MEET THE PRESS / July 6, 2003 (This, with his NY Times op-ed, was Wilson's public debut as something other than an anonymous source.
From the Joe Wilson website:
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Our issues this Sunday: In order for there to be peace and stability in Liberia, Charles Taylor needs to leave now. As U.S. troops prepare to take on a dangerous peacekeeping mission in Liberia, the fighting in Iraq continues; more U.S. soldiers killed. Are we still at war? How long will it take to restore peace? And where is Saddam Hussein? Our guests, just back from a three- day fact-finding trip to Iraq, the chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.
Then: How will the situation in Iraq, rising unemployment numbers and a potential fight over gay marriage play in the presidential campaign? Insights and analysis from William Safire and Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times, David Broder of The Washington Post and Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times.
But first: Did the Bush administration exaggerate some of the intelligence on Saddam’s weapons program in order to justify war with Iraq? This man, former U.S. ambassador to the West African country of Gabon, Joseph Wilson, says yes. He’s disclosed publicly for the first time this morning in a New York Times op-ed that he was sent by the CIA to Niger in February of 2002 to investigate reports of a sale of uranium by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990s. Up until now, he’s been referred to in many news reports as an unnamed former envoy and he joins us exclusively this morning.
Ambassador Wilson, welcome. Thanks for coming in.
AMB. JOSEPH WILSON: Good morning, Andrea.
MS. MITCHELL: Let’s put this in context for our viewers. Let’s take a look at what the president said about this issue in the State of the Union address:
(Videotape, January 28):
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, we only learned later when U.N. inspectors first looked at the documents, this was a year later, that, in fact, these documents were fraudulent, a year after your first trip. What did you think when you first saw the president making that comment in the State of the Union?
AMB. WILSON: Well, first of all, Andrea, when the president made the comment, he was referring to a British White Paper Report that came out in September of the previous year, September 2002; again, referring to uranium sales from an African country to Iraq. Now, there are four African countries that produce uranium or have uranium stockpiles: South Africa, Namibia, Gabon and Niger. So throughout this, whenever the British and then the president were mentioning Africa, I assumed that they were talking about one of the other countries and not Niger since we had, I believed, at the time effectively debunked the Niger arms uranium sale.
MS. MITCHELL: But, in fact, many officials, including the president, the vice president, Donald Rumsfeld, were referring to the Niger issue as though it were fact, as though it were true and they were told by the CIA, this information was passed on in the national intelligence estimate, I’ve been told, with a caveat from the State Department that it was highly dubious based on your trip but that that caveat was buried in a footnote, in the appendix. So was the White House misled? Were they not properly briefed on the fact that you had the previous February been there and that it wasn’t true?
AMB. WILSON: No. No. In actual fact, in my judgment, I have not seen the estimate either, but there were reports based upon my trip that were submitted to the appropriate officials. The question was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president. The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there.
MS. MITCHELL: So they knew months and months before they passed on these allegations that, in fact, that particular charge was not true. Do you think, based on all of this, that the intelligence was hyped?
AMB. WILSON: My judgment on this is that if they were referring to Niger when they were referring to uranium sales from Africa to Iraq, that information was erroneous and that they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British White Paper and the president’s State of the Union address.
MS. MITCHELL: What do you think was going on here? Was this the politicization of intelligence in order to justify a war?
AMB. WILSON: Well, I think there’s two things. One, either the administration has some information that it has not shared with the public or, yes, they were using the selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision in the case that had already been made, a decision that had been made to go war.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, you write that you “have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.” Yet there are people still in the White House who were saying months and months later that it was not circulated. Last month Tim Russert had national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on this program, and asked her point blank about how that line got into the State of the Union address. Let’s take a look at what she said to Tim:
(Videotape, June 8):
DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The president quoted a British paper. We did not know at the time, no one knew at the time in our circles, maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.
MS. MITCHELL: “The bowels of the agency”? You’ve just said that, in fact, it was passed along to the vice president’s office.
AMB. WILSON: Andrea, when I was in the National Security Council, I was senior director for African affairs, and subsequent to that, when I wrote this article, I checked with members of the then-vice president’s staff, senior members, as well as other senior members of the NSC staff, to refresh my own memory. And standard operating procedure has always been if you are senior enough to ask the question, you will get a very specific response. And if you are in the vice president’s office, or you’re a senior director at the National Security Council, you are senior enough to ask the question, you will get a specific response, unless the operating procedures have changed, which would be a shame.
MS. MITCHELL: One the things that a lot of people don’t understand is why did it take more than a year for someone to even look for the documentation? Because a year later, after the—a month after the State of the Union address, finally somebody turned this issue over to the U.N. inspectors. They looked at the documents, and noticed right away on the face of it that they were frauds.
AMB. WILSON: I can’t answer that except I would fully suspect that if there was any importance attached to the documentation that there would have been a serious effort to get ahold of it. When I came back from Niger, and debriefed, I had not, of course, seen the documents, but one of the points that I made was if these documents did not contain certain signatures—specifically, the signature of the Minister of Energy and mine and the prime minister—then they could not be authentic.
MS. MITCHELL: The State Department, as I said, said it was highly dubious. Yet, all of this information kept into the system. It was not used by Colin Powell so he clearly knew that it was dubious. It was not used when he went to the U.N. Security Council, although he used other information that has since come into question. But do you think that there was simply a train going down the track here, that we needed to find enough evidence or at least claim it was evidence in order to justify a war?
AMB. WILSON: Well, I think that’s a question that we need to ask. Had we decided upon going to war, and were we using the grave and gathering danger argument, the imminent threat to our national security posed by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programs, as justification for a war that we had already decided to go to. And I would add that that is a trivialization of the weapons of mass destruction problem.
There is no greater threat that we face as a nation going forward than the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of non-state actors or international terrorists. And if we’ve prosecuted a war for reasons other than that, using weapons of mass destruction as cover for that, then I think we’ve done a grave disservice to the weapons of mass destruction threat. The bar will be set much, much higher internationally, and in Congress, when the next administration, or another administration, has a true WMD problem, and has to go to get that sort of authority.
MS. MITCHELL: And, before I let you go, you were the last American diplomat in Baghdad before we broke relations because of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait back in 1990. What is your assessment? Did Saddam Hussein actually have a weapons program at this late date, or do you think it was a weapons program that goes back to the ’90s, the late ’80s and ’90s?
AMB. WILSON: I wrote extensively and appeared on numerous programs in the run-up to the war arguing that the weapons of mass destruction programs that Saddam Hussein possess, and was suspected of possessing, well-merited an international response. The summoning again of the international will to do exactly what we did in 1441, with intrusive inspections and the credible threat of force, was exactly the right thing. When Colin Powell went to the United Nations and said, effectively, “We’ve got him surrounded, we’re watching everything he does, we’re listening to everything he says,” we had achieved a large measure of success. Disruption of those programs was precisely what we wanted to do and the next step was the highest risk, lowest reward option we could have possibly imagined, the invasion, conquest, and now occupation scenario.
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Ambassador Wilson.
AMB. WILSON: My pleasure.
ALL QUOTES OR EXCERPTS ARE FROM THE NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS.”