Snowden, Snowden, Snowden. Enough. Leaks are a part of the game. The stakes are always high, and these people play for keeps. You cross them, and you’d better be looking over your shoulder. Sound criminal? That’s a complicated question for high-end D.C. lawyers and stern judges in shadowy courts with those low hanging fans slowly spinning, spinning, spinning.

That’s my vastly abridged film noir summary of the story of CIA spy Valerie Plame Wilson. Inadvertently or not, CIA operative Valerie Wilson’s true identity was exposed to Washington Post’s Robert Novak by some associate of the Bush Administration. It happened back in July 2003, just about a year after the first CIA operatives move into Iraq, anticipating the coalition invasion the following year in March 20, 2003.

One particularly vocal critic of one of many  justifications for the war (like them or not) was Ambassador Joe Wilson, who latched onto and investigated the veracity of 16 little words in President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union Address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Wilson’s wife was Valerie Plame. As the story goes, Plame was payment for Wilson’s criticism of the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq at a time when national unity would naturally be important.

And that was the end of Plame’s twenty-year career with the CIA.


According to Valerie Plame’s Huffington Post blog earlier this week, she pursued a career in the CIA for a number of good reasons. She joined because she was surround by a family of war Veterans of World War II and Vietnam. She joined because she wanted to serve her country and because of the life of adventure it represented. As Plame explains, “I joined the CIA out of a sense of wanting to serve my country, and the notion that the U.S. government was going to pay me to live and work overseas was a tantalizing bonus.” And what she discovered was genuine job satisfaction, with some exceptions, of course. No job is perfect. Plame remembers that her CIA colleagues were a big reason she enjoyed her job, while she just accepted the complications of traditional government red tape and excused some morally questionable practices (what Plame politely describes as “the CIA’s involvement in torture”) she remembers.


The story of Plame’s exposure as an operative is a long, politically charged tale. As soon as I’m done here I’m ordering Plame’s book Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. It’s been a nearly a decade since it was published, so I won’t presume to write a book review.  But what’s particularly interesting in Plame’s blog is what life was like after she left the CIA. As Plame describes it, life as a spy was all you might imagine, complete with disguises and hair-raising undercover moments of confusion trying to remember who you are supposed to be and why you’re supposed to be doing what you’re doing. Plame writes, “I didn’t constantly have to check my rear-view mirror to see if I had picked up covert surveillance. . . . I didn’t have to memorize safe codes . . . . I didn’t have to worry that a disguise wig would slip off or look ridiculous. I didn’t have to go through my mental Rolodex when I met a new person to be sure I got my name right.” No, she didn’t have to do any of that, but she remembers the lasting urge to do all that and more in the days, months, weeks, and years following her exposure.

After twenty years of being hypersensitive about your environment and every move you make—a hypersensitivity that apparently becomes second nature—it’s not surprising that going from in to out so quickly would leave you a little jittery and on edge, for a good long time to come.

Enjoy Plame’s Huffington Post blog.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.