It’s already well-known that Amb. Joseph Wilson’s July 6, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times deeply troubled the White House. The piece, “What I Didn’t Find In Africa,” concluded that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted [by the Bush administration] to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” The administration went to extraordinary lengths — including revealing the covert CIA identity of his wife, Valerie Plame — to smear Wilson.
Last night on MSNBC, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ron Suskind revealed to Keith Olbermann more steps the administration took after Wilson’s op-ed. In 2003, the Bush administration tried to bury statements by head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, that Saddam Hussein had no WMD. According to former CIA agent Rob Maguire, the decision to then pay Habbush $5 million in hush money came after the run-in with Plame and Wilson:
And, you know, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame popped up that summer. As Maguire says, “Everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen.” That’s his quote. At that moment, they dotted the “I’s” and crossed the “T’s” on his financial arrangement of his resettlement. And they agreed to pay him $5 million.
Now, by almost any reckoning, considering what he provided and that we didn’t use him for anything else going forward, that would be considered hush money in almost any parlance.
To recap: In order to push the American public into war, the Bush administration not only jeopardized the safety of a covert CIA agent, but it also paid off a wanted criminal to keep its secret.
SUSKIND: So, in February, when Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, flies over to deliver the final report to George Tenet, that`s when Tenet reads it and says to Richer, “They`re not going like this downtown.”
OLBERMANN: Which you couldn`t make it up there in a million years.
SUSKIND: You know, where is the screenplay?
And at that moment, the side worried about how this will look for the case for war essentially wins out. And that`s obviously the White House team.
The president, the vice president, and Condi Rice are briefed about this. At that point, the channel gets cut off with Habbush. And folks at CIA including Maguire like — lives could be at risk because you`re worried about this guy undercutting your case. That doesn`t make sense. This war rages through the administration.
But Habbush, of course, has his deal. He met, it was understood that there would be a resettlement, and off we go where Habbush becomes, in a way, the most explosive single entity — you know, certainly in terms of the U.S. government for years now. Five years they kept him in hiding.
You know, it`s interesting, Keith, all the way through this period, he`s resettled when we invade. And then, as we move forward — it`s fascinating to watch the reactions of everybody — because as it becomes clear to the world that some of the suspicions before the war that there were no WMD is now obvious.
SUSKIND: And, you know, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame popped up that summer. As Maguire says, “Everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen.” That`s his quote. At that moment, they dotted the “I`s” and crossed the “T`s” on his financial arrangement of his resettlement. And they agreed to pay him $5 million.
Now, by almost any reckoning, considering what he provided and that we didn`t use him for anything else going forward, that would be considered hush money in almost any parlance.