Image courtesy to Valerie Plame.
Carnegie Mellon University

Dedicated to ‘global zero’: An interview with ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame

In 2003, in a Washington Post article, columnist Robert Novak revealed the classified CIA agent identity of Valerie Plame. In addition to essentially ending Plame’s career in the government, the leak soon created a national uproar and a major security problem.

It was later revealed that members of the Bush administration were responsible for the leak, which subsequently became known as the Plame affair. The motivation was political retaliation against Plame’s husband, who openly questioned the veracity of the intelligence claims the administration used to justify the Iraq War. Then-deputy and acting attorney general James Comey appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as a special counsel to investigate the case, leading to the downfall and conviction of Scooter Libby, chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

After resigning from the CIA, Plame became an activist for a nuclear weapons-free world, otherwise known as “global zero.” She is also the author of a memoir, “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” and the coauthor of two thriller spy novels, “Blowback” and “Burned.”

Since Donald Trump was elected president, Plame has been far from silent about her various concerns surrounding the administration, in particular with regards to the nuclear threat. In an interview discussing her lens on various current events relating to politics and national security as well as her current activism, her passion that drives all of her work in preventing nuclear war– which has been the bulk of her life for years both inside and outside of the CIA– shines through.

Americans on both sides of the aisle see Trump as a president who does not stick to the norms of the presidency, and Plame is no exception.

“I think whether you are a supporter or not of Trump, you would recognize that he is very impulsive,” she says. Thus, for her, the single most disturbing thing about having someone like Trump at the helm of America’s government is the fact that he can order a nuclear strike anytime for any reason, without being legally obliged to consult Congress or anyone else.

She acknowledges that while there are numerous other parts of Trump’s presidency that make many people, including herself, offended, she believes that it is, in her words, “his recklessness, impulsiveness, and frankly his ignorance around nuclear weapons,” that is the very real existential threat to all of humanity.

North Korea’s nuclear program has been a constant national security threat that American presidents have had to deal with, and Plame is concerned that the imprudence of both Kim Jong Un and President Trump makes for a dangerous mix. The implications were particularly evident in the latter’s recent “fire and fury” comment regarding North Korea, which Plame called “reckless.”

“A president should never speak in such casual terms… using such fiery rhetoric,” she remarked.

Plame acknowledges that North Korea is a thorny issue evading an easy solution that no administration in years past has solved, and called it a “cult masquerading as a state.” But in regards to the hermit kingdom, she is absolutely sure that a military solution would be catastrophic as it would likely erupt into nuclear war.

“Anyone who says [a] military solution [is the answer] doesn’t really know what they’re talking about,” she insists. “It could ignite a terrible regional war… [that] would potentially kill millions of people,” she says, detailing the disastrous consequences of trying to use military power to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

To the war hawks regarding North Korea, she would tell them to go understand the situation better. She gave the analogy of Afghanistan’s 16-year-long war as an example of the law of unintended consequences, citing it as the reason why military solutions are not the answer to the longstanding North Korean crisis.

On Twitter, President Trump has threatened to take exactly the kind of response Plame has said is inappropriate and dangerous for dealing with North Korea. Trump’s heavy Twitter use, combined with his penchant for getting off-script and making controversial and inciteful comments, prompted Plame’s latest project, done in coalition with Global Zero, an organization dedicated to eliminating the nuclear threat: starting a fundraiser on GoFundMe aiming to raise $1 billion to buy a major share in Twitter, all for the purpose of convincing the company’s executives to ban Trump from its platform.

“Trump has fully weaponized Twitter: it’s not something that just happens ‘online,’” Plame writes in the GoFundMe description, as Trump has used his Twitter to do everything from emboldening white supremacists to attacking the media to threatening nuclear war with North Korea. Thus, she writes, “Let’s #BuyTwitter and delete Trump’s account before he starts a nuclear war with it.”

In reality, she acknowledges that it would be difficult to actually raise $1 billion. Rather, she is using the project as a way to draw attention to the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a president unstable at best, and to raise some extra money for Global Zero, to which she would donate all funds should she fall short of being able to buy a significant stake in Twitter. As of Aug. 25, she has raised over $71,000.

It is evident from her activism that there are many things she would say to President Trump or his aides if given a chance.

When asked that question, Plame first responded by saying “besides resign?” with a chuckle, then remarked that it was “hard to know where to begin.” She then said that she “would remind him that he is the president of all Americans… [that] he is not just the president of those that elected him.”

She hopes that Trump would learn to adjust what she termed his “real estate mogul mindset” into something that befits the “[sacredness]” of the duties he holds as president.

But for Plame, regardless of administration, working for a future where “global zero” is a reality is her life’s work.

Besides her involvement with Global Zero, she serves on the board of Ploughshares Fund, which funds initiatives, including Global Zero, to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. One of the things she is the most proud of as an activist is the fact that Ploughshares played a highly significant role in helping pass the Iran Nuclear Agreement by explaining to congressmen and their staff what the deal would entail, why it was important, and why it was better than most experts had hoped for.

Her activism has also led her to opportunities such as being interviewed by former Secretary of Defense William Perry about terrorism and nuclear weapons for the Perry Project, a project dedicated towards creating a future in which nuclear weapons are never used.

Despite the existential threat that nuclear weapons pose, and the many other depressing headlines floating around, Plame still finds reason to have hope. She finds optimism in talking to young people and seeing the public becoming more civically engaged.

“When you see people who are becoming engaged in our society in… new ways… that makes me feel like… whether [one agrees] with everyone or not, they’re getting engaged and hopefully knowledgeable,” she reflects.

For her, knowing that there are many who wish to learn more and help make a positive difference is a sliver “of light in an otherwise pretty chaotic world.”

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