Author Frank W. Snepp III has a severe case of writer's block.
Whenever he sits down to write a book, a script or even a letter to a friend, Snepp says, he can't help worrying about whether his writing will offend the censors at the Central Intelligence Agency and worse, whether he will end up in jail.
Snepp, a former CIA agent, was supposed to be a distinguished guest lecturer at California State University, Long Beach, this fall. But last month, when his hiring at the university was delayed by a "bureaucratic snafu," Snepp said, he was forced to take another job. He said he had no choice because of financial troubles, which stem from his continuing battles with the CIA over censorship.
Will Not Teach
As a result, Snepp, a Newport Beach resident, will not be teaching four scheduled classes in journalism and political science at the university, including courses on American foreign policy and law of mass communications.
Snepp taught political science and journalism classes at the university in the 1985-86 school year, including a journalism class that he has some personal experience in, titled "Censorship in the United States."
Snepp, 43, formerly the CIA's chief strategy analyst in Vietnam, wrote a book called "Decent Interval," which charged that the CIA improperly abandoned thousands of South Vietnamese who worked for or supported the United States when Saigon fell in 1975.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 decided that even though the book had not revealed any classified material, Snepp had violated a secrecy agreement he had signed with the agency. The court held that because Snepp had breached a relationship of trust with the CIA, the government was entitled to the profits from Snepp's book.
$200,000 in Profits
Since 1980, Snepp said, he has paid the government more than $200,000 in profits from his book.
Also, under the Supreme Court decision, he said, he is required to submit all of his writings to the CIA for approval if the subject matter has anything to do with government intelligence, or risk being found in contempt of court. The ruling extends to his lecture notes for his university classes, Snepp said.
In an interview recently, Snepp charged that the CIA has violated the terms of the Supreme Court decision by taking more than a court-prescribed 30 days to approve a draft of a script for a miniseries that he sold to CBS last year for more than $20,000.
The 100-page script for "The Frank Snepp Story" was submitted to the agency last November, Snepp said. After 30 days elapsed, the agency sent him letters saying they wanted the names of several persons and places deleted from the script, Snepp said. By requesting the deletions, the agency was reclassifying as secret material it formerly had approved for publication by him, Snepp said. He protested the deletions and the script has never received agency approval, he said.
CBS has since canceled the project, Snepp said. A CBS spokesman confirmed that the network had authorized the project but said he did not know if it had been canceled.
Sharon Foster, a spokesman at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., said recently, "If Mr. Snepp has problems and thinks we're violating the court order, then he's going to have to take legal action." She declined further comment.
Snepp's unsuccessful legal battles against the agency already have cost him more than $100,000, he said. His financial difficulties led him to take another job last month as a researcher for actor Marlon Brando. The actor is researching the country's drug problems, smuggling and the international ramifications of a possible film, Snepp said.
Snepp said he had been waiting for weeks for formal approval of his hiring for a second year at Cal State Long Beach, but signed a contract with Brando last month after "I lost a great deal of sleep over what to do."
A few days after he had signed the contract to work for Brando, Snepp was notified that his appointment as a distinguished guest lecturer had been approved by the university.
Ben Cunningham, a journalism professor at the university, said he was disappointed that Snepp would not be teaching there.
In the past, university students had "responded enthusiastically to him (Snepp) as a teacher and a person," Cunningham said.
Snepp was awaiting a letter of appointment from the academic vice president's office, Cunningham said. "It (the letter) was not a high priority item at the time. I imagine the letter did not get sent out as early as maybe it should have," he said.
But John Beljan, the university's new vice president for academic affairs, said Snepp's appointment was done after a monthlong review, which was "as timely a fashion as any" appointment that the university made this year.
The miniseries Snepp sold to CBS was based on his experiences during 1976 and 1977, when he was writing "Decent Interval" against the wishes of CIA officials, who had placed him under surveillance, Snepp said.