Phlip Agee is one of those names from the past that keep bubbling to the surface of the news. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the State Department to revoke the passport of the renegade ex-CIA agent, and both houses of Congress have begun consideration of bills that would make it a crime for anyone to imitate Agee and reveal the names of agents, even if that information can be gleaned from public sources.

One suspects the real reason the CIA is pushing this legislation is that its own security system is so lax; most of the classified information Agee has revealed in recent years he learned after leaving the Agency. Instead of cleaning up its act and making it tougher to uncover the names of agents, the CIA wants Congress to go after the symptom of its own ineptitude—the reporting of the information.

All of this, of course, grows out of a new “sensitivity” about national security, but it’s fair to say that Agee and his cohorts at Covert Action Information Bulletin deserve a share of blame for the backlash. They still fool some people who are unable to distinguish between an attack on the Agency that Agee himself says is intended to destroy it, and the kind of harsh but constructive criticism that might actually allow the CIA to learn something from its past mistakes.

When he is allowed by the government to open his mouth, the best exponent of the latter view is Frank Snepp, the CIA’s chief strategy analyst in Vietnam at the end of the war and the author of Decent Interval, a gripping and enormously instructive account of the collapse of the Saigon regime in. 1975. Snepp, who left the Agency in 1976 at age 33, knows from personal experience about the CIA’s tendency to blame the bearer of bad news instead of deal with its own inadequacy. He also believes Agee’s approach is destructive, if not traitorous, and that there has to be a different way to analyze the CIA—a Third Way, it was called, when the subject was the future of Vietnam.

Right now, ironically, Snepp himself is considerably worse off than Agee—in fact, he’s nearly broke. In February of last year, the Supreme Court decreed not only that Snepp had to clear virtually everything he writes—fiction and nonfiction—with the CIA, but that he must “disgorge the benefits of his faithlessness”—a fancy legal way of saying that because he had not cleared the manuscript of Decent Interval with the CIA before publication, he had to turn over all the royalties he earned to the government. That has amounted to about $150,000. Agee was luckier; he drew a liberal judge—Gerhard Gesell—who allowed him to keep the profits from his books.

But the fact that Snepp is broke and Agee isn’t may be the least of the poetic injustices involved in the long, drawn-out controversy over the CIA’s apostates. What’s worse, for Frank Snepp and anyone else interested in reforming the Agency, is that all this talk about naming agents and cracking down on disclosures means Snepp is now indelibly linked in the public’s mind with other, less reluctant CIA renegades like Agee, Victor Marchetti, and John Stockwell, who wrote a book revealing secrets about covert operations in Angola.

Newspaper and magazine accounts link them all in one breath; so do recent fiction thrillers like The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum. When Snepp recently tried to peddle a screenplay about his case, many Hollywood types thought he was Agee. Hadn’t he fled abroad to blow secrets and endanger lives by naming names? Snepp hadn’t, of course; in a government where too much is over-classified, he revealed no secrets. But the confusion comes as no surprise. When people on the left rise in defense of critical ex-agents, it’s natural that Marchetti, Agee, Snepp, and Stockwell get lumped together; those are all the apostates they’ve got. Over on the right, supporters of the Agency who take a hard line on funny business by ex-agents go further. They take this group and throw them in with men like Frank Terpil and Edwin Wilson, the ex-CIA men who sold weapons to Qaddafi.

As far as the Agency itself is concerned, the more fudging of lines the better. If critics get lumped together with profiteers, it’s easier to write them all off as threats to national security; and if responsible critics are confused with less responsible ones, the overall desecration of the temple can be kept to a minimum.

What this mentality ignores is that someone like Frank Snepp never really desecrated the temple in the first place. He doesn’t fit either the right’s all-inclusive “loose lips sink ships” mold or the left’s search for ways to flatten the Agency. And because he doesn’t fit because he stands defiantly, even arrogantly, in the no man’s land of moderate politics—Frank Snepp’s story has never registered on the national conscience.

A year and a half after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in his case, the injustices he and the First Amendment suffered at the hands of the government remain distinctly under appreciated. Likewise, the important lessons his book teaches about how the CIA breaks down and how it can be made more competent and responsible have been lost amid ideological crossfire. Between the extremes of defending and destroying the CIA, there is the idea of improving it. As Snepp knows all too well, it’s an uneasy middle ground. His phone—when he has the money to pay the bill—doesn’t ring much any more.

