- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2010

In an attempt to censor a book about the war on terrorism, the government has handed terrorists a road map to information they should never see. The case also raises political questions regarding intelligence community efforts to keep critical information regarding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from the American people.

“Operation Dark Heart” is a memoir by Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who was posted to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). His memoir relates his experiences as an intelligence officer in the war on terrorism. Like any writers whose work deals with highly classified information to which they gained access using a security clearance, Mr. Shaffer submitted the draft of his book for a security review. It was approved by the Army in January with some modest changes. In July, however, the DIA and National Security Agency (NSA) intervened and demanded the deletion of 250 more passages.

The government mounted its second intervention so late in the process that galley copies of the original work already had gone out to potential reviewers, and the New York Times obtained a copy and ran a side-by-side comparison of an original and redacted page. The redactions thus tell insurgents exactly what the DIA and NSA think should be kept out of their hands. Buying up and pulping all the existing unredacted copies of the book give an air of desperation; it also brought far more attention to the book than it would have gained otherwise. The attempted coverup was a sloppy, ill-conceived, poorly timed response. This matter required quiet professionalism but instead became a public embarrassment.

Some of the additional redactions were clearly intended to protect sensitive intelligence-gathering techniques. Others dealt with seemingly harmless information such as how Mr. Shaffer chose his cover name from a character in the John Wayne film the “Sands of Iwo Jima.” But at least one issue has a whiff of politics. The DIA wanted to delete references to a meeting between Mr. Shaffer and Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission. At this meeting, Mr. Shaffer says he told the commissioner that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had been identified before the attacks by the Special Operation Command’s “Able Danger” program.

The DIA has long tried to squelch this discussion. On Sept. 21, 2005, Attorney Mark Zaid - representing Mr. Shaffer and others who worked on Able Danger but were ordered not to discuss it - testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on this and other matters. He said, “It is Lt. Col. Shaffer’s specific recollection that he informed those in attendance, which included several Defense Department personnel, that Able Danger had identified two of the three successful 9/11 cells to include Atta. That statement is disputed by the 9/11 Commission and may never be resolved.” This matter was not mentioned in the final 9/11 report.

If the government had specific information on the al Qaeda terror cells planning the Sept. 11 attacks dating back to 2000, it would be a severe embarrassment to Clinton administration officials who were in office at the time. Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger pled guilty in 2005 to removing and destroying classified material from the National Archives that may have had a bearing on the issue. Now the government is attempting to keep Mr. Shaffer muzzled on what he knew. If nothing else, this strange episode will reenergize the critical questions regarding the official story about what the Clinton administration knew before the Sept. 11 attacks, and why they failed to take effective action.