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Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech Paperback – April 20, 2001
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Former CIA spook Frank Snepp was one of the last Americans lifted off the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975, at the tail end of the Vietnam War. In the days leading up to that fateful moment, he complained that the United States needed to do more to protect its intelligence assets, most of whom were left behind. "We'd betrayed the Vietnamese who'd depended on us," writes Snepp in Irreparable Harm, "and those who worked most closely with them ... now had blood on our hands, for it was we who in our daily contacts had convinced them to trust us." Snepp criticized this turn of events in a 1977 book, Decent Interval, and was promptly sued by the CIA because they had not given him clearance to write about his experiences. The resulting court case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Snepp tried to defend himself on First Amendment grounds with the help of a then-unknown Harvard lawyer named Alan Dershowitz. He ultimately lost the case, plus his money and the right to publish anything about the CIA without first receiving authorization. Irreparable Harm--which has received CIA clearance--captures all the twists and turns of Snepp's legal fight, but even better, it casts light on the nature of bureaucracies and how they protect their turf. If you've ever wondered why there aren't more kiss-and-tell books written by onetime CIA agents, Irreparable Harm will show you why. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Written with deep indignation, Snepp's engaging memoir presents a compelling case study of how claims of national security arguably stifle expression that in no way endangers national security but instead might merely embarrass the government. A CIA operative in Vietnam from 1969 to 1975, Snepp grew frustrated by his superiors' lack of concern for the thousands of South Vietnamese who assisted the U.S. throughout the war and whom he believes were abandoned by the U.S. after the North's victory. Upon his return to the U.S., Snepp found himself at odds with the agency he had so loyally served, ultimately quitting to write Decent Interval (Random House, 1977). While the CIA did not stop publication of the book, it ultimately sued Snepp for violating a contract that required him to clear all publications with the agency. After lower courts ruled in favor of the CIA, Snepp appealed to the Supreme Court. The justices denied Snepp an oral argument and affirmed the government's asserted need for broad discretion to censor former CIA employees' publications. The amazing point, Snepp writes, is that his book contained no state secrets. Snepp's level-headed account is only slightly marred by awkward forays into Raymond Chandleresque monologue ("In time, [my two lovers] were sharing everything I had to offer but my heart. That I reserved for my only true mistress, the book that was to cleanse me"). Occasional howlers aside, the revealing mea culpas scattered throughout the text humanize Snepp, enhancing what is at once a moving personal narrative and a disturbing examination of how claims of national security can have a sledgehammer effect on arguments about free speech, overwhelming all competing claims. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
In the present book Snepp describes the ways in which his former employers, the Central Intelligence Agency, used its considerable influence, powers, and resources to derail his effort to publish the book, and upon the failure of that effort ("Decent Interval" was published in 1977), to then punitively pursue confiscation of all of the monies earned by Snepp in association with the book's overwhelming sales success in order to punish Snepp for his trangression of the rules forbidding publication of any materials by former employees without express permission by the CIA. The law suit subsequently filed by the CIA went through all of the appropriate venues, finally landing in the Supreme Court and, according to Snepp, an audience that was quite sympathetic to the Agency's argument. Thus, although he was defended well by a then little-known Harvard lawyer by the name of Alan Dershowitz, Snepp lost the case to the CIA.
Of course, given his personal involvement and the loss of a substantial sum of money as a result, one suspects Snepp is less than objective in his analysis of the case. He admits as much by way of an extended critique of himself and his own actions, which he readily admits may have had the inadvertent and ironic effect of increasing the degree of governmental restrictions on information, acting to further bias the government's restrictions on free speech, open government, and secrecy itself. This is a very interesting read, although it hardly for the faint of heart. I recommend it for anyone interested in the ways in which the bureaucracy works and operates. Enjoy!
Still, it is hard to empathize with Snepp for many reasons. His self-portrait is unflattering, but convincing... an unfortunate combination. At base, Snepp did sign an agreement allowing CIA to review everything he wrote and then broke that agreement. Sure, there may be technical legal reasons to let him off, and the CIA review policy reeks with abuse potential. But to a non-lawyer, the fact that he signed the agreement is more compelling than the legal minutiae. And I could sympathize more with his ensuing financial plight if he had, say, stooped to getting a day job. Finally, I could maybe relate to the destruction of his personal life, if it weren't centered on simultaneous mistresses.