CIA Attempts to Censor Book on 9/11
August 31, 2011
Scott Shane / The New York Times & The New Yorker Magazine
In what amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA is demanding extensive cuts from the memoir of a former FBI agent who writes in his book that the CIA missed a chance to derail the 2001 plot by withholding information about two 9/11 hijackers. And the former agent gives a firsthand account of the CIA's brutal interrogations, saying the harsh methods were unnecessary and counterproductive.
CIA Demands Cuts in Book About 9/11 and Terror Fight
Scott Shane / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (August 25, 2011) -- In what amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, the Central Intelligence Agency is demanding extensive cuts from the memoir of a former FBI agent who spent years near the center of the battle against Al Qaeda.
The agent, Ali H. Soufan, argues in the book that the CIA missed a chance to derail the 2001 plot by withholding from the FBI information about two future 9/11 hijackers living in San Diego, according to several people who have read the manuscript. And he gives a detailed, firsthand account of the CIA's move toward brutal treatment in its interrogations, saying the harsh methods used on the agency's first important captive, Abu Zubaydah, were unnecessary and counterproductive.
Neither critique of the CIA is new. In fact, some of the information that the agency argues is classified, according to two people who have seen the correspondence between the FBI and CIA, has previously been disclosed in open Congressional hearings, the report of the national commission on 9/11 and even the 2007 memoir of George J. Tenet, the former CIA director.
Mr. Soufan, an Arabic-speaking counterterrorism agent who played a central role in most major terrorism investigations between 1997 and 2005, has told colleagues he believes the cuts are intended not to protect national security but to prevent him from recounting episodes that in his view reflect badly on the CIA.
Some of the scores of cuts demanded by the CIA from Mr. Soufan's book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda, seem hard to explain on security grounds.
Among them, according to the people who have seen the correspondence, is a phrase from Mr. Soufan's 2009 testimony at a Senate hearing, freely available both as video and transcript on the Web. Also chopped are references to the word "statio"” to describe the CIA's overseas offices, common parlance for decades.
The agency removed the pronouns "I" and "me" from a chapter in which Mr. Soufan describes his widely reported role in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an important terrorist facilitator and training camp boss. And agency officials took out references to the fact that a passport photo of one of the 9/11 hijackers who later lived in San Diego, Khalid al-Midhar, had been sent to the CIA in January 2000 -- an episode described both in the 9/11 commission report and Mr. Tenet's book.
In a letter sent Aug. 19 to the FBI’s general counsel, Valerie E. Caproni, a lawyer for Mr. Soufan, David N. Kelley, wrote that "credible sources have told Mr. Soufan that the agency has made a decision that this book should not be published because it will prove embarrassing to the agency."
In a statement, Mr. Soufan called the CIA's redactions to his book "ridiculous" but said he thought he would prevail in getting them restored for a later edition.
He said he believed that counterterrorism officers have an obligation to face squarely "where we made mistakes and let the American people down." He added: "It saddens me that some are refusing to address past mistakes."
A spokeswoman for the CIA, Jennifer Youngblood, said, "The suggestion that the Central Intelligence Agency has requested redactions on this publication because it doesn't like the content is ridiculous. The CIA's pre-publication review process looks solely at the issue of whether information is classified."
She noted that under the law, "Just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean it's been officially released or declassified by the US government."
A spokesman for the FBI, Michael P. Kortan, declined to comment.
The book, written with the assistance of Daniel Freedman, a colleague at Mr. Soufan's New York security company, is scheduled to go on sale Sept. 12. Facing a deadline this week, the publisher, W. W. Norton and Company, decided to proceed with a first printing incorporating all the CIA's cuts.
If Mr. Soufan ultimately prevails in negotiations or a legal fight to get the excised material restored, Norton will print the unredacted version, said Drake McFeely, Norton’s president. "The CIA's redactions seem outrageous to me," Mr. McFeely said. But he noted that they are concentrated in certain chapters and said "the book's argument comes across clearly despite them."
The regular appearance of memoirs by Bush administration officials has continued a debate over the facts surrounding the failure to prevent 9/11 and the tactics against terrorism that followed. In former Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir, set for publication next week, he writes of the harsh interrogations that "the techniques worked."
A book scheduled for publication next May by José A. Rodriguez Jr., a former senior CIA official, is expected to give a far more laudatory account of the agency's harsh interrogations than that of Mr. Soufan, as is evident from its tentative title: "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives."
Government employees who hold security clearances are required to have their books vetted for classified information before publication. But because decisions on what should be classified can be highly subjective, the prepublication review process often becomes a battle. Several former spies have gone to court to fight redactions to their books, and the Defense Department spent nearly $50,000 last year to buy and destroy the entire first printing of an intelligence officer's book, which it said contained secrets.
The CIA interrogation program sharply divided the CIA and the FBI, whose director, Robert S. Mueller III, ordered agents to stop participating in the program after Mr. Soufan and other agents objected to the use of physical coercion. But some CIA officers, too, opposed the brutal methods, including waterboarding, and it was their complaint to the CIA's inspector general that eventually led to the suspension of the program.
The Black Banners traces the origins and growth of Al Qaeda and describes the role of Mr. Soufan, 40, a Lebanese-American, in the investigations of the East African embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the American destroyer Cole in 2000, 9/11 and the continuing campaign against terrorism.
Starting in May, FBI officials reviewed Mr. Soufan's 600-page manuscript, asking the author for evidence that dozens of names and facts were not classified. Mr. Soufan and Mr. Freedman agreed to change wording or substitute aliases for some names, and on July 12 the bureau told Mr. Soufan its review was complete.
In the meantime, however, the bureau had given the book to the CIA Its reviewers responded this month with 78-page and 103-page faxes listing their cuts.
The CIA, Censorship, and National Security
The New Yorker
(August 26, 2011) -- In its cynical decision to censor the memoir of former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan, the CIA is seeking to punish a critic and to obscure history. The punitive nature of the savaging of Soufan's book is evident in the agency's demand that he remove the personal pronouns "I" and "me" in an attempt to delete Soufan's heroic and entirely humane interrogations of major Al Qaeda figures.
Much of what Soufan says in his book is not new; I published similar revelations in The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and in the pages of The New Yorker ("The Agent," July 10, 2006). My colleague Jane Mayer has covered the CIA torture story extensively in this magazine and in her book The Dark Side, also documenting details of Soufan's account. The agency made no effort to restrain those publications, nor accused them, as it's accusing Soufan's memoir, of releasing classified information that compromises national security.
There is an issue of national security that needs redress, however, and that is the failure of the CIA to provide it. One major focus of the agency's censorship efforts has to do with the agency's decision to hide from the FBI the fact that two Al Qaeda operatives, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khaled al-Midhar, arrived in America in January, 2000.
The CIA learned of their presence in March of that year, eighteen months before 9/11. The bureau had all the legal authority it needed to tap their phones, follow them, and clone their computers. The likelihood is that 9/11 could have been prevented if the CIA had done what it was legally required to do; that is, to inform the bureau that terrorists were on American soil.
For a decade now, the agency has successfully avoided a reckoning with its own culpability in letting this tragedy transpire. Now that it has raised the issue once again in its blatant attempt to erase history, it's time to hold the CIA accountable.
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