Episode 3



Hayley Atwell details a deadly conflict between espionage and politics with former CIA agent Valerie Plame. Valerie was outed in the press as an undercover agent when someone close to her challenged the government's line on Weapons Of Mass Destruction, placing her family and contacts in grave danger.
Read the transcript →

True Spies Episode 3: Codename: Fair Game?

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? 

This is True Spies Episode 3: Codename: Fair Game?

VALERIE PLAME: The morning that the article came out in the Washington Post, Joe came into our bedroom very early and tossed the paper on the bed. He said: "Well the son of a bitch did it." And I just felt like I had been sucker-punched, really, where the wind is just knocked out of you. I was immediately afraid for the safety of my twins. They were only three years old. 

My name is Valerie Plame. I was a covert CIA operations officer. My first job overseas was as a case officer. My last job was as a manager of some extremely compartmentalized secret programs that dealt with nuclear proliferation.

NARRATOR: In true spy fashion, Valerie Plame is underselling herself. Don’t let the word ‘manager’ fool you. Valerie was part of the effort to track the proliferation of weapons in Iran. She was part of the team that exposed Pakistani physicist A.Q. Khan, who illegally sold nuclear weapons to some of America’s most dangerous opponents. And by the time she was forced out of the CIA, she was head of operations of the Iraq Joint Task Force.

VALERIE PLAME: Over time, I developed an expertise in nuclear counterproliferation, essentially making sure that bad guys, whether they are terrorists, black marketeers, rogue-nation states, that they did not acquire nuclear capacity or nuclear weapons, and I loved what I did. 

NARRATOR: She was right where the action was post-9/11. And then, in 2003, her brilliant career was brought to an abrupt standstill. Fed to the media hounds in a game of political football, Valerie Plame’s cover was blown. 

VALERIE PLAME: The covert career was done. It was over. I could no longer go overseas. But it was sad because I wasn't ready to leave. I still loved what I did. I believed in it. As the CIA likes to say: “Not everyone knows our successes, everyone knows our failures.” 

NARRATOR: So this episode of True Spies is about what happens when politics and intelligence collide, and the spy becomes the scapegoat. And it’s a slightly unusual one because our spy cannot talk about anything to do with her career before 2002. Even basic, innocuous details like when she joined the CIA.

VALERIE PLAME: Given the agency stipulations, I am not permitted to say myself. 

NARRATOR: Or how long she served.

VALERIE PLAME: I cannot say what years, precisely, that I served in the CIA.

NARRATOR: So you’re going to have to trust me to fill in the blanks. Valerie Plame joined the CIA in 1985, a time of transition and social change as the agency realized women could gather intelligence too - not just control the schedules of the men who traditionally had. Like many of our True Spies, public service was in her blood. 

VALERIE PLAME: My father was an Air Force officer. He served in World War II in the South Pacific. My brother is a Vietnam veteran. He was a Marine, wounded. And my mother was a public school teacher. When the CIA asked me to join their ranks I was thrilled because it felt like another way that I could serve my nation in my family's tradition. It also seemed like it was a lot more interesting than whatever my friends were doing. 

NARRATOR: Undoubtedly - 250 applicants made the cut that year. And Valerie was in the vanguard of women recruited specifically to go into operations into the CIA. 

VALERIE PLAME: The CIA is essentially broken into four main areas of mission. One is a directorate of operations. They are the ones that are responsible for human intelligence. It's the raison d'etre of the CIA. They're the ones who spot, assess, develop, and recruit foreign assets. There's a directorate of intelligence. They are responsible for collecting the intelligence from the sources, assessing its quality, assigning it at certain values, and then redistributing it throughout the intelligence community. There is a directorate of science and technology, which is sort of all the Q from James Bond sort of things, all the cool gadgets and spy gear and overhead satellite stuff. Then finally, the directorate of administration, and they make the whole thing run. 

NARRATOR: Yep, that’s what I was thinking. Are you adventurous? Love to travel? Have a penchant for role play? Then being a case officer is the job for you. It’s their job to recruit foreign assets: mark them, stalk them, charm them, and lure them in to provide critical intelligence to the policy-makers back home. So how did the CIA spot a future case officer in the young, all-American Valerie? Perhaps it was this that did it. 

