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Censored former official: White House blocked op-ed with no classified data

Brian Beutler
Published: Monday December 18, 2006
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At a public discussion today of his proposal for American diplomatic overtures to Iran, a retired Bush administration official blasted the White House, not only for its unwillingness to negotiate with the Islamic Republic, but also for threatening him with criminal prosecution pending publication of a column he penned.

Former CIA analyst Flynt Leverett had planned to publish a one-thousand word New York Times op-ed chronicling several of the U.S. government's missed opportunities to engage senior officials from Tehran.

But Leverett, who was described by discussion host Steve Clemons as a "dissident Republican," is contractually bound to have all of his written work vetted by the CIA's pre-publication review board to ensure that it does not contain classified information. That board, after intervention from the White House, blocked his article from being published.

In response to a question from RAW STORY about the technical obligations of his disclosure agreement with the CIA, Leverett highlighted the fact that, "Up until last week with regard to this particular op-ed at this particular time...they have cleared on the order of thirty drafts that I have sent them in three and a half years out of government."

Leverett went on to add, "Until last week they never asked to change a word."

The contract, described at the CIA's website, requires the signer to submit for review any work that:

"I contemplate disclosing publicly or that I have actually prepared for public disclosure, either during my employment...or at any time thereafter, prior to discussing it or showing it to anyone who is not authorized to have access.... I further agree that I will not take any steps toward public disclosure until I have received written permission to do so from the Central Intelligence Agency."

But Leverett contends that the op-ed in question is based on a larger paper that passed the same oversight process without a change made to a single word, and that people who work on the review board have told him that the piece would have been approved--were it not for intervention by the White House.

Leverett said the op-ed contains "no classified information" and called the claims of those who are involved in the campaign to see it go unpublished "fraudulent." It details, he says, publicly revealed though ultimately unsuccessful diplomatic discussions with Tehran.

Despite his insistence that the op-ed does not contain classified information, and political motivations for the censorship notwithstanding, he added that he will meet his "obligation to respect" his contract with the CIA and will not press forward with publication.

However, he did finger three senior NSC officials who he thinks were most likely behind the "unprecedented" White House intrusion into the pre-publication review process. On Saturday, Leverett wrote:

"My understanding is that the White House staffers who have injected themselves into this process are working for Elliott Abrams and Megan [sic] O'Sullivan, both politically appointed deputies to President Bush's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley."

Today, Leverett added Michael Doran, Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs on the National Security Council to that list. All three have been widely described as "Iran hawks" and have been subjected to criticism for their part in what many have concluded is the administration's failed Middle East policy.

However, speculation was also raised today that the intervention could have come from within the Vice President's office, perhaps as a result of potential diplomatic operations underway that could be derailed by the op-ed.

A successful diplomatic operation, noted Clemons and former member of the National Security Council and State Department Hillary Mann, would require an "amnesia" about missed chances to negotiate with Iran, and the stricken portions of the op-ed were largely a historical recounting of those chances.

Hillary Mann is Leverett's wife and is co-author of the op-ed. Leverett says it will not run without written approval from the CIA.