Psst … Fort Meade is 'The Fort'

Our view: The Pentagon is censoring not-so-secret secrets

September 23, 2010

Everyone has "secrets" that they don't want to see in print.

The Defense Department has a lot of them. One of them is that the nickname for Fort Meade is "The Fort."

Another is that IRGC is the abbreviation for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

And a third sizzler is that Camp Peary, Va. is the home of a Central Intelligence Agency training ground. It is also known as "The Farm," not to be confused with "The Fort." Keep that under your hat.

These and other bits of "confidential information" that can be unearthed by simple clicks on a computer are found in the first edition of a memoir about the Afghanistan war called "Operation Dark Heart." It is written by Anthony Shaffer, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer.

After the Army initially approved publication of the book, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies decided it contained classified information. So the Defense Department decided to buy the first edition — yes, all 10,000 copies — and plans to burn them.

A second edition of the book, with 250 instances of hush-hush information redacted, is set for release Friday.

However, some copies of the first edition were sent out to reviewers before the authorities changed their minds and are still at large. This week they were bringing bids of more than $1,500 on eBay. Moreover, according to The New York Times, which compared the uncensored edition and the revised edition, some of the redactions are causing a few chuckles over what military authorities think we shouldn't know, even if we already know it.

For example, the revelation that "sigint" means signals intelligence, found in the first edition, was blacked out by the censors in the second, even though Google serves up the same information.

There is a need for some secrecy in writing about intelligence operations. But labeling facts that are common knowledge as "secret" weakens the credibility of a classification system. There is, as one expert told The Times, smart secrecy and stupid secrecy. Fine minds can probably figure out which of those two labels describes this episode. But don't tell anybody.

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