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Tough days ahead for DOD’s vetting process?

WASHINGTON --The SEAL book could be just the beginning. As the Pentagon continues to review its legal options over “No Easy Day,” and whether the classified material it says the book contains warrants action against the author, it will have to consider the likelihood that after more than 10 years of war and the killing of bin Laden, there will be many authors who follow Matt Bissonnette. Could the Pentagon set a nasty precedent going after the former SEAL? And does it have the capacity to vet all manuscripts in a timely fashion?

Turns out, the Defense Department’s Office of Security Review vets nearly 6,000 pieces of public information each year, we’re told. Most of those are speeches, papers, articles and congressional testimony. Only a small percentage of them are books or manuscripts, according to Mark Langerman, chief of the Pentagon’s Office of Security Review, who answered questions by email — complete with numbered citations of the appropriate DOD directive — through the Pentagon’s public affairs office.

According to that directive, the Pentagon has about a month to conduct a security review of book manuscripts. “More time may be needed if the material is complex or requires review by agencies outside of the Department of Defense,” according to Langerman.

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But security vetting doesn’t always happen in conformance with regulation, as Pete Mansoor learned the hard way. It took Mansoor, one of the big brains behind David Petraeus when he was commander in Iraq, almost four months to get his book, “Baghdad at Sunrise,” through the vetting process. After waiting and waiting, Mansoor discovered the low-level staffer in the security vetting department who had been assigned his book had left her job without passing the manuscript on to anyone else. It was ultimately reviewed quickly and given back to him. But Mansoor is concerned about his next book, coming out next year, which is focused on larger issues of warfare and the history of the “surge” in Iraq. “Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War,” will include conversations with the Iraqi government and decisions Petraeus made while in uniform that will raise the level of security and policy concerns.

“There might be a little more focus put on the manuscript,” Mansoor said. “I’m pretty concerned about the timeliness of the review process and how much they may want to take out.”

Mansoor, now a professor of military history at The Ohio State University, says he feels for the former Navy SEAL who wrote “No Easy Day” without going through the Pentagon vetting process: [If you submit to the process, y]ou run the risk that it will slow publication of the book — and that it will be unnecessarily scrubbed.

“I can see why people wouldn’t want to go through the process and take the chance that their words would not see print,” he said. And Mansoor is concerned that the Pentagon will want to scrub portions of his book as a way to prevent publication of a sensitive policy issue.

“I understand why the system is the way it is, I just hope it’s fair,” he said.

For his part, Pentagon press secretary George Little says DOD will make every effort to vet manuscripts in a timely fashion. In an email, he added that in the case of “No Easy Day,” the Pentagon never had the chance to review the book — “a step that was clearly required under the terms of his agreements with the United States government.”

Gordon Lubold, a former Pentagon correspondent, covers national security for Foreign Policy.

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