White House Censors New York Times Op-Ed on Iran

In a rather bizarre turn, the New York Times ran what they called a “redacted version” of an opinion piece written about Iran by two former government officials. According to an accompanying commentary by the original piece’s authors, portions of their opinion were “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.”

The writers are Flynt Leverett, former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, and Hillary Mann, a former Foreign Service officer who participated in U.S. discussions with Iran from 2001 to 2003. They claim that CIA officials had said “they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.” The Times published a censored version of the original piece, blacking out the parts that the government deemed sensitive.

“The decisions of the C.I.A. and the White House took us by surprise,” the authors wrote in the Times. “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.”

After delaying the publication of the piece since last week, the paper and the writers decided to challenge (or at least reveal) the censorship by the Bush administration. “National security must be above politics,” Leverett and Mann said. “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.”

The original opinion piece was about the history of United States-Iranian cooperation–or lack thereof–and suggested an all-encompassing diplomatic approach to Iran rather than one that deals with specific issues. The portions that were censored dealt with the relationship between the U.S. and Iran in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as well as the role of Iran in Afghanistan. The authors maintain that their story contained only previously published, publicly available information.

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