Behind the Censorship of Operation Dark Heart

By censoring Anthony Shaffer’s new book “Operation Dark Heart” even though uncensored review copies are already available in the public domain, the Department of Defense has produced a genuinely unique product:  a revealing snapshot of the way that the Obama Administration classifies national security information in 2010.

With both versions before them (excerpts), readers can see for themselves exactly what the Pentagon classifiers wanted to withhold, and can judge for themselves whether the secrecy they tried to impose can be justified on valid national security grounds.  In the majority of instances, the results of such an inspection seem disappointing, if not very surprising, and they tend to confirm the most skeptical view of the operation of the classification system.

The most commonly repeated “redaction” in Operation Dark Heart is the author’s cover name, “Christopher Stryker,” that he used while serving in Afghanistan.  Probably the second most common redactions are references to the National Security Agency, its heaquarters location at Fort Meade, Maryland, the familiar abbreviation SIGINT (referring to “signals intelligence”), and offhand remarks like “Guys on phones were always great sources of intel,” which is blacked out on the bottom of page 56.

Also frequently redacted are mentions of the term TAREX or “Target Exploitation,” referring to intelligence collection gathered at a sensitive site, and all references to low-profile organizations such as the Air Force Special Activities Center and the Joint Special Operations Command, as well as to foreign intelligence partners such as New Zealand.  Task Force 121 gets renamed Task Force 1099.  The code name Copper Green, referring to an “enhanced” interrogation program, is deleted.

Perhaps 10% of the redacted passages do have some conceivable security sensitivity, including the identity of the CIA chief of station in Kabul, who has been renamed “Jacob Walker” in the new version, and a physical description of the location and appearance of the CIA station itself, which has been censored.

Many other redactions are extremely tenuous.  The name of character actor Ned Beatty is not properly classified in any known universe, yet it has been blacked out on page 15 of the book.  (It still appears intact in the Index.)

In short, the book embodies the practice of national security classification as it exists in the United States today.  It does not exactly command respect.

A few selected pages from the original and the censored versions of Operation Dark Heart have been posted side-by-side for easy comparison here (pdf).

The New York Times reported on the Pentagon’s dubious handling of the book in “Secrets in Plain Sight in Censored Book’s Reprint” by Scott Shane, September 18.

No Responses to “Behind the Censorship of Operation Dark Heart”

  1. Joseph A. Haran, Jr. September 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM #

    Thank you, Mr. Aftergood, for another fine article examining the “Operation Dark Heart” censorship fiasco. Perhaps this entire matter can be referred to as The Tale of the Ten-thousand Books.

    My first thought, upon learning of this censorship scenario paid for by U.S. citizens, was that it’s got to be a joke. But no, the government’s censorship brigade was actually serious!

    Even though the censorship isn’t a joke after all, it’s still somewhat funny: Ned Beatty is a member of the U.S. intelligence establishment? Who knew? Of course, censorship of references to U.S. intelligence-gathering projects and U.S. prisons is a serious matter; but in my view it’s based upon public-relations considerations as opposed to “national security” concerns.

    The bulk of my blame for this blatant violation of press-and-speech freedom rests upon the shoulders of (in reverse order of blameworthiness) Thomas Dunne Books, its boss St. Martin’s Press, that establishment’s owner Macmillan Publishers Ltd. a.k.a. The Macmillan Group and ultimately topmost boss Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck. None of those organizations put up anything even remotely resembling a fight! Aren’t publishers supposed to believe in freedom of speech and of the press?

    As commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces, the president – or so an urban legend goes – can issue binding orders to military personnel. Frivolous abrogation of citizens’ rights by such personnel, in violation of a constitutional amendment, is apparently of little interest to the current commander-in-chief.

    Hence the U.S. president places second in my blame game, right after that gigantic corporation in Stuttgart. I voted for the sitting president; which only adds to my disappointment in this obsequious corporate/federal rollover to a handful of whimsical civil servants, some of whom may bear personal grudges against the book’s author.

    A relevant Bill Mauldin cartoon from the Second World War comes to mind. The scene: a checkpoint at an overseas air base, where the vertical stabilizers of Boeing B-17 bomber aircraft can be clearly seen rising above the security fence. The military policeman on duty angrily asks two soldiers: “Who told you there were B-17s here?”

  2. Alan September 29, 2010 at 5:04 PM #

    Didn’t Ned Beatty suffer enough in “Deliverance”?

  3. Anna Chapman September 29, 2010 at 7:14 PM #

    Basically, you main poin is that the government was fully justified in its actions as the book contained sensitive information that had to be withheld from the public. You just take the whole set of edits and turn it upside down, concentrating on the ones you don’t understand and see as funny.

    Thank you for supporting the US government. Also, thank you for paying for the buy-out and destruction of the copies. And above all – thank you and your cronies for not engaging into any effective political actions that could change the present status quo; having an elected official that represents your views would be a disaster for us all. Please keep blogging and sublimating your aspirations. We’ll do the actual things meanwhile. You are allowed to comment on them. Here only.

  4. JG September 29, 2010 at 7:52 PM #

    What the Army did to that book is beyond common sense. Hey! NSA is actually working in Afghanistan and intercepting signal traffic? Lordy, I certainly hope so! And people who work out at Meade actually refer to the place as “The Fort” in idle chatter? That term is about as secret as a sunrise.

