Plame Testimony Offers Intrigue and Glamour
There was no Mata Hari moment Friday morning when former CIA spy Valerie Plame maneuvered her way through a clot of photographers in a Capitol Hill hearing room and finally told her version of how the Bush administration forced her in from the cold.
But even without tales of clandestine meetings in exotic locales or fake identities that tricked information out of international arms dealers (CIA rules sharply limited what she could say and be asked), Plame's appearance on Capitol Hill promised enough intrigue and glamour to pack the spacious room and leave a line outside the door.
"A spectacle," declared Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who pronounced the 42-year-old Plame more of a draw than the sorry lineup of baseball stars called before Congress two years ago to testify about steroid use. Westmoreland, one of only three GOP members of Congress who showed up at the hearing, even admitted to being a bit overwhelmed at the hubbub over the presence of the former covert officer with the striking blond, Hollywood looks.
"If I seem a little nervous, I've never questioned a spy before," he said to Plame, who smiled and responded: "I've never testified before."
Though Westmoreland's golly-gee comments seemed more act than reality, the long-mysterious Plame broke into the public's consciousness in a big way, just 10 days after top White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted of lying to the FBI and grand jury about whom and when he told about Plame's CIA occupation in an effort to discredit her war-critic husband.
With the black lenses of at least 30 cameras staring her down just a few feet away, Plame was placed under oath and for the next two hours proceeded to calmly and deliberately tell the story of how the disclosure in 2003 by columnist Robert Novak of her identity and occupation changed her life.
- "I felt like I had been hit in the gut."
- "I was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency."
- "I could count on one hand the number of people who knew where my true employer was the day that my name and true affiliation was exposed in July 2003."
And, central to the Bush administration's effort to discredit her husband and, ultimately, derail her career, "I did not recommend him [for the fact-finding trip to Niger]. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I didn't have the authority."
In fact, Plame said, she wasn't thrilled at the notion of her husband heading to Africa, envisioning, she said, "me, by myself, at bedtime with a couple 2-year-olds."
And Plame called out the White House, saying she never expected her covert identity to be revealed by her own government and criticizing the president directly for not following through on his promise to fire anyone involved in leaking her name and occupation.
"Karl Rove clearly was involved in leaking my name," she said. "And he still carries classified security clearance."
By the end of her testimony, the questions were getting repetitivethe Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats stressing her covert status and how other CIA officers could be compromised; Republicans arguing that the disclosure of her status was a CIA problem, not the fault of the White House.
But in the end, it was compelling theater to listen to an ex-spy, mother of twins, and wife of a former ambassador argue that the politicization of the nation's intelligence business not only caused her to lose the highly sensitive job the government trained her for but also placed her and her family in jeopardy.
And that compelling theater may be coming soon to a cinema near you: Not only has Plame completed a book on her experience; her story has also been optioned by a major Hollywood studio. Soon, too, she and her husband will be looking at all this in their rearview mirror: They are moving to New Mexico.
"I'm grateful," Plame said Friday, "for this opportunity to set the record straight."
If she has one regret, Plame said, it was posing with her husband for a Vanity Fair photograph some months after Novak blew her cover. The now famous shot shows her in a head scarf and sunglasses, sitting in a sports car with her husband at the wheel. "Having lived most of my life very much under the radar, my learning curve was steep, and it was more trouble than it was worth."