Skip to comments.Set up? Anatomy of the contrived Wilson "scandal"
Posted on 10/02/2003 7:47:17 AM PDT by Wolfstar
Note to Readers
This article uses excerpts from mainstream news sources to establish how former Amb. Joseph C. Wilson IV morphed over months from the anonymous source of a forgotten CIA-requested report, to theself-described outraged husband at the center of Washington's latest political firestorm. The sources these excerpts are drawn from are extensive and easily could make a fair-sized booklet. Therefore, the excerpts are necessarily tightly focused, and the reader is encouraged to:
Takeoff Point for Controversy
"The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush, 1/28/03
Mar. 31, 2003: In a lengthy New Yorker article (Who lied to whom?) Seymour Hersh writes: "The Bush Administration's reliance on...Niger documents may...have stemmed from more than bureaucratic carelessness or political overreaching. Forged documents and false accusations have been an element in U.S. and British policy toward Iraq at least since the fall of 1997...President Bill Clinton...hinted of renewed bombing, but...the British and...Americans were losing the battle for international public opinion. A former Clinton Administration official told me that London had resorted to...spreading false information about Iraq. The British propaganda program...was known to a few senior officials in Washington. 'I knew that was going on,' the former Clinton Administration official said of the British efforts."
"The chance for American intelligence to challenge the documents came as the Administration debated whether to pass them on to ElBaradei...A former intelligence officer told me that some questions about the authenticity of the Niger documents were raised inside the government by analysts at the Department of Energy and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. However, these warnings were not heeded."
" 'Somebody deliberately let something false get in there,' the former high-level intelligence official added. 'It could not have gotten into the system without the agency being involved. Therefore it was an internal intention. Someone set someone up.' "
Bill Moyers interviews Joseph Wilson
Just one month to the day after the SOUA, on Feb. 28, Bill Moyers conducts a lengthy interview of Joseph Wilson for PBS. (Click for full transcript.) This is a golden opportunity (and contemporaneous to the SOUA), yet at no time does Wilsonwho claims to have been immediately concerned about the Iraq-Africa reference in the SOUAraise his concerns with Moyers. In fact, there is exactly one reference to the SOUA and then only in passing as Wilson and Moyers speculate as to what might be Hussein's reaction to the threats of war.
The first published reference to Wilson
Although it keeps bubbling in Leftist/Democrat circles, the story fades publicly until Walter Pincus of the Washington Post writes an article titled "CIA Did Not Share Doubt on Iraq Data." Published June 12, Pincus writes:
"Armed with information purportedly showing that Iraqi officials had been seeking to buy uranium in Niger...the CIA in early February 2002 dispatched a retired U.S. ambassador to the country to investigate the claims, according to the senior U.S. officials and the former government official...The sources spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed."
"After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said...However, the CIA did not include details of the former ambassador's report and his identity as the source, which would have added to the credibility of his findings, in its intelligence reports that were shared with other government agencies. Instead, the CIA only said that Niger government officials had denied the attempted deal had taken place, a senior administration said."
" 'This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends,' a senior intelligence official said, describing the agency's view of the mission. 'He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them.' "
"When the British government published an intelligence document on Iraq in September 2002 claiming that Baghdad had 'sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,' the former ambassador called the CIA officers who sent him to Niger and was told they were looking into new information about the claim, sources said. The former envoy later called the CIA and State Department after Bush's State of the Union speech and was told 'not to worry,' according to one U.S. official."
Who would know of, and want these phone calls made public except Wilson? It's clear that Wilson, himself, was the source who called Pincus' attention to his, by then, all-but-forgotten trip to Africa. So it's fair at this point to ask: Why did Wilson plant this nugget about himself in Pincus' story? Was he ticked because his report was not used? Significantly, this veiled reference to himself provided an excuse for Wilson's subsequent outing of himself as the "retired ambassador." Also significantly, without this Pincus story there would have been no curious reporters like Robert Novak to continue the hunt for additional story materialand no opportunity for Mrs. Plame-Wilson to later also be "outed."
Wilson "outs" himself
Note that Pincus reports "the sources" had asked him to keep the name of the "former ambassador" secret, and Pincus complied. Yet just three weeks later, Wilson "outs" himself in his July 6 New York Times article entitled What I Didn't Find in Africa. He begins with the following provocative claim:
"Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?...Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
His experience with the administration? Huh?! Some CIA mid-level officials asked him to look into the Iraq-Niger connection a year earlier. He made a report and they filed it. End of his "experience with the administration."
