“Fair Game” – Valerie Plame Wilson

I finished this book a bit ago but have been busy lately with less time for blogging! I suppose it is a good thing to not have enough time to sit on the computer, but I do miss having regular posts. My apologies to those who have found this blog stale for a bit, I am hoping to get more time over the holidays to knock off some of the books I have been itching to read.

That being said, I picked up this book in the $5 bin at Barnes and Noble. Having once been quite interested in journalism and having taken a Constitutional Law class that studied the court case involved with the story, I was already interested in Valerie Plame Wilson’s life.

We studied her story from a variety of perspectives when I was in college. In my journalism classes, we talked about the issue journalists have faced regarding the pressure to release anonymous sources and whether they should have a protected right to keep them secret. In my political science classes, we talked about the associated ethical dilemmas and the way the release of Wilson’s identity was used politically to squelch objections to entering war against Iraq.

With that background in mind and the previews I saw for the film adaptation of Wilson’s story starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (which sadly never came to my city so I could see it), I picked up this $5 book to see what she had to say. The book is written in memoir style and since Wilson was an undercover CIA operative, she had to submit it to a review board to determine what could be published and what needed to be redacted. To explain a bit further, the CIA holds the rights to redact (the blacked out portions of documents) anything they deem to contain sensitive information and might endanger our national security. A large portion of Wilson’s book is redacted, making for frustrating reading at times because there are many questions left unanswered.

Before this gets too long, let me explain her story a bit to those of you who might be unfamiliar. Now, the book is totally from her perspective and that is where most of my recent information derives–you are welcome to do your own research to get both sides of the story. Essentially, Wilson was a CIA operative working specifically on intelligence involving potential weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, Iraq in particular. She was married to Joe Wilson, a former US ambassador to Africa and other areas. When the government was in high alert on the search to find WMDs, Joe Wilson was sent to Africa to determine if materials there were being traded with Iraq to create nuclear weapons. He found that there were no signs of such trade.

After Joe Wilson returned with the answer that the US government was not looking for, he wrote an op-ed entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” In response, an article was written by Washington Post writer Robert Novak that leaked Valerie’s name as an undercover CIA operative. Over time, it was found that the leak was most likely initiated by the Cheney administration–specifically, Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. In the case following, Libby was never charged with releasing her name though he was charged with obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury. He was fined $250,000 and sentenced to 30 months in prison and probation. However, President Bush commuted his sentence, removing the jail term.

As with any story that threatens the integrity of the highest office of government, there are numerous complications and twists and turns. Valerie certainly has her side of the story which you can read about in her book or her husband’s. She ultimately blames Vice President Cheney for the leak and will not rest until he faces punishment (which will never happen). She says in her book that her office in the CIA and her husband’s work in Africa proved that there was no reason to enter into war with Iraq on the grounds of suspected WMDs and that this position made her a threat to Cheney’s intentions there. However, I am told that Karl Rove addresses the issue from an entirely different perspective in his memoir, Courage and Consequence, that would certainly be an interesting read as a foil to Wilson’s.

Of course, we will most likely never know the facts. Depending on your political beliefs, I am certain that your opinion will be quite different from the Republican or Democrat you know. Wilson’s memoir was not very well-written, she is not a writer after all, but it does give a strong sense of what it must have felt like to see your identity in national news when you are a covert CIA operative. If you are interested in her story, I would recommend the book–but to my very conservative friends, you might not like it so much…

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