VALERIE PLAME: I still and always will remember an episode whereby I'm being asked possible vignettes, or how would you handle this? The woman, who that day happened to be interviewing me, was a very proper older woman. I think she had a twinset on, set of pearls, had gray hair, and a very nice bob, and she asked me the following: "Okay, what would you do, Valerie, if you are in an operational meeting with an asset, a man, you're in a seedy hotel room. He's passing you very secret papers and - all of a sudden in the middle of the meeting - you hear pounding at the door. And you hear: "Police, open up." What would you do?

NARRATOR: Pause. Before we hear what Valerie did. What would you do in her shoes? You’ve five seconds to come up with an answer… 5… 4… 3... 2...1. 

VALERIE PLAME: I wasn't very worldly in many ways, but I realized the only good reason that a man and a woman would be together in a hotel room... Well, there's only one good reason. So I said: "Well... Everyone takes off their clothes real fast and jump into bed." 

NARRATOR: Was that what you were thinking? 

VALERIE PLAME: And she looked at me. She did not smile, but her eyes twinkled, so I realized I got that one right, at least that one. 

NARRATOR: Okay, so you’ve shown you can think on your feet. What else makes you stand apart from the rest? 

VALERIE PLAME: They're looking for a pretty unique sort of set of characteristics. You are a risk-taker and yet you're not going to go out so far beyond what you've been tasked with that you become unstable or go far beyond your brief. On one hand, you like the framework of, and the security of, what a government job will give you. On the other hand, you are asking people to lie for you and on behalf of your government. While you have to have the utmost integrity, personal integrity, you're asking people to do things that you yourself never would. It's a unique set of characteristics. Of course, you can't tell anyone about it, except some of your colleagues - not even all of them. You have to be pretty self-sufficient, pretty self-motivated. 

NARRATOR: And it goes without saying, your loyalty to your country always comes first. In 1989, our fledgling case officer landed her first foreign posting in a city of smokycafés and subterfuge. 

VALERIE PLAME: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. 

NARRATOR: Valerie’s not at liberty to tell you where that was but I can reveal she was sent to Athens, Greece. The late 80s was a time of significant danger for US officials in Greece. Over the past decade the Greek leftist terrorist group ‘17N’ - 17 November, to give them their full name - had killed several US officials, beginning with the CIA station chief in 1975. Just a year before Valerie arrived, the US Embassy’s naval attaché was killed by a booby-trap in his armored car. It was during her time in Greece that Valerie cemented some potentially life-saving habits into her daily routine. 

VALERIE PLAME: I still have pretty good situational awareness. I can still do surveillance detection in my vehicle. I'm always paying very close attention to where the exits and entrances are. If something should go wrong, I'm out of there fast. 

NARRATOR: Valerie’s job in Athens was, in essence, to recruit well-informed locals to report to her with inside information, political machinations, and insights to help the US government better understand and influence political developments in Greece. 

VALERIE PLAME: I think I can say that a lot of my portfolio was focused on counterterrorism efforts because this country had not only its own set of indigenous terrorists, a lot of other terrorists from other countries would pass through. It was quite a large meeting place and point for many subversive groups, and I felt that that was really meaningful. 

NARRATOR: You’re in a foreign country. You’re just working out the lay of the land but you’re on the clock. It’s your job to bring business to the agency and business means sources. It’s been suggested to you that a certain person who frequents a certain café might be willing to spill his country’s secrets. It’s your job to reel him in. How are you going to do it? Think back. What have you been taught? What do you need?

VALERIE PLAME: First and foremost, a genuine curiosity about other people. You can't fake it. I really am interested, most of the time, in other people and what their stories are, and how they got there, and what drives them. Everyone's got a story. You just need to ask, and some people are quite lonely, and maybe you're the first person to ask about them in a really long time. If they're in a position of access to something that the US intelligence community would want… all the better. It definitely takes patience. You kind of have it or you don't. 

NARRATOR: Where you have that curiosity about other people that is sincere, you have to have common sense, which is not so common. Just practical sense. How do you do that? 

