Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings

Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings

Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings

Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings

Synopsis

Government Secrecy presents the best that has been thought and written on the subject, including history and philosophy, theory and practice, justification and critique. Through readings, which range from Georg Simmel on secrecy and Max Weber on bureaucracy and secret-keeping, to post-9/11 concerns regarding freedom of information and presidential secrecy, it enables readers to explore the issues and questions that surround the government's right to keep necessary secrets--or not.

Excerpt

U.S. government secrecy is best characterized by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1997), who observed that two (information) “regimes” exist in the United States. The first regime, according to Moynihan, is public regulation for disclosure, discovery, and due process, and is under constant scrutiny. The second regime is “concealed within a vast bureaucratic complex,” wherein “some congressional oversight may take place and some Presidential control.” In this latter regime, in part the subject of Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings, the public is not excluded altogether, but the system is fraught with secrecy and “misadventure.” A recurring theme in the readings offered up in this work is that the use of secrecy compromises public knowledge and scrutiny of governmental policies and actions, while also barring the media from fully serving the public interest. Government secrecy, as many of the readings in this volume also indicate, prevents internal reform and agency self-reflection, and while “abhorrent on the ground that it permitted aristocratic conspiracies and the perversion of the principle of equality” (Goldschmidt 1954, 401), is often employed on national security grounds. These observations suggest that secrecy is not only a barrier or a guard around information; it is also a conflict of power that comes through controlling the flow of information (Bok 1989, 18–19).

These “conditions of information” occur throughout the stratum of the U.S. government, specifically in the Executive Branch, congressional committees, judicial system, the subterranean world of defense contracting, and the militaryintelligence communities, where varying levels of security clearances, markings, information classification, compartmentalization, and need to know create what Laurent R. Hourcle (1993, 316) terms a “secret island.” Foundationally, Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings concerns knowledge and power, which are “two sides of the same question,” and this question “is now more than ever a question of government” (Lyotard 1984, 9).

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