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Sunday, February 13, 2011 - 20:30
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SBS One

The name, Valerie Plame, was never meant to be publicly known, but the former CIA spy ended up being exposed by the very government she had pledged to serve.

Her identity was leaked after her husband, former United States Ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly criticised George Bush's reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Now, eight years on, her story has been turned into a Hollywood thriller, Fair Game, which she says is difficult to watch because it brings back so many memories.

Video journalist Yalda Hakim meets Valerie in New Mexico, where she's forged a new life far away from the Washington spotlight, and talks to her about the lasting effect the episode has had on her and her young family.

WATCH - See Yalda's profile of Valerie Plame.

MOVIE TRAILER - Watch the trailer for 'Fair Game' and find out more about the film.

BEHIND THE SCENES - Yalda talks about filming this story, and her first week in the Dateline chair, in a special website behind the scenes feature.

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Photos (CIA/White House): Getty

Movie Trailer



Find out more about 'Fair Game' on the film's website.

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Transcript

Aside from Julian Assange's difficulties in Britain, it is no secret that the US Government would like to charge the now famous whistle-blower. Seven years ago, the White House was directly involved in its own whistle-blowing. The name Valerie Plame was never meant to be publicly known yet in the early days of the Iraq war, this CIA spy became a household name, exposed by the very government she had pledged to serve and protect. Hollywood has turned her remarkable story into a fast-paced thriller. On a recent trip to the US, Yalda Hakim caught up with the glamorous former spy.

REPORTER: Yalda Hakim

MOVIE REEL: What?

This was the moment when Valerie Plame read her name in the 'Washington Post'. Her life changed forever.

MOVIE REEL: Wilson never worked for the CIA.

It is an agency operative of weapons of mass destruction, he just went ahead and did it.

After 18 years of serving her country as a spy, she was outed. A Washington insider, betrayed by her own Government.

MOVIE REEL: My name is everywhere.

Those in the highest office sought to destroy the career of a covert agent. Your wife is a traitor.

'Fair Game' is Hollywood's version of the unmasking of Valerie Plame. An attack which was traced all the way back to the White House.

MOVIE REEL: They push you until you find a point at which you break. You cannot break me! I cannot have a breaking point.

VALERIE PLAME: I like this scene.

Eight years and a world away from her former life as a spy, Valerie Plame now lives and works in Santa Fe.

REPORTER: What is it like seeing yourself on this movie?

VALERIE PLAME: Well, it is not me - it is Naomi Watts. But, in any case, it is surreal. It's very strange. Although my husband and I have seen this for a few times, it is still very difficult each time. It brings back a lot of memories, and not all of them positive.

MOVIE REEL: Who are you?

Let go of my arm!

Who are you? Now! Information about your uncle's contact shipments. If you help us, we help you. If you don't, your brother dies. And tomorrow you are sitting next to your uncle in a cell in Thailand and it won't be me asking the questions.

REPORTER: Even when the movie came out recently, it was written about a Hollywood drama. You know, did you really do that - some of this stuff that is portrayed in the movie?

VALERIE PLAME: I did.

MOVIE REEL: Listen to me! I promise you one thing - right now, you have no idea what we can and cannot do.

VALERIE PLAME: My husband and I are both pleased that the movie tells the essential truth of what happened.

It is because of their determined pursuit of the truth that Valerie and her husband, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, have such an extraordinary story to tell.

GEORGE BUSH: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

This rumour presented as fact in 2003 became a key part of George Bush's reasons for war against Iraq. But a year earlier, the CIA had sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate.

MOVIE REEL: The Vice-President has received a support concerning the purchase of material to build nuclear weapons.

We need to get in close.

They turned to her husband for answers.

It is my opinion it could not have happened. I have teams in the field. They are all saying the same thing. But when the truth was made public...

REPORTER: What do you think the White House wants to hear?


That there was no nuclear program.

They changed the story and made her pay the price.


Valerie, your name is in the paper, they say you're a CIA agent.

Valerie Plame's husband was outraged and went public over his government's lie.

VALERIE PLAME: He felt he could not stand by and say nothing. So we had no idea. We knew that there would be pushbacks. The Bush White House did not take criticism lightly. We knew there would be pushback. We were prepared for that. We thought, of course, it would be directed at Joe.

The White House hit back at Joseph Wilson by exposing his wife.

MOVIE REEL: It is in the newspaper, Valerie. Is it syndicated overseas? Everywhere.

VALERIE PLAME: All of a sudden, I'm the CIA poster child. There is a lot of imbalanced people in the world, as we know. I'm thinking about the safety of my family - our twins at that time were just 3 years old. Finally, I knew my career was over.

Suspended immediately from all operations, Valerie Plame feared for her contacts in the field.

REPORTER: Did you ever find out what happened to those people?

VALERIE PLAME: I think what I can tell you is that I know what happened in some cases, and I do not know what happened in others. But the movie - again, there's some composite characters and so forth. But it is a pretty accurate rendition.

It was not just her contacts that she was concerned about. She feared for the safety of her family, and her marriage.

REPORTER: What did that actually do to your relationship?

VALERIE PLAME: Oh, it tore it apart. It was all but..

MOVIE REEL: Hello? Valerie, turn on NBC.


