Author of Pentagon-censored memoir on book-burning in the digital age: "It's ludicrous."

"The whole premise smacks of retaliation. Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous."—Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, speaking on CNN.

As noted on Boing Boing earlier, the Pentagon just burned about 9,500 copies of his new memoir, Operation Dark Heart.

A quick search on Amazon yields a notice about the dead-tree version's absence, and an inadvertently funny promo for the book's Kindle version (screengrab above). I haven't tried purchasing the Kindle version, but I presume it's not really offered. Anyone spotted a digital copy of Shaffer's book out in the wild? Let us know in the comments.

Update: A Kindle version is available—it's redacted.


  1. You can buy the Kindle version, but the product description seems to indicate that the currently available Kindle edition is a revised/redacted version of the original:

    “On Friday, August 13, 2010, just as St. Martin’s Press was readying its initial shipment of this book, the Department of Defense contacted us to express its concern that our publication of Operation Dark Heart could cause damage to U.S. national security. After consulting with our author, we agreed to incorporate some of the government’s changes into a revised edition of his book while redacting other text he was told was classified. The newly revised book keeps our national interests secure, but this highly qualified warrior’s story is still intact. Shaffer’s assessment of successes and failures in Afghanistan remains dramatic, shocking, and crucial reading for anyone concerned about the outcome of the war.”

  2. I did a little snooping around. I suspect there are plenty of advance reader’s copies around (like in The Strand in NYC), but if there are, they’re not listed on the website. ARCs are usually abundant on eBay, too, but beware if you want the original there are edition: I just took a peak over there, and it looks like people asking for as much as $399.99 for the REDACTED version. Buyer beware.

  3. WikiLeaks has Twittered that they have a copy of the original book. I guess that means should such a need arise, they would post it? I hope with the author’s permission.

    I’m not sure what everyone is hopped up about. What’s going right in Afghanistan that need to be protected? I would understand if we had taken down the Taliban and whoever else is involved but that’s obviously not the case.

    1. Recently, in past incidents where the US Government has refused to release information upon the grounds of National Security, this has usually been analogous to saying, “We did things, and are doing things, that are horrible to view and/or read about so it’s best that no one views and/or reads about them. To protect our soldiers.”

      This is why the rest of the D.o.D. photos, supposedly “much worse than those that came from Abu Ghraib”, were not released to the public. It wasn’t because the photos revealed some secret strategy employed by our troops… rather, it was because what we have done is so vile that the world could possibly turn on us and make demands that we aren’t yet willing to meet.

      This is all about PR management.

  4. “I’m not sure what everyone is hopped up about. What’s going right in Afghanistan that need to be protected? I would understand if we had taken down the Taliban and whoever else is involved but that’s obviously not the case”

    In otherwords, we should take the book burners’ word for it.

  5. <connery>”It tells me that goose-schtepping morons like yourself should READ books instead of BURRRRRNING them!”</connery>

  6. On the plus side, this guy’s first print run sold out in record time! And they’re printing additional copies with an awesome promo opportunity and built-in free press.

  7. Well, now they can quite accurately label it as “the book the Pentagon doesn’t want you to read!”

  8. What? EVERY copy of my book sold? Two days after the release date? Nice. Now I know what to write about for a guaranteed best seller and life of luxury.

  9. I sold an unredacted copy of this book on ebay this weekend for $2000. There are at most 500 unredacted copies that avoided the pulper by sent out for review purposes, and I would guess the actual number is fewer than 50 – because only 8 copies have been found and sold on ebay in the last month despite the attention and high price.

    For the record, the DOD watched as St Martin’s pulped the copies. They didn’t “burn” them.

