The CIA has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against a former deep-cover agent who published a book critical of the agency without allowing CIA censors to remove large portions of the manuscript before publication.
Ishmael Jones, pen name for the 20-year CIA veteran and Arabic speaker who said he sought to expose corruption in the agency, is facing a civil lawsuit over his 2008 book, “The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture.”
The book is a detailed account of his career inside the CIA’s clandestine service and his work as a “nonofficial cover” operative in the Middle East and Europe.
“The book contains no classified information and I do not profit from it,” Mr. Jones told The Washington Times. “CIA censors attack this book because it exposes the CIA as a place to get rich, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted or stolen in espionage programs that produce nothing.”
The CIA said in a statement to The Times that the legal action was filed against the former officer for “breaking his secrecy agreement.”
“CIA officers are duty-bound to observe the terms of their secrecy agreement with the agency,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said in the statement. “This lawsuit clearly reinforces that message.”
According to the CIA statement, “prepublication review — an obligation ‘Jones’ freely assumed — is an indispensable tool to protect intelligence sources, methods, and activities. In publishing without authorization, he risked the disclosure of classified information.”
The action was based on the Supreme Court case against former CIA officer Frank Snepp, which required him to pay the agency proceeds from the book and to cease further violations of the secrecy agreement, the CIA said.
One of Mr. Jones’ main disclosures in the book is that, despite being limited solely to collecting secrets outside the country, 90 percent of CIA employees live and work entirely inside the United States. The U.S.-based work force is “largely ineffective” and the failure to have more people outside the United States violates the agency’s founding charter.
“We need to make Americans safer by increasing the tiny numbers of CIA heroes serving undercover in foreign lands,” he said. “We need financial accountability and whistleblower systems to stop tremendous waste and theft.”
The lawsuit is one of a few cases brought by the agency against former officers since the Snepp case, who was forced to pay the agency over his 1977 book about Vietnam, “Decent Interval.”
According to CIA sources, Mr. Panetta was a key supporter of suing Mr. Jones.
The lawsuit is being revealed as the Obama administration prepares to respond to a new round of public disclosures of classified military documents from Iraq to be posted on the website WikiLeaks.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also recently said in a speech that President Obama had expressed concerns over extensive press disclosures of sensitive information.
Mr. Jones’ book contains details about his undercover meetings with recruited agents and his frustration in working with CIA bureaucrats in Washington who he said had made effective intelligence gathering, such as recruiting scientists involved in foreign weapons of mass destruction programs, very difficult.
Additionally, Mr. Jones revealed in the paperback version of the book that a list of recruited agents that CIA officials showed to the president and members of Congress included key sources who had no access to secrets.
“And I know these guys on the list, and they’re American citizens who live in the U.S., and they shouldn’t be sources at all,” he said.
He also accused the CIA of misusing some $3 billion appropriated by Congress for post-Sept. 11 programs to beef up human spying programs.
The lawsuit was filed in July in U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia. Mr. Jones said he was never notified by the agency and discovered it only after he was served with court papers in late September.
The civil suit charges that Mr. Jones’ breached a 1989 agreement by publishing “a book without the agency’s permission and in violation of his secrecy agreement.”
It states that Mr. Jones submitted a manuscript to the CIA pre-publication review board on April 10, 2007, and the agency replied that it “informed defendant Jones that it could not approve any portion of his manuscript for publication.”
Mr. Jones submitted a revised manuscript in July 2007. In December 2007, the CIA told him it was approving only certain portions for publication and denying permission for the “remainder of the manuscript, even using a pen name.”
The lawsuit also states that, by publishing the book, Mr. Jones had undermined “confidence and trust in the CIA and its prepublication review process.” As a result, the CIA wants Mr. Jones to turn over all money he made from the book to the agency.
The agency also sought permission to sue Mr. Jones under his pseudonym to prevent “foreign governments, enterprising journalists and amateur spy hunters” from learning the details from the book that could expose intelligence sources and collection methods, according to court papers in the case.
Such disclosures would “anger and embarrass … foreign governments and cause them to take action that would be detrimental to the CIA’s mission, such as reducing intelligence sharing or demanding that CIA officers leave the country,” Kevin J. Mikolashek, assistant U.S. attorney, stated in one document.
Mr. Jones stated in the book that “all individuals, unless they are public figures, are obscured in order to make it impossible to identify any CIA employee or agent.” Dates and places were changed and no classified information about sources and methods was disclosed, he wrote.
“Without reviewing the book, the CIA disapproved the publication of every word,” Mr. Jones said. “During the course of a year, I repeated my request to the CIA that it identify any classified information in the book. The CIA eventually returned it to me with all but a few paragraphs wiped out.”
Mr. Jones said he worked with CIA censors who seemed to agree that the book did not contain classified information and suggested that it might be approved with minor revisions.
The former CIA officer said he wrote the book to expose waste and abuse within the agency.
“By attempting to censor this manuscript, the CIA puts Americans at risk,” Mr. Jones wrote in an introduction to the book. “The purpose of the book is to add to the criticism and debate about reform of the organization. Criticism and debate is how we solve things in America and I consider it my duty to publish this manuscript.”
Steven Aftergood, who monitors government secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, said that CIA is probably on solid legal ground in the case “although it may be unfortunate for the author and the reading public.”
Since Mr. Snepp’s book was released, “courts have held that the manuscripts of former CIA employees are subject to pre-publication review even if they do not actually contain any classified information,” Mr. Aftergood said. “To a regular person, this might look like an infringement on an author’s freedom of expression, but when you sign a nondisclosure agreement with the CIA, you surrender some of that freedom.”