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Outed by the administration, CIA operative has her say

Ex-CIA agent Philip Agee wrote "Inside the Company: CIA Diary" in 1975, detailing his journey from gung-ho recruit to critic of the agency's support for brutal, authoritarian governments in Latin America.

But Agee, who had been a case worker throughout the 1960s in Uruguay, Ecuador and Mexico, went even further. In the book's appendix, he revealed the identities of hundreds of employees and organizations around the world that worked for or were used by the agency.

His action was later cited when Congress in 1982 passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, making it a crime to knowingly expose an agent's identity.

That law was central to the recent Valerie Plame Wilson scandal. It's doubtful anyone who voted for the law a quarter-century ago would have imagined a covert CIA officer's identity would one day be intentionally blown from inside the White House.

Yet, as we now know, that's exactly what happened. Several Bush administration officials revealed Wilson's identity to journalists in retaliation against her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He had publicly disputed 16 words in Bush's 2003 State of the Union address claiming Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium in Niger for a reconstituted nuclear weapons program.

The title of Valerie Wilson's book, "Fair Game," comes from what former top Bush adviser Karl Rove reportedly said to a reporter about exposing her cover. But Wilson's measured account and occasional fury, as she seeks to set the record straight and no doubt extract some revenge, is a reminder that Rove's term is a two-way street.

The book shows the Wilsons' determination to stand up to administration bullying, the stress brought on by the exposure and attacks from critics. Wilson convincingly refutes the widely circulated falsehoods that she wasn't really a covert agent, and that she and not a superior sent her husband to Niger.

Wilson spends a lot of time reliving the devastating impact the outing by syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July 2003 had on her career and home life. But that doesn't happen until halfway in.

The book begins with Wilson in the middle of a paramilitary training exercise, a kind of boot camp for CIA beginners. Her career then rises through the organization's operations side, which uses undercover agents and clandestine activities. She writes of her hardworking dedication and ambition, but the particulars of her tenure are mostly omitted by the CIA in thick black lines that at times blanket whole pages.

Although the agency cited national security concerns in its pre-publication review, Wilson sees something darker afoot, believing the expurgations were due to White House intervention. She and Simon & Schuster purposely left them in, contending what was censored had already appeared elsewhere.

That we know Wilson's career went from 1985 to 2006, including six years overseas, is only because the agency, in a bureaucratic error, listed her tenure in an unclassified letter excerpted in the book's index. Censored dates, places and job responsibilities are filled in in an 80-page afterword by reporter Laura Rozen, who uses published sources as a way to skirt the CIA's heavy hand.

Wilson was hardly a vocal critic of Bush's Iraq plans. One of her jobs included tracking Saddam Hussein's weapons program, and she believed Iraq likely contained weapons of mass destruction. She was also skeptical of supposed evidence presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations in February 2003 to justify going to war.

The book's central weakness is that it skims along the surface when more depth is called for. That's true whether Wilson's experiencing awkwardness at her job after her cover has been blown, watching a newscast about herself, recounting persistent marital problems or coming to grips with her sudden celebrity. It may be that Wilson had trouble writing about herself so publicly after years of living a secret life.

One big exception occurs when Wilson talks much more openly about postpartum depression that followed the birth of her twins.

Some in the media noted the former secret agent's stunningly good looks make her appear more "Bond girl" than Bond. She only acknowledges the attention she received by saying that being called beautiful is better than the opposite.

Wilson says the couple ultimately found validation in the conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, for obstruction of justice and perjury, even though Bush commuted his 30-month sentence and no one was found guilty for the leak itself. The Wilsons are pursuing a civil suit in federal court, now on appeal, against other Bush administration officials known to have leaked Valerie Wilson's name to reporters.

Mark Sommer is a News reporter.

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Fair Game

By Valerie Plame Wilson

Simon & Schuster

411 pages, $26

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