By SEAN D. NAYLOR
Published: 4 Oct 2010 11:20
The U.S. Defense Department's 11th-hour effort to censor an intelligence officer's memoir of his tours in Afghanistan has removed much, but not all, of the book's most eye-catching previously unreported material.
The book, "Operation Dark Heart" by Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, includes descriptions of promising missions canceled because of bureaucratic intransigence, but also discussions of intelligence and counterintelligence successes. However, rather than brag about the latter missions, the Defense Department chose to try to keep information about them from the public.
* Asia & Pacific Rim
Among the items the Pentagon would rather you not know about are how U.S. forces foiled an Iranian intelligence plot in the eastern Afghan town of Gardez, and that at the turn of the century U.S. intelligence retained the services of a retired Afghan general who was "our ticket into the heart of al-Qaida."
These and other revelations are contained in the first edition of Shaffer's book, an account of the Army Reserve officer's 2003 and 2004 deployments to Afghanistan, where he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency's operations out of Bagram Airfield. Shaffer's chain of command in the Army Reserve cleared his manuscript for release, but the Pentagon intervened with additional security concerns in early August, after the books had been printed but before they had gone on sale.
The upshot was that the Pentagon paid $47,300 in taxpayer money for the 9,500 books that constituted almost the entire first print run of the book and had the volumes destroyed Sept. 20, while the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press, issued a second edition Sept. 24 with roughly 200 words or passages blacked out.
The Defense Department's action had two effects:
First, it drew attention to a book that otherwise had generated little prepublication buzz. The redacted version of "Operation Dark Heart" made it to No. 1 on Amazon's overall best-seller list, and a week after going on sale, it was on its third reprint with 50,000 copies sold or on sale, said Joe Rinaldi, spokesman for Thomas Dunne Books. Meanwhile a copy of the first edition sold on eBay.com for $2,025. Asked whether the Pentagon had done his marketing job for him, Rinaldi replied: "I'm not at liberty to say."
Second, because St. Martin's had sent what Rinaldi estimated at "60 to 70, at most" advance copies of the first edition to news organizations, including Army Times, journalists and others can compare the original and censored versions.
That comparison reveals that the Pentagon was eager to keep numerous missions against al-Qaida hidden from the American public, even though the most recent operations described in the book occurred 6½ years ago.
Despite the Pentagon's reaction, it is clear that Shaffer, whose background is in human intelligence, kept many operational details secret, even in the first edition. Writing of his command of Task Force Stratus Ivy in 1999-2000, he describes it as "a small, special-mission project for DIA … only small pieces of which I can reveal." One of those pieces was an online component that "involved penetrating al-Qaida command and control nodes in Kabul to try to pull off information on individuals being trained in terrorism camps."
Delving further into the subject of intelligence operations aimed at penetrating al-Qaida during that time, Shaffer writes, "One of our key assets was a retired Afghan general … with solid access to the Taliban and al-Qaida, whom we'd had on the books for years, and he was our ticket into the heart of al-Qaida."
The plan was to use the retired general, who Shaffer identifies only by his assigned code number, and "his network of assets" to "place surveillance devices close to the key [al-Qaida] leaders." Those devices, Shaffer adds, "would have offensive capabilities that would allow us to manipulate the enemy's ability to communicate - also known as 'meaconing.'"
Shaffer relates the anecdote involving the general in the context of a wider discussion of Able Danger - the controversial data mining project he contends might have stopped the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had it not been shut down - but he never mentions whether the U.S. continued to use the "vetted" general on further missions to penetrate al-Qaida.
Another episode that in the second edition has been redacted and rewritten so misleadingly as to obscure or change the most pertinent facts is Shaffer's role in foiling a 2003 attempt by Iranian intelligence to form "terrorist cells" in and around the town of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. As described in the first edition, the plot involved an Afghan doctor who had been working for Iranian intelligence since the 1980s trying to recruit his younger brother, who had moved to Virginia and become a U.S. citizen.
Going on intelligence that indicated the older brother had recently brought $65,000 from Iran to Gardez, Special Forces raided the brothers' compound and arrested the pair as well as three other men. The first edition describes Shaffer and an FBI agent interrogating the younger brother - without resorting to any "enhanced interrogation" techniques - until he betrays his brother and tells his questioners whatever they want to know.
But in the second edition almost everything about this event seven years in the past is hidden, including the fact it was an operation undertaken by the Iranian Republican Guards Corps. (Indeed, every mention of Iran is redacted.)
Iran isn't the only country to have its role creating trouble for the U.S. in Afghanistan at least partially hidden by the Defense Department. In the first edition, Shaffer describes how coalition intelligence identified three "primary centers of gravity for known and suspected al-Qaida and Taliban operatives in Pakistan." The three locations were Wana, Peshawar and Quetta.
