A Man Who Knows The Secrets: Veteran CIA Lawyer Seeks Book Deal

A biographer once labeled the late CIA director Richard Helms "The Man Who Kept the Secrets." Now a veteran CIA lawyer who knows many, many secrets, and was deeply involved in controversies surrounding George W. Bush's "enhanced interrogation" policies, is shopping an autobiographical book proposal.

John A. Rizzo, who joined the CIA in 1976 and retired late last year as the agency's acting general counsel, has held preliminary discussions with William Morris, the large talent and literary agency, Declassified has learned. Last month, Rizzo sent Morris an 18-page book proposal, although he has not signed a representation agreement with Morris or another agent. According to a source familiar with Rizzo's literary aspirations, who asked for anonymity when discussing a document which is still not public, the proposal covers Rizzo's 34 years of service with the spy agency, starting with investigations by Congress and the Ford-era Rockefeller Commission examination of historical CIA plots (such as the agency's various schemes to kill or discredit Cuba's Fidel Castro), covering Rizzo's many years as legal adviser to the agency's Directorate of Operations (also known colloquially as the department of undercover spying) and ending with Barack Obama's first year in office.

The person familiar with Rizzo's literary endeavor says that his memoir would be "honeycombed with vignettes" from his decades of service as a senior CIA lawyer, as well as anecdotes about his dealings both with agency directors ranging from George H.W. Bush to George Tenet. Historical topics Rizzo plans to write about will include Iran-Contra investigations in the 1980s, controversies in the 1990s over the CIA's use of "dirty assets" in Central America and elsewhere, and the George W. Bush administration's counterterrorism interrogation practices.

Rizzo also plans to write about the political controversy which erupted when W's administration nominated him to become the agency's permanent general counsel—a nomination which stalled, and ultimately died, after Rizzo refused to denounce Bush interrogation policies as "torture" during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Contacted by NEWSWEEK, Rizzo, who is renowned among colleagues for his natty fashion sense and wry sense of humor, had no comment on his literary plans. The CIA also had no comment. But officials noted privately that, Rizzo, like any other current or former CIA employee, will have to have any manuscript he writes thoroughly reviewed by agency censors before publication. On the other hand, as a senior (and for a while the senior) agency lawyer, Rizzo not only helped design prepublication review procedures but was involved in such reviews himself. Thus he is undoubtedly familiar with how to negotiate the process, and what he can and cannot get away with.

The Obama administration may have made it easier for Rizzo to get clearance to publish his reflections on what may be some of his most controversial work at the agency by declassifying volumes of documentation charting the origin and execution of post-9/11 "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Key documents made public by Obama include a series of legal opinions, known as the "torture memos," in which conservative lawyers installed at the Justice Department offered their views on what kind of practices the CIA could use to extract information from terrorist suspects without violating an international convention against torture. Some of the memos were explicitly couched as legal advice rendered from the Justice Department to a top CIA lawyer—John A. Rizzo.