They have launched an investigation. Just announced. They say it is going to convene a grand jury. Hang on a second! The FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into who leaked the name of the CIA undercover...They want me to comment on the investigation. Just hold on. We have to fight this! We have to push back!

VALERIE PLAME: He wanted me to speak out and defend him and yet I could not because I was still employed by the CIA. He understood early on that you needed to push back, that they were really bullies, and you needed the best way to deal with a bully is to push back. But I just didn't know what to do.

Eventually, Valerie Plame did speak out, giving evidence at a Congressional committee.

VALERIE PLAME: We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. There was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover. Further more, testimony in the criminal trial of Vice-President Cheney's former Chief of Staff, who has now been convicted of serious crimes, indicates that my exposure arose from purely political motive.

Vice-President Cheney's Chief of Staff was convicted of lying and obstructing an investigation.

DAVID CORN, JOURNALIST: He lied. He lied really badly.

Journalist David Corn has been reporting the Valerie Plame story since it broke.

DAVID CORN: He lied in a way that Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, could not ignore. You know, in that - and I think he thought this thing would go away, leak investigations come and go all the time in Washington. He probably thought, "I'm Chief of Staff to the Vice-President, I will dismiss these FBI bumpkins with a little story and that will be the end of it."

Immediately after his conviction, Scooter Libby's 30-month term was commuted by President George Bush.

DAVID CORN: These folks were so consumed with the idea that they had to justify the war in Iraq, because, really, they had misled the public. There were no WMDs, and what they had said before the war - a lot of it was wrong, a lot of it was false.

MOVIE REEL: Thank you for coming here. I wanted to convey my outrage to you in person. I know it is not easy. But I want you to know how much the agency appreciates your silence in the light of this matter. We cannot afford to have this knife-fight go on any longer.

I get death threats every day. People threaten to kill my husband, hurt my children. I went to the agency and requested security to protect my family. I was declined because "my circumstances fall outside budget protocol." If this is a knife-fight, Sir, right now we are fighting it alone.

DAVID CORN: I think Valerie - she says this on the record, I don't know, but I think she felt down and unprotected by the CIA. The top-level folks didn't rally around her. They isolated her very quickly. She felt she had no choice but to leave the agency eventually.

The intense public scrutiny of this former secret agent took its toll.

VALERIE PLAME: So I was very, very concerned about the safety of our children. I mean, they're paramount. So our home in Washington was right in town, right on the street. We would walk out and there would be photographers on our lawn. I found it horrifying.

VALERIE PLAME: Love it! So gorgeous.

The family fled Washington and settled in Santa Fe. Now, having featured in 'Vanity Fair' magazine, written an autobiography and had a movie made about her, life is anything but covert. While working as a consultant, she's also one of the leaders of Global Zero, an organisation aiming to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

VALERIE PLAME: The people that are involved in Global Zero are not Liberal happy let's hold hands and hope for the best - there are some serious hawks from Jimmy Baker to Henry Kissinger and others who have said, "We need to address this issue of nuclear proliferation." It is not a partisan issue.

REPORTER: I can see there are a lot of movers and shakers and a lot of work being done. But how realistic is complete nuclear disarmament when you have countries like Iran and their leaders saying, "Well, if you have got it, the Americans, Israel, why shouldn't we?"

VALERIE PLAME: Absolutely. I'm no fun of Ahmadinejad but he makes a good point, which is why should you, the Western developed nations, be allowed to be in the nuclear club and we, the Islamic nation, the less developed ones, are not? Somehow we are not to be allowed into the big boy's club? Well, there is no argument to that question.

While Valerie Plame is keen to tackle the big issues, she was trained as a spy. So with a what about WikiLeaks and the mass publication of secrets?

VALERIE PLAME: I have highly ambivalent feelings about WikiLeaks. On one hand, so much information is over classified, because it is so much easier to do it that way. Not only is it easier, it takes less thought, of course, if you just stamp "classified" on something and put it into one pile versus another. But classifying something, in many cases, it is simply hiding government mismanagement, corruption, haplessness. So there's that. On the other hand, of course, as a former intelligence officer, I feel very strongly about the protection of sources and methods. From what I understand, from what appeared in the media, in the case of the WikiLeaks, there were instances that did put into jeopardy sources and methods - I think in Afghanistan.

REPORTER: It is interesting, because the premise of their argument is that it's the public's right to know. And on many levels, I feel that perhaps that's what Joe's argument was. Do you see any parallels between the two?

VALERIE PLAME: I don't think it is analogous. I would hesitate to draw parallels, a strong parallel, between what Joe did, writing a 'New York Times' piece, and the release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents online.

Despite all that's happened to her, Plame says she is not bitter. This patriotic American says she would do it all again.

VALERIE PLAME: The lessons I draw that I take away is that we are a great country. We do have the joy of freedom of speech, and you can speak truth to power. There are going to be consequences. But you can survive it.

Valerie Plame, in Santa Fe. The movie is called 'Fair Game'. I talk about spending time with Valerie in the first of a series of regular behind-the-scenes features on our website, filmed as we prepared for broadcast this week. You can follow my travels on Twitter and Facebook. For more snippets and stories along the way, go to SBS.com.au/Dateline for all the details.


Reporter/Camera
YALDA HAKIM


Producer
VICTORIA STROBL


Editors
ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS
DAVID POTTS


Researcher
MELANIE MORRISON


Footage courtesy of
Hoyts Distribution

13th February 2011