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July 14, 2004

The Wilson-Plame Affair: Career Motives?

In a recent post I discuss the lies of Joseph Wilson IV, the husband of Valerie Plame. One angle that has not gotten enough attention is why he and his wife wanted him to go on the mission to Niger. The most likely explanation is that Wilson wanted to make the President look bad, and planned all along to write his notorious New York Times op-ed, and that the CIA, for its part, wanted to pretend they were investigating the Niger-Iraq connection but actually wanted to bury the topic, because if any connection were found it would make their previous ignorance of it look bad. That's the kind of explanation I thought about a year ago when this first came up.

But there's another possible explanation, complementary to the first. This other possibility is that Wilson wanted to go to Niger on a CIA mission in order to help his consulting business. His wife dutifully proposed it to the CIA, and her bosses were willing to go along with it as a favor to her, a kind of bonus payment.

Let's think about that scenario. It's hard to get much public evidence, but I can lay out what we have and what would confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis.

First, let's look at Wilson's current job situation. Clifford May at NRO tells us:

Wilson spent a total of eight days in Niger "drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people," as he put it.

...Oddly, too, as an investigator on assignment for the CIA he was not required to keep his mission and its conclusions confidential. And for the New York Times , he was happy to put pen to paper, to write an op-ed charging the Bush administration with "twisting," "manipulating" and "exaggerating" intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs "to justify an invasion."


In 1991, Wilson's book jacket boasts, President George H.W. Bush praised Wilson as "a true American hero," and he was made an ambassador. But for some reason, he was assigned not to Cairo, Paris, or Moscow, places where you put the best and the brightest, nor was he sent to Bermuda or Luxembourg, places you send people you want to reward. Instead, he was sent to Gabon, a diplomatic backwater of the first rank.

After that, he says in his memoir, "I had risen about as high as I could in the Foreign Service and decided it was time to retire." Well, that's not exactly accurate either. He could have been given a more important posting, such as Kenya or South Africa, or he could have been promoted higher in the senior Foreign Service (he made only the first of four grades). Instead, he was evidently (according to my sources) forced into involuntary retirement at 48. (The minimum age for voluntary retirement in the Foreign Service is 50.) After that, he seems to have made quite a bit of money — doing what for whom is unclear and I wish the Senate committee had attempted to find out.

Actually, I wonder whether we know if he "made quite a bit of money". He seems to be driving a Jaguar and wearing fancy clothes, but when somebody is a liberal white Democrat with a name like "Joseph Wilson IV" and a career in the Foreign Service, you wonder if there might be some inherited WASP money there. Against this theory, the Middle East Institute Media Resources tells us that

Ambassador Wilson was raised in California and graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1972.

(Note, by the way, that this website, dated 2002, also says "He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters." He made no secret of his marriage to someone whose supposed job sounds awfully like a CIA cover job. )

PBS says

Currently, Wilson is CEO of JCWilson International Ventures, Corp., a firm specializing in Strategic Management and International Business Development. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

A forum had a caller asking him what he actually does for a living:

Alexandria, Va.:...Also, could you tell us a little bit about your company JC Wilson International? Thank you.
Joseph C. Wilson: We do political risk assessment for companies wanting to do business in Africa Europe and the Middle East.

He didn't go into any more depth, which I think is significant.

It seems, too that he is a "Strategic Advisor" to the CPS :

Corporate and Public Strategy Advisory Group (CPS) is a consultancy company providing strategic advice in public affairs and business and investment development, to the public and private sectors.

CPS actually seems to be a Turkish consulting firm, as a glance at its personnel shows. Why is Wilson linked to them? Maybe he's knows a lot about Turkey too. Or maybe they're eager to have a former U.S. Ambassador on their masthead, and he's willing to sell his name cheap.

Those are our facts. What can we make of them? Well, here are my speculations. WASPy liberal Joseph Wilson IV graduated from Santa Barbara in 1972 and didn't want to dirty his fingers with a job in business, so he went into the Foreign Service. He didn't do terribly well there, and was eased out at age 48, two years before the earliest voluntary retirement age. What was he to do? He kicked around in various political appointments in the Clinton Administration for a few years, he put up his shingle as a consultant, and he did odd jobs for CPS and anyone else he could get work from. In America, even if you're rich, you're supposed to have a job if you're under age 65. If you can't find a job or don't want to, the conventional way out is to call yourself a consultant and change the subject if people rudely ask you exactly what being a consultant means.

But you know that some consultants actually make money, and that if you are a consultant on political matters, one way to earn money is by seeming to have important contacts in government. Your wife is one such contact, but she's pretty far down the totem pole. Nonetheless, she can help. She can get you a gig visiting a foreign capital-- it's only Niger, but you're desperate-- as a representative of the CIA, on a mission of the highest importance. Your air fare is paid, as is the bill at the one decent hotel in Niger (only about 100 bucks a night, at the Hotel Sofitel I'm guessing). That doesn't matter much, though, and neither does the fact that you can't get paid anything because that would violate the federal anti-nepotism law, 5 USC Sec. 3110. What matters is that you come back to America and, since somehow you didn't sign any nondisclosure agreement, when people ask what you did last year, you can say, "Oh, lots of stuff. For example, when the CIA needed to send someone to Africa to check on possible uranium sales to Iraq, they naturally thought of me, and after some thought I agreed to take the time to go, since I do like to serve my country even now that I've joined the private sector."

