Aug 5, 2008
WASHINGTON (CBS News)
The White House and the CIA on Tuesday adamantly
denied a report that the Bush administration concocted a fake letter
purporting to show a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda as a
justification for the Iraq war.
The allegation was raised by Washington-based journalist Ron Suskind in a
new book, "The Way of the World," published Tuesday.
The letter supposedly
was written by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, director of Iraqi
intelligence under Saddam Hussein.
"The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam,
backdated to July 1, 2001," Suskind wrote. "It 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-Qaida,
something the vice president's office had been pressing CIA to prove since
9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq. There is no link."
Suskind said the letter's existence had been reported before, and that it
had been treated as if it were genuine.
Denying the report, White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said,
"The notion that the White House directed anyone to forge a letter from Habbush to Saddam Hussein is absurd."
Fratto and former CIA Director George Tenet also rejected Suskind's
allegation that the U.S. had credible intelligence, before the 2003 invasion
of Iraq, that Saddam did not possess weapons of mass destruction. It was
supposedly British intelligence, based on information from a senior Iraqi
Fratto said U.S. and other intelligence agencies believed Saddam harbored
such weapons and that Saddam had tried to make his neighbors believe he had
In the end, no such weapons were found, undercutting Bush's main
reason to go to war.
"We know now that those estimates were wrong, but they were the estimates we
all relied on," Fratto said. "Regardless, military force in Iraq was used
because Saddam Hussein defiantly failed to comply with the 17 UN Security
Council resolutions Iraq was subject to."
Tenet, in a statement distributed by the White House, also issued a denial
about the supposedly fake letter.
"There was no such order from the White
House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever
involved in any such effort," he said.
"It is well established that, at my direction, CIA resisted efforts on the
part of some in the administration to paint a picture of Iraqi-al Qaeda
connections that went beyond the evidence," Tenet said. "The notion that I
would suddenly reverse our stance and have created and planted false
evidence that was contrary to our own beliefs is ridiculous."
Suskind told The Associated Press that the criticism from the White House
and Tenet were expected.
He said Tenet "is not credible on this issue" and
the White House "is all but obligated to deny this."
"If they go in the other direction, I think they're probably going to have
to start firing people," Suskind said.
In his book, Suskind writes that Tenet gave
Rob Richer, the CIA's former
head of the Near East division and deputy director of clandestine
operations, the fake letter during a fall 2003 meeting.
Richer as saying,
"George said something like, 'Well, Marine, I've got a job
for you, though you may not like it.'"
Suskind wrote that "Richer remembers looking down at the creamy White House
stationery on which the assignment was written."
He quotes Richer as saying,
"This was creating a deception."
Suskind also quotes John Maquire, who oversaw the
CIA's Iraq Operations
Group, about the alleged fake letter.
"When it was discussed with me, I just
thought it was incredible, a box-checking of all outstanding issues in one
letter, from one guy," Suskind quotes Maquire as saying.
Richer and Maquire, who both left the CIA in recent years, could not be
reached Tuesday for comment about the book.
Tenet also challenged Suskind's assertion that the U.S. ignored intelligence
that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction.
"As Mr. Suskind tells it," Tenet said, "the White House directed (and CIA
allegedly went along with) burying that information so that the war could go
ahead as planned. This is a complete fabrication. In fact, the source in
question failed to persuade his British interlocutors that he had anything
new to offer by way of intelligence, concessions, or negotiations with
regard to the Iraq crisis and the British on their own elected to break off
contact with him."
"There were many Iraqi officials who said both publicly and
privately that Iraq had no WMD but our foreign intelligence colleagues and
we assessed that these individuals were parroting the Baath party line and
trying to delay any coalition attack. The particular source that Suskind
cites offered no evidence to back up his assertion and acted in an evasive
and unconvincing manner."
Suskind wrote that Habbush first told British intelligence agent
Michael Shipster in January 2003 that invading forces would not find the weapons in
"After being told that Habbush had said there were no WMD, Bush was
frustrated," Suskind wrote in the book, quoting Bush telling an aide, "Why
don't they ask him to give us something we can use to help us make our
Suskind quotes Richer as saying Habbush's information was disregarded by
administration determined to invade.
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Ron Suskind Says White House Forged Iraq-Al Qaeda Letter