VALERIE PLAME: You have to be able to think out a couple of steps beyond: "I want to get to this next meeting." And then: “What do I want out of that?” Then be three steps beyond that. They try to teach you this stuff to a certain extent. But ultimately, it is on-the-job training. 

NARRATOR: You have to understand their reasons for talking to the enemy.

VALERIE PLAME: It could be money, simple greed. It could be: “My child is sick and you have medicine, I'll do anything.” It could be ego. Someone, finally, is paying attention to you or it could be a little bit of all of them, which it generally is. You have to feel that and understand that and be able to be the solution to their problem. And everyone has a problem and you are there to help them get out of that problem. 

NARRATOR: Can you be their best friend, their therapist or their financial advisor? And, just like an actor, learn new skills in order to inhabit their lives? 

VALERIE PLAME: Case officers are famous for: "You love tennis? I love tennis. Tennis is fantastic. Let's play." And then you're often in. Whatever it is. Birdwatching. "Oh my gosh, I had no idea. I love birdwatching. Where do you go? Can we go together?" And the next thing you know, you're their new best friend. 

NARRATOR: Can you forgive their sins and protect them regardless? 

VALERIE PLAME: Look, they’re not Boy Scouts. They're not great people. Sometimes they're awful people but, nevertheless, they're taking a huge risk typically to do this. They should be protected at all costs - their identity, their secret. They should be treated with the respect that they deserve by doing this. I never felt that I had to compromise my values in any way. Yes, you are lying, so let's start with that. But it always felt like there was a very good reason to do that. That it wasn't whimsical. Particularly as I started working more and more on nuclear counterproliferation issues, or biological or chemical weapons issues, warfare stuff. I figured what I was doing was on the better side of that scale. 

NARRATOR: How do you slowly peel the onion layers away from your cover, each layer opening yourself up further to exposure, to let the person know who you really are, and what they can really do? It's very nerve-wracking the first time you recruit someone - or at least try to - but the truth is, you should already know the answer. You should know the answer by the time you get to that. Because if it goes wrong, it can go spectacularly wrong and it doesn't always go the way you think it will. But you should have worked toward this. Ideally, the person you're recruiting looks at you when you put down the question finally and they should say: “Oh, God, what took you so long?” In 1992, Valerie left Athens to return to the US. 

VALERIE PLAME: I didn't get myself or anyone else in jail, so that's good. I didn't harm anyone and I was able to point to some real intelligent successes for such a young officer. 

NARRATOR: Again, an understatement Whatever Valerie got up to in Greece it brought her to the attention of her superiors back in Washington D.C. and she was chosen to become a non-official cover officer, or NOC, the most clandestine position in the Agency. Valerie, of course, can neither confirm nor deny this, but she can give us a more general guide to the sort of covers an operations officer might use throughout the course of her career. 

VALERIE PLAME: It just depends on the circumstance. On one end of that spectrum, you have a very light cover where it's hardly backstopped at all. You can just walk in to - say, some reception - and you maybe have a card with you. It says that you are ‘Ringo Starr’ and that you run a consulting service, or whatever it might be. If they Google you, you're dead. But it's - for that moment - very light. Then, at the other end of the scale, would be what we call an NOC officer, non-official cover. That is where you have no affiliation with the US government, but you are doing some of the most sensitive dangerous work because the US government can deny - there's deniability. That cover takes, frankly, quite a long time and a great deal of patience to build and to maintain. It's very, very difficult to do, but it's absolutely necessary. Those under NOC cover have a much higher degree of risk because they don't have the get-out-of-jail-free card. If something should happen - and it's in the US interest to deny that they had a deal with it - well, you might be sitting in jail for quite a while. 

NARRATOR: So you erase all visible connections with your government. You give up the diplomatic immunity that all field officers are entitled to and you begin your ‘double life’. For Valerie, that meant developing and inhabiting a new private-sector career and professional identity. One that would serve as a useful cover to meet and develop potential sources of intelligence value to the Agency, without revealing herself as an agent of the US government. It takes time and it takes knowledge. What you learned during training won't be enough to pass yourself off as an expert. So where do you start? You go back to school. 

VALERIE PLAME: I have a graduate degree, Master's degree from the London School of Economics, and another graduate degree from the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium, in International Relations, essentially European studies and international relations. 

