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Why people care about Valerie Plame and her anti-Semitic tweet

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson at a news conference in 2006. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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In a vacuum, this would be a troubling headline: “Former CIA operative tweets anti-Semitic article.” Bigotry in the ranks of the U.S. intelligence community is bad. Obviously.

But when the former CIA operative in question is Valerie Plame Wilson, the interest level is much higher — particularly among journalists, who remember her as a central figure in a decade-old case that exposed the lack of protection afforded to reporters who use confidential sources, which persists to this day.

Just last month, the Valerie Plame Affair, as the episode came to be known, gained newfound relevance when Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department is “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas” as part of the Trump administration's effort to crack down on leaks.

Jeff Sessions might subpoena journalists to reveal leakers

To non-journalists, Plame's tweet looks like the next installment in the ever-popular series Fall from Grace, which is not an actual reality TV show but probably will be, at some point.

After her CIA cover was blown, in 2003, Plame became a best-selling author, penning a memoir titled “Fair Game,” and a pair of spy novels.

In 2010, a movie adaptation of “Fair Game” hit the big screen, with Naomi Watts starring as Plame.

Today, Plame is a public speaker represented by the Greater Talent Network and a member of the board of directors at the Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit that advocates for nuclear disarmament, which is kind of a hot topic right now.

This is why people care what Plame says on Twitter. On Thursday, she tweeted a link to an article headlined “America's Jews are driving America's wars.” Among the many anti-Semitic passages in the piece is this Nazi-esque recommendation:

For those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity, the media should be required to label them at the bottom of the television screen whenever they pop up, e.g. Bill Kristol is “Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel.” That would be kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison — translating roughly as “ingest even the tiniest little dosage of the nonsense spewed by Bill Kristol at your own peril.”

Plame deleted the tweet and posted follow-up messages, in which she was alternately defensive and apologetic.

Though she pleaded ignorance of “the platform this piece came from,” Plame has tweeted at least eight other articles from the same website since 2014, as journalist Yashar Ali pointed out.

Anyway, if you've forgotten the details of how Plame became a public figure, in the first place, here's a condensed summary:

In July 2003, three months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, former U.S. foreign services officer and ambassador to Gabon Joseph Wilson wrote in a New York Times op-ed that he believed “some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson is Plame's husband.

The prior year, the George W. Bush administration had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate whether that nation had sold raw nuclear materials to Iraq. Wilson found no evidence of such a transaction. Yet Bush asserted in his 2003 State of the Union address that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

In the Times, Wilson wrote that if the result of his fact-finding mission “was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.”

Naturally, the Bush White House was not thrilled by Wilson's op-ed. Eight days after its publication, syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote this: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger.”

Later in 2003, the deputy attorney general of the United States — some guy named James B. Comey — appointed special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald to lead an investigation into whether Bush administration officials had illegally leaked Plame's name to exact revenge against Wilson.

It turned out that officials had leaked Plame's name to at least a half-dozen journalists, including Novak, but the other reporters had not outed Plame. One of the other reporters was Judith Miller of the New York Times.

A grand jury convened by Fitzgerald issued a subpoena demanding that Miller reveal her source. Miller refused, citing a promise she had made to guard the source's identity, and in 2005 was jailed in contempt of court for 85 days.

Miller then testified that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Richard B. Cheney’s chief of staff, was her source and had released her from their confidentiality agreement. Libby was convicted in 2007 on charges related to the leak.

Eight years later, however, Miller wrote in a book, “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” that a review of her old notes had led her to conclude that she was mistaken when she named Libby as her source.

“My notes were very, very unclear,” Miller told CBS News in 2015.

Plame published “Fair Game” seven months after Libby's conviction.

This post has been revised to note that Judith Miller, in a book, recanted her testimony that identified I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby as her source.