A Conversation with New Ploughshares Fund Board Member Valerie Plame

In Her Own Words

Given her CIA experience in seeking to keep terrorists and rogue nation states from acquiring nuclear weapons, Valerie firmly believes that nuclear weapons are the greatest existential threat on earth. Although her CIA career came to an end after White House officials famously leaked her name to a Washington Post columnist in retaliation for public criticisms made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, about the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq, Valerie has remained a visible and vocal advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons.  

In addition to her role with Ploughshares Fund, Valerie is a consultant to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit research institute for multidisciplinary collaborations in the physical, biological, computational and social sciences, and a leader with Ploughshares Fund grantee Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons. She is also the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir, “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” which was made into a film starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.

We recently spoke with Valerie about her nuclear security activism, Iran and what – and who – inspires her:

Ploughshares Fund: What inspired you to become a leader of Global Zero and its movement to eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide?

Valerie Plame: When I left the CIA in 2007, I thought my involvement in the critical issues surrounding nuclear proliferation were over.  I had spent my career in covert operations making sure that rogue nation-states or terrorists never acquired nuclear capability. That work required painstaking attention to detail, creativity, and covert operational skills.  I was deeply saddened that it seemed irrevocably finished.  In 2009, I was asked to help participate in the documentary “Countdown to Zero” and became involved with Global Zero in getting the word out about this amazing film that lays out in frightening detail the continued threat of nuclear weapons today. That experience awakened me to the possibility of using my CIA experiences in an entirely new (and overt) manner.  Both the Ploughshares Fund and Global Zero are, in fact, a continuation of my previous work – their unrelenting drive to reduce nuclear arsenals and ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide. 

PF: What have been some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had since you became active in this international movement?

VP: By far, the most satisfying experiences with this movement arrive in the moment when you know you’ve reached someone or an audience at large and you know they are going to leave the room with a desire to get involved as well.  Whether it’s been speaking to European students, selected through a rigorous process, about setting up Global Zero chapters throughout their countries, or participating in the recent “Bike Around the Bomb” event in Washington, DC to highlight the devastating effects of a nuclear explosion, it feels like I’m doing what I can to create change. 

PF: Your work with Global Zero keeps you very engaged with efforts to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again. Why join Ploughshares Fund as well?

VP: While Global Zero and Ploughshares Fund share the same strategic goal – the elimination of nuclear weapons – they go about it in completely different but complementary ways.  I hope that my participation in both of these groups makes good use of my CIA experiences and commitment to see an end to nuclear proliferation and elimination of existing stockpiles.  It was accomplished with chemical and biological weaponry; it can and must be done with nuclear as well.

PF: What unique quality do you feel Ploughshares Fund brings to the field of nuclear security?

Ploughshares Fund is in a position to see the issue from a strategic perspective and to direct attention and resources to the battle accordingly.  This ability to discern what is going on, and when, is critical to the efficient deployment of time and money to advance the cause of nuclear arms elimination. 

PF: What about Iran? We’re incredibly close to ensuring that the July 14 nuclear deal – the best bet we have at preventing Iran from building a bomb – pushes through Congress. What has Ploughshares Fund brought to these efforts? 

VP: Civil society has played an incredibly important role in making sure that both the public and policymakers understand the national security benefits of a diplomatic solution to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. Over the past several years, Ploughshares Fund has been at the center of this effort. They’ve brought together and invested in a diverse set of experts and organizations so that their collective voice could be stronger than their individual voices could ever be. That voice has clearly been heard.

PF: Who are your heroes in the field of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and why?

VP: Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA colleague and one of the country’s greatest experts on nuclear security, Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund, and Bruce Blair and Matt Brown, co-founders of Global Zero are at the top of my list.  Their steady, intelligent, and persistent efforts in this field truly make a difference.