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Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White Houseby Valerie Plame Wilson and Laura Rozen
Synopses & Reviews
On July 6, 2003, four months after the United States invaded Iraq, former ambassador Joseph Wilson's now historic op-ed, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," appeared in The New York Times. A week later, conservative pundit Robert Novak revealed in his newspaper column that Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA operative. The public disclosure of that secret information spurred a federal investigation and led to the trial and conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, and the Wilsons' civil suit against top officials of the Bush administration. Much has been written about the "Valerie Plame" story, but Valerie herself has been silent, until now. Some of what has been reported about her has been frighteningly accurate, serving as a pungent reminder to the Wilsons that their lives are no longer private. And some has been completely false — distorted characterizations of Valerie and her husband and their shared integrity.
Valerie Wilson retired from the CIA in January 2006, and now, not only as a citizen but as a wife and mother, the daughter of an Air Force colonel, and the sister of a U.S. marine, she sets the record straight, providing an extraordinary account of her training and experiences, and answers many questions that have been asked about her covert status, her responsibilities, and her life. As readers will see, the CIA still deems much of the detail of Valerie's story to be classified. As a service to readers, an afterword by national security reporter Laura Rozen provides a context for Valerie's own story.
Fair Game is the historic and unvarnished account of the personal and international consequences of speaking truth to power.
"The problem with this book is that it has been heavily redacted by the CIA — and in parts is almost impossible to read. In order to understand Plame it helps to read journalist Laura Rozen's afterword — basically a straightforward Plame biography — first.
Plame's story is now part of the history of the Iraq War. An undercover CIA agent, she suggested that her husband, former Iraq ambassador and Africa expert Joseph Wilson — at the urging of the vice president's office — be sent to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein tried to obtain yellowcake uranium — one of the Bush administration's apocalyptic talking points for the war. After he wrote an op-ed article in the New York Times called "What I Did Not Find in Africa," Plame was "outed" as a CIA operative by columnist Robert Novak. [She was "fair game" according to Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist.] In a drawn out melodrama, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald rounded up the usual Beltway suspects (Rove, Ari Fleischer, Matt Cooper, Judy Miller etc.) before a grand jury, but eventually Lewis I. (Scooter) Libby, VP Cheney's chief-of-staff, was the only one sentenced in the case for perjury and obstruction of justice (which was soon commuted by Bush).
Plame's personal nightmare began with Bush's 2003 State of the Union address when the president declared "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" — the 16 famous words which directly contradicted Wilson's Niger findings. When Condoleezza Rice denied on Meet the Press that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger pancake uranium stories were untrue, Plame says it was "the last straw" for her husband and he wrote his Times piece.
Although the cast of villains in "Plamegate" is now legendary, a new one emerges in Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Working closely with Cheney, Roberts did a lot of the White House's political bidding and made life particularly uneasy for the Wilsons by a careful distortion of the facts before the 2004 presidential election.
Kudos go to special prosecutor Fitzgerald ("highly intelligent, compassionate person") and barbs go to Judith Miller of the New York Times ("I distrusted her reporting in articles she had written in the run-up the war"). Plame relates a bizarre chance meeting with Matt Cooper of Time magazine, then under Fitzgerald's screws — who asked Wilson "Could you do something for me?" — to ask the judge for leniency. Plame says the whole First Amendment fight with Miller and Cooper "was the Pentagon Papers or Watergate turned on its head...These reporters were allowing themselves to be exploited by the administration and were obstructing the investigation. It didn't make much ethical sense to me."
Plame also has harsh words for the Washington Post and its editorial writer Fred Hiatt: "I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world." She continues to batter the press at what came out at the Libby trial, which "showed how eagerly [journalists] accept spoon fed information from official sources...The trial did not show American journalism at its finest hour."
