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The Commander (and Editor) in Chief

Two foreign policy experts who used to work for the U.S. government were not allowed to publish an opinion article in the New York Times without substantial editing by the Bush administration. These experts tried to argue that Bush should negotiate with Iran in stablizing Iraq, one of the recommendations by the Iraq Study Group. According to these writers, they wanted to talk about certain matters that already have entered the public record through other newspaper articles. Citations to those articles are linked from the New York Times website.

The Times today published the opinion piece with blacked out sentences to show where the Bush administration made its edits. I have never before seen an opinion piece in any newspaper with overt deletions, but this is the Times' way of showing that it will not be kicked around by the Bush administration. At this point, the news here is not the message of the opinion piece -- the non-controversial view that Bush should talk to Iran -- but the Bush administration's paranoia that someone will question its policies in the country's most influentual newspaper.
The blacked out opinion piece is here. Scroll down to see the blackouts and the Times' trick for accessing the blocked messages. You may have to register with the Times' website to do this, but it's worth the hassle to see how the Bush administration reacts to dissent at a time when its public standing is at an all-time low and the Iraq war has devolved into an unmanagable mess.

The opinion article that discusses the edited opinion piece is below.

December 22, 2006 What We Wanted to Tell You About Iran By FLYNT LEVERETT and HILLARY MANN

HERE is the redacted version of a draft Op-Ed article we wrote for The Times, as blacked out by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publication Review Board after the White House intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions. Agency officials told us that they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.

Indeed, the deleted portions of the original draft reveal no classified material. These passages go into aspects of American-Iranian relations during the Bush administration’s first term that have been publicly discussed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; a former State Department policy planning director, Richard Haass; and a former special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins.

These aspects have been extensively reported in the news media, and one of us, Mr. Leverett, has written about them in The Times and other publications with the explicit permission of the review board. We provided the following citations to the board to demonstrate that all of the material the White House objected to is already in the public domain. Unfortunately, to make sense of much of our Op-Ed article, readers will have to read the citations for themselves. (See links at left.)

The decisions of the C.I.A. and the White House took us by surprise. Since leaving government service three and a half years ago, Mr. Leverett has put more than 20 articles through the C.I.A.’s prepublication review process and the Publication Review Board has never changed a word or asked the White House for permission to clear these articles.

What’s more, we have spent a collective 20 years serving our country as career civil servants in national security, for both Republican and Democratic administrations. We know firsthand the importance of protecting sensitive information. But we also know the importance of shared knowledge. In the entrance to the C.I.A.’s headquarters the words of the Gospel of John are inscribed, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.?

National security must be above politics. In a democracy, transparency in government has to be honored and protected. To classify information for reasons other than the safety and security of the United States and its interests is a violation of these principles. It is for this reason that we will continue to press for the release of the article without the material deleted.

Flynt Leverett is a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Hillary Mann, a former Foreign Service officer, participated in the United States discussions with Iran from 2001 to 2003.


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