Former spy tells her side of the story

Published: Monday, October 29, 2007
By Sara Buscher
Free Press Staff Writer

SOUTH BURLINGTON -- Her story is simple, in her own words: She served her country proudly in a career that she loved, jumped out of airplanes and fired automatic weapons, worked overseas as a covert CIA counterintelligence operative, married and became a mother.

And then her husband, American ambassador Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times called "What I didn't find in Africa," describing his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq had tried to purchase yellow cake uranium, used to make nuclear weapons, from the African government. Within days her 18-year cover was blown, leaked to the media by White House officials -- ostensibly in an effort to discredit her husband's report -- and her career was over.

"The administration was furious. And they went after him. And then they went after me," she said.

"I am Valerie Plame Wilson, and I've got a good story to tell."

Wilson spoke Sunday at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center as part of the Vermont Woman Lecture Series. After four years of silence, she's retired from the CIA and has written a book called "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House."

Plame said her story started in 2002, when a young woman who was usually very reserved came to her flustered because she had just received a phone call from the vice president's office looking for more information about the yellow-cake uranium intelligence matter.

"I was quite nonplussed at this," Plame said of the lack of protocol on behalf of the White House. "When another colleague walked by, overheard us, and said 'What about Joe?' (meaning Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, who had experience working with the African government), I said, 'Well, all right. Let's go talk to our boss.'"

Plame's supervisor requested she also send an e-mail to the director of the division regarding the plan to send Wilson to Africa. She did so that night. "It was that e-mail that was cited as proof positive that I orchestrated Joe's trip to Niger," Plame said.

That e-mail also upset Wilson, who later asked why she hadn't told him she had written it. She said she never gave it a second thought. "It was one of 150 e-mails I wrote in a day."

When a 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report said she had "recommended" Joe for the trip to Niger, Plame said "it was like falling down Alice's rabbit hole. I could not believe what I was reading."

As a counterintelligence official working counterterrorism in the days leading up to the Iraq war, Plame knew the stakes. "It takes time, to get your sources, check their credentials. And we knew that we were going to go to war. And we were trying to find as much intelligence as we could."

And then she heard a report delivered by Secretary of State Colin Powell relying on a source she knew to be discredited.

"I couldn't believe that my country would go to these lengths in their case for war -- cherry-picking intelligence," Plame said.

While she is careful to maintain her professionalism and respect for the CIA, adding that "in the shadow of 9/11, giving the tyrant Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt was not prudent," she said. She and Wilson are reminded daily that their personal struggle of the last four years "is nothing."

"It is inconvenience, compared to what an American family with a son or daughter goes through when they get the worst possible news, as a result of this administration."

Plame has three goals in mind regarding the leaking of her classified identity to the press: to get to the truth; to hold these public servants accountable for their actions; and to send a message to future public officials.

"Joe and I are a cautionary tale for the consequences of speaking out." As parents, Plame said, they intend to be accountable to their children one day.

"Why this act of blowing my covert identity is treasonous is not just about my assets -- what about future assets, when they hear this story? That is why it is so insidious, and so ironic ... that it was this administration that undermined our nation's security."

Leaving Plame's speech with his 11-year old son, Will Workman of Williston said it was revealing. "We're starting to hear that critics of the Bush administration are from within. Politics is determining intelligence rather than intelligence determining politics. Valerie Plame has a standing that no Democratic opponent could ever have."

But Jennifer Magistrale of South Burlington left wanting more. "As someone who loves to read spy novels, I wish we could have gotten a little bit more of the dirt," she said.

Plame's book was released early last week.