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'Sub Rosa': Censoring the Worst Kept ‘Secrets’ in Government

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

In sections of my novelswords and sentences are blacked out courtesy of the Department of Defense Office of Pre-Publication and Security Review.  Most former-military thriller authors do not submit their work to the DoD for good reason: the government can’t adhere to their contract that states they will review in a time “not to exceed 30 working days from date of receipt.”  The language employed in a myriad of conflicting contracts and policies is broad by design, intentionally giving the federal government the greatest leeway over who they can target for alleged violations. 

In documents obtained by the Knight First Amendment Institute and the ACLU, the average time to get a manuscript reviewed is now one year. Former FBI Director James Comey’s book about a sensitive investigation into Russian meddling in a U.S. presidential election was approved in only seven weeks, and Hillary Clinton’s in just eight weeks.  Documents procured via the Freedom of Information Act revealed an email referring to Hillary Clinton’s manuscript in which the censors were warned: “The [review] office is under great pressure to turn this around quickly.  If you are tardy in your response, you will get a high-level Department official call.”  

In True Believer, I made up the location of a Black Site. Even though I had no connection to the country in question while in uniform, the DoD took out all references to it, including the name of an air base that does not exist.  On appeal, I won the “right” to be able to use it, months after the book was published with the redaction in place. In another instance, I was not allowed to use the word XXXXX (redacted) in the backstory of a fictional character.  The unit referenced is part of the national discourse as the recent al-Baghdadi mission illustrates. Its name is even the title of a book published in 1983 by its first commanding officer.  Even more revealing is that the existence of this unit has been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. Government in Congressional Hearings.  Publicly available reports of those hearings discuss the unit’s name and core capabilities. 

Select information should remain classified, yet the current review process is inefficient and ineffective, wasting time and resources to redact information that is in no way harmful to national security. At issue is freedom.  The First Amendment is at the core of our Bill of Rights.  It is “The First” for a reason.  It is what is called a natural right.  It is not a right “given” by government and therefore it cannot be “taken” away.  The review process is all about control.  

As I wrote in the preface to The Terminal List: The consolidation of power at the federal level in the guise of public safety is a national trend and should be guarded against at all costs. This erosion of rights, however incremental, is the slow death of freedom. Recent allegations that government agencies may have targeted political opponents should alarm all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.  Revisionist views of the Constitution by opportunistic judges with agendas that reinterpret the Bill of Rights to take power away from the people and consolidate it at the federal level threaten the core principles of the Republic.  As a free people, keeping federal power in check is something that should be of concern to us all.  The fundamental value of freedom is what sets us apart from the rest of the world.  We are citizens, not subjects, and we must stay ever vigilant that we remain so.

In reading my novels, try to ignore the blacked-out sections, or better yet, try to decipher what the government thinks is so secret.  If you read closely, I bet you can figure it out.

Jack Carr

November 19, 2019 (coincidently, the day XXXXX (redacted) was founded in 1977)

Jack Carr is an author and former Navy SEAL Sniper.  He is the author of The Terminal List, True Believer, and Savage Son.  He lives in Park City, Utah where he eagerly awaits the DoD’s review of his next novel.  Visit him at and follow the journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @JackCarrUSA. 

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