IN 1980 the Supreme Court, in The United States v. Frank Snepp, ruled for the government and against the former CIA analyst, whose book about the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, Decent Interval, had brought the wrath of the Feds down upon him. Secrecy was not the issue; they had gone after him on the grounds that he had not submitted his manuscript for agency clearance. The high court decision meant that the government could confiscate all of Snepp's earned royalties, and they have done so. The revenue for Decent Interval now stands at over $160,000; Snepp has seen none of it. This makes him, a columnist said, the "first writer in American history to reach the 100-percent tax bracket." Moreover, Snepp had far-reaching implications for other officials turned author because its language suggested that all government employes with access to confidential intelligence material, not just those on the CIA payroll, could be required to submit their books for prepublication review.
Now, with the Carter administration books starting to come off the presses, observers have been curious to learn how Snepp affected the publishing procedures of those men who had, in effect, brought the decision about -- former attorney general Griffin Bell, for example, whose Taking Care of the Law came out from William Morrow last summer. It seems he submitted his book for review, and, says former top aide Terry Adamson, it was ''totally voluntary," no one asked him to. "As the progenitor of the Snepp doctrine, he had to live by the spirit of what he had done."
Actually, amends Adamson, it was only two chapters they handed over. But those two were titled "National Security" and so they seemed like hot candidates for scrutiny. How then was the review process accomplished? Adamson explains, "We decided to give it to the Justice Department and they coordinated it with the other departments -- Defense, State, etc. -- for us. (The pages) came back with comments on them and we negotiated," pointing out that some of the things they wanted deleted were demonstrably matters of public record." When this back-and-forth ended, a formal letter from Attorney General William French Smith, stating that Taking Care of the Law had been submitted, was sent to Griffin Bell.
However, Bell's boss, Jimmy Carter, did not present Keeping Faith to anyone for national security review, according to his publisher, Bantam. And, at least one heretofore secret operation, involving a captured American spy in the Soviet Union, as documented by reporter Michael Getler in The Washington Post when the book first appeared, is disclosed in Keeping Faith. Some experts maintain there's a lot more that can be read between the lines in clandestine goings-on.
Neither did Hamilton Jordan, Carter's chief of staff, submit Crisis for a national security once-over, according to his editor at Putnam, Faith Sale. Yet Jordan, as Carter's personal representative in the efforts to release the hostages, had access to the most sensitive intelligence information, from the diplomatic to the military and, in writing about the hostage crisis, ran the risk of disclosing real secrets. Also, because of CIA covert-action techniques (wearing mustaches and funny disguises) discussed in the Jordan book, one authority on the subject says, only half jokingly, Jordan certainly reveals the "sources and methods" that Snepp proscribes. In fact, asserts a lawyer, "I'll bet there're option papers at Langley about suing Jordan. The Carter book took the heat off Jordan, and they don't want to take on a president -- just yet."
Frank Snepp's attorney, the American Civil Liberties Union's Mark Lynch, a specialist in national security issues, has this to say: "Under the Supreme Court decision in the Snepp case, presidents and presidential aides have as much obligation to submit books that deal with intelligence matters for prepublication review as do CIA employes. In fact, Griffin Bell understood this. Carter and Jordan apparently didn't and/or thought they could ignore it, and," he pauses, then goes on dryly, "given the government's hypocrisy towards Snepp, they probably can."
Two important Carter-era books are coming up soon: former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's Power and Principle and former secretary of state Cyrus Vance's The Choice Is Ours. Says a spokeswoman for Brzezinski, "He submitted those portions he felt needed clearing to the NSC and he made changes or adjustments wherever they required them." However, the Supreme Court's decision in Snepp holds that a former government employe is not himself in a position to determine what needs to be cleared. From Vance's office, what amounts to a shriek is heard from an aide when the question of national security review is posed. "Of course!" Then, "it's coming out in April or May (from Simon and Schuster) and before that we'll show it in final form to the NSC and the State Department." TWO OF A KIND INVARIABLY, books follow headlines. An author gets excited as he sits there, reading the morning paper and buttering his toast. So he phones his agent with the idea -- though sometimes it happens the other way round -- and next thing you know there are two people seeing dollar signs, not just one. Naturally, a publisher has to be lured onto the hook; his greed and fear of missing a sure thing are, even in this economy, fairly easily played upon. Or so it would seem with recent announcements that rival volumes on both John De Lorean and the Bendix-Martin Marietta takeover fight are being scheduled for next year.
From Viking and Random House are to come the De Lorean books, although the latter establishment has started to be somewhat coy about its commitment to a book about the busted automotive entrepreneur. Having said they were going to be bringing out one, written by Richard Levine, author of Bad Blood: The Marin County Murders, Random now offers an official line that hedges bets. "It's a possibility we'll be doing the book," says a publicist there. Kathy Robbins, Levine's agent, did not return repeated phone calls. At Viking, however, it's all set that Hillel Levin, a senior editor of Monthly Detroit, will be working on a De Lorean biography scheduled for publication in fall '83.
As for Martin Marietta and Bendix, the Hatfields and McCoys of Big Business, it's Arbor House and Little, Brown who have behind-the-scenes stories planned. Little, Brown's, by Roy Rowan and Thomas Moore, both of Fortune magazine, is as yet untitled, but Arbor's, by Money staffer Allan Sloan, is tentatively being called Three Plus One Equals Billions: The Bendix-Martin Marietta War. Whether or not there will be anyone interested enough in these current events when they're no longer current is anyone's guess; one thing for sure is that no one ever seems to learn from the remainder tables.