November 2005


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Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 1 Nov 2005 08:12:00 -0500
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This rightwing slam at former CIA whistleblower Joe Wilson (printed in 
National Review) is, in fact, very interesting reading.

We know that the pro-war crowd is trying to smear the messenger rather than 
deal with the message, but in my view this is a very effective and 
disturbing article.

I am concerned lest that the antiwar movement fall into the trap of putting 
all our marbles around defending the musings of one individual (especially 
a CIA operative) and the efforts of a lone prosecutor, however exciting 
that might be for the moment.

I've seen this before, how the system in crisis draws all attention onto a 
single incident, makes that seem like the total reason for being against 
the war, and then reshapes the agenda of the antiwar movement FOR us while 
pulling out the rug from underneath, discrediting and despairing us all. So 
be forewarned. (In other words, there's something about likeable Joe 
Wilson's story that doesn't sit right with me, either. Maybe it's his "CIA 
agents for Kerry" politics.)

As for myself, even if there had been evidence discovered of Weapons of 
Mass Destruction (i.e., nerve gas, biological agents, nuclear material) -- 
and there is none, remember -- that STILL would not give the U.S., which 
possesses vast stockpiles of such weapons, the right to invade another 

I say this because the U.S. government, over George H.W. Bush's signature, 
DID send large quantities of "precursors" for making such biological & 
chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein to use in the war against Iran 
throughout the 1980s, and I for one would not be completely surprised if 
some of those "agents" did not turn up SOMEWHERE -- in fact, I'm shocked 
that they have not, and wonder what deep cover scam is actually being 
played on us. (It would have been relatively easy for the U.S. apparatus to 
find, say, a batch of anthrax, West Nile, or brucellosis bacteria and go 
"aha!" over it, and I am stunned that they have not "found" or planted any 
as of yet, as they have done so often in the past, when it suits them.)

- Mitchel Cohen

Our Man in Niger --
Exposed and discredited, Joe Wilson might consider going back.


Joe Wilson's cover has been blown. For the past year, he has claimed to be 
a truth-teller, a whistleblower, the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy 
 and most of the media have lapped it up and cheered him on.

After a whirl of TV and radio appearances during which he received 
high-fives and hearty hugs from the produces and hosts (I was in some green 
rooms with him so this is eyewitness reporting), and a wet-kiss profile in 
Vanity Fair, he gave birth to a quickie book sporting his dapper self on 
the cover, and verbosely entitled The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies 
that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir.

The book jacket talks of his "fearless insight" (whatever that's supposed 
to mean) and "disarming candor" (which does not extend to telling readers 
for whom he has been working since retiring early from the Foreign Service).

The biographical blurb describes him as a "political centrist" who received 
a prize for "Truth-Telling," though a careful reader might notice that the 
award came in part from a group associated with The Nation magazine  which 
only Michael Moore would consider a centrist publication.

But now Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV  he of the Hermes ties and Jaguar 
convertibles  has been thoroughly discredited. Last week's bipartisan 
Senate intelligence committee report concluded that it is he who has been 
telling lies.

For starters, he has insisted that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, 
was not the one who came up with the brilliant idea that the agency send 
him to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had been attempting to 
acquire uranium. "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," Wilson says 
in his book. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." In 
fact, the Senate panel found, she was the one who got him that assignment. 
The panel even found a memo by her. (She should have thought to use 
disappearing ink.)

Wilson spent a total of eight days in Niger "drinking sweet mint tea and 
meeting with dozens of people," as he put it. On the basis of this 
"investigation" he confidently concluded that there was no way Saddam 
sought uranium from Africa. Oddly, Wilson didn't bother to write a report 
saying this. Instead he gave an oral briefing to a CIA official.

Oddly, too, as an investigator on assignment for the CIA he was not 
required to keep his mission and its conclusions confidential. And for the 
New York Times, he was happy to put pen to paper, to write an op-ed 
charging the Bush administration with "twisting," "manipulating" and 
"exaggerating" intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs "to 
justify an invasion."

