The cloak for incompetence

I’ve just started reading Diplomacy Lessons, by John Brady Kiesling, who has the distinction of being the only US government official to resign on principle over the war in Iraq. It looks very promising, but paging through my copy I was startled to see some blanked out passages. Here’s Kiesling’s explanation:

To obtain my State Department security clearance I signed an agreement that I would not publish a book on my experiences without submitting it to the State Department for a security review. I complied. My reviewer, always helpful and courteous, was able to persuade the agencies involved to disgorge my manuscript after five months.

More often than not, secrecy is a cloak for incompetence. Perhaps this is why the current US administration is the most secretive in recent history. Four agencies generated a list of some seventy-two requested deletions, many of them prudent but others based on the misconception that foreigners would read my book but not their own newspapers.

Pretending that covert operations can be kept secret from their victims indefinitely is wishful thinking or worse. Retired CIA officials talk pretty freely to journalists and write self-glamorizing memoirs.

I made a good-faith effort to respect my obligations without undermining the utility of the book to the US public. Where the requested deletions were legitimate I made them without noting them in the text. I also rewrote key episodes to replace arguably sensitive examples with information available to any newspaper reader. Where words or paragraphs are blacked out in the text, it is a plea to readers to be skeptical of their government’s desire to keep them in the dark.

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