But in the second edition only the reference to Wana, a town in Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas that abut Afghanistan, remains. Repeated references to Quetta and Peshawar, both major Pakistani cities ostensibly under the control of the Pakistani government, are redacted.
A planned mission to penetrate the al-Qaida presence in Wana, in the South Waziristan tribal agency, gave Shaffer's book its name. Coalition intelligence indicated that al-Qaida's activity in the town centered on one specific building. Operation Dark Heart was to be an attempt "to identify specific HVTs [high-value targets] who frequented the hotel and to destroy their ability to resupply, rearm, and recruit," Shaffer writes. "We needed to go there in order to stop them from coming here."
The second edition of Shaffer's book keeps much of the discussion of the planned long-term operation intact, but redacts all references to the sophisticated signals intelligence and meaconing that would be at its heart (even though Shaffer acknowledges in the first edition that he cannot "go into too much detail" about the "enhanced technical collection devices that we would put into place.")
Operation Dark Heart was to involve multiple missions into Pakistan by elements of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, a fact redacted (along with all other references to JSOC and its associated task forces) in the second edition. But the operation hit a roadblock when Lt. Gen. John Vines was replaced by Lt. Gen. David Barno as the overall coalition military commander. Barno, Shaffer writes, ordered his intelligence and special ops forces to cease planning for the mission and to turn all their intelligence over to the Pakistanis, despite the protestations of Shaffer "that the Pakistani intelligence service is actively supporting the Taliban."
"I don't care," Shaffer quotes Barno as saying. "We've got to give the Pakistanis a chance to pull their own weight." (This exchange remains intact in the censored edition of the book.) Barno, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, declined to comment for this article, saying he had not read the book.
Other redacted sections of the book include:
■ Brief mentions of Task Force Stratus Ivy's "penetration of the North Korean clandestine weapons and technology acquisition network, using a cover company where [Shaffer] was (in alias) the chief executive," as well as Stratus Ivy's penetration of the Iranian intelligence service.
■ A reference to another operation "that penetrated deep into North Korea" that Shaffer ran as the Army's "chief of clandestine operations."
■ The revelation that while undercover "as a freelance journalist" Shaffer recruited a high-ranking Soviet officer in the early 1990s. "He kept us informed on whether an important country was moving into the Soviet orbit or under the influence of the Chinese," Shaffer writes.
■ The fact that DIA's Operations Base Alpha, which Shaffer commanded after the Sept. 11 attacks, had as its mission conducting "clandestine antiterrorist operations in sub-Saharan Africa - hunting down known al-Qaida operatives there and preventing its spread there from Afghanistan." In a passage left intact in the second edition, Shaffer writes: "We knew that some of the terrorists would be headed toward Africa - Somalia, Liberia, and other countries south of Egypt. The operation, which I supervised, was the first DIA covert action of the post-Cold War era, where my officers used an African national military proxy to hunt down and kill al-Qaida terrorists."
■ All references to the intelligence and combat support that New Zealand Defence Force troops were providing the coalition in Afghanistan. Indeed, Shaffer writes that it was a female "Kiwi" officer who pinpointed Wana, Peshawar and Quetta as the al-Qaida and Taliban centers of gravity. But he also notes that the New Zealanders were not permitted access to the Human Intelligence tent at Bagram, nor were they allowed to participate in the planning for Operation Dark Heart.
In addition to most of the discussion of the plans for Operation Dark Heart, other references to Pakistan's confusing role in the Afghan war survived the censor. These include:
■ A detailed discussion about a female agent for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency who the 10th Mountain Division captured in Khowst "as part of a Taliban unit attacking a U.S. outpost there." The woman "refused to break" under interrogation, Shaffer writes, but, he adds in a sentence redacted in the second edition, "[w]e verified she was ISI because we'd monitored her talking to other ISI members on her cell phone."
U.S. intelligence operatives were "already aware that the ISI was giving the Taliban tips on how to better protect themselves from our surveillance systems," he writes. "From that moment on, I considered anyone in a Pakistani uniform an adversary."
■ A description of a ride Shaffer took on an MH-47 Chinook helicopter of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in which the helicopter landed at a base in Pakistan to refuel.
The Defense Department was forced into arranging for the books to be destroyed because "the book was not referred to the original classification authorities for a proper information security review until July 2010," said Air Force Lt. Col. Rene White, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "We are looking into why this happened."
As for the advance copies that were sent out to the news media, the department "has no plans to purchase the editor's review copies," she said. "We had hoped to recover these review copies before they became publicly available. In light of recent events, this has become more difficult."
By SEAN D. NAYLOR