By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What Wilson didn’t say

Discerning Media Nation readers know that I am not an admirer of Joseph Wilson, the Bush administration critic married to former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. I think the incomparable Bob Somerby has been dispositive on the man he calls “the Honest Ambassador.” Here is a good starting point.

Nevertheless, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard pushed matters too far yesterday in talking about Wilson’s mission to Niger, to which Wilson had been dispatched to learn whether Saddam Hussein had sought uranium. In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Hayes said:

HAYES: We have to remember, Joe Wilson came back, and when he went public, first anonymously then later with his name attached, claims that he had debunked forgeries that suggested an Iraq-Niger uranium deal, the chronology doesn’t work. Wilson was in Niger in February of 2002. The U.S. government came into possession of those forgeries in October of 2002. He could not have done what he said he had done. So if you’re in the White House at the time, why would you not say, “Gosh, who is this guy? Why is he saying these things that we know aren’t true? And how do we fix this?”

Gosh, is that what Wilson said? That he “had debunked forgeries that suggested an Iraq-Niger uranium deal”? In fact, Hayes didn’t even come close. Here is the full text of the famous Wilson op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times on July 6, 2003. Wilson deals with the forgery claim in three parenthetical sentences. Don’t blink, or you might miss it.

WILSON: As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors – they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government – and were probably forged. And then there’s the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.

Wilson wasn’t claiming to have debunked anything with respect to forged documents – he was merely citing news accounts that he saw long after he’d come home from his mission.

Sadly, host Tim Russert failed to correct Hayes.

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  1. Sven

    There’s a lot of confusion (thanks in no small part to Hayes) over the sequence of events. The Italians gave the CIA a report in 2001 that referred to – but didn’t contain – a “memorandum of understanding” between Iraq and Niger to purchase yellowcake. According to Wilson, he was told about the memorandum before the trip. From Seymour Hersh’s “Stovepipe” article:Wilson told me he was informed at the time that the mission had come about because the Vice-President’s office was interested in the Italian intelligence report. Before his departure, he was summoned to a meeting at the C.I.A. with a group of government experts on Iraq, Niger, and uranium. He was shown no documents but was told, he said, that the C.I.A. “was responding to a report that was recently received of a purported memorandum of agreement”—between Iraq and Niger—“that our boys had gotten.”He added, “It was never clear to me, or to the people who were briefing me, whether our guys had actually seen the agreement, or the purported text of an agreement.” Wilson’s trip to Niger, which lasted eight days, produced nothing. He learned that any memorandum of understanding to sell yellowcake would have required the signatures of Niger’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Mines. “I saw everybody out there,” Wilson said, and no one had signed such a document. “If a document purporting to be about the sale contained those signatures, it would not be authentic.”The fact that the forgeries suddenly appeared in October 2002 should have been suspicious in its own right, because the Italians claimed to have had the proof a year earlier.

  2. Sven

    Aha! My subconsious finally pulled the second forgery theory out of the archives. From the Senate Intellegence Committee report:Reporting on the uranium transaction did not surface again until February 5, 2002 when the CIA’s DO issued a second intelligence report DELETED which again cited the source as a “[foreign] government service.” Although not identified in the report, this source was also from the foreign service [SISMI]. The second report provided more details about the previously reported Iraq-Niger uranium agreement and provided what was said to be “verbatim text” of the accord.

  3. Neil

    As to the “good starting point”, the Daily Howler, the main point seems to be: But right from Day One, Wilson has been pompous, grandiose and extremely unreliable.But so what? Even if he were all these things, and even if his testimony were discredited, what is the relevance? What difference does it make? Is Somerby suggesting that because Rove thought Wilson was a “kook and an asshole”, that he or anyone else was therefore justified in outing Wilson’s wife? Surely not!

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