October 27, 2014

Former CIA director Leon Panetta did not love being vetted by the CIA


This is probably what Leon Panetta wishes the cover of his memoir looked like.

This is probably what Leon Panetta wishes the cover of his memoir looked like.

Earlier this month, we reported on former CIA director Leon Panetta’s memoir, Worthy Fights, and discussed its excellent title. We also told you about how Panetta boldly criticized the sitting president, his former boss, for reasons that surely have nothing at all to do with book sales, and everything to do with Panetta’s belief in truth at all costs. (For more on Panetta’s absolutely non-cynical faith in truth, see Heather Digby Parton’s recent piece in Salon.)

But is Worthy Fights interesting for reasons other than titular excellence and authorial disloyalty? The answer, it turns out, is an emphatic yes. That’s because, as the Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported on Monday, Panetta wasn’t too keen on the CIA’s vetting process, which he had defended while he was the agency’s director. And even better, he seems to have approved the printing of his book before the CIA gave him official clearance:

Panetta’s decision appears to have put him in violation of the secrecy agreement that all CIA employees are required to sign and came amid a showdown with agency reviewers that could have derailed the release of the book, people involved in the matter said.

The memoir—almost unfailingly complimentary toward the spy service, which he led from 2009 to 2011—was ultimately approved by the CIA’s Publications Review Board before it reached store shelves this month.

But preempting that panel, even temporarily, carried legal risks for Panetta and his publisher. Other former CIA employees have been sued for breach of contract and forced to surrender proceeds from sales of books that ran afoul of CIA rules.

One would like to think that this confrontation with the CIA’s bureaucracy would compel Panetta to call on the agency to liberalize its vetting process. But now that his book, which was published by Penguin Press earlier this month, is out in the world, this seems unlikely. Which is too bad. The Post’s excellent story, which is worth reading in full, details the Publications Review Board’s absurd anxiety about all manner of details, including mentions of words like “station chief,” and even “drones.” Drones!

But even though Panetta’s approach to the panel is self-serving and selective, it’s possible that his opposition will be enough to change the CIA’s attitudes going forward. As lawyer Mark Zaid told the Post, “If [Panetta] doesn’t follow the specific protocols, then why should there be any expectation for anybody underneath him to do so?” Let’s hope this is the case. After all, who wouldn’t want to read Panetta’s long-suffering assistant’s uncensored memoir, Unworthy Fights?


Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.