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Victor Marchetti, an intelligence agent who had risen to the level of special assistant to the executive director of the U.S. federal government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), left after becoming disillusioned with the CIA’s covert actions to destabilize governments considered unfriendly to the United States. When he submitted an article to Esquire magazine, the CIA charged that his manuscript contained classified information and won an injunction to enjoin it from publication. Marchetti appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the secrecy agreement Marchetti had signed when he was hired by the CIA should be enforced. This agreement required Marchetti—like all CIA agents—to submit his manuscripts to the CIA for approval before publishing them. In Marchetti v. United States (1968), the Court of Appeals thus held that the CIA had the right to prevent publication, and Marchetti became the first writer in U.S. history subjected to such a censorship order. Marchetti appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it denied certiorari. He later tried to turn his manuscript into a novel, The Rope Dancer. Although the CIA tried to prevent its publication, they finally approved it after Marchetti removed all the portions to which the CIA objected.

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Marchetti and a co-author John Marks, a former State Department employee who had also signed an agreement not to disclose classified information learned during his employment, wrote the book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence , which they submitted to the CIA for prepublication review. The CIA required them to delete 339 passages, comprising 15 to 20 percent of the entire manuscript. Particularly heavy deletions were made in chapters on the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Vietnam War, and the CIA’s attempt to prevent Salvador Allende from being elected president of Chile. With their publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, the authors sued. The government argued that they were not enjoining the press from publication, as in the Pentagon Papers case; they were merely enforcing a contract between Marchetti and the CIA. They therefore claimed that their case was not a First...

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