I just saw Secrecy at Tribeca Film Festival. And before I begin my remarks I must disclose to you that one of the director’s is my friend’s dad. With that said, it was an excellent documentary and I highly recommend seeing it if you can. It really made me think about a lot of things-not just about how messed up the U.S. intelligence system is, the effectiveness (or lack therefore of), and my role as a future journalist.
Let me begin with journalism. I started thinking about how as a journalist, you (and your editors, publishers, lawyers, etc) decide what the public should know and to what extent they should know about a specific topic. I was skeptical in the beginning of the movie of some disclosures in the press. Former NSA and CIA officials gave a few examples of media reports of surveillance that shut down those lines and leads, therefore ending our knowledge of what was to come. But what they did not discuss was what was in the rest of the article, which I suppose would not have been printed if it was not of great public interest. Obviously the publication of surveillance was not the sole reason that the communication spying broke down.
Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman was at the screening and discussed what I have been hearing in class all semester but did not fully connect until I saw it before my own eyes tonight-the decision making process by reporters, editors, publishers and even lawyers to publish a government “secret.” It is obvious if something “classified” is too much information or will harm national security that it will not be published. The NSA and CIA officials fail to recognize that other people besides them can discern what is privileged information. They also fail to recognize that the media is getting leaks from inside their institutions of secrecy because they feel that it is too important to not discuss in the public forum. How else would we know all we do about the Vietnam War if the Pentagon Papers were not released and analyzed? These former NSA and CIA officials hated the media for publishing any information-they seemed to want all information secret-but most of the recent stories based on so-called “secrets” have uncovered excessive use of power by the Executive Branch. More power than the Founding Fathers ever wanted one branch, or person, to have. And the film also points out that had ALL branches of the government disclosed their intelligence at the very least to each other, then the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented.
In the end, I feel betrayed by my government. Why? Because the CIA is just beginning to realize that the Cold War ended long ago and that their way of operating may not be the best. They were so focused on Communism that they failed to begin to see the other threats on the horizon, aka Al Qaeda and other jihadist international terrorist groups. So now we are playing catch up. And we, the American people, lose because government officials have no idea who the enemy is and close themselves off more than ever before, becoming more and more stubborn about keeping everything secretive.
Some secrets should remain that way but in the information age, the more that is known, the better, even if that just means sharing between ALL U.S. intelligence agencies. I don’t need to know everything but let me know that it is working, that my civil liberties are in place (I would like some back from the US Patriot Act, but that discussion is for another day), and that we are moving forward and NOT stuck in the Cold War. For being the so-called, or self-proclaimed, “Best Country in the World,” we look very far behind right now.