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The Case Against the CIA’s Censors

The Case Against the CIA’s Censors

Carol M. Highsmith • Public domain

I have joined in a lawsuit with four former federal employees to end the government’s censorship of our writings on national security issues.  The current publications review system of our military and intelligence agencies is dysfunctional, inhibiting our ability to participate in national security debates.  The government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide secrets, but the review system is opaque, exceeding legitimate national security boundaries and compromising free speech.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has acknowledged the problem, stating that “although the public cannot be briefed on everything, there has to be enough out there so that the majority of the population believes what they [i.e., intelligence agencies] are doing is acceptable.”

My experience with the Central Intelligence Agency’s review system exemplifies the obstacles that keep legitimate information from policymakers and the public. In last year’s congressional discussions of the confirmation for CIA director Gina Haspel, senior agency officials such as former acting director Mike Morell were permitted to defend her role in the unconscionable practice of torture and abuse in secret prisons during the War on Terror.  The CIA’s publications review board, however, redacted my writings describing her extensive role in these activities.  Her involvement was effectively covered up! For a forthcoming book, the reviewers ordered me to remove a reference to an article in the New York Times that referred to these activities because they claimed the “title” of that article was classified.

My last book, Whistleblower at the CIA, was critical of the CIA’s politicization of intelligence in the 1980s as well as in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003.  The book was held up for 11 months, violating the 30-day time period for review that was part of my original agreement with the CIA; that time frame was affirmed in a 1972 circuit court decision. 

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