The White House issued the following statement to NBC News on Monday night in response to author Ron Suskind's new book, "The Way of the World," which was published today.
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The subject of pre-war intelligence has been exhaustively examined by numerous individuals, committees of Congress, and expert bipartisan commissions. Indeed, it is difficult to identify a subject as thoroughly examined as this one - including the WMD Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on pre-war intelligence.
There were lots of unsubstantiated messages being sent prior to the invasion of Iraq - none of that is new. This is a rehash of very old reporting -- reports of this particular contact were reported on extensively in 2003. What is a fact is that intelligence estimates at that time were not accurate, but it was the intelligence we all relied on, and our intelligence reached same conclusions as other intelligence agencies around the world.
It's also a fact that Saddam Hussein wanted the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction, as various reports have determined over the years. Hussein refused to give weapons inspectors the full access needed to determine the status of Iraq's weapons programs, and to come into compliance with numerous UNSC resolutions -- 17 resolutions over a twelve year period.
By refusing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions Saddam Hussein made the decision that resulted in the use of military force to enforce those resolutions. Military force would not have been necessary had he allowed inspectors into Iraq and given them full, unfettered access to his weapons programs. In fact, Iraq was given a final opportunity to come into compliance with UNSC resolutions and it refused.
Q: Was the President aware of this backchannel message?
A: We're not going to comment on the President's confidential communications, particularly about intelligence matters.
Q: Did the White House direct the CIA to forge a letter in Habbush's name to make the case for a link to al Qaeda?
A: The idea that the White House had anything to do with a forged letter purportedly from Habbush to Saddam is absurd.
Q: Did the CIA pay "hush money" to Habbush and relocate him to Jordan?"
A: Questions about the CIA should be directed to the CIA.
Statement from George Tenet:
I have not yet been afforded the opportunity to read Ron Suskind's latest literary effort. Judging by the two snippets that have been described to me, however, the book is seriously flawed.
One supposed "news" item from the book apparently asserts that British intelligence had a high-placed Iraqi source who convincingly told them before the start of the war that Iraq had no WMD and that the British relayed this to the United States. As Mr. Suskind tells it, the White House directed (and CIA allegedly went along with) burying that information so that the war could go ahead as planned. This is a complete fabrication. In fact, the source in question failed to persuade his British interlocutors that he had anything new to offer by way of intelligence, concessions, or negotiations with regard to the Iraq crisis and the British - on their own - elected to break off contact with him.
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.
The second nugget involves a supposed order from the White House to me at the CIA to have my staff fabricate a letter connecting Iraq with Al Qa'ida and the attacks of 9/11. Suskind says that CIA was directed to get an Iraqi official to copy the bogus information in his own hand - and then cause it to be leaked to the media.
There was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort.
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 Qa'ida 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.
There are undoubtedly many other errors in the book - but these are the first ones of which I've been made aware. One would think a serious journalist would have, at a minimum, asked the supposed participants if what he was prepared to write was consistent with the facts. 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."
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