Valerie Plame Wilson

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know something about the "outing" (by members of the Bush administration) of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA covert agent working on weapons proliferation.

It happened in July 2003 when Robert Novak broke the news in his syndicated political column. Novak would not reveal his source, so for more than four years Wilson and her diplomat husband, Joe Wilson, have been plagued with the messy aftermath.

Since outing a covert agent is a federal offense, a long investigation by a special prosecutor followed. Vice President Cheney's assistant, Scooter Libby, was convicted — not of leaking to the press, but of perjury — and President Bush waited an acceptable length of time, then pardoned him.

So the leak episode was over.

Or was it?

It ruined Valerie Plame Wilson's 20-year career with the CIA, caused the Wilsons horrendous emotional turmoil, incited serious threats against their lives and came very close to breaking up their marriage.

Now that Plame Wilson has resigned from the CIA and moved with her husband and their 7-year-old twins (a boy and a girl) to Santa Fe, N.M., she has written a book about the event, "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House."

The clever title is taken from a phrase uttered by Karl Rove — that Wilson was "fair game" in a political effort to discredit her husband.

Joe Wilson was sent by the CIA to Niger to verify an assertion that Saddam Hussein (through A.Q. Khan) had tried to buy uranium. When the former ambassador found no evidence of a uranium purchase, his name was blackened for alleged "nepotism" because he took a "junket" to Niger, the poorest country in the world.

During an articulate interview from a Los Angeles hotel, Plame Wilson, whom critics wrote off at the time as "a glorified secretary," made a convincing argument for her covert status and her need "to speak truth to power."

The book contains a ton of evidence that she was indeed a covert agent. She not only remains angry at the Bush administration but also at the CIA for not being willing to protect her when she started to receive threats on her family members' lives.

"I'm deeply disappointed," Plame Wilson said, "that the CIA crumpled under pressure of the administration and made the wrong decision when my family was so vulnerable in 2004. It saddens me that they didn't step up to the plate. Politics has been allowed to run rampant through the CIA."

Plame Wilson is also angry that the CIA delayed her book's publishing process by "redacting" huge sections of prose for alleged national security reasons. Her publisher decided to leave in the redactions (blackened sentences) so that readers could get a feel for how much was removed and how silly much of the censorship was. Frequently, several pages are blackened — even when the author is writing about matters that are obviously distant from national security.

"I have no desire to jeopardize classified information," asserted Plame Wilson, "but I didn't think the world would stop turning if I wrote how many years I worked for the CIA."

In an effective tactical move, the publisher asked Laura Rozen, a national security reporter, to write an afterword about the Wilsons' life and CIA connection. It notably clears up the questions most readers will have when they finish Plame Wilson's redacted account — and Rozen does it by using sources from the public domain.

Plame Wilson has never met Rozen, and she did not read the afterword for approval before the book was published. But she is pleased with the result. "The fact that she could write this with material totally from the public domain highlights the absurdity of the agency's position."

Plame Wilson worked as a NOC (Nonofficial Covered Officer, an independent status erasing all visible connections to the U.S. government — meaning that she functioned without a net).

In this role, she worked in London, Athens and Brussels, picked up two master's degrees in international affairs and European studies, and recruited agents from the ranks of foreign officials and business leaders. Asked how an attractive woman goes undercover, Plame Wilson said, "There is trade craft involved — but most people you meet feel under-appreciated, so you show the ability to listen to them so you can discern their motives to cooperate with the U.S. government. I'm not permitted to say precisely what I was doing."

According to Plame Wilson, a battery of tests she took before she became a CIA operative demonstrated that although she is "not a thrill-seeker," she "does like a challenge," and works well in a team. Her graduate degrees were probably earned in order for her to be more convincing as an NOC. "When is further education not a good idea?" she said.

The Wilsons, married nine years after "falling in love at first sight," have been warmly welcomed in New Mexico, where they have found "a great, beautiful place to raise a family and a place rich artistically, culturally and intellectually." Besides, it is much closer to their preferred skiing location — Snowbasin, near Ogden.

"If none of this had happened," Plame Wilson said, "I would be working on proliferation issues in Europe where I derived great satisfaction from my work. I had no desire to be a public person. But Joe and I don't want to be defined by this episode. We want to contribute again to the country we love, but we don't know how to do that yet."

In the meantime, a civil suit is pending with the hope that the Identities Protection Act can be strengthened.


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