Imperial Hubris Author ‘Anonymous’ No More

Boston Phoenix investigative reporter Jason Vest has uncovered the identity of “Anonymous,” author of the forthcoming Imperial Hubris.

The secret history of Anonymous

EVER SINCE THE Guardian of London revealed almost two weeks ago that “Anonymous,” the author of the soon-to-be-published Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (Brassey?s, Inc.), is a CIA figure “centrally involved in the hunt for Bin Laden,” the American press has been playing catch-up ? yet in a strangely coy sort of way.

Public interest in the book itself isn?t at all hard to understand: it?s not every day that an active US intelligence officer publishes a work that disputes the Bush administration?s assertions, holding that, among other things, bin Laden is not on the run; the invasion of Iraq has not made the United States safer; and that Islamists are in a campaign of insurgency, not terrorism, against the US because of US policies, not out of hatred for American values. But what?s a bit harder to grasp is exactly why the media seem so reflexively deferential to the idea that “Anonymous” must be anonymous ? especially when critical details revealed in a June 23 New York Times story indicated that his real identity is well-known to at least a few denizens of the Washington press corps.

Indeed, the Times piece revealed that Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll knows more about Anonymous than most ? enough to give him a first name and details of his career in Coll?s recently published and highly acclaimed book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. While the Times identified “Mike” via Coll?s book as a 22-year CIA veteran who ran the Counterterrorist Center?s bin Laden station (code-named “Alec”) from 1996 to 1999, the paper also reported that in spite of that revealing detail ? and despite the fact that “Mike” is an overt CIA employee whose name is not a state secret ? a “senior intelligence official” held that “Mike?s” full identity had to remain unknown because revelation of his full name “could make him a target of Al Qaeda.”

The strange thing about all this is that, as I’ve noted before, “Anonymous” had a reasonably successful first book with Brassey’s, the same publisher. It was widely read within public policy circles and he was interviewed at least once on ABC’s Nightline and, I believe, on several morning shows. Clearly, however, this book is generating far more buzz. (Indeed, I’ve had over 3,000 search engine referrals to OTB for the phrase ‘Imperial Hubris’ since the Guardian piece.)

FOR THE MOMENT, all the general public knows about the book comes from excerpts posted on a handful of Web sites, and a slew of brief television and radio interviews, where Anonymous has appeared in silhouette. He also published another anonymous book two years ago, Through Our Enemies? Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America, which analyzed the structure and motives of Al Qaeda. Anonymous is not squishy: both Hubris and Eyes seem sufficiently apocalyptic to warm the heart of someone as anti-Islamic and bloodthirsty as, say, Ann Coulter. So if liberals seem ecstatic that yet another career national-security official is blasting the Bush administration for unnecessarily invading Iraq and bungling the so-called war on terror, they?re also horrified by Anonymous?s apparent advocacy (largely rhetorical, actually) of a military campaign that includes “killing in large numbers” and “a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure” as part of “relentless, brutal and blood-soaked defensive military action until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten us.”

But at issue here is not just the book?s content, but why Anonymous is anonymous. After all, as the Times and others have reported, his situation is nothing like that of Valerie Plame, a covert operative whose ability to work active overseas cases was undermined when someone in the White House blew her cover to journalist Robert Novak in an apparent payback for an inconvenient weapons-of-mass-destruction intelligence report by her husband, Joseph Wilson. Anonymous, on the other hand, is, by the CIA?s own admission, a Langley-bound analyst whose identity has never required secrecy.

My assumption was always that “Anonymous” was an analyst, simply based on his academic background and writing style. The book’s editor, however, has told me that that’s not the case.

A Phoenix investigation has discovered that Anonymous does not, in fact, want to be anonymous at all ? and that his anonymity is neither enforced nor voluntarily assumed out of fear for his safety, but rather compelled by an arcane set of classified regulations that are arguably being abused in an attempt to spare the CIA possible political inconvenience. In the Phoenix?s view, continued deference by the press to a bogus and unwanted standard of secrecy essentially amounts to colluding with the CIA in muzzling a civil servant ? a standard made more ridiculous by the ubiquity of Anonymous?s name in both intelligence and journalistic circles.

While I don’t pretend to understand the rationale for requiring him to publish anonymously, it is indeed true that he wants to come out of “the closet.” Indeed, he was hoping during the publicity tour for the last book that his name would be revealed so that he could dispense with the pretense.

There’s a whole lot more at the link. It’s an interesting piece–both on the book itself and the nature of classification procedures.

(Hat tip: Memeorandum)

UPDATE: Editor and Publisher has picked up the story as well.


Other OTB posts relating to Anonymous and his books:

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, Iraq War, Terrorism, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    given the recent dust-up over the Valerie Plame mess, is it any wonder people are being more careful about the “anonymous” moniker with regards to intelligence folks?

  2. Jim Henley says:

    I’m not surprised that even a station chief would write well and know a lot. The operations staff have tended toward pretty high-powered educations and literary backgrounds since the inception of the Agency.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jim: True enough. Case officers write reports all the time. It’s not that he can write or know things that had me thinking he’s an analyst but rather the style–incredibly heavy footnoting and so forth. The first book was rather polemnical but no more so than is normal for area studies types.