Decent Exposure

When Jimmy Carter’s CIA director, Stansfield Turner, decided to single out Frank Snepp and ask the Justice Department to prosecute him for violating his secrecy agreement, he saw the Snepp case as an object lesson for other former agents tempted to write books about the Agency without prior clearance by the CIA’s Publications Review Board. But the real object lesson, Turner should have realized, was not in Snepp’s case but in his book. The point of Decent Interval was to improve the Agency by telling the truth about a botched mission—the evacuation of South Vietnam—that reflected in a thousand ways on the question of why the CIA has not been as good an intelligence service as it could be.

Snepp had hoped the Agency would undertake this task itself. On returning home in 1975, he sought repeatedly to convince his superiors to conduct some kind of internal post mortem. How could firm intelligence indicating a direct assault by the North Vietnamese against Saigon have been ignored? How could the fiction of a negotiated settlement have been maintained to the point where the CIA station chief, Thomas Polgar, believed up to the day of the final evacuation that it was more important to get Polish and Hungarian diplomats back to their hotel safely than to assure the evacuation of faithful Vietnamese? How could the CIA’s system have become so fouled up that thousands of personnel files identifying Vietnamese who helped the Americans were left behind for the victors?

The answers to these kinds of questions were “too complicated,” Snepp was told by the CIA’s inspector general’s office. Despite the scores of blown secrets and betrayed agents, there would be no investigation—not even a whitewash. Meanwhile, Polgar and U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin, along with Henry Kissinger and William Colby, began leaking to favored reporters their own self-serving accounts of what had happened. This really set Snepp off. In early 1976 he resigned from the Agency to write his book.

What’s so important about Decent Interval is that its message extends beyond the specifics of Vietnam. When Snepp describes how practically everyone in official Saigon knew which embassy officials were with the CIA because they were the only ones who drove Ford Pintos, he’s saying something about the chronic problem of comic-opera cover that has long plagued the Agency. When we see Ambassador Martin declaring only days before the evacuation that sensitive documents can’t be burned because the dust from the incinerator will smudge his limousine, we know there’s something wrong with the way information gets registered at the highest levels of an American embassy. Martin and Polgar consistently filtered out hard intelligence indicating the end was near, and when it did slip through, Kissinger ignored the evidence.

By describing how the truth gets lost as it moves up the chain of command, Decent Interval illustrates one of the government’s classic problems: the officials in the field don’t want to report bad news and the policy-makers in Washington don’t want to hear it. Both groups fear short-term harm to their reputations. Who wants to be the guy saying, “It’s lost, it won’t work”? This is one of the keys to what went wrong throughout the war in Vietnam and what happens in the government every day. The cost of ignoring events and intelligence that don’t fit preconceptions is not considered until it’s too late. By that time, the blame can be passed around—or disregarded. Understanding this phenomenon is essential to any examination of the American system, and Snepp’s case study explains it best.

Because he revealed new details about the indecent end to a 20-year foreign policy commitment that deeply shaped American life, Snepp’s account broke like a Tet Offensive bombshell when it was published by Random House in 1977. But once the emotional charge wore off, it was clear the lessons had not been absorbed. In a 1978 press conference, Jimmy Carter drew a distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” whistle-blowers and put Snepp in the latter category. “I have not read the book,” the president said without regret. “I don’t know the substance of it [and] don’t believe that he has revealed anything that would lead to an improvement in our security apparatus.”

Had he read and absorbed Frank Snepp’s message—that the government must figure out ways of circumventing the bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining truth from the field—a certain group of 52 Americans who symbolized the failure of his presidency might not have been seized in the first place. Snepp had hoped not to “touch anyone’s ideological nerve,” as he put it in his foreword. He didn’t want to refight the rightness or wrongness of the war. As a way of approaching a book on Saigon’s end game, this made sense, The reader gets a view of how the system malfunctioned that is seemingly free of cant or any other accumulated baggage of two decades of tortured thinking on Vietnam. But Snepp underestimated the power of his story, the chill that runs through the reader when the voices of the doomed Vietnamese come over the two-way radios as the Americans embark on their frenzied exit (“Save me! Tell me where to go! I’m Mr. Hai, the cook”). Snepp thought, wrongly, that he could touch a nerve of guilt over our treatment of those Vietnamese who depended on us, without piercing anything political.

