Valerie Plame, the Spy Who's Ready to Speak for Herself

Plame hopes to refute claims that her CIA work wasn't undercover.
Plame hopes to refute claims that her CIA work wasn't undercover. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)

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By Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 16, 2007

She has been silent nearly four years. Today, the CIA officer whose unmasking fueled a political uproar and criminal probe that reached into the White House is poised to finally tell her own story -- before Congress.

Valerie Plame's testimony will have all the trappings of a "Garbo speaks" moment on Capitol Hill, with cameras and microphones arrayed to capture the voice of Plame, the glamorous but mute star of a compelling political intrigue. But while she hopes to clear up her status as an agency operative when her name first hit newspapers in July 2003, America's most publicized spy is unlikely to betray any details in open session about her mysterious career.

The reason: Plame remains gagged by the same secrecy rules that governed her 20 years as a CIA employee working overseas and at Langley in classified positions.

People close to Plame say her primary goal in testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is to knock down persistent claims that she did not serve undercover. "She is so tired of hearing that," her mother, Diane Plame, said in an interview earlier this week.

In the years since her outing, the debate over Plame's CIA status has often devolved into hairsplitting feuds over nomenclature and legalisms, arguments awash in partisan bile. Little about her work is publicly known, leaving commentators to speculate on her cloak-and-dagger activities. She has remained opaque, this willowy blonde with the beguiling smile. Into a factual void the public has poured its imagery of the female spy, from Halle Berry and Eva Green in James Bond movies to Jennifer Garner on TV's "Alias."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee that sought Plame's testimony, has said that today's session will give Plame a chance to talk about the impact of the disclosure, but that his real aim is to determine the White House's role in leaking her name to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

For Plame, 43, the repercussions have been intensely personal, including a career cut short. But until now, only proxies -- chief among them her voluble husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV -- have been able to publicly vent the anger and frustration she has expressed privately. "They ruined her whole career," her mother said, echoing a refrain of several of Plame's former CIA colleagues. "She has no job."

The well-connected couple are not without means. Over the past year Plame has completed a book, "Fair Game," which netted her a seven-figure sum, although the book remains tied up in a CIA review process and its publication date is uncertain. She and her husband have sold the movie rights for their life story to Warner Bros. Earlier this week the couple closed the $1.8 million sale of their Washington house, which they purchased in 1998 for $735,000. They have relocated to Santa Fe, N.M., buying a spacious adobe home with a mountain view and a reported $1.1 million mortgage.

Wilson, 57, a consultant and author of his own memoir, cited the couple's desire to rear their 7-year-old twins in a quiet, "normal environment" far from the toxic political swamp of Washington.

Plame's testimony today "will be very forceful and clear, and there won't be any question what classified means," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group handling Plame and Wilson's civil suit against administration officials they accuse of destroying her cover in reprisal for her husband's debunking of prewar assertions that Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Niger.

Former CIA officers, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, provided a broad outline of Plame's career. They said she spent most of her time as one of the elite spies who travel overseas under "non-official cover" and are known as NOCs within the agency. Most CIA case officers living or traveling overseas have "official cover" by working at U.S. embassies as State Department or other government agency officials -- and thus have the protection of diplomatic immunity and the chance for rescue by the U.S. government.

But NOCs, posing as businesspeople, scientists or others, rely on a carefully crafted false identity. If detected or arrested by a foreign government, they're on their own.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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