Keeping Guilty SecretsJuly 28th, 2010

The main thing we learn when official secrets are revealed is something we already know: secrecy is a convenient and effective means of covering up malfeasance. Give a public official the power to conceal information under a security classification, and he will eventually turn that power to personal advantage.

Million bucks missing? No problem. Stamp the account “Secret” and blame the Afghans. Missiles launched on your own soldiers? Not to worry. Bury the documentary evidence under a “Top Secret” classification and tell everybody they were killed in action. Give them all medals.

I’ve been a protector of secrets, and it’s a mark of status to be entrusted with them. While I was studying Hungarian at a military language school, the FBI visited people I knew at home to find out whether I was fit to be cleared for espionage. At twenty, you get a little puffed up when your clearance arrives, but it doesn’t take long to see through the scam. In fact as in fiction, secrecy is deception, and secrecy breeds corruption. An official with the power to dispense security classifications can safely exaggerate the importance of what he tells you and devalue what he isn’t able to find out. Bad intelligence can look pretty good when the supplier doesn’t have to say where he got it.

My highly professional outfit was a case in point. My superiors could and should have anticipated Israel’s June 1967 offensive against Egypt and Syria. They didn’t, but their failure is shrouded in secrecy, and this puts them beyond accountability. My outfit had the run of the sky over the Mediterranean, and we could and should have uncovered the truth about the attack on our naval counterpart, the USS Liberty, in that same engagement. We didn’t, but that’s a secret and not to be discussed. We could and should have detected the movements leading to the Prague summer of 1968; we didn’t, but that’s a secret, too.

Secrecy has allowed five successive presidential administrations, including the one now sitting, to skirt laws and defy constitutional proscriptions, causing the people serious damage. Corruption in the classification of official secrets has been uncovered over and over again, but Americans seem to have more faith than ever in the ability of anonymous government officials to decide what should and shouldn’t be revealed. This is a recent development. People used to have to be reminded that “loose lips sink ships.” It’s a free country, after all. Nobody ever had to caution citizens of the Reich or the USSR not to blab, and we used to be proud and grateful that we were different. Today, not so much.

Newsmongers want us to believe that official secrecy should be accepted without question, and maybe we do believe that. Maybe the stream of lies from the embedded mass media in support of corrupt government has changed our values. It’s also possible that our apparent support for secrecy and the trappings of the police state is itself a lie. Either way, a powerful dose of official secrets should be administered regularly, and we should thank the leakers when they succeed.

The government/media complex claims lives will be lost because Afghanistan war plans have been revealed in the latest disclosures. We might all do well to mark history’s lesson that for evey life put at risk because a guilty secret was compromised, ten or a hundred lives may be removed from harm’s way when corruption is exposed.