Why Won’t Press Name Imperial Hubris Author?

Jack Shafer has an extensive piece on the subject, entitled “Who Is Anonymous? – He’s Michael Scheuer. But why won’t the Times and the Post say so?

Sussing out the identity of Anonymous isn’t a parlor game, either, as investigative reporter Steve Weinberg insists in his review of Imperial Hubris in the Orlando Sentinel. It’s a matter of public interest when a government official such as Anonymous criticizes the administration’s handling of the war on al-Qaida and its invasion of Iraq; describes Osama Bin Laden and his allies as insurgents, not terrorists; and calls for “blood-soaked defensive military action” against Islamists who threaten the United States. Are these the views and recommendations of a first-rate mind, an intelligence crank, or a low-level munchkin? “Publication of such important books without the author’s true name attached is unconscionable and counterproductive,” Weinberg writes, continuing: “Without knowing [Anonymous’] 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 analyst or oft-disciplined malcontent) and financial status (did he write such a strident book because he needed the money?), motives are impossible to discern. ”

What makes the Times’ and Post’s continued reluctance to name Anonymous even weirder is that reporter Jason Vest revealed his identity as senior CIA analyst Michael Scheuer in the July 2 edition of the Boston Phoenix.

Indeed, I noted the Vest story here weeks ago and have mentioned it in several pieces I’ve written for publication elsewhere. I have maintained the affectation of referring to Scheur as “Anonymous” because that’s how he’s listed on the jacket and because we don’t have explicit confirmation of his identity from him.

That said, most of the questions posed by Shafer and Weinberg are addressed in Imperial Hubris and/or Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, mostly without getting very far past the dusk jacket and Introduction.

“I am not. . . a field intelligence officer. I have travelled some but am by training and temperament a career-long “headquarters’ officer.” I have been an analyst and have managed analytic and operational activities. For the past seventeen years, my career has focused exclusively on terrorism, Islamic insurgencies, militant Islam, and the affairs of Southe Asia. . . . My training, career, experiences, and interests are narrow, but they are deep and fairly comprehensive on the issues for which I have been held responsible (Imperial Hubris, ix-x).”

“As one trained as a professional historian specializing in the diplomatic history of the British Empire . . . (TOEE, 277).”

“. . . since I speak only English. . . (TOEE, 280).”

The man’s name is really irrelevant; only his credentials matter. Given that the CIA vetted the book and allowed its publication, one would presume that he’s not lying about his credentials. Scheur isn’t a Middle East scholar or an Arabist by education. He has, however, been studying Osama bin Laden professionally for nearly 20 years. He’s certainly qualified to claim expertise on the narrow subject of al Qaeda and its aims. Furthermore, both books are well documented, almost exclusively with well-respected English language sources, with a handful of Middle East media sources that have been translated by the State Department.

Shafer’s other argument is more interesting:

Current and former CIA employees who write for publication (books, articles, novels, letters to the editor) must submit to the agency for pre-publication approval anything that might touch on agency business. (Diet and gardening books and the like are exempt.) John Hollister Hedley, who chaired the CIA’s Publications Review Board for three years in the late ’90s, writes in the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence that tougher restrictions apply to current CIA employees than former ones. The PRB will block former employees from disclosing classified information that might damage national security, but as a matter of policy it doesn’t throttle opinions that may cause the agency discomfort or embarrassment. A tougher three-part test exists for current employees. The agency can “deny permission to publish statements or opinions that could impair the author’s performance of duties, interfere with the authorized functions of the Agency, or have an adverse impact on US foreign relations,” Hedley writes.

Surely Scheuer’s forceful opinions in Imperial Hubris trigger one or two of these three trip-wires, especially given the ease with Vest uncovered his CIA identity.

As Vest himself notes (and Shafer implies), WaPo’s Steve Coll was using Scheur, identified only as “Mike,” as a source quite some time ago. Still, it is an interesting question. Certainly, no sitting Army officer would be permitted to publically criticize the president of the United States, let alone question the conduct of an ongoing war. It’s not entirely clear to me why a senior CIA official isn’t under the same strictures.

FILED UNDER: Media, Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. James: I was about to buy this book tonight, but suddenly it seemed out of date (given the recent arrests); most books have a certain “shelf-life,” but if you’re going to say the GWOT is a failure, you need to at least give some credentials so that your book can be measured in terms of the historical record …

  2. James Joyner says:

    His fundamental argument is that we’re not fighting terrorism but rather a global Islamist jihad. He doesn’t think it winnable unless we recognize that and take off the gloves. He doesn’t seem too sure that we’ll win even then.

  3. John "Akatsukami" Braue says:

    In the (classical-)liberal West, there is a “bright line” between military and civilian structures. One of the Western military virtues is loyalty to the sovereign, which includes not publicly criticizing or commenting on grand strategy. On the civilian, such criticism (delivered, to be sure, in a respectful, impersonal manner) is considered a duty.

    Whilst we might debate which side of the line the CIA should be on, there is no question that, in terms of providing commentary, it is seen now as essentially civilian.