There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fair Game on the bus

Finished "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House," Valerie Plame Wilson's attempt at a memoir, an attempt that the CIA vigorously worked to undermine. Simon & Schuster, the publisher, had to resort to hiring Laura Rozen to produce a 78-page "afterword" that seeks to fill in some of the blanks left by the CIA censors. (See this post by Rozen.)

When this whole affair first started I was aghast that the administration would stoop to revealing a covert CIA officer's identity as a part of an effort to undermine a critic of the administration's march to war. Having read even the redacted description of Valerie Plame's work in the CIA, I am even more angered by what was done. But I am not surprised. After all, this is the same administration that has worked so hard to turn the Justice Department into an arm of the White House political machine, that has bent the environmental protection laws to favor mining interests and has turned the nation's energy policy into corporate welfare for the oil industry.

What's one spy's life and the damage her outing has caused to national security when there are political scores to settle?

There's more than a little irony in the fact that Plame was outed by the White House trying to stifle dissent. She was a strong supporter of the work to gather the intelligence on Iraq's nuclear program and other weapons of mass destruction.

Writing these pages in 2007, four years after the invasion of Iraq, and the evidence of the manipulations of intelligence and failures of the intelligence community prior to the war, it is easy to surrender to a revisionist idea that all the WMD evidence against Iraq was fabricated. While it is true that powerful ideologues encouraged a war to prove their own geopolitical theories, and critical failures of judgment were made throughout the intelligence community in the spring and summer of 2002, Iraq, under its cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority.
The book contains full pages of material censored by the CIA. Since all of the material the CIA cut out is already in the public domain -- news articles, other books, even the congressional record -- one is left to suspect the political appointees at the top of the CIA still have a score to settle with a woman whose husband had the audacity to speak out. She is not even allowed to say how she met her future husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Click on the image of Page 64 from the book for my favorite example of what the CIA felt safe to reveal.

Page 64

I have never understood the claims of supporters of the White House, who argued that Wilson's assessment of the Niger "yellowcake" evidence was somehow undermined by the fact that his wife worked as a CIA operative on WMD and played a role in getting him the pro-bono trip to Africa. Rozen expresses my own sentiments in the afterword:
It's not easy to understand how an unpaid week interviewing ex-officials in the second-poorest country on earth could be construed as a boondoggle by even the most avid political operative, and the nepotism talking point did little to neutralize Joe Wilson's fundamental and still-compelling claim: that the White House exaggerated the case for war to the American public. It's a claim that teams of CIA-led Iraq weapons hunters did nothing to dispel when they delivered their findings to Congress shortly thereafter that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Even with the redactions in her memoir, Valerie Plame Wilson comes across as a dedicated, patriotic public servant who served her country to the best of her ability, sometimes risking her life in the process. This is not James Bond stuff. This is the nitty-gritty work of intelligence gathering, the very necessary and very valuable effort required to ensure our national security.

That she was paid back in the way she was is just a crime.

In the book, she makes reference to a photo that appeared in TIME's 2005 retrospective focusing on "People Who Mattered." A photographer had come over to shoot her husband. When one of her twins wandered downstairs, she came after the child in her pajamas. She paused a moment, pushing her hair out of her face. The image captured speaks volumes about two people who stood up to an organized political attack.

No comments: