NEAL CONAN, host:
As the combat role of the U.S. diminishes in Iraq, a new movie revives the debate over why we invaded that country in the first place. It tells the story of Ambassador Joe Wilson, who debunked one of the administration's key pieces of evidence in the dispute about weapons of mass destruction; and his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, who's name was leaked to the media in an effort to discredit her husband.
Here, Sean Penn, as Ambassador Wilson, calls his wife when he learns that the Justice Department will open an investigation into the leak.
(Soundbite of movie, "Fair Game")
Unidentified Person (Actor): (as character) Hey, you're welcome.
Ms. NAOMI WATTS (Actor): (as Valerie Plame) Hello?
Mr. SEAN PENN (Actor): (as Joseph Wilson) Valerie, turn on MSNBC.
Ms. ASHLEY GERASIMOVICH (Actor): (as Samantha Wilson) Mom, (unintelligible).
Ms. WATTS: (as Valerie Plame) Okay. Hold on one second.
Unidentified Male #2: They've launched an investigation...
Mr. PENN: (as Joseph Wilson) Ashcroft just announced it. They say he's going to convene a grand jury.
Ms. WATTS: (as Valerie Plame) Hold on a second.
Mr. TOM BROKAW (News Anchor): ...the FBI now is conducting a criminal investigation into who leaked the name of the CIA undercover...
Mr. PENN: (as Joseph Wilson) They want me to comment on the investigation.
Ms. WATTS: (as Valerie Plame) Joe, just hold on.
Mr. PENN: (as Joseph Wilson) We've got to fight this. And we cannot we've got to push back.
Mr. BROKAW: ...tried to buy enriched uranium...
Mr. PENN: (as Joseph Wilson) I've got another call. I've got to go.
Ms. WATTS: (as Valerie Plame) Joe.
Mr. PENN: (as Joseph Wilson) Joe Wilson.
Unidentified Male #2: (as Chris Matthews) Joe, it's Chris Matthews. I just spoke to Karl Rove. He told me, quote, Wilson's wife is fair game.
CONAN: And that's the name of the movie, "Fair Game." The subjects of the film joining us in just a moment. If you'd like to talk with Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, about their story, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join the conversation on our website as well. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And the Wilsons are here with us in the studio. Thanks very much for coming in today. Appreciate it.
Mr. JOE WILSON (Former Ambassador to Gabon): Good to be with you.
Ms. VALERIE WILSON (Former CIA Officer): Thank you for having us.
CONAN: And last night at a theater in Washington area, you saw this picture, your story on the big screen for the first time. And I wonder, what was that it must have been a little surreal.
Mr. WILSON: Oh, it was. It was very emotional. It was not therapeutic. It was reliving some very dark days. And I think that was pretty clear in the question-and-answer session afterwards. I'm going to have to see it several more times to become for its therapy value.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WILSON: I find it still very painful to watch some of those scenes, the marriage fraying at the seams, and just trying to keep your family life together and deal with the media maelstrom. And it's still yeah, it brings up some tough memories.
CONAN: I think a lot people will remember the investigation and the grand jury and we didn't know about this other story, about the tensions within your house.
Ms. WILSON: I did write about it in my book. And that's the movie seeks to put across it works on different levels. It's a thriller. It's got the political context that this happens in. It's the personal dynamic of a marriage, and the consequences, personally and professionally, that come from speaking out.
CONAN: And the well, a little bit of the dispute we see between you. Ambassador Wilson, you were eager to speak out, thinking it was only way you could have any chance of establishing the truth of what happened to you, while you well, you've been in the shadows for 18 years as a CIA operative, reluctant to speak out.
Ms. WILSON: I found being a public person just mortifying. But another side to that as well was of course at that time I was still employed by the CIA, until I resigned in 2006. So for when the worst of the whole character assassination campaign against my husband and myself was going on, I was I couldn't say anything. Joe had to carry the water for both of us. And there were so many things that were out of our control and yet obviously directly and deeply affecting us.
CONAN: And Ambassador Wilson, you make this point several your character makes his points several times in the movie. When did this change from lying about yellowcake in Niger and go to being about Joe Wilson's wife?
Mr. WILSON: Well, that's exactly right. Within a week of my article having been published in the New York Times, the White House and their allies and the right-wing echo chamber launched this campaign of character assassination and disinformation.
Hopefully the movie clears up some of the results and confusion of many years of this disinformation campaign. But it was also abundantly clear to me that they were out to destroy me and to destroy my family and that the only way to deal with it was to take them on and fight them tooth and nail on this. Otherwise they were they were, as somebody said, going to roll the earth-movers over me.
CONAN: And the - one of the pieces of confusion that I think many people had is whether - well, we heard you worked for the CIA, but doing exactly what - well, we didn't know. And then a lot of people said, well, you know, she just was - worked in the offices at the CIA.
