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Context of 'July 8, 2003 and After: White House Attacks Credibility of Wilson Report'

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The US Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, disseminates a cable summarizing a recent meeting between the US ambassador and the director general of Niger’s French-led mining consortium. The director general reportedly explained that “there was no possibility” that the government of Niger could have diverted any of the 3,000 tons of uranium produced by the consortium’s two mines. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Carlton W. Fulford Jr.Carlton W. Fulford Jr. [Source: US Marine Corps]Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr., deputy commander of the US European Command, arrives in Niger on a scheduled refueling stop. At the request of US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Fulford joins the ambassador at a meeting with Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja and Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou. He explains the importance of keeping Niger’s ore deposits secure. At the meeting, President Tandja assures the ambassador and General Fulford that Niger is determined to keep its uranium “in safe hands.” [Washington Post, 7/15/2003; Voice of America, 7/15/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; US Congress, 7/7/2004] After the meeting, Fulford concludes that Niger’s uranium is securely under the control of a French consortium and that there is little risk that the material will end up in the wrong hands. These findings are passed on to General Joseph Ralston who provides them to General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Washington Post, 7/15/2003; Voice of America, 7/15/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282] The Pentagon will later say that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not informed about the trip or its conclusions. [Voice of America, 7/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Mamadou Tandja, Joseph Ralston, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Richard B. Myers, Aichatou Mindaoudou, Carlton W. Fulford, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A few days after the State Department determines that the reported secret uranium deal between Iraq and Niger is “unlikely” (see March 1, 2002), former ambassador Joseph Wilson returns from his fact-finding trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson tells CIA officials that he found no evidence to show that any such deal ever took place. [Unger, 2007, pp. 241] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write that the debriefing actually begins shortly after Wilson’s arrival in the US, with “two clean-cut CIA officers, one of whom was the reports officer who had suggested sending Joe to Niger in the first place” (see February 13, 2002), arriving at the Wilson home, “clearly eager to debrief Joe so they could immediately write up an intelligence report on his trip.” Plame Wilson deliberately absents herself from the debriefing taking place in her living room, though she joins her husband and the two CIA officers for a late dinner of takeout Chinese food, where they discuss general subjects. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 29; Wilson, 2007, pp. 112] Based on Wilson’s information, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO)‘s case officer writes a draft intelligence report and sends it to the DO reports officer, who adds additional relevant information from his notes. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The report will be distributed by March 8, 2002 (see March 8, 2002). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 370]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “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.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer attempts to downplay and denigrate the report by former ambassador Joseph Wilson on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim (see February 13, 2002, March 4-5, 2002, and July 6, 2003). He asks the rhetorical question, “Wouldn’t any government deny it?” referring to Nigerien denials of any involvement in such a deal. Wilson quickly retorts in his own interviews that since he never spoke to any current Nigerien government officials, such denials must be part of another report. Wilson refrains from citing the reports by US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick and General Carlton Fulford (see November 20, 2001 and February 24, 2002) because, as he later writes, “I had wanted to limit my comments to my own personal experience.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 336] Fleischer is apparently unaware of an admission by a senior White House official that the administration erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Carlton W. Fulford, Joseph C. Wilson, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus calls former ambassador Joseph Wilson with a warning. The White House, says Pincus, is livid about Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), and, he says, “they are coming after you.” Wilson believes that Pincus’s warning relates to the ongoing White House attacks on his credibility (see July 8, 2003 and After), but does not put it together with his recent finding that conservative columnist Robert Novak is aware that his wife is a covert CIA official (see July 8, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Jeralyn Merritt, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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