Washington, 1 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It all began with 16 words uttered by President George W. Bush during his State of the Union address in January 2003 -- two months before the invasion of Iraq.
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush said.
About a week later, then Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a detailed account to the UN Security Council in New York about why the United States believed then Iraqi President Hussein was hiding an illegal arsenal of weapons.
Speaking yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, Wilson noted that Powell did not include the reference to Hussein's interest in African uranium that Bush made. The reason, he said, was that the information did not meet his standards.
"If it did not rise to the standard of the secretary of state, how could it rise to the standard of the president of the United States when he was giving the most important speech that a president of the United States gives in any given year -- and in particular this year, making the case for war?" Wilson asked.
"Disarmament of Saddam Hussein was a legitimate international objective and a worthy American objective. Regime change for the sake of regime change was a recipe for future problems."
Later, Wilson said, the CIA asked him to go to Niger to learn whether the report about African uranium was valid. He said he took the assignment, requesting no fee for his work, and returned to report that he found no evidence of an Iraqi effort to buy uranium in Niger.
Wilson previously served as a diplomat in Africa for two decades. And under Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, he was acting U.S. ambassador in Baghdad before the 1990-91 Gulf War.
Wilson said the Bush administration began a bid to discredit him after he went public with his Niger findings in a July 2003 article in "The New York Times." He said the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, was leaked to the press because the White House wanted to make it appear that Wilson had been selected for the African job merely on the basis of his wife’s CIA connections.
Wilson said he didn't speak of his Niger findings publicly for seven months after he returned from Africa. Even then, he said, it was not to espouse what he called "a position of no war, no how, no time" but to help forge a foreign policy based on solid intelligence.
Wilson said he had no quarrel with those who suspected Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that have never been found. But he questioned what he saw as an inflexible policy of regime change. "Disarmament of Saddam Hussein was a legitimate international objective and a worthy American objective," he said. "Regime change for the sake of regime change was a recipe for future problems."
But Wilson said the Bush administration refused to budge. And he accuses it of twisting intelligence reports to bolster the case for waging a war to depose Hussein. And he said the administration struck out at critics of that policy -- including his wife and himself.
Wilson said he is aware he angered the White House and members of Bush's Republican Party. But he said the feeling is mutual. "When I hear a Republican senator or a Republican representative talk about me, there are lots of things that I would like to say back," he said. "And I would like to say that not on behalf of me, but on behalf of 17,000 Americans who have been killed or wounded in Iraq in a war that was sold to us on false pretenses. It's as simple as that."
The Bush administration says it is cooperating with the ongoing investigation into whether any administration official illegally disclosed the identity of Wilson’s wife. Bush’s top aide, Karl Rove, reportedly remains a target of the probe.
According to "The Washington Post," Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is expected to plead not guilty on 3 November to charges that he lied and obstructed justice in the CIA leak investigation.