Unfortunately for Snepp, that was impossible; after all, the whole question of our commitment to the South Vietnamese was at the very center of the Vietnam debate. How could a book inspiring guilt about our treatment of Vietnamese allies possibly be apolitical? And yet the question remained—what kind of politics? Obviously it wasn’t the conventional left analysis. The antiwar critique had never exactly rested on a commitment to South Vietnamese friends. And it wasn’t the hawk perspective either. Snepp, who says he joined the CIA after graduate school at Columbia in part to escape the draft, did not view U.S. troop escalation as an answer. But if Snepp is just a mushy moderate and his book reflects a moderate analysis of the war, then the intensity of the reaction from the CIA and the rest of the government is a little puzzling.

It’s puzzling, that is, until you realize that Snepp’s view of the war, unlike the view of radical apostates, is essentially his former employer’s. Contrary to reputation, the CIA never took an especially hawkish position on Vietnam; but to the extent that the Agency had an institutional opinion (beyond a faith in counterinsurgency), it believed the U.S. had a commitment to the Vietnamese people with whom Agency personnel had worked for as long as 25 years. So when Snepp proved in his book that the CIA was in part responsible for abandoning these people—that it never cared as much as it claimed— the sense of hurt was palpable. For all the carnage Agee’s revelations left in their wake, there was something about Snepp’s book that must have cut the Agency especially close to the bone. Here was someone say not only that a mission had been botched, but that the CIA, through its actions in Saigon’s final hours, had broken faith with the Vietnamese, had been guilty of exactly what liberals in Congress were accused of when they voted to cut off funding for the war. In that sense, Snepp was charging those responsible for our chaotic evacuation with more than bad judgment and other easily brushed off offenses. The implicit charge in Decent Interval was monstrous hypocrisy—maybe the biggest in a whole generation of Vietnam hypocrisies, though Snepp would never put it that way.

So there is a special irony to the Supreme Court order that Snepp “disgorge the benefits of his faithlessness.” Snepp had charged the Agency with breaking faith with loyal South Vietnamese and failing to protect important intelligence sources. Now the Court was ruling that it was Snepp who had broken faith by not allowing the CIA to review his manuscript, even though it contained nothing that could possibly be considered classified. Perhaps the Court might have settled the matter by comparing the effects of the two forms of “faithlessness.” The effect of the CIA’s breach was to prevent thousands of South Vietnamese friends from escaping and to blow the covers of hundreds of agents operating throughout Vietnamese society. The effect of Snepp’s breach was to tell the truth about these events and to jeopardize no one.

Unfortunately, the issue was never addressed so squarely. If the decision is any indication, the Court majority took Jimmy Carter’s book reading course: it never cracked Decent Interval.

Putting Out a Contract

Among those who might bother to discuss it, the conventional wisdom about Frank Snepp is that he may have written a good book and he may have been dealt with too harshly, but he certainly should have known he was guilty of some form of breach of contract. This is unfair to Snepp for several reasons. On entering the Agency in 1968, Snepp did indeed sign a wide ranging “secrecy agreement” that required him to turn over anything he wrote to the Agency for review before publication. But so had many other ex-agents who never submitted their CIA books—men like Tom Braden and William F. Buckley. Former CIA official Miles Copeland actually bragged in the foreword of his 1974 book that he never cleared his manuscript. For all these men, the reason they didn’t feel obliged to submit their manuscripts before publication was the same: they were revealing nothing classified. Buckley even went so far as to assure Snepp that his former boss in the CIA, E. Howard Hunt—no doubt an impeccable witness—would back up Buckley’s claim that he disclosed no secrets.

The point was that ascertaining what was classified and what wasn’t always had been up to the CIA employee, not the Agency. Every document and piece of information has a designation, and agents and analysts are trained to tell which can be revealed and which cannot. That means officials must be trusted to give press briefings without revealing classified information and to be discreet at embassy cocktail parties. Until Victor Marchetti came along, it was up to the former agent to use similar discretion when writing a book.

In 1972 a U.S. Appeals Court judge upheld the CIA’s censorship of Marchetti and John Marks’s book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, but he ruled that the determining factor in prior restraint cases was whether or not secrets were involved. In Snepp’s case, they weren’t, and when he left the Agency in 1976 he willingly signed another secrecy document, a “termination secrecy agreement,” that said simply that he could not reveal any classified information.

