Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Valerie Plame Wilson considers depiction of her life in “Fair Game” fairly accurate
Friday, November 19, 2010
By Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
He is chairman of a company that specializes in power infrastructure in very difficult places in the world. She works at the Sante Fe Institute, an independent scientific think tank, is writing a thriller and busy shuttling their 10-year-old twins to soccer games, piano practice and the like.
“We have just worked on rebuilding our personal lives and our professional lives and looking forward to hopefully contributing again for positive change,” she said in a recent phone call.
Ms. Wilson also is promoting “Fair Game,” a drama inspired by her experiences as an undercover CIA operative whose cover was blown in a syndicated newspaper column in 2003. The movie stars Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame Wilson and Sean Penn as former ambassador Joe Wilson.
“We’re very proud of it. I hope people, whatever their political persuasion, when they leave the theater, that they understand that this is a story of power and the abuse of power and holding your government to account for their words and deeds.
“These are issues that we have been grappling with as a nation since the Constitution was written — checks and balances and all that.”
She was a covert officer in the CIA’s counter-proliferation department when her husband was sent to Africa to investigate rumors of the possible sale of uranium to Iraq.
After the White House ignored his findings and went to war against Iraq, Mr. Wilson penned an op-ed piece for The New York Times headlined, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”
Eight days later, columnist Robert Novak revealed that Valerie Plame — whom he identified by her maiden name — was a CIA operative and that she personally may have sent her husband on the Niger trip.
This marked the beginning of the end of her career and eventually led to the conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, of perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison — later commuted — and a $250,000 fine.
At the time of the disclosure, Valerie and Joe’s twins were preschoolers. Now 10, they have seen the movie, which is rated PG-13.
“Of course they’re much more interested in seeing who are the actors playing them,” Ms. Wilson said with a laugh, “but this is unfortunately sort of all they’ve known. This happened when they were 3, and through the years, of course in age-appropriate terms, we’ve tried to explain what was happening,” she said.
She hopes as they get older that they understand what the couple went through. “There were hundreds, if not thousands, of times we shushed them, and we couldn’t be the parents we wanted to be because there was some crisis brewing or something we had to deal with, that they understand why.
“And how much we love our country and how important we think it is that you speak up when your government is doing something you think is wrong.”
The first time Ms. Watts called the former CIA operative, they spoke for several hours. She had a long list of questions that were personal in nature and focused on such things as relationship dynamics.
“Then, Sean [Penn] came to stay with us in Santa Fe several times and spent a lot of time with Joe. He’s the quintessential ‘method actor’ — absorbs everything, observes everything — and we got to know them both and like them both.”
Although the leading lady and the former spy appear to be almost doppelgangers, Ms. Wilson says, “Naomi is quite petite, just so fine-boned and structured, but I think she does an outstanding job in the movie. …
“Sean did a great job as Joe, with the exception that Joe has way better hair — he does — and he also has a really good sense of humor, which wasn’t allowed to play out.”
Doug Liman, who directed or produced the three “Bourne” movies, directed “Fair Game” and counted the Wilsons as consultants on the set. The screenplay, by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is based on Valerie’s book, “Fair Game,” and Joe’s book, “The Politics of Truth.”
However, Ms. Wilson’s then-unpublished memoir was off limits to the screenwriters until the CIA finished vetting it (and the published book has redacted passages), so they were forced to conduct research of their own.
The movie condenses or composites events or characters, and while it’s not a documentary, Ms. Wilson says, “It really is an accurate portrayal of what we went through. … Of course I signed my secrecy agreement, which I completely respect. I would never reveal sources and methods; that’s why they have screenwriters.”
“Fair Game” makes it appear that Ms. Wilson left the CIA almost immediately after the Novak column when, in fact, it was almost three years.
No matter the timetable, she says, “I loved my career, and I was really proud to serve my country, and to have to leave it was very difficult for me. Clearly, that chapter was over.”
Ms. Wilson, a Penn State University graduate who was grand marshal of the 2009 homecoming parade and still counts some Pittsburghers as dear friends, is especially pleased that “Fair Game” underscores what she did at the CIA.
“It’s pretty clear I was not a glorified secretary, I was a highly trained officer working on substantive issues of counter-proliferation.
“It was hurtful when it was described that I was really just a desk jockey or a glorified secretary when, in fact, I worked really hard at what I was doing — not that desk jockeys and secretaries do not. I was trained to do this, and I loved my job.”