Richard Clarke claims that he could have published Against All Enemies back in December, but that the book’s release was delayed by the White House’s security review process. Why was Clarke compelled to have his book vetted by administration officials, and how does the review process work?
Any government employee who requires access to classified intelligence information must first sign a nondisclosure agreement, formally known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Nondisclosure Statement. The agreement typically includes a clause that requires the employee to submit for review “any writing or other preparation in any form, including a work of fiction, that contains or purports to contain any SCI or description of activities that produce or relate to SCI.” The review process, then, is solely intended to prevent the release of classified information—inadvertent or otherwise—into the public domain.
In Clarke’s case, the bulk of his book’s review was probably done by the National Security Council, for whom he once headed counterterrorism efforts. (An ex-CIA officer, on the other hand, would have her tome vetted by CIA, and a former FBI agent would have to submit to the FBI.) The manuscript was likely read by the NSC’s classification officers, who are charged with ruling which informational tidbits qualify as classified in nature. Since the review process is pretty subjective, an author can appeal a classification officer’s recommended deletions. The best way to be successful in such an appeal is to find an instance in which the information has already appeared in the public record and submit it to the classification officer and his colleagues, who have the final say. Some authors have claimed that the reviewers recommend absurdly lengthy deletions, in order to frustrate the publication of critical books rather than to protect national secrets.
If a former government employee violates his nondisclosure agreement by failing to submit a book for prepublication review, the Treasury Department can seize all proceeds connected to the book’s sale. This precedent was set in the 1980 Supreme Court decision Snepp v. United States, which involved the 1977 Vietnam exposé Decent Interval. The case came about after author Frank Snepp, a former CIA operative, refused to submit his manuscript to the agency. The court ruled 6-3 against Snepp, ordering him to hand over all royalties and future gains from Decent Interval. Nearly two decades later, Snepp recounted his legal tussle with the CIA in Irreparable Harm.
Explainer thanks Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.