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Context of 'July 21, 2003: Wilson: Intent of CIA Identity Leak Was to Intimidate Future Administration Critics'

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Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson.Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press]Officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) decide to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq sought to procure uranium from that country. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a senior CPD officer (see April 2001 and After), relays the request to him explaining that “there’s this crazy report” asserting that Iraq made a deal with Niger on the sale of a large quantity of uranium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly afterwards, she sends an overseas cable requesting concurrence with the agency’s decision to send her husband to Niger (see February 13, 2002). She writes, “[B]oth State and [the Department of Defense] have requested additional clarification and indeed, the vice president’s office just asked for background information” (see (February 13, 2002)). [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

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

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

The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) holds a meeting with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and several individuals from the DO’s Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the merits of sending Wilson to Niger. Wilson is introduced by his wife Valerie Plame Wilson, who heads CPD’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI). [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 94-95]
Wife Does Not Participate in Meeting - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will write that she brings her husband into the briefing room, introduces him to the “10 or so participants,” and “[a]fter a minute or so, I went back to my desk to attend to what seemed like a hundred other operational crises. When the meeting broke, Joe poked his head in my office to say that the group had asked him to consider going to Niger to discuss the report.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
Wilson's Qualifications - Wilson will later describe himself as “the insider increasing [the CIA analysts’] store of information, supplying that perspective missing from their raw data. I had served as a junior diplomatic officer in Niger in the mid-1970s, a period that happened to coincide with the growth in the uranium business there. We had followed this issue closely from the American Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, just as my staff and I had when I was ambassador to Gabon, another uranium-producing country, from 1992 to 1995. When I worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration two years later, among my areas of responsibility was the African uranium industry. Rarely did conversations with Africans from uranium-producing countries fail to touch on the subject. Niger, where I had traveled frequently over the years, was always of particular interest.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 8]
Details Shared with Wilson - In the meeting, Wilson learns of a report that purports to document a memorandum of sale from Niger to Iraq, and that the report had aroused the interest of Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)). Cheney’s office has tasked the CIA to determine the truth or falsity of the report. The report is lacking in key details. Wilson’s knowledge of the region, particularly of the government and private interests involved in mining and distributing uranium, will be particularly helpful. Wilson later writes, “The Nigeriens were the same people I had dealt with during and after my time at the National Security Council, people I knew well.” The former minister of mines, the man responsible for oversight of the industry at the time of the alleged sales, is a friend of his.
Skepticism among Participants about Report - Wilson will later describe himself as “skeptical, as prudent consumers of intelligence always are about raw information.” He will note that much of this kind of intelligence is classified as “rumint,” or rumors passing as fact, and is usually “no more reliable than Bigfoot sightings. Rumint is a necessary and unfortunate reality in a world where many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to simple facts.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 14-15] Notes taken by INR analyst Douglas Rohn, as well as e-mails from other participants, indicate that INR expresses skepticism that the alleged uranium contract could have taken place. Rohn, who served as deputy chief of mission in Niger during the ‘90s, writes that it would have been very difficult to conceal such a large shipment of yellowcake because “the French appear to have control of the uranium mining, milling and transport process, and would seem to have little interest in selling uranium to the Iraqis.” INR also says that the embassy in Niger has good contacts and is thus in a position to get to the truth on the matter, and therefore believes the proposed trip to Niger would be redundant. Others attending the meeting argue that the trip would probably not resolve the matter because the Nigeriens would be unlikely to admit to a uranium sales agreement with Iraq. An e-mail from a WINPAC analyst to CPD following the meeting notes, “[I]t appears that the results from this source will be suspect at best, and not believable under most scenarios.” CPD nonetheless concludes that sending Wilson would be worth a try. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 94-95]
Open and Public Visit - Wilson is willing, but points out that he is not a spy, but a former diplomat with no experience with clandestine work. He will be recognized in Niger. Therefore, there can be no expectation of any covert or clandestine actions on his part; everything he does will be open and above board. He also insists on obtaining the approval of both the State Department and the US Ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, before entering the country. He expects no payment for his visit, but will accept reimbursement for expenses. The others in the meeting agree. The rest of the two-hour meeting is spent considering and plotting out various scenarios, based on who he might see and what he might learn during his visit. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 16-17] “I went through what I knew about… uranium,” Wilson later recalls. “I went through what I knew about the personalities.… People chimed in, and I answered them as best I could. It was a kind of free-for-all, and at the end they sort of asked, ‘Well, would you be able to clear your schedule and go out there if we wanted?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’” [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]

