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No Book Burning Here. Just Pulping.
September 10, 2010 12:37 PM   Subscribe

"In most cases, when a book that deals with potentially classified military information is due to be published, one of the United States's many government divisions inspect it, redact sensitive parts, and either let publication continue or stop it entirely. But a clash in opinion between the U.S. Army and the Defense Intelligence Agency may lead to the DIA buying up all 10,000 copies of [a] new memoir's first printing -- and promptly pulping the books." "The publication of Operation Dark Heart, by Anthony A. Shaffer, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, has divided military security reviewers and highlighted the uncertainty about what information poses a genuine threat to security."*

"Shaffer's book is temporarily out of stock at Amazon, because of the Pentagon's plans for the original print run, so the books are now sitting in a warehouse in Virginia. That means that as of 2 PM today Operation Dark Heart was ranked No. 4 among books sold by the online retailer. It could end up being the most unlikely bestseller of the year."*

"I admit I was unfamiliar with Operation Dark Heart ... until I read about it in the Times last night. But now I can't wait to get my hands on a copy—partly because it sounds like an interesting read (tagline: "spycraft and special ops on the frontlines of Afghanistan and the path to victory") but mostly because the Pentagon does not want me (or you) to get a look at what's inside."
posted by ericb (43 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
You may recall Anthony Shaffer, as he was involved in a dispute over his claim that an intelligence program he worked for, code named Able Danger, had identified Mohammed Atta as a terrorist threat before he became the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Previous MeFi FPPs:
Operation Able Danger.

Able Danger WP Series.
posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


...I think Shaffer just figured out how to print money.
posted by griphus at 12:41 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I can't wait for the ebook to come out so the DIA can try to purchase and delete them all.
posted by mullingitover at 12:44 PM on September 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


"In a letter obtained by Fox News, the DIA says national security could be breached if 'Operation Dark Heart' is published in its current form. The agency also attempted to block key portions of the book that claim 'Able Danger'successfully identified hijacker Mohammed Atta as a threat to the United States before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks."*
posted by ericb at 12:45 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


In related news: More War Docs to Be Published by WikiLeaks in Several Weeks.
posted by ericb at 12:49 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dark Heart blue? And I mean that kindly, as in: great marketing.
posted by chavenet at 12:51 PM on September 10, 2010


They didn't stop the advance reader copies from going out so this seems rather pointless.
posted by mikepop at 12:51 PM on September 10, 2010


This just seems TOO stupid, for even the US military. It just takes one person to digitize and distribute it and then it's over.

I hate wasting any money on the military, but this sorta makes my blood boil. Not only are censorship and state secrets evil, the plan is such a horrible waste of money and material.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:57 PM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


They'll qualify for Super Saver Shipping.
posted by carter at 1:03 PM on September 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


This was idiotic when Thatcher banninated Spycatcher and it is idiotic now. People used to bring suitcases of books back from Austrailia, now there's a whole freaking internet.
posted by shinybaum at 1:03 PM on September 10, 2010



I can't wait for the ebook to come out so the DIA can try to purchase and delete them all.


No, Amazon will just erase from your Kindle without telling you. You do know that Amazon is just an NSA front, right?
posted by doctor_negative at 1:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


They didn't stop the advance reader copies from going out so this seems rather pointless.

Yep.

And ...
"Review copies of the book are already in circulation and the New York Times said it had been able to buy one online. Amazon's entry describes the book as 'temporarily out of stock'."
posted by ericb at 1:08 PM on September 10, 2010


It's pointless, but it's not the worst use of tax dollars, and there's upside to this waste. Money they spend pulping books is budget dollars they can't spend somewhere else, such as on weapons.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:08 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


What happens when a book sells out its first run and makes the bestseller list:

The publisher, inspired by the stellar sales, prints a second larger run.

What happens when a book is guaranteed to sell all of its copies:

The publisher prints and sells as many as it is physically capable of selling.

Seriously, if the memoir would have suggested that the DIA is run by a bunch of idiots, their response has proven it.
posted by shmegegge at 1:11 PM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


The DIA's action is a prime example of the Streisand Effect.
posted by ericb at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


They don't care if MeFites, bit-torrenters or NY liberals can read a few hundred copies. They want to keep it from mass circulation, and that is apparently worth the cost to them.

