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Context of 'Late November, 1990: Algerian Foreign Minister Recommends that Iraq Release American Hostages'

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Veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson arrives in Baghdad to assume the post of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) under US Ambassador April Glaspie. Wilson has extensive experience throughout sub-Saharan and Central Africa, as well as brief stints on the staffs of Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and Representative Tom Foley (D-WA). Wilson will later write that he and his colleagues share the belief that Iraq is ruled by “a shockingly brutal regime… an ugly totalitarian dictatorship” and its leader, Saddam Hussein, a “sociopath.” For the next three years, Wilson and his colleagues will send harsh reports of Hussein’s systematic violations of the human rights of his subjects to Washington.
Walking a Fine Line between Isolation and Appeasement - Still, most of the embassy staff, including Wilson and Glaspie, are not advocates of totally isolating Hussein with extreme economic and diplomatic sanctions. Wilson will write, “Isolating a regime often results in isolating ourselves, and we then lose any leverage we might have to influence outcomes. On the other hand, when dictators are treated like any other leaders, it’s often interpreted by them as a free pass to continue in their autocratic ways, while critics label it as appeasement.… The merits of ideologically driven diplomacy versus a more pragmatic approach have been a recurring theme of foreign policy debates throughout the history of international relations and America’s own domestic policies.”
'Tread Lightly' - Wilson will note that “Iraq’s Arab neighbors unanimously urged us to tread lightly. They argued that after almost a decade of a grinding war with Iran, Saddam had learned his lesson and that his natural radicalism would now be tempered by the harsh experience.… [I]t was better to tie him to relationships that would be hard for him to jettison than to leave him free to make trouble with no encumbrances. Engaging with him at least kept him in our sights.” Iraq had behaved monstrously during its war with Iran, and had offended the world with its chemical attacks on its own citizens (see August 25, 1988) and its Iranian enemies (see October 1988). But it had emerged from the war as a powerful regional player both militarily and economically. The Bush administration is torn between trying to moderate Hussein’s behavior and treating him as an incorrigible, irredeemable enemy of civilization. And Washington wants Iraq as a balancing force against Iran, which is awash in virulently anti-American sentiment (a sentiment returned in full by many American lawmakers and government officials). No other country in the Gulf region will tolerate the presence of US forces as a counterbalance to Iran. So, as Wilson will write, “All of Iraq’s neighbors continued to argue for a softer approach; and since they clearly had at least as much at stake as we did, the Bush administration was willing to follow their lead.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 78-79, 451]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Saddam Hussein, April Glaspie

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

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

After a meeting between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Jordan’s King Hussein, in which the king exhorted the Iraqi leader to free the 120 or so American hostages in Iraqi custody in order to avoid the possibility of US retaliation (see Late November, 1990), Hussein announces that Iraqi forces are now strong enough to withstand a US military strike, so the hostages may depart. After a chaotic few days of arranging transport for the newly released hostages, the number of Americans in Baghdad dwindle to fewer than ten: the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, Joseph Wilson, and a few embassy staff members. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 165-166]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Hussein bin Talal, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

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

The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The FBI publicly acknowledges that it has opened an investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). The White House directs its staff to fully cooperate with the investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). President Bush tells the press: “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, he will be taken care of.” [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] (In White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s later recollection, “he’d made clear that if anyone in his administration had been responsible for the leak, he or she would have to leave.”) [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216] Bush says there are “just too many leaks” from both the White House and Congress. The Justice Department instructs the White House, through White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to preserve all records relating to the case, including any involving contacts with columnist Robert Novak (who first publicly outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003), and two Newsday reporters, Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce (see September 30, 2003). Phelps and Royce wrote a July 2003 article claiming that “intelligence officials” had confirmed and expanded on Novak’s identification of Plame Wilson, and stated that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA in “an undercover capacity” (see July 21, 2003). Bush tells reporters that he is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” of investigating the case, indicating that he will not support calls for an outside special counsel to take over the probe. The Justice Department has not ruled out asking for a special counsel, though Attorney General John Ashcroft says his department is more than capable of handling the investigation itself. Democrats say that Ashcroft’s Justice Department should not conduct any such investigation because of Ashcroft’s close connections to White House personnel who may be involved in the leak, such as White House political adviser Karl Rove. At a fundraising luncheon, Bush indirectly dismisses the controversy over the Plame Wilson outing as part of the “needless partisan bickering that dominates the Washington, DC, landscape.” A Republican source close to the White House tells the New York Times that the investigation will blow over within a matter of days. “The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it’s mainly the Democrats pushing it and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,” the source says. [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassdor Joseph Wilson, will later call this an “absurdly broad net, as there were only a very small number of people in the administration whose responsibilities overlap the national security and the political arenas, the best pool of possible suspects in which to start looking.” Wilson will note, “If the president really wanted to ‘come to the bottom of this,’ as he claimed to reporters on October 7 (see October 7, 2003), he could have acted like the strong chief executive he claims to be and brought his senior people into a room and demanded that they produce the leaker.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 399]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Timothy Phelps, Scott McClellan, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 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 and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean reviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). Dean, who has long been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, uses the review to examine aspects of the controversy surrounding the White House’s disproven claim that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). Dean calls the book “riveting and all-engaging… provid[ing] context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction,” as well as detailed information about Wilson’s long diplomatic service in Africa and the Middle East, and what Dean calls “a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
'Anti-Dumb-War' - Dean also admires Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq war, saying that “Wilson is not antiwar. Rather, he is ‘anti-dumb-war’” and noting that while Wilson is not himself particularly conservative (or liberal), he considers the neoconservatives who make up the driving force in President Bush’s war cabinet “right-wing nuts.”
'Vicious Hatchet Job' - Dean quickly moves into the White House-orchestrated attempt to besmirch Wilson’s credibility, calling it “the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon’s White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer (see June 1974).… It was an obvious effort to discredit Wilson’s [Niger] report, and, Wilson believes, a you-hurt-us-we-will-hurt-you warning to others.” While Wilson writes with passion and anger about the outing of his wife, he restrains himself from giving too many personal details about her, relying instead on material already revealed in press interviews and reports. Dean notes that Wilson believes his wife’s name was leaked to the press by any or all of the following White House officials: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist; and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser and former Iran-Contra figure (see October 7, 1991). Though Dean is correct in noting that Wilson comes to his conclusions “based largely on hearsay from the Washington rumor mill,” he will be proven accurate in two out of three of his assertions (see July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wilson continues to fight attacks from Bush supporters, but, Dean notes, if they actually read his book, “they should understand that they have picked a fight with the wrong fellow.” [New York Times, 5/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove

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

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