Ms. WILSON: Or that I was not covert. That is part of the whole scheme to - by denigrating me and by making it seem as though, oh, you're just really, you're just making a mountain out of a molehill, it's just so silly what you - then, of course, anything to discredit Joe's report, that this - if this had proven true about the sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq, it would have been significant. But the fact was, when I was -when my covert identity was betrayed, I was in fact covert. But you don't need to take my word for it. You can take the former DCI, General Michael Hayden, who testified such before Congress. So there's no question.
CONAN: And while Ambassador Wilson was talking about one specific piece of evidence, the - which the president - President Bush cited in the State of the Union message, you were investigating the existence or lack of existence of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
Ms. WILSON: How I would put it is that my task, along with my former colleagues in the run-up to the war, was to look into what exactly was the state of the presumed Iraqi weapons program. Because don't forget, in 1998 the U.N. inspectors were tossed out of the country. We certainly did not have an embassy there, so coming by real intelligence was very difficult. So in this run-up to the war, what we were doing was racing and trying our damndest to figure out what the hell is going on.
CONAN: And this, of course, in the context of also back in 1991, during the first war, it turned out that Iraq had a robust nuclear weapons program, which we didn't know about.
Ms. WILSON: Indeed. And there's a scene in the movie about just that. And what - are you willing to take that one percent chance as, you know, in a great scene played by an actor who does Scooter Libby.
CONAN: Remind me of his name?
Ms. WILSON: I think it's David Andrews.
CONAN: He's terrific. 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. Our guests are Valerie Plame Wilson and Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the subjects of the new movie, which is - well, is it about to open?
Mr. WILSON: Yeah. It opens in select theaters on the 5th of November and then goes to a broader opening about a week or 10 days later.
CONAN: And let's get Amy on the line, Amy is calling us Tracy in California.
AMY (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, Amy. You're on the air.
AMY: Yes. I was curious because I did follow the story a couple of years ago. And I wondered if anybody else has received any kind of punishment for their role in this, because I was in the military for a number of years. And I'm just horrified by, you know, the lack of ethics here. And I just wondered if anything else has happened.
CONAN: We should mention, Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to the vice president, was convicted. His sentence was later commuted.
Ms. WILSON: Mm-hmm.
CONAN: He was not pardoned, but he did not do any jail time.
Mr. WILSON: Well, he was - he was convicted on four counts of perjury, lying to federal officials, and most importantly, obstruction of justice. And the whole conviction on the obstruction of justice, as the prosecutor made very clear, was based on his inability to find out who headed up this conspiracy, because Scooter was going to take the rap and did take the rap for everybody else. His sentence was later commuted but he was not pardoned.
AMY: Right. But I'm just wondering, you know, I'm pretty sure he didn't do this all alone.
Mr. WILSON: No. There were two other leakers, one was Rich Armitage, who was deputy secretary of state, and the other one was Karl Rove. Karl Rove has gone on to essentially institutionalize and incorporate fear and smear as a campaign tactic and strategy.
AMY: Right, I know. And I just - I can't stand it. It just bothers me immensely. But thank you so much.
Mr. WILSON: Tell me about it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Amy, thanks very much for the phone call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is George, George with us from San Francisco.
GEORGE (Caller): Yeah. I give you a lot of credit for what they call mud in the old language, I guess. It's a question that we wanted to ask you at some point, Mrs. Plame, or either of you. When - when one reflects on what your mission was, which was to try to coordinate information that was coming in on the overt and covert operations by people who would like to get a hold of nuclear materials, do you think that mission was injured, damaged or in any way was disadvantaged by the campaign that was made against your family?
Ms. WILSON: Well, the fact that my identity was betrayed meant I could no longer continue in the position for which I'd been highly trained. And I was working indeed, I was working on these issues of nuclear proliferation. And that's why what happened was so insidious, because, you know, it's not just me and my career, that's one thing, but it deeply affects the network of assets with whom I had worked with, it places them in jeopardy, not to mention the ripple effect of, you know, future sources of critical information on this very - of the most vital quality. And they may say, wait a minute, if this happened - they couldn't even protect one of their own, why should I put my family in jeopardy and cooperate with U.S. intelligence?
CONAN: There is a - you are still prohibited by law from disclosing a lot of things that you were working on, almost everything you were working on.
Ms. WILSON: Absolutely. As an - when you first join the CIA, I and everyone else signs a secrecy agreement, and you agree not to, in any way, reveal any sources or methods or any sort of information that would have a negative effect on our national security.
CONAN: So I will not ask you to confirm or deny that, in fact, what it looks like is you were looking into the A.Q. Khan network, which was the Pakistani scientist who provided materials and information to North Korea, to Iran and to Libya as well - not, interestingly, to Iraq, at least so far as I know - you might know better.
