The Book the Pentagon Burned

The Pentagon spent $50,000 of our money to buy up the first edition of “Operation Dark Heart” by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and destroy every copy. The second printing has lots of words blacked out. Wikileaks claims to have a first edition, but hasn’t shared it. However, reading the bleeped-through version reveals plenty.

Shaffer and others in the military-spying complex knew about U.S. al Qaeda cells and leaders before 9-11 and were prevented from pursuing the matter. Shaffer believes they could have prevented 9-11. He so informed the 9-11 Commission, which ignored him. The Defense Intelligence Agency retaliated against Shaffer for having spoken up. We knew this, but the book adds context and details, and names names.

The bulk of the book is an account of Shaffer’s time in Afghanistan in 2003, and the title comes from the name of another aborted mission that Shaffer believes could have and should have captured or killed al Qaeda leaders at that time in Pakistan. Shaffer blames the CIA for screwing up any number of missions, for working with Pakistan which worked with the Taliban and al Qaeda, for counter-productive drone attacks, and for torturing prisoners. He also describes the insanity of General Stanley McChrystal’s scheme of sending armed soldiers door-to-door to win hearts and minds and flush out “bad guys.”

Shaffer doesn’t say whether people he helped capture were tortured, but proudly recounts helping murder people and interrogating people without using torture. He does, however, detail the interrogation he did of a man whom he repeatedly threatened with shipment to Guantanamo. Bleeped out throughout the interrogation are repeated references to what is almost certainly the man’s identity as an American.

Shaffer’s book describes a web of incompetent rival bureaucracies within the military as well as the overlapping “intelligence community.” What’s remarkable about this gang of gung-ho heroes and obedient cogs is not that they do so much damage but that any of them remain proud of having been a part of it.

Shaffer sure as hell does. He wants the drones to stop and the war scaled back, but he wants the kind of operations he favors to be pursued under an all-powerful commander in both Afghanistan and Pakistan — legal niceties be damned — until military “victory” can compel the negotiation of “peace.” The twelve pages of advice on “How to Win in Afghanistan” that Shaffer tacked onto the end of the book, and on the basis which the book has been marketed, is a hodgepodge of contradictory recognition of hopelessness and insistence on prevailing.

This book has it all. And to think that all this nearly perished in the flames [Blacked-out passages are represented below as BLEEEEEEP]:

Models of heroism instilling confidence in our leaders: “On Friday afternoons, three of my friends and I would hop in a car and drive the 100 miles to Tucson, drinking a fifth — or two — of vodka along the way. Soon, I was working counterterrorism missions in the United States and Europe while still in the army reserves and having the time of my life. . . . I started having blackouts: I would start drinking in one place, wake up in another place, and not know how I got there. . . . [S]ome of my bosses drank as much as I did.”

Deep insights into human motivation: “We’d come halfway around the world to deal with an enemy that cared about nothing but their narrow interpretation of God. They wanted to kill us simply because we did not think like they did.”

Dramatic tension and vegetable references: “My team was gonna take to it like an eight-year-old to asparagus. We’d BLEEEEEEEP recruited a scout to help smooth our way with the villagers, but the CIA had maneuvered him out of the picture. Now we were going to be on our own without a native guide. Freakin’ CIA.”

Exemplary and tragic stands taken on principle: “The CIA, it turned out, was running its own game, a game they didn’t bother to coordinate with anyone on the Defense side of the house. At one point, I was to learn later, we had an ugly experience with a warlord who was on their payroll. It was not that they played against both sides. It was the fact that they did it so obviously and poorly that pissed us off.”

The worst cliff-hanging ending to a chapter ever: “Shortly after that meeting with Dave, our informants told us of a chilling development. Bearded men, riding on Honda motorcycles, carrying Kalashnikov rifles and satellite telephones, were driving along the trails of the deep, treeless valleys in Zabul province about 100 miles southwest of Bagram. They were on their way.”

The worst beginning to the next chapter that could have been conceived of, with or without depicting people as insects or rodents: “The Taliban were reinfesting southeast Afghanistan.”

Measured use of violence: “‘What is your consideration of collateral damage?’ he asked. ‘None,’ I replied. ‘According to our information, there appears to be only true believers present with the target.'”

A keen eye for detail: “For a moment, it was interesting to contemplate the Taliban as a bunch of Fred Flintstones. Nah. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a fat Taliban.”

Subtle foreshadowing: “The same circumstances would reoccur: coalition and Afghan forces fighting to take ground in hundreds of villages like Deh Chopan throughout the region, holding it long enough to push out the Taliban, and then leaving, only to see the Taliban reemerge in the district unopposed.”

Passionate romance: “I had been told by several friends about finding troops ‘doing it’ in cramped spaces like the small bomb shelters around our tent living area and Porta-Johns. Yeah, Porta-Johns.”

Clever imperialist banter: “‘Wow,’ I said. ‘But that’s Indian territory.’ I gave them the street location. ‘It’s the heart of where the bad guys are hanging out these days.'”

Realistic unflinching looks at the front lines of the battlefield: “We had to get back to Bagram before dark. Besides, the mess hall served Alaskan king crab on Friday nights, and you had to get there early before it got too rubbery.”

Even subtler foreshadowing: “The graveyard sat on a high plain that overlooked Kabul against a backdrop of brown and gray rock mountains. Faded green Soviet vehicles — T-64 and T-72 tanks, BMP armored personnel carriers, BRDM armored cars, and more — were stretched out on a tan flat plain as far as the eye could see. Row after row of them.”

Inverted literary allusions based on movies: “I thought about Willard’s journey up the river and into the ‘heart of darkness.’ Maybe we were going to have to do something to get at these guys where they lived; the remote area where Kurtz called his home was as remote as Wana to us.”

Insights into local customs: “Dave and I put on our ‘Hajji hats’ — flat-topped Afghan hats worn by the local men.”

Massage cream sources that threaten national security: “I’d never given a massage in a combat zone before, but I dug out some hand cream with lotus flowers that I’d picked up at the BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP and figured it would do in place of massage oil.”

Hints of a sequel: “We have to become involved in helping to shape and improve the message of the true Muslim faith.”

DAVID SWANSON is the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press. He can be reached at:

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook, and sign up for: