When Valerie Plame Wilson swore that she did not recommend or suggest her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for a fact-finding trip to Niger in 2002, Sen. Christopher Bond took note. Wilson’s words, given in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, didn’t jibe with what Bond’s investigators had learned a few years earlier when they looked into the CIA leak matter. Now, we know why Bond was suspicious.
On page 205 of the newly released 226-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence, Bond has posted “additional views” that address the question of Plame’s testimony about her husband’s trip, the purpose of which was to check out reports Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Niger. The evidence Bond provides in his additional views contradicts Mrs. Wilson’s version of events.
In her testimony before the House, Mrs. Wilson said flatly, “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him.” She told the House committee that a 2004 Senate report, which concluded that she had indeed suggested her husband for the trip, was simply wrong. In particular, Mrs. Wilson pointed to a February 12, 2002, memo she had written, which the Senate said showed that she had suggested her husband for the trip, and claimed that the Senate had taken the memo “out of context” to “make it seem as though I had suggested or recommended him.”
The 2004 Senate report to which Mrs. Wilson referred had quoted a brief excerpt from her memo. In the new report, Sen. Bond publishes the whole thing, and it seems to indicate clearly that Mrs. Wilson suggested her husband for the trip. The memo was occasioned by a February 5, 2002 CIA intelligence report about Niger, Iraq, and uranium. The report had been circulating in the intelligence community for a week by February 12, and Mrs. Wilson headlined her memo, “Iraq-related Nuclear Report Makes a Splash.”
The report forwarded below has prompted me to send this on to you and request your comments and opinion. Briefly, it seems that Niger has signed a contract with Iraq to sell them uranium. The IC [Intelligence Community] is getting spun up about this for obvious reasons. The embassy in Niamey has taken the position that this report can’t be true — they have such cozy relations with the GON [Government of Niger] that they would know if something like this transpired.
So where do I fit in? As you may recall, [redacted] of CP/[office 2] recently approached my husband to possibly use his contacts in Niger to investigate [a separate Niger matter]. After many fits and starts, [redacted] finally advised that the station wished to pursue this with liaison. My husband is willing to help, if it makes sense, but no problem if not. End of story.
Now, with this report, it is clear that the IC is still wondering what is going on… my husband has good relations with both the PM 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. To be frank with you, I was somewhat embarrassed by the agency’s sloppy work last go-round, and I am hesitant to suggest anything again. However, [my husband] may be in a position to assist. Therefore, request your thoughts on what, if anything, to pursue here. Thank you for your time on this.
In addition to showing Mrs. Wilson suggesting her husband for the trip, the memo also sheds light on the timeline of events leading up to Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger. The conventional wisdom has always been that Mrs. Wilson suggested her husband’s name in response to an inquiry from Vice President Dick Cheney about the Iraq Niger uranium story. But we learned during the trial of Cheney’s former top aide, Lewis Libby, that the vice president was briefed about the Iraq uranium matter on February 13, 2002. Mrs. Wilson’s memo was written on February 12, which seems to show that Ambassador Wilson’s trip was in the works before the vice president asked his question.
More evidence of that is provided in a cable Senate investigators obtained, a cable written by Valerie Plame Wilson and “sent overseas requesting concurrence with Ambassador Wilson’s travel to Niger,” in the words of Sen. Bond’s additional views. In the cable, Mrs. Wilson wrote that “both State and DOD have requested additional clarification” on the Niger matter. She added that “indeed, the vice president’s office just asked for background information on the Niger report.” The cable was dated and stamped February 13 at 3:42 P.M. Washington time — several hours after the vice president’s question, but a day after Mrs. Wilson suggested her husband for the Niger mission. Putting it all together, Sen. Bond concludes: “While it may be possible that the vice president’s query is what led to the ultimate decision to use Ambassador Wilson to attempt to uncover additional information about the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal, it is clear from the dates of these two documents that CIACPD [Counterproliferation Division] was discussing ways to seek additional information, including the possibility of using Ambassador to look into the deal, before the vice president asked about the reporting.”
