REVIEW: Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam by Frank Snepp

decent interval

Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam by Frank Snepp ISBN 0-7006-1213-0

Widely regarded as a classic on the Vietnam War, Decent Interval provides a scathing critique of the CIA’s role in and final departure from that conflict. Still the most detailed and respected account of America’s final days in Vietnam, the book was written at great risk and ultimately at great sacrifice by an author who believed in the CIA’s cause but was disillusioned by the agency’s treacherous withdrawal, leaving thousands of Vietnamese allies to the mercy of an angry enemy. A quarter-century later, it remains a riveting and powerful testament to one of the darkest episodes in American history.

Snepp wrote a memoir of the event, Decent Interval, published in 1977 without prior approval from the CIA Publications Review Board. The book excoriates the tardy, improvised nature of the evacuation and laments the many Vietnamese working for the Americans that were left behind. Snepp redacted all names, methods, and sources from the book. The book was based on an after-action report that he had written and which he had sent through CIA channels. The report was not accepted.

After the book was published, CIA Director Stansfield Turner pushed for Snepp to be sued and, despite the objections of some Department of Justice officials, Turner prevailed. Since publication of the book could not be stopped under the constitutional law forbidding prior restraint of the press, the CIA sued Snepp for breach of contract. Snepp was accused of violating the non-disclosure agreement he had signed when he joined the agency that forbade publication of any material about CIA operations without the prior consent of the agency.Ironically, President Jimmy Carter permitted the lawsuit against Snepp at the same time he had proposed the creation of a special unit to provide protection for civil service whistle blowers. In a press conference, Carter said that Snepp did not qualify as a whistleblower as he did not “reveal anything that would lead to an improvement in our security apparatus or the protection of Americans’ civil rights.” Carter also claimed that Snepp had “revealed our nation’s utmost secrets”, even though he had not been charged with violating any security laws like the Espionage Act.

Snepp accused the CIA of ruining his career and violating his First Amendment free speech rights. The CIA in return claimed that Snepp had violated his employment agreement by speaking out. They sued (United States v. Frank W. Snepp III). He enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in his defense. In the end, the CIA won a court verdict against Snepp, with the US Supreme Court ruling that Snepp’s book had caused “irreparable harm” to national security due to creating an appearance of a breakdown of discipline in the CIA. The royalties from Decent Interval (amounting to $300,000 by the time Snepp lost in front of the Supreme Court) were surrendered to the CIA, and Snepp forced to clear all future publications with the CIA.

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A documentary illustrate the last days in Vietnam