- Washington Guardian - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A former military intelligence officer’s court case could redefine just how far the government can go to block information from being published that it deems sensitive to national security.

A federal judge ruled earlier this month that retired Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer, could sue the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for redacting information from 250 pages of his 320-page best selling book Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory.

In his book, Shaffer cited eyewitness accounts and concluded the Bush administration and military leaders made mistakes in their wartime strategy in Afghanistan.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled against the Pentagon and CIA and determined Shaffer’s lawsuit has merit to move forward.

Mr. Shaffer has standing because he maintains rights to publish an un-redacted version of his book and, if the redactions are overbroad, to otherwise ‘publish’ the non-classified information in his book,” Collyer ruled last week.

It is standard procedure for publishers and authors to seek Pentagon approval to safeguard any potential national security issues. Shaffer’s publisher followed protocol and received approval, but shortly before the publication of Operation Dark Heart, the Pentagon reversed course.

After the first 10,000 copies of Dark Heart were printed, Pentagon officials alleged Shaffer relied on classified information and demanded all 10,000 books be destroyed. That demand was refused and the Pentagon spent nearly $50,000 to purchase, burn the books and then demanded Shaffer and his ghostwriter redact 250 pages from subsequent editions.

Shaffer contends the U.S. government has improperly extended its censorship reach post-9/11 under the guise of national security.

“My judgment remains now, as it was when the Pentagon (specifically DIA) demanded in August 2010 a second review of Operation Dark Heart - and that the second, much more severe review, was conducted for political, not security, purposes,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer alleges the DIA decided to take a second look at the book after he went to Congress and disclosed concerns about pre-September 11th intelligence failures, specifically a project codenamed ABLE DANGER, and became critical of the government’s Afghanistan strategy.

Pentagon officials told Shaffer to redact words like the nickname of the National Security Agency’s office — known as “The Fort” – or the “A” from “A-team” and the name “Ned Betty” because he described an official who looked similar to the Hollywood actor.

“These redactions were arbitrarily removed for no possible security reason other than to try and render the book unreadable,” he said.
He argues the second, more severe redaction, was based purely on political factors.

“I spoke out against the then (2010) and current Counterinsurgency Policy in Afghanistan.  It was very clear, based on my research and experience, the policy would not work to achieve any permanent stability in Afghanistan - and I identified specific decision points in which this flawed COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy was adopted. I offered an alternative policy recommendation in the last chapter of Dark Heart - and my ‘path to victory’ was through Pakistan (and in my judgment remains so today).”

Shaffer concludes that the court’s decision to rule in his favor is more than a victory for him, but may have precedent for future wartime accountings from other retired military officers.

“I believe the courts have ruled correctly to support my standing to sue the Department of Defense over its violation of my First Amendment rights for its abusive review and excessive redactions of Operation Dark Heart. We feel that the information in the first edition of Dark Heart (that the DoD destroyed) was written using unclassified information,” Shaffer said.

The judge’s ruling allows the case to move forward.

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