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Former CIA agent ‘settles the score’

WASHINGTON – Four years after her CIA cover was blown in a newspaper column, Valerie Plame is settling scores with the Bush administration, Republican lawmakers and the journalists involved in the White House leak scandal.

Plame writes about the leak, the fallout and the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in her memoir, “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.” The book is to be released Monday, but The Associated Press purchased it early.

She offers harsh words for President Bush, whom she assails for administration “arrogance and intolerance.” She also said criticism of her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a “dress rehearsal” for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth effort that impugned Sen. John Kerry’s war record during his failed presidential campaign in 2004.

“It was classic Karl Rove: go after your enemy’s strong point,” Plame writes, saying Bush’s former political adviser was behind both efforts. “In Joe’s case it was that he told the truth; in Kerry’s case, it was his exemplary military service.”

Plame often casts herself as a spectator to the scandal. She discusses being uncomfortable in the limelight, even as she poses for magazine photographs, attends posh Washington fundraisers and is whisked backstage at a rock concert as her husband becomes one of the Iraq war’s most public critics.

She describes arriving home one day to find Vanity Fair photographers in her kitchen preparing a photo for the magazine’s cover.

“I did not listen to my instincts and threw my extreme caution about public exposure to the wind,” she wrote. “In no time, the beauty team had me made up.”

Plame began attracting attention after syndicated columnist Robert Novak revealed her identity in 2003 in a story about Wilson’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger.

“I felt like I had been sucker-punched, hard, in the gut,” Plame said, recalling reading Novak’s column.

Wilson said the Niger trip debunked some prewar intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, yet the intelligence still found its way into Bush’s State of the Union address that year. Plame believes she was outed as retribution for her husband’s comments.

Numerous behind-the-scenes details of the leak surfaced at Libby’s trial and Plame cannot fill in many blanks. At least four Bush administration officials discussed Plame’s identity with reporters – Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, Rove and Libby – but have said little about it publicly.

Libby is the only person charged in the case and was convicted not of leaking but of lying and obstructing the probe. Plame recalls that her husband had convinced himself Rove would be charged and she writes of being “puzzled and angry” upon learning he wouldn’t be.

Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said Wednesday he would not discuss the book because Plame’s comments “shed no light on the public record.”

Plame reportedly received a seven-figure deal to write the book. Though it represents the first time Plame has publicly discussed the scandal in detail, few revelations were left after the monthlong trial, countless news articles and her congressional testimony.

Some of the details Plame had planned to offer, including discussion of her CIA career and her job responsibilities, are redacted from the book. Sometimes that means whole pages of blacked-out text. The CIA objected to the material’s release and Plame lost a court fight to include it.

As a solution, journalist Laura Rozen recounts Plame’s early years in the agency as part of the book’s lengthy afterword. Rozen, who writes for liberal publications The American Prospect and Mother Jones, is not covered by the CIA’s publication rules.

Critics have argued for years that if Plame was concerned about her CIA cover, she should not have let Wilson discuss his mission to Niger publicly nor write about it in the New York Times. She touches on this only briefly in the book, saying neither of them ever considered the possibility it would jeopardize her cover.

Plame also revisits the debate over whether she suggested her husband for the Niger trip. Government officials have testified she did. In her book, she says a CIA colleague suggested it and a supervisor asked Wilson to come in to discuss it.

She harshly criticizes a Senate intelligence panel that investigated the leak. Testifying before a committee of young staffers, she said, “felt like a setup.” She criticized the “Republican senators’ complete disregard for the truth” and said they twisted the testimony.

Plame said the CIA refused to let her colleague clarify that it was he who first suggested Wilson for the trip.

She has kind words for Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the leak investigation and forced several journalists to testify about their sources. She said she didn’t understand why “well-meaning but self-righteous talking heads” decried that effort.

“It was the Pentagon Papers or Watergate turned on its head,” she writes, adding, “These reporters were allowing themselves to be exploited by the administration and were obstructing the investigation.”

After reading a Washington Post editorial criticizing her husband, Plame writes that she “suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.”

The book’s title is drawn from a comment Rove is said to have made about Wilson’s wife being “fair game.” “The next time we were in line for Communion,” she writes, “I would pass him the wafer plate and whisper softly, ‘My name’s Fair Game, what’s yours?’ “

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