    Yep, there are times when writers step over the bounds. I did so a couple of times when writing books, and thanks be no harm resulted. But it was made plain to me that I should have skirted specifics in relating how something happened.

    Bah. An insult to sanity.

  5. Philip Henika September 29, 2010 at 9:40 PM #

    How did we go from “failed” intelligence re: 9/11 to “exaggerated” intelligence re: Iraq to presumably ‘accurate’ intelligence re: Iran’s nukes?

  6. [...] Secrecy News pulled together a side-by-side of redacted and unredacted versions of the book [...]

  7. [...] A comparison of the two versions by the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood provides “a revealing snapshot [...]

  8. art guerrilla September 30, 2010 at 11:41 AM #

    1. i think you missed what was the real nugget The They ™ were hiding: the meeting with philip zelikow where explosive info regarding ‘able danger’ was presented…
    2. given the late-in-the-day nature of the other spooks, that makes it doubly suspicious to me; in that the original spook censors probably did not realize that ‘innocent’ revelations regarding knowledge of nine one one was verboten…
    it was probably only until nine one one perpetrators and puppetmasters found out these revealing details were going to be exposed, that squealing spooks forced the further censorship…
    3. IF you want to hide what you are hiding, then you muddy the waters by making a lot of other redactions which distract from the one real nugget you want hidden… i mean, really, you need ‘SIGINT’ to be ‘secret’ ? ‘censoring’ ned beatty’s name was just another distraction…
    …*and*, it worked: this articles itself -and the comments- fixate on how stoopid it is that he is redacted, but they don’t see the real object of the censorship is something gone unmentioned…
    spooks ALWAYS muddy the waters to hide their true evil…
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy

  9. [...] “I think the Pentagon made a mistake in judgment,” says Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists. [...]

  10. Philip Henika October 3, 2010 at 10:08 AM #

    Above I asked: ‘How did we go from “failed” intelligence re: 9/11 to “exaggerated” intelligence re: Iraq to presumably ‘accurate’ intelligence re: Iran’s nukes?’ I asked the question because of the possibility that 9/11 could have been prevented if the intel re: 9/11 plans had been taken seriously by the Bush Administration. Arrogance and the consequential underestimation of enemy capabilities by the Bush Adminstration has been suggested as causal (Cultures of War by Bower). Then, if intelligence was ignored as a putative manipulation by the Bush Administration re: 9/11 then why was there a second manipulation via exaggerations of intelligence re: Saddam’s WMDs? Thousands of noncombatants in Iraq were killed based on exaggerated intelligence as justification for war in Iraq. Thousands of children were orphaned based on exaggerated intelligence as justification for war in Iraq. Finally, if my question was representative of a controlled experiment then I would need an example of accurate intel. So, I posit that the 2006 NIE’s assessment of Iran’s nuke program re: its rate of progress is accurate. As for 9/11 – well, the devil is in the details and so, does not the censorship of Operation Dark Heart point us in that direction and possibility toward an explanation as to why America is trapped in a vicious cycle of war and preparation for future war? Is it possible that America no longer fights war out of fear or honor but only for self-interest e.g. war profiteering?

  11. sandra s October 25, 2010 at 9:22 PM #

    It is not the Army that is to blame. If you read the book, you will see that Tony Shaffer specifically names the Army as the only organization that supported him. It was the Pentagon and DIA that tried to hide their incompetence and confusion, arrogance and lack of coordination.

    He also specifically points to the Bush Administration and Rumsfeld for not understanding or knowing what the hell was going on, which shows two things: one – the president relies on his Secretary of Defense to know what’s going on or in the alternative, doesn’t care and leaves it to his Secy of Defense; and two Donald Rumsfeld did not know his ass from his elbow, leading to bad decisions.

    In that vein, I wouldn’t blame president Obama for the actions of a Pentagon and security agencies still bloated with competitive bureaucricies except for relying on the information given by his Secy of Defense Robert Gates. I would imagine it still is the U.S. Army that is more knowledgeable about the realities of war.

    What the book does set forth besides suggestions for how to handle Afghanistan situation, is that our military and security agencies are run by incompetents who are more interested in their own egos than good decisions, and that these agencies need to learn how to be run more lean, mean and efficiently.

  12. janet December 15, 2010 at 12:32 AM #

    Interesting indeed. Truth will out, i believe. As a student of International Relations, i remember clearly learning basic ways intelligence is gathered, mostly either HUMINT or SIGNIT and a few others.There is nothing secretive about sensoring the words. Its common knowledge.


  13. shadow warrior February 27, 2011 at 11:08 AM #

    Worse book I ever read about spec ops. All of the redactions were done just to sell books. Shaffer attempting to beome “000″, license to write bovine scatology in his world of fantasy. Believe the intelligence community is abashed by this book. Nevertheless, how can someone be permitted to write a book, with alleged classified info inside while he remains in the active reserves?

  14. chris September 7, 2011 at 1:23 AM #

    shadow warrior what are you talking about? did you accidently type the wrong mesg in response to another sory? if as you say this was an attempt to drum up interest in the book than why did the governmnet buy and burn 9500 copies of the book? and to anwser your question “how can someone be permitted to write a book, with alleged classified info inside while he remains in the active reserves?” because he didnt reveal anything classified


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