Debunking Distortions About My Trip to Niger
Saturday, July 17, 2004; Page A17
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. Last July 14, Robert Novak, claiming two senior sources, exposed Valerie as an "agency operative [who] suggested sending him to Niger." Novak went ahead with his column despite the fact that the CIA had urged him not to disclose her identity. That leak to Novak may well have been a federal crime and is under investigation.
In the year since the betrayal of Valerie's covert status, it has been widely understood that she is irrelevant to the unpaid mission I undertook or the conclusions I reached. But your paper's recent article acted as a funnel for this scurrilous and extraneous charge, uncritically citing the Republican-written Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report.
The decision to send me to Niger was not made, and could not be made, by Valerie. At the conclusion of a meeting that she did not attend, I was asked by CIA officials whether I would be willing to travel to Niger. While a CIA reports officer and a State Department analyst, both cited in the report, speculate about what happened, neither of them was in the chain of command that made the decision to send me. Reams of documents were given over to the Senate committee, but the only quotation attributed to my wife on this subject was the anodyne "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." In fact, with 2-year-old twins at home, Valerie did not relish my absence for a two-week period. But she acquiesced because, in the zeal to be responsive to the legitimate concerns raised by the vice president, officials of her agency turned to a known functionary who had previously checked out uranium-related questions for them.
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.
-- Joseph C. Wilson IV
© 2004 The Washington Post Company