Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House

Book review by Deane Barker tags: spies, history, politics

This is the inside story of The Plame Affair – the revelation that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative, allegedly initiated by the Bush White House because Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, had been critical of the administration’s reasoning for starting the Iraq War.

The most obvious part of this book is the redaction – massive stretches of this book are blocked out.

The authors (Plame had a co-author) explain this in a “publisher’s note” at the beginning. Since she worked at the CIA, the agency had to vet the book before publication, and they redacted massive portions of it. They authors sued and lost, so they decided to publish the book with the redactions in place.

…and there are a lot. One entire chapter is redacted – just big black rectangles on the page.

In other places, even single words are redacted. For example:

I took in my X classmates in our CIA introduction course.

Apparently knowing the number of CIA recruits that were in a course back in the 1980s somehow compromises operational security? (From the size of the rectangle, it looks a single digit. Assuming it has to be more than 0, and she uses the plural “classmates,” the number could be anywhere from two to nine. I hope I don’t get arrested for writing that…)

The CIA didn’t want Plame talking about anything she actually did while she worked there. When she discusses her first assignment, for example, everything that would identify the location is redacted. I pieced together from context that it was somewhere in Southern Europe, and I was right – her Wikipedia page talks all about her being stationed Greece.

And that’s the funny part – Plame can’t talk about certain things, but other people can. And they do. At the end of the book, her co-author has an epilogue of about 40 pages recounting Plame’s career from the third person, clearly explaining everything she did that was redacted when it was in Plame’s own voice.

Plame was under “Non Official Cover” (NOC). This means that she used her own name and was ostensibly working for a multi-national corporation in other countries. What she was really doing was trying to find people willing to share state secrets – willing to become spies for the U.S. She would them hand them off to another group to make “the approach” and establish a covert relationship.

Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, was a former ambassador. In 2002, he was asked to go to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq tried to purchase uranium. After 10 days in-country, he didn’t find any evidence of this.

Still, the Bush administration claimed that this purchase attempt actually did occur. It was one of the justifications for starting the Iraq War. Colin Powell talked about it in front of the U.N., and it became the infamous “Sixteen Words” of that speech.

After the war started, Wilson got annoyed that the White House was twisting his findings, so he wrote a NY Times editorial to set the record straight. Allegedly, this angered the White House so much that they decided to get revenge by leaking his wife’s status, which columnist Robert Novak then printed in a Washington Post column eight days after Wilson’s editorial in the Times.

This is the sentence that started it all.

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.

And that’s what the book is basically about. Plame’s background is set-up for the couple of years when she was put through the wringer after this happened. Her career was ruined, and so was her husband’s (his consulting business dried up because he and his wife became so politically controversial – they were persona non grata to Republicans because they had effectively given the Democrats lots of political ammunition).

And the leak theoretically put a lot of people at risk. Once the intelligence agencies of the world knew what Plame really was, they could investigate who she met with and perhaps figure out who was leaking secrets to the U.S. It’s not far-fetched to think that one or more people were caught, punished, and perhaps executed over this.

The core question is, did the White House actually leak her name? I think the answer to this is yes. Scooter Libby – then Chief of Staff to Staff to Vice-President Cheney – was convicted of crimes related to this and later pardoned by Bush. The leak was supposedly traced all the way back to Karl Rove who was Deputy Chief of Staff to Bush at the time, and he supposedly told Novak – via Scooter Libby – that Wilson’s wife was “fair game,” which is where the title of the book comes from.

Clearly, the book is written from Plame’s perspective, so she comes off as an innocent victim. And maybe that’s true? I’m not aware of books that refute this from the other side.

In the absence of a defense, and considering the conviction of Libby, I’m going to assume Plame is telling the truth. That makes this a story about political revenge that maybe got out of hand. Did Rove realize how big of a problem this was going to be? Did he consider the ramifications to her career and the personal security of the people she recruited?

I don’t know. Maybe he was just rash and subsequently regretted it? In retrospect, it all seems dumb. Burning Plame didn’t change anything her husband said, so what the was the point? They were clearly trying to discredit her husband and his findings, but they could have done that without dragging Plame into it. The one sentence I quoted above just doesn’t really further any agenda, other than being petty.

I’d love for people on the other side (Rove and Libby – Novak has since died) to explain what and why they did it. But that’s not how politics in this country works.

Book Info

Valerie Plame Wilson
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • A hardcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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