A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind claims that, after the Iraq war began, the White House ordered the CIA to forge a “backdated, handwritten letter” from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein, in an attempt to tie Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. Here’s what Suskind reports:
— Saddam Hussein’s intelligence chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, told U.S. and British officials there was no WMD in Iraq, “intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.”
— In the fall of 2003, the White House ordered CIA Director George Tenet to forge a “fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001,” Suskind writes. “It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq” and that Iraq bought yellowcake uranium from Niger with the help of al Qaeda.
— The letter was commissioned “from the highest reaches of the White House.” “It would have to come from the very top,” Suskind told NPR today.
After the fake letter was released in late 2003, press outlets reported it as evidence of a Saddam/al Qaeda link. “Now, if this is true, that blows the lid off al Qaeda — Saddam,” said Bill O’Reilly at the time.
“The White House plans to push back hard,” Politico reports. Former CIA Director George Tenet today called the charges “ridiculous” and questioned whether Suskind is a “serious journalist.” “There was no such order from the White House to me,” he said. On NBC’s Today Show, Suskind said Tenet simply does not remember the letter — but Tenet’s staff does:
I think this is part of George’s memory issue. … He seems not to remember it. That’s at least what he claims. In this book, instead of going to George, I went to all the people around George, close to George, who remember because they were involved in the thing, and they remember what George says to them.
After a White House meeting, Tenet went back to the CIA and ordered his staff to forge the letter. “Listen Marine, you’re not going to like this, but here goes,” Tenet told Rob Richer, former head of the CIA’s Near East Division, according to Richer.
Suskind also said he spoke with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.