My reservations about former ambassador Joseph Wilson aside, at least no one tried to stop him from writing his celebrated op-ed piece for the New York Times in July 2003. The principle that internal critics of government policies must be allowed to speak out is an important one, especially when those critics no longer work for the government. To muzzle them at that point is the very definition of censorship.
So it’s pretty disturbing to learn that two former government officials have been barred from writing a Times op-ed that criticizes the Bush administration’s refusal to hold talks with Iran. The reason, supposedly, is that the op-ed would reveal classified information. But there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that’s not true.
The Times itself covers the story today. Rather than rely on the Times reporting on itself, though, I’d rather look at this account, which was published yesterday in the Raw Story. In the article, Brian Beutler reports on a talk given by former CIA agent Flynt Leverett, co-author of the op-ed along with his wife, Hillary Mann, a former official with the National Security Council and the State Department.
What is the evidence that Leverett and Mann’s article does not, in fact, contain classified information? Consider:
- Leverett told Beutler: “Up until last week with regard to this particular op-ed at this particular time … they have cleared on the order of thirty drafts that I have sent them in three and a half years out of government.” And: “Until last week they never asked to change a word.” Assuming that Leverett is being candid, this is clearly a man who knows what he can write about and what he can’t.
- Beutler writes: “Leverett contends that the op-ed in question is based on a larger paper that passed the same oversight process without a change made to a single word, and that people who work on the review board have told him that the piece would have been approved — were it not for intervention by the White House.”
That paper, according to the Times account, is called “Dealing with Tehran,” and it was published by the Century Foundation. You can download a PDF of it here. (If you’re interested in reading it, you might want to save it right now.)
This Washington Post account is worth reading as well.
There is no basis for claiming that these issues are classified and not already in the public domain.
For the White House to make this claim, with regard to my op-ed and at this particular moment, is nothing more than a crass effort to politicize a prepublication review process — a process that is supposed to be about the protection of classified information, and nothing else — to limit the dissemination of views critical of administration policy….
Their conduct in this matter is despicable and un-American in the profoundest sense of that term. I am also deeply disappointed that former colleagues at the Central Intelligence Agency have proven so supine in the face of tawdry political pressure. Intelligence officers are supposed to act better than that.
You can watch Leverett’s talk yesterday here.
The Leverett story is breaking just as the administration has decided to back down from an attempt to force the ACLU to turn over all copies of a memo it had obtained on government policy regarding the photographing of detainees. The ACLU has posted the memo here.
The Bush administration’s continued efforts to conduct its dubious foreign policy in secret boggles the mind. The only good news is its remarkable ineptitude — we keep finding out anyway.