Ex-spy brings her thriller life to Cannes
It sounds like a movie script: a glamorous US spy betrayed by her government in a political scandal linked to arms deals and the Iraq war.
Perhaps it is not surprising then that Valerie Plame is now smiling for the cameras at the Cannes film festival.
Five years ago the 47-year-old blonde was a secret operative for the CIA, a dangerous counter-proliferation job linked to the hunt for suspected weapons of mass destruction that were used by the US government as a pretext for war.
Now she is immersed in the movie industry, awaiting the premiere of a film dramatisation of her real-life story: the alleged plot by members of George W. Bush's administration to blow her cover.
"If none of that other stuff had happened, if my covert identity had not been betrayed by my government, then no doubt I would be still with the CIA somewhere overseas and getting a great sense of satisfaction," she told AFP.
On Thursday audiences will see Plame embodied by actress Naomi Watts in Doug Liman's movie, "Fair Game".
She also appears in another film at Cannes, as an expert witness in a documentary about the threat from nuclear weapons. That film, "Countdown to Zero" by British film-maker Lucy Walker, screened here on Sunday.
"This is all very surreal," Plame said, between turns for the television cameras in the Riviera town's chic Carlton hotel. Her smiles and laughter give no hint of the scandal that wrecked her career in the US spy agency.
"I feel so fortunate to be able to... give my (nuclear) expertise in an area that I care about and then with this other film 'Fair Game' to show something that I lived through," she added.
"It is a cautionary tale for public officials that would seek to pursue a political agenda," she said of Liman's film. "It's definitely entertaining but it tells a story, and that is the power of film."
Plame's story dates back to 2003, when her cover was blown in a scandal targeting her and her husband, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, played by Sean Penn in Liman's film.
Wilson visited Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium for nuclear bombs and later publicly cast doubt on Bush's claims about them, saying he may have invaded Iraq under false pretences.
When Plame's identity was subsequently leaked to a journalist, the couple alleged it was revenge by the White House for Wilson's opposition to the war.
A top White House official, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was sentenced to jail for perjury and obstructing a probe of the leak. Bush commuted the jail term but did not grant him a full pardon. Libby is played in "Fair Game" by the US actor David Andrews.
The affair dragged Plame reluctantly into the media glare.
"I've had some time to adapt" since, said Plame, who has 10-year-old twins and is now writing a book.
"I'm working on a work of fiction about a female CIA operations officer," she said. "I stick to what I know."
© 2010 AFP