Should The Government Hold Secrets?

The Secret White House

Bush II removed more than 6,000 documents from government websites, including a document on the Environment Protection Agency website that gave citizens crucial information on how to identify chemical hazards near where their families live.1

In 2003, he adopted a new policy to the Freedom of Information Act that actively encourages federal agencies to fully consider all potential reasons for non-disclosure, regardless of whether the disclosure would be harmful.3 On top of this, the White House, in April 2017, decided to keep the visitors log to the building secret.2

Secrecy means democracy can’t work. How can one judge administrations, parties and vote wisely when we don’t know what the government is doing? As long as the government’s actions are kept secret, it can’t be held accountable. Kennedy said it best, “The word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society; and we as a people are inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.”

A government for the people and by the people should be held transparent to the people. As Former Senator Frank Church said, “Absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely.”

Reagan and Nixon

Here’s what Reagan said during an interview for his failed mission in Lebanon:

When you’re engaged in this kind of a diplomatic attempt and you have forces there, and there is an effort made to oust them, a debate as public as was conducted here, raging, with the Congress demanding, ‘Oh, bring our men home, take them away.’ All this can do is stimulate the terrorists and urge them on to further attacks, because they see a possibility of success in getting the force out, which is keeping them from having their way. It should be understood by everyone in government that once this is committed, you have rendered…[our military] ineffective when you conduct that kind of a debate in public.”

When Richard Nixon was asked, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal, by definition?” He answered, “Exactly, exactly. If the president approves something for national security…then the president’s decision is the one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating the law.”

Though I’m quoting presidents from 35 to 45 years ago, this same mentality is found in our current president. Do we think Trump will like it if we had a public debate titled: “Does killing terrorists actually end terrorism?” Or take the second quote from Richard Nixon and apply to Trump. How many of us feel that Trump thinks that whatever he does, no matter how vile or unlawful, is moral and lawful just because he holds the position of president? In countless interviews, such as this one, he shows that he doesn’t know the constitution.4

So, Why Does The Government Keep Secret?

It keeps secret because it knows that Americans won’t support its activities.

In Conclusion

A government of and for the people is supposed to be open to public scrutiny by the people, while the private information of the people should be routinely protected from government intrusion. Yet with the National Security Agency, we have the exact opposite!

To your success,
Nikhil Mahadea