Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who set off a political firestorm by disputing U.S. intelligence used to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion, died Friday, according to his ex-wife. He was 69.
Wilson died of organ failure in Santa Fe, said his former wife, Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA operative was exposed days after Wilson’s criticism of U.S. intelligence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium.
The leak of Plame’s covert identity was a scandal for the administration of President George W. Bush that led to the conviction of vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.
President Donald Trump pardoned Libby in 2018.
Plame, who is running as a Democrat for Congress — in part as a Trump adversary — called Wilson “a true American hero, a patriot, and had the heart of a lion.” Plame and Wilson moved to Santa Fe in 2007 to raise twin children and divorced in 2017.
In 2002, Wilson traveled to the African country of Niger to investigate allegations that Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium, which could have been used to make nuclear weapons.
Plame’s identity with the CIA was revealed in a newspaper column days after Wilson said in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the Bush administration twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war. Wilson later accused administration officials and political operatives of putting his family at risk.
A Connecticut native and graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Wilson’s career with the Foreign Service included posts in a handful of African nations.
He was the senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, which lasted from 1990 to 1991, and was the last American official to meet with Saddam before the Desert Storm offensive.
Wilson drew intense criticism from Republican lawmakers over his statements regarding Iraq and weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 pointed to inconsistences.
Wilson dismissed those claims, later authoring the book “The Politics of Truth.”
In a 2003 interview with PBS, he said that the post 9/11 security mission went astray with the full invasion of Iraq.
“The national security objective for the United States was clear; it was disarmament of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “We should have pursued that objective. We did not need to engage in an invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq in order to achieve that objective.”
The dispute vaulted Wilson and Plame into the glare of international celebrity, with Plame emerging as a professional public speaker and book author.
Plame’s book “Fair Game” about her exposure as a CIA operative was made into a 2010 feature film starring actors Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.
Plame is running in a crowded field for the Democratic nomination in an open race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, as the No. 4-ranked House Democrat campaigns for an open Senate seat in 2020.
In an introductory campaign ad for Plame, her aborted CIA career and Trump’s decision to pardon Libby figure prominently.
“My service was cut short when my own government betrayed me. … And Mr. President, I’ve got a few scores to settle,” she says.