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  • Valerie Plame via HUFFPOST

On Iraq, Post-Partum Depression, and Trading Sex for Intel

On this fifth day of my book tour for Fair Game; My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House and my final book tour blog for the Huffington Post, I’m finding my stride. With the outing of my covert identity by conservative columnist Robert Novak in July 2003, I went from being a very private person whose entire professional career was devoted to the idea that discretion was paramount, to a public persona in the middle of a media maelstrom literally overnight. I have to say that I am still adjusting. As I have worked through numerous interviews for newspapers, radio, and TV, I am faintly surprised that there are a few questions that for the most part, I have not been asked about the book. Therefore, I thought I would use this blog as a means to answer some of them.

1. Why did you include a chapter on your bout with postpartum depression and were you concerned that the CIA would look unkindly on the fact that you sought help for your condition?

I included the chapter on postpartum depression (PPD) frankly because my publisher, Simon & Schuster, allowed me too, even though it is a departure from the rest of the themes of my book. It is something that I feel passionately about and was actually somewhat painful to write. With the birth of my twins in 2000, I experienced serious postpartum depression and initially had absolutely no idea what was happening. I think it’s fair to say that up to that point in my life, I had demonstrated a high degree of coping abilities under significant stress and had always come through just fine. Here I was, an educated, happily married woman with two beautiful, healthy babies and I was completely thrown off balance by dark feelings I had never before experienced. I sought professional help, once a friend clued me into what might be going on. As I pulled out of this truly troubling period in my life — around the time the twins were about 8 or 9 months old — I thought of the many women who did not have the resources I had and were struggling with their deep, debilitating depression (PPD is estimated to strike at least 15-20% of all new mothers). I became involved in organizations that sought to educate and heighten awareness on PPD. Although I would not wish PPD on my worst enemy, I am a richer and more empathetic person for having gone through it. I had no qualms about revealing that I had sought professional help for my PPD to the CIA during a subsequent medical exam required to serve overseas. I wanted to be honest about my experiences and indeed, felt wiser and more mentally healthy as a result.

2. Were you and former colleagues at the CIA for or against the war?

During the intense period of operational activity in my office that preceded the war in Iraq, I never remember anyone discussing whether they were “for” or “against” the war. It simply wasn’t done and would have been highly inappropriate. We were intelligence professionals working our hardest using every tradecraft skill and intuition we collectively had to try and collect solid intelligence from the Iraqi scientists within the presumed WMD programs. At the working level, our discussions were about how to reach a target, whether to consider a “cold pitch” if circumstances permitted, seeing if we could corroborate a source’s intelligence, and figuring out if we could get a particularly valuable source out of Iraq with family, if warranted. The larger issues of the increasingly strident rhetoric coming out of the administration during those frenzied months were left to whispered conversations in the hallway among friends or maybe after hours over a beer. One, there simply wasn’t time for this important debate in that environment — there seemed to be operational crises every other moment. Secondly, my colleagues and I were simply trying to do our jobs and hope that senior US policy makers would make wise choices with the intelligence we sent to them.

3. Did you ever feel real, physical danger during your CIA career? Did you have to sleep with anyone to get intelligence? (Slight deviations from the query of whether life in the CIA resembles Hollywood movies...)

For obvious security reasons, I cannot detail operations in which I was involved that may have taken a dangerous turn. But I can say that there were some heart-stopping moments that made me ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” What is important to note is that all CIA operations are a team effort; a rogue operator wouldn’t get very far because it really takes many to ensure that the target is spotted, surveillance is in place, technical aspects of recording the meeting are working (if deemed necessary), and expert analysts have provided the hard and perhaps technically sophisticated questions that need to be answered. I always knew that if I was meeting a potential source in the back of a quiet bar or restaurant in a foreign city, I was not alone — my colleagues, sometimes invisible, would do everything possible to ensure that no physical harm would come to me.

As for the question about whether I’ve had sex with anyone to get intel (which, by the way, has been asked of me by a US diplomat and a major movie star), the answer is: there were many aspects of my job which were James Bond-like, but that, emphatically, was not one of them.

Thank you for allowing me to blog on HuffPost. I have been so grateful for your support and kind comments. I hope you enjoy reading Fair Game, because it’s been a long, strange journey to get here. Cheers.

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