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Book Review

Betrayal is the operative word for former CIA agent in 'Fair Game'

'. . . I would soon find out that in Washington, the truth is not always enough,' writes ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. ". . . I would soon find out that in Washington, the truth is not always enough," writes ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. (LAWRENCE JACKSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS/ FILE 2006)

Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House
By Valerie Plame Wilson
Simon & Schuster, 432 pp., $26

When former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson's identity was revealed by columnist Robert Novak in The Washington Post, she found herself at the center of a political and media maelstrom. Novak's July 14, 2003, column appeared a week after Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, had attacked President Bush for faulty intelligence claims prior to the Iraq invasion.

Wilson's New York Times op-ed piece contradicted Bush's contention that Saddam Hussein had tried to procure yellowcake uranium (used for developing nuclear weapons) from Niger. Wilson himself had gone to Niger the year before to investigate these claims and had found them baseless. Instead of answering Wilson directly, the White House went into attack mode.

Plame gets her book title from Karl Rove's assertion that Joseph Wilson's wife was "fair game." Plame meticulously describes the "smear campaign" orchestrated from the vice president's office intended to discredit her husband. Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, revealed Plame's identity to Novak and other media members, leading to Libby's indictment and a 30-month prison sentence. No charges were brought against Cheney or Rove, and on July 2 of this year President Bush used his executive power to commute Scooter Libby's 30-month prison sentence.

Plame, who worked on nuclear nonproliferation while at the CIA, remains disillusioned with both the White House and the media: "I believed in our democratic institutions," writes Plame, "I believed that the truth would prevail, but I would soon find out that in Washington, the truth is not always enough." Ironically, Plame's book seems to support the Bush administration's basic claim that Saddam's Iraq was a real threat. She describes pre-war Iraq as "dangerous and erratic," although she contends the White House oversold dubious intelligence to the public.

Plame admits to being shocked when she heard President Bush make the Niger yellowcake claim in his 2003 State of the Union address, and while watching Secretary of State Colin Powell's televised presentation to the UN regarding Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD): "I had been tracking Iraqi WMD efforts carefully for some time and the facts I knew simply did not match up with what Powell had just presented." Plame explains in great detail exactly why these pre-war intelligence claims were unreliable, despite being trumpeted by the White House as some sort of "slam dunk" case for war. Plame had a front-row seat on both the politicization of pre-war intelligence and White House efforts to stem post-invasion criticism.

Plame describes pervasive efforts to shut her and her husband up. Plame labels it "classic Karl Rove": "Their tactics would have made Joseph McCarthy proud: fearmongering, defamation of character, shameless disregard for the truth, and distortions of reality." Indeed, Plame's book was reviewed by the CIA prior to its publication, and she hasn't been allowed to disclose some of the relevant facts, which the CIA deems classified. Plame wonders whether her book, like her formerly covert CIA status, has been compromised because of political imperatives coming from the White House. Readers may be left thinking, "it wouldn't exactly be the first time."

Exhausted from court battles and a seemingly-endless smear campaign, Plame packed up her belongings and left Washington earlier this year, moving with her husband and two kids to Santa Fe "We had told the truth and tried to live honorably," Plame writes in her tale's final paragraph. The fact that her story ends in a symbolic retreat says something worrisome about our nation. Valerie Plame Wilson can be viewed as a canary in the proverbial coal mine, and her book reads like a grim testament to the noxious atmosphere of our current politics.

Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer who lives in Dorchester.

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