The CIA is drafting new rules for agency employees who want to become authors following publication of a controversial critique of the war on terror by a counterterrorism official who headed the unit tracking Osama bin Laden.
A CIA spokesman said the new procedures, still in draft form, are not intended to change the standards for publication, but to ensure that the rules on the books are enforced in a uniform way.
Yet the changes, first disclosed by former agency officials, have raised concerns among some intelligence veterans that the CIA may try to further censor the already-limited speech of agency employees.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the agency spokesman said the new regulations have been in the works since July, shortly after former CIA Director George Tenet resigned.
That same month, Mike Scheuer, the former head of the bin Laden unit – then writing under the pen name “Anonymous” – published the best seller “Imperial Hubris: How the West is Losing the War on Terrorism.” Scheuer’s 309-page book on the U.S. government’s Middle East policy is widely believed to have angered senior White House officials during the election year.
He retired from the agency Nov. 12 to speak more publicly on problems in the war on terrorism.
Under the current system, agency employees can write books or articles that must be cleared by the chief of their office to guard against release of classified material. The publication also cannot hurt the official’s ability to do his or her job or the CIA’s mission.
The draft rules would require all current personnel to submit manuscripts to a Publications Review Board for approval – the same panel that now must clear the works of former agency officials. The staff of four, overseen by a CIA attorney, reviewed 30,000 pages last year.
During much of the 1990s, few books touching on current events were written by current and former agency employees.
Among those who started bucking the trend was former Middle East case officer Robert Baer, whose 2002 book, “See No Evil,” faults the CIA’s response to Muslim extremism and terrorism. Baer left the agency in 1997.
Relatively few active CIA employees write books, making Scheuer unusual. In an interview, he said he had heard that rule changes might be coming and said he’ll be the last to know precisely why his book got cleared.
“I wrote because I couldn’t find a way to get the message to the people who were leading the country,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t factor accurate ideas into their thought processes.”
But he and other authors are worried about the effect of new rules on manuscripts by agency officials. “I think it is going to be very difficult to publish a book on anything except cooking or civil war history if you are a serving officer,” Scheuer said.
The rule changes began before CIA Director Porter Goss took over in September. Still, former agency officials say, some are viewing the changes in the context of a two-page memo that Goss sent to agency employees in November.
Goss promised to “clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road” and reminded agency employees that the public and congressional affairs offices are the CIA’s lead public contacts. “We remain a secret agency,” he said.
Lindsay Moran, who left the agency in 2003 and recently wrote “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy,” said she believes her book was published in a window that is closing.
“The feeling is that Goss is going to put the kibosh on people writing articles or books or talking to the press in any form,” she said.
Melissa Boyle Mahle, author of “Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11,” said First Amendment rights will be a valid concern to some employees.
“I think one of the outcomes of this is that the agency as a whole will allow less material to be published. That’s a possibility,” said Mahle, a former undercover operative in the Middle East who left the agency and wrote her book.
Goss’ intention “is to really capture and control the agency far more,” she said.
So far, Mahle said, she has not seen a clampdown. She submitted one article to the review board and received word the same day that it could be published. She’s waiting for approval on a second.
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