When reputable publishers bring out books with sensational revelations, it’s hard for the public to discern which books are credible and which mix fact with fiction.
Here’s a handy guide: You can bank on what Bob Woodward says in his books. Ron Suskind's new book, “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” is being repudiated by key Obama administration people he interviewed.
To be sure, many believe that Woodward made up an interview for his book “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA” with CIA Director William Casey as Casey lay dying of a brain tumor at Georgetown University Hospital. They believe that Casey’s CIA security detail would not have given Woodward access to him and that after surgery, Casey was incapable of speaking.
But William Donnelly, who was in charge of CIA administration, including supervision of CIA security officers, told me for my book “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror,” “Woodward probably found a way to sneak in.”
Moreover, Bob Gates, Casey’s deputy, told me that Casey spoke to him when he visited Casey in the hospital after surgery. “When I saw him in the hospital, his speech was even more slurred than usual, but if you knew him well, you could make out a few words, enough to get a sense of what he was saying,” Gates told me.
In contrast to Woodward’s careful reporting, Suskind claimed in his previous book, “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism,” that the Bush White House sent a letter to the CIA ordering the agency to fabricate a backdated letter from the former head of Iraqi intelligence. Supposedly, the letter would have shown Saddam Hussein to be in league with al-Qaida to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
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 of motives, why would he take a chance on ordering the CIA to fraudulently influence opinions in the U.S.— a violation of U.S. law governing the CIA — when the instruction would likely leak to the press the next day?
To support his claim, Suskind released an edited transcript of an interview with former CIA officer Rob Richer. The interview establishes that the CIA had discussions with the White House about using the former intelligence officer, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, to covertly influence public opinion in Iraq.
It says nothing about an order from the White House. And the transcript shows that Richer specifically told Suskind the discussions were a “non-event” and that the idea “died a natural death.”
Suskind also writes that when Usman Khosa, a Pakistani national listening to Arabic songs on his iPod, was walking by the White House one day, Secret Service Uniformed Service officers grabbed him and interrogated him in the room under the Oval Office.
As anyone familiar with security and law enforcement knows, if a person is acting suspiciously, 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.
“We would not bring a ‘suspicious person,’ potential prisoner, prisoner, or any person who has not been properly vetted onto the White House grounds,” Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan told me for my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.” Moreover, “We have no record of the incident or the [Pakistani] individual referenced.”
Instead of being “dark and dank” and illuminated with a bare light bulb, as Suskind describes it, the room under the Oval Office — W-16 — is brightly lit with fluorescent lights. It’s where Secret Service agents spend down time.
Suskind told me that in researching the book, he talked to a Secret Service spokeswoman, who searched records and found nothing on Khosa.
Suskind claimed that she told him that is not unusual. 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 incredibly came up with the excuse that he did not consider it “pertinent.”
As for Suskind’s latest book, writing on Slate.com, Jacob Weisberg cites Obama administration officials who say they never told Suskind what he attributed to them.
“Suskind loves disputes like this, as do his publishers, because they sell more books,” Weisberg writes. “If the victims of his terrible reporting respond publicly, he wins. But at this point, Suskind should no longer be treated as a ‘controversial’ journalist as much as a disreputable one. His fellow journalists no longer trust him. Readers shouldn’t either.”
In a Washington Post review, Bethany McLean writes, “In the end, I wondered if the author himself were the real confidence man, the ultimate untrustworthy narrator.”
In that respect, Suskind mimics author Kitty Kelley. Like Suskind, Kelley engages in prodigious research and interviews primary sources. But then she adds a novelistic touch. In her book “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,” Kelley claimed that Laura Bush was “known in her college days [at Southern Methodist University] as a go-to girl for dime bags of marijuana.”
“If she was the go-to, I missed that,” Pamela Nelson, her Theta Kappa Alpha sister at SMU, told me for my book “Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady.” “I was there. She was the go-to for a lot of things that were uplifting.”
Kelley attributed the claim to Robert Nash, identified as an Austin public relations executive who was a friend of “many” in Laura’s SMU class. Tracked down by Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal, Nash said that he did not know any of Laura’s SMU classmates. He said he merely told Kelley he had heard a rumor about Laura selling dope.
Kelley went on to claim that after Laura and George Bush married, they would visit Jane Purucker Clarke, one of Laura’s sorority sisters, and her boyfriend Sanford “Sandy” Koufax, the former baseball star, on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and attend “heavy pot-smoking parties.” But Jane Clarke had not met Koufax at the time and was married to John Clem Clarke, the artist.
“The Kitty Kelley story is a lie,” Jane Clarke said.
If Ron Suskind emulates Kitty Kelley, he also fails as a novelist. Good novels are believable.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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