Pentagon censorship attempt backfires

Sandy Smith's picture

We don't yet know what embarrassing secrets the Pentagon doesn't want us to see in retired Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's new memoir, "Operation Dark Heart." But thanks to its attempt to buy up the entire first print run of the book after it was already published, it's likely that we will know sooner rather than later.

The book's subtitle, "Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan - and the Path to Victory," suggests that what the Pentagon doesn't want the public to know has to do with the ongoing fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But even if the Pentagon manages to buy destroy the 10,000 copies already printed by publisher St. Martin's Press, dozens of reviewer's copies will remain in circulation. Some of these are already fetching prices of $500 online.

Disputes between military and intelligence personnel over what information is too sensitive to reveal have become commonplace in the past few years, and some authors have released books with passages blacked out to indicate that they know information they believe should be shared but the government doesn't. The "Operation Dark Heart" case, however, marks the first time the Pentagon has tried to pull a book off the shelves after it has already been approved and printed.

Pentagon action likely to highlight material it wants kept secret

Unfortunately, the likely effect of the Pentagon's move will be to call attention to precisely the passages the Defense Intelligence Agency wants suppressed, especially after a new, redacted edition of the book comes out on Sept. 24. Mark Zaid, Shaffer's attorney, told AOL News, "It probably would have made a lot more sense to never do anything, and nobody would have been the wiser. Fewer people would have read the book, and most of those people would have been inside the government, or people who already knew this stuff. Now, the government has highlighted that there's something in this book that everyone wants to see."

Army intelligence officials had signed off on Shaffer's manuscript after the former defense intelligence officer made changes they suggested to his account of his tour of duty in Afghanistan. But the Defense Department says that a higher-level review was not conducted until less than a month before the book's scheduled release. Zaid says that it was the Army's responsibility, not Shaffer's, to make sure the book was passed up the chain of command.

Shaffer has been a thorn in the side of government secrecy officers since his retirement with his charges of official misconduct in efforts to gather intelligence about figures involved in the 9/11 terror attacks. A number of other military authors and critics of government efforts to keep information secret say that decisions to strike out information are often capricious and arbitrary.

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