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Context of 'November 20-22, 1990: US Diplomat Joseph Wilson Uses Thanksgiving to Pressure Iraq to Release American Hostages'

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Over 100 Americans are trapped in the US Embassy in Kuwait City. Perhaps 2,000 Americans are hiding from Iraqi soldiers throughout the capital city, and at least 115 are already in Iraqi custody, essentially being held as hostages. Iraqi forces bring a number of Americans, mostly oilfield workers, to Baghdad, where they are put up at local hotels. The Iraqis do not allow the “freed” Americans to leave the hotels or meet with US Embassy officials. It is clear that though the Iraqis call them “guests,” they are hostages. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, learns to his dismay that his superiors in the US are similarly reluctant to consider the Americans as hostages, arguing that if US officials begin calling them hostages, then the Iraqis will treat them as such. Perhaps Iraq is holding the Americans only until their control of Kuwait is complete, and will release them. But, except for the release of a single American girl (see Early August, 1990), the Iraqis release no hostages. Embassy personnel succeed in rounding up around 100 Americans, mostly workers for the Bechtel Corporation, and housing them in the confines of the Embassy building. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 117-118, 126]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bechtel

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson and the other US diplomats in Baghdad learn that the Iraqis have taken about 115 Americans as hostages (see August 4, 1990) and are placing them at strategic sites they consider most likely to be targeted by US air and ground strikes—in essence using the hostages as human shields. Two thousand Americans still remain trapped in Kuwait City, where Iraqis are, Wilson will write, “terrorizing the population.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 126]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Saddam Hussein inquires about the health of young British hostage Stuart Lockwood, a scene broadcast on Iraqi television and shown worldwide.Saddam Hussein inquires about the health of young British hostage Stuart Lockwood, a scene broadcast on Iraqi television and shown worldwide. [Source: BBC]Iraqi officials announce that their forces will hold the citizens from any country threatening Iraq as hostages until the threats are ended. According to US diplomat Joseph Wilson, currently holed up in the US Embassy in Baghdad with his fellow diplomats, staffers, and at least 100 Americans hoping for protection from Iraqi depredations, the Iraqi announcement ends the fiction that Iraq is holding these citizens as “guests” (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Still, Saddam Hussein tries to maintain the fiction for the press; in what Wilson will describe as “one notorious television appearance,” Hussein ruffles the hair of a seven-year old British boy, Stuart Lockwood, and asks if he had had his milk that day. Wilson will write, “The scared look on Stuart’s face, and his parents’ equally frightened expressions, chilled viewers worldwide.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 133-134; NationMaster, 12/23/2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Stuart Lockwood, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraq abruptly announces that foreign women and children are free to leave the country, effectively releasing them as hostages (see August 17-23, 1990). Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, believes the release was in part precipitated by a humiliating news report from CBS’s Dan Rather. The Egyptian ambassador to Iraq had met earlier with Wilson, and discussed the need for the international community to heighten its propaganda campaign against Saddam Hussein. He noted that a statue of Hussein had recently been erected in Arab Knight Square in Baghdad, replacing a statue of an Arab warrior on horseback. At the same time, Iraqi police had forced businesses around the country calling themselves “Arab Knight” to change their names, telling them “there is only one Arab knight in Iraq and you are not it.” Since Hussein wants to be known as the Arab Knight, the Egyptian ambassador says, maybe the world should point out that true Arab knights do not hide behind the skirts of women or behind little children. Wilson liked the idea and passed it on to Rather, who filed a story containing the insult on August 22. On August 25, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher accused Hussein of “hiding behind the skirts of women.” Wilson will later write, “While we could not confirm that our campaign to humiliate Saddam was responsible for this decision, we were sure that our general strategy of confrontation (see August 8-9, 1990) had contributed to it.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Dan Rather, Margaret Thatcher, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Reverend Jesse Jackson.Reverend Jesse Jackson. [Source: Yann Gamblin / Corbis]What ranking US diplomat Joseph Wilson calls the “celebrity statesman tour” begins this month, with lawmakers and personages from all sides of the political spectrum visiting Iraq. Wilson notes that these visits, as well-meaning as they are, violate US and UN sanctions on non-accredited US citizens meeting with Saddam Hussein, and, in his opinion, help “create an illusion of legitimacy for the dictator.” Wilson will later write, “They would be photographed sitting attentively next to him, would make some inane antiwar comments to the camera and, as a reward, Saddam would bestow a few hostages on them (see August 17-23, 1990), enabling them to claim that they had been on an errand of mercy.” Wilson names as some of the visitors former attorney general and antiwar activist Ramsey Clark, former Texas Governor John Connally, sports icon Muhammad Ali (already visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease), former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, German Prime Minister Willy Brandt, and Yusuf Islam, the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens (and whom Wilson misidentifies as Yousef Ibrahim). Wilson calls the visits “well-intentioned but misguided… a violation of international sanctions, and… dangerous, as Saddam had clearly demonstrated his penchant for taking hostages.” On the other hand, each hostage released into the custody of a celebrity is one more American safe from harm, so “we applauded each new release as we continued to press for the safe departure of all Americans.” Wilson and his staff decide to “be as supportive as possible; after all, even if the visitors were in technical violations of American law, they were our citizens and, as such, were legitimate beneficiaries of whatever consular support we could provide.” Wilson is particularly taken with one visitor, American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, whose stature and aplomb upstage even Hussein. Wilson is impressed that Jackson’s insistent and even confrontational tactics win the freedom of twenty Americans. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 145-146; Yusuf Islam, 9/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Jesse Jackson, Edward Heath, John Connally, Willy Brandt, Yusuf Islam, Ramsey Clark, Saddam Hussein, Muhammad Ali

