Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2012

Secrecy as Contangion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 30, 2012

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.

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3 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 30, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

Somewhere between 45% and 60% of all federal programs, functions, and activities, are conducted in a classified manner with need to know as the lode star. This includes of course all so-called black programs, all compartmented programs, and those with designations confidential to Top Secret. Compartmented Programs can only be established by certain agencies. FEMA for example lost its authority to do so under President Clinton. But I also include those in which FOUO guidance and materials and/or sensitive but unclassified [SBU and other such designations] are utilized heavily. Much of this is kept from the Congress and certainly even more from interested citizens. Even more due to stove piping few even at the top of many agencies including some who have clearances but don’t have a need to know or even basic curiousity are unable to understand the panorama of their department and agencies ops. The result of course is often mismanagement or no management, or outright waste, fraud and abuse.

Reform is unlikely because the appointees are content to largely collect their salaries and look for their next jobs in the private sector.

Some past reforms go unenforced or largely unenforced. One example is the so-called DUAL COMPENSATION Act that became law in 1947. Much is made of the tremendous skills and financial sacrifice of the so called $1 per year men in WWII. The dual compensation restrictions became law under Truman who personally realized that many of these $1 per year men received throughout their government service the full salaries and benefits of their prior employers and often had formal agreements to return to those organizations.

The so-called Renegotiation Board was another Truman era invention allowing recapture of excess profits from those providing war material in WWII, Korea, and even Viet Nam. It was ended in the late 80′s at the request of the Reagan Administration.

A personal grievance of mine is that no federal code of professional ethics exists for federal lawyers and enforcement by STATE BARS is inadequate. Also no statutory ethics rules for the Judiciary. You may ask how this relates to this post but in fact more and more legal actions in federal courts have their papers sealed from public inspection by judicial order. This is another kind of secrecy that impedes the ability of the MSM and interested persons to understand what the Judiciary is up to.

This comment already too long so will cease and desist!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 1, 2012 @ 5:00 am

Did you know that the Obama Administration has classified [based on documentation from NARA] at the highest rate of any administration so far?

And NARA does not process or accept COMPARTMENTED information for permanent retention.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 2, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

NARA OIG reporting missing boxes of SRD and FRD records.

SRD = secret restricted data!

FRD = Formerly restricted data.

This is nuclear weapons related documentation.

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