Joe Wilson spent 70% of career working as US ambassador in Africa.
Wilson's wife had a career at the CIA, and in the early part of this decade was working on WMD proliferation.
SOMEBODY (disputed whether it was the VP's office or some part of the CIA) somewhere in the government had questions about some intel they had saying Saddam was trying to buy uranium from Niger.
SOMEBODY (disputed whether it was CIA people or Wilson's wife herself) remembered Wilson's service in Africa and thought he might be a good guy to investigate the uranium claim.
Wilson goes to Africa, finds nothing. Issues oral report back to CIA. Thinks nothing more of it, UNTIL:
The sixteen words in the Jan 2003 State of the Union speech.
Wilson writes editorial in NY Times, "What I didn't find in Africa," saying that the government was at a minimum mistaken in the uranium claim, and they would have known better if only they'd paid attention to his report, the current ambassador to Niger's reports, and another military guy's report.
White House doesn't like being contradicted, and Wilson's reportage WAS a little shaky. (What kind of moron goes to Africa on government business and only issues an ORAL report on his findings??) People in the White House start a whispering campaign about Wilson to attack his credibility rather than the credibility of the sixteen words themselves. (White House at one point admitted the words were "incorrect.")
Scooter Libby and/or Karl rove asks around about who Wilson is, finds out about his wife working for CIA, then tells Robert Novak that information, who can't hold his wad and writes it in a column, implying that Wilson is a liar and it was all his wife's doing that got him sent to Africa.
Joe Wilson was on CSPAN last night speaking at the National Press Club.
He basically went over his long history of foreign service with Niger. He knew the people in power and the structure of the country, including the Uranium mining industry and it's control structure.
Joe was in a meeting with the NSC I think and in it it came to be that he'd go to Niger to consult with the people from previous regimes (since the current ambassador only had relations to the current regime) NOT as a clandestine operative.
Wilson's research shows that the claim by Britain of Iraq trying to purchase a large amount of uranium yellowcake would amount to a 40% jump in production. That 40% would result in lots of new hiring, trucks to transport, barrels to store the product, etc that wasn't showed in the documents from the 2 large mines in Niger.
16 words end up in the state of the union and Sharky's explanation should suffice from there.