One of the most stunning revelations contained in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA is that virtually everything Joseph Wilson has said about his trip to Niger, and the report that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, is a lie.
First, contrary to what Wilson has said publicly, his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, did recommend him for the Niger investigation:
The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame “offered up” Wilson’s name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations saying her 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.” The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said.
Confronted yesterday with the Senate report, Wilson could only offer a non sequitur and a lame denial:
Wilson stood by his assertion in an interview yesterday, saying Plame was not the person who made the decision to send him. Of her memo, he said: “I don’t see it as a recommendation to send me.”
Further, the Senate report indicates that Plame and Wilson, from the beginning, had an absurdly biased view of the subject Wilson was supposed to be investigating: “The report said Plame told committee staffers that she relayed the CIA’s request to her husband, saying, ‘there’s this crazy report’ about a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.”
As has been widely reported, Wilson conducted a half-baked investigation into the uanium report. But here is the most astonishing fact uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee: in his book and in countless interviews and op-ed pieces over the past year, Wilson has been lying about the contents of his own report to the CIA!:
The report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly 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 Senate panel said. Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to reporters. The documents — purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq — were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger.
Wilson’s reports to the CIA added to the evidence that Iraq may have tried to buy uranium in Niger, although officials at the State Department remained highly skeptical, the report said.
Wilson said that a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, was unaware of any sales contract with Iraq, but said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him, insisting that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq — which Mayaki interpreted to mean they wanted to discuss yellowcake sales. A report CIA officials drafted after debriefing Wilson said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq.”
According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.
So: what Wilson actually told the CIA, contrary to his own oft-repeated claims, is that he was told by the former mining minister of Niger that in 1998, Iraq had tried to buy 400 tons of uranium from that country, and that Iraq’s overture was renewed the following year. What Wilson reported to the CIA was exactly the same as what President Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address: there was evidence that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.
Recall Wilson’s famous op-ed in the New York Times, published on July 6, 2003, which ignited the whole firestorm over the famous “sixteen words” in Bush’s State of the Union speech. In that op-ed, Wilson identified himself as the formerly-unnamed person who had gone to Niger to investigate rumors of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Here are the key words in Wilson’s article:
[I]n 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.
It was this flat-out lie about what Wilson learned in Niger, and what he reported to the CIA upon his return, that fueled the “sixteen words” controversy and led to the publication of Wilson’s best-selling account, titled, ironically, The Politics of Truth.
One can only conclude that Joseph Wilson has perpetrated one of the most astonishing hoaxes in American history. But here is what I really don’t get: didn’t the administration have access to all of this information about Wilson’s report? And if so, why didn’t they use it when Wilson was dominating the news cycle with his lies?
UPDATE: The Post reporter apparently misread the Intelligence Committee report; it was Iran, not Iraq, that tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998. The report indicates that Iran was looking for uranium in 1998, and Iraq in 1999.