Cheney accused of smear campaign by ambassador

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The former ambassador Joe Wilson yesterday accused Vice-President Dick Cheney and his senior officials of launching a smear campaign against him and of illegally identifying his wife as an undercover intelligence officer in an apparent act of revenge. In doing so they "betrayed America's national security".

The former ambassador Joe Wilson yesterday accused Vice-President Dick Cheney and his senior officials of launching a smear campaign against him and of illegally identifying his wife as an undercover intelligence officer in an apparent act of revenge. In doing so they "betrayed America's national security".

Mr Wilson said that in the spring of 2003, officials gathered in Mr Cheney's office and a decision was taken to discredit him over his view that allegations that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium for nuclear weapons were false. His wife's identity and her position as a covert CIA operative were later leaked to a right-wing newspaper columnist.

"According to a number of sources there was a meeting held in the office of the Vice-President, chaired by either the Vice-President or more likely his chief of staff [Lewis] "Scooter" Libby in which the decision was made to do a 'work-up' on me," he said. "They clearly came across my wife's name and decided to put [her] name out on the street as part of a campaign to drag my wife into the public square to get at me. That's it."

The allegation by Mr Wilson has the potential to be extremely damaging to the Bush administration as the President and his deputy campaign for re-election. The leaking of an intelligence officer's identity is a criminal offence and the matter is currently being investigated by a team of FBI officers headed by an outside prosecutor.

Should an official as senior as Mr Libby be charged, let alone convicted, of leaking the identity of Mr Wilson's wife, it would be terribly damaging to the administration. Should Mr Cheney be personally implicated, the consequences would be politically devastating. Mr Wilson believes that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also involved.

Mr Cheney's office said yesterday that no one was available to comment. On Thursday a White House spokesman, Scott McAllen, said: "Joe Wilson has said his primary objective is a political agenda to defeat the president. I don't intend to promote or review a book of someone whose primary objective is grounded in a political objective." Mr Wilson's allegations are contained within a new book The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed my Wife's CIA Identity, published today. An exclusive serialisation of extracts of the memoir begins in The Independent on Monday.

In the book Mr Wilson details how in early 2002 he was asked to travel to Niger at the request of Mr Cheney's office to investigate claims - based on a classified document - that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium to restart its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Wilson, a former ambassador to several African countries, travelled to Niger and reported back that the claim was demonstrably false and that the document must be a fake. Though the claim was contained in the British government's September 2002 dossier on Iraq, the document was later confirmed as a fake by the UN nuclear watchdog.

Despite Mr Wilson's findings, Mr Bush used the false claim in his State of the Union speech, in 2003, claiming "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa".

It was in the summer of 2003, after the administration continued to claim it had not been told the uranium claim was false, that Mr Wilson went public - first in The Independent on Sunday and then in the New York Times. It was at that point that the identity and job of his wife, Valerie Plame, were leaked to columnist Bob Novak, who named her.

In his memoir Mr Wilson writes: "For all the insults I knew I would suffer I never expected the White House itself to do anything like what it did: come after my wife. The disclosure of her employment was unprecedented and the [investigation] will decide whether it was a criminal act. Whether convictions are obtained or not it was unquestionably beneath the conduct that we have every right to demand from our public servants."

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