASHINGTON – President Bush committed an impeachable offense by ordering the CIA to to manufacture a false pretense for the Iraq war in the form of a backdated, handwritten document linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, an explosive new book claims.0805 01 1 2

The charge is made in “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, released today.

Suskind says he spoke on the record with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, his book relates, Bush decided to invade Iraq three months later – with the forged letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam bolstering the U.S. rationale to go into war.

“It was a dark day for the CIA,” Suskind told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Tuesday. “It was the kind of thing where [the CIA] said, ‘Look, this is not our charge. We’re not here to carry forth a political mandate – which is clearly what this was – to solve a political problem in America.’ And it was a cause of great grievance inside of the agency.”

The author writes that Bush’s action is “one of the greatest lies in modern American political history” and suggests it is a crime of greater impact than Watergate. But the White House is denying the allegations, calling the book “absurd” and charging that Suskind practices “gutter journalism.”

Former CIA director George Tenet also released a statement in which he ridicules the credibility of Suskind’s sources and calls the White House’s supposed directive to forge the document as “a complete fabrication.”

But Suskind stands by his work. “It’s not off the record,” he says. “It’s on the record. It’s in the book and people can read it for themselves.”

Prelude to war
Suskind reports that the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, met secretly with British intelligence in Jordan in the early days of 2003. In weekly meetings with Michael Shipster, the British director of Iraqi operations, Habbush conveyed that Iraq had no active nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

When Tenet was informed of the findings in early February, he said, “They’re not going to like this downtown,” Suskind wrote, meaning the White House. Suskind says that Bush’s reaction to the report was: “Why don’t they ask him to give us something we can use to help make our case?”

Suskind quotes Rob Richer, the CIA’s Near East division head, as saying that the White House simply ignored the Habbush report and informed British intelligence that they no longer wanted Habbush as an informant.

“Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first days he was in office. Nothing was going to stop that,” Richer is quoted in the book.

Suskind also writes that Habbush was “resettled” in Jordan with help from the CIA and was paid $5 million in hush money.

Vieira questioned Suskind’s contentions, pointing out that a number of intelligence figures eventually wrote Habbush off as unreliable.

“No, that’s not exactly the way it worked,” Suskind countered. “In the book, you’ll see people who are involved and talking about the debate, and it was quite a fierce debate at the highest levels of the government: ‘Is Habbush reliable? What’s he saying? How can we check it?’

“And a lot of people, at the end of the day, said it was hard for him to prove the negative, that what he said was no weapons were actually not there. That’s hard to do.”

The letter
On page 371 of “The Way of the World,” Suskind describes the White House’s concoction of a forged letter purportedly from the hand of Habbush to Saddam Hussein to justify the United States’ decision to go to war.

Suskind writes: “The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001. It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq – thus showing, finally, that there was an operation link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, something the Vice President’s office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade.”

He continues: “A handwritten letter, with Habbush’s name on it, would be fashioned by CIA and then hand-carried by a CIA agent to Baghdad for dissemination.”

CIA officers Richer and John Maguire, who oversaw the Iraq Operations Group, are both on the record in Suskind’s book confirming the existence of the fake Habbush letter.

When asked by Vieira for further proof of the letter, Suskind said: “Well, the CIA folks involved in the book and others talk about George Tenet coming back from the White House with the assignment on White House stationery, and turning to the CIA operatives, who are professionals, and saying, ‘You may not like this, but here is our next mission.’

“And they carried it through step by step, all the way to the finish.”

The London Sunday Telegraph first published a story about the letter in December 2003, on the same day that Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq. Reported as genuine, the letter made an immediate impact upon the media in terms of justifying the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Suskind relates how NBC reported the letter, with journalist Con Coughlin telling Tom Brokaw that the letter “is really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam.”

Suskind also quotes Alan Foley, head of WMD analysis for the CIA, as saying, “It is, in my opinion, true that the administration, for whatever reason, was determined to have a showdown with Iraq that predated this whole WMD stuff.”

In support of that theory, Foley says that Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, passed along information that Iraq had no WMD to a Lebanese journalist who served as an intermediary on behalf of the CIA in 2002.

That intelligence, Suskind writes, was dismissed as “disinformation.”

Suskind’s credentials

So why, Vieira asked, are Suskind’s sources finally speaking out now, more than five years after the war began?

“Well, you know, a lot of them have been walking around with this lump in their chest for a couple of years – five years now,” Suskind replied. “And because they’re essentially free – they’re not the original source – they said, ‘Look, why hide now? Let’s trust the truth.’ ”

Suskind said it took about seven months to get his storied “nailed.” “I’d done this sort of thing for a while, and the way it worked was there were off-the-record sources who played out the story, and then I went to people actually involved,” he told Vieira.

“They were freed up because they’re not the original source, if you will … to sort of talk about the context, what they felt, what they did [and] the people actually involved. And of course they’re all, through the book, on the record talking about how it all worked.”

Suskind, who reported for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000, won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1995 for stories of inner-city honors students in Washington, D.C. His reports spawned book-club favorite “A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League” in 1998.

Two stories Suskind wrote for Esquire in 2002 gave readers an inside account of the Bush White House. The second, which ran in the December 2002 issue, raised eyebrows as John DiIulio, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, described a presidency driven by politics over policy – “the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

“The Price of Loyalty,” Suskind’s 2004 book on former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, said that the U.S. occupation of Iraq and subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein were planned in January 2001 – nine months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

His most recent book, 2006’s “The One Percent Doctrine,” also described the Bush administration’s willingness to let its post-Sept. 11 foreign policy be driven by suspicion over proof of weapons of mass destruction. It also claimed al-Qaeda leaders were plotting to attack the New York City subway system in 2003.

In “The Way of the World,” Suskind describes President Bush as “a guy who needs to make things personal” and someone who “doesn’t think in large strategic terms.” He also says the president has “always been a bit of a bully.”

HarperCollins Publishers is printing 500,000 copies of the book and HCP executive editor Tim Duggan was quoted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal as saying Suskind “wrote it as fast as possible and we’re publishing it as fast as possible because there is news in the book and we don’t want to sit on it.”

© 2008 MSNBC Interactive


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