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'Fair Game' gets some things about the Valerie Plame case right, some wrong

As in most movies, there must be a hero and a villain. Valerie Plame Wilson, the glamorous spy, emerges as the heroic figure; her husband is more flawed, prone to bombast and righteous indignation, although his searing anger at the Bush administration comes across as justified.

And the villains? The White House, for retaliating against the Wilsons with a classic Washington hatchet job. And the CIA, for appearing to close down an operation to rescue from Iraq a group of cooperating nuclear scientists that the film says Plame was determined to save.

'Message to Baghdad'

After Novak's column appeared, neither of the Wilsons would acknowledge that she worked for the CIA. But the intense coverage, she felt, put her family in danger. At one point she asked the CIA to provide security at their Palisades home, but the agency refused -- both in reality and on the screen.

At Langley, according to the film, agency officials immediately shut Valerie out from her overseas operations when the Novak column appeared. They supposedly terminated the plan to provide safe passage for the Iraqi scientists -- who were adamant that no nuclear weapons program existed -- and thereby put the Iraqis' lives at risk.

"I've got to get a message to Baghdad," the onscreen Valerie insists to a superior. "I've got 15 scientists being taken to the border today!"

To which her boss responds, icily, "I don't know what you're talking about."

It's true that Valerie Plame Wilson was working with one of the CIA's teams trying to gather intelligence on Iraq WMD operations, but she evidently did not play the central role that the film puts her in. She was not directly part of the scientist program, according to agency officials.

The movie, on the other hand, depicts Valerie recruiting an Iraqi-born Cleveland physician to visit her scientist brother in Baghdad for information about Hussein's alleged nuclear program. In fact, the doctor was recruited by another CIA officer.

Although the film suggests that the blowing of Valerie's cover led directly to the shutdown of the Iraqi scientist exfiltration, an intelligence insider told us: "Something like this, if it was going on, wouldn't have been canceled for this reason."

'Still painful'

The movie effectively dispenses with the canard that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert operative . But there's still room to rehash the question of how Joe Wilson was picked for the unpaid Niger assignment. Here, the picture gets it right. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him; she did not "recommend" him. In fact, agency officials had used him for an earlier overseas assignment.

Valerie did introduce her husband at a meeting where the upcoming Niger trip was discussed. Confusion about her role came from a nighttime e-mail she dashed off to her boss (who had not been in on Joe's earlier assignment) to explain her husband's qualifications for the Niger trip. That e-mail became a key basis for the Republican-dominated Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to note Valerie's role in suggesting her husband for the assignment.

All along, Joe Wilson had been telling journalists that his wife had nothing to do with the Niger trip. In the movie, while their children scamper around them on a playground, he angrily confronts her with the Senate report itself, quoting its language: "The former ambassador's wife 'offered up his name' . . ."

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