The news arrived the way it usually does in Washington -- via a leak. Someone told the Washington Post that the Central Intelligence Agency had launched an investigation of its Publications Review Board (PRB) which is charged with vetting manuscripts, articles and other writings that current and former Agency employees wish to make public.
The allegation in the Post story on May 31 was that, according to anonymous sources, the PRB plays favorites in clearing some submissions such as my recent book "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives" but makes life difficult for Agency critics.
CIA officials refused to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. But given CIA's penchant for circular firing squads and self-destructive self-examination, some sort of review is probably taking place.
My going in position is to state that yes "Hard Measures" reveals some huge secrets and everyone should rush out and get a copy to try to find them.
I'll give you a head start.
The biggest secret revealed is that, in the years immediately after 9/11, the men and women of CIA did their jobs extraordinarily well. Taking actions that were approved by the President of the United States, judged legal by the Department of Justice, and fully briefed to appropriate members of Congress, we were able to capture or kill the majority of Al Qaeda's top leadership and prevent numerous follow-on terrorist attacks that were intended to rival September 11, 2001.
Why is this a secret? In part, because of inability or unwillingness of the CIA to defend itself.
Time and again politicians, journalists and agency critics have been able to spout demonstrably untrue nonsense with no response from CIA. Documents and facts, which should have remained secret, however, have been tossed out the door by the Obama dministration and then misinterpreted by the chattering class. Frustration with this pattern contributed to my decision to write my book in an effort to set the record straight.
The result? Apparently the bureaucracy reacts by investigating their own apparatus which (correctly) declared that my final manuscript did no harm to national security. I say "final" manuscript because the PRB did object to large portions of my original submission.
I challenged some of the proposed cuts -- sometimes with success, often without. For example, the PRB demanded that I remove in its entirety a more than 2,000-word-long section about a sensitive and widely misunderstood and mischaracterized program. While I disagreed with their decision, I complied.
There were many other instances where I was required to modify facts, figures and details to protect Agency programs, officers and those who worked with us.
In virtually every instance, if I had been permitted to be more precise, the case I made in the book about the value and necessity of Agency actions would only have been strengthened.
Well, what of the allegation that the PRB has gutted books critical of the CIA but let mine go through relatively unscathed?
If the Agency has been trying to prevent negative things being said about it by people who are required to get their manuscripts reviewed -- they have been doing a miserable job of it.
The brief review of the literature will show countless examples of Agency-cleared books dumping on the organization that cleared them. Some will point to a handful of books printed with a large number of blacked out redactions and big sections of text removed. Doesn't this prove the Agency treats its critics harshly?
Not at all.
Had I wanted to engage in a juvenile exercise like that, I could have larded my book with countless black marks too; titillating readers to imagine what secrets might be hidden beneath.
In truth, authors who default to such tactics are most likely unable or unwilling to work with the PRB to find alternative language that would inform the reader without sacrificing necessary secrecy.
My hunch is that the Agency was motivated to launch their investigation in part due to complaints from their Congressional oversight committees. No doubt some members who are accustomed to being able to say whatever they want about intelligence without fear of contradiction are unhappy that some former Agency officials, who are tired of being slandered by politicians, journalists and ill-informed advocates, have decided to defend themselves.
I know for a fact that large portions of my book were read by some of the most senior officials of the Agency before it was cleared. If they want to investigate themselves -- bring it on.
Instead of launching a probe two weeks ago concerning the process by which former officials submit manuscripts (about past events) for security clearance, the bureaucracy should have immediately turned their attention to the flood of leaks that seem to be flowing from anonymous White House sources about current highly sensitive national security operations. They have only belatedly (and seemingly reluctantly) begun such investigations.