If you want to keep something secret … …

If you want to keep a secret, you shouldn’t tell anybody.   The more people you tell a secret “in confidence,” the greater the certainty that it will cease to be a secret.  Everybody knows this.

Everybody, it seems, except the Homeland Security agencies.  Dana Priest and William R. Arkin reported three years ago that there were at least 854,000 Americans with top-secret clearances—not just access to classified information, but access to top secrets.   It wouldn’t be surprising if the number now exceeded 1 million.  If the top secrets are known to hundreds of thousands of people, how secret can they be?

top.secretDaniel Ellsberg, who made public the Pentagon Papers, which outlined the secret history of the Vietnam war, was a member of the inner circle of government.  He was a consultant to Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger, and helped write the Pentagon Papers.   A low-ranking person like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden would not have had access to that information.

In the novels of John Le Carre, the fictional spy George Smiley never writes down any of his big secrets.   In the National Security Agency, the supposedly big secrets are put on slides for Power Point presentations.   It seems to me that when you disseminate information this widely, it is bound to leak out to the general public.

The alleged crime of Edward Snowden is to alert foreign terrorists to the fact that their electronic communications are being monitored.  But they already know that.  Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants stopped using e-mail or cell phones years ago, and communicated only by courier.   What Snowden did in releasing the PRISM slides is to provide proof to the public of what most well-informed people had believed all along.

The real way to keep secrets is:  (1)  Minimize the number of top secrets.  (2) Minimize the number of people who know the top secrets.

Click on ‘I Cannot Figure Out Why This Was Classified to Begin With’ for comment by James Fallows in The Atlantic Monthly.

Click on Top Secret America for Dana Priest’s and William R. Arkin’s series in the Washington Post in 2010.  It is still worth reading.

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3 Responses to “If you want to keep something secret … …”

  1. gary3912 Says:

    EXCELLENT.

    Thanks.

    Like

  2. Gary PAUL Clarke Says:

    And pray that GOD is not watching.

    Like

  3. Atticus Says:

    I think something like the PRISM program shouldn’t be secret at all. It should have been a public conversation about how much “freedom” we are willing to give up for “safety”. Especially when the people were led to believe that by voting for Obama it was a vote against this type of government. I just feel like something this sweeping shouldn’t be something that is decided behind closed doors.

    Like

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