Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ron Suskind Posts Transcript Of CIA Official Discussing Forged Memo

Author Defends Story on Disputed Iraq Letter

A week after the White House dismissed Ron Suskind's latest book as "gutter journalism," the author and journalist has taken the unusual step of posting a partial transcript of his interview with Robert Richer, the former No. 2 official in the CIA's clandestine service.

In the transcript, Richer discusses the controversial Habbush letter, which Suskind writes was forged by the CIA at the direction of White House officials in late 2003 to establish evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. The Way of the World, released last week, attributes the story to Richer and another former CIA official, John Maguire. But both have since denied Suskind's account.

"I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbash (sic) as outlined in Mr Suskind's book," Richer said in a statement last week. Richer resigned in 2005 amid an ongoing debate over how to improve intelligence gathering and the direction of the CIA.

Suskind said that while releasing the Richer transcript was "contrary to my practice across 25 years as a journalist...the issues, in this matter, are simply too important to stand as discredited in any way."

In the transcript, Richer describes the letter and how it moved down the chain of command from the White House. While he said he didn't know precisely who ordered the letter, he thought it might have come from vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, "cause almost all that stuff came from one place only: Scooter Libby and the shop around the vice president," according to the transcript.

The memo, and whether it was forged, has quickly become a much-discussed point in the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee announced yesterday that it plans to look into Suskind's claims about the forged letter.

"Suskind, a Pulitzer-winning reporter and relentless chronicler of this administration's secrets, depicts a White House with a simpleminded bully in the Oval Office taking direction from a paranoid vice president -- and caps off his latest expose with what he acknowledges sounds a lot like an impeachable offense," The Post's Dan Froomkin writes.

"Suskind writes in the book that the order to create the letter was written on 'creamy White House stationery,' Politico's Mike Allen reports. "The book suggests that the letter was subsequently created by the CIA and delivered to Iraq, but does not say how."

"The author claims that such an operation, part of 'false pretenses' for war, would apparently constitute illegal White House use of the CIA to influence a domestic audience, an arguably impeachable offense," Allen writes.

Richer resigned in 2005 amid an ongoing debate over how to improve intelligence gathering and the direction of the CIA, The Post reported.

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