Ex-Spooks Sue Over Intelligence Agencies’ Pre-Publication Review Policy

Previous suit brought in 1970s was struck down by Supreme Court…

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Photo: AFP

(AFP) As speculation swirls that the CIA may have had a significant role in spreading innuendo about Trump collusion to the media—and possibly even in creating the innuendo—a new lawsuit is challenging intelligence agencies’ pre-publication review authority.

The suit, filed  Tuesday, alleges that the CIA maintains unconstitutional powers in its “arbitrary” right to censor books by former intelligence officers, oftentimes delaying or restricting their release under the claim of protecting national security.

But some may eye it with hesitation in a time when concerns about “fake news” have already reached epidemic levels. A reversal of the policy could just as easily be leveraged by deranged deep-staters to spread misinformation as to shed public light on the clandestine inner mechanisms of the spy bureaus.

If past is prologue, then the lawsuit also is likely to fail in court.

Five former intelligence officials—including a cybersecurity expert and a retired Marine writing about sexual violence in the military—filed the suit against the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Security, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency, arguing that the right the claim to “pre-publication review” of works by ex-employees is a violation of free speech rights under the constitution.

The lawsuit said that millions of former intelligence employees and military personnel are exposed to possible sanction “if they write or speak about their government service without first obtaining the government’s approval.”

Although the agencies have legitimate concerns about possibly revealing secrets, the suit said, the rule is applied excessively to people without access to sensitive information, policies are vague and overly broad, manuscripts are held for months, and decisions go unexplained.

Meanwhile, it said “favored officials are sometimes afforded special treatment, with their manuscripts fast-tracked and reviewed more sympathetically.”

The suit said that the problem has always existed, and was challenged by one ex-CIA officer in the 1970s. The Supreme Court dismissed his suit.

However, it noted, today 17 agencies maintain the policy and the number of works forced to undergo review has soared, some 3,400 manuscripts and another 5,000 other works for the CIA alone in 2015.

The lawsuit said the pre-publication review policy effectively prevents many potential authors from writing, becoming an effective censorship mechanism.

And for other, including Mark Fallon, who is one of the five filing the suit, it has been more of a direct censorship mechanism.

The one-time Navy criminal investigator wrote a book critical of the torture policies of the George W. Bush administration, and the book was held by reviewers for eight months.

When returned, it had 113 redactions which the suit claims were often arbitrary and yet reduced the impact of the book, he said.