A new book published Tuesday accuses the White House of trying to manipulate intelligence to support the war in Iraq, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.
The book, by author Ron Suskind, charges that the Bush White House faked a letter from Saddam Hussein's intelligence chief connecting Iraq with 9/11 and an ongoing nuclear program - neither of which was true.
This letter, in the handwriting of Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, is dated July, 2001. It says that Iraqis hosted Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, who, "displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy."
The letter goes on to suggest that Iraq was importing uranium from Niger for a nuclear program.
The book alleges that Habbush, Saddam's intelligence chief, was in CIA protective custody after the 2003 invasion, that the White House ordered CIA officials to have Habbush write and backdate the letter, and paid him $5 million. The author quotes two former CIA officials who claim to have seen a draft of the letter on White House stationery.
Suskind writes: "The idea was to take the letter to Habbush and have him transcribe it in his own neat handwriting on a piece of Iraqi government stationery to make it look legitimate. CIA would then take the finished product to Baghdad and have someone release it to the media."
The letter was released, and published in Britain in December 2003. At the time, U.S. intelligence officials called it a forgery.
Former CIA director George Tenet said in a statement released Monday, "there was no such order from the White House to me. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from the CIA ever involved in any such effort."
Tenet went on to say, "The CIA resisted efforts on the part of some in the administration to paint a picture of Iraqi-al Qaeda 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."
A spokesman called the notion that anyone inside the White House directed the forgery "absurd," and attacked the author's credibility, Plante reports.
"Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism. He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify, including the numerous bipartisan commissions that have reported on pre-war intelligence," the spokesman told Plante.
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