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July 17, 2004


The Kid

The good ambassador’s letter in today’s WaPo is so full of strawmen that it’s a fire hazard:

For the second time in a year, your paper has published an article [news story, July 10] falsely suggesting that my wife, Valerie Plame, was responsible for the trip I took to Niger on behalf of the U.S. government to look into allegations that Iraq had sought to purchase several hundred tons of yellowcake uranium from that West African country.
The decision to send me to Niger was not made, and could not be made, by Valerie.
But that is not the only inaccurate assertion or conclusion in the Senate report uncritically parroted in the article. Other inaccuracies and distortions include the suggestion that my findings "bolstered" the case that Niger was engaged in illegal sales of uranium to Iraq. In fact, the Senate report is clear that the intelligence community attempted to keep the claim out of presidential documents because of the weakness of the evidence.

The facts surrounding my trip remain the same. I traveled to Niger and found it unlikely that Iraq had attempted to purchase several hundred tons of yellowcake uranium. In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush referred to Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium "from Africa." Between March 2003 and July 2003, the administration refused to acknowledge that it had known for more than a year that the claim on uranium sales from Niger had been discredited, until the day after my article in the New York Times. The next day the White House issued a statement that "the sixteen words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address." Those facts are amply supported in the Senate report.

Looks like your buddy Josh lent a hand, no?

R C Dean

Christ, they really think we're stupid, don't they? A report that Saddam did not buy uranium in Niger does not and cannot rebut a claim that Saddam sought to buy uranium in Africa. It never could. The two claims can co-exist happily.

But some people were never, ever interested in whether a psychopathic dictator might be trying to put together a nuclear weapons program on the sly, not when they could damage their political opponents or pocket large amounts of cash from mysterious corporations For them, the Niger story was, well, a means to their ends.

And damn the consequences for the rest of us. Joe Wilson and his security risk wife are despicable scum.

Lord Whorfin

RC Dean:

For shame! Scum of the world are APPALLED at being compared to the Honorable Mr. Wilson and his Avenger wannabe wife Valerie "Jane Bond" Plame.

Ron Nord

Mr. Wilson has made a great deal of money writing books and selling movies options based on smoke and mirrors of his making. He has damaged our country in time of war; far less cause has sent Martha Stewart to prison and caused her great trouble and grief. Partisan politics, the New York Times and WaPo have helped in his enrichment, is he to be allowed to write another book on how he beat the system and gave the finger to the Senate investigating committee.


I'm with Wilson on one thing: I don't care, and never cared, if he was recommended for the mission by his wife or by the Pope or by Madonna. Ain't sayin' that any deceptions around that point don't matter in some way, but they aren't the substance of the matter.

And on the substance Wilson has never had a case, even on the surface, even before any investigations. His WaPo letter just brazenly asserts a non-fact -- nothing about any uranium reports from anywhere have been "discredited." The SOTU reference was to a Brit assessment on Africa, Africa has more than one uranium source, the Brits stood/stand by their assessment, which was not based in any war on the forged documents, and nothing Wilson says/said touches the matter, except -- as the SSCI noted -- to strengthen it somewhat by reporting the suspected approach by an Iraqi official in 1999. We knew enough on July 6, 2003 -- and so did the WH, or could have with two phone calls -- to have dismissed Wilson without any fuss. Some of us did.

Give up, folks -- he's got an obviously unsupportable story, and he's sticking to it. Imagine if we had a press in this country -- someone so high profile, caught so red-handed being so arrogant, deceptive, and wrong about something so important, would be subjected to a rather devastating treatment.

It's absurd to compare Wilson's obvious deviousness over his facially unpersuasive claims with the administration's completely valid response to the unfounded distortion of the "imminent threat" crowd. Careful wording that matches the underlying facts as-known is entirely appropriate, not lawyerly, and not Clintonian. In the "imminent threat" case, there's even a bonus point because the Prez specifically explained that imminence was not the issue in his most high-profile statement on the issue. This is quite the inversion -- the "imminent threat" straw man and associated exploitation of complexity to unfairly assert deception by the WH is exactly the sort of deception Wilson tried with his attack.

And Wilson provides, as if any were needed, conclusive proof that the WH response was as preposterously incompetent as I've said from the time til today. Wilson didn't touch the substance of the SOTU reference, his minimal contribution and incomplete knowledge could have and should have been established with one call to Langley and then trumpeted, the solidity of the Brit assessment and its non-reliance on any forged documents could have and should have been established with one call to 10 Downing and then trumpeted. Instead, the ridiculous circular-firing squad drill ensued.

