The Secret Service has no record that supports a central claim in Ron Suskind's new book that the agency detained and interrogated a Pakistani man in the basement of the White House, Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan tells Newsmax.
In "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism,” Suskind alleges that President Bush ordered the CIA to forge a letter to demonstrate a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in the run-up to the Iraq war — an assertion that the Bush White House and a string of former CIA officials have called absurd.
But the tale Suskind tells about the Pakistani man is even more absurd.
In his book, Suskind relates a story about Usman Khosa, a Pakistani national who graduated from Connecticut College. As Suskind tells it, on July 27, 2006, Khosa was leisurely strolling by the White House and "fiddling" with his iPod, which was playing tunes in Arabic.
Suddenly, Khosa found himself confronted by a "large uniformed officer" who lunged at him.
"The backpack!" the officer yelled as he pushed Khosa against the gates in front of the nearby Treasury building and ripped off his backpack while other Secret Service uniformed officers swarmed around him.
"Another officer on a bicycle arrives from somewhere and tears the backpack open, dumping its contents on the sidewalk," Suskind writes breathlessly in his 25-page first chapter.
The Secret Service then allegedly escorted Khosa, who now works for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), through one of the perimeter gates and onto the grounds of the White House.
"No one speaks as the agents walk him behind the gate's security station, down a stairwell, along an underground passage, and into a room — cement-walled box with a table, two chairs, a hanging light with a bare bulb, and a mounted video camera," Suskind writes.
“Even after all the astonishing turns of the past hour, Khosa can't quite believe there's actually an interrogation room beneath the White House, dark and dank and horrific."
There, the frightened Khosa is asked if he is in league with "Mr. Zawahiri and his types," referring to Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy. Meanwhile, Suskind claims, Bush is receiving an intelligence briefing one floor above.
Rather than being "dark and dank" and illuminated with a bare light bulb, the room under the Oval Office is brightly lit with fluorescent lights. It's where Secret Service agents are deployed in case the president activates a "panic" alarm.
For Khosa it was, Suskind has said in interviews, a "day literally in hell," but Khosa apparently never noted the names of the officers displayed on tags pinned to their shirts.
More significantly, as anyone familiar with security and law enforcement knows, if a person is acting suspiciously in front of the White House, the last place the Secret Service would want to take him is inside the tightly guarded White House grounds. Such individuals might have explosive devices strapped to their bodies. Even if they were thoroughly searched, they could have deadly pathogens in their clothing.
"Bringing an individual inside the White House for questioning defies standard security and protocols and safety procedures," said Donovan, assistant special agent in charge of government and public affairs at the Secret Service.
"We would not bring a 'suspicious person,' potential prisoner, prisoner, or any person who has not been properly vetted onto the White House grounds."
In fact, almost every day someone walks up to one of the White House posts manned by the Secret Service's Uniformed Division and demands to see the president. Often, these individuals have made threats and tried to scale the gates, or have opened fire.
If individuals are not threatening, officers politely inform them that they cannot see the president. If they are threatening or seem suspicious, they are whisked away for questioning at the Secret Service's Washington field office at 13th and L Streets NW, or to a Metropolitan police station — not to an underground interrogation bunker, as Suskind claims.
After Secret Service agents investigate, charges may or may not be brought. Threatening a president is a federal crime. If the subject is found to have mental problems, he may wind up at St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
If you believe that the Secret Service would bring a suspicious person into the White House, then you might also believe that Khosa initially agreed to go with the Secret Service officers only if he could make a few calls.
"Then, I promise, I'll go with you," Suskind quoted him as saying.
Khosa then called the Pakistani embassy and friends and family, according to Suskind. No doubt the Secret Service trusted Khosa not to call possible co-conspirators or to detonate remotely controlled bombs.
Reached at the IMF, Khosa declined to comment.
But Donovan told Newsmax: "We have no record of the incident or the [Pakistani] individual referenced."
In researching the book, Suskind told me, he talked to a Secret Service spokeswoman, who searched records but found nothing on Khosa. To me, Suskind quoted her as saying it is not uncommon if the individual was "in and out that we don't find a permanent record."
As for the question of whether the Secret Service would ever take a suspicious person into the White House, Suskind said, "It seems like that was just a matter of convenience. It was a block from where they were questioning him for a half hour on the street." What about explosives and pathogens? "They patted him down," Suskind said.
Besides talking with a Secret Service spokeswoman, Suskind said he checked with other administration officials.
"They didn't have any question about it happening," he said.
When asked why he did not include in the book the fact that the Secret Service has no record of questioning and detaining Khosa, Suskind said he did not consider it "pertinent."
And when asked if he had any evidence the incident took place beyond what Khosa said, Suskind stated, "I have witnesses." But when asked who they are, he said they provided "points of certainty. I work with the evidence."
The book names Reggie McFadgen as a friend Khosa called while in the clutches of the Secret Service. But when asked for comment, McFadgen said he would call back immediately and never did.
Silly though Suskind's claims may be, the mainstream media have taken them seriously. NBC's “Today,” CNN's Wolf Blitzer, and of course MSNBC's Keith Olbermann have all touted Suskind's work and brought him on their shows.
As with the Khosa allegation, Suskind's claim that Bush ordered the CIA to forge a document makes no sense. At the time, the White House was angry at the CIA for allegedly leaking material. Assuming, as his critics do, that Bush had the worst motives, why would he take a chance on ordering the CIA to forge a document when the instruction would likely leak to the press the next day?
Throughout the book, Suskind purports to relate what Bush is thinking. As a Washington Post reviewer pointed out, it seems unlikely that Suskind was able to get inside Bush's head to tell us what he was saying to himself. The reviewer says that this "novelistic" approach detracts from the book's credibility.
To say the Suskind book is novelistic gives novelists a bad name. As in the case of Tom Clancy's books, a good novel weaves a fictional tale through a plausible and therefore credible set of facts.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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