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Valerie Wilson Has a Story to Tell and a Book to Sell, if CIA Will Let Her


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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

And I’m Barbara Klein. Our subject this week is women in the spy business.

Her husband calls her "Jane Bond." Valerie Plame Wilson may not exactly be as famous as the imaginary British secret agent James Bond. But public attention in what became known as the C.I.A. leak case brought an end to her career in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Valerie Wilson has sold her life story for a Hollywood movie project. And she has written a book about her twenty years in the C.I.A. "Fair Game" is supposed to be published in October. But the C.I.A. has moved to block its release.

The agency objects to her listing her dates of service. Officially, they remain classified information even though her employment dates were made public last year by mistake.

At the end of May, Valerie Wilson and her publisher brought a civil action over the issue of the dates. The lawsuit accuses the C.I.A. of violating her constitutional right of free speech. It says the C.I.A. demands that large parts of her work be removed or rewritten to hide her government service before two thousand two.

Valerie Wilson says the issue is politics. The C.I.A. says the issue is national security.

People have seen the former operative on television, in newspapers and across the pages of magazines. Some people criticize Valerie Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, calling them attention-seekers. But it was unwanted attention that "outed" her as a C.I.A. officer.

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak wrote about her in July of two thousand three. It happened a week after her husband criticized the Bush administration over the Iraq war.

Joseph Wilson had written in the New York Times about a trip he made to Niger in two thousand two. The C.I.A. sent the retired diplomat to investigate a British intelligence report that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa. The material can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Joseph Wilson said he did not find any evidence. He suggested that some intelligence was misused to overstate the threat from Iraq's nuclear weapons program and justify an invasion.

After his article appeared, officials within the administration told reporters that Valerie Wilson worked for the C.I.A. The C.I.A. says her employment at that time was classified information.

President Bush ordered an investigation into the leak. No one was ever charged with the crime of identifying an undercover operative. But the investigation led to charges against the top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, resigned when he was charged in October of two thousand five. He said in court that he was not guilty.

But in March of this year, after five weeks of trial, a federal jury found him guilty of lying to investigators in an effort to subvert justice. The jury found that he lied about what he had discussed with three reporters concerning Valerie Wilson's employment at the C.I.A.

On June fifth, Judge Reggie Walton sentenced him to thirty months in prison and a fine of two hundred fifty thousand dollars. The judge later ruled that Lewis Libby cannot remain free while his lawyers appeal the case. He may go to prison in several weeks.

His lawyers say he did not purposely make false statements. They say he could not remember details because he had national security concerns on his mind. Also, his lawyers say they believe that the judge wrongly excluded some of the evidence they wanted to present in his defense.

Supporters of Scooter Libby are urging President Bush to pardon him. Others deplore the idea.

After her identity became known, Valerie Wilson moved to another job at the C.I.A. But she told a congressional hearing that being outed had ended her effectiveness as an operative.

She and her husband have moved away from Washington. They now live in the Southwest. But they still have a civil case against Vice President Cheney and, among others, presidential political adviser Karl Rove. The lawsuit accuses them of violating her privacy rights in an effort to punish Joseph Wilson for his criticisms. A judge is considering arguments to dismiss the case.

Exactly what Valerie Wilson did in her years at the Central Intelligence Agency is not known. But someplace we can learn more about women in espionage is the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

In fact, one of the most interesting objects there is a small silver tube like millions of women carry. Instead of lip color, it contained a bullet. This lipstick gun was a tool of the KGB, the intelligence and security agency in the former Soviet Union.

At the spy museum we learn how two women in the C.I.A., Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, helped catch Aldrich Ames. He was a traitor within the agency.

Aldrich Ames worked for the C.I.A. for many years. In nineteen eighty-five, he began to sell American secrets to the Soviets. He cost the United States most of its intelligence gathering operations against the Soviet Union.

Sandy Grimes describes how the C.I.A. knew it had a traitor and put together a list of one hundred ninety-eight agents. Each person could have been the mole. But she suspected Ames. He had begun to act differently. He seemed more sure of himself. And his expensive new clothing raised a question: Where was he getting the money?

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation spent months on the case. They arrested Aldrich Ames in nineteen ninety-four. He was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In the Sisterhood of Spies area at the museum, we learn about women in history who spied.

One woman belonged to a team under the command of General George Washington during the American Revolution. She is still known only as Number Three Hundred Fifty-Five. The British caught her in seventeen eighty and she died as a prisoner. Some historians think she came from a family loyal to Britain and probably gathered intelligence at social events.

Belle Boyd is known as the "Cleopatra of the Secession" during the American Civil War in the eighteen sixties. She was a teenager in the South when she started spying for the Confederate states that wanted to leave the Union. She used her beauty to gain secrets from northern soldiers.

As we learn at the spy museum, a Union soldier tried to raise a flag over her family home. Her mother moved to stop him. The soldier pushed her mother and Belle Boyd shot him. A court found her not guilty. After that, she took messages across battle lines to Confederate commanders.

The Union also had its women spies. Sarah Emma Edmonds was an expert at disguise. With different identities, she was able to pass easily through enemy lines to gather information. For example, she dressed like a Union soldier and used the name Frank Thompson. She even fought in battles. But before she could get paid for her war service, she first had to prove that she was Frank Thompson.

Probably the best-known woman spy ever is Mata Hari. Yet the International Spy Museum in Washington says Mata Hari was almost a complete failure as a gatherer of information.

She was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Netherlands in eighteen seventy-six. She became famous representing herself as an Indian dancer in Paris. Later, when she needed money, European military officers and government officials supported her in return for sex.

Mata Hari decided to spy for Germany during World War One. But she also agreed to spy for its enemy France. The French trapped the double agent and she was executed.

Josephine Baker was a famous African-American dancer who moved to Paris because of racial prejudice at home. After World War Two began, she started working for the French Resistance. She carried orders and maps into German-occupied countries. The orders were written in disappearing ink on the pages of her music. Josephine Baker was never caught. She lived to tell of her life as a secret agent.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. Listen again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.


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