The charge in Ron Suskind's new book, The Way of the World, that the White House ordered the preparation of a forged letter linking Saddam Hussein with lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta is so explosive, it caused White House press spokesman Tony Fratto to mimic Nixon administration Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. (Fratto called Suskind's book "gutter journalism", Ziegler called Woodward & Bernstein's Watergate investigation "shabby journalism".) The aftermath of the media spotlight and the subsequent political blowback caused his sources to backtrack on their support of Suskind's charge. In response, Suskind did something he describes as "contrary to my practice across 25 years as a journalist" by releasing transcripts of his interviews with one of his sources, Rob Richer. It is worth reading it all to get a sense of context, but this exchange sticks out:
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.
Philip Giraldi has a source that both confirms and refutes portions of this statement:
An extremely reliable and well placed source in the intelligence community has informed me that Ron Suskind’s revelation that the White House ordered the preparation of a forged letter linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda and also to attempts made to obtain yellowcake uranium is correct but that a number of details are wrong.
The Suskind account states that two senior CIA officers Robert Richer and John Maguire supervised the preparation of the document under direct orders coming from Director George Tenet. Not so, says my source. Tenet is for once telling the truth when he states that he would not have undermined himself by preparing such a document while at the same time insisting publicly that there was no connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Richer and Maguire have both denied that they were involved with the forgery and it should also be noted that preparation of such a document to mislead the media is illegal and they could have wound up in jail.
My source also notes that Dick Cheney, who was behind the forgery, hated and mistrusted the Agency and would not have used it for such a sensitive assignment. Instead, he went to Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans and asked them to do the job. The Pentagon has its own false documents center, primarily used to produce fake papers for Delta Force and other special ops officers traveling under cover as businessmen. It was Feith’s office that produced the letter and then surfaced it to the media in Iraq. Unlike the Agency, the Pentagon had no restrictions on it regarding the production of false information to mislead the public. Indeed, one might argue that Doug Feith’s office specialized in such activity.
Exactly how did this "shop around the vice president" specialize in such activity? I believe William Pitt gives the best description:
WHIG, and its intention to sell an unnecessary war to a shell-shocked public, is only half the story. The other half of the manipulative sales team could be found in the neighborhood occupied by the Department of Defense. The Office of Special Plans, or OSP, was created by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld specifically to second-guess and reinterpret intelligence data to justify war in Iraq. Think of it like baseball: the OSP pitched, and WHIG caught.
The OSP was on no government payroll and suffered no Congressional oversight. Their tainted information and interpretations overtopped the Iraq data being provided by the State Department and CIA. The OSP was able to accomplish this thanks to devoted patronage from high-ranking members of the administration, most prominently Vice-President Cheney.
The highest levels of the OSP were staffed by heavy-hitters like Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and William Luti, a former Navy officer who worked for Cheney before joining the Pentagon. When the OSP wanted to intimidate analysts into shaping conclusions to fit the already-made war decision, Cheney went to CIA headquarters on unprecedented visits. Once there, he demanded "forward-leaning" interpretations of the evidence. When Cheney was unable to go to the CIA, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, went in his place.
Or if anyone wants to dig deeper into OSP and their "B Team", CTEG, here's a direct link to my 2nd edition of American Judas: