Alex Wellerstein, historian of science and blogger at “Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog,” shares a great quote about the adverse effects of secrecy. In a post about “Cold War Sex, Cold War Secrecy” (in a nutshell: starting from recent news that Britain’s MI6 made public a dead officer’s somewhat unusual sexual practices with the idea that if they publicly acknowledge and accept (almost) any such practice it cannot be used as blackmail, Alex sketches the history of related-concerns during the Cold War), he includes what I consider a fantastic quote about the unforeseen dangers of excessive secrecy.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb and The Worst-Kept Secret, the books on the history of the Israeli nuclear program. He shared with me a quote from Mordechai Vanunu’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, that I’ve been coming back to a lot lately:
“If something is secret, and something else touches it, it too becomes secret. Secrecy becomes a disease. Everything around the secret issue becomes secret, so the trial became a secret, so I became a secret.”
Secrecy, as Avner puts it, is contagious. It spreads. It goes from something that we might all agree ought to be secret — how to make a weapon of mass destruction, to take the canonical example. But from that point of apparent agreement, it seeps out, worming its way into the lives of everyone who comes near it — even into the bedroom, that most private of places.