Muzzling the Messenger; the CIA and Prepublication Rights

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

Muzzling the Messenger; the CIA and Prepublication Rights


Byline: Mark S. Zaid, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The anonymous author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism" made headlines recently when he condemned the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and lambasted policy officials for trying to create a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan. While routine cocktail-party chatter often repeated these criticisms, what made these so unique was that they originated with a current employee of the CIA.

The book's publisher noted that the "U.S. government agency at which this author is employed required that 'approval for this manuscript is predicated upon the author maintaining his anonymity and also that his association with the Agency is not disclosed'." "Mike," as he is known, is an overt 22-year-veteran CIA analyst who, according to former colleagues, served as the station chief for the bin Laden desk. Over the past few weeks, "Mike" made the rounds of national television programs, always hidden in shadow, and often provided interviews to newspaper reporters.

One senior intelligence official stated, "We would prefer officers keep their personal views personal, but we are not in position to prevent him from expressing his personal views in writing done on his own time." This is untrue. The CIA could have prevented the publication of the book without blinking an eye. According to the publisher, the CIA has now muzzled "Mike." Effective immediately, "Mike" is prohibited from giving interviews without prior written approval, and approval must be requested at least five business days in advance. "Mike" must also provide the CIA with a detailed outline of his intended statements.

There is nothing unusual about these requirements. They are completely consistent with the CIA's existing regulations. But one must still ask what led the CIA to allow publication of this book in the first place.

Every CIA employee must execute a secrecy agreement pledging, subject to civil and criminal penalties, not to disclose classified information. The agreement contains a prepublication review clause that mandates submission of all writings that bear relation to the individual's work or the CIA. This requirement extends past employment into perpetuity.

While those who work for the CIA do not relinquish their First Amendment rights entirely, they are severely curtailed. To be sure, no one has a right to publish classified information. The debate that arises is whether the information is classified. For former employees, that is the only power the CIA has to prevent publication. Sadly, this authority is routinely abused. And because the CIA has such broad authority, its determinations are virtually unassailable.

The CIA's regulations explain that the prepublication review requirement does not apply to "material that is totally unrelated to intelligence or employment matters, such as cooking, gardening, or purely domestic political matters" or material that consists "solely of personal views, opinions, or judgments on matters of public concern and does not contain or purport to contain any mention of the CIA, intelligence activities or data, or information on any topic about which the author had access to classified information. …

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