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July 16, 2004

Further Reflections on Joseph Wilson's Career

Here's a fuller bio than I had in my earlier post, based on information mostly from PBS (I am not quoting them)

1988 to 1991: Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. During "Desert Shield" he was the acting Ambassador and was responsible for the freeing of several hundred American hostages. He was the last official American to meet with Saddam Hussein before "Desert Storm. He was number two, in charge of administrative matters, to April Glaspie, the career diplomat who it seems in July 1990 made Saddam think the U.S. would not mind if he invaded Kuwait and has not held an ambassador-level job since. She left on vacation later that month, leaving Wilson in charge, and after Saddam invaded Kuwait a few weeks later she didn't return to Iraq. The Air Phase of the First Gulf War started in January 1991.

1992-1995: U.S. Ambassador to the

Gabonese Republic and to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe from 1992 to 1995 (one ambassador for those two countries is standard) 1995-1997: Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of United States Armed Forces, Europe

June 1997 - July 1998: Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council

Just looking at this record, without Clifford May's anonymous sources, it isn't clear that he left the Foreign Service involuntarily. Maybe he just wanted to move into political appointments with the Clinton Administration, whose politics were more congenial to him than the administrations from 1980 to 1992.

The January 2001 Vanity Fair article contains lots of useful information, especially if you connect it to what else we know. There is mention of Wilson's Turkish connection:

He had met Plame in February 1997 at a reception at the Washington home of the Turkish ambassador.

We learn that he is rich and that he was having an affair with Valerie Plame in or before the year he divorced the second of his three wives. The article says "On the third or fourth date, he says, they were in the middle of a 'heavy make-out' session" and from the following excerpt we see that they were looking at houses and discussing marriage in 1998, the same year he was divorced:

The Wilsons live in the Palisades, an affluent neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on the fringe of Georgetown. In winter, when the trees have no leaves, the back of their house has a stunning view of the Washington Monument. They'd first seen the house in 1998, when it was still being built, and they had instantly fallen in love with it. Even so, Plame took some persuading before they made an offer. "She's very frugal," explains Wilson. "My brother who's in real estate had to fly in from the West Coast and explain that a mortgage could cost less than our rented apartment in the Watergate."

Plame also told Wilson that she'd be moving with him into the new house only as his wife. Records show that Wilson and his second wife, Jacqueline, to whom he was married for 12 years, were divorced in 1998. By the mid-90s, Wilson says, that relationship had pretty much disintegrated. "Separate bedrooms-and I was playing a lot of golf," he says.

Note, too, that exactly as I speculated in my earlier post, he was playing a lot of golf in the 1990's-- not the sign of a successful career.

On the positive side, the article (which, it must be noted, is extremely positive and takes a known liar-- Wilson himself-- as its source for much of what it says) has some good things to say about Wilson's career:

... Wilson also came back to Washington, as a senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council, where, according to the Reagan administration's assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Chester Crocker, he was the most effective person in that job during the Clinton administration.
In 1992, Wilson was rewarded with the ambassadorship to Gabon, where, he says, he helped persuade President Omar Bongo-"the most clever politician in African politics," according to Wilson-to have free and open elections.
Of course, when Crocker says that Wilson "was the most effective person in that job during the Clinton administration," that may be damning with faint praise. And we also learn that
Former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Wilson had had a "less-than-stellar record."
How about the question of whether Wilson's consulting job is real or phantom?

After only one year in the job Wilson decided to retire and go into the private sector because "we wanted to have kids, and felt that it had become very difficult to live off two government salaries." He set up a consultancy, J. C. Wilson International Ventures, with an office in downtown Washington at the headquarters of the Rock Creek Corporation, an investment firm of which little is known. Wilson's right-wing critics have been quick to condemn the affiliation as "murky," though Wilson does not work for Rock Creek and merely rents space and facilities there.


"I have a number of clients, and basically we help them with their sort of investments in countries like Niger," explains Wilson. "Niger was of some interest because it has some gold deposits coming onstream. We had some clients who were interested in gold.... We were looking to set up a gold-mine company out of London."

That doesn't really tell us much, except to say that though he lists himself as "Strategic Advisor" for Rock Creek Corporation, he is not really an employee-- just a tenant-- and so must not be getting any salary from them. Thus, I conclude the opposite from Bryan Preston and Roger Simon, who seem to worry about how much he was making from Rock Creek Corporation-- instead, it looks like he is making no money from them, and just wants to list an affiliation so it seems like he has a real job. Further investigation might determine who is right.

The Vanity Fair story tells us more about Wilson's background, including how his first wife got fed up with him:

Wilson is the son of freelance journalists who lived in California and then moved around Europe while he and his brother were growing up. He went to the University of California at Santa Barbara and characterized himself as a "surf dude" with some carpentry skills. In person, he gives off a charismatic, relaxed air, and someone who was with him in Baghdad said it's easy to underestimate him. In 1974 he married his college sweetheart, Susan Otchis, and in 1976 went to work for the State Department. His postings included Niger, Togo-where his wife became pregnant with the first set of Wilson twins, Joseph and Sabrina, now 24-South Africa, and Burundi. It was in Burundi that Susan "decided she'd had about enough of me" and left him, he says. He remains on good terms with the family.

Also in Burundi, Wilson met his second wife, then the cultural counselor at the French Embassy there. They spent a year back in Washington on a congressional fellowship, during which time he worked for Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, and Tom Foley, then House majority whip. "It was," Wilson says, "happenstance" that he worked for two Democrats. Then he returned to Africa as deputy chief of mission in the Congo Republic, where he helped Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker set up the process that led to negotiations for the withdrawal of the Cuban and South African troops from the Angolan Civil War.

This is all interesting, but what is most interesting is not Wilson's desire to go to Niger and discredit the Bush Administration, but the CIA's desire to help him do it. I'll post on that separately in a little while.

Posted by erasmuse at July 16, 2004 01:20 PM

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