Military Redactions of Public Info Criticized

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. government improperly blocked a U.S. combat veteran from including certain unclassified information in his autobiography, a federal judge ruled.
     Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and the Defense Intelligence Agency have been locked in a court battle since 2010 when Shaffer claimed that the agency’s excessive redactions to his manuscript violated his First Amendment rights.
     Shaffer claimed that much of the information in question had already been declassified and released to the public.
     U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer settled the “long and arduous” litigation with a 22-page decision on summary judgment made public last week.
     Despite the agency’s objections, congressional testimony Shaffer gave before the House Armed Services Committee in 2006 was permissible for use in his book, the court found.
     “Lt. Col. Shaffer’s First Amendment claim of a right to publish his February 2006 congressional testimony is vindicated,” Collyer wrote. “Because it was this litigation that compelled defendants to investigate and confirm official release, Lt. Col. Shaffer is the prevailing party on this issue.”
     Collyer noted that the agency, located at Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, dragged its feet in finally relenting that Shaffer’s testimony was unclassified but only eight years after the testimony was given.
     The DIA prevailed on the remaining issues, with Collyer agreeing that it properly blocked Shaffer from include an unredacted version of the narrative included with the awarding of his Bronze Star.
     During ceremonies for such awards, classified information is generally used in describing the circumstances for earning the award. The final award, when presented to the recipient, is a more redacted version suitable for framing.
     Shaffer felt that, because the information had been “released” during his award ceremony, it should be available for use in his book.
     Otherwise, he would be forced to omit pertinent details as to why he was awarded the Bronze Star, one of the highest honors a combat veteran can receive.
     Collyer agreed with DIA that the information included in Shaffer’s original Bronze Star narrative and other information he sought to include in his book must remain classified in the interest of national security.
     “With regard to all other redactions from the book,” Collyer wrote, “the court concludes that defendants have provided sufficient evidence that that the information redacted is properly classified and has not been officially released, and Lt. Col. Shaffer has failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact otherwise.”
     The DIA has not returned a request for comment.
     Shaffer published his book, “Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory,” through St. Martin’s Press in 2010.
     “Although St. Martin’s Press already had printed the book, it agreed to delay distribution so that classification concerns could be addressed,” Collyer noted.
     Shaffer ultimately agreed to the revision of certain passages and the redaction of all text on which the parties could not agree to modifications, and St. Martin’s Press published that redacted version in September.
     “By then, however, St. Martin’s Press already had sent out a small number of copies of the original unredacted draft – without redactions of classified material – for pre-distribution critics’ review and comment,” the ruling states. “DOD allegedly paid St. Martin’s Press to destroy all copies from the first printing of the book, but the publisher was unable to retrieve all of the copies circulated for pre-distribution critical review. Unredacted copies of the first printing of ‘Operation Dark Heart
     began appearing for sale online in September 2010. Various media, such as the New York Times, started to report on the book and DOD’s efforts to prevent publication of classified information. A group focused on national security issues posted a purported side-by-side comparison of the two versions of the book on its website, thereby claiming to identify the redacted information.”

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