'Outed' CIA operative speaks at UF about public service

Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, famously outed by the Bush Administration speaks at the University of Florida's Reitz Union on Wednesday, January 26, 2011.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:54 p.m.

Even though government officials outed her as a CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson encouraged University of Florida students Wednesday to pursue a career in public service.

"It doesn't have to be the CIA," she said. "There are so many other ways to serve."

Wilson spoke Wednesday to a crowd of about 275 people at UF's Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. Wilson is the author of the memoir "Fair Game," made into a movie of the same name.

A New York Times op-ed by her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, questioned intelligence that the Bush administration used as justification for the Iraq war. Columnist Robert Novak subsequently outed her as a CIA agent, turning her into a public figure and ending her career with the agency.

"I can't tell you what it is like to have lost your privacy," she said. "You have no idea until it is gone."

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to investigators about his role in leaking her identity. President George W. Bush later commuted Libby's sentence, but didn't give him the full pardon sought by Cheney.

Wilson said Cheney's argument that Bush had left "a soldier on the battlefield" was deeply offensive given the loss of life in the Iraq war.

"How dare he compare his partisan view of the world to that ultimate sacrifice," she said.

Wilson recounted her work in nuclear counter-proliferation with the CIA. She said she now recognizes that trying to stop the procurement of nuclear materials by rogue nations is not enough, saying she supports setting the complete elimination of nuclear weapons as a goal.

"I recognize now that I was treading water," she said. "What I believe now is you have to drain the swamp completely."

The movie version of "Fair Game," with Naomi Watts playing her and Sean Penn playing her husband, was released last year and is coming out on DVD in March. She said she thought the movie was an accurate portrayal of the abuse of power that can happen in government.

"I'm sorry to say I think it could happen under any administration and I think the movie shows that," she said

ACCENT, the student-run speaker's bureau, paid $23,400 for the speech, which includes Wilson's fee as well as an agency fee and travel costs. The group had initially planned to bring Wilson to campus in 2007, but legal issues surrounding the book led her to cancel the speech.

In addition to taking questions about her life, Wilson was asked about current events such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's release of classified documents. She said she was a strong believer that some material should be classified, but there is a great deal of information that is wrongly kept secret.

She said Assange was an unlikable character, but questioned the U.S. media's condemnation of him.

"Are they really believers in freedom of the press?" she said. "Or is it only if they get the leak it's good, if he gets the leak it's bad?"

Several 9-11 truthers — who believe the fall of the World Trade Towers was a conspiracy — questioned Wilson about whether she supported a new investigation into the event. She dismissed the idea that such a conspiracy could be kept under wraps.

"Having worked for the government, I know it's really, really hard to keep a secret," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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