Snepp believes this second agreement, based on the Marchetti decision, legally supersedes the first, but even if it doesn’t, he contends the original secrecy oath he signed on entering the Agency had been voided by the CIA’s behavior. That original agreement contained a clause saying that complaints by employees would be investigated. Snepp’s hadn’t been, and he thought that freed him.

So Snepp had three legs to stand on when he decided not to submit his manuscript: an awareness that only those writers revealing secrets had ever been bothered for not submitting manuscripts for clearance, a second contract that might legally supersede the first, and the knowledge that the Agency had not responded to his complaints. The leg he didn’t have to stand on was a book that was positive about the Agency. In fact, that was why he didn’t submit the manuscript in the first place: he knew his book would be emasculated, much as Marchetti and Marks’s was when the CIA finally got hold of it. Final proof that Snepp was right in his fears that even innocuous non-secrets would have been excised can be found in the case of former CIA Director William Colby, whose banal book, Honorable Men, was stripped by the Agency review board of commonknowledge details. (See “Le Couvert Blown: William Colby en Francais,” by Joseph Nocera, The Washington Monthly, November 1980.)

When the government initiated its case against Snepp, Stansfield Turner claimed that Snepp told him in a Mav 1977 meeting that he would in fact submit his manuscript and thus he misled the Agency. Long afterward, this charge would do much to besmirch Snepp’s reputation and weaken his case. Even someone like Archibald Cox felt obliged to throw in a caveat when criticizing the Snepp Supreme Court decision in the Harvard Law Review. After all, critics reasoned, this guy is no paragon of virtue; he lied to Turner.

As it happened, Snepp didn’t exactly lie to Turner. The CIA director even admitted under oath that what Snepp had said to him was simply that he would “abide by his secrecy agreement.” Snepp claims he meant the second agreement—the one that simply prevented him from revealing secrets. If that was so, he should have been more explicit. But for all Turner’s charges that Snepp deceived him, Turner must have had a good idea that Snepp was not going to be cooperative. Lawyers for the Agency immediately drafted another binding agreement for Snepp to sign. He refused, and CIA documents dated three days after the meeting show that the Agency already knew that he probably would not submit his manuscript.

Indeed, the CIA had long since been busy trying to sabotage the book, as court documents show. Two of Snepp’s closest colleagues from Saigon, Bill and Pat Johnson, were assigned by the Agency to probe their friend for details about his book and, Snepp thinks, to feed him classified information for inclusion. If he had taken the bait, of course, the CIA’s case would have been cinched. Simultaneously, one of Snepp’s ex-girlfriends, an office worker at CIA headquarters named Daphne Miller, began to spill everything she knew about him. Snepp had dumped her abruptly, and she may have been ripe for the role of informer for other reasons. Snepp believes that Agency officials confronted her with evidence that she had appeared at a party where marijuana was smoked, which is grounds for dismissal. In any event, Miller told the Agency what Snepp most feared revealing: the name of his publisher, Random House. The reason for Snepp’s fear was that in the Marchetti case the CIA had been able to seize the galleys from the publisher and exercise prior restraint. Snepp had taken elaborate precautions to avoid the same thing—he’d met his editor in the park or at safe houses.

But here Snepp had a stroke of luck. The CIA apparently refused to believe Miller; either that or it felt the book couldn’t be stopped. So the presses rolled in late 1977 and the truth about Saigon’s last gasps went on the public record. But for Snepp, the feeling that he was getting his message across would be short-lived.

The Wrong Object Lesson

As he prepared to testify before a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee in December 1977, Snepp was still idealistic enough—some would say naive enough—to believe the senators would be interested in his views on what went sour with the CIA in Vietnam’s final days. He was wrong, of course. The committee members didn’t care about the messages in Decent Interval, and they didn’t believe Snepp had anything to contribute to improving the Agency. In fact, the tone of the hearing was quite nasty: lots of questions about why he “squealed” and intimations from some conservative senators that he was a traitor.

