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A Correspondence with the CIA

If for any reason these conditions we worked out together are not acceptable to you please inform me prior to submitting the manuscript to the CIA so that we can clarify any minor misunderstanding or incidental phraseology problems that might have risen from my transcription of the notes from our negotiations of this morning. As you are well aware I am totally opposed to turning the book over to the CIA since I feel that it sets a most dangerous precedent and could seriously weaken First Amendment freedoms if the CIA actually succeeded in removing material from the book. Submitting the manuscript for the CIA’s review is bad enough, but submitting to censorship of material would be totally unacceptable to me.

I have only acceded to Harper and Row’s determination to give the book to the CIA because you have told me that unless I did so you would categorically refuse to publish the book. The working relationships I have with persons at Harper and Row are irreplaceable and the delays involved in going to a new publisher would most certainly delay production so long that the American people would be denied this information until after the November elections. Thus, I have capitulated to management’s demands for what I consider important pragmatic reasons. But I have done so with the assurance that the above considerations would be the basis on which the CIA’s criticisms are reviewed. Since we have agreed that these ground rules for evaluating the CIA’s possible forthcoming criticisms are absolutely necessary for a harmonious relationship during the days when we might have to deal with the Agency, I consider it imperative that they be mutually agreed upon before the CIA is sent a copy of the book. If I do not hear from you in the next few days on this matter, I will assume that you have assented to my rendering here of our agreements.

Also, let me repeat once more that although I am willing to admit that every author makes a number of minor factual errors which must be corrected, I remain, as does Harper and Row, convinced that the book is fundamentally sound. Thus, I am rather unwilling to consider changing material at this late date. Having studied the CIA’s methods for the last year and a half I have learned that their stock and trade, like that of all such agencies of any nation which plays the international espionage game, is lies, deception, carefully calculated misrepresentation of the past, forged documents, and falsified statements acquired under pressure. Given the CIA’s past history of conduct which violates the normal ethical standards for most governmental institutions, I am not likely to be impressed with any CIA evidence which controverts my knowledge of a given topic. Also given the rather dubious record of disturbing contradictions in statements made by government officials trying to controvert my Congressional testimony on the Southeast Asian drug traffic (vide, statements in my supplementary testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee), I have become aware that the truth is no barrier for government officials who try to discredit what I am saying.

Given all of this, I intend to defend my book with great vigor when the agency presents its criticisms. Since I feel that people at Harper and Row know less about the subject than myself and are generally unaware of the Agency’s operating methods, it is very possible that disagreements might arise when considering the CIA’s criticisms. If this happens and Harper and Row wants to make deletions or alterations I cannot accept then I feel that I will be forced to refuse to make such alterations or deletions. If that happens, I hope Harper and Row will still be willing to publish the book. If Harper and Row decides to drop the book rather [than] resist the agency’s criticisms, I will inevitably find myself on the street looking for a new house. I hope that won’t happen but I am prepared to live with that possibility. You have already spent more than 7 working days going over the book—line by line, footnote by footnote—and my editor Elisabeth [Jakab] has spent weeks reviewing the manuscript for accuracy as well as style and structure.

Although management has expressed confidence in the work, they do not have the same experience and thus cannot have the same deep-seated confidence. Yet they are the ones who will be making final decisions. Thus, I feel it is very possible that management might request removal of some material I know is valid. If this happens I will be forced to refuse, and Harper and Row may subsequently refuse to publish the book. Thus, as we approach these negotiations we should do so in a spirit of mutual confidence, but should simultaneously be aware that the same kind of philosophical and experiential differences which made Mr. Thomas advocate turning the book over to the CIA and myself oppose such an idea may again lead to a confrontation. I have yielded at this point because I have been willing to sacrifice principle for the sake of publishing substance. Having sacrificed principle, I do not feel that Harper and Row can expect me to sacrifice substantive portions of my book as well. But if we part, let us part amicably.

Thank you for your consideration in wading through this necessarily long letter. I remain,

Your would-be author,
Alfred W. McCoy

6 & 7 On July 20, one day after the following letter from Mr. Thomas was mailed, an agent of the CIA arrived in the New York offices of Harper and Row, signed for a copy of the page proofs, and carried them off to the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia, for review by “more than one component of the Agency.” On the next day, the CIA’s general counsel wrote the following acknowledgment of receipt which contained the most revealing statement by the CIA about its intentions (“if the decision is made to publish”). The CIA was saying, in effect, that its criticism would so thoroughly discredit my thesis that Harper and Row would voluntarily withdraw the book from publication.

Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

July 19, 1972

Lawrence R. Houston, Esq.

General Counsel

Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Houston:

Thank you for your letter of July 5, 1972 in connection with our forthcoming book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, by Alfred W. McCoy.

We share your belief that no reputable publishing house would wish to publish allegations concerning support of the international opium traffic by U. S. agencies without having been assured that valid supporting evidence for such allegations exists. We have read Mr. McCoy’s manuscript very carefully from this standpoint, and have had it read as well by several distinguished independent experts in the field. We have also read the testimony of Mr. Gross to which you advert in your letter, a transcript of which was furnished us by Mr. Meyer. Based on a review of all the evidence available to us, including the foregoing, we are persuaded that the work is amply documented and that Mr. McCoy’s scholarship is beyond reproach. On this basis, and mindful of our obligations as well as our rights as responsible members of the publishing community, we have decided to proceed with publication of the work.

Despite our conviction that the work is both scholarly and well documented, we are aware that damage might be caused by factual inaccuracies, and we do not wish to foreclose your agency from a fair opportunity to persuade us prior to publication that such inaccuracies do in fact exist. With a view to permitting you such an opportunity, I will send you under separate cover within the next day or two page proofs of the manuscript which are just now being received from the printer. These proofs are being sent to you with the understanding that, by accepting them, you agree to the following conditions, which are required by our agreement with Mr. McCoy:

  1. You will make copies only if and to the extent that they are absolutely necessary in order to have the manuscript read in the time provided;

  2. Any comments will be submitted to us in writing not later than seven calendar days after the manuscript is delivered to you;

  3. The manuscript will be treated as a confidential matter between the CIA and Harper & Row and neither it nor any comments concerning it will be made available by the CIA to anyone outside that agency.

I wish to emphasize that by making this manuscript available to you on a voluntary basis, we do not mean to imply that we will make changes in the work simply because you request them, or even because you believe the statements made to be harmful to some agency of our government. On the other hand, we will be grateful to you for bringing to our attention any factual errors which you believe have been made.

B. Brooks Thomas

Central Intelligence Agency Washington, D.C. 20505

21 July 1972

Mr. B. Brooks Thomas

Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

Dear Mr. Thomas:

Thank you for your letter of July 19th concerning Mr. Alfred W. McCoy’s book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia.

The page proofs just arrived late this afternoon, and we are grateful for the opportunity you are giving us to review the manuscript. We have no difficulty with the conditions you set forth in your letter. We will make a limited number of copies, as more than one component of the Agency will have to review the material and the time is very short. I trust we can do a complete review within the seven calendar days you mentioned, but if there is any difficulty I will be in touch with you. The manuscript and our comments will be confidential. Of course, if the decision is made to publish, thereafter the material is in the public domain and we will feel free, if we see fit to do so, to comment.

It is not our intention to ask you to make changes in Mr. McCoy’s book even if we believe some of the statements might be harmful to the Government. It is possible that we might find some statement which is currently and properly classified in the interest of national security. If so, we will consult with you, but we believe this is highly unlikely. Our primary interest is in the validity of the evidence with which Mr. McCoy supports his allegations.

Lawrence R. Houston
General Counsel

8 After the CIA reviewed the book for a week, a CIA courier from Langley, Virginia, arrived at Harper and Row’s New York offices in the late afternoon of July 28 with the statement that follows. What is perhaps most revealing about it is the sharp contrast between the brash confidence of the CIA’s earlier assertions (“We believe we could demonstrate to you that a considerable number of Mr. McCoy’s claims…are totally false and without foundation…”; “if the decision is made to publish…”) and the weak tone of their actual criticisms. My editor, Elisabeth Jakab, found the CIA’s criticisms laughably “pathetic,” while B. Brooks Thomas told the New York Times that the Agency’s objections “were pretty general and we found ourselves rather under-whelmed by them.”2

  1. 2

    New York Times, August 9, 1972, p. 14.

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