"Classified" Information Contained in We Meant Well – It’s a Slam Dunk, Baby!

Days before Peter Van Buren’s book hit the bookstores, the Public Affairs shop of the State Department wrote to Peter Van Buren’s publishers requesting some redactions of “classified” information contained in the book under the guise of protecting U.S. national security interests.  The publisher declined and the book is currently on sale without those redactions.

So far, the State Department had the good sense not/not to buy all copies of Mr. Van Buren’s book and make a bonfire out of them.

I have already read the book when I learned of the requested redactions.  I was, of course, curious which parts of what I was reading was considered “classified” material. I can now tell you which parts of the book the State Department wanted redacted. Three small sections of the book were deemed too sensitive that if published could “harm U.S. national security interest.”

Below are screen grabs from the State Department/PA letter to the publisher, and right below each is the passage from the book, We Meant Well, released last September 27. The requested redactions are in bold and highlighted in yellow:


screen grab from State/PA letter to WMW publisher

Actual passage from WMW, published on September 27:

Tall and lanky, he had worked in Afghanistan— everyone of his generation had— but also in Mogadishu and some places I won’t even type the names of.


screen grab from State/PA letter to WMW publisher

Actual passage from WMW, published on September 27:

The Agency was quiet in Iraq because, as I said, this wasn’t their war. They had nailed their biggest coup early on, still said to be controlling most of the budget for Iraqi intelligence. To them, holding the money meant that they were running the Iraqis though, as we knew, spending money in Iraq did not always mean control and sometimes the project turned and ran you.


screen grab from State/PA letter to WMW publisher

Actual passage in WMW, published on September 27:

Now, a cynic might point out that years had passed since we’d nabbed Saddam and that we hanged him in 2006 about a mile from where we sat,but this wasn’t the night for it and we all took a moment to marvel at the plates and ask the person next to us what, if the room could talk, he thought it might say. Had Saddam deflowered virgins here, planned the invasion of Kuwait, and maybe met with al Qaeda right at this table, who knew? It was, of course, equally possible that in this room Saddam had met his Agency handlers in 1983 to discuss the war against Iran or receive info from Don Rumsfeld about the new weapons he was getting from the United States to kill Persians and Kurds.

So there you go — a total of some 30 words that, as they’ve now been published, are  obviously, clearly and irrevocably harmful to U.S. national security interest.

Mogadishu is a classified item, Afghanistan is not — who knew? 

The question is — would this hold up in court?

Mr. Van Buren has posted in his blog a copy of the letter sent by Dana Shell Smith, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (PDAS) of the Bureau of Public Affairs to the book publisher, Macmillan. Below is a copy of that letter, as well as the letter sent by AFSA to Ms. Smith, inquiring about official regulations and policies governing the notification of third parties on the alleged disclosure of classified information. It appears that the PA PDAS wrote to Macmillan about the alleged disclosure but never notified the employee/author of the book of its concerns prior to contacting the publisher. 

Ms. Smith had a stint as senior advisor to the Director General of the Foreign Service, so she should know these rules like the back of her hands. We hope to see her response to AFSA on this matter, or over at the Foreign Service Grievance Board or wherever else this case ends up.

“Classified” Info Allegedly Included in Peter Van Buren’s book, We Meant Wellhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/69399174/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-18ij36brj6i1bpy7xbc2