CIA Agent Allegedly Involved in Forged Iraq Letter Ran Previous Operation to Create Pretext for War

In Ron Suskind’s interview on NPR today (and also in his new book), he names CIA operative John Maguire as one of the people allegedly involved in the Iraq letter forging. This is from Suskind’s NPR appearance:

SUSKIND: In the fall [of 2003]…the White House, they decide that a letter should be fabricated, dated July 2001, a handwritten letter from [Iraqi intelligence chief] Habbush to Saddam Hussein. And the letter should say that in fact Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 hijacker, trained in Iraq prior to 9/11, showing a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and the letter should say Iraq was buying yellowcake uranium from Niger with the help of al-Qaeda…

NPR: Are you saying the White House ordered the CIA to fabricate evidence, even after the invasion of Iraq, fabricate evidence linking Iraq to 9/11, in effect.

SUSKIND: Absolutely. George Tenet comes back from a White House briefing…folks at CIA remember seeing the creamy White House stationery. Tenet says, we want a letter fabricated, and we want this letter to essentially emerge, this handwritten letter from Habbush, to Saddam, which is essentially a checking of the box on all the controversies on WMD that are unfolding that the United States may have been taken to war under false pretenses…

NPR: Are you saying George Tenet told you, I was given this order to lie, and I fulfilled that?

SUSKIND: There are off the record sources in the book, but there are on the record sources who are right in the thick of this operation: Rob Richer, the head of the Near East Division, just a notch or two below Tenet. Richer turns to Tenet, as [Richer] remembers it, and says, “Listen, Marine”—Richer’s a former Marine—”you’re not going to like this, but here goes.” Richer then takes it, he turns to John Maguire, who runs Iraq for the CIA, another senior manager. And Richer talks to Maguire, old intelligence hands, and they say, goodness gracious, all right, well, an order’s an order. And it goes down the chain.

This is the description, in Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, of part of a pre-war covert CIA plan named Anabasis and run by John Maguire. It had been authorized by George Bush in February, 2002:

Who needed evidence of weapons of mass destruction? John Maguire, the deputy chief of the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group, and the agency officers working the Anabasis project had their own plan for starting the war, and it had nothing to do with the WMD debate. They also had a small army of Iraqi commandoes—led by a former Iraqi war hero—willing to put the plan into action…

The plan was a core element of the original Anabasis program. These were the CIA-backed commandoes who would seize control of an Iraqi case at Nukhaib, near the Saudi border. Then they would go on the radio, announce a coup was underway, call on military units within Iraq to join them, and request that other nations support their bid to topple Saddam. Saddam, the thinking went, would be compelled to send troops to regain the base. But that would require him to violate the no-fly zone. The United States and Britain would then have a reason to attack Saddam’s forces, and the war would be on. The Bush administration, Maguire later said, “was too wedded” to the WMD argument for war. “The idea was to create an incident in which Saddam lashes out.” If all went as planned, “you’d have a premise for war: we’ve been invited in.”

However, the administration continued to rely on the WMD justification, and this plan was never put into effect.

Amusingly, Anabasis was almost a xerox of Saddam Hussein’s scheme for his invasion of Kuwait; while no one on earth remembers this now, Iraq justified their attack in the same way. This is from the New York Times on August 3, 1990:

Iraq said it struck to support a coup by young Kuwaiti revolutionaries against the Sabah family, whom it denounced as ”traitors and agents of Zionist and foreign schemes.”