ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - A CIA agent claims the agency derailed his career because he wrote a novel that cast The Company in a negative light - and that the CIA objected to phrases such as "conch fritters" and "tropical breeze" as classified information.
Under the alias Jim Markson, the man sued the CIA, 14 of its officers - 13 of them identified only by their first name and an initial - and John Doe CIA agents, in Federal Court. He accuses the defendants of retaliation and violating his rights to free speech and due process.
Markson says he started drafting his novel in 2011, the year in which the fictitious story is set.
"It concludes with the arrest of fictional terrorists who were conspiring to conduct massive biological attacks against opening day professional football games in close proximity to the ten-year anniversary of the real terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," the complaint states.
"The plot involves the efforts of a fictional CIA intelligence officer who works with a fictional former asset, without the knowledge of the CIA, trying to prevent the above attacks. A secondary theme of the above draft manuscript involves the fictional intelligence officer's struggle with dysfunctional supervisors and managers that the agency employed/tolerated.
"The draft manuscript paints a fictional portrait of the CIA and the Intelligence Community, spinning yarns of bureaucratic intrigue, abuse, and frustration. Despite this very credible bureaucratic employment setting, all material aspects of the plot were drawn strictly from Markson's imagination."
Markson says his supervisors were not keen on his portrayal of the agency.
He claims in 2012 he was selected for a covert foreign mission, but after the agency's Publication Review Board (PRB) read the manuscript, he was taken off the mission and denied subsequent requests for jobs within the agency.
Markson says the manuscript contained no classified information, but his direct supervisor "developed a personal animus against Markson because he felt the fictional manuscript portrayed him as a fictional character in a negative light."
After being denied additional opportunities for which he was qualified, Markson says, the PRB held a hearing on the manuscript and determined, erroneously, that it contained classified material.
Markson says the Publication Review Board considered the book "to be an autobiographical work of nonfiction."
Markson said he rewrote sections of the book that were of concern to the board, but it still "opined that publication of anything, at all, would be inappropriate for a current staff employee, and could impair the performance of duties by Markson and/or the Agency," despite Markson's argument that similarly situated employees had written espionage novels.
"Mr. Markson's specific points were summarily ignored and not addressed," he says in the 67-page complaint.
"Without further specifying what material was classified, as required by Agency regulation, the manuscript was declared classified in its totality. Without providing any substantiation, and despite direct evidence to the contrary, the board further asserted that the use of pen-name for the book would actually increase attention to the book and thus inhibit Markson in the performance of his duties."
Markson claims the board rejected another request for reconsideration, again refusing to identify specific material in the book it deemed to be classified.
"As a result, words such as 'conch fritters', 'dog track', 'tropical breeze', 'mangrove swamp' and the names of any city, county, state, or geographic location, was redacted as 'classified.' Associated with above, the names of various business and establishments, some of which never existed and were wholly made up, were also deemed 'classified,'" the complaint states.
Markson wants the court to declare the agency's actions in violation of his First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. He also wants compensatory and punitive damages for not being able to timely process his manuscript, "keeping in mind the substantial economic blow the manuscript suffered by not capitalizing on the timing following the Boston Marathon bombings when interest in terrorist activity was at a peak."
Markson is represented by Phoenix Harris.