This is a book that the CIA didn’t want you to read. In May 2005, I submitted the manuscript to the CIA’s Publication Review Board for review. I was told it would take approximately thirty days for them to redact those passages that they felt compromised active Agency sources and methods. In working with my co-author, I had been careful not to reveal sensitive material beyond what the CIA had already approved in other books.

As an experienced CIA Chief of Station and one loyal to the Agency’s mission, I have absolutely no interest in undermining our nation’s intelligence effort. But I also believe that freedom of speech is fundamental to all of our liberties, and that a timely and fair review of manuscripts by the Agency’s Publications Review Board and Clandestine Service is essential if current and ex-Agency employees are to have a relevant voice in our national debate.

That same month, May 2005, I decided to retire from CIA’s Clandestine Service after twenty-three years of service and an additional four years in the U.S. military. It had been a privilege to serve in the Directorate of Operations alongside brave men and women who helped me combat al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Despite the fact that the CIA had recently approved another book by a retired Agency officer about the war in Afghanistan and had briefed authors Steve Coll (Ghost Wars) and Bob Woodward (Bush at War), they held up my manuscript for months. Finally in mid-July 2005, in what turned out to be the most surreal and frustrating experiences in my life, I was forced to file a lawsuit against my former employer. When a Federal judge ordered the Agency to release the manuscript in late August, they told me I had to redact over forty pages of material, including the mileage between cities in Afghanistan and the name of CIA officer William Buckley, which has appeared in hundreds of publications since his death in 1987.

When I asked the Agency to restore some of the material that had already appeared in other publications that had been cleared by them, I had to file another injunction in Federal Court before they would respond. A Federal judge will ultimately rule if segments of the book that have been blacked out by CIA censors will be added to future editions. For the sake of readability, my co-author and I have tried to give the reader a sense of the subject matter of excised material. Blacked out lines of text that run more than two lines often indicate redacted segments which run for several pages.

I am privileged to have served alongside very brave men from the CIA and the U.S. Military’s Special Operations community while in Afghanistan. As in many past conflicts, many of them were American immigrants—especially, Muslim Americans from South Asia and the Middle East—who stepped up and were the most critical component of our intelligence collection effort. Those Muslim Americans reminded me about how special our country is and the liberties we sometimes take for granted.

May God bless America and, especially, those who fight and sacrifice to defend it. I would also like to thank my wife and children for their love and support over so many years, and extend thanks to Jim Tyler of DOD and retired Lt. Colonel Mark Brightman for historical and military context.

Gary Berntsen