Is this part of his motivation? I don't know. You've got the same facts as I do now. I still think the "Get Bush" motivation-- which, note, has also been a huge source of publicity and income for him-- is the main thing. But 8 days in Africa would be worth it for the boasting value alone, whether that value came back in actual consulting contracts or just in preserving one's self-respect as a man ashamed of involuntary early retirement.

This hypothesis could easily be disproved if it was false. What we would need is a copy of Wilson's tax returns or some other measure of how he is spending his time. If he is making lots of money from consulting and seems to have more business than he can handle, the hypothesis is false. If, on the other hand, he isn't doing much business at all, and is spending a lot of time at the golf course, then the hypothesis becomes more plausible.

If the hypothesis is true, a new question arises. It would certainly be unethical for his wife to have gotten him a CIA consulting gig just for their own private purposes when she knew he wouldn't do the best job of it, but would it be illegal? It would be if he were paid cash, but he was not. Suppose, though, that she plainly admitted that he was given the job for the purpose of helping him get private consulting contracts. Would that be illegal? I don't know.

Posted by erasmuse at July 14, 2004 11:46 PM

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Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson has been publicly discredited. He lied about his wife's role in his trip to Niger. He lied about what he found during that trip. He lied to reporters about the forged documents purporting to demonstrate an... [Read More]

Tracked on July 16, 2004 09:21 AM


So He goes to Africa, messes around for a bit, comes home, presents a report that doesn't jibe at all with other accepted intellegence sources, he gets called out by the people who sent him for doing shoddy work, so he throws a very public hissy fit?

Sounds like Richard Clarke.

I think it's pretty possible, this administration is full of business people who evidently want results. He's a career diplomat and now he's a "consultant", I bet he's never had a performance review in his life.

Posted by: Terry at July 16, 2004 08:58 AM


One criticism: any career foreign service officer who makes it to the level of ambassador -- to any country -- has done exceptionally well.

Posted by: EO at July 16, 2004 09:13 AM

Good point on his achievements-- making it to ambassador even of Gabon is exceptional. In fact, just passing the Foreign Service exam shows you're a pretty smart person. But how are we to interpret a move from praise for Iraq performance to ambassador of Gabon to the ejection seat? Lots of possibilities, ranging from incompetence as ambassador, to unhappiness about not getting a better embassy afterwards, to a principled fight against his bosses on some policy issue. Anybody know anything?

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen at July 16, 2004 09:52 AM

It is hard to tell from their nominal jobs which Wilson (Joseph or Valerie) was the covert CIA operative. Of course, one of them is now officially 'outed', and consigned to a desk job, while the other continues to travel the world and talk to 'interesting' people.

Posted by: Glenmore at July 16, 2004 11:21 AM

true blogging at it's finest..
all hearsay and no facts.. carefully blending and moulding a vision of a story into a murky truth.

Posted by: figgle at July 16, 2004 11:24 AM

What strikes me as a little funny is that in Valerie's letter recommending Joe for the Niger trip, she says that he knows the PM (Mamadou) and the minister of mines, well. How is that?

From what I can tell, Mamadou came to power in elections in 1999, which had followed a coup. Now Wilson is, as I undertand it, gone from the Foreign Service at this point, and needless to say, while Gabon and Niger share the same continent, they are not exactly next door neighbors. How is it he knows these government officials from Niger?

Gabon is rich (for Africa) and Niger is dirt poor. They don't appear to have any trade relations, but they both share one export in common--uranium.

Why does it seem there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye?

The CIA hires the husband of one of its officers to investigate a question of small, but some intelligence value, that the CIA believes to be false, nonetheless. He makes an oral report of his trip, on a non-confidential basis, cofirming his own view of the falsity of the question, then some months later goes public with his views in a scathing campaign to discredit the President and his policies. In the investigation that follows his allegations, it turns out that the husband/investigator is the source of several lies.

Occam's Razor suggests that Joe Wilson is, judging from his own enjoyment of his 15 minutes of TV fame, a victim of his out-sized ego.

But it does also point out the incredible state of disrepair that is the CIA.

Posted by: Forbes at July 16, 2004 07:20 PM

Sorry for wasting your time. Joe Wilson previously went to Niger, in 1999, on behalf of the CIA, seemingly at the suggestion of his wife.

Still begs the question why the CIA allows husbands of officers to go on investigative trips, when husbands aren't experienced investigators, needless the nepotism charge.

Posted by: Forbes at July 16, 2004 08:33 PM

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