U.S. v. Snepp Appeal: 1980
Snepp Sells Decent Interval, Suggestions For Further Reading
Appellant: Frank W. Snepp Ill
Appellee: The United States
Appellant Claims: That a district court erred in ruling that Snepp violated the terms of his Central Intelligence Agency employment agreement by having his book Decent Interval published without the agency's prior consent
Chief Lawyers for Appellee: David J. Anderson, Barbara Allen Babcock, William B. Cummings, Brook Hedge, Thomas S. Martin, Elizabeth Gere Whitaker, Glenn V. Whitaker, and George P. Williams
Chief Lawyers for Appellant: Alan M. Dershowitz, Bruce J. Ennis, Joel M. Gora, Mark H. Lynch, Jack D. Novik, John H.F. Shattuck, John Cary Sims, and Geoffrey J. Vitt
Justices: Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Potter Stewart, and Byron R. White
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: February 19, 1980
Decision: That Snepp had unlawfully breached the terms of his employment agreement
SIGNIFICANCE: Despite the strong interest in protecting First Amendment rights, the government is entitled to enforce contracts with its employees that prohibit publishing sensitive material without prior consent.
On September 16, 1968, a young man named Frank W. Snepp III took the final step necessary to begin working for the Central Intelligence Agency. The job application process with the CIA is a long one, involving extensive background checks for issuing a security clearance and other procedures. That day for Snepp culminated in signing a secrecy agreement, which obligated Snepp not to "publish or participate in the publication of any material relating to the CIA's activities during Snepp's term of employment without "specific prior approval by the Agency."
Snepp worked for the CIA for more than seven years. He served two tours of duty with the CIA station in South Vietnam, June 2, 1969—June 21, 1971, and October 4, 1972—April 29, 1975. Snepp became disillusioned with the CIA's conduct in Vietnam, particularly with its role in the final stages of American withdrawal from Saigon. Snepp resigned from the CIA effective January 23, 1976, and was required to sign a termination secrecy agreement reiterating his obligation to obtain the "express written consent of the Director of Central Intelligence" before publishing anything about the CIA.
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