Sunday in the Park
It is a game I have been playing a lot with The Grands. You remember it — "I spy with my little eye." The six-year-old, Izzy, has the concept down. You use your powers of concentration and perception to spot something in a shape or a color that is in clear view of others. When someone correctly guesses, you reward that person with the next turn. Playing fair is simply what you do to keep the game going. The four-year-old, Tyler, understands pieces of this and, as long as we don’t make the guessing too tricky, he can win on occasion. The-three year-old, Axel, is a happy guy who laughs a lot and likes to say, "I spy with my little eye" over and over again, but whatever you guess he declares you right, to move the game along. Fair play has been instilled in these children.
Last night I was sitting in the historic Lensic Theater in downtown Santa Fe listening to former real-life spy Valerie Plame Wilson talk about her recently released book, "Fair Game," about her years in the CIA. I watched her two beautiful, perfectly behaved blonde seven-year-old twins sit in the front row and listen first, to their mother and then, as a bonus for the evening, since the couple now reside in Santa Fe, their father, speak truth to power.
The children are the reason former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife have now filed suit against Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and John Does 1-9. They know they will be asked by those children, "What did you do to fight back when your country, that you had both served with careers of distinction, betrayed you?" And I wondered, do they ever play "I spy" at home or on the road? Does it have a different spin?
You will be pleased to know, gentle reader, I didn’t ask them this question at the VIP reception in the historic old La Fonda hotel on The Plaza. Joe confessed to the small after-gathering that Santa Fe was a tough audience to play. "It’s hard to get to the left of them," the noted liberal cracked.
But I’m ahead of the evening.
When I knew I was coming to Santa Fe, purely for pleasure, I did what a junkie does. I went to the Web site of my theater counterpart to see what kind of performance I could take in during my vacation. I bought a VIP ticket to see how it felt and what that meant, really, in another venue. The fact that the money was all going to the defense fund for the Wilsons made it the perfect ticket. By sheer luck, and probably the fact that singles often get great theater seats, I ended up in the front row, next to the couple who put on the event. The woman, Sheri, had gone to college with Valerie and lives now in Albuquerque. And in the ongoing travel currency that is Utah, I discovered the Wilsons recently purchased a second home just over the hill from us, in another ski community. I don’t think the exact location is classified but, after everything else they’ve been through, I’d rather not "out" their hideaway.
And "outing" is what their story is about. That and the First Amendment. Valerie was working as what is commonly known as a NOC, a non-official cover, in a covert operation keeping track of nuclear materials. When her cover was blown, and she and Joe found out like everyone else by reading a column by D.C. political columnist Robert Novak. It put into jeopardy not only her life and those of her family, but also the lives of operatives literally the world over.
You will recall this was done as a kind of evil political payback for Joe’s op-ed piece in the New York Times. In that piece he explained that, when sent to Africa in 2002 by the CIA at the request of the office of the Vice President, he had found no evidence of the sale of "yellowcake" uranium to Iraq. In spite of Joe’s report to the CIA, President Bush’s "yellowcake uranium 16 words" in the State of the Union speech served as a launch pad to invade Iraq. Later, when Colin Powell addressed the United Nations, he used that same misinformation, and more, from flawed sources (see the recent 60 Minutes account of unreliable informant "Cutthroat"). Finally, the White House issued a statement saying those 16 words didn’t rise to the level of intelligence that should have ever been used in a presidential speech. But this was long after, long after, American men and women were dying in Iraq.
If all this reads like a spy novel well, imagine what the nonfiction work by a real spy reads like. I have a copy of the book as part of the benefit but I haven’t yet read it since I heard them speak. But I did learn from Sheri that I should read the afterword first. Since that is against everything I hold sacred as a reader, I asked why. And here’s the reason: Once the CIA started blacking out pages of her book (which is printed in blackout form, sometimes full pages long), publishers Simon and Schuster knew they would need somehow to have someone tell the backstory. So they hired Laura Rozen, a national security reporter from Washington D.C. who graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, to write what Valerie couldn’t. Valerie made it very clear Tuesday evening that she did not know this woman and did not speak to her. Laura found her information through investigative journalism and facts readily available on the Internet.
The Wilsons were very clear about what will happen to the money being raised for their defense – our defense of freedoms, really. Should they win and, say, attach Dick Chenny’s Halliburton pension, all monies received would then be used to fight other First Amendment causes. You can read up on all this on a couple of Web sites, fairgameplame.com or
Here’s what struck me with the evening: These are decent people who were betrayed not by their enemies after careers of distinction but by their government. Valerie was a compelling but clearly restrained speaker. Joe is an appropriately outraged former diplomat who wants this administration made accountable. The government is us, except when we abdicate our role. It is clear the intelligence information finding its way to the desk of The Current Occupant, as Garrison Keillor calls him, is tainted by politics and ideology, and no President should be working with tainted information.
Valerie and Joe concluded their talk to a standing ovation. At the end of her speech, Valerie quoted Thomas Jefferson and it goes something like this: "When the people fear the government there is tyranny – when the government fears the people there is liberty."
I’m gonna bring home a few souvenirs from my travels here, turquoise something, adobe abode snapshots, red hot chili pepper. But mostly I will bring home the recollection of the words Kris Kristofferson wrote and sang on The Eccles stage not so long ago, in the song that Janis Joplin made her own. The Wilsons are taking on the government because "freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose."
Joe Wilson said he won’t be running for an available local senate seat because he would have to compromise. He concluded by saying, "Here’s the great thing about this country and our freedoms. I can get up every morning and call Dick Cheney and Karl Rove — and anybody else I want — sons of bitches and know that I will be safe asleep in my own bed that night."
That’s when the audience rose to their feet.
A vacation should make you see your world anew. I am reminded my activism muscles need a workout. It is something I’m gonna make a plan for when I return this Sunday, to the Park …
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. Orr is also a former editor at The Park Record.
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When it comes to the U.S. census, let’s just say Park City has… room for improvement.