Although Plame guards her personal life with Wilson, she is blunt in acknowledging that the controversy surrounding them put a strain on their marriage, which "seemed balanced on a knife's edge." There was apparently resentment on Wilson's part that his CIA wife could not defend him against some of the attacks: "He deeply resented that I had not adequately come to his defense." When Wilson asked her "Why are you choosing the Agency and your career over your marriage?" it forced her to rethink her marriage and led to a reconciliation. She also reveals the intimate details of her post-partum depression which followed the birth of her twins in 2000.
Plame seems paranoid about events that have happened to her. Was a IRS audit normal or was it triggered by something else? Why did the bolts on a brand new deck suddenly come out? And why did the CIA almost scuttle her book through censorship. [In one of the great ironies of the book, the part about the redactions is heavily redacted.] Plame asks: "Was the White House also responsible for the stalling of my book?"
The book reveals little not already known about Plamegate — although it would have been interesting to see what would have been the result without the massive redactions of the CIA." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mothers who are spies, it turns out, face the same juggling act as other working moms. After a year at home following the birth of twins, Valerie Plame Wilson returned to work in April 2001 in the Iraq branch of the CIA's Counterproliferation Division. 'When I had to deal with pressing operational issues I had no choice but to bring the toddlers into my office on a Saturday,' she... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) writes in her memoir, published this week. 'Making decisions on how much money to offer a potential asset while handing crayons to my daughter who sat under my desk was strange indeed, but not without humor.' Since senior administration officials whispered 'Valerie Plame' and 'CIA' in the same breath to half a dozen journalists in 2003, some people have not very subtly suggested that her work couldn't really have been all that hush-hush if she had an office job, not to mention blond hair and little kids. 'She was not involved in clandestine activities,' Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who first published her name, wrote earlier this year in his dueling memoir. 'Instead, each day she went to CIA headquarters in Langley where she worked on arms proliferation.' There are lots of she said-he said moments in the Plame affair, matters on which an impartial observer can only conclude that, well, both sides have a point. But this is not one of them. Before her retirement in 2006, Wilson spent more than 20 years in the CIA, including six years, one month and 29 days of overseas service. We know this because the agency, in a bureaucratic blunder, put it in an unclassified letter about her pension eligibility that it later tried desperately to recall, and that she has included as an appendix to 'Fair Game.' We also know that she worked on the operations side, the part of the CIA that runs agents and covert activities, rather than on the analytical side, which tries to make sense of all the information flowing in. From her former CIA 'classmates,' we know that she went through the agency's elite Career Trainee program, including paramilitary training at the classified location known as the Farm, and was one of just three in her class of 50 who were chosen to be NOCs (pronounced 'knocks'), or nonofficial cover officers, the most clandestine in the agency. And from her memoir, we now know how deeply secrecy was ingrained in her. Imagine when, in her mid-20s, after a first CIA tour in Greece under diplomatic cover as a junior State Department official, she gave up her diplomatic passport and any public affiliation with the U.S. government and switched to being a NOC. Part of the transition involved coming home to the United States, ostensibly jobless, and moving back into her parents' house while studying French. How many 20-somethings still living with Mom and Dad fantasize about saying, 'Actually, I work for the CIA'? In young Valerie Plame's case, it was true — and she apparently didn't tell a soul. When she became famous a decade later, her dearest friends were stunned, and she feared they might not forgive her for all those years of lying. True, the CIA recalled her from Europe in 1997, fearing that her name might have been passed to the Russians by the mole Aldrich Ames. But, she writes, she still took different routes to work each day, 'traveled domestically and abroad using a variety of aliases' and continued to hope for another foreign posting. There is no reason to doubt that Wilson wrote 'Fair Game' herself. To put it kindly, the memoir lacks the sheen of a ghostwriter's work and has the voice of an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary events. It doesn't help that the CIA redacted the manuscript heavily before approving it for publication. Each time she is about to launch into a juicy anecdote, it seems, lines are blacked out, sometimes for pages on end. The book is, however, greatly assisted by an afterword by Laura Rozen, a reporter for the American Prospect. Rozen faithfully echoes Wilson's point of view but fills in many of the censored dates, places