Meanwhile, there were other pressures building toward a prosecution. In October, CIA Director Turner unleashed his “Halloween Massacre”—the firing of 820 veteran CIA officers he believed had outlived their usefulness. The housecleaning was long overdue, but Turner handled it clumsily and tempers flared. Taking Snepp to court would be a good way to discourage any of the other hundreds of disgruntled ex-employees from publishing books without clearance. This argument gained further credibility in the spring of 1978 when John Stockwell went public with his tale of failed covert operations in Africa. Stockwell wasn’t an Agee, but his book blew secrets. To the Agency, it looked as if the floodgates were about to open. But rather than push for legislation that would make it a crime for ex-agents to reveal secrets—the most sensible approach—the government decided to make a case against Snepp precisely because he had not revealed secrets. If Snepp could be punished for writing a book that disclosed nothing classified, then no one else writing anything critical of the CIA would dare defy the review process. Attorney General Griffin Bell, a former judge trying to live down a recently gained reputation for backing off other controversial prosecutions, was more than happy to oblige.

The only problem was finding something to charge Snepp with. Breach of contract alone wouldn’t do it; winning damages would require that Snepp had done damage—hurt the CIA—and the government must have known it couldn’t prove that. There was also the problem of selective enforcement. Why hadn’t other ex-employees like Miles Copeland and Tom Braden been prosecuted for breach of contract? All of this meant that the Justice Department lawyers would have to find another way to argue the case. After weeks of brainstorming, they crafted a novel argument from an obscure doctrine in the field of equity law—the “constructive trust.” Snepp would be charged with violating the same thing as business employees who profit from selling trade secrets to competitors. Eager to sculpt the law in ways that would please the attorney general, government attorneys argued that Snepp had an implicit obligation under the “fiduciary principle” to keep everything he learned on the job—even unclassified information—to himself.

But in the courtroom. of U.S. District Court Judge Oren Lewis, a crotchety Virginia conservative, the government didn’t even need that argument. Old Judge Lewis so thoroughly confused Snepp with Agee and Stockwell (the latter had just gone public with his Angola story and told 60 Minutes the country would be better off without the CIA) he lectured Snepp that “nobody has got a right to disclose classified information.” Lewis denied “Mr. Shepp” a trial by jury and, according to the court transcript, informed Snepp’s American Civil Liberties Union lawyers that “it didn’t make any difference” what evidence they had, it wouldn’t be admitted. Then the judge pointed to the highway leading to Richmond, where the appeals court is located.

The Brethren’s Revenge

“My father’s a judge,” Snepp later said in explaining why he refused the government’s. offer of a settlement just before his unsuccessful appeal in Richmond, “and I was brought up to believe in the eventual triumph of justice.” But Snepp’s upbringing, in an idealistic North Carolina family never prepared him for the Supreme Court. The 6-3 decision against him may have been the most absurd and intellectually shoddy performance in the 12 years of the Burger Court. The Court decided the case without briefs or oral argument; Snepp’s lawyers were not allowed to introduce evidence of his efforts to convince the CIA to investigate its role in the evacuation; and the unsigned majority opinion found that Snepp had “irreparably harmed the United States government.”

That last assertion is proof enough that the author(s) of the decision had neither read Decent Interval nor bothered to study CIA issues, but anyone still harboring doubts on that score only need look at a footnote in the opinion used to lambast Snepp: “It is impossible for a government wisely to make critical decisions about foreign policy and national defense without the benefit of dependable foreign intelligence. See generally T. Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets.”

That was precisely Snepp’s point—those “critical decisions” could not be made without changing the way the CIA performed. It was ludicrous to use his critique as an example of something weakening intelligence. Also ludicrous was the characterization of Thomas Powers’s book on Richard Helms as a model of proper discretion. The Man Who Kept the Secrets was laced with exactly the kind of classified information Snepp’s book lacked, and the blown secrets were obtained by Powers in interviews with the same members of the CIA’s old-boy network who were now screaming for Snepp’s scalp.

In his dissent, John Paul Stevens had little trouble picking apart the breach of contract argument. The law, dating from 1711, says that such contracts are dependent on the “rule of reason”—that enforcement requires that the justification for charging that the contract had been breached must be “reasonable” and in “the public interest.” The government’s certainly wasn’t. It had no reason for suing other than to prevent further embarrassment.

