Exit Interview: Valerie Plame
Montco’s most famous spy exposes her new book, Fair Game.
After CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson was outed by columnist Robert Novak (with assists from Karl Rove and Scooter Libby), she wrote Fair Game, detailing her life as a spy and her betrayal by the White House. But her former employer blacked out whole paragraphs of “classified” material, and the book often reads more like Mad Libs than a memoir. Here, the 44-year-old tried to be candid, talking about high-school reunions, espionage and James Bond, and only one redaction was deemed necessary by Exit Interview’s high standards.
Philadelphia magazine: Are you calling on a secure line?
Valerie Plame: Uh, no, I left my phone at the CIA. I’ll let you know if I can’t answer something. [laughs] I haven’t been asked if I’m on a secure phone since January 2006.
PM: Are you sick of hearing CIA jokes?
Plame: No, frankly, I’m sick of hearing myself talk. [laughs] I am so bored with myself! But it’s much better being on this side than being called a liar or a traitor.
PM: Can you reveal where you grew up?
Plame: Sure. My father was an Air Force officer, and we moved around a lot, but he retired in Huntingdon Valley. I went to Lower Moreland. Around Thanksgiving 2006, I got talked into going to my 25th high-school reunion.
PM: Was there a needle-scratching-the-record moment when you walked in?
Plame: Well, it’s not like I got voted most likely to become a spy. I really dreaded it, but I went with a girlfriend, and it was fun.
PM: As a child, were you bugging your friends’ dollhouses? Giving your Barbies aliases?
Plame: I did not grow up thinking I was going to join the CIA. My dad served in World War II, my brother is a Vietnam veteran, so public service was a theme. We traveled a lot, went to Europe. Not to take away from my childhood at all, but I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of here. [laughs] I loved the idea of serving my country and working overseas in an exciting career.
PM: The story goes that you first thought about the CIA as a Penn State student when your mom sent you its help-wanted ad from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Plame: I have to be careful here. The agency has said that I cannot acknowledge my affiliation prior to January 2002. Welcome to my world. This is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with protecting classified information and everything to do with punitive action against a critic of this administration’s policies.
PM: Is there a single cool story you can tell, preferably involving code names and gunfire?
Plame: [laughs, sort of] My group was responsible for figuring out where the Iraqi scientists were in their research. That’s where really creative operations came in, which I loved. Do they have relatives in other countries you can talk to? Are they coming out for an international conference? Can you get in through Kurdistan? I tried to write as much as I could in the book, and hopefully, if we win our appeal, I can tell more.
PM: Was your life like a Bond film? I’m picturing you in a slinky dress at a lavish ball with a .45 strapped to your leg.
Plame: I went everywhere in an evening gown. No, Hollywood has a propensity to portray CIA agents as rogue operators — out there! Sure, some aspects are Bond-like, but I’ve never played craps at a Monaco casino.
PM: Ever afraid you’d have a few cocktails at a party and let something slip?
Plame: No, never. The CIA’s training is very good. These are heavy responsibilities. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but sometimes people’s lives are at stake. That keeps you focused. I’ve always been an organized person, but it exacerbates those traits. You don’t want to do something stupid — get out of a taxi and leave a bag behind, or oh gosh, my laptop is in a hotel in another city!
PM: It seems a lot of the criticism you’ve taken relates to your being an attractive woman.
Plame: There’s that underlying “She’s just a girl.” Gimme a break. That was part of their plan — discredit her. The Republicans can’t seem to get it right. I’m either a glorified secretary, or I have so much power I can send my husband on some so-called boondoggle. There’s definitely an undertone of misogyny.
PM: So if Hef calls for a Playboy spread?
Plame: Not interested. Please, I’ve had twins. Hello!
PM: Even if he redacts your naughty bits?
Plame: [laughs] Even then.
PM: You also took shots at the journalists involved in your story.
Plame: My case aside, if they had used any shoe leather, maybe they would have gotten a different story from what they were getting from the White House. We were let down by the media. They were distracted by Britney Spears stories. Not that you would ever interview Britney Spears, but you know what I mean.
PM: Exit Interview is all about the shoe leather. So did this interview help restore your faith in the press? Or was this the last nail in the coffin?