Suing Over the CIA's Red Pen
Monday, October 9, 2006
When Gary Berntsen sat down for dinner last year with the CIA's executive director, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the agency's No. 3 tried to talk him out of resigning from the National Clandestine Service. Foggo even offered him a university position as a placeholder until the CIA's new director, Porter J. Goss, could fix the broken personnel system and other issues that frustrated him, according to Berntsen.
But the Capital Grille meal quickly degenerated when Berntsen told Foggo that not only was he planning to resign but he intended to write a book about his experiences.
Foggo, according to Berntsen, stated flatly that Goss wanted no more books published by current or former CIA officials. Actually, according to a statement Berntsen filed last week in his ongoing lawsuit against the agency, Foggo's language was a little more colorful: "Mr. Foggo stated 'we will have no more books. I will redact the [expletive] out of your book so no one will want to read it.' "
Berntsen, who worked in the agency's operations and paramilitary branches for 23 years and led a CIA team in Afghanistan, responded that such a move would be illegal. Hundreds of former officers had written books, including some directors. One recent retiree, Gary Schroen, had even written several chapters about Berntsen, referring to him as "Gary 2."
"I just told him I'm preceding. I wasn't going to back down," Berntsen said in an interview last week. "It was very awkward."
Berntsen resigned, wrote his book and, as required, submitted "Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personnel Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander" to the CIA's Publications Review Board, which redacted about five pages of the 400-plus-page manuscript. "They were very efficient and thoughtful," he said last week.
Then the board sent it to the Directorate of Operations, where Berntsen had worked, as is the practice. There, Berntsen contends, "Mr. Foggo made good on his word" and 70 pages were blacked out.
Berntsen's lawsuit, filed earlier this year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asserts that the CIA violated his First Amendment rights in redacting as much as it did.
His case rests, in part, on assertions that the information is virtually the same as information the PRB cleared for publication in a prior book by Schroen, or released upon the orders of then-director George J. Tenet to Washington Post reporters Steve Coll and Bob Woodward, whose separate books included sections on the CIA's work in Afghanistan.
Berntsen thinks the CIA's aim was to make his book "unreadable, so few would purchase it."
Foggo declined comment through his attorney.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said he could not comment on Berntsen's specific allegations. But in an e-mail response to questions, he said that "for former employees, the sole yardstick for pre-publication review has been -- and remains -- the simple requirement that their writings contain no classified information."