The Habbush letter, or Habbush memo, is a handwritten message dated July 1, 2001, which appears to show a link between al Qaeda and Iraq's government. It purports to be a direct communication between the head of Iraqi Intelligence, General Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, outlining mission training which Mohamed Atta, one of the organizers of the September 11 attacks, supposedly received in Iraq. The letter also claims that Hussein accepted a shipment from Niger, an apparent reference to an alleged uranium acquisition attempt that U.S. President George W. Bush cited in his January 2003 State of the Union address.
The letter has been widely considered a fabrication since it was first made public in December 2003. In 2008, journalist Ron Suskind claimed that the forgery had been created by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), under the direction of the White House. Two of Suskind's sources denied having knowledge of anyone in their chain of command ordering the forging the letter. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi alleged that the Pentagon was behind the forgery. The controversy that erupted as a result of Suskind's allegations led to an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.
Background[edit | edit source]
On December 13, 2003, the day of Saddam Hussein's capture by US forces, The Daily Telegraph of London ran a front-page story that not only claimed Saddam Hussein had trained one of the hijackers behind the September 11 attacks, but also that his government, assisted by a "small team from the Al Qaeda organization", was expecting to receive a suspicious consignment from the country of Niger. This exclusive article, and a second piece, were both written by Con Coughlin, executive foreign editor to the paper.
Coughlin's information came from a secret intelligence memorandum, purportedly handwritten during Saddam Hussein's final days in power and discovered later by the newly-formed Iraqi Interim Government, which summarized an operational relationship between Mohamed Atta, a known associate of al-Qaeda and one of the organizers of the aforementioned attacks, and the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS). The letter was signed by General Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, chief of IIS, and directed to the president of Iraq. Coughlin said that he had received this document from a "senior member of the Iraqi interim government", though this person "declined to reveal where and how they obtained it."
Content[edit | edit source]
Habbush's July 1, 2001, letter is labeled "Intelligence Items" and is addressed: "To the President of the Ba'ath Revolution Party and President of the Republic, may God protect you." It continues:
Initial reaction to the letter[edit | edit source]
Ayad Allawi, interim Prime Minister of Iraq, was quoted in the original report, offering personal assurance over the document's authenticity: "We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's involvement with al-Qaeda.... 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."
The story was quickly picked up and repeated by several conservative columnists in the US, including syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock and William Safire. Safire talked about the document in an op-ed for the New York Times, claiming Saddam had attempted to cover-up his links to 9/11 by assassinating Abu Nidal, who the letter claims was with Mohammed Atta in Iraq. Stephen F. Hayes, a staunch proponent of Mohamed Atta's alleged Prague connection, ignored the letter entirely.
Doubts[edit | edit source]
On December 17, 2003, a Newsweek article titled "Terror Watch: Dubious Link Between Atta And Saddam", by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, outlined some of the main reasons to doubt the authenticity of the letter:
The article also quoted an Iraq document expert named Hassan Mneimneh, as well as unnamed "US officials", who claim that the document was probably part of "a thriving new trade in dubious Iraqi documents".
Origin[edit | edit source]
Ron Suskind's allegation[edit | edit source]
Ron Suskind, in his 2008 book The Way of the World, claimed that the Habbush letter had been forged by the White House, with the co-operation of senior CIA officials, including Robert Richer, the Associate Deputy Director of Operations . The letter was intended to be used as evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, thereby further justifying the invasion of Iraq.
Suskind goes on to describe what he believes happened next: Richer spoke to John Maguire, a CIA Iraq expert, who said that this plan would not work, as Habbush would not sign anything himself because the insurgency would harm his family. This, by Suskind's account, led to the White House telling the CIA to hand-write the letter itself. Suskind's book says that this new order was eventually passed down to the Iraq Operations Group, who carried it out. Maguire left for Baghdad to help run the CIA station there and was not involved directly in the mission, other than discussing the mission with Richer.
Suskind also contends that Habbush, who still carries a $1 million reward for his capture, was secretly resettled in Jordan by the CIA with $5 million in US taxpayers' money.
