CIA tries to re-classify info in upcoming book

A dispute between CBS book unit Simon & Schuster and the CIA went public Thursday as the publisher and author Valerie Plame sued the agency toppers over details in the ex-intelligence agent’s upcoming tome.

Simon & Schuster alleges that the CIA is trying to reclassify information about the dates Plame served in the agency, thus making publication of her memoir, “Fair Game,” untenable. It has filed suit against CIA director of national intelligence J. Michael McConnell and CIA director Michael Hayden.

Publisher alleges that information about Plame’s dates of service was contained in a letter that the government sent as an unclassified document to her; it has since been posted on the Web.

“By unreasonably interfering in Valerie Wilson’s memoir in violation of the first amendment the executive branch seeks to prevent information relating to its own misconduct from reaching the American public,” the complaint states.

Plame is the wife of former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, seeks to stop the government from reclassifying the dates and allow the publication of the manuscript, in which Plame writes of experience as her CIA identity was leaked.

The CIA has said that the letter was sent in error and the information should be considered classified.

Simon & Schuster is looking to speed up the legal process by seeking a declaratory judgment. The book is planned for release by the CBS division in October, and a decision would have to be handed down at some point over the summer for the publication to remain on schedule.

As print media have increasingly taken on issues of political importance, they have sparred with the CIA’s Publications Review Board over national-security details. Publishers generally accommodate the agency; complaint noted that the CIA had asked that many details be removed from the tome.

Rarely has such a conflict turned into a lawsuit. “We feel we exhausted every other avenue before taking this step,” said Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg.

Suit over whether to allow the disclosure brings the Plame incident full circle. Wilson originally became a media figure because of a disclosure by Robert Novak that outed the ambassador’s wife as a CIA agent.

That incident has had far-reaching media consequences, leading to scandals involving former Time correspondent Matthew Cooper and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller as well as the conviction of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Plame is still skedded to appear at an annual book confab in Gotham on Saturday, reps said, as well as to make other public appearances.

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