Filmmakers get to take dramatic license. Reporters really shouldn’t. But when it comes to Joseph C. Wilson IV and Valerie Plame, the mainstream media, as much as Hollywood, insist on marketing morality plays disconnected from reality.
The cinematic version of Joe and Valerie’s story is called Fair Game and at least the producers acknowledge that it’s only “based on actual events.” In the news pages of the Washington Post, Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby have provided an almost equally fictionalized version — with no such disclaimer.
They write that in February 2002, then–vice president Dick Cheney “questioned his CIA briefer about some intelligence claiming that Iraq sought to buy 500 tons of uranium ore from Niger to build a nuclear weapon. The agency sent Joe Wilson, a former ambassador with experience in both Baghdad and Niger, to run down the allegation, originally obtained by the Italian intelligence service from a note that turned out to be a forgery. Wilson debunked it.”
As Pincus and Leiby should know — it was reported in the Washington Post by Susan Schmidt on July 10, 2004 — the Italian forgery was “not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger.”
However, British intelligence had come to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein’s agents attempted to obtain uranium in Africa. Two separate and independent inquiries — one in 2003, the other in 2004 — examined that intelligence and found it to be “well-founded” — not based on the Italian forgery which actually may have been planted in order to be discovered and thus cast doubt on the Niger-Iraq link. British intelligence continues to stand by its conclusions to this day.
What’s more, a bipartisan U.S. Senate report found that the most important piece of information Wilson brought back from his mission to Africa was that a high-level Iraqi trade mission had visited Niger in 1999. Perhaps Iraq was just running low on camels, but, according to the Senate report, “the Nigerien prime minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium.”
As for Wilson’s attempt to “run down the allegation,” by his own admission that amounted to spending eight days “drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people” at his hotel in the Nigerien capital of Niamey. Based on what they told him — maybe they told him the truth, maybe they didn’t — he briefed CIA analysts upon his return. He never even filed a report. The CIA did not consider the information he gave them interesting enough to convey to Cheney or anyone else at the White House.
With this as context, the claim that Wilson “debunked” anything is, well . . . bunk. In fact, as the Post’s Schmidt also reported, the Senate intelligence panel specifically concluded that Wilson, “rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case” by citing the Iraqi trade mission. Schmidt noted: “Wilson’s reports to the CIA added to the evidence that Iraq may have tried to buy uranium in Niger.” How could Pincus and Leiby ignore all this?
And this, too, they neglect to mention: The Senate committee found that Wilson provided misleading information when he said that he had recognized the Italian document as a forgery because he noticed that “the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.”
Schmidt again: “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.” Wilson’s explanation? He told the panel he might have been confused.