Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Secrecy and Free Speech

Frank Snepp, Author Random House (NY) $26.95 (391p) ISBN 978-0-394-50503-9
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)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 391 pages - 978-0-7006-1091-4
Open Ebook - 414 pages - 978-0-7006-2377-8
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