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Fair Game (By Valerie Plame Wilson)

Valerie Plame, Telling the (Edited) Inside Story

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By Alan Cooperman
Senior editor for non-fiction at Book World
Monday, October 22, 2007

FAIR GAME

My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House

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By Valerie Plame Wilson

Simon & Schuster. 411 pp. $26

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 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 non-official 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.


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