Another interesting thing about Shaffer is that he claims the Pentagon had identified the 9/11 hijackers a year before the attacks took place, but nothing was done to stop them. The Pentagon has repeatedly said he's full of shit, yet is now trying to buy up all the copies of his book. I don't know if Shaffer is telling the truth, but the Pentagon sure isn't acting innocently here.
posted by Avenger at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Well, at least now we know the magic middle step between 1. Write book and 3. PROFIT!
posted by verb at 1:30 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. Write Book
2. Get the government to ignore your warnings about a terrorist plan to fly airplanes into buildings, wait 9 years, and write a memoir hoping they'll be boneheaded enough to try and destroy all the copies by buying them all first.
3. PROFIT!!
Seems so easy....
posted by msbutah at 1:35 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Avenger: They don't care if MeFites, bit-torrenters or NY liberals can read a few hundred copies. They want to keep it from mass circulation, and that is apparently worth the cost to them.

I think you might underestimate how many people out there like to torrent things that The Government Doesn't Want You To Read. It's a lot more than 'a few hundred people.'
posted by paisley henosis at 1:40 PM on September 10, 2010


In fact there is an outfit I know of that is currently soliciting a copy or copies in order to make them (via scans) available online...I do believe that there are some things that are secret that need to be kept secret but also much that is simply classified secret with little thought as to whether it is truly important enough to be kept from public viewing. I oonce had the pleasure of working with a document highly classified only to discover the same day that the material was written up in an army newspaper on its front page.
posted by Postroad at 1:42 PM on September 10, 2010


> I think you might underestimate how many people out there like to torrent things that The Government Doesn't Want You To Read. It's a lot more than 'a few hundred people.'

It's possible you're overestimating how many of those that like to torrent things that The Government Doesn't Want You To Read vote in local elections, give money to political campaigns, or operate in blocs that exert sustained sway over the political process.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:57 PM on September 10, 2010


Not only are censorship and state secrets evil, the plan is such a horrible waste of money and material.

So, now you see that good will always triumph because evil is dumb.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:02 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The DIA's action is a prime example of the Streisand Effect.

Yep, without the controversy, I never would have heard about this, now all they've accomplished is that I'm aware of it enough that, as soon as a copy of this hits wikileaks or some torrent site, I'll be reading it top to bottom.
posted by quin at 2:03 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yep, without the controversy, I never would have heard about this, now all they've accomplished is that I'm aware of it enough that, as soon as a copy of this hits wikileaks or some torrent site, I'll be reading it top to bottom.

Also, when it does leak and people start quoting the good parts on blogs and whatnot, more people are going to be seeing the specific sensitive info second hand than would have if 10,000 people had bought and read the physical copies.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:14 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Money they spend pulping books is budget dollars they can't spend somewhere else, such as on weapons.

Somehow, it never seems to work this way ...

"Oh shit! We can't finish the Death Ray Laser because we're missing one part that costs $10,000 ... and we blew that money on Operation Dark Heart remainders!"

The Death Ray Laser folks always get the money, by hook or by 9/11.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't wait for the ebook to come out so the DIA can try to purchase and delete them all.

oblig slxkcd
posted by DLWM at 2:20 PM on September 10, 2010


"Operation Dark Heart Remainders" sounds like what happens under the mashed potatoes when the colonel's mother serves him artichhoke.
posted by griphus at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


darth_tedious: "> I think you might underestimate how many people out there like to torrent things that The Government Doesn't Want You To Read. It's a lot more than 'a few hundred people.'

It's possible you're overestimating how many of those that like to torrent things that The Government Doesn't Want You To Read vote in local elections, give money to political campaigns, or operate in blocs that exert sustained sway over the political process.
"

I think you underestimate the degree to which a loud angry mob of slightly crazy conspiracy theorists bolstered by quasi-sensitive secrets in a book The Government Doesn't Want You To Read can influence the political narrative.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:47 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Besides lining this guy's pockets a little bit, the Pentagon has also given this guy a ton of credibility. Probably not what they were trying to accomplish.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I think you underestimate the degree to which a loud angry mob of slightly crazy conspiracy theorists bolstered by quasi-sensitive secrets in a book The Government Doesn't Want You To Read can influence the political narrative.

