Saturday, 18 September 2010

Pentagon Pulp Panic

US defence department attempts to prevent book by former intelligence officer Anthony Shaffer from reaching the shops

An aerial view of the Pentagon Building in Washington DC

Officials at the Pentagon are scrambling to buy the whole 10,000 print run
of Operation Dark Heart – and then pulp them.
Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

It’s every author’s dream – to write a book that’s so sensationally popular it’s impossible to find a copy in the shops, even as it keeps climbing up the bestseller lists.

And so it is for Anthony Shaffer, thanks to the Pentagon’s desire to buy up all 10,000 copies of the first printing of his new book, Operation Dark Heart. And then pulp them.

The US defence department is scrambling to dispose of what threatens to be a highly embarrassing expose 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.

They said it contained highly classified material including the names of American intelligence agents and accounts of clandestine operations, and demanded the book be withdrawn on the grounds it “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security”.

The Pentagon is using Shaffer’s status as a reserve officer to block him from speaking to the press, but a source close to the publication of the book said that some of the sensitive material had been removed but the defence department was still seeking to purge it of other information that is 20 years old or even in the public domain.

For that reason, there is suspicion that the defence department is less concerned with the nitty gritty of classified material than its broader story of intelligence forays in to Pakistan and his claim that top US military leaders blew an opportunity to win the war years ago.


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