The Jakarta Post
Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent and author Valerie Plame nixes the notion of female spies as sexy Bond girl types or cool and calculating Angelina Jolie models.
Plame is rather the woman you want living next door: She is beautiful, funny, friendly and stunningly intelligent with Greek, German and French as languages additional to her native English, the mother of twins and a spy to boot.
Plame joined the CIA just out of college, working as a spy until 2003 when her cover was blown. Her outing led to her first book and later film, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent was Betrayed by Her Own Government. She has now followed this up with her first novel, Blowback, a spy thriller based in part on her own life undercover.
'Vanessa is a younger, smarter version of me. I wanted to write a spy series that had a female protagonist that was much more realistic, that was not highly sexualized, as in the Bond girls, the Angelina Jolie characters, paper dolls. I wanted to show a female character that had much more richness and depth,' says Plame, who is this week in Ubud to promote her book, which is the first in the Vanessa Pierson series.
Plame came to prominence in 2003 when her identity as a deep cover CIA agent was leaked by officials within the George Bush administration. A mother of twins, at the time still toddlers, Plame says her outing placed her family at great risk.
'My fear for my children is paramount. All of a sudden I am a CIA poster girl so anyone from al Qaeda ' to the odd nut, of which there are many in this world would be able to find me, knew I worked for the CIA ' that was very concerning.
'There are so many disturbed people who find the CIA as the bogey man of their nightmares and could then easily find us,' says Plame, who rather than going into hiding wrote her memoirs, which set her firmly on a new road as an author.
Sitting relaxed over a coffee in Ubud, Plame remembers just how tough life was raising twins in the early years; recruiting Russians is far easier than motherhood.
'The twins brought me to my knees ' I had recruited Russians, but two babies, that's what did me in,' she laughs.
Now 50 years old, this vibrant former spy is delightfully open on her years as an agent and just how tricky it can be to tell your lover you are a spy. Her husband, US diplomat Joe Wilson, took the news in his stride and Plame is grateful to this day.
'Although I was apprehensive about telling him what I really did, he had served as an ambassador, he had worked with CIA people, so it wasn't a completely alien world. Happily when I did tell Joe, I will love him forever for this, he said 'Well that's fine, but just tell me is your real name Valerie?'.'
Her role as a Non Official Cover (NOC) for the CIA brought her into contact with people most relegate to fiction. Her work as an NOC, left Plame out in the cold. If anything 'went terribly wrong, because of the depth of cover, you are much more on your own. You don't enjoy diplomatic immunity. NOC's are used for the most sensitive operations. If cover is compromised the operation could be in jeopardy then the US government wants plausible deniability, as we call it. 'We never heard of her'.'
When the black market in nuclear weapons is one of those operations, involving millions of dollars circulating among the 'amoral', maintaining cover is life-saving.
Plame speaks of one major operation involving what she calls a former 'nuclear entrepreneur', within the 'extensive' weapons of mass destruction (WMD) black market.
'AQ Kahn, the Pakistani nuclear scientist is the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb. He was for many years a nuclear entrepreneur. Were it not for Kahn, Iran would not have a nuclear program today, nor North Korea frankly.
'My group helped wrap him up and his worldwide network. He in fact is my inspiration for Bhoot [in Blowback],' says Plame of the character she has drawn from Khan. It is this entry of reality as stranger than fiction, that makes her book so engrossing, the reader is constantly aware that much in the book could have occurred.
The anguish suffered by the leaking of her name by US government officials pales when Plame talks of the Iraq war that may well have been preventable. Before the war she and former CIA colleagues provided solid intelligence to senior US policy makers to determine if indeed Iraq had WMD or more particularly a nuclear capability.
'It wasn't until Colin Powell, [former US] secretary of state spoke before the UN; he essentially was giving the case for going to war, that I realized that the administration's rhetoric did not match the credible intelligence,' says Plame, suggesting no WMDs or a nuclear program were then in evidence.
That war and the many generations it will take to restore Iraq to a functioning nation still cause Plame distress.
'It is just so painful. The hundreds of thousands of civilians killed ' displaced, the flight of the educated essential to rebuilding a strong democratic state. I think the Iraq war is probably the worst foreign-policy decision ever taken in US history. It is devastating,' says Plame whose lifelong loyalty to her nation was severely tested by what she saw happening within the Bush camp and her later outing.
With hindsight and a handful of years, Plame says she still deeply loves her country, but is far more attuned to the machinations of politics.
'There a great quote from Mark Twain ' 'Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government when it deserves it'. For me there is a sense of public service I was very proud to serve my country, but since 2003 when I was outed my political education has accelerated,' says the woman who today speaks on the US National Security Agency's (NSA) incursions into the private lives of citizens, brought to the fore by Edward Snowden and others now branded traitors.
'Knowing the extensive and pervasive abuse of American civil liberties by the NSA is deeply concerning to those who care about a healthy democracy ' and without Snowden these abuses would not be known.'