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Valerie Plame Wilson Headshot

How My CIA Skills Come in Handy on My Book Tour

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On this third day that my book Fair Game has been available in stores, it occurs to me that there are striking similarities between what I learned from my CIA training at the "Farm" and a full-blown book tour. Pleasantly surprised to know that some of the hard-earned skills I acquired as a covert CIA operations officer actually apply to life after the Agency. Let me describe just a few of the hidden links between these two seemingly unrelated activities:

1. I write in my book about my paramilitary training at the Farm which included jumping out airplanes, firing a variety of automatic weapons, learning how to run or avoid road blocks, undergoing harsh interrogation sessions, and practicing escape and evasion techniques from an ostensibly hostile force in the woods for days at a time. All of these abilities, taught to my classmates and me by tough former military types, require endurance, the kind that makes you dig down deep and find strength and desire to push on despite overwhelming exhaustion, irritation at what you're being asked to do, and feeling like you're constantly trying to catch up. This, happily, coincides well with what is required on a book tour. Every day, my publisher cheerily hands me the day's packed schedule and invariably says, "It's bound to change!" I will be on the road for the next several weeks, moving into chronic sleep deprivation territory, as I go from TV appearance, to radio interview, to newspaper interviews with sometimes just minutes between them all. As far as my experience goes regarding hostile interrogations, the take-away skills that apply to dealing with the media are the ability to think fast on your feet, remember your lines, and not lose your cool, no matter how much they want to rattle you.

2. A very important component of conducting a secure CIA operation is surveillance detection. If an officer fails to pick up on a "tail" from a hostile service, it will jeopardize not only the officer, but the agent and the entire operation. A CIA officer must be satisfied that he or she is "clean" before performing any operational act. And so it is on the book tour. The general public is full of non-threatening but odd folks, and then there are some who really are deranged. As I am much more in the public's eye now with the publication of my book, it is important that I am well aware of my surroundings; the person who wants me to autograph his Bill O'Reilly book, the woman who wants to share with me her secret 9/11 conspiracy theory; the Right Wing stalker who has bought into their propaganda and may have malevolent intent against me. All require vigilance to avoid skillfully without raising suspicion and move out of their sights.

3. Finally, it is drilled into us at the Farm the importance of an operations officer's ability to assess and size up their target quickly. This includes getting to the heart of whatever their motivation is to possibly cooperate with US intelligence. It could be ideological, money, a feeling of being unappreciated in their sphere, or perhaps the desire for their child to be educated in the United States. Understanding what it is that drives them to speak candidly to you, providing intelligence of importance to US policy makers informs the process of moving forward toward recruitment. Dealing with the wide variety of personalities on a book tour, this ability comes in handy. What are they trying to get from me? I have told my story in my book, with both professional and personal honestly, but I've also learned that any mistake can be easily pounced upon and magnified for the world to see. It is helpful as well to be able to adjust to new situations quickly and figure out how you can succeed. I've traveled to many countries undercover where I've never been before, hoping to meet assets and persuade them that I can protect them to provide secret information to US policy makers. Although I am out of that particular line of business, I still need to adapt very quickly to different styles and demands of interviews about the book and am grateful for my earlier training. Off to my next interview...