In this NYT article, Wilson goes on to saywith no small touch of conceit: "It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me...In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the [CIA] that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake...by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office."
Note that Wilson does not say what prompted the CIA to select him for this mission beyond his "experience in Africa." Who called his experience to the CIA officials' attention in February 2002? This is a very legitimate question, so Robert Novak was quite right when he tried to find out how a long-time Democrat, former member of Bill Clinton's National Security staff, and contributor to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns, was chosen to conduct this mission. And why did the CIA even need to turn to a retired ambassador in the first place? The then-current U.S. ambassador to Niger had also looked into the matter and had come to the same conclusions.
Before he left Niger, Wilson said he briefed the ambassador on his findings. After returning to Washington...he provided "a detailed briefing to the CIA [and]...the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip...Though I did not file a written report..."
Wilson then claims he "thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a 'white paper' asserting that...Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country."
If, in 2002, Wilson was so concerned, as he professes today, he could have written an article immediately after the British dossier was published. The subject was the hottest one on the media radar, and he would have had no trouble getting it published that September. Yet he waited about 10 months before writing this NYT piece. Why? In it he tacks on the fresh concern about the President's SOUA (remember, he hadn't said a word about it to Moyers in February). Why?
Wilson continued, "Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa...The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them."
Wilson concludes his NYT piece with the following paragraph. By the way, note how the tenor of his commentary is becoming more harsh. Also note his subtle pique aboutfrom his point of viewthe CIA's failure to give his report the weight he expected.
"The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses."
Wilson ratchets up his charges and rhetoric
In a July 6 Washington Post piece titled, "Ex-Envoy: Nuclear Report Ignored," Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus help Wilson get up a head of steam on this story.
(A couple of curiosities: What is the connection between Pincus and Wilson? How is it that Leiby and Pincus have this article all ready to gocomplete with harsh quotes from WilsonON THE SAME DAY Wilson's article appears in the New York Times?)
The Leiby-Pincus article begins: "Joseph C. Wilson, the retired United States ambassador whose CIA-directed mission to Niger in early 2002 helped debunk claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium there for nuclear weapons, has said for the first time publicly that U.S. And British officials ignored his findings and exaggerated the public case for invading Iraq...'It really comes down to the administration misrepresenting the facts on an issue that was a fundamental justification for going to war,' Wilson said yesterday. 'It begs the question, what else are they lying about?' "
Again note the ratcheting up of tonein his own NYT article on the same day, Wilson says IF his report was deemed inaccurate; IF it was ignored then a legitimate argument can be made. In contrast, here it's a declarative statement that the administration misrepresented the facts, and Wilson introduces the entirely unsupported notion that the administration is "lying."
Leiby and Pincus also put this nugget in their piece: "After Bush's speech, Wilson said he contacted the State Department, noted that the Niger story had been debunked and said, 'You might want to make sure the facts are straight.' " Note the similarity andmore importantlythe difference in what Wilson wrote in his own NYT piece:
"The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them."
In concluding their article, Leiby and Pincus write, "Last week, Wilson said of Hussein: 'I'm glad the tyrant is gone.' But he does not believe the war was ever about eliminating Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. It was, he said, a political push to 'redraw the map of the Middle East.' While his family prepared for a Fourth of July dinner, he proudly showed a reporter photos of himself with Bush's parents."
So at least one reporter knew Mrs. Plame-Wilson personallynot only knew her, but shared Fourth of July dinner with her and the Wilson family BEFORE THE NOVAK PIECE. Who in their right mind would take bets at this point that the reporter in question was NOT Pincus?! In fact, the dual statements about the State Department phone call clearly demonstrate that Leiby and Pincus had an advance copy of Wilson's NYT article.
Robert Novak steps into it
Prompted by Wilson's NYT piece and curiosity as to why Wilson was selected for the Niger trip, Robert Novak writes, "Mission to Niger" on July 14. He begins: "The CIA's decision to send retired diplomat Joseph C. Wilson to Africa in February 2002 to investigate possible Iraqi purchases of uranium was made routinely at a low level without Director George Tenet's knowledge. Remarkably, this produced a political firestorm that has not yet subsided."
