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Plame to testify in the House today, but she can't tell all

March 16, 2007|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — She has been silent for nearly four years. Today, the former CIA officer whose unmasking fueled a political uproar and criminal probe that reached into the White House is poised to finally tell her own story -- before Congress.

Valerie Plame's testimony will have all the trappings of a "Garbo speaks" moment on Capitol Hill, with cameras and microphones arrayed to capture the voice of Plame, the glamorous but mute star of a compelling political intrigue. But while she hopes to clear up her status as an agency operative when her name first hit newspapers in July 2003, America's most publicized spy is unlikely to betray any details in open session about her mysterious career.

The reason: Plame remains gagged by the same secrecy rules that governed her for 20 years as a CIA employee working overseas and at CIA headquarters in Virginia in classified positions.

People close to Plame say her primary goal in testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is to knock down persistent claims that she did not serve undercover. "She is so tired of hearing that," her mother, Diane Plame, said in an interview this week.

In the years since her outing, the debate over Plame's CIA status has often devolved into hairsplitting feuds over nomenclature and legalisms, arguments often awash in partisan bile.

Little about her work is publicly known, leaving commentators to speculate on her cloak-and-dagger activities. She has remained opaque. Into a factual void the public has poured its imagery of the female spy, from Halle Berry and Eva Green in James Bond movies to Jennifer Garner on TV's "Alias."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the committee that sought Plame's testimony, has said that today's session will give Plame a chance to talk about the effects of the disclosure, but that his real aim is to determine the White House's role in leaking her name to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

For Plame, 43, the repercussions have been intensely personal, including a career cut short. But until now, only proxies -- chief among them her voluble husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV -- have been able to publicly vent the anger and frustration she has expressed privately.

"They ruined her whole career," her mother said, echoing a refrain of several of Plame's former CIA colleagues. "She has no job."

The well-connected couple are not without means. Over the last year Plame has written a book, "Fair Game," which netted her a seven-figure sum, although the book remains tied up in a CIA review process and its publication date is uncertain.

She and her husband have sold the movie rights for their life story to Warner Bros. This week the couple closed the $1.8-million sale of their Washington house, which they bought in 1998 for $735,000. They have moved to Santa Fe, N.M., buying a spacious home with a mountain view and a reported $1.1-million mortgage.

Wilson, 57, a consultant and author, cited the couple's desire to raise their 7-year-old twins in a quiet, "normal environment" far from Washington.

Plame hasn't avoided the limelight in recent years, but her conversations rarely go beyond pleasantries. Her and her husband's fame give them access to top politicians and Hollywood types.

In his book, Wilson described a dinner in Los Angeles where "Valerie found herself seated between Norman Lear and Warren Beatty. She turned to Warren and remarked, 'My life is becoming more surreal every day.' And indeed it was. Here we were in the midst of some of our best-known performing artists, and the person they wanted to see was Valerie."

She will be in that role again this morning. Her testimony is scheduled to be streamed live on the House committee's website.

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