Valerie Plame Wilson
Former CIA Covert Operations Officer
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 1:00 PM
In 2003, Valerie Plame Wilson was no longer a CIA officer.
That summer she was outed by conservative pundit Robert Novak in his nationally syndicated column. Many felt that the disclosure was an act of political retaliation against her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who had written an op-ed in The New York Times detailing his visit to the African nation of Niger and his failure to find evidence of yellowcake (uranium) sales to Iraq in the run-up to the war, a key justification.
Plame Wilson was online Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss her book,
Portions of "Fair Game" are blacked-out and indicate, say the publishers, places where the CIA has demanded redactions. The extensive afterword by reporter Laura Rozen, drawn from interviews and the public record, is included to provide context to Plame Wilson's story.
A transcript follows.
Valerie Plame: Hi. This is Valerie Plame Wilson and I'm delighted to be here on Washingtonpost.com. I look forward to answering your questions.
Tenafly, N.J.: Do you think the conviction and subsequent commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence does justice to turn of events that followed your husband's Niger trip? Do you think prosecutor Fitzgerald did an adequate job of handling the case?
Valerie Plame: President Bush short-circuited justice by commuting Mr. Libby's sentence... Mr. Libby therefore has no motivation now to cooperate with the Special Prosecutor in the future. That is one of the reasons that my husband and I are pursuing a civil suit - to get to the truth of what happened.
Newark, N.J.: How do you approach rebuttals from several people involved in the affair that you were not covert at the time of Novak's column? It seems this is being mounted as an adequate defense to the accusations they face, but do you think it truly vindicates them? Why or why not?
Thank you for taking my question.
Valerie Plame: Until the time that my name appeared in Mr. Novak's July 2003 column, I was a covert operations officer with the CIA. That fact has been confirmed by the CIA Director General Michael Hayden, the judge in the Libby trial, and Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald who said that I traveled numerous times overseas in a variety of aliases and under a variety of covers to conduct covert operations work.
Washington, D.C.: Was Laura Rozen's afterward your idea or your publisher's? How do you feel about including it in your book? (Disclosure: I have known Laura since we were reporters together in the Balkans in the late '90s.)
Valerie Plame: The idea to include an Afterword was my publisher's (Simon & Schuster)idea. They contracted with Laura to draw upon the extensive material available in the public domain and in interviews to give readers a full sense of the story that I was not allowed to tell. I've never met Laura, nor spoken to her - ever. I thought it was a very good idea.
Anonymous: Ms. Plame Wilson,
Thank you for your service and for your book.
I got a chuckle out of how you took at least some redemption out of being called "good looking" by the Bush administration.
The question I have is this: how did your husband and you keep or try to keep the pressure and tension from affecting what was left of your personal lives?
And one more if I may, why don't you think, since he admitted to "outing" you, why Richard Armitage was never brought up on charges?
Thank you again.
Valerie Plame: Joe and I have twins, now aged 7 1/2 and having children certainly keeps you from toxic self-absorption. Children really don't care if you've had a bad day - they just want your love and attention. And despite our crazy personal lives of these last 4 1/2 years, our children are amazingly happy and well adjusted.
As far as Armitage - don't forget that Mr. Libby was convicted on obstruction of justice - meaning that the Prosecutor could not really get to the bottom of what happened.
Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for participating in the discussion. I have a question concerning the Bush administration's assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They claim that as far as they knew the intelligence services were all certain that Iraq had them and that they could be a danger to us. What was your opinion before the invasion (and that of your fellow analysts), did you believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction?
Valerie Plame: We certainly knew that Saddam was an evil tyrant who had used WMD on his own people. We knew that in the shadow of 9/11, it would not have been prudent to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was clearly up to no good. As the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003, my greatest fear was the I and my former CIA colleagues had somehow missed a WMD cache, or we just didn't find the right scientist to talk to so as to understand the state of their WMD programs. I was beside myself thinking of the potential WMD threats to US troops that we had not found.
Portland, Maine: I read your book on a trip to Utah last week and thought it (the book, not the trip) to be fascinating -- a nicely laid out story with a keen sense of the frustration and betrayal you and your family endured. Trying to guess what had been redacted was actually fun in a bizarre sort of way.
Now that you've left D.C., do you intend to use your "political" background to pursue a second career?
Valerie Plame: If none of this had happened, I would be overseas right now, with my family, working on counterproliferation issues of great concern and interest to me. Joe and I certainly want to move past this and contribute again in some way... we just don't know how yet.
Arlington, Va.: How have your friends adjusted to the news that you were a spy all of those years, rather than what they thought you were?
