Wilson said multiple sources told him two senior White House aides leaked the story to Washington Post columnist Robert Novak in retaliation for going public with what he knew about the false weapons claims made by President George Bush during his State of the Union address.
If allegations about the leak are true, Wilson said Karl Rove, the president’s top political strategist, must have authorised it. “I happen to believe that Karl Rove either approved or at a minimum, condoned it,” he said.
Wilson has refused to confirm or deny assertions about his wife’s CIA connections, but noted that any public disclosure of a secret agent would constitute a criminal violation of the Intelligence Identify Protection Act.
Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, has called for an FBI investigation of the matter, and Wilson said he would do whatever he could to assist any such investigation.
Speaking at a recent symposium in Seattle, WA, he said that if Rove played a part in leaking the story, he should be taken out of the White House “in handcuffs.”
When he first heard President Bush utter the now infamous 16 words about Saddam Hussein’s attempt to purchase uranium in West Africa, Wilson said he never imagined the political controversy that would soon follow.
Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon, holds the distinction of being the last American official to meet Saddam Hussein, so he knows a thing or two about what the former Iraqi president is capable of. He believed it was likely that Iraq was harbouring chemical and biological agents of some kind.
Joseph Wilson was the last US official
He knew that Hussein had been pursuing a nuclear weapons programme for decades, so Bush’s vague assertion during his State of the Union address in January — in which he mentioned no specifics about the Iraq-Africa connection — seemed reasonable, if not infallible.
What he didn’t know was that the most controversial line of the speech was largely based on faulty British intelligence stating that Iraq had tried to buy large amounts of uranium from the tiny West African nation of Niger.
It was a claim Wilson dispelled after being sent to Niger by the Central Intelligence Agency in February 2002 to verify the information. Upon returning to Washington, DC, he told CIA officials that based on his investigation, there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the charges were true.
Yet somehow the intelligence, including what turned out to be forged documents, found its way into the US National Intelligence Estimate, and ultimately into President Bush’s State of the Union address, during which he made a blistering case for the invasion of Iraq.
“I felt that it was important because of the confusion about it, and the fact that the story was spinning out of control”
Joseph Wilson, former US ambassador
In the weeks and months leading to up to the war, Wilson watched and waited. He knew that weapons of mass destruction might very well be discovered. He saw no reason to point fingers before the Bush administration had the time to prove that its case for pre-emptive military action was fully justified.
He gave several interviews to the media, but would only provide anonymous statements that the intelligence community had overreached on the uranium claims.
He argued that the US should have devoted more energy to supporting UN weapons inspections, rather than launching air strikes on Baghdad. The war came and went, with coalition forces destroying the Iraqi army in a few short weeks of combat. The search for weapons of mass destruction began, but none were found.
Finally, the debate turned to whether intelligence reports had been manipulated to convince the American public that Iraq posed a clear and imminent threat to US national security. The media turned its focus back to Bush’s State of the Union speech, and to reports that the CIA had received information from an “unnamed former envoy” — Wilson — that Saddam Hussein’s alleged quest for Nigerian uranium was false.
National Security Advisor Condeleeza Rice boldly asserted during a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press that no high-level officials in her department could have known that the Niger allegations were fallacious.
Condoleeza Rice’s assertion
At this point, Wilson decided to publicly disclose what he knew in a New York Times editorial, something that sank him neck deep into a political firestorm that damaged the Bush presidency.
Why did he do it?
“I felt that it was important because of the confusion about it, and the fact that the story was spinning out of control,” Wilson said during a recent interview with Aljazeera. “I felt it was important I own the story by putting it down on paper, in my own words.”
For Wilson, the administration’s refusal to acknowledge its own intelligence blunder left him no alternative but to speak out.
“The issue was how could somebody take so obviously unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable information and allow it to get into the president’s state of the union address?”
All this has brought Wilson’s name into national spotlight. An ex-surfer from California, he spent 23 years in the US foreign service, most of that time in sub-Saharan Africa. Ironically, his first diplomatic assignment sent him to Niger in 1976.
He was Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council under former president Bill Clinton 1997-98.
From 1998-91, he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission to the US Embassy in Baghdad, where he personally met with Saddam Hussein four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. Today he runs an international business development firm in Washington.
Although he no longer works for the government, he still has great concerns about the use of US power throughout the world. America, he says, is in danger of following the so-called neoconservative domino theory of “illiberal imperialism as it relates to the Middle East.”