"Wilson's report that an Iraqi purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger was highly unlikely was regarded by the CIA as less than definitive, and it is doubtful Tenet ever saw it. Certainly, President Bush did not, prior to his 2003 State of the Union address, when he attributed reports of attempted uranium purchases to the British government."
Novak briefly discusses background to the Wilson mission, then writes: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. 'I will not answer any question about my wife,' Wilson told me."
Novak also notes: "All this [the Niger trip and Wilson's report] was forgotten until reporter Walter Pincus revealed in the Washington Post...that an unnamed retired diplomat had given the CIA a negative report. Not until Wilson went public...however, did his finding ignite the firestorm...During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Wilson had taken a measured public positionviewing weapons of mass destruction as a danger but considering military action as a last resort. He has seemed much more critical of the administration since revealing his role in Niger," Novak observes.
In his conclusion, Novak quotes Wilson: "After the White House admitted error, Wilson declined all television and radio interviews. 'The story was never me,' he told me, 'it was always the statement in (Bush's) speech.' " (Note in the David Corn piece below how this morphs also.)
Oh, really. Never about him, but always about the SOUA statement. This is the same Joseph Wilson who, at the beginning of this saga, said he first became concerned when the British government released its dossier in September 2002. So which is it, Joe?
Hungry for a Bush scandal, the Left leaps
The first charge that the Bush administration "outed" Wilson's wife in order to "punish" him comes in a piece by David Corn in The Nation on July 16a scant two days after Novak's piece appeared. Titled, "A White House Smear," the piece begins with a suitably inflammatory Leftist spin:
"Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security-and break the law-in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?...It sure looks that way, if conservative journalist Bob Novak can be trusted."
Of course, Novak neither said nor implied any such thing, but pointing that out wouldn't suit Corn's purpose. Instead, without a shred of evidence, Corn claims, "Wilson caused problems for the White House, and his wife was outed as an undercover CIA officer." Corn then takes the Wilson statement about it "not being about me," and turns it into, "I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the President's statement in the state of the union speech." In quotes, no less. So was this a new quote directly from Wilson to Corn, or did Corn deliberately rephrase the original quote in Novak's piece to make it stronger from Corn's point of view? In other words, is Wilson embellishing his tale, or is Corn lying?
In a presumed attempt to write sympathetically of Mrs. Plame-Wilson, Corn then goes on to add insult to a presumed injury by bringing the couple's children into the story: "So he will neither confirm nor deny that his wifewho is the mother of three-year-old twinsworks for the CIA. But let's assume she does. That would seem to mean that the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it."
(How does Corn know they have three-year-old twins, by the way?)
Corn goes on to say, "The sources for Novak's assertion about Wilson's wife appear to be 'two senior administration officials.' If so, a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what's known as "nonofficial cover" and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material. If Wilson's wife is such a personand the CIA is unlikely to have many employees like herher career has been destroyed by the Bush administration. (Assuming she did not tell friends and family about her real job, these Bush officials have also damaged her personal life.) Without acknowledging whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, 'Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of...Aldrich Ames.' If she is not a CIA employee and Novak is reporting accurately, then the White House has wrongly branded a woman known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm as a CIA officer."
Corn "assumes" that she did not tell friends and family about her real job, so how does Corn know that she worked under "nonofficial cover?" How does he know what mission she had been assigned? If even the mention of her name and employment with the CIA is so damaging, why did Corn go further than Novak and reveal her cover type and mission? And good heavens, but he now has Wilson saying this is the stuff of Aldrich Ames!
Corn goes on: "Novak tells me that he was indeed tipped off by government officials about Wilson's wife and had no reluctance about naming her. 'I figured if they gave it to me,' he says. 'They'd give it to others....I'm a reporter. Somebody gives me information and it's accurate. I generally use it.' And Wilson says Novak told him that his sources were administration officials."
So yet another curiosity pops up in this saga: In the 10/1/03 article discussing his role, Bob Novak's description of what happened contradicts what, in July, Corn said Novak told him. Was Corn lying then, or was Novak bragging to him then, or is Novak lying now?
