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Another allegation of US propaganda being planted in a UK newspaper

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Tagged: / Posted: 6 August 2008

A Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist, Ron Suskind, has published a detailed allegation that the Americans used the Sunday Telegraph to plant a concocted letter which appeared to show evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

This joins the long list of evidence - much of it in the propaganda chapter of Flat Earth News - indicating that since September 2001 US military and intelligence agencies have been fabricating documents and leaking them to western news media for political effect. Some of this fictional material is breath-taking in its scope - and in its complacent assumption that journalists will publish this material without checking and often without noticing its patently ludicrous content. Readers of Flat Earth News will note the role of Con Coughlin, now the Daily Telegraph's executive editor for foreign news.

Below is a story from the website of MSNBC Today, which interviewed Suskind; and another from the Daily Telegraph website, which adds a little more detail but which is also interesting for the coy way in which it delays mentioning its sister paper's role until the final paragraph.

 

From the MSNBC website, August 5 2008 -

Author claims White House knew Iraq had no WMD
Journalist Ron Suskind says Bush ordered forgery linking Saddam, al-Qaeda

   

President Bush committed an impeachable offense by ordering the CIA to manufacture a false pretense for the Iraq war in the form of a backdated, handwritten document linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, an explosive new book claims.

The charge is made in “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, released today.

Suskind says he spoke on the record with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, his book relates, Bush decided to invade Iraq three months later — with the forged letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam bolstering the U.S. rationale to go into war.

“It was a dark day for the CIA,” Suskind told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Tuesday. “It was the kind of thing where [the CIA] said, ‘Look, this is not our charge. We’re not here to carry forth a political mandate — which is clearly what this was — to solve a political problem in America.’ And it was a cause of great grievance inside of the agency.”

The author writes that Bush’s action is “one of the greatest lies in modern American political history” and suggests it is a crime of greater impact than Watergate. But the White House is denying the allegations, calling the book “absurd” and charging that Suskind practices “gutter journalism.”

Former CIA director George Tenet also released a statement in which he ridicules the credibility of Suskind’s sources and calls the White House’s supposed directive to forge the document as “a complete fabrication.”

But Suskind stands by his work. “It’s not off the record,” he says. “It’s on the record. It’s in the book and people can read it for themselves.”

Prelude to war
Suskind reports that the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, met secretly with British intelligence in Jordan in the early days of 2003. In weekly meetings with Michael Shipster, the British director of Iraqi operations, Habbush conveyed that Iraq had no active nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

When Tenet was informed of the findings in early February, he said, “They’re not going to like this downtown,” Suskind wrote, meaning the White House. Suskind says that Bush’s reaction to the report was: “Why don’t they ask him to give us something we can use to help make our case?”

Suskind quotes Rob Richer, the CIA’s Near East division head, as saying that the White House simply ignored the Habbush report and informed British intelligence that they no longer wanted Habbush as an informant.

“Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first days he was in office. Nothing was going to stop that,” Richer is quoted in the book.

Suskind also writes that Habbush was “resettled” in Jordan with help from the CIA and was paid $5 million in hush money.

Vieira questioned Suskind’s contentions, pointing out that a number of intelligence figures eventually wrote Habbush off as unreliable.

“No, that’s not exactly the way it worked,” Suskind countered. “In the book, you’ll see people who are involved and talking about the debate, and it was quite a fierce debate at the highest levels of the government: ‘Is Habbush reliable? What’s he saying? How can we check it?’

“And a lot of people, at the end of the day, said it was hard for him to prove the negative, that what he said was no weapons were actually not there. That’s hard to do.”

The letter
On page 371 of “The Way of the World,” Suskind describes the White House’s concoction of a forged letter purportedly from the hand of Habbush to Saddam Hussein to justify the United States’ decision to go to war.

Suskind writes: “The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001. It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq — thus showing, finally, that there was an operation 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.”

He continues: “A handwritten letter, with Habbush's name on it, would be fashioned by CIA and then hand-carried by a CIA agent to Baghdad for dissemination.”

CIA officers Richer and John Maguire, who oversaw the Iraq Operations Group, are both on the record in Suskind’s book confirming the existence of the fake Habbush letter.

When asked by Vieira for further proof of the letter, Suskind said: “Well, the CIA folks involved in the book and others talk about George Tenet coming back from the White House with the assignment on White House stationery, and turning to the CIA operatives, who are professionals, and saying, ‘You may not like this, but here is our next mission.’

“And they carried it through step by step, all the way to the finish.”

The London Sunday Telegraph first published a story about the letter in December 2003, on the same day that Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq. Reported as genuine, the letter made an immediate impact upon the media in terms of justifying the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Suskind relates how NBC reported the letter, with journalist Con Coughlin telling Tom Brokaw that the letter “is really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam.”

Suskind also quotes Alan Foley, head of WMD analysis for the CIA, as saying, “It is, in my opinion, true that the administration, for whatever reason, was determined to have a showdown with Iraq that predated this whole WMD stuff.”

In support of that theory, Foley says that Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, passed along information that Iraq had no WMD to a Lebanese journalist who served as an intermediary on behalf of the CIA in 2002.

That intelligence, Suskind writes, was dismissed as “disinformation.”

Suskind’s credentials
So why, Vieira asked, are Suskind’s sources finally speaking out now, more than five years after the war began?

“Well, you know, a lot of them have been walking around with this lump in their chest for a couple of years — five years now,” Suskind replied. “And because they’re essentially free — they’re not the original source — they said, ‘Look, why hide now? Let’s trust the truth.’ ”

Suskind said it took about seven months to get his storied “nailed.” “I’d done this sort of thing for a while, and the way it worked was there were off-the-record sources who played out the story, and then I went to people actually involved,” he told Vieira.