Valerie Plame: I was very fortunate in that my closest group of friends from freshman orientation week at Penn State have been loyal and supportive throughout this affair. They understood why I could not tell them where I worked or what I really did. And I am so grateful for their unwavering friendships.
Washington, D.C.: Are you angry at your husband for acting in a way that ultimately sabotaged your career?
Valerie Plame: Absolutely not. His actions did not cause the end of my career - it was senior administration officials who outed my covert identity as political payback that prevented me from continuing my career. It was their actions that undermined our national security.
Anonymous: Are you one of the many who "felt that the disclosure was an act of political retaliation..."? Even though it was Richard Armitage, an inside-the-administration opponent of the war, who blew your cover to Novak?
Valerie Plame: Mr. Armitage has been in Washington for decades. In fact, he served at the CIA for some time. He should have known better than to "gossip" about me to journalists. However, his involvement, no matter how it might be characterized, does not preclude the fact that there was a simultaneous conspiracy "by many in the White House" in the words of Spec. Prosecutor Fitzgerald to undermine and discredit Joe Wilson.
Falls Church, Va.: By recommending your husband for the Niger trip, weren't you participating in a policy decision? Did you have any concern at the time that involvement with policy decisions might not be compatible with covert status?
Valerie Plame: I did not suggest nor recommend Joe Wilson, my husband, for the trip to Niger. A reports officer who knew of Joe's bona fides (including several previous trips on behalf of the CIA) suggested Joe. When we went to our boss to tell him about the interest in the alleged sale of yellowcake from Niger to Iraq, he asked me to ask Joe when I went home that night to come into CIA Headquarters the next week to discuss what we should do. That was the extent of my involvement in Joe's trip.
Woonsocket, R.I.: Ms. Plame (or do you prefer "Mrs. Wilson"?), thanks for your service to the country.
I don't know if you'll be allowed to answer this, but it's a question that has been bothering me since your cover was first blown: what was the collateral damage? What CIA and/or other intelligence resources were put at risk by your exposure?
If you can't answer that, can you at least say whether or not ANY substantial intelligence assets were put at risk (say, at least one human life or more)?
Valerie Plame: The CIA did a damage report after I was outed. That is standard procedure. I have not seen it, nor any members of Congress. However, I can say that the damage was serious.
San Antonio, Tex.: In the review of "Fair Game" that was in our local paper on Sunday, the reporter said that you wrote that being outed put a great deal of stress on your marriage. Can you tell us in what ways?
Also, do you think life in New Mexico will suit you after the hustle and bustle of D.C.?
Valerie Plame: The year 2004 was one of the darkest for us. We were enduring relentless attacks on Joe; he was called a liar, a traitor and worse. I was accused of nepotism. We had lost our privacy and it was very difficult because both of us were affected, but in different ways. It was externally produced, but it didn't make it any easier. We are all loving living in gorgeous New Mexico.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Ms. Plame Wilson,
Thank you for taking questions. I followed your (public) story quite intently, it was a terrible betrayal.
I've wondered if you've met Judy Miller, and what you felt about her WMD reporting leading up to the Iraq war.
Valerie Plame: I have never met Judith Miller. I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of her reporting on the WMDs in Iraq in the run-up to the war has all been discredited. She relied heavily upon Iraqi exile Chalibi, who the CIA early and often knew was not a credible source, to say the least.
Washington, D.C.: I understand the need to tell your story, but if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't be so eager to keep myself in the public eye by writing a book. Are you completely safe from your former spied-on enemies? I'd be scared to give the world repeated name-face associations of myself.
Still, I applaud your courage.
Valerie Plame: I'm not so eager to be a public person myself. However, this is a very important story to tell. It's a cautionary tale of the consequences of speaking truth to power and how important it is for citizens to hold their government to account for their words and deeds. I really felt I had no choice.
Merrifield, Va.: Assuming that the current administration and political party is swept out of office in November 2008, is it safe to assume that a new administration might be more friendly to the content of your book? In other words, is it likely that many of the current redactions might be lifted in 2008/2009 and you might have a reissue/update? Is such a thing political or would the CIA maintain the current redactions? It saddens me that our leadership would throw our clandestine warriors under the bus for political ends.
Valerie Plame: I have no idea what a new administration might bring to the book's redactions. However, I and my publisher are appealing the court's decision this summer that I may not acknowledge my Agency affiliation prior to January 2002. For more information on this case, and why it is so important to First Amendment rights, check out fairgameplame.com for all the documents and background.
Harrisburg, Pa.: There was press speculation that President Bush had been interviewed off the record by investigations into the Scooter Libby trial. Do you have any guesses as to what President Bush would have to say about the matter?
Valerie Plame: I have no idea. As you note, the President was not placed under oath.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Let me please throw out a broad, general question where you may respond in any direction who wish: What do you think of Vice President Dick Cheney?
