I hope everyone is paying close attention to the potentially explosive flap over allegations in Ron Suskind's new book, "The Way of the World," that the White House ordered the CIA to fake a letter between the former head of Iraqi intelligence (Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti) and Saddam Hussein that links Iraq with 9/11. We've got an unusual situation on our hands, because the key allegations are not anonymously sourced but supported by on the record interviews with two former CIA officials.
But this is a case where the details matter a lot. Thus the two officials, Robert Richer and John Maguire, are now denying that they told Suskind any such thing.
We do know that the letter existed, because it was reported on by the Sunday Telegraph back in 2003 (see the very end of this updated story for the date of publication.) For a lot of good details on this story, check out Dan Froomkin's long piece on the affair in the Washington Post. This does not look like something that will go away soon. And given how many people in the CIA allegedly knew about this letter, it shouldn't be too hard for other reporters to follow Suskind's trail and confirm the story, if it is true--nor for Suskind to provide further validation himself.
And if it is true? Well, I have not very sympathetic to the campaign to impeach Bush and Cheney, considering it a waste of time and a diversion, but at the very least one would hope that Congress begins an immediate investigation of the matter. And let the chips fall where they may.
Image: George Tenet sitting behind Colin Powell at the United Nations/CBS News
PS--The Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten has an interesting piece today about how the book was publicized, which also includes some good insights into what this all might mean.
Update: Ron Suskind sizes up the day's events on The Huffington Post. And Marty Kaplan, same venue, wonders (not very hopefully) whether the rest of the mainstream media really will follow up on Suskind's revelations. I am a bit more hopeful than he is: I think some reporters will try, but we shall see.
Update (August 7): Ron Suskind discusses his new book, including the fake letter allegations, on NPR's program "Fresh Air." A must listen.
Update (August 8): The Moderate Voice blog raises some good questions about the controversy over the letter, which we know somebody produced and gave to the Sunday Times. Does it matter exactly who in the Bush administration did it? Maybe not, but we need to know anyway.
Update (August 11): It looks as though John Conyers and the House Judicial Committee are finally getting around to looking into the allegations about the letter, after a fairly "muted" reaction to the claims. I can understand why Washington would be slow to react to this: It is serious enough that our representatives would actually have to do something about it if it were proved to be true.
More stuff: Some ideas about why the CIA guys might have changed their stories.