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Document Friday: What a CIA Nondisclosure Agreement Looks Like

September 23, 2011

A comparison of pages from Operation Dark Heart. From New York Times

Jose Rodriguez has almost finished writing his book.  Remember Jose Rodriguez?  He was the CIA agent who ordered the destruction of 92 video tapes that recorded Abu Zabaydah being waterboarded 83 times in one month in a black site in Thailand.  He justified his actions by noting, “The heat from destroying [the torture videos] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into the public domain.”  Amazon’s preview of the book describes Jose Rodriguez as a  “real-life Jack Bauer from television’s 24.”  Wow.  Just.  Wow… wow.

Rodriguez was not punished for his actions.

We’ll see how the CIA’s pre-publication review goes for Rodriguez’s likely hagiographic account of the Agency.  But my guess is he’ll have a much easier time publishing his memoir than former intelligence agents who have written more critically of the War on Terror.

Take for example the Defense Intelligence Agency’s attempts to pull a “Fahrenheit 451” to stop Americans from reading former Army Intelligence Officer Anthony Shaffer’s book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan – and the Path to Victory.  The Defense Department spent nearly $50,000 to buy up and destroy the first printing of the book.  A subsequent printing redacted all sorts of information, including the fact that the author’s pseudonym, Chris Stryker, was John Wayne’s character in the 1949 film, The Sands of Iwo Jima.  Of course after the DOD’s attempted buyout, uncensored editions of the book that had been provided in advance to reviewers quickly found their way to ebay.  (See first image for side-by-side comparison.)

Or take The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda,” by former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan.  In his book, Soufan argues that the CIA could have prevented 9/11 by passing information it had about two of the 9/11 hijackers to the FBI.   He also details the evolution of the CIA’s brutal torture methods which he believes were “unnecessary and counterproductive.”   The FBI signed off on Black Banners, requesting only minor rewrites, which Soufan agreed to.  The CIA did not.  The Agency demanded Soufan cut phrases that he had used in Congressional testimony (available in print and online); not refer to overseas CIA centers as “stations;” and, most capriciously, demanded he remove references showing that the CIA had been sent a passport photo of one of the 9/11 hijackers in January 2001 –even though this fact was recounted in the 9/11 Commission Report.  Speaking to the New York Times, Jennifer Youngblood, a spokesperson for the CIA, denied that the CIA redacted information because it didn’t like its content.  She did add, however:

“Just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s been officially released or declassified by the US government.” 

Wow.  Now THAT is a sweeping claim to the information that the CIA thinks it has the right to censor.    

Another recent work, The Interrogator, by Glenn Carle, a 23-year CIA veteran, was also subjected to “extensive cuts” by the CIA.  In an interview with, Carle provided important insight into his meeting with the CIA’s Publications Review Board.  He stated that he met with “a handful” of CIA staffers who submitted input from several CIA departments.  “My goal was not to piss them  off to the extent that I couldn’t get anything that I wanted,” he told Salon.  “Their goal was to intimidate me.  That was quite clear.”  He also recounted an encounter in which a member of the Review Board asked him –in the restroom– “Don’t you realize that people could go to jail for this?”  He was referring to passages in Carle’s book where he wrote about detention and interrogation techniques which were –in all likelihood– illegal.

Fourth, we have the CIA’s case against its former agent, Ishmael Jones (a pseudonym), who wrote The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture in 2008, a harsh critique of the Agency’s operations.  This June, a judge found Jones guilty of breaching his secrecy agreement with the CIA because he published his book without the CIA Publications Review Board’s approval.  (Jones went through the review and appeal process for more than two years, before deciding to publish without permission.) The US District Court’s decision ultimately hinged on the secrecy and non-disclosure agreements  that Jones had signed in 1989 and 1997, respectively.  These agreements –submitted as an exhibits to the court (I found them on cryptome)– are indeed very interesting documents.

Loose lips sink ships.

The seventeen-point secrecy agreement –which is a “prior condition of… being employed by… the Central Intelligence Agency”– forbids the signatory from ever revealing information classified by the President’s Executive Order on Classification.  It also requires the employee to “notify the Central Intelligence Agency immediately” if he is ever required to testify before judicial or congressional authorities.  Finally, the agreement stipulates that “all royalties, remonstrations, and emoluments” resulting from an agent’s disclosure of classified information will be “assigned” to the United States government.

Despite the seemingly crystal clear NDAs that these intelligence agents signed, they have been put in extremely difficult positions.  Must they keep their observations of the US government’s missed opportunities, illegal activities, and wasteful management secret forever?  Is it true that the nondisclosure agreements they signed –before even beginning their work– bar them from recounting missed opportunities to prevent 9-11?  Exposing torture carried out in the name of US citizens?  Pointing out critical flaws in the intelligence community?  Revealing information already published in the Congressional Record?  Do the desires of the intelligence community to keep its actions secret trump the rights of Americans to write books about the wrongs that they have witnessed?  Apparently so. 

We’ll see how thorough the CIA’s Publications Review is with Jack Bauer’s Jose Rodriguez’s whitewash memoir.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill B permalink
    August 16, 2012 12:47 am

    In the world of military intelligence, our tapes were routinely destroyed (or erased and later reused) 90 days after they were recorded. The only exceptions were if the tape had been used as background in a published report, or if a tape (or portion thereof) was requested by “higher authorities” in regards to a formal investigation.

  2. bjorngranberg permalink
    July 30, 2013 7:23 am

    Thank you for this informative article. Besides the info in it I also got a few leads to books on the subject.
    Björn Granberg, writer


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