Ms. WILSON: Well, A.Q. Khan was certainly sort of a one-man entrepreneurial salesman in all the nuclear widgets. And it was because of the people that I was working with in the counter-proliferation division, they brought down that - most of that network in December 2003, and Libya essentially threw up their hands and said uncle, and they gave up their nuclear ambitions.
GEORGE: Well, perhaps in the next telling of this story we'll find out how the - when we discover how to disarm ourselves of nuclear weapons, perhaps we can tell more about what this - the implications of this story are.
CONAN: George, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. Valerie Plame Wilson and Ambassador Joseph Wilson, with us here in Studio 3A. The new movie is called "Fair Game." 800-989-8255. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And I say your new movie as if you were the stars in it. Of course you're played by Naomi Watts. And Joe Wilson, how did you get to be played by Sean Penn?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WILSON: Well, Sean actually took a great interest in this. As you know, he's very political. He's very passionate. And of course he's an actor who's completely on top of his game. Couple of weeks after he won the Academy Award, he flew out to Albuquerque, got on Southwest Airlines, flew to Albuquerque, rented himself a car and drove up to our house, asked one question, said: Do you like the script? And I said yes, we did. And he went outside and called his agent and said: I'm in.
CONAN: Huh. As you looked at the actors portraying you and each other on the screen, what did you think?
Ms. WILSON: Well, I can't - neither one of us can evaluate the actors who - you know, it's impossible. But I can look at Sean Penn and see where he has clearly studied Joe and has so much of his mannerisms, and they do share that same intensity that comes right off the screen.
Mr. WILSON: And I look at Naomi Watts and I think she captured Valerie and all her many, many qualities very well, qualities both as an employee, as a supervisor, as a wife, as - and as a mother.
CONAN: Let's get Robert on the line, Robert's calling us from Minneapolis.
ROBERT (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. I'm honored to speak with both of you. I have a question for you, Valerie. Given what happened to you and your husband and how many years you have dedicated to the national service, how did you come out of this and not have a sense of anger or frustration with the nation as a whole or the nation's leaders as opposed to the political apparatus that did this to you? How do you go forward, giving what you had given to the country and then not lose a sense of patriotism or sense of service to your country that you had, you know...
Ms. WILSON: On the contrary, when I speak, particularly to student groups, college students or civic groups, I always urge them to consider public service because I was raised in a family where this was considered something noble to aspire to. You know, it doesn't have to be the CIA. You can engage at so many different places and different ways. And bitterness is just such a wasted time and emotion. We have rebuilt our lives - our professional lives, our personal lives out in New Mexico, and far, far away from Washington, which has been very helpful.
And what - really, what does help is when you go out and you get to speak to people and say here are the lessons. This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an issue of how you're going to hold your government to account for their words and deeds.
Mr. WILSON: And I would just also add, you know, we're always conscious of the fact that whatever they did to us is nothing compared to what they did to the country and particularly our service people and their families with a war that was entered into based on...
ROBERT: I'm an officer in the Marine Corps. I appreciate that.
Mr. WILSON: And so we keep that all in perspective. Because at the end of the day - and you can see this with kids going out there for their third and fourth tours, and I was just out in Baghdad three weeks ago. And we owe it to them to make sure that we - we owe it to you to make sure that we never again send you to die and kill in our names without fully understanding as a nation what it is we're asking you to do and why we're asking you to do it.
ROBERT: I appreciate it.
CONAN: Thank you. Thank you for your service.
ROBERT: Thank you both.
CONAN: And let's see if we get one more caller in. Let's go to Rosemary, Rosemary with us from Springfield, Missouri.
ROSEMARY (Caller): Yes. Actually, I'm not in Springfield. I went undercover into white supremacist organizations, reported to the FBI, local law enforcement. I was an NAACP officer, so I reported to them. I discovered that while many people respected me - and I certainly respect the two of you - there was also a real disrespect, as if there was something terribly sneaky about my having used a false identity and provided this information. And I just wonder if you think there is a lack of respect for human intelligence in the United States.
And secondly, if it's more difficult for women. And after this, I'd like to give my email address to someone at the station so they could provide it to you so we could talk a little bit more deeply, but...
CONAN: Well, we'll put you at hold then and will give Valerie Plame Wilson 30 seconds to answer that.
Ms. WILSON: Well, let me tackle the second part. Of course the CIA is still very - as you can a very male-dominated organization. But I think whether it's the CIA or any other profession, if you're female, you don't run directly into the obstacles that are in your way. You find a way around it. And that is how I tried to succeed and move ahead.
CONAN: Valerie Plame Wilson and Ambassador Joseph Wilson, thank you both very much for coming in today. Good luck with the film.
Mr. WILSON: Thank you very much.
Ms. WILSON: Thanks so much.
CONAN: "Fair Game" opens shortly. And tomorrow, the secrets of good study habits. Turns out most of what we think we know is flat wrong.
This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.