The Plame Affair
Outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson discusses her memoir, the FISA amendment and her move to New Mexico
Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity is no longer a secret. Five years and two lawsuits later, neither is her story. In her October 2007 memoir, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government, former agent Wilson chronicles how her life shifted from serving her country to suing her country.
Her account narrates her experiences as an agent, as well as the agonizing years following her betrayal by the very people she was working to protect. “If I spoke out I would lose my job. If I didn’t, it might doom my marriage. It was a miserable time for me and Joe—both of us existing in separate but connected rooms in hell,” Wilson writes. The former CIA agent moved to Santa Fe with her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, and two children in March 2007.
Five years ago this month, the Washington Post made Wilson's identity as a CIA agent public. Her outing occurred about a week after her husband published an article in the New York Times saying he found no evidence of Niger selling weapons supplies to Iraq, and consequently no reason to justify the Iraq invasion. On July 14, 2003, the media and the Bush administration ended Wilson's career as an agent, placing her and her family in danger.
Wilson appeared at Page One Bookstore on Saturday, July 19, for a talk and book signing. She spoke about why she, a seemingly "nice, blonde little girl," joined the CIA and the growing trend of outsourcing our intelligence agents to private contractors. She also recounted the CIA's refusal to provide her any security after her name was released, though there were threats directed toward her and her family. Despite the heavy subject matter, laughs rippled through the crowd as she looked out the window and said, "If the war was over oil, they did a hell of a poor job."
While Wilson says she is delighted to finally share her story with the public, doing so hasn’t been without hardships. “I wrote the book for two reasons. One was very personal: to help process what had happened to my family and me. The second was because this story of consequences of speaking truth to power, and the importance of holding our government accountable for their worst deeds, is really important,” Wilson says.
Although Wilson and her family now reside in the Southwest, much of their thoughts remain in Washington, D.C. She's filed two lawsuits against major government agencies. Wilson is suing J. Michael McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, accusing them of suppressing her freedom of speech.
Members of the CIA are required to submit writing to the agency for review prior to publication. The CIA took more than a year to analyze Fair Game and returned it to Wilson in September 2007. Wilson and her publisher, Simon and Schuster, Inc., were enraged that the agency chose to black out much of her writing and denied publication of any events that took place before 2002.
In her book, Wilson reacts to the CIA’s elimination of many details of her life. “I began to feel like what the Soviets termed a ‘nonperson.’ You simply ceased to exist in the eyes of the state,” she writes. Wilson maintains the censorship of her manuscript went beyond reasonable measures. To make this point, she published the book with the CIA's editing blackout marks. “We are now in the appeals process, and I believe oral arguments will be sometime in the fall,” Wilson says.
She and her husband filed a civil suit two years ago against Vice President Cheney; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff; and former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove for revealing her identity and infringing on her Constitutional rights. The Wilsons are pressing the Bush administration for multiple reasons; not only to discover the truth behind the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s name and career but also to guarantee that public officials are liable for their actions and to prevent future crimes.
Wilson speaks with the guarded tone of an ex-CIA agent who remains a loyal but disappointed citizen. When she's not fighting the Bush administration, Wilson's unpacking the remaining boxes in her new home. She also managed to spare a moment to share her thoughts with the Alibi.
Congress reinstated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), declaring U.S. government officials must once again produce a warrant in order to spy on citizens. What is your opinion of the debate over the FISA amendment?
I will just give you my own experience regarding FISA requests. They were always accompanied with appropriate rationale, and the requests were turned around promptly, usually in 24 hours or less. I believe [the Bush] administration used this as a wedge to further undermine some of our civil liberties. It’s disappointing; I don’t believe that [the original FISA] needed to be overhauled to provide more power to the U.S. government.
How would you rate the mainstream media’s performance in covering the FISA issue?
Poor. Unfortunately, many of the mainstream media outlets now are viewed as profit centers. They are not undertaking their activities in the sense for the public good, whether they’re a profit center or not. We have to have a free and vigorous press, particularly investigative reporters that allow U.S. citizens to understand what’s really happening and make their own decisions.
Have any individuals’ lives or jobs been compromised as a result of your position being revealed?
Certainly, it was very damaging not only to me and my network of office, but, of course, there’s the ripple effect. If there are people out there who wish to share government information with the U.S. government, they might think twice when they hear the story. Why would they wish to jeopardize themselves or their family? What happened really was quite treasonous. To have senior administration officials betray my covert CIA identity is, in fact, treasonous because of the negative consequences it has on our national security.
After your name was released, many right-wing spokespeople and reporters implied that you just worked an office position in the CIA to lessen the significance of your outing. What do you make of this?
[It] is part of, again, the character assassination campaign. If you diminish me or my responsibilities, then you diminish the problem. That’s what they’re seeking to do. When I was outed five years ago this month, you could count on one hand the people who knew where I truly worked.
What does it mean to work as a NOC?
NOC stands for “non-official cover,” and that is when you have no overt affiliation with the U.S. government. They are used as officers with the most sensitive cases undercover. And it gives you reason to leave the country and move around when, in fact, you are serving your country in sometimes very perilous situations. If you’re caught, you’re caught, and the U.S. government will not acknowledge your affiliation.
Your husband, who is a former ambassador, published a book, The Politics of Truth, in April 2004. It was met with a great deal of animosity. Did this influence how you wrote your memoir?
Animosity really only came from the administration and the far right-wing supporters. This was part of the whole sustained campaign of character assassination. And so we certainly learned from that, but it didn’t affect how I wrote or what I did. What impacted me more was that the CIA has taken the position that I am not permitted to acknowledge my agency affiliation prior to January 2002, saying that I have nothing to do with classified information, and protecting it has everything has to with punitive behavior on behalf of the organization.
What’s your opinion of the mainstream media’s coverage during the “Plame Affair”?
I think they showed culpability. The mainstream media just tends to follow the shiny ball. As we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq, they failed to ask the really hard questions before we got into this war and they really just took what was the official stance, what was spoon-fed to them. Not everyone, but in general they didn’t spend a lot of time seeking alternative sources.
What has your husband been doing these days?
He’s been doing a lot of speaking. He was very active with the Hillary Clinton campaign. He’s going to be going to Africa with former President Bill Clinton as part of the Clinton Foundation. That’s coming up in two weeks or so. We moved here last March, but we’ve really only been settling in now, honestly. It’s just been an insane schedule. We’ve just both been traveling so much and are just now settling into our house here.
How did you and Joe decide to move to Santa Fe?
I actually went up to Los Alamos quite a bit, making sure bad guys didn't get nuclear weapons. I would always stay in Santa Fe and would always say what a beautiful place it is to live. The only reason we were in Washington was because we had our jobs there. But we don't have them anymore. It was always on our list, and we've been very, very happy.
For more information on the lawsuits and the “Plame affair,” visit wilsonsupport.org and fairgameplame.com.