The Purpose of this Book

“This reads like a John le Carre novel.”  

– Major Anne Burmann, USAF lead  prosecutor, at final sentencing.

(Thanks, Anne)

 

The purpose of this book is certainly not to make money, simply because I am prohibited from profiting from the sale of such a book. Despite that, I still have a story to tell.

This book is one the US government would prefer that you not read. It is a true story set against the back drop of Cold War Berlin, but it is about much more. It is the story of a young, idealistic teenager who embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, only to discover that not all adventures have a happy ending. This book, the cumulative work of many years, poses uncomfortable questions: what is the nature of betrayal, and why would a patriotic young airman betray the intelligence operations of his country to the East Germans and the Soviets? What deserves to be betrayed, and who can make that decision? What happens when the betrayers are themselves betrayed?

Thousands of spy novels have been written, yet few show the true life of a spy.  What began as a simple exercise in writing on the floppy disk of a Commodore 64 would evolve into a manuscript over the course of the next twenty years. The prosecution had hoped to impress an otherwise empty courtroom by presenting that single page in 1991 during sentencing. That one page has since turned into nearly 700, and now it can finally have an audience that can decide for itself.

While I am not John le Carre, I, too, have a story to tell – a true story. This book glamorizes nothing, because the fate of most spies is anything but glamorous. Few live to see retirement, many are killed or are imprisoned, while the fate of others is simply unknown. It is important that readers understand what such a life entails. It is important to understand that most publishers don’t look for the truth when it comes to selling spy novels, and historians aren’t interested in anything that conflicts with their views.

There are, of course, other reasons publishing such a book is difficult, such as when the government confiscates your manuscript to avoid bringing attention to its own illegal activities (such as kidnapping). (If there was ever a ‘smoking gun’, that would be it…) And if you are lucky enough to survive confiscation and the additional threats of prison time for your work, there then comes the hurdle of censorship. This is when life imitates Kafka. You cannot legally submit your manuscript or excerpts to publishers, nor may an editor assist you until it is cleared by the government. No one – not even a friend or family member – may proofread a single page. Once it is reviewed, any subsequent changes (such as by an editor) must be re-submitted. I think you get the picture. If you follow the rules, it is a difficult path to publication.

Even though the unfinished, confiscated copy of this manuscript has been at Fort Meade since 1997, it still took nearly ten months to clear it for release.

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Material that was once cleared for public release in 1991 has been quietly re-classified thirty years after the actual events. That begs the question: Why? To me it is clear that this is the best reason to publish. In the age of Wikileaks, censorship has become all too common, and every victory against unnecessary censorship is a victory for us all, no matter what our opinions may be.

When you come across large areas of text censored by agencies of our government, ask yourself (as you naturally will), what could possibly be so sensitive that it is still classified after thirty years? The answer is that much of it is not classified, it is simply embarrassing to the US government. When I taught classes on proper classification at Goodfellow AFB years ago, we reminded the students that it was not permitted to classify information to cover up illegal activity and/or protect the government from embarrassment.

I wonder what Edward Snowden would say about that?