NARRATOR: In 1996, Valerie settled in Brussels and began her public career as a ‘consultant’. Her business card described her as ‘VP, International' for a small petroleum-related company. But, in 1997, Valerie was ordered home and invited to work in the new counterproliferation division, handpicked by the division chief. 

VALERIE PLAME: Counterproliferation division was stood up in the mid-90s when it was, shortly after, there was a Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and it was the first time the US government really focused on this notion of weapons of mass destruction - either chemical, biological or nuclear. They set up this division that was focused on that issue globally. My area became, primarily, the nuclear threat when I joined the counter-proliferation division. I was, early on, given a choice of working either on the North Korean issues of nuclear proliferation or Iraq. I said: "Oh, I'll do the Iraq thing.” Simply because I felt I had a little bit more understanding. 

NARRATOR: And, it turned into the hottest place to be. An early win for the team was the takedown of Pakistani nuclear engineer A.Q. Khan, who for decades had been making a personal fortune by selling high-tech nuclear components to Libya and North Korea, among others. 

VALERIE PLAME: If not for A.Q. Khan, we really wouldn't have to worry too much about North Korea or Iranian nuclear programs. And I worked on that team with everyone involved for some years to really bring him to justice and to shut down his nuclear-pedaling ring. 

NARRATOR: In October 2003, the US government boarded several ships off the coast of Italy and seized the cargo: thousands of black-market parts for centrifuges, components bound for Muammar Gaddafi’s secret nuclear research facilities. Worth tens of millions of dollars, the ships were just two days away from their destination. 

VALERIE PLAME: And that led to Libya saying: "Okay, we're going to renounce any sort of nuclear program. We're done. You caught us. Our hand was in the cookie jar. We're not going to do it anymore." And so, that was a huge turning point. 

NARRATOR: And a personal win for Valerie. So who better to be made head of operations of the Iraq Joint Task Force shortly after 9/11? Her job? A simple one. Find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. 

VALERIE PLAME: I was traveling extensively, and we were trying to figure out, really, what Saddam Hussein had. We knew he was boastful about his military and chemical and nuclear biological prowess. But we had very little intelligence. We had closed our embassy there after the first Gulf War in ‘91 and then he kicked the UN weapons inspectors out in 1998, so we had very little intelligence when 2002 came around. The Bush White House looked squarely at the CIA and said: "What do you have on Saddam Hussein and his nuclear program?" So I was in charge of the group of people trying to figure that out. Where were they buying or purchasing their material? Very little was made indigenously. How are they financing it? What was their state of research, and so forth? 

NARRATOR: So how do you do it? You draw on your experience as a case officer and you use all the resources at your disposal to recruit the people with access to the weapons programs.

VALERIE PLAME: So there was everyone from key scientists as well as support people who might, although their title was not impressive, they were in a really important position to be able to say: "Oh yeah, they just ordered a thousand box of widgets that are going to be delivered to Abu Dhabi, and then put on a ship that will bring them up - ultimately - to Iraq and that sort of the supply chain information.

NARRATOR: But the intelligence coming in was overwhelming. 

VALERIE PLAME: In the run-up to the war with Iraq, there was so much information coming through over the transom because people all over the world knew that the United States government was going to pay them good money for any sort of intelligence on Iraq. So that was the first day of hunting season, if you will. 

NARRATOR: Everyone shows up. Everyone's got something to say. Everyone's trying to peddle their information for money, or whatever their agenda is. 

VALERIE PLAME: So we spent a lot of time trying to validate what we consider to be some of the best intelligence. What's the source? Can you corroborate it? Did you hear it again? Did you hear it from another source? And it frankly takes a lot of patience to do it properly. And because there was such a rush toward war from the Bush White House, I always felt that we were behind where we needed to be to understand completely the picture of this - how far along Iraq was with their nuclear program. Because it takes time to develop those sources and to test them and to go back and double-check them. 

NARRATOR: And time is running away from you. Who can you trust to tell you the truth? 

