The best story about the government’s conniption fits over former employees’ critical memoirs remains the one about the Pentagon’s reaction to former Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s memoir, Operation Dark Heart.
The DoD gatekeepers tried to get much of the book — which follows Shaffer’s time as a Army intelligence officer before and after 9/11, and details a clandestine intelligence operation called “Able Danger” that he said could have netted 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before the attacks — redacted in the eleventh hour, just before the first edition was published. Since he had already had the book vetted with the Army Reserve brass, his publishers said no way, so it went through with the printing. The Pentagon, rebuffed, bought up the nearly all of the 10,000 first edition copies for $50,000 and destroyed them.
Now, aside from the reviewer copies which were already out there for all to see, the only copies of Shaffer’s book on the shelf today are a second edition filled with black lines, redacting such potentially explosive top secret information as the movie title of John Wayne’s The Sands of Iwo Jima.
(You can read an interview I did with Shaffer and his attorney in early 2011, here)
The last decade has seen a flourishing of post-9/11 memoirs, whether it be from military veterans, CIA agents or even State Department foreign service officers compelled to share their roles and experiences to a readership hungry for the inside scoop. As always, many of the books cater to those looking to ratify their already established biases of how things went or are going in the “Global War on Terror”: tales of heroism on the battlefield, how”24″-style interrogations nailed the baddest of “bad guys” and saved the world, etc.
Others substantiate a gut-level sense of what went wrong and how we are losing the wars — amid so much else — overseas and at home. In that vein, Shaffer’s book sought to illuminate the shadows where bad policy bears spoiled fruit, and for that, the Pentagon pulled a Fahrenheit 451 on his memories.
But at least one agency is now under scrutiny for taking their redaction activities too far. According to a Washington Post piece today, the CIA is now conducting an internal review “into whether a process designed to screen books by former employees and protect national security secrets is being used in part to censor agency critics.”
At issue is Ali Soufan, whose post-FBI memoirs, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, was heavily redacted by the CIA even after it was cleared by the FBI. Soufan is a critic of torture, and what he once called in a New York Times op-ed, “the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.”
He argues that not only were there things redacted that were publicly aired in Congressional testimony — in other words, public information — but that some of the material that was expelled from his book have shown up, clear as day, in Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, a memoir just published by Jose A. Rodriquez Jr., former head of the CIA’s clandestine service. The only difference is that Rodriquez is a big supporter of so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques and has been a vigorous spokesman for the methods while promoting his new tome this spring.
(Please read Phil Giraldi’s thorough take on Rodriguez’s agenda here)
“Absolutely there are things that he was able to talk about that were redacted from my book,” Soufan told WaPo. “I think it has more to do with trying to protect a narrative rather than protecting classified information.”
Shaffer said the same thing when his book became pockmarked with the DoD’s spiteful Sharpe in 2010:
“We can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one hundred percent of the redacting was done not to create a sense of security for the American public, but to obfuscate what is really going on (in the war),” he said in January 2011.
Ex-CIA who are writing books — even fiction novels — will tell you that the vetting process is extreme even for government standards. It is clear, particularly in the case of Rodriguez, which WaPo notes takes a few “veiled swipes” at Soufan in his own book, that the agency has indeed blurred the line between securing classified information that might leak into a former agent’s memoirs, and approving narratives that are in the government’s best interest. But then again, what is “classified” has become such a slippery business after 9/11. When an agency can say with a straight face that divulging the name of a movie would put the nation at risk, we know things have gone “off the rails,” to use Shaffer’s own words.
That the CIA has launched an “internal probe” doesn’t inspire too much confidence that anything will ultimately change, but at least it indicates some official awareness that the agency, among several (we’ve written extensively about Foggy Bottom’s backlash against foreign service officer Peter Van Buren’s book) that their actions might be veering too far into Ray Bradbury territory for comfort.