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A White House Forgery Scandal?

"Suskind reports that in early 2003 in secret meetings with British intelligence, Habbush revealed that Iraq in fact did not have weapons of mass destruction. That information was passed on to the CIA. Suskind claims the president wasn't interested in information that contradicted the case for war. After the president was told about Habbush, Suskind quotes Mr. Bush telling an aide, 'Why don't they ask them to give us something we can use to help us make our case?' Suskind writes that Mr. Bush later dismissed Habbush and cut off the channel of communication to the Iraqi intelligence chief. . . .

"CIA director Tenet in a statement insists that that former Iraqi intelligence chief, Habbush, did not provide the kind of intelligence that Suskind claims he did, saying he was unreliable."

Meredith Viera conducted the NBC interview with Suskind.

Viera: "You talk about the smoking gun evidence that the White House tried to manipulate the intelligence, that it ignored this intelligence chief from Iraq, Habbush. But they had a lot of information that they were gathering at the time. Some of it contradicting what he was saying. So what convinced you that he was more a reliable than anyone else?"

Suskind: "Well, at this late date in this administration, people are saying 'Let's step up in sunlight'. And I lay out step by step there was really very little in the way of a case, actually, at the point when Habbush pops up in early January of 2003 and says there are no WMD. And beyond that, he went through in the meetings in January with the British intelligence chief, he went through the mind of Saddam Hussein, why he's acting the way he did, all the things that came out later. . . . "

Viera: "You say this is worse than Watergate in large part because of this letter that you claim the White House ordered the CIA to forge that would link Iraq with 9/11 -- Mohammed Atta -- and with al Qaeda. CIA agents that you quote in the book agree there was a letter, but what convinced you that the White House was behind it? What evidence do you have that the White House ordered it?"

Suskind: "Well, the CIA folks involved, in the book -- and others -- talk about George coming back, -- Tenet -- coming back from the White House with the assignment on White House stationery and turning to the CIA operatives, who are professionals, saying, 'You may not like this, but here's our next mission.' And they carried it through. . . .

"It was a dark day for the CIA. It was the kind of thing where they said, 'Look, this is not our charge. We're not here to carry forward a political mandate,' which is clearly what this was, to solve a political problem in America, and it was a cause of a great grievance inside the agency."

Viera: "But you heard what Tenet said. We asked for a statement from him, and this is what he said: 'There was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort. It is well established that, at my direction, CIA resisted efforts on the part of some in the Administration to paint a picture of Iraqi-Al Qa'ida connections that went beyond the evidence. The notion that I would suddenly reverse our stance and have created and planted false evidence that was contrary to our own beliefs is ridiculous.'

"He calls it ridiculous."

Suskind: "Well, you know, this is I think part of George's memory issue. He's dealt with this before in front of congressional investigators -- "

Viera: "You don't think he'd remember this letter?"

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