VALERIE PLAME: I remember, at one point, during the run-up in the crazy months before we went to war, we got intelligence from an Iraqi defector that he had been to an Iraqi biological weapons site where prisoners are being tied to their bed and tested with different bio-agents. And, he described a scene out of Dante's Hell - just really horrific - and there was so much detail involved... And you have an obligation to start with a human rights obligation to investigate that. But it took us on this wild goose chase. It seemed forever to try to get to the bottom of it. And, no surprise, there was nothing to that story. 

NARRATOR: And then, there was Curveball. The Iraqi defector whose testimony - allegedly - convinced the administration to go to war. Wednesday, February 5, 2003. Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses the UN to make the US case to invade Iraq. He cites the intelligence his agencies have gathered that shows the case is overwhelming. He cites a source, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who has provided intelligence of biological weapons. “Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts,” he said to the world leaders gathered in Geneva. “We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.” The problem was, the source, Curveball, made it all up. And he had never even met a US official, let alone been interviewed by one. 

VALERIE PLAME: We never did speak with him. He was held by the Germans. The German intelligence was debriefing him. Turned out, he was an alcoholic, but he was giving us what we consider to be at the time - and what the Germans considered to be at the time - really amazing information about biological weapons labs, how they would move them around. And he described the trucks, how they were refrigerated, how they were fitted out, where they were held, how they were moved, the schedules, and it was incredibly detailed. And, it turned out, none of it was true. 

NARRATOR: And here was the US Secretary of State claiming this intelligence was Triple-A, copper-bottomed evidence. 

VALERIE PLAME: He talked about Curveball - and we knew full well, at that point in time, that Curveball was completely discredited, that we had never had direct access to him. He was just a fabricator and his reports had been sort of stamped with that and not returned. And yet, here the Secretary of State was using that as an underpinning rationale for why we should invade, conquer, and occupy Iraq. It boggles the mind today. Watching it in real-time and then afterward. I just kind of felt nauseous, absolutely sick. 

NARRATOR: But how can you really be sure that the rest of the intelligence the administration is referencing is not right? 

VALERIE PLAME: I have to say by the time we invaded Iraq in March 2003, I still didn't have a very clear notion as to what Iraq's nuclear capabilities were. It didn't seem to me to warrant an invasion because the intelligence had been so weak on that front. On the other hand, the CIA, by its nature, is highly compartmented. How did I know that we had not recruited someone very, very close to Saddam Hussein, who was giving us incredible access or insight into the real state of play? I can't claim that I knew all along there was no WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction], but I did have serious doubts and I was just in the operational weeds trying to make sure that my operations were safe and productive. But they just didn't add up. It didn't add up. And we know now that the Bush administration had already made up its mind to go to war. So it all was, in many ways, just a charade. They really didn't care what the intelligence said.

NARRATOR: But the truth will out, eventually. Valerie and her team aren’t the only ones who know dodgy intel has been used by the administration as an excuse to go to war. And it’s not just Curveball. I haven’t introduced you to Joe Wilson. Up until this point, frankly, he hasn’t been relevant. But now he is. Joe Wilson was Valerie Plame’s husband. Joe had been the charge d’affaires at the US embassy during the time of the first Gulf War and knew Saddam Hussein. He had also been ambassador to Niger. He met Valerie at a party at the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC, the weekend she moved back from Brussels to start her new life at the Counterproliferation Division [CPD]. By this point, Joe had started his own consulting business. In 1999, when the CPD was investigating Pakistani physicist A.Q.Khan, Joe Wilson was asked to follow Khan to Niger to look for evidence that he had been trying to buy uranium. He found none. Three years later, in 2002, the Italians handed the vice president, Dick Cheney, a report that Iraq had been attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. Again, Joe Wilson, given his connections to both countries, was asked to investigate. A colleague of Valerie’s had suggested him for the role. Valerie agreed and they took it to their superior. Again, in his debrief by the intelligence services, Joe Wilson said he found no evidence of attempts to illegally purchase uranium. But, 11 months later, a statement was included in President Bush’s State of the Union, claiming Saddam Hussein had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. When it was revealed after the war [that the claim] was based on forged documents, the White House defended itself by saying: “At the time, nobody knew the intelligence was fake.” Joe Wilson knew otherwise and decided to go public. 

