A former CIA analyst is suing the agency for blocking portions of her new memoir.
Nada Bakos, a retired CIA analyst-turned-author filed the lawsuit Monday claiming the federal agency has violated her First Amendment right to free speech by redacting sections of her manuscript, titled, The Targeter: My Life in the CIA on the Hunt for the Godfather of ISIS.
Through non-classified information, Bakos would allegedly reveal the inner workings of the Islamic State and the CIA’s quest for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who was eventually killed in 2006 during a U.S. air strike.
Bakos, who is represented by D.C. attorney Mark S. Zaid, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as unspecified compensatory damages.
“With all of the talk of ‘deep state,’ where is the counterargument if not coming from those of us who have left government and can provide our own testimony to debunk those ridiculous conspiracies?” Bakos told the Daily Beast on why she views her book as an important antidote to President Trump’s conspiratorial rhetoric about the CIA.
She added: “It’s important to give the public, the taxpayers, an inside view of how their government works without revealing the sources and methods behind how the CIA functions.”
For nearly two years, Bakos, now retired, said the agency’s Publication Review Board (PRB) repeatedly stalled approvals of the manuscript that she first submitted in 2015. Last August, the agency reviewed the manuscript and declared that “certain material” needed to be deleted because it allegedly exposed classified information, according to court records.
Bakos, however, disputed that the information in question was ever classified.
“My goal is to be able to release my book, without divulging classified information,” Bakos said. “There are lessons learned for all of us after going through something as destabilizing as the Iraq war—how to not fall into large-scale war in response to a specific threat.”
The CIA’s Publication Review Board mandates employees with a “lifelong obligation” to protect the agency’s reputation. This does not mean “absolute silence,” but does “require them to keep national security secrets for as long as the US Government deems the information to be classified.”
In a Washington Post op-ed two years ago, Bakos wrote that ex-CIA employees often struggled with the agency’s strict publishing mandates. In 2014, Bakos noted, former CIA chief Leon Panetta became so “frustrated” with the “overzealous” review process that he sent his book to publication without clearance.
Bakos also cited former CIA case officer Robert Baer, who wanted to run for Congress but was told to submit all of his public statements for the board’s approval, making it “nearly impossible for him to run.”
“CIA employees pledge that for the rest of their lives they will submit their writings to the agency in advance of publication to ensure that nothing appropriately classified is inadvertently revealed,” Bakos lamented. “We are both paying a price well beyond the spirit of our agreement. Each of us has written a nonfiction book that has been ensnared in red tape by the CIA—for 11 months (for John Nixon) and 14 months and counting (for Nada Bakos).”
Bakos at one point allegedly reached out to U.S. Senator Patti Murray (D-WA) to assist in expediting the review. But still, according to court records, the CIA’s “bureaucratic slow pace” has prevented them from reviewing and clearing her manuscript. (The CIA told The Daily Beast it cannot comment on pending litigation.)
“Bakos was given no explanation for the delay beyond administrative backlogs at the PRB, the need for consultations with other agencies, especially the Department of Defense, that had equities in the information outlined in, and the alleged complexity of, the Manuscript,” according to the seven-page complaint.
“There are plenty of senior level members of government who have been able to share their perspective without finding every single thing cited in open source,” Bakos told The Daily Beast. “I should be able to do the same as a mid-level officer and, frankly, a woman.”
She later emphasized on Twitter that she does not “begrudge” those who work on the CIA’s review board. Bakos said they’ve actually been “responsive and helpful,” but that “The process itself is broken and needs to be fixed.”
Last December, Bakos requested a meeting with the CIA, according to emails included in the suit. The agency agreed, but the meeting allegedly never happened.
The book is still scheduled for release next year.