James Risen’s new book on war-on-terror abuses comes out tomorrow, and if you want to find a copy it shouldn’t be hard to obtain. As natural as that seems, it almost wasn’t the case with the Risen’s last book, “State of War,” published in 2006. Not only did U.S. government officials object to the publication of the book on national security grounds, it turns out they pressured Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, to have it killed.
The campaign to stifle Risen’s national security reporting at the Times is already well-documented, but a 60 Minutes story last night provided a glimpse into how deeply these efforts extended into the publishing world, as well. After being blocked from reporting on the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program for the paper of record, Risen looked into getting these revelations out through a book he was already under contract to write for Simon & Schuster, a book that would look at a wide range of intelligence missteps in the war on terror.
In response, it seems, the government once again went straight to the top in order to thwart him. As 60 Minutes reports:
“The administration [reached] out to Leslie Moonves, head of CBS, whose Simon & Schuster division was the publisher of Risen’s book, in an unsuccessful attempt to stop its publication.”
In an interview with The Intercept, Risen said he had been told the same story by Simon & Schuster a day or two before his book was published. He added he remembers feeling “very happy” that Moonves stood up for him.
It has been previously reported that the government considered asking the publisher or one of its parent companies to kill Risen’s book because it disclosed information on one or more secret and purportedly sensitive intelligence operations, including a botched attempt to feed secretly flawed blueprints for a nuclear bomb trigger to the Iranians. But in those accounts the request is never made because Risen’s book was already in stores or on delivery trucks by the time the White House became aware of its contents. The 60 Minutes report appears to mark the first disclosure such a request did, in fact, occur.
Another author, former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Anthony Shaffer, did not fare as well as Risen. In September 2010, the Defense Department bought the entire 10,000-copy first printing of his Afghan war memoir “Operation Dark Heart,” which publisher St. Martin’s Press, a Macmillan imprint, had already distributed to reviewers and at least some retailers. Three U.S. intelligence agencies said the book contained secrets, and a subsequent censored edition contained redactions on 250 of the book’s 320 pages.
When Risen’s “State of War” was released against the White House’s wishes in January 2006, it came to represent a watershed moment in the campaign to bring transparency to America’s post-9/11 national security state. It also became the flashpoint for an ongoing court battle in which the government has sought to identify and prosecute a Risen source. Despite the failure of government suppression efforts, it is nonetheless disturbing that White House officials would intervene not just to muzzle the Times‘s reporting, but also to pressure the publishing industry to kill the story as well. In its zeal to stifle critical journalism in the name of protecting national secrets, the campaign against Risen’s work appeared to border dangerously close to outright censorship.
Risen is now facing potential jail time for refusing to divulge his sources for classified information. Nonetheless, he is standing firm. As he told 60 Minutes:
“It was the best story in my life, and I wasn’t going to let anybody else write it…The whole global war on terror has been classified. If we today had only had information that was officially authorized from the U.S. government, we would know virtually nothing about the war on terror.”
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