Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Former White House Official Says He Was Censored


A former top White House official is accusing his former colleagues of censorship. He says they're blocking publication of an article he's written, and he says it's an effort to silence administration critics.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has the story.


MARY LOUISE KELLY: Our protagonist is a man named Flynt Leverett. He's a respected Middle East expert who spent 10 years at the CIA and, until 2003, served as senior director for Mideast affairs on President Bush's National Security Council.

Since leaving government, Leverett has emerged as a critic of the president. Now he's written an opinion piece for the New York Times, criticizing administration policy on Iran. It was supposed to be published last Thursday, but - in what Leverett calls an unprecedented move - he says the White House has sought to block it, claiming the article contains classified information.

Flynt Leverett.

Dr. FLYNT LEVERETT (Middle East Expert): That claim is false. Indeed, I would say that claim is fraudulent. The White House is using the rubric of protecting classified information - not to protect classified information, but to limit the dissemination of the views of someone who is very critical of their approach to Iran policy.

KELLY: Leverett, speaking yesterday at the New America Foundation. As a former CIA and Security Council staffer, Leverett is required to submit his writings for review, to make sure no government secrets are disclosed. Leverett says the Iran article is actually a distillation of an earlier, longer paper he wrote. That piece sailed through without problem. So why would the White House balk at this one? In an interview, Leverett argued the White House has particular reason to fear criticism from him and his wife Hillary Mann, with whom he co-wrote the article.


Dr. LEVERETT: My wife and I have kind of a unique standing as former officials who served at the National Security Council at the White House during the period when many of the critical blunders in the handling of Iran policy were being made. And they do not want someone who can with great credibility lay out how they have mishandled Iran policy in particular. They don't want that person getting access to the op-ed pages of the New York Times.

KELLY: Leverett says he's been ordered to delete two particular sections: one describing an offer by Iran to negotiate back in 2003, an offer rejected by the Bush administration. The other concerns a dialogue post-9/11 between the U.S. and Iran over the way forward in Afghanistan.

Leverett maintains that both communications have already been widely reported. But at the White House yesterday, under questioning from reporters, spokesman Tony Snow insisted the White House does not seek to muzzle its critics.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): I don't know anything about it except, come on. It's not like Flynt has not been out publicly on a number of occasions questioning the administration.

Unidentified Woman: But he says the CIA has cleared this particular piece and the White House has blocked it, so my question is…

Mr. SNOW: The White House is not blocking his writings.

Unidentified Woman: There is no effort to use national security claims to falsely silence critics.

Mr. SNOW: We don't falsely silence critics on national security claims.

KELLY: National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe adds the review of Leverett's article is routine procedure. And the CIA denies the allegation that you just heard, that the agency actually cleared Leverett's article. Spokesman Tom Crispell says, it's been determined there is classified information in there. I would reject that the White House is pressuring the CIA into changing its publication review process.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News. Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.