Skip to main content

Outed CIA agent calls new movie about her ordeal 'powerful'

By Ed Hornick, CNN
  • New movie "Fair Game" details the outing of ex-CIA spy Valerie Plame
  • Movie documents the emotional struggles she and her husband faced
  • A member of the Bush administration eventually admitted to leaking her name
  • The movie opens in select cities on November 5

Washington (CNN) -- In the new docudrama thriller "Fair Game," outed CIA operative Valerie Plame is called "Wife. Mother. Spy."

Now she can add one more title: Main attraction.

Based on books by Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, the movie was directed by Doug Liman, the man behind the spy thrillers "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

Members of the Bush administration were accused of blowing Plame's cover as retaliation after Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in July 2003 disputing claims that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government was trying to buy material in Niger to make weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration had used the threat of WMDs in Iraq to launch the war there earlier that year.

The movie traces the steps leading up to Plame's outing, starting with being taken off an assignment and then tasked with working on finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. While going through the timeline of events that led to the eventual outing, the movie catches a glimpse into the private lives of the couple, from the troubles with their marriage to child-care issues to death threats.

To this day, Wilson insists former Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in the disclosure, although the only person who has admitted to breaking Plame's cover is Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state who said he leaked her name inadvertently. Armitage was never charged with a crime. Cheney told a special prosecutor in 2004 that he had no idea who leaked Plame's identity.

Read more about Cheney's interview

Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby was, however, convicted of obstructing justice and perjury in the probe and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Bush commuted his term before he had served any time.

'An accurate portrayal'

Plame told CNN on Wednesday that the movie -- distributed by Summitt Entertainment and set to be released November 5 -- is a "really good, accurate portrayal of what we went through, both personally in the political maelstrom that we live through."

"The director, Doug Limon, really wanted to make it follow events," she said. "Of course, it has to be telescope, because this happened over a series of years as you know ... and you want to tell a story, and I think it's very powerful."

Video: Sexy spy strips

Actress Naomi Watts plays Plame while Academy Award winner Sean Penn steps in as the outspoken Wilson.

"[Watts is] a fabulous actress," Plame said. "She and Sean both deliver great performances. They've worked together before, and I think that chemistry, which exists in real life, is there on screen, as well."

Wilson weighed in on Penn's performance, saying that it was hard for him to judge because, "I see myself from the inside.

"But both my wife and my son think that he does an accurate portrayal," he said. "My own view is I have better hair, and that I eviscerate my dinner guests more adeptly than he does in one scene in the movie."

In the movie, Wilson is seen getting into a verbal altercation with a dinner guest over a comment about Muslims praying on airplanes.

Getting the facts

Plame said gathering details for the nuts and bolts of what actually happened was difficult because there was a lot she could not disclose. After all, she had signed a secrecy document when she joined the CIA.

"There are things that I can't talk about, sources and methods, my operations, precise details," she said.

Liman acknowledged just how hard it was to put the movie together.

"Normally when you tell a true story, or something based on historical events, you actually get from the people who are your sources are the actual historical events," he said at a prescreening of the movie at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Tuesday. "Valerie and Joe were willing to share how it felt ... what it was like from their point of view. What they couldn't share with us were the facts."

Read more about the Plame outing

He said fellow producers and writers were able to fill in the details through other CIA agents who offered accounts.

Liman noted that his team was especially careful in getting the facts right --pointing out how tough the Washington press corps can be.

"We did our best to try and piece together a day in the life of Valerie Plame ... even today when I was doing press. This is where I was going to face the toughest critics ... If we had not been as diligent about our fact checking this would have been one of the worst days of my life."

As for taking on a dramatic license with the more personal moments in the movie, Wilson said "of course."

"They obviously dramatized it, which is what they do when they make feature films," he said.

Clearing up some rumors

One of the criticisms that plagued Plame was that she was nothing more than a glorified secretary at the CIA and was not covert. But don't ask her, she said at the screening in Maryland.

"Don't take my word for it. You can take the word of the former DCI [director of central intelligence] Gen. Michael Hayden who in fact testified before Congress that I was indeed covert at the time of the leak of my name," she said. "There was no doubt about it. ... You can count on one hand the people outside the CIA who knew who I truly was. ... There's no question I was [covert]."

In a March 2007 hearing, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman said that then-CIA director Hayden had told him that Plame was, in fact, a covert CIA operative when she was outed.

Read their scathing remarks on Cheney and Scooter Libby

Wilson, after writing his op-ed, was blasted by the far right and war hawks. He had been called everything from anti-American to a traitor. But for the former ambassador, the revelation was all about serving his country.

"We need to stand up and hold our government to account, and that's what it's all about," he said. "I had no idea that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and Rich Armitage and the rest of them and Dick Cheney would engage in this conspiracy to commit treason and betray the national security of this country."

He added that the net result of the "assault on us in the character assassination campaign was of course that we were able to publish our story in two books which was well received by the American public and resulted in this movie."

Wilson, before a packed screening, thanked one man in particular -- a man that he has accused of being a part of the leak.

"So every now and again, I raise my glass to Karl Rove," he said. "Because had it not been for his treasonous action ... I would not be sitting before you. I am a creation of Karl Rove."