Editor’s note: Last Thursday, Judith Miller penned a column for The Wall Street Journal in which she accused the new film Fair Game of pushing “untruths” in its telling of the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. Miller described the film, which focuses on the relationship of Plame and husband Joe Wilson, as “brilliantly acted,” but a “gross distortion of a complicated political saga.” She challenges seven of what she calls the film’s “untruths”; among them, claims that Plame played a “key role” in the CIA’s counterproliferation division, charged with gathering evidence on Iraq’s WMD programs, and that Plame was involved in missions to provide safe havens to Iraqi scientists. Miller also takes issue with a subplot in the film in which Plame, played by Naomi Watts, recruits an Iraqi-American woman to visit her scientist brother in Iraq, where is working on the country’s WMD program. CJR approached Fair Game director Doug Liman (Swingers, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Bourne Identity) for comment. He wrote back with this response to Miller’s piece.
Judith Miller demonstrated in her recent WSJ story about my film, Fair Game, the same cavalier attitude towards the facts that led to her departure from The New York Times in disgrace. And we should never forget that Scooter Libby outed Valerie Plame to Miller in June 2003—more than two weeks before Richard Armitage outed Plame to Novak. Somehow Miller neglected to mention that in her op-ed piece. But she also forgot about that before—in her early grand jury testimony—until she was forced to come clean about it in a subsequent grand jury appearance and under oath at Libby’s trial. Miller’s belated testimony helped convict her “source” Libby, but not until she did everything she could, as a forceful proponent of the war in Iraq, to avoid telling the truth to the American public.
And so here we go again.
Judith Miller writes that her supposed anonymous sources told her that Valerie Plame did not play a “key role” in the CIA’s effort to penetrate Iraq’s presumed WMD program. In truth, Valerie Plame was head of operations for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI). My sources: former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and U.S. attorney Pat Fitzgerald.
Valerie’s specific actions as head of operations for the JTFI were and still are classified. Valerie Plame, a loyal intelligence officer from a military family, has always honored and continues to honor the secrecy agreement she signed when she joined the Agency more than twenty-five years ago. As filmmakers, we did the best job we could to piece together her activities in covert CIA operations specializing in nuclear counter-proliferation. This is not easy, especially since Valerie was a NOC, a form of deep cover operative with no official ties to the U.S. government. To be drawn into debating what this deep cover operative may or may not have done is to miss the big picture—this was no “glorified secretary” who was outed by the White House. Far from it.
Special Counsel Fitzgerald submitted a memorandum to the district court in the Libby trial spelling out in detail Valerie’s undercover role overseas, covert status, and senior positions at the CIA leading counter-proliferation teams and searching for WMD in Iraq. It is disgraceful that Miller and others like her continue to demean Valerie and the dedicated women and men who serve our country as operations officers and risk their lives to keep armchair warriors like Miller safe from harm.
Regarding the Iraqi scientists that are the focus of a sub-plot in Fair Game, Judith Miller seems to blur the line between opinions and indisputable fact. This much we know to be fact: the CIA made a criminal referral because of Plame’s outing. I doubt that the CIA and its director George Tenet—someone who bent over backwards to protect the Bush Administration—would have allowed that to occur if the consequences to national security weren’t serious and the damage to intelligence operations severe.
Obviously WMDs remain a sore subject for Miller, who wrote many erroneous stories that badly misled the American public about their existence in Iraq in 2003. Fair Game doesn’t much focus on the WMDs, except to recount an episode showing the dangers of politicized intelligence, which is now common wisdom on both sides of the political aisle. Indeed, Fair Game doesn’t even state an opinion about the war itself, however disastrous its consequences are in hindsight. Rather, Fair Game is about the president of the United States lying to the American people, and what happened to the people who challenged him. The wagons were circled around the president of the United States on the trust issue.
And while Judith Miller seems to downplay whether there was a conspiracy in the White House to out Valerie Plame, the published explanation for her hasty and forced exit from The New York Times refers to the unfortunate role she played as “one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign.” As a key witness, Miller didn’t attend every day of the Scooter Libby trial the way my screenwriters did. Remember that this was not some witch-hunt: the special prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald is universally respected and was a Republican U.S. Attorney appointed by President Bush. And the jury was unanimous in its conviction of Scooter Libby on all five counts with which he was charged.
As for Miller’s rehash of old arguments about Armitage, here again she’s got it wrong. Armitage was not an innocent Boy Scout, as wrongly portrayed by Miller and The Washington Post editors in their recent editorial. Armitage twice attempted to out Plame as a CIA officer, first to Bob Woodward (just about the most famous reporter in Washington), then, when unsuccessful with that, to Bob Novak, the syndicated self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness.” Armitage famously confessed his “foolishness,” but that isn’t an explanation. Once may be careless, but twice is not careless, it’s either intentionally foolish, on purpose, or worse.
The truth is that Armitage is no peacenik and probably never was, no matter what Miller wishes were true to cover her tracks. Anyone looking at a timeline of who did what and when can see that Armitage tried to be an “army of one” by blurting out about Plame to two different high profile inside-the-Beltway reporters. But the trail of how Armitage came to know about Joe Wilson and his wife—a covert CIA NOC—appears to lead straight back to Libby.
Libby met with Armitage in June 2003, shortly after confirming that Joe Wilson was the unnamed ambassador sent to Niger by the CIA to find out about the now infamous “yellowcake” uranium claim. A few days later, Armitage first told Bob Woodward about Wilson and his wife, but Woodward kept silent. So Armitage’s first effort to out Plame failed. But weeks before Armitage got his second chance to out Plame, Libby had already outed Plame to Miller at the end of June 2003. Then Libby outed Plame to Miller again in early July 2003, right before Armitage blabbed to Novak about Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson.
In case Armitage’s second attempt failed, Libby knew that Miller was standing by. With Miller as a backup and Karl Rove standing by to confirm Armitage, Novak outed Plame as a CIA operative wife of Joe Wilson. Miller says nothing about her role in this affair in her op-ed piece. The Republican controlled Justice Department in fact found that Libby and Rove personally outed Valerie Plame to multiple members of the news media, including Robert Novak, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, Walter Pincus, and Bob Woodward. Plame was going to be outed even if Armitage didn’t succeed with Novak.
So although neither Miller nor Armitage are in the film Fair Game, both of them were involved in the whole sorry episode up to their eyeballs. Actually, I would have loved to have included Richard Armitage, Cheney, and others in Fair Game, had Scooter Libby not obstructed the investigation, for which a unanimous jury convicted him on five serious counts with jail sentences.
So was there a conspiracy in the White House to punish Joe Wilson for speaking out? The film leaves that up to the viewer to decide. Pat Fitzgerald did say “there’s a cloud over the Vice-President, a cloud over the White House.” People can go see Fair Game this holiday and decide for themselves who was naughty and who was nice.