No Comment — September 14, 2010, 2:01 pm

Operation Silence Shaffer

A fascinating new chapter in the story of the intelligence community’s obsessive secrecy is the Pentagon’s duel with St Martin’s Press over Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer’s book, Operation Dark Heart. Chris McGreal gives a run-down in The Guardian:

The US defence department is scrambling to dispose of what threatens to be a highly embarrassing exposé by the former intelligence officer of secret operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of how the US military top brass missed the opportunity to win the war against the Taliban. The department of defence is in talks with St Martin’s Press to purchase the entire first print run on the grounds of national security. The publisher is content to sell the books but the two sides are in a grinding dispute over what should appear in a censored version and when it should be released.

Now St Martin’s Press says it will put the partly redacted manuscript on sale next week whether or not the defence department likes it – and there doesn’t appear much the authorities can do. The army had cleared the book by Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer, about “black ops” in the Afghan war when he was based at Bagram in 2003, for publication after relatively minor changes. But when the intelligence services and defence department officials saw it they were alarmed.

This account leaves a key player in the shadows. JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, has become a power unto itself within the Pentagon. In essence, Shaffer’s book went through the regular review and clearance process, was approved for publication, and then JSOC had a temper tantrum. The thrust of their objection was simple: “Our people don’t talk about JSOC operations, period.” In their view, special forces officers are subject to a code of silence. This view would seem to clash with the U.S. Constitution, and the notion of a duty to be silent also seems odd in a Pentagon headed by Robert Gates, who built his Washington comeback on a tell-all bestseller, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story.

According to an individual involved in negotiations between St Martin’s and the Pentagon, the publishers plan to have the book in bookstores around the country within a fortnight. St Martin’s is proposing to black out all passages about which the Pentagon raised questions—a process that of course reveals the Pentagon’s concerns to the reader. The Pentagon has replied that it would then insist on striking whole paragraphs, even where most of the text raises no questions of sensitivity. The publisher and author believe that many of the questions raised at this late stage have no bona fide basis, and they will insist on review of claims and subsequent disclosure if their challenge is sustained. This mirrors the process following Matthew Alexander’s book How to Break a Terrorist, where extensive censorship efforts by the Pentagon also failed when put to the test before a classifications review board.

Throughout the war on terror, JSOC has succeeded in keeping the wraps on its black ops in a way the CIA has not. That’s a key reason why Colonel Shaffer’s book is so eagerly anticipated. Nothing sells a book like an effort to suppress it. The Pentagon’s belated and ham-handed efforts to silence Colonel Shaffer’s book may be a blessing in disguise for St Martin’s Press.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2016

Separated at Birth

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Priest in the Trees

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Lightness

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

With Child

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Standing Rock Speaks

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Prose by Any Other Name

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley
Article
Swat Team·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As we shall see, for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views."
Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Article
Escape from The Caliphate·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"When Matti invited me on a tour of the neighborhood, I asked about security. 'The message has already been passed to ISIS that you’re here,' he said. 'But don’t worry. I guarantee I could bring even you in and out of the Islamic State.'"
Photograph (detail) by Alice Martins
Article
In This One·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
“Don’t Touch My Medicare!”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Medicare’s popularity, however, comes with almost no understanding of what the program is and how it works."
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Rank of Richard Nixon masks among the top U.S. costumer’s best-selling political masks over the last five years:

1

A small meteorite injured an adolescent German.

It was reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Trump to discuss issues relating to women and families, and Trump handed the phone to his daughter.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today