Suskind claimed to have held tape-recorded interviews with Richer, Maguire, and Nigel Inkster of the British Secret Intelligence Service, in which they apparently testified that the White House was behind the forging of the letter. According to a partial transcript of one of Suskind's interviews with Richer, published on Suskind's website, Richer saw a letter on White House stationery that had been passed down the ranks of the CIA – through George Tenet, then-CIA director, then to James Pavitt, the Deputy Director of Operations, then to Pavitt's chief of staff, who passed it on to Richer. The letter, which Richer said might or might not have come from the vice president's office, described a plan to create a forged document and release it "as essentially a representation of something Habbush says".
On August 5, 2008, the White House issued a statement on behalf of George Tenet, Robert Richer and John Maguire, addressing Suskind's allegation. Tenet said:
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-Qaida 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.
The CIA issued its own statement on August 22, 2008, saying that Suskind's allegations regarding Habbush "did not happen", and Tenet followed the same day with a second statement saying that Suskind's charges were "demonstrably false in every regard." Nigel Inkster told the Guardian that "Mr Suskind's characterisation of our meeting is more the stuff of creative fiction than serious reportage".
Philip Giraldi's allegation[edit | edit source]
Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, writing in The American Conservative, claimed to have a reliable source who tells him that Suskind's basic story about the White House ordering the forgery is correct, but some of the detail is wrong. His source claims that Dick Cheney ordered the forgery, but not from the CIA, instead using the Office of Special Plans, an office created by Donald Rumsfeld and run by Douglas Feith.
Subsequent reactions[edit | edit source]
Con Coughlin, in a blog post highly critical of Suskind, confirmed that he had indeed received the letter from Ayad Allawi. He also called the letter a "leak" and said he got it in November 2003, in Baghdad.
Congressional investigation[edit | edit source]
See also[edit | edit source]
- Iraq War
- Iraq War misappropriations
- Mohamed Atta's alleged Prague connection
- Niger uranium forgeries
References[edit | edit source]
- "Author stands by his claim of White House forgery". MSNBC. August 6, 2008. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26050915/ns/today-today_news/t/author-stands-his-claim-white-house-forgery/. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
- Cite error: Invalid
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- Coughlin, Con (December 13, 2003). "Terrorist behind September 11 strike was trained by Saddam". Daily Telegraph.
- Coughlin, Con (December 13, 2003). "Does this link Saddam to 9/11?" Daily Telegraph.
- "The Capture of Saddam Hussein". Meet The Press. December 14, 2003.
- Murdock, Deroy (December 15, 2003). "On the Interrogation List". National Review. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010.
- Safire, William (December 15, 2003). "From the 'Spider Hole'" New York Times.
- Michael Isikoff (December 16, 2003). "Terror Watch: Dubious Link Between Atta And Saddam". Newsweek. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2003/12/16/terror-watch-dubious-link-between-atta-and-saddam.html. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
- "Ron Suskind Alleges War Fought On False Premises". NPR. August 7, 2008. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008.
- "Interview with Robert Richer". Ron Suskind. August 8, 2008.. http://www.ronsuskind.com/thewayoftheworld/transcripts. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
- Blackledge, Brett (August 5, 2008). "CIA officials deny fake Iraq-al-Qaida link letter". Associated Press.
- "CIA Statement: Hardly 'The Way of the World'". CIA. August 22, 2008. https://www.cia.gov/news-information/press-releases-statements/press-release-archive-2008/hardly-the-way-of-the-world.html. Retrieved 2012-08-27.
- Tenet, George J. (August 22, 2008). "Statement on Ron Suskind Book". http://www.georgejtenet.com/SuskindStatementAug22.html. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- Norton-Taylor, Richard (August 6, 2008). "Angry denials are not enough". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/06/iraq.iraq. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
- Giraldi, Philip (August 7, 2008). "Suskind Revisited". American Conservative.
- Borger, Julian (July 17, 2003). "The spies who pushed for war". The Guardian.
- Conason, Joe (August 8, 2008). "New evidence suggests Ron Suskind is right". Salon.
- Coughlin, Con (August 19, 2008). "The Great WMD Conspiracy Theory Unravels". Daily Telegraph.
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Froomkin, Dan (August 5, 2008). "A White House Forgery Scandal?". Washington Post.
- Froomkin, Dan (August 6, 2008). "The White House's Weak Denials". Washington Post.
- Witheridge, Annette (August 6, 2008). "Spy chiefs warned Blair and Bush Saddam had no WMDs, Pulitzer prize winner claims in explosive new book". Daily Mail.