One Guest of Honor at Sleuthfest 2016 was Valerie Plame. On Saturday, Paul Levine interviewed Plame. I took notes, but I’m sure I missed some important information. The following is what I picked up from the interview.
Valerie Plame is the CIA operative whose identity was revealed by the Bush administration after her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, questioned the reasons given for going to war with Iraq. Her memoir Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House was made into a major motion picture. Paul Levine is the author of the “Jake Lassiter” and “Solomon vs Lord” series.
The interview started with Levine asking Plame about her memoir. She said it had to be read and approved by the CIA before it could be published and when she first got her copy back, almost all of it had been redacted. She ended up suing the CIA, and finally the manuscript made it through the screening process. She said there is nothing in the book that would put the country or others at risk.
The interview then turned to what a CIA operative really does and how one is chosen.
Surprise, surprise: There are very few explosions, car chases, or gun battles.
The FBI is the agency that deals with national problems within the USA. The CIA has a foreign mandate. Plame said there has been more paramilitary activity since 2001, but the CIA’s primary function is to gather human intelligence.
The CIA recruits assistants. Assistants or assets are people who live or work in a country who bring the operative information.
As she pointed out, being a white female with long blonde hair, it would have been difficult for her to infiltrate a middle-eastern group.
Levine asked what the CIA looks for in an operative, and Plame said:
- the organization uses the Myers Briggs test.
- They want an extrovert, someone who is intuitive and can work independently.
- They don’t want a cowboy.
- They want applicants who are loyal to the country, who wants to ensure the safety of their families, and, in order to do so, are willing to take risks.
- They have to take a lie detector test and be evaluated when they first apply and then have to do lie detector tests and evaluations every 3-5 years after that.
Her biggest fear is nuclear proliferation. She has done extensive public speaking throughout the country and internationally on that issue. She’s particularly worried about Pakistan and North Korea. (She said she’s more concern about Pakistan.)
She certainly didn’t express much love for Vice President Cheney. She said being outed put her assets at risk and jeopardized future possible contact. She said she was worried about her contacts and assets, that they might be harmed once it was known that she was a CIA operative. She also said if there’s no one from the US to go to, then the assets will go to Russia or to some other country.
What is a “Hand off”? came up. She explained that’s when information is secretly “handed” from one person (say an asset) to another (say the CIA operative). It might be in a book, or a newspaper, or whatever will disguise its presence. It might actually be handed over, or it might be left somewhere to be picked up at another time.
When asked if she identified herself as a CIA operative when in a foreign country, she said “No, not usually.” But, she let it be known that she was the “go to” person, that information given to her would get to the right people in the US government.
She said there’s a lot of down time and boredom to the job. Lots of planning goes into an operation. They calculate the risks, and, unlike fictional operatives, they don’t go off on own. They inform others in team.
Sometimes they play a role. They might reveal they have an association with the US government, but not their true identity
Plame said not all operatives are created equal. Some can easily identify and work with assets, others never can.
When asked, she said she’s against water torture and any kind or torture. She feels the Iran deal is good; not perfect but a step forward. She said there’s a lot of fear mongering in the US nowadays, and that we’ve been lucky that there have been no nuclear bombs so far.
Plame was an interesting person to listen to. I purchased her book, and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m hoping, of course, that I’ll glean some information from her story for my next book.