Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Former NSA Agent Reviews "No Easy Day"

I was an Arabic linguist at the National Security Agency from June, 2002 until July, 2006. During that time frame, I was in Iraq in 2004, for which service I received the Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal. 

 The day I started at the NSA, I received officially my Top Secret Clearance. And, like all people who receive a Top Secret Clearance, I first signed a "Life Time Pre-Publication Review" Agreement. This was described to me that day in very clear terms. If I ever left the NSA and then wanted to publish anything. ANYTHING. I first needed to submit it to a special office at the NSA that would have the right to review it and tell me if anything in the manuscript needed to be edited, lest I even inadvertently reveal anything classified. 

The day I signed that agreement, I never imagined it would even matter to me. But four years later, after marvelous adventures in the Classified World, I decided to return to teaching. The day I left the NSA, I had a meeting in the Security Office in which they specifically reminded me of my lifetime pre-publication agreement. They even put back in my hands a copy of the agreement I had signed four years earlier. And they made it clearer than ever that my lifetime pre-publication review agreement was absolute. 

A short while after that, I was offered the chance to write the book Intermediate Arabic for Dummies for Wiley Publishing. After several months of sending chapter proofs back and forth with them, the manuscript was ready. Now, I had mentioned in the book just casually that I once worked for the National Security Agency. And I called the NSA to confirm whether I really needed to submit this thing for pre-publication review. I mean, it really was just a workbook for learning basic to intermediate Arabic. They told me quite simply. You signed a lifetime pre-publication review agreement. Send the book in, hard copy, for us to review.

A few anxious weeks followed in which Wiley was moving forward rapidly with release and I was suddenly worried the NSA would find something they wanted changed. I did not look forward to telling my publisher that even a comma needed to be changed at this point. I received my notice. Nothing wrong with the book. Free to publish. Whew! 

Now, I had started to write several novels concurrently, all interconnected. The first I finished was a story about a former NSA agent, named Andrew Valquist. (Number One Rule: Write what you know). It fit chronologically in the middle of the enfolding saga. It's entitled Next Stop: Spanish. It's basically an espionage/adventure novel in which the reader can additionally learn some basic Spanish. (If you don't know Spanish, you obviously want to learn a little, right?) And as publication approached, I dutifully sent the book in to the NSA. 

I was a bit worried because I made a reference in the book to a possible technological capability the NSA might have. And the funny thing, I didn't even know if it was true! A linguist at the NSA is not necessarily an expert in all the Top Secret capabilities that bring her or him the materials they translate. So I was engaging in mere speculation. And, almost to my surprise, they responded that there were no problems. I was free to publish. Whew! 

Next up came a prequel to Next Stop: Spanish in which we learned how Andrew Valquist became Andrew Valquist. It's an espionage/adventure set in Romania. A Place of Brightness had no references to classified information, except to hint at the end that Andrew would join the NSA.  But I sent it to the NSA. They responded. No problem. Whew! 

Next up came my non-fiction book, Original Thin: The Paleo Diet in the Bible and Other Ancient Literature. In one chapter I do describe my experiences in Iraq. And the rest of the book is a description of the Paleo Diet and my assertions that the Bible and other ancient literature preserve hints of the original meat-based human diet. I sent the book in, per my life-time pre-publication review agreement. 

To my shock, I got a phone call from someone in that office telling me that there were two things in the book that would have to be changed prior to publication. Even though the phone call was non-classified, they managed to convey to me what the problem was. I understood and even though I don't quite accept why these particular details were classified, I complied and removed them from the manuscript. Whew! 

But this underscores an important point. I did not think there was anything classified in that book. The NSA disagreed. The book I published does not contain what the NSA did not want published. And that's because I complied with my lifetime pre-publication review agreement. 

And so, finally, my review of "No Easy Day." I'm reviewing it the same way the Department of Defense reviewed it, per his lifetime pre-publication agreement. He didn't send it in, as he agreed. His lawyer is claiming that the pre-publication agreement was "more of a suggestion than an obligation." Wow. Um, no one in the room with me the day I joined or the day I left could have come away with that impression. 

Fox News claims that the author is named Matt Bissonnette. The book itself is being published under the pseudonym "Mark Owen." It would not be unreasonable to ask whether everyone, from the publisher to all the readers, is being duped. But even if the author is everything he claims, and was really there that day, he has knowingly violated an agreement he signed when he assumed the responsibilities that allowed him to be there that day. Several people were there. Only one is publishing a book. 

I have another novel coming out this fall. It's pure science fiction. There's no way anything in it is classified.

I'll send it to the NSA for review before publication.