Pulitzer-prize winning political writer Ron Suskind's new book, The Way of the World, was released in stores today. The book is chock full of political intrigue and little-reported anecdotes from the past eight years of the Bush administration. We asked Alyssa Rosenberg, a correspondent for Government Executive and TNR speed-reader in residence, to find the hidden treasure in Suskind's 400-page tome. She'll be posting her findings on The Plank over the next few days:
The biggest wave The Way of the World has caused so far is the charge that the White House ordered the CIA to fake a letter from Iraq's former intelligence chief to Saddam Hussein bolstering the administration's case for the war. But Robert Richer, former associate deputy director of operations at the CIA who allegedly passed the order to fake the letter down from the White House to the Iraq Operations Group, was involved in another interesting episode after leaving the government.
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, director of the office of intelligence and
counterintelligence at the Department of Energy, starting making the rounds in
Washington in late 2007 to try to raise concern about nuclear terrorism.
During a speech this June at the Washington Institute, Mowatt-Larssen said
nuclear analysts from a number of agencies and officers were coming together to
form a separate unit to provide stronger nuclear threat assessments, but his
office told reporters at the time that details on that new unit were
Suskind provides a startling look into what Rolf had up his sleeve: a so-called Armageddon Test, in which a private intelligence firm would buy uranium on the black market and sneak it into the United States in order to shock the government into action. Specifically, he was brainstorming with Richer, by then co-founder of Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), the intel firm owned by the same group as Blackwater. Suskind details Mowatt-Larssen's thinking:
The teams need to look and act just like terrorist cells, or groups a terrorist network such as al Qaeda would hire to locate and buy enriched uranium. Rolf [Mowatt-Larssen] is feeling, more and more, that Rob [Richer] is the most natural person to head this sort of operation. And it's not just because Rolf feels that CIA is currently incapable of staging such a mission.... No, it's because the teams would actually be running a test--a real, incorruptible test--on both the U.S. government and the world at large.... At the center of it all would be a kind of hard, irrefutable truth that the U.S. government and its minions can't deny or table or spin or bury: the fact that it can be done--that uranium can be bought in sufficient quantity to build a bomb and brought into the United States--and now it has been done.
Later in the book, Suskind chronicles how Mowatt-Larssen's plans went awry: Blackwater employees shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, and TIS had to protect its business, so Richer and Cofer Black, former head of CIA's Counterterrorism Center and the co-founder of TIS, "were called in to do damage control by staying in close touch with former colleagues inside the administration"--leaving no time or political capital to spend on Rolf's "Armageddon Test."
In following up on Suskind's reporting, I've learned that Richer quit TIS earlier this year. Deborah McGee, the office manager at TIS, told me by email that "Mr. Richer voluntarily departed Total Intelligence Solutions as its CEO in early 2008 to pursue new business and personal opportunities." But according to Intelligence Online, an industry news source, "his resignation reportedly stemmed from a disagreement over strategy with Black." There's no word on what Richer's new projects include, but Richer told Suskind that he'd already run a test before he left TIS, using a double amputee in an Army t-shirt as a mule. That time, the prosthetics were full of lead powder and blank paper.