Joseph Wilson, U.S. diplomat and Iraq war intelligence skeptic, dies

Joseph Wilson
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2007.
(Associated Press)

Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who set off a political firestorm by disputing U.S. intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, died Friday in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 69.

Wilson died of organ failure, said his former wife, Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA operative was exposed days after Wilson’s criticism of U.S. intelligence that 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 obstructing justice.

President Trump pardoned Libby in 2018.


Plame, who is running as a Democrat for a congressional seat in New Mexico — in part as a Trump adversary — called Wilson “a true American hero, a patriot, and [he] 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 as a diplomat 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 alleged 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 UC Santa Barbara, Wilson had a career with the Foreign Service that included posts in several African nations. He was the senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War.

Wilson drew intense criticism from Republican lawmakers over his statements regarding Iraq in the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 pointed to inconsistencies.

Wilson dismissed those claims, which he discussed in his book “The Politics of Truth.”

In a 2003 interview with PBS, he said that the post-9/11 security mission went astray with the all-out war in 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.”