Entity Tags: Douglas Rohn, Counterproliferation Division, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Embassy in Niger, Bureau of Intelligence and Research

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

Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin.Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin. [Source: CIA]President Bush gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, making several false allegations about Iraq. [US President, 2/3/2003] An empty seat is left open to symbolize the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Author Craig Unger will later characterize Bush’s delivery as somber and effective. He will be interrupted some 70 times by thunderous applause from the assembled lawmakers in the House chambers. One of his biggest applause lines is his statement about the US’s war on “international terrorism:” “The war goes on, and we are winning.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269-270]
African Uranium - He says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.… He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003; White House, 4/18/2003; Independent, 6/5/2003] The British allegation cited by Bush concerns a SISMI (Italy’s military intelligence) report (see Mid-October 2001) based on a set of forged documents. Months after the speech, with evidence mounting that the statement was completely false, the administration will retract this claim (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Aluminum Tubes - Bush alleges that a shipment of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq was intended to be used in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003]
Biological Agents - Bush lists a parade of agents: “anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, and plague,” many of which Iraq has never been accused of possessing, and warns against “outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and builogical weapons… blackmail, terror, and mass murder.” He then moves from the general to the specific, accusing Iraq of having enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
False Testimony from Iraqi Scientists - Bush alleges: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say.” [US President, 2/3/2003] But Hans Blix, the chief UNMOVIC weapons inspector, tells the New York Times in an interview that he knows of no evidence supporting this claim. [New York Times, 1/31/2003]
Defector Allegations - Bush, citing intelligence provided by “three Iraqi defectors,” says, “We know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile weapons labs… designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors.” One of the defectors referred to by Bush is ‘Curveball,’ whom the CIA station chief in Germany warned was not reliable the day before (see January 27, 2003). German intelligence officials watching Bush’s speech are “shocked.” One official later recalls: “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Another source for the claim was Mohammad Harith, whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a “fabricator” the previous May (see May 2002).
Torture, Murder, and 9/11 - Bush accuses Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of routinely torturing his own people, using such techniques as “electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.” He then connects Hussein, the torturer, murderer, and terrorist supporter, to the 9/11 attacks, saying: “[I]magine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” He invites “all free nations” to join him in ensuring no such attack ever happens, but notes that “the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.” After another long burst of applause, Bush continues, “Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
'Direct Personal Threat' - Bush states what former ambassador Joseph Wilson later writes can only be interpreted by Hussein “as a direct personal threat,” saying: “Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Wilson will later write: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in his recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill or capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 315]
Defending America - To America’s soldiers, he says: “Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours lay ahead. In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you.” In 2007, Unger will write: “A few years earlier, Bush had confided that he thought to be a great president meant being a great commander in chief. Now George W. Bush was leading his nation into war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, ’Curveball’, Saddam Hussein, Craig Unger, Mohammad Harith

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

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak 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 [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. 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—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. [Time, 7/17/2003]
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Time magazine

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent act of retribution by the White House (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003), says that the intention of the outing was to intimidate others like him from speaking out against the Bush administration. “It’s a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we’ll take your family and drag them through the mud as well,” he says. “This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation, but what it really is is an attempt to keep anybody else from coming forward” to reveal other intelligence lapses. [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, Wilson will elaborate on this concept: “This attack on Valerie may have been the White House’s way of saying that yes, indeed, there would be consequences if anybody else dared to speak publicly. The message to mid-career intelligence officers was clear: Should you decide to speak, we will come after you and your family. Anyone not accustomed to the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics would naturally wonder if the game was worth the candle.” Wilson will call the attack “stupid,” since it is so easy to disprove any allegation that his wife sent him to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002). “It marked a terrible breach of faith between the clandestine services of the CIA and the government it served, and it made my wife a victim. What the White House seemed not to understand, however, was that this attempt to divert the media’s attention from the lie in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) was only going to complicate matters for them. In addition to the question of who was responsible for putting the offending sixteen words into the president’s speech, the press now had a possible violation of law to pursue, not to mention an ugly violation of the code of cowboy chivalry promoted by this administration as the warmer, fuzzier side of its image.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 6-7]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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