The White House demanded the excision of material for an article on Iranian-American relations for political — not security — reasons, two former government officials allege.
The debate centers on an opinion piece that former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett and former Foreign Service officer Hillary Mann sought to publish in The New York Times. Following long-standing rules for former CIA employees like Leverett, they submitted the article to the CIA’s Publication Review Board to ensure it did not contain classified information.
Five of the article’s 16 paragraphs came back with deletions, some of which were extensive. In a piece that ran above the redacted article in Friday’s New York Times, Leverett and Mann said the information that was withheld — at the White House’s request — has already appeared in a dozen news articles and official government press briefings.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said submissions by former employees are coordinated with other U.S. government offices that may have concerns about classification. That includes the White House.
"For former employees, the sole yardstick for prepublication review has been and remains the simple requirement that their writings contain no classified information," Mansfield said.
An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about publication rules, said that material can appear in the press and still remain classified.
Yet Leverett and Mann believe their article, which argues for seeking a "grand bargain" with Iran, was the victim of politics. The White House has resisted even narrow engagement with the regime.
"In a democracy, transparency in government has to be honored and protected. To classify information for reasons other than the safety and security of the United States and its interests is a violation of these principles," Leverett and Mann wrote in Friday’s piece, entitled "What We Wanted to Tell You About Iran."
They said they will continue to work toward the release of the material.
A message left for the White House’s National Security Council seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Current and former CIA officials who want to publish articles or make speeches must clear their material with the CIA’s Publication Review Board. That includes everyone from former CIA Director George Tenet, who is working on a book, to the most junior analyst or operative.
Exactly what material can appear is often a matter of discussion, but many officials know how to write articles in a way that won’t trigger the CIA reviewers to black out the information. Leverett noted that he has submitted more than 20 articles for approval, without a single word changed.