We are former senior CIA analysts who, in our combined 23 years of service, have been privy to secrets that would amaze you. You will never hear them from us. We also have learned other critical, but unclassified, information about dealing with terrorists and dictators that we want to share — but the government has thrown needless roadblocks in our path.
CIA employees pledge that for the rest of their lives they will submit their writings to the agency in advance of publication to ensure that nothing appropriately classified is inadvertently revealed. We fully support this. But we are both paying a price well beyond the spirit of our agreement. Each of us has written a nonfiction book that has been ensnared in red tape by the CIA — for 11 months (for John Nixon) and 14 months and counting (for Nada Bakos). The courts have held that this signed agreement is a lifetime enforceable contract, provided that the review is limited to the deletion of classified information and that a response is given to the author within 30 days of submission. (The 30-day time constraint was set forth by the 1972 circuit court decision in U.S. v Marchetti.)
Books such as ours can help foster a climate of accountability that is an essential element in any democracy. But the system of review is broken. Our experience is sadly typical. Even agency alumni who write novels and short stories are told to expect a year or more to pass before they hear back. It is not just the little guy, either. In 2014, former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta became so frustrated with the overzealous review process that he sent his memoir to his publisher before receiving clearance. Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer and CNN contributor, was mulling running for Congress and was told point-blank by the agency Publications Review Board that it would have to review all of his campaign statements, making it nearly impossible for him to run.