TRADE SECRETS: Three lessons in security clearance an author needs to know


Gideon Asche with friend Kal

Occasionally an author will find it difficult, if not impossible, to tell the whole truth. This is especially so for members of the military. Red Tape, official and industrial secrets and the country’s best interests demand forensic vetting by the organisations holding all the power before a manuscript is even written.

‘I am an old worn-out paratrooper turned spook then turned author,’ says Californian author Gideon Asche, whose debut novel, Jinnik, has received high praise from reviewers.

‘I actually didn’t intend to be an author. Writing was simply an attempt to deal with the past and lessen the intensity of night terrors. A soldier without a cause is a sad thing.’

And, to help this former spook to lay his personal ghosts, Gideon wrote Jinnik, a real and gritty account of a human intelligence team he commanded as a young intelligence officer. They worked behind the Iron Curtain between 1978 and 1989.

His story was fictionalised to keep the US Department of Defence from giving him ‘too much grief’ but they still had to approve it before it was published – and this approval took three years and a string of rejections before the manuscript was eventually passed.

‘In my own arrogance I somehow thought it was something about me that was giving screeners heartburn and it took me months to figure out they didn’t give a hoot what I said about my own history. It was my references to Israel and Mossad that got their panties is a wad.

‘Once I figured it out it was easy.’

Eventually, Gideon received his clearance and Jinnik was published.23274758

‘It is as accurate as DOD would allow me to write, although they required I publish it as an “historical fact-based fiction”,’ he added.

In this unusual and interesting post, Gideon has agreed to share the lessons he has learned with any aspiring writer whose manuscript would require security clearance. In a candid and detailed account, he relates the three lessons he has learned through trial and error.

This is what he has to say:

Holding a security clearance SECRET or above has responsibility attached and there are three lessons any aspiring author with a Federal Security Clearance needs to learn the easy way. The hard way is extremely unpleasant and expensive.

Lesson #1


This does not mean that you can’t write about your combat or clandestine service. It simply means you need to make nice with the Feds and let them help you decide what is OK to publish and what is taboo.

There is always a period of time anything classified must be kept secret (usually 25 years). If that time has not passed or you are not sure of your exit briefing requirements, contact your old unit and simply ask for a release.

They will run a quick check on your records to identify any correlation between you and any major security event. Unless you are on a flagged mission roster from some operation that is still classified, they will send you a release. Problem solved… Go write your book.

However, if you are one of the unfortunates who are flagged, your ordeal will begin.

If your history includes serving with any Special Ops Unit such as CAG, NSWG, FOG, NSA, CIA, ONI, SFOD, MARSOC, you were a PJ, a RANGER, or a Rescue Officer you more than likely held a TOP SECRET Clearance. The Feds will want more explanation and, if you happen to be writing about a time when you were actively engaging in classified ops, they will ask for an outline then tell you no.

They won’t tell you why they said no but you will have an opportunity to fix it even though you have no clue what it is you need to fix or omit. Take courage, this happens to all of us. You can get beyond it and publish your book.

This brings us to

8610938Lesson #2

Ask questions. Lots of questions. In my case I automatically grew a big head and assumed it was something about my incredibly exciting, heroic and patriotic service that was the origin of my rejection. But I continued to receive rejections no matter what I changed.

Finally my arrogance took a back seat and I discovered my service was insignificant and had nothing to do with my denials. One of the problems was the simple inclusion of a three letter acronym for the Stealth Bomber. The acronym was only used inside the R&D team at LTV (my first civilian job) and was never declassified. The other issue was mention of a foreign government’s operations. Asking would have clued me in much sooner than trial and error.

Lesson #3

If any other organisation or government has authority over information you intend to write about, you must get their clearance first. Otherwise you will spend months trying to persuade the Feds you are authorised to release the information. This also applies to industrial secrets if the company is a Fed contractor.

There is one more lesson I learned. A lesson I should have known from the beginning but again my arrogance got in the way. The screener knows nothing about you, he has nothing against you and he does not gain anything by denying your request. Be nice! The screener is more than likely just an old soldier too.

I was a complete jerk on several occasions before I realised why I was being denied. My screener was my mirror; just an old spook like me and he really didn’t deserve to be treated with anything but respect. So I am grateful he did not jump on a plane, come out here to California and beat some military bearing into me. I did apologise before it was all over.

My best advice is don’t give up. Keep submitting and eventually they will approve. It took me three years.

You can read all about Gideon Asche on his Goodreads author page:

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Buy Jinnik from Amazon:


3 thoughts on “TRADE SECRETS: Three lessons in security clearance an author needs to know

  1. Mary Smith says:

    Interesting post. Glad I’ll never have such problems!

  2. katepavelle says:

    So I can either jump through the hoops or wait 2 years. But wait – I wonder if this applies to former employees of government labs 🙂

    • Gideon says:

      Kate this applies to anyone who signed a GOVERNMENT security pledge on out processing.

      If you did not sign a security form explaining both the penalties and time constraints…

      the odds are good you are OK.

      You can check with one phone call to your old employer.

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