Or, if it helps, we can do a reality translation of the official WH response for evaluation purposes: "intelligence information that is incorrect belongs in the SOTU, but intelligence information that holds up over time does not rise to the level of inclusion in that speech."

Works for me.

The Kid

Amidst all his assertions, much is ignored, left unsaid.

It reminds me of the guy who truthfully said that his grandfather died in a concentration camp. The full truth was that the guy fell out of a guard tower.


I have a vague recollection that I am not the world's most enthusiastic fan of Lord Whorfin, but, as they say, bygones. I'm not Joe Wilson's biggest fan, either, but Bob Novak did say some very nice things about him in his "outing" column:

That's where Joe Wilson came in. His first public notice had come in 1991 after 15 years as a Foreign Service officer when, as U.S. charge in Baghdad, he risked his life to shelter in the embassy some 800 Americans from Saddam Hussein's wrath. My partner Rowland Evans reported from the Iraqi capital in our column that Wilson showed "the stuff of heroism."

Some pejorative term preceded by "partisan" is probably fine to describe Wilson, but, as LW points out, let's go easy on the scum.

Ari Fleischer's 16 Word climbdown is here:

"So what we have said is it should not have risen to the level of a presidential speech. People cannot conclude that the information was necessarily false."

Condi Rice has a version with Wolf Blitzer here:

"As George Tenet has said, accuracy is not the standard. Of course, the sentence was accurate. But we were asking about confidence. And George Tenet rightly says that the agency cleared the speech, it should not have been cleared with that sentence in."

Hmm, Maureen Dowd would love that "accuracy is not the standard" clip.

Looking back, it seems that they were not sure themselves how these different speeches and assertions came together, so I can see how they would prefer to discuss something else.

charles austin

They might want to put the shovels away once the cruise starts.


Somebody ought to recommend that people send packets of sweet mint tea to Wolf, Andrea,the Editorial Board of the NYT .....

James Graham

Wilson wrote (1) a Times Op-Ed (2) a book (3) today's WaPo letter and, most certainly, thousands of words when employed as an ambassador, thousands more in other jobs, as a student and even in his private life.

What did he write to the CIA when he returned from his nationally-important mission to Niger? Zero. Nada. Nothing. Not a word.

A WalMart auditor asked to check the petty cash in Podunk produces a written report on his return.

But Joe the Liar and his CIA contacts let him report orally. No notes, no memo, not a word in writing.



Good job on the WaPo letter, "Kid". It will be interesting to see how, or whether, the WaPo responds, if only by linking to their original story.

For example, Wilson opens with:

For the second time in a year, your paper has published an article [news story, July 10] falsely suggesting that my wife, Valerie Plame, **was responsible** for the trip I took to Niger...

and, a bit later:

The decision to send me to Niger was not made, and could not be made, by Valerie.

Quick, hold on to those goal posts! This "scurrilous and extraneous charge" was made in a story headlined "Plame's Input Is Cited on Niger Mission".

When did "input" become "decided"?

The story leads with:

Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA [to Niger], was specifically **recommended** for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly.

When did "recommended" become "decided"?

Same question here:

The report turns a harsh spotlight on what Wilson has said about his role in gathering prewar intelligence, most pointedly by asserting that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, *recommended* him.

Jiminy. Any veteran of comment boards is familiar with the desperation tactic of rebutting some other argument than the one your opponent is making. Is this all he's got?

NOTE: OK, we aren't "opponents" here, just fellow pilgrims on the path to Truth. Scratch "opponent", substitute "Fellow pilgrim truthseeker mulishly headed the wrong way on what anyone with half a brain could see is a one-way street". Hmm, "opponent" may prevent a bandwidth problem.


Let's stipulate they didn't know how their own speech was written.

Makes no difference. You already know that most of your entire NIE is based -- unavoidably, typically, and reasonably, given the circumstances and stakes -- on a mix of unconfirmed reports, suppositions, historical straight-lines, and the like. Confidence is already pretty moderate, overall. You call Langley and get the low-down on the Wilson mission. You call the Brits and confirm, inter alia (1) they stand by the cited report (2) said report was not based on anything raised by Wilson such as forgeries (3) said report concerned more than on African country (I think it turned out to be 3 countries, but we still don't know).

Armed with the info that would have flowed from these easy and obvious checks, you march out and obliterate Wilson's thin, nearly irrelevant, and presumptous allegations. This is not rocket science.

None of this absolves Wilson of being the silly, arrogant, lightweight fraud that he always obviously was, nor the press of being the sophomoric tendentious propaganda operation it's become. But that's all within their respective job descriptions, so to speak. The WH is obliged to play the adult in the piece, and in this they abysmally failed.

And I still don't care who recommended Wilson for his mission.