In particular he said that President Bush was lying when, in his 2003 State 
of the Union address, he pronounced these words: "The British government 
has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of 
uranium from Africa."

We now know for certain that Wilson was wrong and that Bush's statement was 
entirely accurate.

The British have consistently stood by that conclusion. In September 2003, 
an independent British parliamentary committee looked into the matter and 
determined that the claim made by British intelligence was "reasonable" 
(the media forgot to cover that one too). Indeed, Britain's spies stand by 
their claim to this day. Interestingly, French intelligence also reported 
an Iraqi attempt to procure uranium from Niger.

Yes, there were fake documents relating to Niger-Iraq sales. But no, those 
forgeries were not the evidence that convinced British intelligence that 
Saddam may have been shopping for "yellowcake" uranium. On the contrary, 
according to some intelligence sources, the forgery was 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.

But that's not all. The Butler report, yet another British government 
inquiry, also is expected to conclude this week that British intelligence 
was correct to say that Saddam sought uranium from Niger.

And in recent days, the Financial Times has reported that illicit sales of 
uranium from Niger were indeed being negotiated with Iraq, as well as with 
four other states.

According to the FT: "European intelligence officers have now revealed that 
three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic 
intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated 
discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers 
discussed by the traders was Iraq."

There's still more: As Susan Schmidt reported  back on page A9 of 
Saturday's Washington Post: "Contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the 
government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it 
had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence."

The Senate report says fairly bluntly that Wilson lied to the media. 
Schmidt notes that the panel found that, "Wilson provided misleading 
information to the Washington Post last June. He said then that he 
concluded the Niger intelligence was based on a document that had clearly 
been forged because 'the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.'"

The problem is Wilson "had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge 
of what names and dates were in the reports," the Senate panel discovered. 
Schmidt notes: "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."

Ironically, Senate investigators found that at least some of what Wilson 
told his CIA briefer not only failed to persuade the agency that there was 
nothing to reports of Niger-Iraq link  his information actually created 
additional suspicion.

A former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, told Wilson that 
in June 1999, a businessman approached him, insisting that he meet with an 
Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations." Mayaki, 
knowing how few commodities for export are produced by impoverished Niger, 
interpreted that to mean that Saddam was seeking uranium.

Another former government official told Wilson that Iran had tried to buy 
400 tons of uranium in 1998. That's the same year that Saddam forced the 
weapons inspectors to leave Iraq. Could the former official have meant Iraq 
rather than Iran? If someone were to try to connect those dots, what 
picture might emerge?

Schmidt adds that the Senate panel was alarmed to find that the CIA never 
"fully investigated possible efforts by Iraq to buy uranium from Niger 
destined for Iraq and stored in a warehouse in Benin."

I was the first to suggest, here on National Review Online a year ago 
("Scandal!" and "No Yellowcake Walk"), that Wilson should not have been 
given this assignment, that he had no training or demonstrated competence 
as an investigator, that his inquiry had been obviously superficial and 
that, far from being a "centrist," he was a partisan with an ax to grind.

But my complaint was really less with Wilson than it was with the CIA for 
sending him, rather than an experienced spy or investigator, to check out 
such an important and sensitive matter as whether one of the world's most 
vicious killers had been trying to buy the stuff that nuclear weapons are 
made of.

For this, I received a couple of dishonorable mentions in Wilson's memoir. 
He has a chapter called "What I Didn't Find in Africa," which might be used 
as a case study for CIA trainees and others who need to understand the 
fundamental principle of logic that "the absence of evidence is not 
evidence of absence." In other words, Wilson fails to grasp that because he 
didn't find proof that Saddam was seeking African uranium does not mean 
that proof was not there to be found.