“They were freed up because they’re not the original source, if you will … to sort of talk about the context, what they felt, what they did [and] the people actually involved. And of course they’re all, through the book, on the record talking about how it all worked.”

Suskind, who reported for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000, won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1995 for stories of inner-city honors students in Washington, D.C. His reports spawned book-club favorite “A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League” in 1998.
   
Two stories Suskind wrote for Esquire in 2002 gave readers an inside account of the Bush White House. The second, which ran in the December 2002 issue, raised eyebrows as John DiIulio, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, described a presidency driven by politics over policy — “the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

“The Price of Loyalty,” Suskind’s 2004 book on former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, said that the U.S. occupation of Iraq and subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein were planned in January 2001 — nine months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

His most recent book, 2006’s “The One Percent Doctrine,” also described the Bush administration’s willingness to let its post-Sept. 11 foreign policy be driven by suspicion over proof of weapons of mass destruction. It also claimed al-Qaeda leaders were plotting to attack the New York City subway system in 2003.

In “The Way of the World,” Suskind describes President Bush as “a guy who needs to make things personal” and someone who “doesn’t think in large strategic terms.” He also says the president has “always been a bit of a bully.”

HarperCollins Publishers is printing 500,000 copies of the book and HCP executive editor Tim Duggan was quoted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal as saying Suskind “wrote it as fast as possible and we’re publishing it as fast as possible because there is news in the book and we don’t want to sit on it.”

From the Daily Telegraph website, August 5 2008 -

Letter linking Iraq and al-Qa'eda was forged by US spies says new book

The White House ordered the CIA to forge a hand-written letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein fabricating a visit by an al-Qa'eda operative two months before the September 11th attacks, according to a new book.

Ron Suskind claimed in "The Way of the World" that the letter was designed to portray a fictitious link between the dictator's regime and al'Qa'eda as a justification for the Iraq war.

Branding Mr Suskind's book "gutter journalism", the White House flatly denied as "absurd" any notion that it had ordered any forgery.

Suskind writes that the letter's author, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, had been in contact with the Bush administration and MI6 before the March 2003 invasion.

"The White House had concocted 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 - thus showing, finally, that there was an operational link between Saddam and al Qa'eda, 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 author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a senior Iraqi intelligence official stating "there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion".

Suskind states that according to Nigel Inkster, the former assistant director of MI6, the intelligence service sent Michael Shipster, one of its top officers, to Jordan for meetings with Mr Habbush. Suskind writes that Mr Inkster confirmed that Mr Shipster was told by Mr Habbush that there were no illicit weapons in Iraq.

Mr Inkster added that Saddam was focused on his own image and was worried about how he was viewed by Iran, and that Saddam didn't think a US invasion "was a serious proposition".

Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of British intelligence, was also interviewed by Suskind, who writes that Sir Richard confirmed Mr Shipster's meetings and report.

Suskind says he asked why Mr Blair did not act on the spy's intelligence and Sir Richard is quoted as saying that Mr Shipster's mission was an eleventh-hour "attempt to try, as it were, I'd say, to diffuse [sic] the whole situation".

The former spy chief added: "The problem was the Cheney crowd was in too much of a hurry, really. Bush never resisted them quite strongly enough.

Yes, it was probably too late, I imagine, for Cheney. I'm not sure it was too late for Bush."

The letter's existence was first reported in December 2003 after a copy was passed to The Sunday Telegraph by a member of Iraq's transitional government.
 

The Daily Telegraph

Added: 2 March 2009

I remember on television in 2003 a leading reporter from The Daily Telegraph walked into a burning building in Iraq and, surprise, surprise, found a dossier which proved that a British politician was in the pay of Saddam.

It was in the first box he opened!!!!! On the top!!!

And the rest...

Added: 5 September 2008

See this 2003 piece, The Incredible Multiplying Stories of Finds by Lucky Journalists, by Andrew Motion.

* The full extent of the help given to Saddam Hussein by Russia's intelligence services is laid bare in secret documents uncovered by The Telegraph. [...] The documents were obtained from the smoking ruins of the federal headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in central Baghdad. (Russian spies told Saddam how Bush would justify war, 20 April, 2003)

* Saddam Hussein's former head of protocol said yesterday that the document found by The Daily Telegraph saying that George Galloway received substantial payments from the Iraqi regime was "100 per cent genuine". [...] As Mr Galloway continued to denounce the letter as a forgery, Mr Wihaib said he recognised the "clear and distinctive" handwriting as that of Tahir Jalil Habbush Al-Tikriti, head of the Iraqi intelligence service, who is number 14 - the jack of diamonds - on America's "most wanted" list. ("This is genuine, says Saddam's ex-aide, 24 April, 2003)

* France colluded with the Iraqi secret service to undermine a Paris conference held by the prominent human rights group Indict, according to documents found in the foreign ministry in Baghdad [...] Perhaps the most damning document is from the Iraqi intelligence service, Iris. The service, known as the Mukhabarat in Iraq, operated as the domestic secret police and as an external intelligence agency. Its role abroad was to collect intelligence, murder opponents and maintain relations with friendly groups. The document, dated March 28, 2000, is from the head of Iris to Saddam's office. At the time the organisation was run by Tahir Jalil al-Habbush, number 14 on America's wanted list. (French helped Iraq to stifle dissent, 28 April, 2003)

* Iraq's intelligence services bought gold jewellery that they planned to give to the wife and daughter of Scott Ritter, the controversial former weapons inspector, as part of a clandestine project to encourage him to work closely with Saddam Hussein's regime, according to documents discovered by The Telegraph in Baghdad. (Iraqis tried to bribe Scott Ritter with gold, 4 May, 2003)

>>> Archive of Nick Davies work >>>