Everyone’s buzzing about the revelation from Ron Suskind that a letter revealed in December 2003, alleging that Mohammed Atta trained in Iraq, was a CIA-created forgery.
According to Suskind, the administration had been in contact with the director of the Iraqi intelligence service in the last years of Hussein’s regime, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti.
“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 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.”
Suskind writes in his new book that the order to create the letter was written on “creamy White House stationery.” The book suggests that the letter was subsequently created by the CIA and delivered to Iraq, but does not say how.
Here’s Con Coughlin, the reporter who first reported the letter, on MTP in 2003.
Coughlin: Well, this is an intriguing story, Tom. I mean, basically, when I was in Baghdad, I picked up a document that was given to me by a senior member of the Iraqi interim government. It’s an intelligence document written by the then-head of Iraqi intelligence, Habush to Saddam. It’s dated the 1st of July, 2001, and it’s basically a memo saying that Mohamed Atta has successfully completed a training course at the house of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, who, of course, was killed by Saddam a couple of months later. Now, this is the first really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam. I saw your interview with James Woolsey earlier and he was talking about the article in The Weekly Standard. And there is a lot of detail there. But this is a document, and I’ve had it authenticated. This is the handwriting of the head of Iraqi intelligence, Habush, is one of the few people still at large who is in the pack of cards. And it basically says that Atta was in Baghdad being trained under Saddam’s guidance prior to the 9/11 attack. It’s a very explosive development, Tom. [my emphasis]
I obviously haven’t read the book yet (say, how long do you think it’ll be before some book-sellers association starts tracking Mike Allen to see who’s dealing books to him early?). And I know that Bob Woodward claims that some of the allegations made in Suskind’s One Percent Doctrine (which would have relied upon CIA sources) were not true.
But my first reaction to this news is, first of all, that Ahmad Chalabi was a "senior member of the Iraqi interim government," one who just happened to arrive in Baghdad early enough (with the help of the Pentagon) to lay claim to entire archives worth of Iraqi documents. And, that OVP was the source of almost all of the claims that Iraq had any ties to Al Qaeda.
Update: a reader points to the original article–which in turn seems to suggest Iyad Allawi was the source of the document, not Chalabi.
Although Iraqi officials refused to disclose how and where they had obtained the document, Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq’s ruling seven-man Presidential Committee, said the document was genuine. "We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam’s involvement with al-Qaeda," he said. "But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far. It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaeda, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks."
And Anonymous Liberal reminded me that the second half of this letter replicated the claims from the Niger forgeries.
The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment – believed to be uranium – that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.