The Book the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Read

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I admit I was unfamiliar with Operation Dark Heart, the new book by former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and retired army reservist Anthony Shaffer, until I read about it in the Times last night. But now I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy—partly because it sounds like an interesting read (tagline: “spycraft and special ops on the frontlines of Afghanistan and the path to victory”) but mostly because the Pentagon does want me (or you) to get a look at what’s inside.

The book was originally cleared by army reviewers, who vetted the manuscript to ensure it didn’t reveal national security secrets. It went to press, was sent to reviewers, and was even available for a short time online. Now your best best of getting a copy may be to bid for the one some opportunist put up on Ebay—starting bid, $500 $1000. That’s because the Pentagon is now negotiating with Shaffer’s publisher to purchase all 10,000 copies of the first print run with the intention of destroying them. It turns out the book may indeed contain a significant amount of senstive material. Once the DIA looked over the book, and shared it with other intelligence agencies, “200 passages suspected of containing classified information” were discovered “setting off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution,” according to the Times.

It’s worth noting that just because information is classified doesn’t mean it’s not widely available publicly. Details intel community censors might consider worthy of redaction could have already appeared in a news article or elsewhere. And it’s not unusual for retired spooks and their publishers to do battle with their former employers over what can and cannot be divulged. (Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, for one, famously clashed with the agency over what he believed were capricious redactions to his book, Jawbreaker. It’s a great book, if you don’t mind reading around the swaths of black hiding key details of Berntsen’s story.)

The classified portions of Shaffer’s book, according to the Times, include “the names of American intelligence officers who served with Colonel Shaffer and his accounts of clandestine operations, including N.S.A. eavesdropping operations.” Fox is reporting that intelligence officials are also trying to deep-six portions of the book concerning a classified data mining program known as “Able Danger.” Shaffer—and others—have previously said that the program, established in 1999, had identified Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers well before the attacks, though an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee has determined the claim doesn’t hold up.

One thing’s for sure: the Pentagon’s effort to block the book’s release has probably done more to boost its future sales prospects (albeit, for a heavily redacted version) than any ad blitz. (See Wings Over Iraq for more on DIA’s inadvertent publicity campaign.) It’s certainly one way to sell out a first printing in record time.

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