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 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

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, a story by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Chances that a Republican man believes that “poor people have hard lives”:

1 in 4

A school in South Korea was planning to deploy a robot to protect students from unwanted seductions.

Nuremberg’s Neues Museum filed a criminal complaint against a 91-year-old woman who completed a crossword puzzle that was in fact a $116,000 piece of avant-garde Danish art.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today