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

As tensions escalate between the US and Iraq, Iraqi officials circulate a note to all the embassies in Baghdad, directing them to register all of the civilians in their care with the authorities. Failure to comply can result in execution, the note implies. Such registration can only be done in person at Iraqi governmental offices; Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, knows that bringing American citizens in for registration may well result in those Americans being taken hostage. He is housing some 60 Americans at the ambassador’s residence for their protection. He will later write: “It was clearly a way for the Iraqis to replenish their stock of hostages. The choice, theoretically, was either to turn over Americans or to defy the note and risk execution.” Instead of making the choice, Wilson uses the order to publicly defy the Iraqis. He schedules a press conference and has a Marine make him a hangman’s noose. Wearing the noose, he tells reporters that if Saddam Hussein “wants to execute me for keeping Americans from being taken hostage, I will bring my own f_cking rope.” The press conference, like all of the embassy press conferences, is off the record, but journalists release the story anyway. A garbled, erroneous version from a French news outlet has the Iraqis planning to hang Wilson by sundown. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, angered and embarrassed by the press coverage, attempts to dress down Wilson that evening, but Wilson refuses to back down. Instead, the Iraqis withdraw the request. Soon after, President Bush sends Wilson a cable lauding his courage and his outspokeness (see November 29, 1990). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 153-154; Unger, 2007, pp. 311] Conservative columnist Robert Novak co-writes a piece about Wilson that says, “He shows the stuff of heroism.” Novak will later reveal the covert CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as an act of political retaliation (see July 14, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 153-154]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, and his remaining colleagues in the beleaguered US Embassy in Baghdad decide to use the Thanksgiving holiday as a chance to remind the US that Iraq is still holding some 120 Americans as hostages (see August 17-23, 1990). He has proposed to his superiors in Washington that he make a high-profile visit to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to demand the release of the hostages, to be followed by an on-the-record press conference. Journalists would then join Wilson for Thanksgiving dinner at his home in Baghdad. He was told, “Nobody is going to tell you not to do it, but with the president traveling to Saudi Arabia to have Thanksgiving with the troops, the White House press office is concerned that you might step on the president’s story. That said, if you insist, feel free to go ahead. Just so you are aware of the concerns here.” Wilson and his colleagues decided to go through with the program. During dinner, CNN correspondent Richard Roth appears at Wilson’s home to announce that Iraqi officials have brought a contingent of American hostages to Baghdad for an on-camera Thanksgiving dinner. Does Wilson have a reaction? Roth asks. Wilson does indeed, and launches into a tirade, calling Iraq’s government “sadistic” for “parad[ing] hostages before the cameras as a propaganda tool while denying them access to their country’s embassy or consular officials.” Roth airs Wilson’s remarks on CNN. It is this impromptu condemnation of the Iraqi government, along with Wilson’s open defiance of Iraqi officials days before (see September 20, 1990), that prompts President Bush to send a laudatory letter to Wilson praising his courage and patriotism. (Wilson will give a copy of Bush’s cable to Roth, telling the reporter that he deserves the president’s praise as much as Wilson does.) [Wilson, 2004, pp. 160-161]

