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Panetta skipped CIA's OK of book, potentially putting agency in delicate position with others

| Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, 7:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Former CIA Director Leon Panetta clashed with the agency over the contents of his recently published memoir and allowed his publisher to begin editing and making copies of the book before he had received final approval from the CIA, according to former officials and others familiar with the project.

Panetta's decision appears to have put him in violation of the secrecy agreement that all CIA employees are required to sign, and occurred amid a showdown with agency reviewers that could have derailed the release of the book this month, people involved in the matter said.

The memoir, which is almost unfailingly complimentary toward the spy service in which he served as director from 2009 to 2011, was ultimately approved by the CIA's Publications Review Board before it reached store shelves.

But preempting that panel — even temporarily — carried legal risks for Panetta and his publisher. Other former CIA employees have been sued for breach of contract and forced to surrender proceeds from sales of books that ran afoul of CIA rules.

Neither Panetta nor the agency would comment on the dispute over the book, “Worthy Fights.” A spokeswoman for the publisher, Penguin Press, would say only that Panetta's book “was submitted earlier this year to both the Department of Defense and CIA for the requisite reviews. Secretary Panetta worked closely with both to ensure that ‘Worthy Fights' was accurate and appropriate for publication.”

But others involved in the process said that Panetta became so frustrated with CIA delays and demands for redactions that he appealed to CIA Director John Brennan and threatened to proceed with publication without clearance from the agency.

The CIA's dispute with its former director, and its apparent decision not to pursue the potential violation, could complicate the agency's ability to negotiate with other would-be authors and avoid accusations of favoritism.

“If he doesn't follow the specific protocols, then why should there be any expectation for anybody underneath him to do so?” said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who has handled more than a dozen cases involving authors and the CIA's review board.

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