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Cheney Likely Behind Letter Linking Iraq, Al-Qaeda

Ex-CIA Official: Cheney Likely Behind Forged Letter Linking Iraq, Al-Qaeda


By Jason Leopold
The Public Record

In a new book published this week, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind wrote that the Bush administration committed an impeachable offense by ordering the CIA to create a forged document showing a link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization al-Qaeda to create a "false pretense" for war.

“The White House had concocted a fake letter from [the director of the Iraqi intelligence service] to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001,” reporter Ron Suskind writes in his new book, The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. “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 Qaeda, 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.”

The White House and former CIA Director George Tenet vehemently denied Suskind's claims and issued statements attacking his character and his integrity as a journalist. Moreover, the former top CIA official who Suskind quoted in the book as saying the idea for the forged letter originated with the White House recanted his story.

In an effort to set the record straight, Suskind released a partial transcript of an interview he conducted with Rob Richer, the CIA's former Deputy Chief of Clandestine Operations, who discussed the contents of the letter with the author prior to the book's publication.

Richer clearly states that he was part of a small group who was briefed on the preparation of the forged letter claiming a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Richer swiftly issued a statement following the book's formal release date Tuesday denying the charges in Suskind's book.

"I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document ... as outlined in Mr. Suskind's book," Richer said.

But a transcript of Suskind and Richer's interview, which appears below, contradicts Richer's denials.

A note to readers

I've decided to post a partial transcript of one of a number of taped conversations in which Rob Richer and I discussed, on the record, the Habbush letter. We discussed it many times through the spring of 2008.

Rob Richer received a copy of The Way of the World on Monday night, August 4, the day before publication. On Tuesday, he said he had read key portions of the book and was comfortable with what they contained. Later that day, though, he issued the following the statement:

"I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbash as outlined in Mr Suskind's book."

The conversation below took place in June 2008. As in all of our conversations, it shows Rob pressing to get at truth and embrace probity.

This posting is contrary to my practice across 25 years as a journalist. But the issues, in this matter, are simply too important to stand as discredited in any way.

--Ron Suskind

Interview Transcript

. . . Ron Suskind: I know we've talked through these things eight ways to Sunday, and hour after hour, but here's what I want you to ask yourself. Prior to me jogging your memory, okay--forget Habbush part one, okay.

Rob Richer: Okay.

Ron: You know, the prewar stuff, cause there's zillions of people in on that part. And there's people in on the second part, too. But here's my question to you: before I, as I said, before I jog your memory on this stuff, what do you--and I think I have a good idea, cause I've asked you this seven different ways, but I just want to make absolutely sure--what do you remember? If I just grabbed you on the street and said what do you remember of the second part, okay--with the letter and all the rest--what would be the high marks in terms of what you--memory's the best editor I think's a line from Tennyson--

Rob: Exactly.

Ron: What were the parts that you remember most vividly?

Rob: You're talking about Habbush himself, correct?

Ron: No, I'm talking about the second part, with the letter being passed from--through George [Tenet] and down the ranks. Cause at one point--and I know we have recollections at the top and that's fine--you have recollections, not from me but from your own memory on that--

Rob: Let me tell you what I know, just so before you color any of it. Is that when you first asked me about it I remember just really telling you that it was a non-event, and if you were to ask me today I would tell you it was a non-event. It came down from the seventh floor. It was part of--as I remember it, it wasn't so much to influence America--that's illegal--but it was kinda like a covert, a way to influence Iraqis.

. . .

Rob: To characterize it right, I would say, right: it came to us, George had a raised eyebrow, and basically we passed it on--it was to--and passed this on into the organization. You know, it was: 'Okay, we gotta do this, but make it go away.' To be honest with you, I don't want to make it sound--I for sure don't want to portray this as George jumping: 'Okay, this has gotta happen.' As I remember it--and, again, it's still vague, so I'll be very straight with you on this--is it wasn't that important. It was: 'This is unbelievable. This is just like all the other garbage we get about . . . I mean Mohammad Atta and links to al Qaeda. 'Rob,' you know, 'do something with this.' I think it was more like that than: 'Get this done.'

Ron: Do something with this, right. Get this, this is like--

Rob: It died a natural death as you know.

Ron: 'This thing stinks, take it.'

Rob: Yeah, kinda like that, yeah. But, you know, we got so much garbage that first couple—that year.

Ron: Were there other things like this where we were creating product?

Rob: You know, I don't remember that.

. . .

Ron: The intent--the basic raison d'etre of this product is to get, is to create, here's a letter with what's in it. Okay, here's what we want on the letter, we want it to be released as essentially a representation of something Habbush says. That's all it says, that's the one paragraph. And then you pass it to whomever to do it. To get it done.

Rob: It probably passed through five or six people. George probably showed it to me, but then passed it probably to Jim Pavitt, the DDO, who then passed it down to his chief of staff who passed it to me. Cause that's how--you know, so I saw the original. I got a copy of it. But it was, there probably was--

Ron: Right. You saw the original with the White House stationery, but you didn't--down the ranks, then it creates other paper.

Rob: Yeah, no, exactly. But I couldn't tell you--again: I remember it happening, I remember a terrible brief kinda joking dialogue about it, but that was it.

. . .

Ron: Now this is from the Vice President's Office is how you remembered it--not from the president?

Rob: No, no, no. What I remember is George saying, 'we got this from'--basically, from what George said was 'downtown.'

Ron: Which is the White House?

Rob: Yes. But he did not--in my memory--never said president, vice president, or NSC. Okay? But now--he may have hinted--just by the way he said it, it would have--cause almost all that stuff came from one place only: Scooter Libby and the shop around the vice president.

Ron: Yeah, right.

Rob: But he didn't say that specifically. I would naturally--I would probably stand on my, basically, my reputation and say it came from the vice president.

Ron: Right, I'm with you, I'm with you. But there wasn't anything in the writing that you remember saying the vice president.

Rob: Nope.

Ron: It just had the White House stationery.

Rob: Exactly right.

Ron: That's fine, White House stationery's fine. Everything's from there. You know, that's the center point. But not OVP's Office. It's just the White House. It comes from the White House. That's plain and simple.

Rob: And you know, if you've ever seen the vice president's stationery, it's on the White House letterhead. It may have said OVP. I don't remember that, so I don't want to mislead you…

*************

Jason Leopold launched a new online investigative news magazine, The Public Record.

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