Anthony Shaffer, the author of a new Afghanistan war memoir, figures on selling 10,000 copies of his book before it has even been released. The buyer would be the Pentagon, which objects to some of the material in the book and has offered to buy the entire first print run to keep it out of circulation.
Shaffer's book, Operation Dark Heart, describes his experiences as an intelligence operative pursuing al-Qaida and the Taliban in 2003. He was a major in the Army Reserve at the time, and his attorney says Shaffer's Army superiors reviewed the manuscript. But a Pentagon official says Shaffer did not follow Defense Department guidelines, which can require approvals from multiple agencies.
In his book, Shaffer acknowledges that he operated in some unorthodox ways. He is not currently allowed to speak to the press, but Mark Zaid, his attorney, describes Shaffer as an "out of the box" operator.
"With Tony, it's black or white," Zaid says. "There's no gray. Either you love him or you hate him. You either think he's the best thing you've ever seen or you don't want anything to do with him."
Objections To Book
Among the agencies that had problems with sections of Shaffer's memoir was the Defense Intelligence Agency, where Shaffer was assigned during his time in Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, Shaffer identified by name some of the U.S. intelligence officers with whom he was working and described some clandestine operations with which he was involved.
"In or around May of this year, we started to get wind that DIA wanted to see the manuscript," Zaid says. "They had never been given an opportunity to review it and felt they were entitled to."
By the time the DIA reviewers had gone through Shaffer's manuscript, however, an initial run of 10,000 books was already printed and ready to be shipped. Rather than attempt to block the publication, the Pentagon went straight to the publisher, St. Martin's Press, with an unusual offer.
"After expressing their serious concerns that passages in the book could harm U.S. national security interests, they offered to purchase our first print inventory," says Joe Rinaldi, publicity director at St. Martin's. "We agreed to sell the first printing to them at a price that will cover our costs."
The Defense Department is not confirming that it made such an offer, but a defense official says the department "has been and continues working closely and cooperatively with the publisher, Lt. Col. Shaffer and his counsel to address the problem and any potential issues involving classified information."
Zaid says Shaffer agreed to remove passages from his manuscript to which the Pentagon had objected. According to Rinaldi, a Pentagon-approved version of Shaffer's book is due to go on sale Sept. 24. The defense official, however, says that no agreement has yet been reached and it is "inappropriate to speculate about a redacted version or what the department would do until an agreement is reached."
Past History With Agency
A twist here is that Shaffer has had a run-in with the DIA before. In 2003, the agency disputed his claim that a secret intelligence operation in which he participated, code named Able Danger, had uncovered information about the Sept. 11 hijackers before the attacks but did not share it. Three years later, Shaffer lost his DIA security clearance.
Zaid, his attorney, says it was "miscommunication" among Pentagon agencies that accounted for the DIA's not seeing Shaffer's manuscript earlier, and he suspects the DIA is now punishing Shaffer in part out of lingering anger over the Able Danger episode.
"Any action that the Department of Defense may take I'm going to see as nothing but retaliation against Tony Shaffer," Zaid says, "particularly arising from his past history with DIA, and it will be met with a vigorous defense."
In fact, it's not clear what the Pentagon could do to stop publication of a declassified version of Shaffer's book.
For his part, as the St. Martin's publicist, Rinaldi sees a marketing upside to the controversy over Shaffer's book.
"Based on the history of publishing," Rinaldi says, "whenever there's this kind of an explosive news story, it certainly gets everyone's attention."