Over the years there haven’t been many better ways to promote your book than by getting it banned. It just seems that anything that a government decides people shouldn’t see suddenly becomes the only thing they want to see. In the case of books, because they contain so much info and have such power to inform, there have been countless cases of their being simply too risky or packed with "sensitive" info.
Spy books are a prime example here; more specifically, the books that have been written by spies that divulge specific information about the world of spying and the upper levels of government. There have been quite a few examples of governments' deeming a spy-related book to be too sensitive or deciding that it gives away too much. Thankfully for you as the reader, a lot of them made their way to the public. So, without further ado, let’s get moving on our examples of spy books they didn’t want you to read.
This book’s full title is Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, and it’s a prime example of what happens when a government tries to ban a book. The autobiography was written by Peter Wright in 1985; he was the Assistant Director of MI5, the British intelligence agency.
The book chronicles Wright’s attempts to track down a Soviet mole within the MI5, and goes into a great amount of detail about what he did and how he did it. He also discusses, in detail, the goings-on at the intelligence agency on a day-to-day basis. Because he was the Assistant Director, he had an unprecedented level of access to the MI5’s infrastructure: something the government quickly decided was a danger.
The book remains banned in Great Britain but has been published in Australia and the USA — giving Brits easy access, if they want it (which, of course, they do).
Operation Dark Heart is the memoir of U.S Army intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and gives an incredibly detailed account of his five months spent in Afghanistan. This book is notably more controversial at time of writing because the conflict in the Middle East is still ongoing, meaning the U.S government is always trying to protect its image and the pictures painted of this conflict.
The book was technically published twice: the first was approved with minor changes by the U.S Army and a limited number were made available. Following this, other departments in the U.S government decided that there were certain passages in the book which were too sensitive for general release. They then censored the book even more and re-published it. The problem was that the original had become a collectors' item, and the public had a thirst for the unaltered edition. This led to its being released on multiple websites in its entirety, and prompted an official statement on the matter from the U.S Army.
Richard Tomlinson was an MI6 officer who was put into prison in 1997 for breaking the Official Secrets Act when he provided an Australian publisher the outline of a book he wanted to write. The book, which would eventually become known as The Big Breach, was a detailed account of Tomlinson’s experience within the British secret service, and as such contained a lot of sensitive information.
The fact that he was actually imprisoned for simply providing a synopsis of the content is a testament to how volatile the content was, especially in the late 1990s. During his imprisonment, Tomlinson actually completed the book and eventually published it in Russia. It became a sought after item, especially in the UK, and in the end MI6 allowed the book to be published in England, but withdrew all of Tomlinson’s rights to the profits.
This didn’t stop the book from selling, though. Finally, after so many years of strife, MI6 agreed to release the funds back to him and stated that they "overreacted." To this day, The Big Breach remains one of the most popular "whistleblowing" spy books of all time.