Entity Tags: Richard Roth, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush sends US Acting Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson a telegram lauding his heroism in standing up to Saddam Hussein (see September 20, 1990). Bush writes in part: “It is relatively easy to speak out from the safety and comfort of Washington; what you are doing day in and day out under the most trying conditions is truly inspiring. Keep fighting the good fight; you and your stalwart colleagues are always in our thoughts and prayers.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 154]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

The ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, Joseph Wilson, has a breakthrough in his relentless efforts to win the freedom of the 120 or so American hostages being held by Iraq (see August 17-23, 1990). Wilson meets an Arab journalist who has considerable influence in the Gulf region. He tells her that President Bush has already concluded, in his opinion, that the loss of the hostages as a result of an American invasion would be lamentable but not enough to deter military action against Iraq. Therefore, Saddam Hussein is “deluding himself” if he thinks the hostages will prevent the US from launching an attack against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The other side of the coin, he tells the journalist, is that if something untoward does happen to the hostages, “American anger might be such that the president would be forced to go to war to avenge that mistreatment.” It is wholly to Hussein’s benefit to release the hostages, Wilson argues. Ten days after that lunch, Wilson receives the minutes from a meeting between Algerian Foreign Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali and the US Ambassador to Algeria, Chris Ross, in which Ghozali echoes Wilson’s message almost verbatim. Wilson later writes, “I was certain that my contact had been speaking to other Arab leaders, and I saw that the thesis was gaining some traction. It would soon get back to Saddam from Arab interlocutors. It did not matter how many times I told the Iraqis the risks they ran—they expected me to say it. But when a fellow Arab said the same thing, it would have far greater impact.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 164-165]

Entity Tags: Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Chris Ross, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

