Of Suskind and Habbush

| Thu Aug. 21, 2008 2:46 PM EDT

Earlier this month, journalist Ron Suskind published a book in which he explosively charged that the White House had directed the CIA to concoct a letter from former Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Jalil Habbush alleging falsely that 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammad Atta had trained for his mission in Iraq. The bogus letter exists and was indeed passed by an Iraqi exile figure close to the CIA Ayad Allawi to journalist Con Coughlin who published it in the Sunday Telegraph; Newsweek quickly exposed the letter as phony. The White House described Suskind's claims as "absurd," and a CIA official quoted in Suskind's account, Rob Richer, has disputed Suskind's characterization of what happened, as has former CIA director George Tenet. Today, Dan Froomkin follows up at his washingtonpost.com column:

Someone is finally demanding some answers about author Ron Suskind's charge that the White House, seeking to justify its invasion of Iraq, ordered the CIA in late 2003 to forge documents linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and nuclear imports from Niger.
It's not the press, however -- it's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

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Keith Perine writes for Congressional Quarterly: "The House Judiciary Committee cast a dragnet Wednesday in its investigation of claims that the Bush administration forged a document to buttress the case for invading Iraq.

"Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., sent letters to six current and former senior government officials, asking them to schedule a time to tell the committee what they know about the affair.

"The review stems from charges made in the recently published book 'The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism,' by Ron Suskind." ...

In his letter to former vice presidential chief of staff and convicted felon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Conyers writes: "I am writing to follow up on recent serious allegations regarding the creation of a false letter from Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam Hussein's former Chief of Intelligence, to Saddam Hussein. The letter, which was allegedly backdated to July 1, 2001, attempted to establish an operational link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the period before the 9/11 attacks by specifically stating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had received training in Iraq. At the time of the alleged decision in 2003 to concoct the false letter, the Vice President's Office had been reportedly pressuring the CIA to prove this connection as a justification to invade Iraq. The letter also falsely noted that Iraq had received a 'shipment' (presumably uranium) from Niger with the assistance of al Qaeda.

"Upon careful review of the allegations concerning this matter, I have become very concerned with the possibility that this Administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion. The law specifically provides that '[n]o covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.'

"According to recent allegations, the Vice President's Office was involved in directing CIA officials to draft the false letter. As the former Chief of Staff to the Vice President, you may have direct knowledge of these events. I am requesting that you contact Judiciary Committee staff as soon as possible to set up a time to discuss your involvement and knowledge of the allegedly false letter."

In his letter to Robert Richer, who Suskind identified as a key source, Conyers writes: "According to recent allegations, in your capacity as the former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations and Chief of the Near East Division, you were tasked by former CIA Director George Tenet to create the false letter and may even have seen the White House stationery on which the false letter assignment was reportedly written. Given your reported direct knowledge of these events, I am requesting that you contact Judiciary Committee staff as soon as possible to set up a time to discuss your involvement and knowledge of the allegedly false letter."

Froomkin has more on the White House's non-denial denials of Suskind's account, and more carefully worded former CIA officials' denials, here.

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