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What Was Plamegate?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Plamegate was a scandal which broke in the United States in 2003. It involved the disclosure of the identity of a covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative named Valerie Plame, potentially putting both her and the missions she worked on at risk. Plamegate sparked an extensive investigation of the administration of then-President George Bush, and it quickly captured the attention of the general public. Many members of the public were outraged by the scandal and the depth of involvement of many leading officials in the Presidential administration.

This event in American history is sometimes also referred to as the Plame Affair, Plame Scandal, or CIA leak scandal. Plamegate started in early 2003, when officials in the Bush administration leaked Plame's identity to members of the press, and the media promptly published information about Plame. The officials in the administration argued that the leak was accidental, while others suspected that it may have been deliberate.

Public attention as the scandal unfolded focused both on Valerie Plame and on her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former American ambassador. Wilson claimed that Plamegate began out of a desire for revenge, after he wrote a series of scathing opinion editorials in the New York Times about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Wilson argued that the administration was angered by his attempt to undermine its justification for going to war in Iraq, and that it struck back by outing his wife's secret identity.

Because Plame was theoretically working as a secret operative, the outing of her identity could have potentially been very dangerous for her, and it certainly damaged her career. Someone who has become an international celebrity due to involvement in a political scandal can hardly hope to work in secret again. Plame ultimately sued the administration for damages, claiming that officials had deliberately revealed her identity.

Numerous high-ranking officials were involved in Plamegate, and several ended up being subpoenaed to speak at federal hearings. The most notable of these officials was probably Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who worked as Vice-President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his involvement. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer also testified, along with Karl Rove, Deputy Chief of Staff to George Bush. A number of reporters were also summoned to testify at the Plame hearings.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By GrumpyGuppy — On May 30, 2011

@calabama71- Valerie is married to Joe Wilson and they are happily living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Valerie works at the Santa Fe Institute. There was also a movie made, “Fair Game”, based on her book with the same title, which talks about her experiences as a CIA. She hopes that people will watch the movie and have a better understanding of how the abuse of power can change lives. She also wants people to see that that the government should be held accountable for their actions.

They are the happy parents of twins.

By calabama71 — On May 29, 2011

Does anyone have any idea what Valerie Plame is doing now? What is she up to these days?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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