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

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

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who earned accolades from former President George H. W. Bush for his bravery in standing up to Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Gulf War (see September 20, 1990) and journeyed to Niger to find out the truth behind the allegations of Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), says that he is publicly supporting Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for president. Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson have been the victims of Bush administration smear attacks since Wilson published an op-ed debunking the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). Most notably, Plame Wilson was publicly identified as a covert CIA agent, apparently by two White House officials (see July 14, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Cover of Wilson’s ‘The Politics of Truth.’Cover of Wilson’s ‘The Politics of Truth.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble]Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who helped disprove the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and in turn had his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, exposed as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see July 14, 2003, September 26, 2003, and September 30, 2003), publishes his book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir. He had signed with a relatively small publisher, Carroll & Graf, after making a gentleman’s agreement with C&G editor Philip Turner, and refused to allow his literary agent to bid his book out for a larger advance in order to honor the agreement with Turner. According to Wilson’s wife, he worked relentlessly for four months to complete the book, eager to tell not just the story of his trip to Niger and his wife’s outing, but to write about his wide and varied diplomatic career in Africa and the Middle East (see September 5, 1988 and After, September 20, 1990, and Late November, 1990). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 171-172] The book sells well and garners mostly positive reviews; for example, author and former White House counsel John Dean gives it a glowing review in the New York Times (see May 12, 2004). But right-wing supporters of the Bush administration quickly publish their own vilifications of Wilson and his book (see July 12, 2004). Plame Wilson will write in 2007: “Having lived through the first spate of attacks on Joe’s credibility and character in the wake of the leak, I thought I had acquired some armor. I was wrong. I knew the comments were politically motivated, but they were still painful to read, and once again we felt under siege.” Plame Wilson is particularly alarmed by the death threats made against her and her family by unidentified telephone callers, including one “seriously deranged person” who manages to talk to her four-year-old son for a moment. She asks the CIA for additional security measures to protect her children, a request that the agency will eventually deny. She will recall: “To say that the CIA response ‘disappointed’ me doesn’t begin to touch the betrayal that I felt. After [REDACTED] loyal service, I expected the agency to come through on its standing promise to protect its ‘family,’ something that had always been a point of CIA pride.… Clearly, I was on my own.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 178-180]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Carroll & Graf, John Dean, Philip Turner, Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Author Clifford May, a former Republican National Committee staffer and a well-known television pundit, lambasts former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). May, who has written derisively about Wilson before (see September 29, 2003), opens by accusing Wilson of publishing a “quickie book sporting his dapper self on the cover” that contains little substance and is based largely on “a wet-kiss profile in Vanity Fair.” He derides Wilson’s lengthy experience as a diplomat (see July 31, 1990, August 1-2, 1990, August 6, 1990, August 8-9, 1990, September 20, 1990, and January 12, 1991) by calling him “the guy who makes sure the embassy plumbing is working and that the commissary is stocked with Oreos and other products the ambassador prefers.” Most notably, May comes to the conclusion that Wilson himself, and not the White House, outed his wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, a conclusion he says was reached by a “bipartisan Senate committee report.” May is referring to the recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004). He repeats many of the committee’s erroneous assertions, including the allegation that Wilson’s wife was responsible for the decision to send Wilson to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). In regards to President Bush’s State of the Union assertion that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), May writes, “We now know for certain that Wilson was wrong and that Bush’s statement was entirely accurate.” He goes on to assert that the forged documents used to support the Iraq-Niger uranium story were likely “planted in order to be discovered—as a ruse to discredit the story of a Niger-Iraq link, to persuade people there were no grounds for the charge. If that was the plan, it worked like a charm.” May even says that Wilson’s report bolstered the belief that the uranium story might be true. He repeats his earlier charges that Wilson is an incompetent partisan whom the CIA had no business sending to Niger in the first place. He never explains exactly how Wilson outed his own wife as a CIA agent, though he does assert, wrongly, that Plame Wilson was never an undercover agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996) and therefore no one broke the law in revealing her status as a CIA official. [National Review, 7/12/2004] In 2004, Wilson will write of May’s assertion that his wife’s CIA status “was supposedly widely known” throughout Washington, “[I]f what May wrote was accurate, it is a damning admission, because it could have been widely known only by virtue of leaks among his own crowd.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 443-444]

