Let me start with some background. Remember in the 2003 State of the Union Speech, President Bush uttered the following words: ''The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." This charge was attacked by former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who had been sent to Africa by the CIA to investigate the claims that Hussein was trying to buy uranium there. Concluding that there was no merit to the allegations, after the State of the Union speech he want public in the New York Times, with an article titled "What I Didn't Find in Africa".
Wilson was pretty sure that reports of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium were bunk, because he drank tea with a number of people who told him so:
I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.
Me, I don't know why we spend the money we do on satellite surveillance and wire intercepts, when we can find out anything we need by sending stuffed shirts like Wilson around to drink tea with people. I mean, I can't imagine that anybody would lie to him or anything.
Anyway, the "Bush Lied" uproar was on, in spite of the fact that Bush told the precise truth. The British government had informed the Americans that Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa. (And, they stood by their story, in spite of Wilson's tea drinking).
In an apparent effort at spin control, someone in the administration leaked the story (to columnist Bob Novak) that Wilson had only been selected to go to Africa because his wife, Valarie Plame, was a CIA official and had recommended him. Novak published this, and the poop really hit the fan (sorry, this is a family blog). Now the Bush administration was accused of trying to destroy Wilson, by blowing his wife's cover, thereby risking her life and ruining her career.
The left went crazy at this evidence of perfidity. Here, for example, is the always measured Senator Chuck Schumer:
The disclosure of Plame's identity was part of an apparent attempt to impugn Wilson's credibility and to intimidate others from speaking out against the Administration.
"This is one of the most reckless and nasty things I’ve seen in all my years of government," Schumer said. "Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network and other operatives she may have dealt with. On top of that, the officials who have done it may have also seriously jeopardized the national security of this nation."
And here is Wilson, at a function set up the the Nation, weeping over his wife's lost annonimity:
At the Nation award lunch Wilson wept openly on the podium as he looked his wife straight in the eye and declared, "If I could give you back your anonymity ... " He swallowed, unable to speak for a few seconds. "You are the most wonderful person I know. And I'm sorry this has been brought on you." Valerie Plame also teared up. The room was electrified.
Now me, I was taking the whole thing with a grain of salt or two. One, the CIA is not known for especially getting things right, for example completely failing to provide any advance intelligence on things like 9-11 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, I couldn't fault Bush for talking about British intelligence in spite of the fact that the CIA--in reliance on the tea drinking Wilson--was telling him differently. Two, everyone was sort of vague on what Ms. Plame did for the CIA, and why "outing her" not only risked her life, but was a threat to our very national security. Certainly the targets of this vicious outing didn't spend the next year or so huddled in a safe house somewhere in rural Idaho. To the contrary, they seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit. And I guess Ms. Plame was not so concerned about her "secret identity" that she had a problem posing for Vanity Fair:
(Its okay, she's wearing dark glasses).
Anyway, now that the feeding frensy is over, it turns out that Wilson is--well--a liar. According to the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report (as told by the Washington Post), Wilson's report to the CIA did not debunk the African uranium sale allegations:
The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.
Yesterday's report said that whether Iraq sought to buy lightly enriched "yellowcake" uranium from Niger is one of the few bits of prewar intelligence that remains an open question.
And Wilson also lied about the documents supporting the uranium sale story being forgeries. It turned out that he hadn't even seen them:
The [Senate Intelligence Committee] report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong."
"Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the 'dates were wrong and the names were wrong' when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports," the Senate panel said. Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have "misspoken" to reporters. The documents -- purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq -- were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger.
And Wilson also lied about whether his wife had recommended him for the job. Here is what he said:
"Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."
And here is what the Senate report found:
The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame "offered up" Wilson's name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA's Directorate of Operations saying her 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." The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said.
When called on this one, Wilson--rather lamely--responded that he didn't see his wife's memo "as a recommendation to send me."
Of course, none of this will make a nickles worth of difference to the "Bush lied" crowd. But it least it looks like the fifteen minutes for Wilson and Plame are about up.
Update: The Senate Intelligence Report is here, if you want to see for yourself.