Looking at it from the outside, it appears that outed CIA operative Valerie Plame and her ambassador husband Joe Wilson cut some pretty good deals for themselves as a result of the turmoil that exposed the falsehoods in the Bush administration's Iraq war policy. Book deals followed and now a movie
, "Fair Game," starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts as the couple, which brought them back to Washington last week for a series of screenings.
Their life seems enviable now that their story of CIA intrigue and Washington back-stabbing is behind them and they've launched a new life in Santa Fe with their two young children. But the movie drives home how painful the whole episode was, nearly wrecking their marriage as Wilson determinedly stayed in the public eye to fight White House attempts to discredit him, and Plame retreated bereft at losing the career she loved, along with her identity.
After watching themselves portrayed on the big screen for what must have been the umpteenth time, Wilson quipped in a Q and A session that followed that he has better hair than Sean Penn and can "disembowel a dinner guest with more grace than he." That said, Penn captures Wilson's intensity and his affection for the spotlight just as Watts conveys Plame's earnestness, her lack of artifice, and her devotion to the code of secrecy her job demands even after the job had been taken from her. With some of her former Washington neighbors in the audience, Plame recounted how her friends dealt with the shock of reading in a newspaper column
that she was a spy. One said she wished there was a Hallmark card to say, "I'm sorry you've been outed." Another said, "Now I know why you drive the way you do."
A scene in the movie has Plame meeting clandestinely with a CIA official, sitting on a bench James Bond-like shielded by an umbrella, and getting half an apology, but the meeting never occurred. All she got was a perfunctory 10 minutes in headquarters with someone she can't identify who told her not to worry, that it would all blow over. "So they blew that analysis too," Wilson interjected. Overall though, Plame vouches for the movie's accuracy, from her affection for Post-it notes, on which she would leave messages about child care for her husband as she dashed overseas on some secret mission, to the portrayal of her job at the CIA, which was finding scientists who could reveal or refute Saddam's nuclear program.
She still can't reveal sources or methods, and when she was asked if she knows what happened to the scientists she was working with, or any of the "assets" she ran around the world, she replied that in some instances she does, and in others she doesn't. She was in contact with a number of scientists in a position to refute there was a nuclear program. "The smoke was still rising off the towers and we were scrambling. I did not have an opinion whether Iraq had weapons (of mass destruction). That wasn't my job. My job was to find scientists and get them to brief us."
After her identity was compromised, some reports suggested she was really just a glorified secretary. The movie certainly puts that to rest, and Plame's own statements and the way she conducted herself throughout the controversy attest to her professionalism. As the movie depicts, a damage assessment was conducted by the CIA, but Plame says the agency did not share it with her, and she has never seen it. "I know in some cases what happened, and others I don't, and that's all I can say," she said. Now the CIA wants her to disavow any affiliation she had with the agency before 2002, "which makes a memoir very difficult," she said, adding, "It feels like betrayal all over again."
There is a scene in the movie where Sean Penn asks college students how many know the sixteen words
that were tucked into President Bush's State of the Union speech
, the declaration about Iraq's nuclear intentions that proved untrue. No hands went up. How many had heard of Valerie Plame? There were lots of hands, evidence Wilson said during the Q and A of how successful the White House had been in what he called "disinformation to change the subject from the sixteen words to Joe Wilson and his wife."
In the movie, the couple is vindicated, each in their own way, for how they stood their ground. Plame seems more at ease now in the public eye as she does publicity for the movie even as she recalls how horrified she was every time she heard her name said on television. Unlike most people, she laughed, "I never wanted to be on Oprah...I still don't." As for Wilson, judging by his body language, he'll never be fully at peace with what happened. "What's not in the movie," he said. "They did audit our taxes."