For all the skill that's been on display around the Internet in determining precisely what was said and in separating the innuendo and implication that might commonly -- though mistakenly -- be interpreted from the neutrally non-rhetorical and innocently literal utterances that were actually made, I'm puzzled by this hang up on the word 'recommended'.

Might not Plame's memo be more accurately described as passing on a job candidate's resume to a potential employer. Granted, the suggestion that the passer-on of information played no role in the candidate being hired is a mighty stretch indeed. But it would seem that more information is required to determine if the passing on of information presumed to be potentially suitable for a particular set of requirements constitutes an actual recommendation of such suitability.

The choice of the words 'recommend' and 'suggest' appear to be unfortunate as both words connote more than the description of events permit. Clearly the judgement of the SSCI and of Susan Schmidt to choose such inflammatory language must be called into question. As well, their credibility more generally is now under suspicion casting doubt over the reliability of the totality of these findings. When all that can be unambiguously concluded is that data about X was transferred from Y to Z, the implication that the agency of Y exerted an influence on the decision-making of Z is quite simply (and politely) the taking of poetic license.


I think, if I am can "Parse this", that the preceding argument is, if she didn't "recommend" him, the entire case against Wilson collapses:

...credibility more generally is now under suspicion casting doubt over the reliability of the totality of these findings.

Let's turn that around - Wilson lied to the WaPo, no one disputes that, and that proves everything else he said is a lie. Just a thought, but the idea that one error kills the whole report may not be the best argument to save Wilson, who gave us the fairly dramatic frog-marching of Karl Rove, as well as other little nicks to his street-cred.

Stil, it's worth a try, I suppose. I expect it will find an audience.

In any case, Wilson denied in his book that his wife was "involved". Is he still denying that, too?

Patrick R. Sullivan

"'recommend' and 'suggest'", is "inflammatory language"?


When all that can be unambiguously concluded is that data about X was transferred from Y to Z, the implication that the agency of Y exerted an influence on the decision-making of Z is quite simply (and politely) the taking of poetic license.

Interesting. So, for example, Bush transferred information to the American people in the SOTU; later, poll support for the war went up.

But (we are being told) it would be poetic license to suggest that Bush's speech was a reason that support for the war rose.

This is sort of a counter-intuitive "Bush lied, people died... of indifference" argument that I haven't heard before, but it is quite interesting. If I am in a jam, may I cite you on this?

Meanwhile, in my world, if one person communicates a couple of key bits of information out of an ocean of data (such as one name amongst the dozens of ex-diplomatic and military people who have worked in Africa) to a second person, and the second person makes the decision that the data in hand pointed to, we have at least a rebuttable presumption that the first person influenced the decision.

And the Democratic staffers offered no rebuttal testimony.

The Kid

'recommend' and 'suggest'", is "inflammatory language"?

The report is replete with inflammatory language

P. 39
Some CPD officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip.

P. 39
The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife "offered up his name" and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador's wife says, "my husband has good relations with both the 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."
P. 39
The former ambassador was selected for the 1999 trip after his wife mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future and might be willing to use his contacts in the region [DELETED]

On February 19, 2002, CPD hosted a meeting with the former ambassador, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and INR, and several individuals from the DO's Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of the former ambassador traveling to Niger. An INR analyst's notes indicate that the meeting was "apparently convened by [the former ambassador's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue." The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes.

P. 442
Despite our hard and successful work to deliver a unanimous report, however, there were two issues on which the Republicans and Democrats could not agree: 1) whether the Committee should conclude that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's public statements were not based on knowledge he actually possessed, and 2) whether the Committee should conclude that it was the former ambassador's wife who recommended him for his trip to Niger.

Such language must be inflamatory simply because the Democrats could not agree on the conclusion (p. 442).

Jim Clark

Let's assume that Joe Wilson is a liar. A flake. A self-aggrandizing partisan hack.

So what?

The Bush administration has itself backed off the "sixteen words," and we now know that Saddam had no nuclear program. There isn't any "lying weasel's spouse" exception to the proscription against outing covert CIA operatives, nor would it matter what Joe Wilson said in the Plame investigation -- whatever he thinks, he doesn't know who outed his wife.

Is there anything to this, or are you guys just assuring that Wilson's 15 minutes of fame are followed by 15 minutes of infamy?


or are you guys just assuring that Wilson's 15 minutes of fame are followed by 15 minutes of infamy?

To what purpose, when he's already done so for himself?

Your lack of understanding of just what those sixteen words meant doesn't constitute an argument, though. Bush never said Iraq had nukes. And...the sixteen words weren't about nukes, either.

