Anonymous authorship subverts democracy

Knowing writer's identity is vital to evaluating his book's conclusions


August 22, 2004|By Steve Weinberg | Steve Weinberg,Special to the Sun

The newsmaking book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror shows off a red, white and blue cover, representing an American flag slightly ragged at the edges.

At the bottom is the red portion, with the author's name in large type. Most authors carry two names, such as Richard Clarke, writer of an earlier, similar whistleblowing book titled Against All Enemies. Or three names, such as Joyce Carol Oates. The author of Imperial Hubris (Brassey's, 309 pages, $27.50) uses just one name on the dust jacket, however. That name is Anonymous.

The inside back flap of the dust jacket says Anonymous "is a senior U.S. intelligence official with nearly two decades of experience in national security issues related to Afghanistan and South Asia." He is the author, previously, of Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. Inside the book, on the author identification page, another sentence explains that as in Through Our Enemies' Eyes, the name Anonymous is used "as the condition for securing his employer's permission to publish..."

That explanation is not nearly complete or good enough. Publication of such important books without the author's true name attached is unconscionable and counterproductive. Everybody involved -- federal government bureaucracies (in this instance, the Central Intelligence Agency), the publisher (Brassey's Inc., of Dulles, Va.), journalists writing about the revelations, policy analysts commenting on the book's message without seeking to reveal the identify of its author -- ought to be spanked for subverting democracy.

Before I explain why, let me make sure the considerable substance of Imperial Hubris is not slighted, because the book is worth buying, then reading carefully. The author offers impressive factual, contextual and emotional information as debate continues about whether George W. Bush or John Kerry ought to be elected; wheth-er Congress needs to intervene more decisively in policymaking for locales such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel; whether the use of U.S. military force is being handled wisely; whether more women and men will die on U.S. soil in ways similar to and different from Sept. 11.

Anonymous explains why he believes the U.S. government and its citizenry must halt their dependence on Middle East oil supplies and the immoral government / religious nexus controlling those supplies; why bin Laden and other Islamic leaders should not be viewed primarily as criminal terrorists but rather as sincere (albeit violent) insurgents; why U.S. policymakers must employ military force more effectively or withdraw from the role of global police officer; and much more.

Anonymous bases his opinions partly on information classified as secret and therefore unavailable to most readers. (Everybody seems to agree that no classified information is revealed per se in the book, but how can somebody like Anonymous cleanse such eyes-only material from his mind after studying it for so many years?) Imperial Hubris is grounded in unclassified information as a condition of publication. Unclassified information, when stitched together wisely, can reveal much. That leads Anonymous to comment, "Given that these easy-to-reach conclusions [his own] can be drawn from materials found in the public library and on the Internet, Americans should wonder why their political, intelligence, military and media leaders have not made them."

Anonymous possesses the courage to speak out in ways that other insiders have dodged. Somehow, he and his publisher substantially prevailed against the CIA censorship culture to bring Imperial Hubris to market. Hooray for all that.

Still, the ignorance among readers about the author's true identity is a serious problem. Without knowing his real name, his education (including knowledge of Arabic, if any), his professional experience (for example, desk work in Langley, Va., or first-hand observation in Baghdad), his workplace history (satisfied content analyst or oft-disciplined malcontent seeking to settle scores), his financial status (did he write such a strident book at this juncture partly because of family cash flow shortages?), motives are impossible to discern. (Brassey's accessible editor Christina Davidson said I could ask her about Anonymous' background. Fine. But what about tens of thousands of additional readers? Are they all supposed to call her? Would she continue to answer after, say, the tenth call?)

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