Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Exposing the Culture of Secrecy

A culture of secrecy has taken over America. 

I think Julian Assange, Wikileaks, Ed Snowden will go down in history as speaking truth to power, as pioneers in exposing government cyper-surveillance excesses and lack of transparency, and in seeking to protect our first amendment right to free speech.  The whistle-blowers, in the tradition of Daniel Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers, are blasting the culture of secrecy that enables the expansion and abuse of power.

It's not pretty. It's messy. It's not the best way to do it.  But is there another way to expose  the breadth and depth of these excesses?  I really would like some answers to this question.  How?  How, when we see the ways in which the US government has reacted to exposure, how defensive its responses, how overzealous its efforts to charge espionage, viciously pursue, capture, and imprison leakers like Snowden. 

I don't necessarily like these guys or the way they go about their work, but I dislike the secrets, lies, and over-the-top spying even more. There have to be boundaries. 

The Obama administration has dusted off the old Espionage Act of 1917, enacted during World War I and noted for its questionable constitutionality, and used it to go after the leakers.  This nasty undemocratic act enabled jailing anyone with a German surname, imprisoning reformers like Eugene V.Debs, deporting Emma Goldman, interring Japanese Americans, and charging Daniel Ellsberg with fraud for releasing the Pentagon Papers.

This act, amended a few times, is now embedded and enshrouded in all of the anti-terrorism legislation passed since 9/11.  The Secret State has burgeoned. 

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1990s denounced the "culture of secrecy" made possible by the 1917 Act, noting the tendency of bureaucracies "to enlarge their powers by increasing the scope of what is held secret." (Wikipedia article on the Espionage Act).

"Increasing the scope of what is held secret."  This is the heart of the matter.  Why kill the messengers? Who else will speak truth to power?

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