- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a key figure in the Iraq-Niger uranium controversy has accused Bush administration officials of intimidating his family to silence critics of its handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Speaking on a panel at the National Press Club on Monday evening, Mr. Wilson said there had been several attempts to discredit him since he accused the administration of ignoring evidence that Iraq had not tried to buy uranium in the African country.

Of particular concern, he said, was a July 14 article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak that revealed the maiden name of Mr. Wilson’s wife and identified her as a CIA “operative on weapons of mass destruction.” Newsday subsequently quoted intelligence officials as saying that she had worked at the agency in an undercover capacity.

Mr. Novak wrote that two senior administration officials had told him that Mr. Wilson’s wife had recommended that he be sent to Niger in February last year to investigate reports that Iraq was trying to purchase uranium there. The charge first appeared in documents sent to an Italian magazine that have since been exposed as forgeries.

Last month in a commentary article in the New York Times, Mr. Wilson said he had reported that there was no validity to the charge, months before it turned up in President Bush’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Wilson refused on Monday even to confirm that his wife worked for the CIA. Such exposure, he said, “could not only compromise her whole career, but is a breach of national security if she was really working for the CIA.”

“The reason for [the leak] was not to smear me or to smear my wife. This was clearly designed to intimidate others from coming forward,” Mr. Wilson said.

He said the attempts to discredit him, combined with the suicide of British weapons specialist David Kelly after harsh criticism from aides to Prime Minister Tony Blair, would discourage others from going public with information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Wilson also questioned the billions of dollars spent for intelligence if an Italian magazine was to be treated as an important source of information.

Past and current administration officials have also criticized Mr. Wilson’s New York Times article, in which he spoke of spending eight days “sipping sweet mint tea” and meeting with various officials.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer pointed out that Mr. Wilson had reported to the CIA in 1999 that he had been asked by a businessman to meet with Iraqis to discuss an Iraq-Niger business deal — which Mr. Wilson had interpreted as uranium sales.

Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, calls Mr. Wilson — who served in Niger as a diplomat in the mid-1970s and dealt repeatedly with Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime in the 1980s and ‘90s — “a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record.”

Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Charles E. Schumer of New York called last week for an investigation into the exposure of Mr. Wilson’s wife. But White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan dismissed any suggestion that administration officials had revealed a CIA operative’s identity.

“That is not the way this president or this White House operates,” he said in addressing a question about the Novak column.

“There is absolutely no information that has come to my attention … that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. No one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step.”

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