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Spy outed in newspaper: ‘It was political payback'

/ Source: TODAY contributor

Valerie Plame Wilson, the spy whose cover was blown by her own government when her husband questioned intelligence cited as justification for invading Iraq, says she hopes what happened to her will be a lesson for the nation.

“I hope that the American people have learned the lesson to pay close attention to what their leaders are saying and try to educate themselves and get as much information before we rush headlong again into disastrous war based on twisted intelligence,” Plame told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira during her first live television interview on Monday.

Plame made the comment while appearing to discuss her past service (what the CIA will let her say), the leak investigation and her new, government-censored book about the scandal. She also talked about the next threat to U.S. interests in the troubled Middle East: Iran.

The threat is real, said Plame, who had been working for the CIA on nuclear proliferation issues before her career ended after she was “outed.” Vieira asked her, “Given what you know, are we headed toward war in Iran?”

“There’s no doubt Iran has intent and it’s malevolent,” Plame said of that country’s nuclear aspirations, a topic of intense scrutiny by the Bush White House and debate around the world.

Vieira then asked if the administration is capable of twisting intelligence again to rush into war in Iran.

“I do,” said Plame.

Years in the shadows
For 20 years, Plame was a covert operative for the CIA, sometimes under cover so deep that she is not even allowed to admit that she worked for the agency from 1985-96. Her friends and neighbors thought that the attractive blonde mother of twins was a “consultant” to the government.

“Only a handful of people knew what I was really doing,” said Plame, whose book “Fair Game” was released Monday by Simon and Schuster.

Her career ended in July 2003. Her husband, Joseph Wilson, who also worked for the CIA but was not covert, had done work in Africa. 

After the White House, in laying out a litany of reasons to invade Iraq, claimed that Saddam Hussein had been shopping for uranium in the African nation of Niger, Wilson wrote a 1,500-word op-ed piece for The New York Times entitled “What I Did Not Find in Africa.”

“He refuted the administration’s primary claim for going into war with Iraq, which was the nuclear threat,” Plame told Vieira.

A week later, columnist Robert Novak identified Plame as a covert operative and Wilson’s wife. President Bush vowed that any member of the administration responsible for the leak would lose his job.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was identified as the source of the leak. After a trial in which he attempted to implicate Cheney, Libby was convicted of perjury and sentenced to 30 months in prison. In July, Bush commuted his sentence.

Plame still feels certain she was targeted to punish her husband. “I believe it was political payback,” she told Vieira. “They went after my husband. They were furious that he would have the audacity to question their reasoning, their rationale, and then they went after me.”

She said that the CIA has produced a report assessing the damage caused by her being identified, but she has not seen it. To her knowledge, she said, neither has any member of Congress.

“I do know that the network of assets that I worked with is jeopardized,” she said. “That’s why what happened was a real crime of violence against our national security.”

The outing, she said, “was a betrayal.” Asked whether she thought the President himself was involved, she said, “I don’t know what he knew or when he knew it.” But, she added, a special prosecutor’s report concluded that the leak was not the work of one person.

“There was a conspiracy by a multitude of people within the White House to undermine and discredit Joe Wilson and I was just sort of collateral damage,” Plame said.

She hopes her book can make people aware of what could happen again: “You could call it a cautionary tale of speaking truth to power and the importance of holding your government to account for its words and deeds.”