Q&A: From Montco to CIA, Plame sets sights on spy genre

Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, in 2006.
Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, in 2006. (HARAZ N. GHANBARI / AP)
Posted: November 01, 2013

Valerie Plame, the former CIA officer whose cover was blown by high-ranking Bush administration officials in 2003, has settled into a new life as a writer. Plame grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Lower Moreland High School in 1981. After attending Pennsylvania State University, she followed her father, Air Force Lt. Col. Sam Plame, into public service.

Many details of Plame's CIA career are classified, but she is putting some of her experiences into a series of spy novels. The first was released Oct. 1.

Question: Give us a taste of your new book, Blowback.

Answer: It features a strong female CIA operations officer. I got really tired of seeing how in popular culture females are portrayed in the CIA. I think they're pretty ridiculous and flimsy.

Her name is Vanessa Pierson and she's a "nonofficial cover officer." The plot revolves around a secret Iranian nuclear facility, which is something I worked on during my career at the CIA. Nonproliferation is something I'm really passionate about.

Q: Are you envisioning five, 10, 20 books in this series?

A: At least. There's a lot of stories to tell. I've had some really interesting adventures and met some really fascinating people. I'm sort of writing the books I want to read.

Q: What is a "nonofficial cover officer"?

A: She has no overt U.S. government affiliation. Usually, the NOC officers get the most sensitive cases.

Q: Is that what you were?

A: I can't say.

Q: Do you watch any of the spy shows on TV?

A: Covert Affairs is not realistic. Neither is Homeland. But Homeland, at least, has a very complex, complicated character. Notice how Carrie Mathison has no friends? That's not very useful. When your job is to recruit agents and provide intelligence, it's helpful to have some interpersonal skills.

Q: Having grown up in the Philadelphia suburbs, is there anything you miss?

A: I love the landscape of Pennsylvania - the gentle rolling hills and the leaves and the stone houses dating from the 18th century. That is beautiful. But we're at home now in New Mexico and we're very happy here. It's completely different, but it's beautiful in its own high-desert way.

Q: Your life turned upside down when your cover was blown. Have you recovered a sense of privacy or normalcy?

A: It's never like it was before. But we really have worked hard to rebuild our personal lives and professional lives. We're deeply engaged in our community in Santa Fe. I'm a very vocal advocate for the dangers of nuclear proliferation. I'm very much involved in public school education and reform, especially in New Mexico, which needs it.

Q: What do you think of the NSA surveillance program?

A: We're overdue to have a robust conversation about the balance between security and privacy. I'm not willing just to hear my political leaders tell me to "trust us, we're keeping you safe." . . . I'm deeply alarmed to find out how robust and how invasive the NSA is in law-abiding everyday citizens' lives.

Q: You were very critical of the media coverage leading up to the war in Iraq. Do you think reporters are doing better now?

A: I'm still dissatisfied. There are pockets of excellence, but clearly the media in general has become much more partisan. My husband and I spend a lot of time reading foreign newspapers online because it gives you a completely different perspective than what you can get absorbing just domestic news. You really need to read far and wide, to make your own opinion.

Q: Your twins are about to turn 14. Do you ever wish you could go on some covert mission to escape hormones or teenage angst?

A: Exactly! Being the mother of teenagers is the hardest job I've ever had. I have used all my skills that I learned during my time in the CIA just to keep up. But they're happy, they're doing well here. I don't know what they'll do, but I hope they'll consider public service when it comes time to enter the big, wide world.


jparks@philly.com

610-313-8117 @JS_Parks

www.inquirer.com/MontcoMemo

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