Saturday, September 14, 2013

A spy novel- in more senses than one

Does the name Valerie Plame mean anything to you? Well, during the second Iraq war, she shot into unwanted fame as a CIA spy who was keeping tabs on Iran. And the people responsible for her getting unmasked were none other than those in the inner circle around President George Bush. They were upset that her husband, a diplomat, was not toeing the official line about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction- and sought revenge in the pettiest of ways by exposing his wife, who had spent many years living dangerously for the CIA. Plame's life became hell thereafter, with friends deserting the family and the couple getting death threats and what not.

At that time, Bush is said to have quipped rather callously that Plame was "fair game", meaning it was okay for his buddies to go after her. Plame wrote a book about the affair which was then made into a movie. The movie was a hit not least because the heroine in real life was everything you expect a lady spy to be - blonde, beautiful and very bright. Although Plame did tell interviewers that women, who were spies, did not necessarily conform to the James Bond version. As she put it then, the CIA had not invested a huge amount in her training so that she could go "horizontal".

Now Plame has come out with a spy novel, Blowback. Gillian  Tett reviews it in FT. Tett's conclusion is sobering:
The next time I read a newspaper story about western efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb (or Syria from spreading chemical weapons), I will ponder the twists of that Plame-cum-Pierson tale. If nothing else, it is a timely reminder that behind all the stories about Iran and Syria there is a second tale too: hordes of hidden young intelligence officers toiling away to make sense of events, in tough and (often) thankless jobs. And, for the most part, battling in complete silence.

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