The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Joseph Wilson: the Bongo connection?
Sherlock Holmes aphorised more than once  to the effect that
when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
The problem with the still-unexplained rationale for the original leaking of Valerie Plame as a member of the CIA is that the possibilities we have been considering have not been improbable enough!
Let me suggest - I'm making no claims for originality here - an avenue that proper journalists might like to explore (to coin a phrase. Not). No allegations expressly or by innuendo intended. Just one or two facially interesting facts that may or may not add up to something.
As this bio  points out, he was something of a francophone Africa specialist in his time at State: his duties included, it seems, postings to Niger, Togo, Burundi and the Republic of the Congo , as well as a stint from 1992 to 1995 as US Ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé .
(Wilson's proudest moment as a diplomat must, I suspect, have been his part, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, in the freeing of the hostages taken by Saddam prior to the 1991 Gulf War.)
Gabon is the (relatively oil-rich ) fiefdom of President Omar Bongo, whose association over many years with the French political class (of right and left) has been both lucrative and (on occasion) extremely embarrassing, mainly through the Elf oil company  Not, one would have thought, easy territory for Uncle Sam to accrue benefits from diplomatic efforts.
(Elf these days is a reformed character - in the sense of having been privatised in 1994 - and, as a result of a series of mergers ), is now part of Total . In the maxi trial  of Elf executives and others in Paris, which took place earlier this year, the verdicts are due in November.)
So far, we have elements of interest: Wilson served as ambassador in a country rife with corruption whose ruler was intimately connected with a corrupt company whose executives are currently facing the possibility of jail terms. But that's it. US ambassadors have to serve in all sorts of odious countries - so what?
Wilson's current venture, accorded to his bio, is an outfit called JCWilson International Ventures, Corp which is said to be
a firm specializing in Strategic Management and International Business Development.
Which, I wonder, is the state of incorporation ? Has anyone seen financial statements for the company? How, and from whom, does it secure its revenues?
The suggestion is that Wilson is a lobbyist with the Saudis and the Turks as clients  (no doubt there would be others). Those two perhaps a rather surprising choice, given his African specialism - his efforts in Kuwait evidently counting for more than speaking the languages or having had any diplomatic experience in the countries concerned. Still, lobbyist must be fairly high up in the list of retirement jobs taken up by ex-ambassadors retired from State. No great surprise, therefore, if that's what he's doing.
But why no African clients ? The Willie Sutton rationale may spring to mind. But, when it comes to moolah, President Bongo - to pick a name not entirely at random - is not short .
Bongo is not, it seems, without form when it comes to US lobbying activity. This collection of news pieces  refers to a visit on October 5-9 1998 made by Bongo to Washington. Something of a snafu in that Clinton did not meet him. Under the heading ECHEC D'UNE VISITE AUX ETATS-UNIS (dated November 5 1998), the piece says that
Un contrat de 350 000 $ a été signé avec le cabinet de lobbying Barron-Birrel dont 100 000 $ ont été immédiatement déboursés comme acompte (contrat enregistré au département américain de la justice sous le NO. 4729). Des congressistes comme Bill Archer (Républicain du Texas), E. Clay Shaw (Floride) et John Tanner (Tennessee), qui avaient effectué au printemps une visite à Libreville, avaient fortement encouragé ce voyage auprès des responsables américains. Dans une lettre adressée le 14 septembre à William S. Cohen, le Secrétaire d'Etat à la Défense, Bill Archer expliquait ainsi que sous "le leadership du président Bongo, le Gabon était devenu un îlot de stabilité...".
Despite these valiant efforts, no joy for Bongo! However
Entre-temps, les lobbyistes de l'ancien grand argentier Jean-Pierre Lemboumba, comme Jean-Marie Coulbary (également le conseiller en communication du père Paul Mba Abessole, LC NO. 315), ont réussi à faire passer les 16 et 21 octobre une résolution à la Chambre des députés (par Alcee Hastings de Floride) et au Sénat (par le sénateur Richard Lugar de l'Indiana) sur la nécessité de la transparence des élections de décembre 1998 en faisant référence à des "irrégularités" lors des présidentielles de 1993...
And then, on the same page, under the head LE JACKPOT DES LOBBYISTES US ? (dated May 6 1999), one reads:
Les lobbyistes américains "déclarés" à fin 1998 comptaient Shandwick Public Affairs, Pierre Salinger et Jacqueline Wilson, femme de Joseph Wilson - ancien ambassadeur au Gabon et ancien conseiller Afrique de Bill Clinton - qui était également très présent dans les manifestations de cette visite…
Well, well, well.
Not exactly what you'd call a smoking gun, but better than a poke up the arse with a sharp stick - as I'm sure they don't say over at Foggy Bottom.
Media reports have certainly mentioned Wilson's marriage to Valerie Plame as not being his first. But Jacqueline Wilson has succeeded in keeping out of the media entirely. (The only pieces in Google news with that name clearly do not refer to Wilson's ex .)
The Gabon connection would be logical - having been (I am surmising) Wilson's spouse for his posting in Libreville, and picked up contacts there. She is FARA-registered for Gabon - the Presidency itself:
The registrant contacted U.S. Government officials on behalf of the foreign principal concerning Gabon's aids programs and travelled to central Africa concerning health issues.
Other outfits registered for Gabon declare far more generous rewards. And Bongo is the only client for which she is FARA-registered.
Ms Wilson, one infers, relies on other sources of income than her cheque from Africa.
But what of Wilson himself, who, the piece says,
était également très présent dans les manifestations de cette visite.
The ubiquitous bio describes his role with Clinton  as follows:
Ambassador Wilson served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council from June 1997 until July 1998. In that capacity he was responsible for the coordination of U.S. policy to the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. He was one of the principal architects of President Clinton's historic trip to Africa in March 1998.
Strangely, I can't immediately trace whether Clinton visited Bongo.
Bongo's connections with the US at the time were not, of course, solely political. One gets an indication in a 1999 minority staff report of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations  of his use of US financial institutions to, shall we say, manage his money. (The report focuses on his relationship with the Citibank private bank.) It talks about Bongo having $111m dollars from the 1995 Gabon budget for use at his discretion...
(The country's wealth comes from oil: according to the October 2003 DOE Energy Brief, 77% of export value is crude oil; net exports for 2003 estimated at 227,000bbpd - at a rough $30pb, a cash flow on oil account of around $2.5bn.)
And Uncle Sam's concern to diversify its supplier base in favour of West African oil is scarcely news .
So where does that get us in relation to suggesting that investigating a Wilson-Gabon connection might be worthwhile: Wilson has expertise and contacts - in Gabon, if not within the current Administration; USG has foreign policy interests (oil security, and breaking up the French chasse gardée in francophone West Africa); Bongo has the cash and the desire to pass on the cash cow Gabonese oil business as a good doer to son Ali Ben Bongo (I kid you not!) who is already esconced as Defence Minister and found a Thousand Year Riff (or Axis of Bongos).
MMO is, of course, not conclusive of anything. It's not even (pace Hollywood) terribly probative evidence. But I'd say that it does constitute a loose end that actual journalism - which this piece certainly is not - might tug to useful effect.
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