Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson became a darling of the Bush-hating crowd with his allegations that in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, the President lied to the nation with 16 words stating that: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." In February 2002, Wilson had gone to the African nation of Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein sought to purchase uranium in that country. Wilson claimed that he came up with no evidence whatsoever that Saddam had sought uranium, but that the White House had ignored his findings on the issue.
Wilson also claimed that someone in the Bush Administration had revealed the name of his wife, Valerie Plame, who was a covert agent in the CIA. Such a revelation might very well be found to violate the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, and if the revealer of Plame's identity was a high-ranking Bush Administration official, the scandalous effect would be devastating.
Bush-opponents hailed Wilson and his wife as martyrs and truth-tellers, and accused the White House of pure spite in trying to smear Wilson and Plame with the revelation of Plame's identity. Additionally, they claimed that Plame played no role in getting Wilson assigned to the Niger fact-finding trip, and that there was no reason to drag her into the dispute.
But now, Wilson's credibility is falling apart. Last week, a report in the Washington Post emerged stating that contrary to Wilson's claims, the Senate Intelligence Committee found in its recent report on pre-war Iraq intelligence that Plame "offered up" her husband's name as a potential fact-finder in the trip to Niger. Indeed, as columnist Robert Novak -- who was the first journalist to write a story detailing Plame and her job -- reports, the Senate Intelligence Committee report states that Plame wrote a memo to her superiors in the CIA stating that "my husband has good relations with both the [Nigerian] 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." Additionally, there was a State Department meeting in 2002 that, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, was "apparently convened by [Wilson's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue."
While this may very well have no effect on the legal culpability of the person who leaked Plame's identity, it is still valuable information. If Plame really did play a key role in sending Wilson to Niger -- as it appears she did -- the revelation of her identity might have been to explain to a reporter (such as Novak) that the reason Wilson was sent to Niger in the first place.
Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee's found that Wilson's findings "did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium." Writing separately from the full committee report, committee chairman Senator Pat Roberts wrote that:
"Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the President had lied to the American people, that the Vice President had lied, and that he had 'debunked' the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa . . . [N]ot only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true." (Emphasis mine.)
Chairman Roberts' claims are supported by the release of the Butler Report in Great Britain. The Butler Report paid special attention to the 16 words in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union, because while the White House eventually backed away from the 16 word claim and said that it should not have found its way in the speech, the British refused to back away from their finding that Saddam Hussein sought quantities of uranium from Africa. As the summary of the Butler Report reveals, the British were right to stick to their guns:
When we look back and recall Wilson's claim that "Neo-conservatives and religious conservatives have hijacked this administration, and I consider myself on a personal mission to destroy both," we see that Wilson's motives and credibility should have been suspect from the outset. Wilson's many lies are well-documented by The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti, who lays out the case against trusting Wilson with devastating skill. And while it is almost needless to say anymore, the Blogosphere has played a key role in raising legitimate questions regarding Wilson's credibility. (Bloggers Tom Maguire and Gregory Djerejian have more valuable information on the Wilson/Plame affair than I can possibly reference in this column, so just go and check out their posts).
So while it may be that the revelation of Valerie Plame's identity was a crime (and if so, it ought to be punished), the key accusations made by Joe Wilson and his backers have almost completely fallen apart. Maybe the next time we decide to send someone on an important overseas fact-finding mission, we will be fortunate enough to get a fact-finder more honest and competent than Wilson appears to have been. That way, our intelligence-gathering will be better, national security principals will be able to make more informed decisions, and we will be spared the kind of lies and misinformation that Joe Wilson has spent so much time peddling, and the nation has spent so much valuable time investigating.