Valerie Plame: I think he has a very dangerous view of Executive Power and is simply wrong about how our Constitution should be interpreted.
Princeton, N.J.: You say,"We knew that in the shadow of 9/11, it would not have been prudent to give him the benefit of the doubt." But Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. There was never any credible evidence linking him to al-Qaeda or that he had a viable nuclear program. Since we had put up with his chemical weapons in the 80s when we were sure he had them, why couldn't we do the same in 2003?
Valerie Plame: Absolutely. There is no link between Iraq and 9/11. I should have been more careful and typed that after 9/11, America felt under siege and viewed enemies everywhere. Also, please recall that Saddam kicked out UN weapons inspectors in 1998, so we had no good idea of what he did or did not have, in terms of WMD.
washingtonpost.com: Case Page/Fair Game
Rome, Italy: What made you join the CIA? Was it a quest for adventure, a patriotic gesture or something else? Thanks.
Valerie Plame: My father was an Air Force officer and fought in WW II in the South Pacific. My brother was a wounded Vietnam Marie Corp veteran. So the notion of public service ran deeply in our family. I liked the idea of serving my country while living and working overseas in a career that seemed exciting.
Rockville, Md. : Who is an agent? Or a case officer? Back when I was in intelligence work, my first job was "special agent" and it was in Army Intelligence. Later on I learned that "case officer" was a better term and "agents" worked for the FBI or were the people we recruited. The only place I saw "operative" was on Perry Mason. But these days it seems that an intelligence person is called an "officer" only if they die in the line of duty. Otherwise they are always "agents" if not "operatives." Does this bother you? I thought it was just more disrespect from the press.
Valerie Plame: These terms are used indiscriminately in the press. In the CIA, an officer doing what I did is a "case officer". We recruit and run "agents" or "assets". I also say that I was an operations officer. I don't bother to correct folks in interviews because it can get too confusing.
Lansing, Mich.: With all the items the agency removed from your book, do you feel that your book is quite different from what you intended to write?
Valerie Plame: I should say so! But, I think leaving in the redactions has a visceral affect of showing how much the CIA deemed to be "classified". Also, the Afterword provides the reader with a pretty full story.
Albany, N.Y.: Ms. Plame Wilson -- Pure speculation but here goes, you're in New Mexico, any chance of either you or your husband running for the U.S. Senate seat that's being vacated by Pete Domineci?
Thank you for you service.
Valerie Plame: No thanks. We already have lots of good politicians in New Mexico!
Virginia: Hello. I worked at the White House. I find it odd that CIA officials assigned to the NSC for two-year duty are covert when everyone knew they were CIA. If you brief someone, they will know which agency you come from. In other words, if you're covert in D.C., you're open.
Valerie Plame: I would have to disagree with you. Other government officials with appropriate clearances have the authority to know about a covert officer. However, they all sign oaths to protect classified national security information, including the identities of covert officers perhaps on assignment to their office. They do not have the right to chat about it to reporters.
Shiremanstown, Pa.: Ms. Wilson, I'm truly sorry for what happened to you and your husband.
Were you ever arrested or held captive during your time as a covert CIA agent?
Valerie Plame: No, thank goodness.
Falls Church, Va.: Senior officials at the CIA and State Department testified during Libby's trial that you recommended your husband for the trip. Were they lying?
Valerie Plame: You are not correct. There is an INR memo that said 1) Joe agreed with State that it wasn't necessary to go to Niger as two reports already existed that debunked the allegation of the yellowcake sale. Secondly, it said I had "apparently" convened the meeting, but that memo was written by a State Department employee who was not at the meeting at CIA Hqs and he relied upon notes from another official who had since left for a posting in Pakistan. Read "Hubris" for a full accounting of the State Department's role in Joe's trip to Niger.
As for the CIA, senior Agency officials have said that I had nothing to do with suggesting or recommending Joe for Niger.
Falls Church, Va.: VP: "I was a covert operations officer with the CIA"
But "covert" has more than one meaning, correct? You testified to Congress that you did not know whether your status was "covert" within the meaning of the statute that formed the basis of Fitzgerald's investigation.
Valerie Plame: I am not a lawyer and I don't know exactly how the IIPA is written. What I do know is that General Hayden, the judge in Mr. Libby's trial, and Spec. Prosecutor Fitzgerald all confirmed my covert status.
NYC: Any favorite spy novel authors or movies?
Valerie Plame: James Bond, of course. Bob Baer also writes good books.
Springfield, Va.: How did you feel when you entered the floor of the Senate for those hearings? How much time -- if any -- had you spent preparing for the senators' questions? In all, your performance was remarkable -- and without notes!