In any case, Corn quotes Wilson again: " 'Stories like this,' Wilson says, 'are not intended to intimidate me, since I've already told my story. But it's pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears.' "
Note how, between February and July, Wilson's story morphs from no mention during the Moyers interview, to a phone call to State to voice concern, then a statement indicating that he's OK with everything as long as the Administration admitted its SOUA mistake, to the above quote with its suggestion of danger to kids, to where we are today.
Corn ends with the theme we've heard from the Left ever since his article appeared: "The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security."
"A thuggish act?" Evidence? "Put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk to settle a score?" Quite list of assertions, based as they are on zero evidence of any such thing. In fact, when looked at in the sequence above, Wilson seems to have been the person who set up the whole story.
Hmmmm...actually the big one is the following info from the CIA...
The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA).This backs up a previous statement by Stephen Hadley, Bush's #2 National Security guy...
An unsigned CIA memo on Oct. 5 advised that "the CIA had reservations about the British reporting" on Iraq's alleged attempts in Niger, Hadley [No.2 guy on Bush's National Security team] said. A second memo, sent on Oct. 6, elaborated on the CIA's doubts, describing "some weakness in the evidence," such as the fact that Iraq already had a large stock of uranium and probably wouldn't need more, Hadley said.I saw it admitted again in another story this morning. Why the big deal about Wilson's trip, when the truth is that Saddam already had uranium?
I will bookmark this for reading and future reference. Passing along to others also.
Thanks for the post and ping ! ...
Set up? Anatomy of the contrived Wilson "scandal"
Note to Readers
This article uses excerpts from mainstream news sources to establish how former Amb. Joseph C. Wilson IV morphed over months from the anonymous source of a forgotten CIA-requested report, to the self-described outraged husband at the center of Washington's latest political firestorm. The sources these excerpts are drawn from are extensive and easily could make a fair-sized booklet. Therefore, the excerpts are necessarily tightly focused, and the reader is encouraged to:
- Pay close attention to details of how Wilson's statements and behavior morph over timeliterally from no mention in an interview conducted by Bill Moyers one month after the SOUA, to his recent statements (reported elsewhere) about seeing Karl Rove being escorted from the White House in handcuffs, and movie deals for his wife and himself.
- Use the links provided for each excerpt to read the full source material.
Please let me know if you want ON or OFF my General Interest ping list!. . .don't be shy.
Wilson's only written report is the one that appeared in the New York Times. And it is itself an extended falsehood on several levels.
First lie is his claim to have "investigated" the issue of uranium sales, which he and the press have repeated hundreds of times lately, yet if you read the fine print of his article he makes it clear that he did no investigating whatever. He merely asked the government of Niger if they had made any illegal sales lately, and took their word for it when they said "no". He proceeded to accuse the president of lying based on an investigation that never happened, in other words. So that is lie #1.
His second lie is his verbal sleight of hand, in which he answers a charge that the president never made. His case is that Niger denies that a deal took place; but of course Bush never said a deal took place, he said that Iraq "sought" uranium, not that they obtained it. And the fact that they "sought" uranium isn't even controversial. Their trade mission to Niger is public knowledge. It was unnecessary to travel to Niger to confirm the president's charge, since the trade mission by Zahawie was no secret.
His third lie, then, is that lie of omission, in which he failed to mention the trade mission by senior Iraqi ambassador Zahawie, well known for publicly calling for Iraq to develop nuclear arms. The president's charge does not rest on secret MI6 reports, or faked Italian documents, or French intel that they refuse to divulge, Iraq's trade mission to Niger is public information. It is not even in question. He failed to mention it because he couldn't mention it and continue to attack the president, this simple fact blows a hole in his argument that no one could miss.
His fourth lie was to claim that the mines were so well monitored by the IAEA that an illicit sale would be impossible. But the IAEA says that they are undermanned, and that they lack the legal basis to properly monitor the mines in Niger. Which means that it isn't happening, which means he lied again.
But it can't be stressed enough that there was no investigation. Wilson never followed any trucks, he didn't stake out the port in Benin, he didn't interview any drivers, he didn't audit company records, he didn't polygraph the company accountant, he didn't tap the mine company phones... He self-admittedly did none of that. He simply parroted the official story and cloaked it in a CIA wrapper, and has been hawking it ever since. It would be embarrassing if he or the press that are his enablers were capable of embarrassment.