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Valerie Plame on Nuclear Weapons, NSA Eavesdropping, and Life as a CIA Agent

National Public Radio
"It only takes one nuclear weapon or even a dirty bomb detonated in any city around the world. And our values and things that we take for granted and our rights would completely vanish overnight because the fear that it would instill."

You shouldn't know who Valerie Plame is.  But you very likely do.  She's the former CIA agent whose cover was blown in what became one of the most infamous scandals in American history, involving the highest rungs of the Bush White House.  Besides the mounting human cost and the fact that no "weapons of mass destructions" were found, the spectacle played one of the largest roles in the plummeting support for the 2nd Iraq war and became a black eye for the Administration.

Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that cast serious doubt on the White House's assertion that Saddam Hussein had WMD's, as they came to be known.   That set in motion a series of events that eventually led to Plame's identity being leaked in a Washington Post op-ed by conservative columnist Robert Novak.  The incident blew up into a major high-profile scandal that led to the conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges for Lewis "Scooter" Libby, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Plame's career as a CIA agent was over.  She's since written a memoir of her experience titled "Fair Game."  And now she's delving into the world of fiction with a series of spy novels.  She's also featured prominently in a documentary film about nuclear proliferation, which she'll be screening free at the University of Alabama on Monday, March 31st.  As a spy working for the CIA, Plame worked to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.  Now, as a public figure, she's using her high profile to that same goal.

Plame spoke with me from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Despite regrets that she can't do the job she loves, she's determined to continue working.  She talked about the ordeal and the personal toll it took, but she said she and her husband never lost perspective.

"For our personal difficulties, it is nothing compared to what the families of the servicemen and women that have served and have either gave the ultimate sacrifice or come back deeply damaged."

Plame says the event was like "Alice falling down the rabbit hole."  She suspects that Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in her outing.  Though, despite Libby's convictions (his prison term was later commuted by President George W. Bush, though a $250,000 fine was left in tact), Cheney was never tried. 

Plame will also speak in Alabama about the recent revelations of the extent of NSA eavesdropping by Edward Snowden.  As a former spy, and due to the fact that her father was briefly contracted to work for the NSA, I asked her what she thought about it.  She says the more she learns, the more disturbed she gets.

"It's not about Ed Snowden. It's about the issues that he has raised... the incredible extent and pervasiveness of NSA spying... in many cases it is extralegal and it goes beyond constitutional bounds."

Those are just a few of the highlights from the interview.  There were lighter moments.  Plame joked about being a Penn State alum coming to the school of a rival, and disclosed she thinks the 2nd season of Homeland "jumped the shark a bit."  And, in a somewhat disconcerting confession, she's never seen Archer.

The documentary "Countdown to Zero" screens at 7:30 at Farrah Hall.  She'll also speak with students of Dr. Stephen Schwab, a UA adjunct professor and former CIA analyst.

Click the audio at the top to hear the full interview with Valerie Plame.

Jeremy Loeb is a reporter and former APR host of Morning Edition. He joined the station in December of 2013 and stayed with us until November 2014.
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