Ian Asch

I think the most important aspect of the Joe Wilson saga is not Mr. Wilson's credibility but the way that the media tried to use him. Put everything else aside. Forget abut his wife, his motives, his politics, and his self-contradictions. What has always struck is the fact that Mr. Wilson has never presented a shred of evidence proving anything. By his own admission, he went to Niger, sat in a hotel, asked a few people some questions, which they would naturally have denied answering, and that's it. Even a five year old could see that there was nothing there in Wilson's claims. This had to be the most incompetent "investigation" in history. Yet the Times had no hesitation allowing Mr. Wilson to write his ridiculous opniion piece, and the rest of the media, caught up in the ensuing feeding frenzy, never bothered to ask even the most rudimentary questions. The story was "debunked" because the media did not want to believe it, the same way the CIA did not want to believe it, which is why Wilson went to Niger in the first place.


Holy smoke! Where there's smoke there's fire. What do we have here? A firestorm! Here's a woman who knows more than most about counter-proliferation. If she says "crazy report" that's not an indication of some partisan instinct kicking in, but that's how it's being protrayed. Suddenly, someone who might have an idea about the likelihood of something has become the spark of a conspiratorial conflagration.

That the Democrats didn't offer a rebuttal just shows how ridiculous this is. Why bother nitpicking what should be generally accepted usage. I don't blame them for not wanting to get mired in a blogger-style semantic sideshow. At least they withheld agreement and refused to throw fuel on the fire. Discretion is the better part of valor in this instance when the Republicans are hell-bent on producing a pre-determined conclusion.

Josh Marshall, whipping boy that he is, has pointed out the selective nature of the report. Isn't it interesting that the first major section after the intro is 'Niger' and the first subsection after the background is the 'Former Ambassador'. So for an analysis of all the flawed intelligence that led up to the war, let's go straight to the most important issue: debunking the post-war publicity hound. So now we know what the priority is.

First and foremost what we have here is an official CYA giving prominent billing to the least important finding. Democrats don't cave completely to the railroading for the benefit of the remainder of report and so as not to fan the flames of the partial purpose of poisoning an ongoing investigation. Leave a few suggestions dangling, spoon-feed them to selected reporters, and see how the wildfire catches. That's inflammatory.

The Kid

“I think the most important aspect of the Joe Wilson saga is not Mr. Wilson's credibility but the way that the media tried to use him. Put everything else aside.”

I think it’s more accurate to think of the Wilson/media relationship as one of mutual advantage. It was Wilson who was roaming around in the wilderness, making noises below the national media threshold until he got Kristoff’s ear at the NYT. He was then somehow a source for the WaPo (who called whom, and aren’t the NYT and WaPo competitors?) before outing himself on the op-ed page of the NYT.

Surely his words resonated with the media elite, but he seems to have been on a campaign to get noticed.

Cecil Turner

Now that Wilson's credibility bona fides are firmly established, can anyone explain to me what really went on here? There are two aspects that continue to puzzle: (1) why did Wilson go to Niger; and (2) how and why did Plame get outed?

Wilson's trip makes little sense from the CIA's standpoint--for one thing, he doesn't believe anything is there, so is unlikely to find it. And if it's merely a matter of making diplomatic rounds, why not simply phone the ambassador and ask? The only obvious result of sending Wilson is that a person not subject to non-disclosure laws is conveniently available to write NYTimes op-eds. That would seem to indicate a mini-revolt among CIA analysts, a view bolstered by Wilson's earlier anonymous leaking. But did Plame and Wilson cook this up way back in February 2002? That seems a bit hard to credit.

Similarly, "outing" as retribution never made much sense (and is almost entirely based on dubious statements from Wilson). The most plausible scenario is a curious WH staffer calling the CIA and asking "why are we reading about clandestine fact-finding missions in the Times's editorial pages, and who the hell is this Wilson guy?"--and receiving a terse reply from an annoyed CIA officer who's wondering the same thing. The information is passed along to Novak as an aside in the larger story, as explanation, and not considered important by either party. That seems to mesh with Novak's statements and the known facts, but not with his use of the term "operative" (and subsequent hand-wringing over the term and the CIA phone call). And if the explanation is [relatively] innocent, why the continued silence?

Whatever the explanation, there's a serious security breach here, it started with Wilson and Plame, and Wilson's attempt to portray it as high-minded whistleblowing doesn't wash. As RC Dean points out above, even if he could prove the negative of a Nigerian uranium deal, it's irrelevant to "sought" in "Africa"--and Wilson can't possibly be unaware of the fact.


This is a classic case of political doublespeak and keeping statements vague enough that one can't be held to any particular position or action. It's amazing how carefully these statements are worded to make the guilty look innocent.

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