News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Columbus Dispatch - National/International

Saturday, February 11, 2006
Alan Johnson

Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson charged yesterday that he and his wife, ex-CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, are victims of character assassination by the Bush White House.

"This administration used national security information for political ends, notably to compromise my wife’s identify as a CIA clandestine officer. There is no doubt about that," Wilson said at the Ohio Newspaper Association’s annual meeting in Columbus.

But the 25-year diplomat, who also served under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said the issue is much larger.

"This is not just about two people. This is a debate over what sort of country are we."

Wilson offered an insider assessment of the Iraq war and the Bush administration in a candid 45-minute speech at the Hyatt on Capitol Square.

"What I worry about, and what all Americans should worry about, is the extent to which the national security rationale for collecting information was perverted by political types for political reasons."

White House spokesman Allen K. Abney would not respond directly.

"He’s making all these comments in the context of an ongoing investigation," Abney said. "We’re not going to comment on this."

Wilson came under scrutiny in 2003 after he challenged President Bush’s assertion in his State of the Union address that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa in an effort to build a nuclear arsenal.

Having been assigned to check out that allegation on a trip to Niger in 2002, and finding it without basis, Wilson said he was surprised to see the president use it as a rationale for the Iraq war.

"It was . . . my duty to call my government to account."

He did that in a 1,500-word New York Times opinion-page piece titled "What I Did Not Find in Africa."

Shortly after that, columnist Robert Novak disclosed the identity of Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative, possibly in violation of federal law forbidding disclosure of people in sensitive intelligence positions. Wilson said it was Bush administration retaliation.

The disclosure triggered a federal investigation that led to Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, and resulted in the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that documents filed by federal special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicate that Libby told a federal grand jury that his superiors approved leaking sensitive security information to the news media to support the Iraq invasion.

Wilson said the administration misled the American people about the invasion.

"I believe . . . that when you send your soldiers, sailors, Air Force and Marines off to kill and to die in the name of the American people, we need to know precisely what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, why we’re asking them to pay that price."

The "longest-lasting wound" of the war, Wilson said, will be losing "our ability to lead the world."

While Wilson acknowledged that he and his wife are facing formidable opponents, he dismissed it as insignificant compared to his challenges as ambassador in Iraq during the Gulf war.

"If in your life you’ve been able to face down Saddam Hussein, facing down the likes Scooter Libby isn’t all that challenging."

Wilson, who is a registered Democrat, supported U.S. Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. He has also written a book, The Politics of Truth.

Aaron McLear, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said, "Joe Wilson’s insatiable quest for the limelight continues to be long on selfpromotion and short on facts. Misstatements, inaccuracies, partisan rants and outright untruths have been hallmarks of his sensational attempts to smear this administration while promoting his favorite product: Joe Wilson."