Valerie Plame is an American spy whose identity was revealed by a Washington Post reporter in 2005. President George W. Bush and members of his administration were suspected of orchestrating the leak after Plame's husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, wrote an article criticizing the Bush administration for exaggerating evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. One of Bush's top aides, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison for the "Plame Affair," as it became known. Plame retired her CIA post in response to the incident.
Valerie Elise Plame was born on April 19, 1963, on Elmendorf Air Force Base, in Anchorage, Alaska, to Diane and Samuel Plame. Plame's paternal great-grandfather was a rabbi who emigrated from Ukraine; the original family surname was "Plamevotski". Growing up in "a military family ... imbued her with a sense of public duty"; her father was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force, who worked for the National Security Agency for three years, and, according to her "close friend Janet Angstadt," her parents "are the type who are still volunteering for the Red Cross and Meals on Wheels in the Philadelphia suburb where they live," having moved to that area while Plame was still in school.
After graduating from Penn State in 1985, Plame was briefly married to Todd Sesler, her college boyfriend. In 1997, while she was working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Plame met former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, IV at a reception in Washington at the residence of the Turkish Ambassador. According to Wilson, because Plame was unable to reveal her CIA role to him on their first date, she told him that she was an energy trader in Brussels, and he thought at that time that she was "an up-and-coming international executive. After they began dating and became "close," Plame revealed her employment with the CIA to Wilson. They were married on April 3, 1998, Plame's second marriage and Wilson's third.
She gave birth to their twins in 2000, and resumed travel overseas in 2001, 2002, and 2003 as part of her cover job. She met with workers in the nuclear industry, cultivated sources, and managed spies. She was involved in ensuring that Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons. During this time, part of her work concerned the determination of the use of aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq. CIA analysts prior to the Iraq invasion were quoted by the White House as believing that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear weapons and that these aluminum tubes could be used in a centrifuge for nuclear enrichment. David Corn and Michael Isikoff argued that the undercover work being done by Plame and her CIA colleagues in the Directorate of Central Intelligence Nonproliferation Center strongly contradicted such a claim. However, the CIA was concerned enough to send Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson to Niger in 2002 to investigate the potential sale of nuclear materials from Niger to Iraq. The CIA's concerns over nuclear proliferation were bolstered by Niger's main export of uranium ore, ahead of livestock, cowpeas, onions.
The Plame Affair
On July 14, 2003, Washington Post journalist Robert Novak, from information obtained from Richard Armitage at the US State Department, effectively ended Valerie Plame's career with the CIA (from which she later resigned in December 2005) by revealing in his column her identity as a CIA operative. Legal documents published in the course of the CIA leak grand jury investigation, United States v. Libby, and Congressional investigations, allegedly establish her classified employment as a covert officer for the CIA at the time that Novak's column was published in July 2003. In his press conference of October 28, 2005, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald explained in considerable detail the necessity of "secrecy" about his grand jury investigation that began in the fall of 2003 — "when it was clear that Valerie Wilson's cover had been blown" — and the background and consequences of the indictment of then high-ranking Bush Administration official Lewis Libby as it pertains to Valerie E. Wilson. Fitzgerald's subsequent replies to reporters' questions shed further light on the parameters of the "leak investigation" and what, as its lead prosecutor, bound by "the rules of grand jury secrecy," he could and could not reveal legally at the time. Official court documents released later, on April 5, 2006, reveal that Libby testified that "he was specifically authorized in advance" of his meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller to disclose the "key judgments" of the October 2002 classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). According to Libby's testimony, "the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE to Judith Miller." According to his testimony, the information that Libby was authorized to disclose to Miller "was intended to rebut the allegations of an administration critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson."
A couple of days after Libby's meeting with Miller, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters, "We don't want to try to get into kind of selective declassification" of the NIE, adding "We're looking at what can be made available. A "sanitized version" of the NIE in question was officially declassified on July 18, 2003, ten days after Libby's contact with Miller, and was presented at a White House background briefing on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The NIE contains no references to Valerie Plame or her CIA status, but the Special Counsel has suggested that White House actions were part of "a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson." President Bush had previously indicated that he would fire whoever had outed Plame. A court filing by Libby's defense team argued that Plame was not foremost in the minds of administration officials as they sought to rebut charges – made by her husband – that the White House manipulated intelligence to make a case for invasion. The filing indicated that Libby's lawyers did not intend to say that he was told to reveal Plame's identity. The five-count indictment of Libby included perjury (two counts), obstruction of justice (one count), and making false statements to federal investigators (two counts).
Plame's husband Joseph Wilson announced on March 6, 2007, that the couple had "signed a deal with Warner Bros of Hollywood to offer their consulting services in the making of a movie about the Libby trial," their lives and the CIA leak scandal. The film, Fair Game, was released November 5, 2010, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. It is based on two books, one written by Plame, and the other by her husband. There was also talk about a second movie to be produced with Nicole Kiddman starring as Valerie Plame.
Related Stories: Trilogy of Women Spies Part I: Mata Hari
Trilogy of Women Spies Part II: Josephine Baker
Women Spies IV
"I'm running for Congress because we're going backwards on national security, health care, and women's rights.
We need to turn our country around."
SANTA FE, N.M. — Valerie Plame angled her face toward the sun. As someone who spent so much of her life in shadows, concealing her identity as an undercover operative for the CIA, she seemed to have gotten used to the golden light of New Mexico, energized by it, even. Energized enough — or perhaps foolish enough — to give up the privacy that was once so brutally ripped from her to run for Congress.
Speaking at town halls in high school gymnasiums. Visiting Native American reservations. Hearing concerns about irrigation. This is the new fabric of Plame’s second life in New Mexico, the life she was forced to create when senior officials in the George W. Bush administration publicly leaked her covert CIA identity, destroying her career and thrusting her into the center of a political scandal about the rationale for going to war with Iraq, a scandal that reached deep into the White House.
Plame wasn’t a whistleblower back then. She just happened to be married to one. Her husband at the time, former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson, had written a scathing op-ed accusing the administration of manipulating intelligence to make it seem as if the possession of a nuclear weapon by Saddam Hussein was imminent. The next week, he and Plame opened up The Washington Post to see a conservative columnist naming Plame as Wilson’s wife — who worked for the CIA in nuclear counterproliferation.
In many ways, the exposure of her secret identity became her whole identity, the thing she could not escape no matter how hard she tried. The year that she left Washington, Plame published a book, “Fair Game,” about her ordeal. The CIA censored it so heavily that it might as well carry the subtitle, “Text Has Been Redacted Here.”
Plame with Actress Naomi Watts who Played Her in Fair Game at the
Cannes Film Festival
Valerie Plame had made a new life before, when she’d signed up for the CIA all those years ago. And in June 2020, she’ll know what this new life will look like. Win or lose, she’ll have created something different, something her own.