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RIP Joseph Wilson — Former Diplomat And Valerie Plame's Ex-Husband Dead At 69

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How Did Joseph Wilson Die? New Details On Former Diplomat And Valerie Plame's Ex-Husband's Death At 69

Joseph Wilson, who gained notoriety for revealing that the Bush administration lied about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction, has died. He was 69 years old.

A long-time foreign policy expert, Wilson was asked to investigate reports that the Iraqi government was trying to purchase weapons-grade uranium in 2002. He found no evidence of such a purchase and reported his findings back to the CIA. Weeks later, then-President George W. Bush said the exact opposite in his State of the Union address. Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times to correct the record, setting off a sequence of events that led to his wife losing her position as an undercover CIA agent, a Cheney staffer going to jail and America learning that the president had lied about why we were at war. 

How did Joseph Wilson die? Read on for all the details. 

1. Years of foreign service experience

Wilson was an expert in foreign policy in Africa and the Middle East and served under presidents from both parties. In an op-ed he wrote in 2003 in the New York Times, he detailed his many years of service. "For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council."

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2. Calling out the Bush White House

The op-ed wasn't simply an exercise to publicly brag about being an expert in foreign policy. Wilson published the column in the New York Times to share details of the work he had done on behalf of the George W. Bush White House. He had been asked to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase materials to make weapons of mass destruction from sources in Niger. "In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report," Wilson recalled. "While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's."

He went on to detail his mission in Niger and the various people he spoke to while investigating the claims from the Vice President. The search was fruitless. "I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place," Wilson wrote. 

3. Was the justification for the war a lie?

In his op-ed, Wilson didn't mince words about how his information could have been used in the run-up to the war and the way he felt it had been disregarded. "If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why)," he wrote. "If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses."

In the months after the fall of Bagdhad, Americans learned that Wilson had been right all along: Hussein had not procured uranium and the weapons for mass destruction were not real. His report from Niger had been ignored, just as he suspected. 

Wilson was unafraid to speak truth to power. 

3. Outing Valerie Plame

At the time that Wilson was conducting this research for the Bush administration, his wife Valerie Plame was working for the CIA. She was a covert agent and keeping her identity secret was critical to her job. But in the weeks that followed Wilson's op-ed, her identity was leaked to the press. Robert Novak, a major conservative columnist at the time, published identifying information about her, forcing the CIA to pull her out of service. "It just felt like I got a sucker punch to the gut," Plame told NPR's Fresh Air in 2007. "And I knew, of course, my career as I knew it was over." She had to resign from her job after that. 

Over time, it came out that Vice President Dick Cheney was likely involved in leaking Plame's identity. His chief of Staff Scooter Libby was tried for the crime and eventually sentenced to jail, although he was not the person directly responsible leaking the information — it had come from a top State Department official who acknowledged that he was the source, the New York Times notes. Libby was found guilty of lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with reporters.

Libby was pardoned by Donald Trump last year.

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4. Shoot the messenger

At the time of the events, Wilson was horrified that his wife was targeted for revenge by the White House. Her safety had been put at risk and it derailed her career entirely. "I was not surprised that the White House would attempt to discredit me. There is a long practice in this town of trying to destroy the credibility of the message by destroying the credibility of the messenger," Wilson told NPR's Renee Montagne in 2004. "I was shocked that somebody in the U.S. government would take a decision that the political agenda that they were trying to protect or defend was more important than the national security of the country and expose my wife and her activities."

Wilson and Plame eventually left DC and moved to New Mexico. They wrote a shared memoir of their experience but their marriage ended in 2017. 

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5. Running for Congress

Plame recently reemerged into the political sphere when she announced her bid for Congress. She's running to replace Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján in New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District. Luján is stepping down to run for the Senate. 

Plame's campaign announcement.

6. "He had the heart of a lion."

Plame confirmed Wilson's death to the New York Times this week, saying he passed away due to organ failure. She said he never regretted his actions regarding the lies about why the Iraq War started. “He did it because he felt it was his responsibility as a citizen,” she said. “It was not done out of partisan motivation, despite how it was spun.”

“He had the heart of a lion,” she added. “He’s an American hero.”

Robert Wison was 69 years old. He is survived by a brother, William; two children from his first marriage, Joseph Wilson V and Sabrina Ames; two children from his marriage to Plame, Trevor and Samantha Wilson; and five grandchildren.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.