After becoming the most outed spy in American history, Valerie Plame is telling her story.
Or parts of it…the parts the CIA will let her tell.
Plame’s new book is a far cry from the manuscript she wrote for publication. By the time her former employer, the Central Intelligence Agency, was through with it the story had lots of gaps and holes.
Still, what emerges is, for the most part, interesting reading.
Writes Janet Maslin of The New York Times:
Valerie Plame Wilson begins her memoir, “Fair Game,” on a note of toughness: She describes paramilitary drills in which she participated as a C.I.A. trainee. Her book also includes a photograph of her as a 2 ½-year-old at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, sitting in the cockpit of an airplane with her feisty little hands on the controls.
Needless to say, the story of how her career was derailed and her C.I.A. cover blown also has its combative side. But the real proof of Ms. Wilson’s fighting spirit is the form in which her version of events has been brought into the light of day. “Anyone not living in a cave for the last few years knew I had a career at the C.I.A.,” writes Ms. Wilson (who has gone by that name since she married former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV in 1998). Once that career was destroyed, she wrote this account of her experiences as a means of both supporting herself and settling scores. She was contractually obligated to submit a draft of the book to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publications Review Board. That draft came back heavily expurgated. She was then expected to rewrite her book so that it made sense despite many deletions.
But Ms. Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, contend that much of the censored information is in the public domain — and that the suppression of information is itself part of Ms. Wilson’s story. So “Fair Game” has been published with the censor’s marks visible as blacked-out words, lines, paragraphs or pages. The publisher amplifies the book with an 80-page afterword by Laura Rozen, a reporter, who uses matters of public record to fill in some of the gaps.
What emerges is a sense of Ms. Wilson as an ambitious, gung-ho professional, dedicated to her work yet colorful in ways no Hollywood storyteller would dare to make up. (Asked during her training what she would do if caught meeting an agent in a foreign hotel room, her proposed solution was to take off her blouse and jump into bed. “This could be fun,” she remembers thinking.) While Ms. Wilson’s text creates a guessing game about where she was educated and stationed (Which country has this proverb: “The goat’s hair needs a fine-tooth comb”?), the afterword places her in Bruges, Belgium, and a particularly fraught Athens.
Alan Cooperman, reviewing the book in The Washington Post, concentrates on Plame the person:
Mothers who are spies, it turns out, face the same juggling act as other working moms.
After a year at home following the birth of twins, Valerie Plame Wilson returned to work in April 2001 in the Iraq branch of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division. “When I had to deal with pressing operational issues I had no choice but to bring the toddlers into my office on a Saturday,” she writes in her memoir, published this week. “Making decisions on how much money to offer a potential asset while handing crayons to my daughter who sat under my desk was strange indeed, but not without humor.”
Since senior administration officials whispered “Valerie Plame” and “CIA” in the same breath to half a dozen journalists in 2003, some people have not very subtly suggested that her work couldn’t really have been all that hush-hush if she had an office job, not to mention blond hair and little kids. “She was not involved in clandestine activities,” Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who first published her name, wrote earlier this year in his dueling memoir. “Instead, each day she went to CIA headquarters in Langley where she worked on arms proliferation.”
There are lots of she said-he said moments in the Plame affair, matters on which an impartial observer can only conclude that, well, both sides have a point. But this is not one of them.
Before her retirement in 2006, Wilson spent more than 20 years in the CIA, including six years, one month and 29 days of overseas service. We know this because the agency, in a bureaucratic blunder, put it in an unclassified letter about her pension eligibility that it later tried desperately to recall, and that she has included as an appendix to “Fair Game.”
We also know that she worked on the operations side, the part of the CIA that runs agents and covert activities, rather than on the analytical side, which tries to make sense of all the information flowing in. From her former CIA “classmates,” we know that she went through the agency’s elite Career Trainee program, including paramilitary training at the classified location known as the Farm, and was one of just three in her class of 50 who were chosen to be NOCs (pronounced “knocks”), or non-official cover officers, the most clandestine in the agency. And from her memoir, we now know how deeply secrecy was ingrained in her.