Tuesday :: Aug 9, 2005

Former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV: The significance of his July 2003 op-ed

by eriposte

As a prelude to publishing my (email) interview of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, it is essential that I provide some background to the "uranium from Africa" issue in the context of Wilson's op-ed and its aftermath, because this is critical to both, understanding the issue at large and Wilson's responses to some of my questions.

From the standpoint of the public, the original trigger for the whole brouhaha was President Bush's infamous State of the Union (SOTU) claim (2003) that:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa

- the 16 words. When Wilson challenged Bush's claim over five months later, in his well-known New York Times op-ed, the Bush administration first retracted the SOTU claim, and then, in an attempt to quell the ensuing PR nightmare, started furiously spinning new tales while simultaneously starting a campaign to discredit Wilson - a campaign that included the outing of the CIA identity of his then-covert CIA-operative-wife Valerie Plame.

Now, some critics of Wilson have long insisted that Bush's claim was about more than one country in Africa, and that Wilson's op-ed was about one set of intelligence relating solely to Niger - intelligence that was received by the CIA prior to Wilson's Niger trip in Feb/Mar 2002, which in turn pre-dated the supposed receipt (by the CIA) of the forged Niger documents in Fall 2002. Using these claims, they have asserted that Wilson could not have known about the forged Niger documents at the time of his trip to Niger in early 2002, that his trip to Niger could therefore not have debunked the claims in those documents, and that his op-ed could not have debunked Bush's SOTU claim relating to the forged Niger documents or to other African countries. These assertions have long been a key part of the spin used to bamboozle Americans. In fact, when I first started to cursorily read about the Bush SOTU claim back in 2003 and became aware of Joseph Wilson's op-ed, I myself was not entirely convinced that his op-ed necessarily debunked Bush's seemingly broad claim in the SOTU and I had questions about the op-ed's significance. However, once I began to actually analyze the details and timelines on the issue, the clouds started to vanish. The real facts behind Bush's SOTU claim and the significance of Wilson's op-ed both became evident.

Even to a non-partisan observer, the dichotomy behind the assertion, on the one hand, that Wilson cannot be taken seriously because he did not really debunk the Bush SOTU claim (which spoke of "Africa" and not just "Niger"), and the intense, coordinated attacks on Wilson's credibility on the other hand, using his CIA wife as a political pawn, should have indicated that the Bush administration privately felt that Wilson's op-ed carried a lot of significance, even though they were publicly trying hard to create the impression that it did not. Indeed, the very fact that Wilson's op-ed forced the Bush administration to retract the SOTU claim spoke volumes. Of course, those who routinely parroted the Bush administration spin against Wilson took pains not to notice these obvious facts.

One way in which the reader can understand the significance of Wilson's op-ed, is by asking what the Bushies knew at the time of Wilson's op-ed but had (mostly) not revealed to the public. To find out, all one needs to do is read the Senate (SSCI) Report, a Report which neither concluded nor proved that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa. So, let's recall some of the most important conclusions from my recent series examining the findings of this Report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the "uranium from Africa" issue. As I pointed out in that series:

  • The Report inadvertently offered evidence that there was only one set of Niger uranium documents, that those documents were forged, and that those documents were the basis of the original reports that sent Wilson to Niger - even though these documents supposedly surfaced only several months after the Wilson trip, in the hands of an Italian journalist
  • Wilson's trip to Niger, rather than providing support for the documented claims regarding Iraqi attempts to procure (or actual Iraqi procurement of) uranium from Niger (Africa), provided strong evidence against this when viewed in conjunction with the other evidence available at that time
  • The Senate Report established without any doubt what was already known back in 2003, namely, that Bush's SOTU claim was based on intel relating to Niger and specifically based on the disinformation from the forged Niger documents, and not on intel from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia (or other African countries). The term Africa was merely used as a proxy for Niger in the SOTU.
  • Contrary to the public claims of the CIA/Bush administration that the CIA only became aware of the dubious nature of the Niger intelligence after the IAEA publicized the Niger forgeries in early March 2003, it is clear from the Senate Report that the CIA became aware of it no later than late September (to early October) 2002 and made several attempts to get the claim out of Bush administration speeches or reports, before the 2003 SOTU, and even before the copy of the forged documents was supposedly provided to them
  • Despite it's attempts to ignore or sidestep this fact, the Senate report also left many telltale signs that attempts were made by the White House to misrepresent the views of the intelligence community or use dubious, uncorroborated information on the uranium issue (something that has been obvious in the public record, on other aspects of the Iraq war, for a long time now)

When you consider the facts above, you can see how Wilson's seemingly insignificant (to his critics) op-ed in July 2003 essentially threatened to shine a much brighter light on the mechanics of how the unjustifiable and false uranium claim actually made it into the SOTU speech, despite the Bushies' PR spin that it was because of miscommunication or 'honest' mistakes or [fill in the blanks]. Thus, the significance of his op-ed must be viewed not solely in the context of what it revealed on its face, but also in the context of what it threatened to reveal once Americans who read the op-ed began to raise serious questions. (After all, isn't that the usual story with whistleblowers?) It was therefore not surprising that the Bush administration (and its propaganda arms in the mainstream media and elsewhere) responded by first trying (unsuccessfully) to discredit the facts offered by Wilson ('he missed other countries in Africa', 'he couldn't have known about the forged documents', etc.), and then followed that up with a coordinated and planned attack to discredit him personally, via the needless and unjustifiable exposure of his wife's secret CIA identity.

That is the backdrop you should keep in mind as you read the Wilson Q&A that follows this post.

eriposte :: 6:34 AM :: Comments (1) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!