Peabody-Award winning investigative journalist and broadcaster; best-selling author; former interrogator, counter-intelligence operative and chief strategy analyst for the CIA in Vietnam; ex-CIA whistleblower; named defendant in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on free speech and national security; expert commentator on the Vietnam war, national security, and the First Amendment.
Frank Snepp, a graduate of Columbia’s School of Internal Affairs, is a former, highly decorated CIA agent whose best-seller about his experiences in Vietnam, “Decent Interval,” triggered a landmark First Amendment/national security decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. His second book, “Irreparable Harm,” details those experiences. He was part of the four-person team for ABC News World News Tonight that broke the Iran Contra scandal and served as a national security consultant to the Manuel Noriega defense team. In his first year as staff investigative producer for NBC4, he reported, produced and wrote an expose about dangerous local methane issues, which won a Peabody Award, the highest award in broadcast journalism.
“Decent Interval,” his celebrated best-seller about the fall of Saigon, tells of his eyewitness experiences as interrogator, operative and chief strategy analyst at the CIA Station, Vietnam, and as one of the last agency officers to be choppered off the roof of the U.S. embassy in April 1975.
His second book, “Irreparable Harm,” is the inside story of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, U.S. v Snepp, which defines the legal risks and First Amendment rights of U.S. intelligence employees-turned-whistleblowers in national security cases, including Edward Snowden. In its unprecedented summary judgment, handed down without written briefs or oral arguments from the government or the defendant amid the hysteria of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Court severely punished Snepp for his unauthorized publication of “Decent Interval.” Even though the government had conceded the book contained no secrets, the six-to-three Majority allowed the Justice Department to confiscate every cent Snepp owned, and put him under a lifetime gag order, obliging him to clear with the CIA any writing based on his spy work. The ruling extends similar obligations – and sanctions — to anyone who has worked for U.S. intelligence and who allegedly speaks, or writes, out of turn.
In his subsequent thirty-year career as an investigative journalist Snepp has been on the leading edge some of the most important stories of the era, including Iran-contra, the October Surprise and Monica Lewinski scandals, and the intelligence crises in the Iraq and Iran. He broadcast the first stories on SEAL Team 6 and human egg donations, exposed major environmental and construction hazards and political corruption in southern California and investigated the abuse of children and the elderly.
He has won every major award in broadcast journalism, from the Peabody to the Emmy to the Murrow prize, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists’ National First Amendment Award. He has worked for all three major broadcast networks, written for major news outlets including Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times, and provided commentary for hundreds of documentaries on national security and the Vietnam war.
He has taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in journalism and political science at USC and California State University, served as consultant to the Manuel Noriega legal defense team, and even written TV and movie screenplays, including one he co-authored with the famed actor Marlon Brando.
“Decent Interval” is soon to be published in translation in China where he has lectured on the Vietnam conflict and investigative journalism to ranking officials of the government news agency.