It’s not top-secret if you can Google it

Michael Richter writes: Former Navy SEAL Matthew Bissonnette recently filed a federal malpractice suit against an attorney for telling him that the manuscript of his book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, ” didn’t need to undergo prepublication review by the Pentagon. Mr. Bissonnette claims that not letting Defense Department censors vet the book before its 2012 release has left him vulnerable to a criminal investigation and the likely confiscation of nearly all income earned from his best seller.

Mr. Bissonnette has acknowledged that his secrecy agreement with the Pentagon required him to submit the manuscript for prepublication review. But in a broader sense Mr. Bissonnette’s case has brought renewed attention to a dilemma facing every government employee who has ever been issued a security clearance. It seems these employees have in effect agreed to whatever limits on their First Amendment rights the Pentagon decides to impose. For instance, the government is now using its power to restrain speech regarding material that is already in the public domain.

I have firsthand experience of this First Amendment abridgment. After resigning from the U.S. intelligence community in 2011 to enter private practice as an attorney in Manhattan, I traveled to Cuba as a nongovernmental observer to the pretrial proceedings against the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000. I later prepared an article on the proceedings for a professional journal.

After submitting it for prepublication review to my former employers at the Defense Department, they ordered me to delete a paragraph citing a classified document that had likely been leaked by former Army Pfc. Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden , although the source is not revealed. The document is on the New York Times website — and perhaps elsewhere — and it concerns information I never saw or had anything to do with while in government.

Courts have ruled that the government cannot do this sort of thing, but the Pentagon isn’t listening. [Continue reading…]

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