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Sen. Bond’s additional views also cast doubt on Mrs. Wilson’s story of how her husband’s name came up in CIA discussions of the Niger uranium matter. In her testimony to the House, she described an impromptu meeting at the CIA after another agency officer received a phone call from the vice president’s office inquiring about Niger and uranium. “A young junior officer who worked for me came to me very concerned, very upset,” Wilson testified. “She had just received a telephone call on her desk from someone, I don’t know who, in the Office of the Vice President, asking about this report of this alleged sale of yellowcake uranium from Niger to Iraq.” It was not clear from Mrs. Wilson’s testimony why the junior officer was upset, but just at that moment, she continued, “someone passed by, another officer heard this. He knew that Joe had already — my husband — had already gone on some CIA missions previously to deal with other nuclear matters. And he suggested, ‘Well, why don’t we send Joe?’“ That, Mrs. Wilson testified, was the beginning of her husband’s mission to Africa.
The account piqued Sen. Bond’s curiosity. “This testimony was of great interest to us,” he writes, “because during a nearly hour-long interview with Mrs. Wilson in which committee staff asked specifically what led CIA/CPD to think about sending someone to Niger and how it was that her husband’s name came up, Mrs. Wilson never provided the story she provided to the House committee.” In that old interview with Senate investigators, Bond says, Plame said that “I honestly do not recall if I suggested” sending her husband on the trip. The account she gave to the House, Bond adds, was “new to us and apparently new to the CIA which has been unable to find the alleged participants.” Bond has written to the CIA asking to interview the people said to be involved. He also wants to reinterview Valerie Plame Wilson herself.
Also casting doubt on Mrs. Wilson’s account, according to Bond, is the testimony of the CIA’s inspector general. Bond writes that the inspector general told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Mrs. Wilson herself told him, the inspector general, that she “made the suggestion” to send her husband to Niger.
Finally, the Bond additional views cast doubt on Mrs. Wilson’s testimony that a CIA reports officer — the one who she says originally suggested her husband’s name for the trip — claimed the Senate committee “distorted” his version of events. “He came to me almost with tears in his eyes,” Mrs. Wilson testified before the House. “He said his words have been twisted and distorted.” She said the reports officer wrote a memo to correct the record — it is not clear to whom the memo was given — but that the CIA would not let him speak to committee investigators a second time to clear up the record.
According to Bond, the Senate committee recently reviewed the reports officer’s memo, in the form of unsent letter addressed to Mrs. Wilson. In that letter, Bond says, the reports officer complained that his remarks about Ambassador Wilson’s trip were “truncated” in the Senate committee’s report. But, according to Bond, “The reports officer’s letter does not say that the committee twisted or distorted his words, does not contradict the committee’s finding that Mrs. Wilson is the one who suggested her husband, does not retract his comments to the committee that she ‘offered up’ her husband’s name, and does not state that he would like to be re-interviewed by the committee.”
In his additional views, Bond also released portions of the reports officer’s original account of events, given in an interview with Senate investigators. During interview, the reports officer said:
Let me speak to what I know of where she is substantively involved. She offered up his name as a possibility, because we were — we didn’t have much in the way of other resources to try and get at this problem, to the best of my knowledge. And so whenever she offered up his name, it seemed like a logical thing to do. I didn’t make the decision to send him, but I certainly agreed with it, I recommended that he should go.
The additional views make clear that the reports officer did not seem to be trying to undermine Mrs. Wilson. Bond adds more comments from the officer which show that he, the officer, approved of Mrs. Wilson’s actions in the matter:
I’d like to state emphatically that, from what I’ve seen, Val Wilson has been the consummate professional through all this. From the very start, whenever she mentioned to me and some others that her husband had experience and was willing to travel but that she would have to step away from the operation because she couldn’t be involved in the decisionmaking to send him, in [his] debriefing, [in] dissem[inating] the report and those kinds of things, because it could appear as a conflict of interest.
Taken in sum, the evidence in Bond’s additional views seems to definitively lay to rest the question of who suggested Joseph Wilson for the trip to Niger. But it doesn’t lay to rest questions about Valerie Plame Wilson’s varying accounts of the matter. “Mrs. Wilson told the CIA inspector general that she suggested her husband for the trip, she told our committee staff that she could not remember whether she did or her boss did, and told the House committee, emphatically, that she did not suggest him,” Bond writes.