Habbush letter

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On December 2003, longstanding intelligence mouthpiece Con Coughlin published details in the Sunday Telegraph of a document which purported to prove a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.

Written in the neat, precise hand of Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) and one of the few named in the US government's pack of cards of most-wanted Iraqis not to have been apprehended, the personal memo to Saddam is signed by Habbush in distinctive green ink.
Headed simply "Intelligence Items", and dated July 1, 2001, it is addressed: "To the President of the Ba'ath Revolution Party and President of the Republic, may God protect you." The first paragraph states that "Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian national, came with Abu Ammer (an Arabic nom-de-guerre - his real identity is unknown) and we hosted him in Abu Nidal's house at al-Dora under our direct supervision. We arranged a work programme for him for three days with a team dedicated to working with him . . . He 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." There is nothing in the document that provides any clue to the identity of the "targets", although Iraqi officials say it is a coded reference to the September 11 attacks.[1]

The memo also alleged that Iraq had received uranium shipments from Niger with the help of Libya and Syria. Coughlin claimed that the document had been unearthed by the Iraqi interim government and quoted Dr Iyad Allawi stating his belief that it was genuine.[2]

Suskind allegations

In his August 2008 book The Way of the World, Ron Suskind alleged that the Habbush letter was a forgery procured by the CIA on the orders of the White House.[3]

Former CIA chief George Tenet issued a statement rejecting the allegation:

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.[4]

The White House released a statement on behalf of former CIA officer Rob Richer repudiating the allegation.

"I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbush as outlined in Mr. Suskind's book," Robert Richer, the CIA's former deputy director of clandestine operations, said in the statement.[5]

Journalist Dan Froomkin observed of this denial: "the statement sent out on behalf of the former CIA officials raises more questions than it answers. Did they perhaps get such instructions from people out of their chain of command? (Vice President Cheney springs to mind.) Maybe someone ordered them to create a forgery, but didn't explicitly mention Habbush?[6]

In response, Suskind released a transcript of an interview with Richer:

Ron: The intent--the basic raison d'etre of this product is to get, is to create, here's a letter with what's in it. Okay, here's what we want on the letter, we want it to be released as essentially a representation of something Habbush says. That's all it says, that's the one paragraph. And then you pass it to whomever to do it. To get it done.
Rob: It probably passed through five or six people. George probably showed it to me, but then passed it probably to Jim Pavitt, the DDO, who then passed it down to his chief of staff who passed it to me. Cause that's how--you know, so I saw the original. I got a copy of it. But it was, there probably was--
Ron: Right. You saw the original with the White House stationery, but you didn't--down the ranks, then it creates other paper.
Rob: Yeah, no, exactly. But I couldn't tell you--again: I remember it happening, I remember a terrible brief kinda joking dialogue about it, but that was it.[7]

Giraldi allegations

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi has disputed the CIA's role in the forgery.

My source also notes that Dick Cheney, who was behind the forgery, hated and mistrusted the Agency and would not have used it for such a sensitive assignment. Instead, he went to Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans and asked them to do the job. The Pentagon has its own false documents center, primarily used to produce fake papers for Delta Force and other special ops officers traveling under cover as businessmen. It was Feith’s office that produced the letter and then surfaced it to the media in Iraq. Unlike the Agency, the Pentagon had no restrictions on it regarding the production of false information to mislead the public. Indeed, one might argue that Doug Feith’s office specialized in such activity.[8]

Allawi role

Salon's Joe Conason has noted that Iraqi politician Iyad Allawi had visited the CIA days before he was quoted in Con Coughlin's article.

On Dec. 11, 2003 -- three days before the Telegraph launched its "exclusive" on the Habbush memo -- the Washington Post published an article by Dana Priest and Robin Wright headlined "Iraq Spy Service Planned by U.S. to Stem Attacks." Buried inside on Page A41, their story outlined the CIA's efforts to create a new Iraqi intelligence agency:
"The new service will be trained, financed and equipped largely by the CIA with help from Jordan. Initially the agency will be headed by Iraqi Interior Minister Nouri Badran, a secular Shiite and activist in the Jordan-based Iraqi National Accord, a former exile group that includes former Baath Party military and intelligence officials.
"Badran and Ayad Allawi, leader of the INA, are spending much of this week at CIA headquarters in Langley to work out the details of the new program. Both men have worked closely with the CIA over the past decade in unsuccessful efforts to incite coups against Saddam Hussein."[9]

Alleged players


  1. Does this link Saddam to 9/11? A document discovered by Iraq's interim government details a meeting between the man behind the September 11 attacks and Abu Nidal, the Palestinian terrorist, at his Baghdad training camp. CON COUGHLIN reports, Sunday Telegraph, 14 December 2003, p 21.
  2. Terrorist behind September 11 strike 'was trained by Saddam', Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, 14 December 2003, p1.
  3. Book says White House ordered forgery, by Mike Allen, politico.com, 5 August 2008.
  4. Tenet statement on Suskind, poilitico.com, 5 August 2008.
  5. The White House's Weak Denials, by Dan Froomkin, washingtonpost.com, 6 August 2008.
  6. The White House's Weak Denials, by Dan Froomkin, washingtonpost.com, 6 August 2008.
  7. The Way of the World transcripts, accessed 8 August 2008.
  8. Suskind Revisited, by Philip Giraldi, The American Conservative]], 7 August 2008.
  9. New evidence suggests Ron Suskind is right, by Joe Conason, salon.com, 8 August 2008.