Association of Former Intelligence Officers

IRREPARABLE HARM: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle over Secrecy and Free Speech, 1999, by Frank Snepp. The author, of course, is the former CIA officer who's 1977 book, DECENT INTERVAL, about the evacuation from Saigon in 1975, prompted the Agency to successfully sue him because he did not submit a draft of the book for pre-publication review. The only case ever where the government has been able to uphold it security oath policy for officials entrusted with sensitive classified information. This new book, IRREPARABLE HARM (which Snepp did submit for review), is about that episode, the lawsuit and its aftermath.(Wash Post, Loeb, 10/12 Style section) (JdMac)

Reviewed in AFIO Weekly Intelligence Notes #41-99, 15 Oct 1999

IRREPARABLE HARM, by Frank Snepp, Random House, 1999. The author previously violated his agreement with CIA and published a book without obtaining prior clearance. In 1977, after he quit his job as an intelligence analyst, he published "Decent Interval," about an event he witnessed first hand -- the fall of Saigon in 1975 - without letting the CIA read it first, something he had signed an agreement to do.

``Decent Interval'' created a storm, telling how unprepared the United States was for North Vietnam's final push to power and how U.S. diplomatic "dithering" during Saigon's last days abandoned thousands of our loyal Vietnamese allies to face uncertain futures, a story that resonates with many a Vietnam veteran. The book was riddled with guilt and compassion for the Vietnamese -- Snepp says he was not able to save a Vietnamese woman who killed herself and the child she said he fathered.

But the book told no official secrets. The fall of Saigon, the helicopters whirling away from the U.S. Embassy, the panicky crowds trying to flee, the thousands left behind were not secrets, only embarrassments. Moreover, the book was published at a time when there was not a day when the agency was not being hammered or embarrassed, or worse - for there were others who did not shrink from putting the lives of agency personnel at risk by publishing the names of agents.

Now, more than 20 years later, Snepp tells in ``Irreparable Harm'' how, after he published his earlier book, the government sued him for violating its rules and found a judge who would not let the word Vietnam be uttered in his courtroom. A battle over what happened in the last days of Saigon turned into a fight over fiduciary trust and Snepp, the CIA man defended by an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, lost and lost big.

Snepp, now a Los Angeles TV news producer covering stories such as the Monica Lewinsky case, says he was unprepared for what happened to him. ``I thought the law would serve me better. I wanted to help the Vietnamese and wound up hurting everyone around me. I was shocked by all the people I hurt,'' he said.

Snepp endured a long period of being broke and scrambling for work. His hopes of getting his case reversed were crushed by the Supreme Court in 1980. "Irreparable Harm" tells the story of Snepp's travails. The New Yorker's legal expert Jeffrey Toobin calls the Snepp case ``a constitutional train wreck,'' and the Kirkus review syndicate says Snepp's new book ``is a pebble's eye view of being run over by a large truck.'' (Reuters, 13 Jul 99) (BobH)

Reviewed in AFIO Weekly Intelligence Notes #29-99, July 22, 1999

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