May 15, 2017

Former CIA spy Valerie Plame recounts work, outing by Vice President Cheney’s top aide

Valerie Plame lived most of her professional life undercover, working for the Central Intelligence Agency in nuclear counter-proliferation operations. Her work took her across continents, with much of her focus in Iraq and the Middle East.

Former CIA agent Valerie Plame speaks at the Spring Meeting of the ABA Section of International Law.

Now living in Santa Fe, N.M., Plame no longer operates undercover. In a highly public case more than a decade ago, Plame’s confidential work for the CIA was unmasked by the top aide to then Vice President Richard Cheney in a case punctuated with spy intrigue, political partisanship and an eventual prosecution.

Plame brought her story to the Spring Meeting of the American Bar Association Section of International Law in Washington, D.C., in a dialogue on April 27 with Jonathan Granoff, chair of the section’s Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation. In Plame’s words, her story is one of how to “lose your privacy overnight” and have your spouse, a former career foreign diplomat and ambassador, called “a liar and a traitor.”

“It really become deeply ugly, viciously partisan,” Plame said, recounting what happened.

Plame was outed as a CIA undercover operative in 2003 by Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Cheney, after her husband, Joseph Wilson, criticized President George W. Bush for stating that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bought nuclear weapons-grade uranium in the African nation of Niger. As The Washington Post wrote, the revelation set off an investigation into whether White House officials, when they revealed Plame's status to reporters, broke a 1982 law prohibiting the disclosure of the identities of covert CIA officers.

On March 6, 2007, Libby was found guilty of lying about his role in the leak of Plame's identity, two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice. He was acquitted of a single count of lying to the FBI. Four months later, Bush commuted Libby's sentence, after a federal appeals court refused to let Libby remain free while he appealed his conviction for lying to federal investigators, The Post reported.

In recalling those days, Plame said she knew immediately that her covert operations career was over after the late columnist, Robert Novak, revealed her role at the CIA. What appears to still bother Plame is how politics and partisanship in the White House took precedence over her value to national security and her service for the United States.

“We did not serve as Democrats abroad or Republicans abroad. You serve as an American,” Plame said of her service and that of her CIA colleagues. “It should be just the facts,” she continued, lamenting how some inside and outside the agency have politicalized intelligence. “You become a banana republic if you allow momentary partisan politics to have sway on national security.”

Plame said she grew up admiring public service, as her father was a colonel in the Air Force. She was recruited to the CIA out of Pennsylvania State University. As she mused, upon graduation from Penn State she realized, “there was a big wide world out there and I have to find it.”

In 2010, Plame provided an account of her personal journey in her book, “Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government.” The story was later made into a movie starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.