Joseph C. Wilson
Joseph Charles Wilson IV (born 6 November 1949) is a retired diplomat of the United States Foreign Service who was posted to African nations and Iraq during the George H. W. Bush administration. After his retirement from foreign service, Wilson became known to the general public as a result of his controversial opinion-editorial published in the New York Times, four months after the 2003 invasion of Iraq began. In the op-ed, entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa," Wilson documents his February 2002 trip investigating whether Iraq purchased or attempted to purchase Yellowcake from Niger in the late 1990s. He accused the Bush administration of "exaggerating the Iraqi threat" in order to justify war, which resulted in the public disclosure of his wife Valerie Plame as a CIA officer, in what became known as "the Plame affair."
What I Didn't Find in Africa (2003)
- 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.
- Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.
In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
- 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 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. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.
- 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. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation.
- Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.
- I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program — all of which were in violation of United Nations resolutions. Having encountered 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 were 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. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist history," as Mr. Bush has suggested. 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.
Quotes about Wilson
- What he calls a "smear campaign" against the couple has catalyzed his transformation from nonpartisan diplomat — he worked closely with the first President Bush and his top aides during the first gulf war — to anti-Bush activist. … To have such a carefully nurtured identity shattered in a single stroke was traumatic, Mr. Wilson said. "Your whole network of personal relationships over 20 years are compromised," he said. … Despite conservatives' efforts to portray him as a left-wing extremist, he insisted he remained a centrist at heart. But after his tangle with the current administration, he admits "it will be a cold day in hell before I vote for a Republican, even for dog catcher."