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July 15, 2005
A Primer On The Credibility Of Joseph Wilson

After all of the hysteria coming from the Left about Karl Rove and his alleged leak of Valerie Plame's status as a covert agent -- for which her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, demanded Rove's firing -- perhaps we need to revisit the Wilsons and their involvement in the Niger investigation.

In his New York Times opinion piece published on July 6, 2003, Wilson claimed that the CIA asked him the previous year to investigate claims that the Iraqis tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. This is the conclusion he said he reached (emphases mine throughout post):

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of 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.

He then claimed to have been shocked to find his report misrepresented:

In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them.

Note the differences between the two points in contention. Wilson originally reported that no sale had been completed, which appears accurate. However, he then slyly and subtly changes the argument to claim that his report showed that no attempt had even been made by the Iraqis to trade for yellowcake -- which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found out was false:

[Wilson's] intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999,(REDACTED) businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq."

The intelligence report also said that Nicter's former Minister for Energy and Mines (REDACTED), Mai Manga, stated that there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s. He knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium. He said that an Iranian delegation was interested in purchasing 400 tons of yellowcake from Niger in 1998, but said that no contract was ever signed with Iran. Mai Manga also described how the 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. Mai Manga believed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.

This information came to the CIA from Wilson himself and wound up being reported to Vice President Dick Cheney. While Niger didn't actually complete the sale to Iraq, this demonstrated that Saddam Hussein attempted at least once, as did Iraq, to transact business with Niger for yellowcake uranium in defiance of the sanctions. Yellowcake could only have interested Saddam for weapons development. This evidence showed that Saddam had continued to violate the sanctions regime and still intended on developing WMD. Moreover, the US (and the British, who had similar intelligence) could not know whether Saddam had successfully transacted for the uranium elsewhere. Wilson did prove that they certainly wanted to buy it, probably with the vast sums of cash the Oil-For-Food program generated for Saddam.

In other words, Wilson misrepresented his report in his New York Times article. Nor would this be the last of Wilson's unethical actions, or even the first.

Prior to the publication of this piece under his own name, Wilson -- who once demanded to see Karl Rove frog-marched for allegedly leaking his wife's status -- leaked the then-classified intelligence to the Washington Post. The Post ran an article critical of Bush's use of the Niger report on June 12, 2003, for which Wilson admitted he supplied the data. The SSIC found that his input to the Post was inaccurate, at the least:

The former ambassador also told Committee staff that he was the source of a Washington Post article ("CIA Did Not Share Doubt on Iraq Data; Bush Used Report of Uranium Bid," June 12, 2003) which said, "among the Envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because `the dates were wrong and the names were wrong." Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong" when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports. The former ambassador said that he may have "misspoken" to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were "forged." He also said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct and may have thought he had seen the names himself. The former ambassador reiterated that he had been able to collect the names of the government officials which should have been on the documents.

The worst came after the revelation that his wife worked at the agency and reportedly got the CIA to pick Wilson for the Niger investigation. Wilson has repeatedly denied this, claiming that he had no idea how the agency selected him, but that his wife had nothing to do with the assignment. The SSIC also found that this was less than truthful -- and that she had already reached a conclusion about the reports before Wilson even left:

Some CPD officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife "offered up his name" and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador's wife says, "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 light on this sort of activity." This was just one day before CPD sent a cable DELETED requesting concurrence with CPD's idea to send the former ambassador to Niger and requesting any additional information from the foreign government service on their uranium reports. The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA and told him "there's this crazy report" on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.

The former ambassador was selected for the 1999 trip after his wife mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future and might be willing to use his contacts in the region ...

On February 19, 2002, CPD hosted a meeting with the former ambassador, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and INR, and several individuals from the DO's Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of the former ambassador traveling to Niger. An INR analyst's notes indicate that the meeting was "apparently convened by [the former ambassador's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue." The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes.

Plame didn't just suggest Wilson in an off-hand manner; she presented him both in debates and in memoranda as her choice for the mission. She then contacted him and made the arrangements to bring him into the CIA. She also characterized the report on which his mission was based as "crazy". Does that sound like something Wilson was likely to have forgotten or not known?

Now think about the Walter Pincus article for which Wilson provided his slanted and untruthful information. Wouldn't Pincus wanted to have known how Wilson got this assignment? I would presume that Pincus would have at least asked Wilson to explain it. Did he tell Pincus the truth, or lie to him as he did afterwards with the public? If he told Pincus the truth, could Pincus have been the source for Novak?

It would appear that the ambassador has a serious problem about jumping to conclusions, and cherry-picking his facts in order to support those conclusions. That's the most charitable conclusion that the SSIC report can produce. Otherwise, it looks more like Wilson has repeatedly lied and deceived the press and the American public about his report to the CIA, and has done so for highly partisan purposes. That anyone could take him seriously as a source only shows the desperation of the Left in finding some way to discredit the Bush administration.

UPDATE: Corrected to note Iran's effort to get yellowcake; I had it as Iraq twice. (h/t: Joe Z.)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 15, 2005 5:20 PM

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