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NATION OF SECRETS by Ted Gup

NATION OF SECRETS

How Rampant Secrecy Threatens Democracy and the American Way of Life

By Ted Gup

Pub Date: June 5th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-385-51475-0
Publisher: Doubleday

A sobering survey of the new culture of secrecy, which has spread from government to industry to academia and, it seems, to everyday life.

Said James Madison, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” Spot on. Writes longtime Washington Post and Time reporter Gup, such an “intolerable affront to democracy and American values” is now business as usual. In the courtroom, for instance, secret settlements in product-liability cases are now common, leaving the door open for future victims of the same goods. In local government, ordinary and uncontroversial information is regularly kept from the public, including the names of the jailed and of officers implicated in shootings in the line of duty. Higher up the public-sector food chain, backroom deals are the norm, while “Congressional legislation routinely appears without any author’s name, masking the identity of special interests and those under their sway.” Over at the Pentagon, the number of people with so-called original classification authority over documents is 1,059, but throughout the government 1.8 million officials have derivative authority and can stamp just about anything they want as secret or even top secret. Even a Pentagon report that criticizes excessive classification within the military has been stamped top secret, but then, neither does the government admit that NASA used monkeys in the space program, even though “the National Zoo had already identified the monkeys and displayed a plaque in their honor.” Gup is long on such examples, rather shorter on what can be done about the problem of nontransparency, which gives the book an unfinished feel. He closes on an ironic point: Though Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised greater openness of government, one of the first things House Democrats did on regaining power was to vote for a majority leader—by secret ballot.

Serviceable grist for a civil libertarian’s mill.