American and British intelligence agents engaged in back-channel discussions with Saddam Hussein's intelligence chief prior to the 2003 invasion, and the White House ignored his warnings that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, according to a new book by author Ron Suskind.
The book, "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism" published Tuesday, also charges that, in an effort to cover up the faulty case for war, the White House ordered the CIA to forge a handwritten, backdated letter from the Iraqi intelligence chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush, suggesting a long-standing link between Iraq and al Qaeda. The book also says Habbush was paid millions of dollars by the CIA to go into hiding after the invasion and keep quiet about the pre-war discussions.
The book quotes by name five former CIA and British intelligence officials who say they have firsthand knowledge of these claims. Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter formerly with the Wall Street Journal, has published two previous books about the Bush Administration, including best seller, The One Percent Doctrine.
The White House today flatly rejected the book's claims.
"Ron Suskind has chosen to dwell in the netherworld of bizarre conspiracy theories. The notion that the White House directed anyone to forge a letter from Habbush to Saddam Hussein is absurd," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said.
Although some of the men quoted in the book were among his top aides, George Tenet, who headed the CIA during the pre-war period in question, today also rejected the book's allegations as "seriously flawed."
Tenet rejects "as a complete fabrication" Suskind's reporting that British and American intelligence sources had been told by the Iraqi spy chief that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"There were many Iraqi officials who said both publicly and privately that Iraq had no WMD – but our foreign intelligence colleagues and we assessed that these individuals were parroting the Ba'ath party line and trying to delay any coalition attack. The particular source that Suskind cites offered no evidence to back up his assertion and acted in an evasive and unconvincing manner," Tenet said.
Tenet says he has not read the book but complains that Suskind did not attempt to interview him for the book. "Mr. Suskind never contacted me on anything regarding this book. I suppose he had a story that fell into the category of: "too good to check."
Suskind's book outlines months of alleged secret discussions with Habbush, beginning in Jordan in January 2003 with Michael Shipster, the head of Iraqi operations for the British intelligence service, MI6. In that meeting, Suskind reports that Habbush told Shipster that Iraq had no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and no active programs to build them.
Habbush told Shipster that Saddam Hussein was more concerned with threats from regional enemies like Iran than a US invasion, according to Nigel Inkster, a former senior British intelligence official quoted in the book.
Suskind writes that senior US officials were briefed on the discussions with Habbush, all the way up to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, CIA Director Tenet, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the head of the British intelligence agency MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove.