Snepp, Frank. Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End. New York: Random House, 1977. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. [pb] London: Allen Lane, 1980. Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002.
Clark comment: Frank Snepp is a former CIA intelligence analyst who served in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. Snepp's outrage and pain at the mishandling of the preevacuation and evacuation periods seem real. Nevertheless, his criticisms bear the mark of someone neither in a command position nor high enough up in the decisionmaking chain to know (nor in the final analysis to understand) the basis on which decisions were being made in Saigon and Washington.
Snepp's decision to publish his book without submitting the manuscript to the CIA for security review, as he was required by his employment agreement to do, brought about litigation that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The government's secrecy agreement was upheld and all profits from Decent Interval have gone to the government. As far as I can determine, the 1978 injunction that requires Snepp to submit all future writings for prepublication review remains in effect.
Decent Interval would be best read today with the following article, written by the CIA's Saigon Base Chief when Saigon fell in 1975, in hand: William R. Johnson, "Recalling Snepp's Indecent Breach of Trust," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 9, no. 4 (Winter 1996/97): 473- 481. Johnson details what he calls "the inaccuracies and venal mendacities of Snepp's book."
Constantinides comments that the criticisms directed against Decent Interval "still leave much of Snepp's story ... intact." Nonetheless, it remains "one man's view." Pforzheimer notes that Snepp blames the CIA Chief of Station, the U.S. Ambassador, the Secretary of State, and the President for "the last disorderly days of the war and failure to evacuate many Vietnamese collaborators of the U.S." With regard to blame, Minnick, NameBase, says that Snepp's "negative portrayal of Saigon [Vietnam] station chief Thomas Polgar seems unfair given the complexity of the events." Otherwise, his "descriptions of the CIA's performance in Vietnam, particularly during the fall of Saigon, are stunning."
Commenting on the 25th anniversary edition, Berger, I&NS 20.2 (Jun. 2005), says that Snepp's account "remains one of the more important first-hand accounts of the internal workings of the US intelligence, military and political operations in Saigon and the eventual retreat in 1975."
Snepp has also published a book concerning his travails associated with publishing the first one: see Snepp, Irreparable Harm (1999).
Snepp, Frank. Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Secrecy and Free Speech. New York: Random House, 1999.
Although inclined to be sympathetic to Snepp, Whitten, Washington Post, 1 Aug. 1999, still comments that "for most ... book readers, the legal skirmishing, the testimony that could be summarized in a paragraph, the thick unleavened judicial opinions may induce sleep." The author "is not a sympathetic hero. At times his compulsiveness, his inconsistency, his untidy personal life, his melodramatic writing (though it sometimes rises to real drama), and his self-importance come close to making the reader sympathize with the windbags and sneaks who brought him down." On the other hand, Bamford, NYTBR, 18 Jul. 1999, calls the book "well-written" and "candid."
Hedley, IJI&C 13.1, notes that Snepp "wants us to feel sorry for him. Unfortunately, he feels too sorry for himself.... [W]hat he portrays as an 'epic battle over free speech' was in fact a cut-and-dried tort case over a simple violation of contract.... Irreparable Harm is a sad book to read, largely because its author is such a troubled soul after all these years." For background on Snepp and the writing of Irreparable Harm, see Vernon Loeb, "The Spy Who Was Left Out In the Cold: When Saigon Fell, CIA Agent Frank Snepp's Battle Had Just Begun," Washington Post, 12 Oct. 1999, C1.
Stockwell, John. In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story. New York: Norton, 1979.
Pforzheimer identifies this book as an attack on the CIA -- particularly the clandestine services -- by a disaffected former case officer who headed the CIA's Angola Task Force in 1975-1976. Constantinides sees Stockwell providing a view of the CIA's "personnel, administration, and mental outlook that stemmed from first-hand experience." The book's allegations were overshadowed by the legal wrangling surrounding his failure to submit the book for the CIA's prepublication review.
To Blum, NameBase, the book "chronicles the political evolution of a CIA officer that culminated in his resignation from the Agency.... The book deals primarily with Angola and is most instructive about the world of mercenaries and about Joseph Mobutu, the notoriously unscrupulous leader of Zaire and CIA comrade-in-arms."
Stolz, Richard. "A Case Officer's First Tour: Assignment Trieste." Studies in Intelligence 37, no. 5 (1994): 53-58.
The former DDO remembers: "[N]ow, even after 40 years, I have strong memories of our first post.... It was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with the men and women of the CIA."
Sulick, Michael J. "As the USSR Collapsed: A CIA Officer in Lithuania." Studies in Intelligence 50, no. 2 (2006): 1-11.
The author is the former ADDO and Chief/SE/DO. As the Soviet Union began to implode and the communist governments in Eastern Europe began to fall, Milt Bearden, Chief of the CIA's Soviet and East European Division (SE), "moved quickly to forge relationships with these former Soviet Bloc adversaries.... As the bastion of communism was about to fall in Moscow, Bearden was eager to continue engaging old enemies -- and potential new friends -- only this time on what had been Soviet territory.... [I]n the last week of August 1991, just a week after the failure of the coup attempt in Moscow, I embarked on one of the most thrilling and rewarding trips of my CIA career."
Sullivan, John F. Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2007.
Peake, Studies 51.3 (2007), comments that the author "gives an insightful view of the problems the polygraph experience creates and the extensive efforts undertaken to minimize their impact on the subjects. No other book gives such a comprehensive look at the polygraph and its utility as a security tool in the community." For Keiser, Proceedings 133.11 (Nov. 2007), "[t]his is a well-written work that should prove a valuable source for those interested in intelligence matters."
Impressed with the author's memory for "detail covering three decades' worth of harnessing people to the machine," Chapman, IJI&C 21.2 (Summer 2008), finds "discouraging" the thought that "the results of a polygraph examination can depend upon the disposition and character of the examiner." He concludes that,"after reading Sullivan's book," he is "inclined to believe the polygraph is a God-awful contraption."
Moss, I&NS 25.1 (Feb. 2010), finds that the author "succeeds in telling the history of the CIA's Polygraph Division (PD) -- including its positive contributions as well as the warts. However, there are "some noticeable typos," as well as a "plethora of acronyms and characters [that] can be a bit overwhelming." This is still "an enjoyable and revealing look at the CIA."
Sullivan, John F. Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.
Clark comment: The author was a CIA polygraph examiner in Vietnam from 1971 to 1975. To the Publisher's Weekly reviewer, the author provides a "unique voice and perspective in this detailed, anecdote-heavy ... account of his service during the Vietnam War." Warren, Studies 47.1 (2003) and Intelligencer 13.2, comments that "Sullivan has explained in detail understandable to the layman how the polygraph works and how the CIA uses it.... He provides an interesting mélange of Saigon Station operations, Station management (and mismanagement), and the course of the Vietnam War in its last stages."
Butler, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews, Jun. 2002, calls this "an interesting addition to the history of the CIA in Vietnam.... Reading Of Spies and Lies gives one the sense of despair, disorder and corruption that existed in Vietnam; unfortunately one has to wade through a great deal of irrelevant information along the way. That is of course the weakness of a personal reminiscence. Sullivan is obsessively interested in presenting himself and his craft in a good light."
For Seamon, Proceedings 128.11 (Nov. 2002), the author confuses the reader by skipping back and forth in time and by using an "abundance of CIA-concocted acronyms." Nevertheless, "the book is eminently readable." Sullivan's "character sketches, not only of his colleagues but also of high-ranking U.S. officials and military men, are often amusing and always informative."
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