Monday, July 11, 2011
For those of you who don’t know, Sunday is 'Netflix documentary day.' Since coming to Santa Barbara I have made a habit of waking up early on Sundays and getting all the day’s work done in the morning so by the time 3:00 rolls around, I can lose myself in countless hours of instant cinematic gratification. Yesterday’s pick was a 2008 film directed by two Harvard University professors called, “Secrecy.” In addition to detailing the history of government confidentiality from its origins in the 1940s, the film features countless gripping interviews with former CIA and national security experts on the topic. Popcorn anyone?
The most compelling concept I took from "Secrecy" was that despite what we are told, classification does not always promote national security. In fact, in many cases over-classification can actually make us less secure and even violate the rule of law. There is no greater example of this than the Manhattan Project. In addition to being the pinnacle of modern government confidentiality, the Manhattan Project demonstrated how secrecy can be used as a tool to keep a large amount of power in a small amount of hands.
As head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves was largely responsible for the strict censorship of information. Many of the scientists working on the project disagreed with his idea of compartmentalization because it restricted the free exchange of ideas; a concept that was essential for scientific discovery. Even today over fifty years later much of the nuclear industry is held to Groves’ standard of confidentiality. "Secrecy" even pointed out that in a single recent year the United States classified about five times the number of pages added to the Library of Congress. FIVE TIMES! That means that I can only know about 20% of what my government is doing. Scary thought.
There is a reason that Gandhi regarded secrecy as the enemy of freedom and if you watch this documentary, you will see why. For further reading on government secrecy, check out the Project on Government Secrecy by the Federation of American Scientists. This project promotes public oversight in national security affairs and provides some thought-provoking insight on the United States’ classification policies.