“It’s really, really bad when you have your intelligence apparatus and president at odds. And there’s a lot of distance between them.”
President Trump has been at odds with members of the intelligence community since the day he was elected — bemoaning leaks, asserting wiretaps, calling for heads to roll and just this week, firing the director of the FBI.
But there is almost no one in this country who has faced the consequences of a warring intelligence community and White House than former CIA officer Valerie Plame.
In 2003, when working as a covert operative specializing in nuclear proliferation research, Plame’s true identity was unmasked when administration officials leaked her name to the press. Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, had been one the most vocal critics of the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction — a claim that was the basis for invading Iraq. When Plame’s cover was blown, it was widely believed that senior White House officials had done it in retaliation.
Now, with news surrounding President Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community reaching a fever pitch, Plame is speaking out. She says in the wake of FBI Director Comey’s abrupt firing, the Republicans must call for a special prosecutor to look into the president and his advisers’ ties and business interests in Russia. “Or they risk losing all credibility with the American public.”
In an interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, Plame says that many of her former colleagues have been wrestling with how to handle this administration.
“I have to tell you, after the election, there was grave concern over: ‘What now?’” says Plame. “The question was, for them, do we stay with our jobs, or do we quit? What is the moral, ethical thing to do?… Because there is no coherent strategy. I think there is a high level of apprehension.”
Plame says that even before the Comey fallout, she knew of people in the intelligence community left their jobs due to President Trump’s election, in part due to fear that he would politicize the CIA. “I think everyone there would rather chew off their right arm than be accused of putting in any sort of partisan analysis [or] political overtones to what they were doing.”
Couric asked Plame if she thinks that President Trump or his team colluded with the Russians during the 2016 U.S. election.
“I think there is significant circumstantial evidence of unprecedented contacts,” says Plame. She went on to say that she finds it “terribly alarming” that Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former NSA director, failed to disclose financial links that tied him to countries like Russia and Turkey. At the time of his firing, the White House said Flynn had forgotten to mention critical details of his dealings with the Russian government.
“Forgot? Are you kidding me?” says Plame, incredulous. “I think there’s definitely more to come.”
When Plame was in the CIA, her main focal point was nuclear weapons — finding out who was amassing them, and how. She still follows related issues keenly — but has deep concerns about President Trump’s understanding of the gravity of what’s at hand.
“I want this administration to be successful and to keep us safe. But I am not very sanguine that that is actually what’s going to happen. Because he is inexperienced. His ignorance, particularly on my area of expertise, nuclear issues, is vast. It’s hard to keep up.”
“Where we are now — these are really uncharted territories,” she tells Couric. “And the administration lacks, in my view, any coherent strategy on almost anything. Whether it is toward Russia, whether it is toward what we are doing in the Middle East, how we’re dealing with nuclear threats around the world, and we are, I’m afraid, very vulnerable.”
Plame says she’s gravely concerned about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and its global implications. “I always think of North Korea as a cult masquerading as a state.”
Couric asked Plame what she thought of Trump’s recent comments in which he described North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a “smart cookie.”
Plame says she wasn’t sure what to make of the remarks. “You’re never quite sure where he’s coming from. Was that laudatory?… I do not subscribe to the ‘Trump is crazy like a fox’ thing. I think that’s being too generous.”
Plame says that while she’s enjoying private life in Santa Fe — raising her teenage twins, giving talks about espionage, and binge-watching “The Americans” — she very much misses her old job.
“If you had a chance to talk to Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Richard Armitige, Karl Rove — the people who discussed your name with members of the press — if you had a chance to be face-to-face with them today, what would you say?” asked Couric.
“I’d probably ask them: ‘What were you thinking?’” smiles Plame. “‘I was working on the very thing you said was so important: our primary national interest. And you undermined my true CIA identity for your partisan agenda.’ And I don’t think they’d have a very good answer for that.”
She does not think the revelation of her identity — and the resulting criminal charges brought against some involved — is analogous to the scandal of a similar nature unfolding right now involving former national security adviser Susan Rice.
“What Susan Rice did, to the best of my knowledge that I’ve seen available in the public domain, was absolutely legal and appropriate.” Plame says that when senior officials are looking at redacted reports and request that names be disclosed in order to put things into context, there is a rigorous process to ensure proper protocols are in place.
“I’m not in the business of defending Susan Rice one way or another, but from my understanding and my experience,” nothing was inappropriate about Rice’s actions, says Plame.