VALERIE PLAME: In 2003, my then-husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times entitled ”What I Did Not Find in Africa”. And in it, Joe wrote that he believed that the intelligence surrounding that decision to go to war was cherry-picked, manipulated, and it was really against our best national security interests. A week later, my name appeared in a Conservative columnist's newspaper all around the world - Robert Novak.

NARRATOR: In the article, Novak claimed Joe Wilson, who was not an employee of the CIA, was sent to Niger on the recommendation of his wife, Valerie Plame - who was. The suggestion was that Valerie had sent her husband on a ‘boondoggle’. In other words, a total waste of public money. A jolly. Crucially, Novak cited two senior White House officials as his sources. For Valerie, this was retaliation, pure and simple, for Joe’s article. They wanted to discredit Joe Wilson, and his wife was the weapon they chose to do it. Valerie’s career was collateral damage, or fair game, as one journalist told her husband. 

VALERIE PLAME: The morning that the article came out in our local paper, The Washington Post, Joe came into our bedroom very early and tossed the paper on the bed, which had arrived on our doorstep that morning. He said: "Well the son of a bitch did it." Because we had an inkling that Robert Novak was going to write this and I just felt like I had been sucker-punched, really where the wind is just knocked out of you. I was immediately afraid for the safety of my twins. They were only three years old. I was also, at the same time, very concerned about my assets with whom I had worked over the years and their safety. And, of course, I knew that my career was over. My covert career was over. 

NARRATOR: How do you live in Washington, the center of America’s political universe, married to a former ambassador for all those years, operating in the shadows? 

VALERIE PLAME: All the attention was on Joe. When you're in Washington. If you're just ‘a spouse’ no one pays you any mind. So, all I had to say was: "Oh, yeah. I'm a consultant. I travel." And then people just glaze over, right? You don't have your own car and driver. You don't have any important position. It's very much driven by your access to power, and so forth, because whether it's in Washington or so many places in the world, many, many people, frankly, discount women. What could they possibly be up to other than, say, shopping? No one knew where I worked other than my parents and my husband. 

NARRATOR: And so, Valerie, the consultant, the blonde ambassador’s wife, was exposed as a spy. 

VALERIE PLAME: I became well known, much to my horror. My name and my face were in the newspapers, on TV. They were talking about me on the radio, these people named Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson. And in my particular office, where I was working, it was like someone had died and no one wanted to talk about it. It was just awful. It felt surreal. It was an out-of-body experience. I had been used to being so private. No one knew what I did and I was perfectly fine with that - it was just a very confusing and dark time for us, my husband and I, professionally and personally. 

NARRATOR: Remember, for much of her career, Valerie’s been under ‘non-official cover’, that means the people who have had dealings with her, the sources she has helped recruit, have no idea that she actually works for the CIA. And now, she and her sources are a target. 

VALERIE PLAME: Whether al-Qaeda in America or just your random unbalanced nut job, it's hard to say. 

NARRATOR: She begins to receive death threats, crank phone calls, and disturbing letters. 

VALERIE PLAME: There was an increased terrorism threat from al-Qaeda and I received a very credible threat against me. The threat also included the director of the CIA at that time, George Tenet, the attorney general John Ashcroft, and Karl Rove, who was a presidential advisor at that time. 

NARRATOR: You’ve just been informed that your name is on the Kill List of the world’s most feared terrorist organization. You’re conjuring the worst possible scenarios in your head. Suddenly, it’s no longer just political. As you approach the corner of your street, try and see your home from the perspective of someone who is seeing it as a target. What are its vulnerabilities? How predictable are your family routines? What are your escape routes? What are your weaknesses, your children? America is in the midst of the war against terror. It’s fighting on all fronts - al-Qaeda, al-Shabab. Iraq. Iran. And your fingerprints, so to speak, are all over the Middle East. So you ask for help. 

VALERIE PLAME: I went to the CIA, head of security, and we went through this. And he determined that they weren't going to give me any added security. I was furious - primarily because the other three mentioned in that threat already had, sort of, 24/7 security. They could go anywhere. They could go to their son's basketball game and not have to worry about it. But they did not provide that to me, and I didn't ask for it forever. I just wanted it for a period of time. It was very painful, that decision. 