In reaction to his "fearless candor" and "disarming insight" about the 
"sixteen-word lie," Wilson writes that "right-wing hatchet men were being 
wheeled out to attack me. More ominously, plots were being hatched in the 
White House that would betray America's national security.

He writes: "Clifford May was first off the mark, spewing uninformed vitriol 
in a piece in National Review Online blindly operating on the principle 
that facts, those pesky facts, just do not matter."

Well, facts, those pesky facts do matter and a bipartisan Senate 
investigative committee has now established that Wilson has had very few in 
his possession. And, for the record, I was never advised anything about 
Wilson by anyone serving in the White House, the administration, or the 
Republican party. I never even had a discussion about him with such folks.

There is much more that could be said about the Wilson affair, and 
certainly many questions that ought to be both asked and answered. But in 
the interest of time and space, let me leave you with just one: Now that we 
know that Mrs. Wilson did recommend Mr. Wilson for the Niger assignment, 
can we not infer that she was working at CIA headquarters in Langley rather 
than as an undercover operative in some front business or organization 

As I suggested in another NRO piece (Spy Games), if that is the case  if 
she was not working undercover and if the CIA was not taking measures to 
protect her cover  no law was broken by columnist Bob Novak in naming her, 
or by whoever told Novak that she worked for the CIA.

It is against the law to knowingly name an undercover agent. It is not 
against the law to name a CIA employee who is not an undercover agent. For 
example, I know the identity of "Anonymous," the CIA employee who has now 
written a book trashing the Bush administration for its policies. But since 
he is not  to the best of my knowledge  a covert operative, I would be 
committing no crime were I to name him in this piece. Nor, I should add, 
did he attempt to hide his employment when we sat across a dinner table 
some months ago.

I don't think Joe Wilson is an evil man. I do think he is an angry partisan 
and an opportunist. According to my sources, during most of his diplomatic 
career he specialized in general services and administration, which means 
he was not the political or economic adviser to the ambassador, rather he 
was the guy who makes sure the embassy plumbing is working and that the 
commissary is stocked with Oreos and other products the ambassador prefers.

Just prior to the Gulf War, he did serve in Iraq, a hot spot to be sure, 
but that was under Ambassador April Glaspie, who failed to make it clear to 
Saddam that invading Kuwait would elicit a robust response from Washington. 
I doubt that Wilson advised her to do otherwise. I rather doubt she asked. 
As he says in his book, she was giving him an "on-the-spot education in 
Middle Eastern diplomacy. It was a part of the world in which I had no 

In 1991, Wilson's book jacket boasts, President George H.W. Bush praised 
Wilson as "a true American hero," and he was made an ambassador. But for 
some reason, he was assigned not to Cairo, Paris, or Moscow, places where 
you put the best and the brightest, nor was he sent to Bermuda or 
Luxembourg, places you send people you want to reward. Instead, he was sent 
to Gabon, a diplomatic backwater of the first rank.

After that, he says in his memoir, "I had risen about as high as I could in 
the Foreign Service and decided it was time to retire." Well, that's not 
exactly accurate either. He could have been given a more important posting, 
such as Kenya or South Africa, or he could have been promoted higher in the 
senior Foreign Service (he made only the first of four grades). Instead, he 
was evidently (according to my sources) forced into involuntary retirement 
at 48. (The minimum age for voluntary retirement in the Foreign Service is 
50.) After that, he seems to have made quite a bit of money  doing what 
for whom is unclear and I wish the Senate committee had attempted to find out.

But based on one op-ed declaring 16 words spoken by the president a lie, he 
transformed himself into an instant celebrity and, for a while, it seemed, 
a contender for power within the chien-mange-le- chien world of foreign 
policy. That dream has now probably evaporated. It is hard to see how a 
President John Kerry would now want Wilson in his inner circle. But if he 
desired to return to Gabon or Niger I, for one, would not be among those 
opposing him.

 Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the 
president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy 
institute focusing on terrorism.