In its ruling, the appeals court laid out a broad definition of what constituted classified material. For example, it could include anything considered “useful,” even if it not “vital,” to national security, the court said, and if a lengthy document were stamped secret, every sentence in it, however innocuous, would have to be regarded as classified.
Anthony Lewis, a longtime columnist and legal affairs specialist for The New York Times, sounded an alarm after the ruling, writing of authors: “They cannot write anything in the vaguely defined area of national security without the prior approval of the C.I.A. They cannot discuss facts or even write fiction. Not now or ever. It is an extraordinary legal situation, unlike any in our history.”
The book became a critically acclaimed best seller. It was one of several accounts of the C.I.A.’s attempts to subvert foreign governments and spy on American citizens (Mr. Marchetti among them) that led to the creation in 1975 of a Senate select committee to study intelligence abuses.
The work by the committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, led to legislation calling for greater checks and balances on the intelligence community. And despite the ruling against it, Mr. Marchetti’s book helped spawn a literary genre that revealed government secrets.
“When Marchetti did it, it was shocking and practically unheard of, and the government didn’t know how to react,” Mr. Aftergood said. “Its first instinct was to try to suppress and then censor, and they were successful. That only made the book more celebrated.”
Victor Leo Marchetti Jr. was born on Dec. 23, 1929, in Hazleton, Pa. His father, Victor, ran a plumbing and heating business and a hardware store; his mother, Martha (Poniatowski) Marchetti, was a homemaker.