As Tom Schaller reported earlier, Ron Suskind dropped a bombshell in his new book by alleging that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter from a top Iraqi intelligence official to Saddam Hussein claiming 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta trained in Iraq.
If the charge turns out to be true, it means the White House manufactured evidence to bolster one of its major rationales for the Iraq invasion: that Saddam Hussein aided and abetted al-Qaida. The White House adamantly denies it forged the letter. Lost in the shuffle of the coverage is that the letter also lays out another important, but debunked, rationale that was central to the Bush administration’s justification for invading Iraq — one that was based on documents now known to be forged.
Here’s Con Coughlin, the Sunday Telegraph reporter, who first wrote about the letter back in 2003 (via the Anonymous Liberal):
The second item [in the letter] explains how Iraqi intelligence, helped by “a small team from the al-Qaeda organization,” arranged for an (unspecified) shipment from Niger to reach Baghdad by way of Libya and Syria.
Iraqi officials believe this is a reference to the controversial shipments of uranium ore that Iraq acquired from Niger to aid Saddam in his efforts to develop an atom bomb.
If you remember, the Niger uranium story was a linchpin in the Bush administration’s case for the war. Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2002 that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium ore from Niger. President Bush pushed the claim with the infamous “16 words” in his State of the Union address in January 2003. The story also touched off the Valerie Plame affair when Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, questioned the tale’s veracity in an Op-Ed in the New York Times.
The Niger uranium story unraveled quickly. Even before the Iraq invasion in March 2003, International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei, reported that his agency had determined, with the help of outside experts, that the documents were “not authentic.” One of those outside experts was, reportedly, Google. You may also recall that there were serious questions about the role of Bush administration officials, specifically current National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, in the acquisition of these forged documents.