and other details from published sources. Readers would be smart to turn to the afterword first, before tackling Wilson's disjointed narrative. The outlines of the story are familiar: In 2002, the CIA sent her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, on an unpaid, eight-day fact-finding trip to Niger. Within hours of his return, he told eager CIA debriefers (while Valerie Wilson was ordering takeout Chinese food for them) that there was no evidence that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation. When President Bush nevertheless included the uranium allegation in a State of the Union address, Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed for the New York Times accusing the administration of misleading the American people. Both of the Wilsons firmly believe that she was outed, in retaliation, by White House officials who sought to discredit him by telling reporters that his trip was arranged by his wife, who worked for the CIA. Tapped to investigate the leak of her name, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald put that theory before a jury, which never got to the heart of the matter but did convict the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, of perjury and obstruction of justice. Bush then commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence. The question remains: Was she behind her husband's trip to Niger? 'Fair Game' gives a nuanced answer that is largely, but not entirely, in her favor. She says that when the vice president's office asked the CIA about the uranium allegation, a 'midlevel reports officer' suggested in a hallway conversation that the agency could send Joe Wilson to investigate. The suggestion made sense because Wilson had served as an ambassador in Africa, was the top Africa expert on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration and made a previous trip to Niger at the CIA's request in 1999. She and the midlevel officer brought the idea to their boss, who liked it and asked her to send an e-mail up the chain of command. 'My husband has good relations with both the PM (prime minister) and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity,' she wrote. Thus, by her own account, Valerie Wilson neither came up with the idea nor approved it. But she did participate in the process and flogged her husband's credentials. When Joe Wilson learned about her e-mail years later, she says, he was 'too upset to listen' to her explanations. 'Fair Game' reveals some intimate details of the Wilsons' lives, including her battle with postpartum depression. Sudden fame and withering political attacks made Washington so 'toxic' to them that they began fantasizing about moving to New Zealand and ultimately decamped to New Mexico. Relatives came forward, and, like Madeleine Albright, Valerie Wilson discovered she was part Jewish. But the book is less forthcoming about her politics; she does not mention, for example, that she made a $1,000 contribution to Al Gore's campaign in 1999. One other matter begs clarification. As Rozen notes in the afterword, there is 'an undeniable irony to Valerie Wilson later being exposed by the White House in a subterranean tussle' over prewar intelligence because 'Valerie was not one of the intelligence community dissidents arguing against the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.' Quite the contrary: Wilson makes clear in 'Fair Game' that she and her colleagues in the Counterproliferation Division were very worried that Iraq would use chemical or biological weapons on U.S. forces. They were dumbfounded when no weapons of mass destruction were found, and, in a telling passage, she says their spirits were 'briefly buoyed' when coalition forces in northern Iraq discovered curious flatbed trailers that the CIA thought, at first, might be mobile bio-weapons labs. Yet, in one of the memoir's deeper insights, 'Fair Game' suggests that if you knew what she knew at the time, you would have feared both that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and that the Bush administration was overstating the case for war. In the bowels of the CIA, she and her colleagues clustered around a TV as Secretary of State Colin Powell laid the evidence before the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. 'It was a powerful presentation,' she writes, 'but I knew key parts of it were wrong.' " Reviewed by By Alan Cooperman, senior editor for nonfiction at The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"If there's little new in these pages, those fascinated by Wilson and Plame's role in these events will find convincing answers to some of the more controversial questions surrounding the couple." Los Angeles Times
"Plame meticulously describes the 'smear campaign' orchestrated from the vice president's office intended to discredit her husband....Valerie Plame Wilson can be viewed as a canary in the proverbial coal mine, and her book reads like a grim testament to the noxious atmosphere of our current politics." Boston Globe
About the Author
Valerie Plame Wilson (born Valerie Elise Plame in Anchorage, Alaska), known as Valerie Plame, is a former United States CIA officer who worked as a classified covert intelligence agent for over twenty years. She is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, IV.
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