But how could one argue precedent against the “constructive trust”? Here, the Court majority was really writing new law, ruling that Snepp’s violation of “trust” did not “depend on whether his book actually contained classified information.” This was the truly chilling part of the opinion—the part that stomped all over the First Amendment in a way no other decision had in a long, long time. The Court was saying that any government employee with “access to confidential sources,” even if he hadn’t signed a secrecy agreement, could be in a “trust relationship.” This means, literally, that someone working in the departments of Agriculture or Commerce who writes a book explaining what’s wrong with the agency could have his royalties seized and could be required to trot anything he wrote on the subject past government authorities. The decision was so broad that if the Agriculture employee only told an author or reporter something he had learned in confidence, he could be punished.

Any other bureaucrat could be punished, then so could someone else in a similar position of trust, like, say, a law clerk. That’s right: the Snepp decision came out not long after the justices had finished reading pre-publication excerpts from a hot new book, The Brethren, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. The Brethren‘s revealing look inside the Supreme Court was possible only through interviews with law clerks who had “access to confidential sources” and were involved in “trust relationships.” It was generally believed around the Supreme Court that the justices’ anger over The Brethren had helped determine the scope of the Snepp decision. The message to law clerks and any other potential leakers was clear: Next time, you might not be so lucky. Next time, you might end up like Frank Snepp.

Hero Shunning

In personal terms, Snepp, was devastated by the decision. He had, of course, spent money in the more than three years since leaving the Agency, and now he owed the government his $22,000 advance from Random House plus about $130,000 in royalties. Because he’d had no other source of income for that period, he needed a loan to pay back the government. The advance for the book he’s now writing about his case went for the same purpose. He lives on what he can make from occasionally selling personal possessions and on fees from speaking engagements at a few law schools.

Because those speeches relate to his case, and therefore could relate to the Agency, they too have to be cleared by the CIA. Snepp’s lawyers have advised him to clear even the topics of extemporaneous speeches. And the screenplay he’s writing about his case (in order to raise money) binds him in a particularly strange Catch-22. He needs advice from professional screen writers about his script, but he can’t show it to them without clearance. Meanwhile, the CIA won’t accept rough drafts. So he has to finish the script himself and submit it to the Publications Review Board; then, if by some miracle the film is made, he has to keep his fingers crossed that the Agency doesn’t demand to review the rushes and force reshooting of scenes. Snepp is very careful about this because he knows that violation of the order to submit his utterances and writings for clearance could mean criminal penalties.

Snepp will be living under this form of censorship for the rest of his life, but he is haunted in other ways, too. Instead of nightmares about Vietnam, he has what he calls “soundmares,” where the voices of the doomed Vietnamese come over the radios once again. Worse, most of the ten or so Vietnamese he helped escape from South Vietnam and resettle in the United States won’t talk to Snepp any more. Not understanding the American legal system, they fear his problems may become their own.

The Vietnamese refugees are not the only ones who feel uncomfortable getting involved. At a reception not long after one of the court decisions, Snepp approached Roger Baldwin, the distinguished founder of the ACLU, to thank him for all the help the ACLU provided in the preparation of his case. “We did more for you than we probably should have,” Baldwin replied. Baldwin wasn’t alone; others have shied away too, and not just because Snepp’s name sounds straight from Dickens. Part of it is Snepp’s politics; his analysis of the war and the CIA is not the same as that of many who might otherwise be admirers. And part of it is his attitude. There are those who helped Snepp and wanted to make him a cause celebre—Anthony Lewis, John Hersey, and Robert Bernstein of Random House, to name a few—but Snepp never has been quite willing to build the necessary bridges to others who could aid him. He can be aloof, and, well, he feels kind of funny making friends with people on the left with whom he doesn’t have much in common. A fund-raiser planned for him last year fell through—not enough interest to support it.

Snepp’s problem is that he doesn’t fit into a niche that will allow him to find the recognition he deserves. Because his book and his case are not easily pigeonholed as liberal or conservative, the messages they carry have not been as widely disseminated as they might be. That’s too bad, for the issues raised by Decent Interval and by U.S. v. Snepp should be issues everyone can agree on. Maybe we’ll never see eye to eye on Vietnam or the proper role of the CIA, but all of us should think. hard about the kind of government that could be responsible for what Snepp describes—and all of us should shudder a little when we hear the name of an American persecuted for telling responsible, important truths.

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Jonathan Alter, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is a former senior editor and columnist at Newsweek, a filmmaker, journalist, political analyst, and the publisher of the Substack Old Goats with Jonathan Alter. His most recent book is His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life.