It's a lonely secrecy.

Fair Game

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Fair Game is a significant movie that will probably draw small audiences. Why? Like most Washington scandals, the Valerie Plame affair grabbed headlines for a short while and then disappeared. This movie tries to set the record straight on the behavior of the players before, during, and after columnist Robert Novak revealed that Plame was a covert CIA operative. But the public attention span is short, and this story vanished from the headlines to make way for the daily barrage of pre and post-election Washington intrigue.
            At the time of the Novak revelation, Valerie Plame was running a high level counter-proliferation operation in the Middle East. An agent in that position operates at an "eyes only" level and reveals nothing about his/her job even to close friends or family. It is a lonely secrecy.
            CIA and an incumbent president, while seemingly natural allies, are often at odds, especially when the incumbent decides to manipulate the agency for his/her own ends. (Recall Nixon's pressure on CIA covert operations chief Richard Helms in the 70s.) This time around, it was decided at the vice presidential level and/or above, that the White House would ask CIA to verify that Iraq had obtained "yellowcake" uranium from Niger in order to build weapons of mass destruction. CIA turned to Valerie Plame.
            Under cover of working for a venture capital firm in Georgetown, Plame spent much of her time on assignment in Kuala Lumpur, Baghdad, Dubai, and Cairo. Her serial absences damaged her marriage to foreign service officer Joe Wilson. When, in response to President Bush's insistence on the existence of WMD, Joe Wilson wrote a tough op-ed piece in the Times denying Iraq's receipt of 500 tons of yellowcake, the "Office of the vice-president" triggered the destruction of the career of Valerie Plame. She was running nine teams in the field with 15 agents in Baghdad alone. You may recall that the administration that first called Plame important soon switched to labeling her "a secretary" to diminish her credibility.
            The revelation of Plame's identity endangered every operative and his/her family who had been connected to her in any way. The "Office of the Vice-President" - call it Libby, Rove, or Cheney - your choice - violated the rules of its own game in order to add credibility to the invasion of Iraq even after their own professionals were convinced that Iraq's WMD program had been destroyed in the early '90s.
            Sean Penn is terrific as the smart, irascible Joe Wilson - the husband who finally tires of the secrecy of his wife's life and her betrayal by the administration. Naomi Watts is steady and understated as Valerie Plame, and lest you think she's too young and pretty for an agent at this level, take a look at Plame herself and recognize that her own good looks were a strong part of her cover. Pretty Washington wives like this, after all, are supposed to be dumb blondes.


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