Possibly, but the degree of influence would be largely dependent on the interest blocs supporting them, and how much money, airtime, and op-ed column inches they can deploy.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:15 PM on September 10, 2010


What happens when a book sells out its first run and makes the bestseller list:

The publisher, inspired by the stellar sales, prints a second larger run.

What happens when a book is guaranteed to sell all of its copies:
Or they could just buy the rights and physically burry it.
It's possible you're overestimating how many of those that like to torrent things that The Government Doesn't Want You To Read vote in local elections, give money to political campaigns, or operate in blocs that exert sustained sway over the political process.
So what? The people who would buy legit copies and read them is pretty low. They only printed 10,000 copies to begin with. Even if every copy was sold, how would that many people swing elections? Legit or illicit, distributing the book isn't going to have much effect. I think maybe books by candidates have some effect on elections, but even those have a small impact.

---

Anyway, what do elections have to do with it? Their alleged reason for suppressing the book is that it contains classified information, which could in theory be used by the Taliban or other terrorist groups. Or perhaps information that might harm other governments which have worked with us.
posted by delmoi at 3:26 PM on September 10, 2010


The Death Ray Laser folks always get the money, by hook or by 9/11.

True enough, true enough. But every bit helps, every bit of difficulty their own behavior causes their war plans helps brings them that much closer to an end.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:32 PM on September 10, 2010


> Legit or illicit, distributing the book isn't going to have much effect.

Yes; that's my point.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:15 PM on September 10, 2010


If I was the publisher, I'd announce tomorrow that I'd at the very least doubled the first edition run. Fuck, I'd even toss on some hologram foil bullshit and say they're collectors items at $1000 each.
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Their alleged reason for suppressing the book is that it contains classified information, which could in theory be used by the Taliban or other terrorist groups. Or perhaps information that might harm other governments which have worked with us.

It sounds like the army decided they had gotten all of the information classified for tactical reasons out, and the DIA is just trying to keep the 9/11 Truthers from having a sweet, sweet gust of wind put in their sails.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:06 PM on September 10, 2010


It's pointless, but it's not the worst use of tax dollars, and there's upside to this waste. Money they spend pulping books is budget dollars they can't spend somewhere else, such as on weapons.

Not so much. The Department of Defense has what, a $600 billion+ budget? I don't think pulping these books is going to stop the development or acquisition of any weapons. But surely you jest.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:34 PM on September 10, 2010


This story seems to be missing one key bit of supporting content, so if someone reading this now or later has, like, a link to this book somewhere, please let us know. Or Me-Mail me. Or something.
posted by rokusan at 12:55 AM on September 11, 2010


I can't wait for the ebook to come out so the DIA can try to purchase and delete them all.

Sadly, it's our money.
posted by rokusan at 12:56 AM on September 11, 2010


For anyone still reading this check out the History Commons page on the Able Danger program.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 4:09 AM on September 12, 2010


Found this excerpt on the net from someone who used Amazon pre-takedown (from pg 17):
At DIA, in 1999 and 2000, I was director of Task Force Stratus Ivy. One of my elements was the first undercover cyber unit, where we put officers undercover posing as hackers on the Internet.

During my command of Task Force Stratus Ivy, we were looking to penetrate al Qaeda command and control nodes in Kabul. We knew they contained significant information on individuals being trained in the terrorism camps - and, more importantly, their potential targets. My unit's mission, within the context of a much larger operation known as Able Danger, was to try to find a way to access the computers and pull the data off without their knowledge. We were making progress - and had a pathway in - when things were shut down; a decision that was terribly flawed in retrospect.

We also penetrated the North Korean clandestine weapons and technology acquisition network, using a cover company where I was (in alias) the chief executive. In another operation, we penetrated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian intelligence service.

Nevertheless, we faced constant resistance from the risk-averse DIA bureaucracy.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 4:28 AM on September 12, 2010


A small correction: We aren't talking about $10,000 we are talking about 10,000 books. It's more like $200,000 at 20 bucks a book.
posted by Megafly at 5:32 PM on September 12, 2010


This was idiotic when Thatcher banninated Spycatcher and it is idiotic now

Yeah, that went on to sell over 2 million copies, as against a UK population of 56 million at the time of publication. That worked out well.
posted by tallus at 9:22 PM on September 12, 2010


Scott Horton points a finger at Joint Special Operations Command as being paramount in this idiocy.
posted by adamvasco at 11:43 PM on September 14, 2010


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