I don’t care what data anyone collects on me: I care what they do. I care about the use of secrecy rules to conceal stupid blunders, criminality, and attacks on democracy.
The public needs the government to keep certain information secret. Examples include designs of weapon systems and details of active, legal operations by security forces.
However, other government secrets threaten democracy and US national security.
For example, are we better off today because Homeland Security was too busy monitoring the Occupy movement to properly investigate leads involving Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the primary figure in the Boston Marathon bombing?1 Is the world safer, because the US invaded Iraq in 2003 on erroneous allegations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)? The 1994 Riegle Report of the US Senate documented how the Reagan administration had provided WMDs to Saddam Hussein, who had used them against US troops in 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.2 However, in the run up to the 2003 invasion, the source of Saddam’s WMDs was rarely if ever mentioned in the mainstream US media, and the US invaders were unable to find evidence that Hussein still had WMDs.
Similarly, the US secretly supported the destruction of democracy in Iran in 1953,3 Guatemala in 1954,4 Brazil in 1964,5 and Chile in 1973,6 and approved the cancellations of elections in Cuba7 in 1952 and Vietnam8 in 1956 because the candidate favored by the US was expected to lose.
We live in a dangerous world. Have these actions made us more safe or less?
These actions were facilitated by a combination of (a) government secrecy rules (b) timidity of the mainstream media in the US in questioning these events, and (c) the failure of the US public to actively seek information about these kinds of actions by their government.
Obama’s new secrecy policy9 merely changes the shade of lipstick on the pig without impacting the willingness or ability of government bureaucrats to disrupt nonviolent political activity and deprive people of life, liberty and property without due process of law at home and abroad.
I believe US national security could be enhanced by changes like the following:
- Common citizens should stop following commercial broadcasting (especially ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox), because their business model is selling behavior change in their audience to advertisers.10 The US public thinks they don’t pay for the content in television. They are mistaken. They pay for it in the excessive cost of national defense including making the world more dangerous not less,11 in the growing complexity of the US tax code12 and in thousands of hidden subsidies that major advertisers get from government policies that are under reported. That includes approving mergers and acquisitions that reduce competition, thereby driving up prices for goods and services.13 It includes the complexity of so-called “free trade” agreements, which are typically kept secret from the electorate but available to major campaign contributors.14 Only the ultra-wealthy can afford the high cost of playing in this arena. Those who control major advertising budgets get returns estimated at between $6 and $220 for each $1 invested in lobbying and political campaigns.15 These returns far exceed those available from any other investment. These massive returns are paid by small businesses and individuals. They have contributed to the substantial increase in income inequality in the US over the past 40 years – an increase of $39,000 per year or $100 per day for the typical (median) American family.16
- Change the law to limit government secrets to the designs of weapons systems and current operations by military and other security forces. We need a strong, effective national defense. We don’t need a military that cannot pass audits17 nor one with substantial portions of its budget being secret,18 nor one that manufactures enemies faster than they can be neutralized.19
- Strengthen the law protecting whistleblowers so people like Ed Snowden and Pfc Manning don’t need to risk incarceration to expose criminal behavior in government. This includes providing substantive criminal penalties for government managers who try to punish employees who question the use of the classification system to keep from the public information that may embarrass specific individuals but runs no major risk of substantive damage to the national security.20 (And redefine “national security” to exclude favors to campaign contributors.)
- Reduce the ability of government to coerce journalists to reveal their sources.21 The public has a need to know about violations of law and ethics by public officials. That need to know exceeds the public interest in any particular judicial proceeding. Journalist should not be used an extension of the prosecution or defense. This is especially true in issues of national security. For example, Al Qaeda and all other non-state terrorist organizations are not major international powers and cannot threaten the internal security of the United States.22 During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and China were major powers, though their strength was a fraction of that claimed by the US government and the media. We need a much more vigorous debate about public issues than we have now.
The most important of these changes, I believe, is the first: giving commercial broadcasting the disrespect it has earned. If a critical mass of the electorate starts searching and paying for honest information about politics, they will more likely vote in ways that open doors to improving many currently intractable problems and reversing the trend to increasing income inequality.23
Spencer Graves; firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2014 under the Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike license (CC-by-sa)