NARRATOR: The Agency she had devoted her career to for the last two decades; the agency she had lied for; risked her life for; traded time with her small children for, had failed to protect her. 

VALERIE PLAME: I believe the agency could have prevented my name from being published. They simply could have been much more forceful in their response to Novak's questioning. I'm hardly the first CIA officer whose name might have come across someone's radar screen. And, generally, the reporters understand that they need to back off and they do. Now, this was a very politically charged issue, but because I don't know exactly how that all went down and who spoke to whom when and so forth, and I still don't really even understand. I have my doubts, but I only speculate how my name was passed to the White House to begin with. I don't think anyone quite understood where it was going to go. That's for sure. The purpose of exposing me was to send a very clear signal to Joe Wilson - as well as anyone else who deemed it proper to speak out against the Bush administration and the war in Iraq - they were basically saying: "Look at what we can do to you and your family. And anyone else, step right up. We'll do the same to you." And, not surprisingly, a lot of background sources that had been speaking to reporters quietly to provide some understanding of what was going on in the intelligence community and what took us to war, all those sources dried up after that. 

NARRATOR: The incident became a political scandal, a subject of a criminal and civil investigation. The vice president’s right-hand man was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice (among other things), and one journalist was sent to jail for protecting him. But that’s another story. In the years following the Iraq War, the CIA did not cover itself in glory. It was, perhaps unfairly, blamed for the intelligence failure leading to the invasion. Then, reports of secret CIA prisons and extraordinary renditions came out. But, by this point, Valerie Plame had had enough. In January 2006, she resigned from the CIA after almost 20 years of service and she decided to write her memoirs. 

VALERIE PLAME: When you join the CIA, you sign a secrecy agreement. You agree never to divulge sources and methods and, of course, I completely uphold that. 

NARRATOR: Understandably, all books written by former agency staff have to be reviewed by the CIA before they can be published. Valerie was cautiously optimistic hers would pass through with minimal fuss. In the last decade alone, the Agency has approved at least 20 books for publication by former staffers. Some have detailed the specialist training case officers like Valerie undergo. Others have criticized the administration's policy on the war on terror. 

VALERIE PLAME: There have been dozens, and dozens, and dozens of books written by former CIA officers that went through the process and had very few problems. 

NARRATOR: But Valerie’s book was not one of those. After submitting her manuscript to the CIA for its approval it was returned with a version that was heavily redacted.

VALERIE PLAME: The CIA made the ruling that I cannot acknowledge any agency affiliation prior to February 2002.

NARRATOR: Why February 2002? Because that was when Joe Wilson went to Niger to investigate claims Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium. So, prior to that very specific date, Valerie cannot give details on cases she worked. She cannot talk about her covers or the places she was posted. As we know, she cannot give her years of employment, or talk about her training in any detail. She cannot even discuss how she met her then-husband, Joe Wilson.

VALERIE PLAME: There have been some other cases where, clearly, as in mine, the redactions are in retaliation. It's a very arbitrary, ad-hoc process that does nothing to actually protect our national security - which really ticks me off because everyone wants to protect that - but given, at different times in history, the political climate and who's in power and how much they are willing to push it... sometimes what happens is what I experienced. I believe my book Fair Game was redacted, and it's about 10 percent because it was simply retribution for the whole political thing we were going through.

NARRATOR: This is what happens when the spy becomes the scapegoat. 

VALERIE PLAME: As the CIA likes to say: “Not everyone knows our successes, everyone knows their failures.” I have such ambivalent feelings because of how it ended, in certain episodes, of deep betrayal. At the same time, the people that I worked with were some of the best. I feel so fortunate to have deep integrity, working on things that the vast majority of Americans have no idea are truly keeping them safe. I'm really proud to be part of that.

NARRATOR: I’m Hayley Atwell. Join us next week for another conversation with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

A former career covert CIA operations officer, Valerie Plame managed top-secret covert programs, made decisions at senior levels, recruited foreign assets, managed multi-million dollar budgets, and briefed US policy-makers. She was also involved in covert cyber operations and counterterrorism efforts in Europe and the Middle East. She now sits on the boards of Global Data Security and Starling Trust.

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