Former CIA agent at heart of political intrigue draws big Marin audience

March 4th, 2011

By Richard Halstead
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 03/04/2011 01:13:38 PM PST
Read Full Article Here

Question: When does a former CIA agent attract a large, enthusiastic audience in liberal-leaning Marin County?

Answer: When that CIA agent happens to be Valerie Plame Wilson — Jane Bond to her admirers — the woman whose unauthorized outing by conservative columnist Robert Novak in July 2003 sparked speculation that the Bush administration was seeking to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Valerie Plame Wilson came to the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium on Thursday night as part of what started out to be a new speakers’ series. The rest of the series was canceled due to poor advance ticket sales. But about 900 people — many of them women fascinated by Plame’s double-life as a spy — turned out Thursday to hear her tell her story.

It also didn’t hurt that Plame’s story was turned into the 2010 movie “Fair Game,” with Naomi Watts portraying Plame and Sean Penn playing her husband.

“I saw the movie ‘Fair Game’ and really enjoyed it,” said Sonia Logan of Novato. Logan said she didn’t follow the imbroglio when it was unfolding in the news but was captivated by the film’s portrayal of Plame’s “double-life.”

Susan Blair of San Anselmo said, “She was just such an interesting character in the film. She was a woman who was attractive, and young and very bright, who was doing something that you don’t normally associate with CIA work.”

Sharon Huntley San Anselmo said, “I’m hoping to get some inside tidbits that they didn’t reveal at the time. There was a lot of under-handed stuff going on.”

Plame didn’t reveal any new secrets Thursday, but in a political environment where facts are increasingly under siege from political spin she sought to set the record straight about what happened to her and her husband.

“What I hope to do this evening is tell you my story and put it into context. It will clear up misconceptions,” Plame said. “This is a story of power and the abuse of power. It tells you the price of speaking truth to power.”

Plame, a former CIA specialist in counter-proliferation, spoke about the anguish she felt listening to Secretary of State Colin Powell deliver the rationale for America’s pre-emptive attack on Iraq before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, a month before the start of the war.

“What I was seeing on TV and hearing from General Powell did not match the intelligence that I knew,” Plame said. “He was making a case for things that didn’t make sense.”

She recalled becoming even more incredulous when Powell attributed much of the intelligence to a source with the code name Curveball.

“That’s when it got really weird,” Wilson said, “because Curveball was known throughout the intelligence community as a fabricator. He was a drunk.”

About a week before Novak outed Plame, her husband wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that challenged the accuracy of a statement that President George W. Bush made in his January 2003 State of the Union address. Bush had informed the nation with foreboding that Saddam Hussein had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

In his Times piece, Joe Wilson recounted how he traveled to Niger in February 2002, on a trip authorized by the CIA, to investigate allegations Iraq was buying yellowcake uranium there. He reported back in March 2002 that there was nothing to the story.

In his July 6, 2003 column, Novak wrote, “Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger.” Bush critics saw the Novak column as part of a Bush administration plot to discredit Wilson by making it seem that he was sent to Niger by his wife on a junket.

Plame said Thursday, “It was done as political payback. They decided they were going to make this about the Wilsons, rather than the facts.”

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was eventually indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators for his role in the affair. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in jail. Bush commuted Libby’s prison sentence in 2007.

It wasn’t until after the investigation had been concluded in 2006 that Novak revealed that it was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who initially told him that Valerie Wilson was a CIA operative. And Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Bush’s chief political strategist, eventually confirmed he was the second, confirming source. Neither was prosecuted for his action.