Nov 06, 1998 08:11 PM
by M K Ramadoss
In the famous 1900 letter to Annie Besant from Master K.H., he warned
that unnecessary secrecy has killed many organizations. This was in the
context of what was going on within the TS at a time when Besant was the
Outer Head of the Esoteric Section. In the light of the above
observation, the following excerpt from book by Moynihan is very
interesting. May be the law of analogy applies and we can learn some
Senator: 'culture of secrecy' impedes good government'
'Secrecy: The American Experience'
by Daniel Patrick Moynihan Yale University Press, $22.50
Review by L.D. Meagher from CNN:
"If the federal government had revealed all it knew about Soviet espionage
activities in the United States during and after World War Two, there might
have been no McCarthy era. If the U.S. intelligence community had heeded
its own analysis of the Soviet economy in the aftermath of World War Two,
there might have been no Cold War. Those are two of the stunning
conclusions Daniel Patrick Moynihan draws from his study of the way America
keeps its secrets".
"He also makes a case that the culture of secrecy in the federal government
has served as a major impediment to reasoned actions by generations of
America's leaders and its citizens."
"Moynihan's book, with an informative and insightful introduction by
historian Richard Gid Powers, traces the roots of the "security state" to
World War One. Its seeds were planted by President Woodrow Wilson, who
wanted to protect military secrets from disclosure during wartime. By the
time of World War Two, the government had developed an entire bureaucracy
devoted to keeping secrets. During the Cold War, that bureaucracy
mushroomed. By the time of the Iran-Contra scandal, Moynihan argues, it had
become a virtual government unto itself."
"In the middle of World War Two, U.S. military intelligence began routinely
intercepting messages between the Soviet Union and the United States. They
were doubly encrypted. A special team, code named Venona, was established
outside Washington to break the code. Eventually, it began to make
headway. Ultimately, 2900 Venona intercepts were deciphered. They exposed
the extent of the Soviet espionage apparatus within the United States. The
FBI knew all about it, of course, since it was the bureau's job to catch
spies. But the Venona intercepts were never used to prosecute Soviet
agents. President Harry Truman was never told about them." "The sad irony
is that by the early 1950's, Moscow already knew. British spy Kim Philby
had spilled the beans. "
"Examining the Venona intercepts half a century later, Moynihan shows how
they could have effectively ended the McCarthyite witch-hunt. McCarthy
claimed there were Soviet spies everywhere and Communists had infiltrated
the U.S. government. Thanks to Venona, the intelligence community knew
exactly who the Soviets had spying in America. Venona
confirmed the story former Communist Whittaker Chambers told about his
friend Alger Hiss. It also supported the allegations against Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for passing atomic bomb secrets to
Moscow. The intercepts could have blunted the outrage caused by the
perception that the evidence was skimpy -- or worse, trumped up -- in both
cases. But they remained secret."
"Sen. Joseph McCarthy, on the other hand, was attacking the government from
the opposite direction. He claimed federal agencies either didn't know how
extensive Soviet infiltration had become, or were
complicit in it. The Venona intercepts gave U.S. intelligence a pretty
clear picture of which American Communists were working for the Soviets,
but they couldn't tell McCarthy, or anyone else. It was secret."
"Not for another forty years would government tell what it actually knew
about the Communist conspiracy: there had indeed been one, but it had never
been massive; it has first been contained, then
suppressed. A democracy does not leave its citizens uninformed on these
"Moynihan sees another danger in the cult of secrecy: governmental
self-delusion. Knowledge that is held in secret is deemed to be more
valuable than knowledge that is in the public domain.
Case in point: a famous essay now known to have been written by State
Department official George Kennan in 1947. Under the penname "X" he
analyzed the state of the post-war Soviet Union. His conclusion: it
couldn't last. Stalinism, he determined, contained the seeds of its own
destruction. The intelligence community roundly criticized his assessment,
which appeared in "Foreign Affairs" magazine. They knew better. Of course,
they couldn't say why. It was secret. Forty-five years later, the CIA was
still projecting the future threat of a Soviet Union that was crumbling
before its blinkered eyes. If U.S. policy makers had listened to Kennan,
Moynihan tells us, the past fifty years of world history could have been
very different. Instead, they were seduced by the cult of secrecy."
" Moynihan's indictment of "secrecy-as-official-policy" is ringing. If the
government refuses to tell its citizens the truth, they are denied their
right to make informed decisions. At the same time, the
government cult of secrecy fosters popular cults of conspiracy. We've all
heard the argument: the government knows more than it's willing to tell us
about fill in the blank -- the Kennedy assassination, UFO's, fluoridated
water. A government that won't share its secrets with the governed does
foster cynicism, Moynihan argues. It undercuts the foundation of democracy."
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