Valerie Plame: I was happy that I did not fall out of my shoes with nerves. However, I got to tell the truth and a bit of what had happened, so that gives you confidence.
Phila, Pa.: Ms. Plame:
Thanks to both you and Mr. Wilson for your service.
What is the one thing that most people don't already know about this case, and you wish they did know?
What popular misconception would you like to correct?
Valerie Plame: That I never had to sleep with anyone to get intelligence! That part of my job was NOT like James Bond...
McLean, Va.: Somewhere I read that an answer you gave to a question about how you would handle a hypothetical spy-type situation you said you would hop into bed with that person. Is that true and if so, can you explain the exchange please.
Valerie Plame: If I were meeting an asset in a hotel room, for example, and a knock on the door came "Police!" I would certainly take off my blouse and hop into bed. What other good reason is there for a man and a woman to be in a hotel room alone if not for...
Wokingham, U.K.: Is the current near-confrontation with Iran more rational than the former confrontation with Iraq?
Valerie Plame: No. We are strategically damaged in the region because of this administration's missteps in Iraq.
Anonymous: Any advice for someone who would like to work for the CIA? I have a technical background but do not speak any languages other than English (and science).
Valerie Plame: Check out their Web site, CIA.gov, and see if any of your interests and qualifications match what they are looking for.
Washington, D.C.: Do you know if anyone in the admininstration ever apologized to the leaders of the CIA for the administration outing one of the agency's covert agents? If not, how do the leaders of the CIA feel about that (if you know)?
Valerie Plame: No. And I'm not holding my breath.
Under cover: Mrs. Wilson,
Did you have to speak with an accent or in a different language while you were covert?
Valerie Plame: I learned several languages while working at the CIA.
Washington, D.C.: Hello. What are your future projects? Any new book in the making?
Valerie Plame: I need to get through this book tour first! After that, I can't wait to get back to Santa Fe and be with my husband and children.
Norfolk, Va.: Military guy here who follows politics as others follow day time soaps.
The entire situation you and your husband continue to write about seems much-ado-about-nothing! Your claims against the White House were dismissed by a federal judge, your finger pointing about who "gave you up" proved to be wrong. You and your husband defined the phrase "a power couple," therefore shedding great doubt that you ever were a true CIA spy.
My specific question: Do you and your husband just have a political ax to grind or are you trying to make money from a near nothing event?
(In case you are wondering, I'm a Marine and not a political wonk).
Valerie Plame: If none of this had happened, I can assure you that I and my family would be living overseas and I would be working on counterproliferation issues to help defend our national security. At a GS salary.
And despite your erroneous assertions, I thank you for your service to our country.
Rockville, Md.: Miss Wilson,
As a cleared employee, I was curious about how or if your security clearance was affected after you were outed.
Valerie Plame: My clearances were not affected, just my cover status.
Gurnee, Ill.:1. Some say it was "common knowledge" you were connected with the CIA. What was the level of knowledge?
2. Laws were broken surrounding your "outing." In previous cases, what punishment was given those lawbreakers?
Valerie Plame: Only a handful of people in my family knew where I worked before my covert identity was betrayed in July 2003.
Washington, D.C.: What effect on your colleagues are you aware of as a result of the betrayal of your identity?
Valerie Plame: My former colleagues know that it could have just as well have been them who were outed as political payback. I know I have many friends at my former office.
Richmond, Va.: Katie Couric on "60 Minutes" seemed to shift the burden to you: Joe Wilson should not have written the NYT op-ed because you worked for the CIA. I was infuriated at her assumption, i.e., that you were fair game because your husband expressed damaging information to the administration. I wonder if you could share your reaction.
Valerie Plame: While we expected the administration to go after Joe for his criticism of their case for war, we certainly did not expect them to commit treason by betraying my covert identity. Katie was just doing her job.
Clarksville, Tenn.: Do you feel the need for any protection as a result of your CIA actions, and if so, does the government provide you any protection?
Valerie Plame: We have had real and serious security issues to contend with over the last 4 1/2 years. At one point after a particularly ominous threat in 2004, I asked the CIA for security on my home and was denied. It was very disappointing.
Anonymous: Have you ever received an apology from Mr. Libby?
Valerie Plame: No, and I really don't expect to.
Alexandria, Va.: You've stated that the first you had heard that you had been outed was from your husband after he read Novak's column. Shouldn't the CIA have been knocking down your door to provide protection to you and your family before the paper even hit your front step?
Valerie Plame: The CIA told Mr. Novak not to print my name. He has since said it was a "soft no" to which my reply is: what part of no did you not understand?
Valerie Plame: Thank you so much everyone for your questions and comments. I hope you enjoy the book.
Best, Valerie Plame Wilson
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