Last night on MSNBC’s Countdown, host Keith Olbermann interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind about the claims in his new book that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11.
Olbermann reported that one of Suskind’s sources, Ron Richer, has now backed off his allegations. Contradicting the statements he made on tape to Suskind, Richer told MSNBC last night, “I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbush as outlined in Mr. Suskind’s book.”
Asked to respond to the retraction, Suskind suggested that Richer’s business interests pressured him to disavow his previous comments:
You know, I‘m sympathetic in a way to all these guys. They‘re under acute pressure. They‘re individuals. They‘ve got to feed their families. They really survive off the government, both of them, they‘re contractors and whatnot.. [...]
You know, these guys, though, are feeling now great pressure. … [T]hey can be brought into a moment of crisis by the government saying, “You‘ll never work again, you‘ll never earn a living.”
Richer’s business interests seem to have trumped his interest in defending the truth. His livelihood is dependent on maintaining strong but “discreet” relationships with the Bush administration and foreign governments.
After leaving the CIA, Richer “immediately” took a job with Blackwater USA as Vice President of Intelligence. In February 2007, Richer and Vice Chairman of Blackwater, Cofer Black, started a new company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS). That company reportedly operates “under the purview of its secretive founder” and Blackwater owner, Erik Prince.
To achieve success in their new venture, Richer and Black have depended heavily on their ties with the Bush administration. The Nation reported last June:
“Cofer can open doors,” Richer told the Washington Post in 2007. “I can open doors. We can generally get in to see who we need to see. … [W]e can deal with the right minister or person.” Black told the paper he and Richer spend a lot of their time traveling. “I am discreet in where I go and who I see. I spend most of my time dealing with senior people in governments, making connections.” But it is clear that the existing connections from the former spooks’ time at the agency have brought business to Total Intelligence.
Suskind said Richer’s change of heart was quite sudden. “He was fine with it this morning. He was fine with it at midday. Now, reporters actually called him. He said to me, ‘I‘ll tell them no comment because it‘s in the book, but Ron Suskind is a fine journalist. That will be my comment.’ He said, ‘It‘s fine, Ron.’”
Given Richer’s business dealings, it seems appropriate to ask whether the Bush administration or one of its key allies (Cofer Black or Erik Prince) compelled Richer into retracting his allegations by threatening him with his job.
Anne E. Tyrrell, Director of Public Affairs for Blackwater, tells ThinkProgress, “For the record, Mr. Richer has not served as Total Intelligence Solution’s CEO since February and he is not currently employed by any company overseen by Mr. Prince or Ambassador Black, as your post implied.” Around this time, Richer was commenting in the press about his involvement in the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes.
,Total Intelligence Solutions has posted this new “special note” today on its website:
** SPECIAL NOTE **
Despite media reports to the contrary, Mr. Richer departed Total Intelligence Solutions in February 2008. The TIS leadership team appreciates Mr. Richer’s prior contributions to the company and the departure was amicable for all parties involved.