    Xeni, I think you need to be a little less credulous with this story. This isn’t a whistleblowing situation. The author of this book is a self aggrandizing publicity hound who intentionally didn’t clear the info in his book with the DOD before publishing it. Read his wikipedia entry. His previous claim to fame was his belief that he could have stopped the 9/11 attacks except some bureaucrats got in his way (a claim dismissed by the 9/11 commission, for what it’s worth.). His book doesn’t uncover any scandals but does contain lots of info about people doing counter-insurgency work in Afghanistan. The front of the 1st edition even has a “Cast of Characters” which lists the real names and code names of his old coworkers, and describes what their jobs are.

    This doofus is not Daniel Ellsberg.

    1. Anon writes:
      “The author of this book is a self aggrandizing publicity hound who intentionally didn’t clear the info in his book with the DOD before publishing it.”

      Do you have a source for that? I’ve read that DOD did, in fact, sign off on this book in January before DIA got wind of it and freaked out.

      From the NYT: “Army reviewers suggested various changes and redactions and signed off on the edited book in January, saying they had ‘no objection on legal or operational security grounds,’ and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, planned for an Aug. 31 release.”

      From the Guardian: “The army had cleared the book by Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer, about ‘black ops’ in the Afghan war when he was based at Bagram in 2003, for publication after relatively minor changes.”

      Scott Horton suggests that this effort to silence the book after it had been approved by DOD is the work of JSOC:

      I only know what I read in the papers, but I’ve not heard anyone, other than Anon in these comments, suggest that Shaffer did not clear this book with DOD.

  10. “The whole premise smacks of retaliation…”

    Actually, with the way our government operates in political theater these days, this smacks more of them trying to give legitimacy to the book. I haven’t read it, but I would do so with the eye of a skeptic rather than thinking this must mean the guy is telling the truth.

  11. Update: A Kindle version is available—it’s redacted.

    Does the redacting happen before downloading it … or after?

  12. This seems like a non-issue to me. There’s plenty of stuff you could put in that book that is classified. All this says to me is that one bit of classified information slipped through. This isn’t the government trying to censor something that’s free and legal to know, it’s a creative way to plug a leak. Maybe a leak that’s embarrassing, maybe a leak that’s legitimate, but either way a leak of information that the Pentagon can legally classify.

  13. I dunno, burning Tyndale’s Bible’s was pretty effective…oh wait. Even before the digital age burning books wasn’t always effective as a means of suppression. Maybe the pentagon will go digital and start burning Kindles.

  14. If this guy was making it up completely, ie. “the alien radio signals in my filling told me that US forces did this in Afghanistan, and that in Iraq”, I wonder how these organizations would react if he happened to guess right?

    I’ve never understood how a satellite picture of someone’s house, or non-embarrassing footage of some kid’s face, threatens them either.

    The most predictable effect of redaction is the attempt to discover redacted content.

  15. Some of those redactions point to a serious misunderstanding of how information can be found these days. There are times that I sweat the US gov. assumes all terrorists are illiterate luddites unaware of the very existence of computers, let alone the internet.

  16. Authors and governments both seem to have forgotten how to leak information and how to contain those leaks. Considering both are military, you think they would know a bit more about this sort of game.

    On the author’s side, you should always make sure you have a complete, unabridged copy in the hands of everybody who would be happy to say something long before the government even knows you might be saying something. Sure, sell your book, but if the government gets in your way, be ready to pull the switch and make the information available for free. You may not make money, but you’ll still get your story out, and you can make money on the next book.

    On the government’s side, publicly buying and pulping books does nothing to hide your secrets. Putting out a redacted copy, making the secrets stand out with a ‘diff’, is even worse. In other dictatorships, you and your family would be tortured and killed if you said anything unpopular. It sure kept people from talking. I hope our government doesn’t get to that point, but if they were really serious about it, that’s what they would be doing.

    And for the love of reason, pick and choose your battles! Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to redact otherwise publicly-available information is a waste of time and an embarrassment to all those involved. If they would save the redacting only for the things that really needed to be hidden, maybe we would be a bit more forgiving and let them do it, but if they redact public knowledge and inconsequential details, we’re going to want this redaction nonsense eliminated.

    Military intelligence ain’t.

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