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who trained with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), pens an angry rebuttal of former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s critique of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see February 18, 2007). Johnson accuses Toensing of “plumbing new depths of delusion and crazed fantasies,” notes that her op-ed should have been titled “I Am Ignorant of Basic Facts,” and excoriates the Washington Post for printing it. Johnson directly refutes two of Toensing’s strongest rejoinders: Plame Wilson was not a covert agent and Joseph Wilson misled the public about his trip to Niger, his report on his findings, and his public discussions of his wife’s CIA status. [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] In 2007, Plame Wilson will add, “Toensing apparently hadn’t been following the trial very closely, or else she would have known that each of her ‘charges’ had been refuted in ample documentary and witness testimony.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Johnson writes: “Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class—which was comprised of case officers, analysts, scientists, and admin folks—were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under ‘official cover’—i.e., she declared she worked for the US government but in something innocuous, like the State Department—she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing’s limited intellectual abilities.” Johnson also notes that he and his fellow CIA veterans Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, and Mike Grimaldi, accompanied by another CIA veteran who declined to be identified, appeared on ABC News in 2003 and verified Plame Wilson’s covert status (see October 22-24, 2003). And the facts introduced into evidence in the Libby trial show that at least four White House officials—Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003), and Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003)—told journalists that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. The result was not only Plame Wilson’s exposure as a former NOC agent but the exposure of her NOC cover company, Brewster Jennings (see October 3, 2003). Johnson writes, “That leak by the Bush administration ruined Valerie’s ability to continue working as a case officer and destroyed an international intelligence network.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] Plame Wilson will dismiss Toensing’s claim about her covert status as “dead wrong,” and ask a simple question: since Toensing is not a CIA employee herself, how does she know what Plame Wilson’s status was? [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Joseph Wilson - Johnson notes that Toensing alleges an array of impropriety on Joseph Wilson’s part. Johnson counters that Toensing suffers from an apparent “reading disability.” The facts are plain: Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for information on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in early February 2002 (see 2002-Early 2003 and (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA asked Wilson to investigate the matter a week later (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Johnson writes: “Joe was a natural choice for the job. He had headed up the Africa desk at the National Security Council, he had served as an ambassador in West Africa, and had saved American lives from Saddam [Hussein] during the first Gulf War (see August 6, 1990 and September 20, 1990). He was not chosen by his wife, Valerie Plame. She only wrote a memo, at the behest of her boss in the Counterproliferation Divison of the Directorate of Operations, identifying Joe’s qualifications (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). And she was asked to inform her husband about the CIA’s interest in him going to Niger to help answer a request from Vice President Cheney, who wanted to know if there was any truth to reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger.… Valerie was not in the room when the decision was made nor was she in an administrative position with the clout to send her husband on such a mission.” This set of facts was confirmed by a memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR—see June 10, 2003) introduced during the trial. Johnson writes: “Too bad Ms. Toensing did not take time to read the CIA report produced from Mr. Wilson’s trip. He made it very clear in that report that Iraq had not purchased or negotiated the purchase of uranium.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Limitations of IIPA - Plame Wilson will write of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, “If anything, her rantings pointed out the shortcomings of the bill she helped author—that is, the difficulty of prosecuting someone who had violated the law and passed along the covert identity of an operations officer to someone who did not have a security clearance.” Whether such an officer is currently overseas when their cover is blown is irrelevant, Plame Wilson will note; “[w]e use such things as alias passports, disguises, and other tradecraft secrets to do this. It’s called clandestine operations. Just as a general is still a general whether he or she is in the field or serving at the Pentagon, an operations officer by definition has responsibilities that don’t vanish depending on location.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Jury Tampering? - Johnson writes that Toensing’s op-ed is so obviously another attempt to defend Libby, Cheney, and other White House officials, and to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s and the Wilsons’ credibility, that it can legitimately be considered an attempt at jury tampering—an attempt to influence the jury deciding Libby’s guilt or innocence. Johnson asks: “Just days before the Libby jury retires to consider a verdict, why was Toensing allowed to publish an article rife with lies and misstated facts? Why does the paper that played a key role in exposing the tyranny of Richard Nixon now allow this shallow woman to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?”
Public Service - According to Johnson, Fitzgerald has performed a public service in exposing the lies of Cheney, Libby, and others in the White House. “Cheney and Libby feared what the American people might do if they discovered they had been lied to about the case for war in Iraq. Now there is no doubt. They did lie and these lies have been exposed. Unfortunately, the Victoria Toensings of the world seem hell bent on perpetuating the lies and living in the delusional world that it is okay to out an undercover CIA officer during a time of war. While Toensing has the right to be wrong, we ought to ask why a paper with the reputation of the Washington Post is lowering its journalistic standards, ignoring ethics, and enabling the spread of lies. I think the owner of the Washington Post has some ‘splaining’ to do.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Washington Post, Counterproliferation Division, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Brewster Jennings, Brent Cavan, Ari Fleischer, Victoria Toensing, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Larry C. Johnson, Karl C. Rove, Mike Grimaldi, Jim Marcinkowski, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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