Being outed as an undercover operative for the CIA may be the best thing that ever happened to Valerie Plame, who along with her husband, former ambassador John Wilson, stirred things up pretty good around here during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration.
Since that time, Plame has been the subject of a major Hollywood motion picture (as the promotional types like to say) called "Fair Game," which made a whole lot more out of the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans than they were worth.
Now Plame has written a new book. According to Washington Post columnist Al Kamen, it is highly critical of the "overwrought lady spies" that actresses like Claire Danes are forced to play in productions like cable TV's "Homeland."
Well, who better to make that judgment than an overwrought former lady spy (for a few minutes anyway) whose whining about the disclosure of her clandestine service led to a whirlwind of fame she might never have realized? And one whose outing led to the chance for a special prosecutor to throw his weight around, although he determined no crime was committed; the ridiculous incarceration of a reporter who never wrote a story; and the indictment and political ruination of a White House aide who didn't have anything to do with the original disclosure.?
Oh, yes. The reporter who first disclosed Plame's name and the State Department official who gave him the tip walked away without a scratch from the prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose legendary zealousness was aimed solely at proving that White House political adviser Karl Rove was a bad dude. That failed, so he settled for indicting Vice President Dick Cheney's staff chief, Scooter Libby, and actually won a conviction for obstruction of justice. The president commuted Libby's sentence but didn't pardon him.
Meanwhile, a former New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, moldered in the slammer for far longer than an honest journalist ought to for refusing to reveal the source of a tip about Plame's actual career. She never wrote a story.
Honest, folks. You can't make up this stuff. But this is Washington, with a history of fact imitating wild-eyed fiction.
So now the lovely Ms. Plame has gone and womped up her own fictitious scenario of clandestine operations a la E. Howard Hunt of Watergate fame. It's called "Blowback," if anyone is interested. Actually, I'm not, preferring to stick my nose in the latest John le Carre or Daniel Silva espionage thriller when I venture into that genre.
Plame and husband Joe Wilson's misadventure into the realm of weapons of mass destruction has rewarded them with a far more exciting and monetarily beneficial existence than she might have expected with her modest CIA credentials. (She suggested he be sent to Africa to discover if Saddam Hussein had bought yellow-cake uranium there to create a nuclear ability. When he said that hadn't happened, it set off a frantic effort to discredit him.)
Plame hasn't had to settle for just the anonymous star that adorns the lobby of CIA headquarters in McClean, Va., honoring those who have given extraordinary service to God, country and perhaps even St. George. She doesn't even have to worry about a visit from the ghost of former CIA chief of counterintelligence James Jesus Angleton.
If you wonder why I'm raking up all this old, well-trampled soil, it is the disclosure that the FBI turned up the leaker of some protected information used to thwart terrorist operations in Yemen. That disclosure truly threatened the lives of undercover operatives. The retired FBI bomb expert who passed it on to an Associated Press friend has been arrested, as he probably should have been.
My concern is that the bureau traced the leak by using the AP's telephone logs, raising serious questions about an assault on the press's constitutional protections.
With Plame's resurfacing, I couldn't help but consider the dramatic contrast between the revelation of her name and the far more serious and concerning disclosure about undercover operations in Yemen. There truly is no comparison.
One did no damage to the security of the nation, only to those who got caught up in the case. The other might have resulted in the loss of vital sources. So if you're compelled to pick up "Blowback," keep that in mind.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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