Judge Wants to Examine Censored Book

01.18.14 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

For more than three years, author Anthony Shaffer has been challenging the government’s contention that hundreds of passages in his Afghanistan memoir “Operation Dark Heart” are classified and should not be publicly disclosed. Now a judge has ordered the full text of the book to be delivered to her in “complete and unredacted” form.

DC District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer told the Defense Intelligence Agency and its co-defendants DOD and CIA to file under seal “a complete and unredacted copy of the published book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontline of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory” no later than January 24.

“The 233 passages that remain classified should be unredacted and highlighted in yellow,” she wrote in a January 17 order. “The passages that were initially redacted but subsequently declassified should be highlighted in blue. If the unredacted copy of the book contains both secret and top secret information, Defendant must file a secret and top secret version of the book. That is, one copy should contain all classified information unredacted and highlighted in yellow. The other copy should contain only the secret information unredacted and highlighted and the top secret information redacted.”

The clear implication is that Judge Collyer intends to perform her own assessment of the validity of the government’s classification claims rather than simply rely on the affidavits of government officials attesting to their validity.

Though sensible and straightforward, this is also an unusual step. Most often, courts defer to the presumed expertise of executive branch classification officials, and decline to “second guess” them. This case is now shaping up to be an exception to that rule.

The dispute over “Operation Dark Heart” is complicated by the fact that review copies of the original, uncensored text have circulated in the public domain and portions of the text have been posted online.