The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, October 11, 2003

Joseph Wilson: the Bongo connection?

Sherlock Holmes aphorised more than once [1] 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 [2] 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 [3], as well as a stint from 1992 to 1995 as US Ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé [4].

(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 [5]) 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 [6] 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 [7]), is now part of Total [8]. In the maxi trial [9] 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 [10]? 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 [11] (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 [12]? 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 [13].

Bongo is not, it seems, without form when it comes to US lobbying activity. This collection of news pieces [14] 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…[15]

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 [16].)

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.

$8,000.00 for the six month period ending June 30,2002

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 [17] 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 [18] 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 [19].

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.

  1. This supposedly from The Sign of Four.

  2. From the Middle East Institute, a Saudi-backed organisation with which Wilson is connected - to the disgust of Joel Mowbray.

  3. Also known as Congo (Brazzaville) - the former French possession (as opposed to what was once the Belgian Congo, then (after a spell) Zaire, before becoming the DRC or RDC - which I discussed on September 26)

  4. Two separate countries, of course; the latter - also Sao Tome, for the diacritically challenged - formerly a Portuguese colony.

  5. According to the DOE Energy Brief, proven oil reserves of 2.5bn barrels; production in January 2003 (latest number) of 239,000 barrels per day - barely enough for a decent presidential motorcade...

  6. Links on the murky connections between France and its former African empire in my January 24 piece.

  7. Online information poor: to unravel, one might start with this, this, this (PDF), this, this and this.

  8. It is an artefact of the English and French languages, in combination with Mr Google's fine software, that it is rather trickier to search for total than elf - in connection with corruption or anything else.

  9. Relating to activities running up to 1993 - no online primer available, that I found: try this, this and this - and the best of British!

  10. I note that the very popular Delaware does not allow Joe Soap to search for names of Delaware corporations - only a restricted list of authorized searchers have that privilege. Not another Indian casino racket, surely?

  11. From Sergeant Stryker . The reason why Wilson's Saudi connection might grate on the neocon tendency I can figure: but Turkey? (CPS (their team, their Washington activities) is the outfit to which Wilson is Strategic Advisor.) Surely, Turkey is on the neocons' side, as a wedge issue to use against those arch-enemies the Axis of Weasels?

  12. There is almost nothing online about Wilson's lobbying activities.

  13. Neither Joseph Wilson nor his company is registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That would, I suppose be logical if his company supplied his services as advisor to a lobbying firm, rather than directly to a client. I note, however, that CPS is not identified in the June 2002 FARA report (the latest on the FARA site) as registered lobbyists for Turkey.

  14. On a site called Bongo Doit Partir - caveat maxime lector scarcely needs repeating!

  15. The piece continues:
    Après Washington [this is a later, private visit], Bongo a passé trois jours à New York où il est resté la plupart du temps aux Nations unies. "Hors ONU", deux autres cabinets - Loud and Clear Communication et le cabinet d'avocats Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, Mc Pherson & Hand - avaient été engagés pour organiser deux événements: une visite à la bourse et une rencontre avec le maire, Rudolph Giuliani. Bongo a rencontré le 22 avril le chairman du New York Stock Exchange, Richard Grasso, pour lui parler de ses projets de Bourse de Libreville… Les seuls qui se réjouissent réellement du ratage de cette visite (voir édito) sont le cabinet Barron-Birrel, qui avait lui-même organisé une visite avortée en 1998 et voit d'un très mauvais oeil Joseph Szlavik en pole position dans ce pays, et le cabinet Cassidy & Associates qui tente de s'emparer du contrat du Gabon. Son président, Gerald Cassidy, s'est d'ailleurs entretenu du dossier avec le ministre gabonais des Finances, Emile Doumba, le 29 avril à 16 h. A l'année prochaine…
  16. Regular Google picks up a reference from a correspondent of Andrew Sullivan's - it's the closest to media exposure she's had since the Plame outing story broke, so far as I can see.

  17. I'm not clear what the position entails, but its current holder, one Jendayi E Fraser, came from being an assistant professor at Harvard.

  18. From full report from the Senate site - Bongo-related extract with some links.

  19. As here and here.

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