The Works of Chalen Tretiakova

What is Life of Redactions?

I get many emails from readers asking “What is Life of Redactions? What does it mean?”. So I thought it was time to sit down and think long and hard about that.



Редакция (“Redactsiya” Night Club) in Moscow

What is “redaction” (редакция)? For those of us who worked in government work, it is a daily thing we constantly think about. For the rest of the population, it has become a very common word once the Edward Snowden disclosures of June 2013 made the news.

re·dac·tion (riˈdakSHən/) 

noun: redaction

plural noun: redactions

the process of editing facts for publication.

  • the censoring or obscuring of part of an event or text for legal or security purposes

I think, for the purposes of this blog, I chose the title Life of Redactions because for me, it symbolised not only my past 8 years of government service, but a lot of my personal life as well.

In my line of work, secrets were an essential part of the successes of our work in intelligence. While most people know about those big annoying black marks on documents known as “redactions”, the real reason they need to redact those portions comes our work in the field. A majority of the operations, activities, and even the mere presence of a certain governments’ agents in certain countries where, if they were discovered, would be construed as an act of war – regardless of the action or intent of said agents. This is the reason these facts must be kept secret for years even after it’s over. This protects the Nation, the actors, and even the actor’s families, friends, and so on.



A perfect example of the need for redactions is the raid that killed Usama Bin Laden (our codename was “NEPTUNE SPEAR”). If the names of the SEAL team members that conducted this operation ever were to get out, their lives and families lives (at a minimum) would be endangered.

In the field, while under Official “Diplomatic” cover, and especially under Non-Official cover, it is necessary to alter certain details of one’s life in order to maintain “cover” and successfully complete the assignment. During a career, one might have a wide variety of assignments and career postings in foreign countries, and with each new posting comes a new cover story about your “life”. The downside to having several covers, is that if you ever bump into someone who remembered you under a different cover identity, you have to remember every little detail of that identity – from the mannerisms and accent, all the way down to the way you styled your hair and walked down the street.

Most of us understand that in the service of one’s country, certain rules change, certain commandments seem to…shift. Murder, for instance, isn’t the word we use for what happens when soldiers shoot to kill. And lie doesn’t mean quite the same thing while deep undercover in Tehran as it does when you’ve scarfed the last cookie from the cookie jar. We have come to pragmatically understand the critical need for intelligence gathering, and sometimes gathering that intelligence involves crossing into otherwise unethical territory.But while all that may be true, there’s still a cost involved. The fact is that the more you lie, the easier it becomes – and that if you lie to everyone long enough you lose sight of the truth altogether.

The problem is, people don’t want the truth anymore it seems. It’s messy and it keeps them up at night.

One of the downsides to this, is that when you meet someone while under a cover identity, and that relationship starts to get serious, you cannot just reveal everything. Because that could endanger yourself, your team, and your operation. It could get people killed, or cause planned future events to go (or not go) as planned. On a personal level, you feel horrible that this significant other doesn’t know who you truly are deep inside. In the end, they don’t end up leaving you, you end up leaving them.

This is another of the major reasons I left the Agency and I’m rebuilding a “normal” life. If the people who were in my life before wish to join me on the honourable side, they have my contact information. I would love to hear from them!



2 responses

  1. I’d agree about people not wanting the truth or being able to deal with it. Governments the world over do a lot of messy stuff which can be justified as being for the greater good long term, but can be messy and uncomfortable in the short-term. In politics this is often seen. It’s often obvious before an election that taxes will have to rise after the election or spending will have to be cut, however few politicians ever say this, because they know that if they do, they’ll lose support, so have to fudge and pretend and be evasive, which is cited as “dishonest politicians” but is in reality just a reaction to the public being too immature to accept tough decisions.


    31/03/2015 at 11:30

    • I agree, luckily, I worked for an agency that was *supposed* to be non-partisan, so we didn’t have to worry about votes and support, but you hit it right on the head when you said “for the greater good”. Those *exact* words were what I used to assuage any guilt I had about doing the work we did.


      31/03/2015 at 16:49

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