Secrecy, Transparency, and National Security
19 Pages Posted: 30 May 2012
Date Written: 2012
Over the past decade, there have been dramatic successes and clear failures in the fight against terrorism. Debate continues as to whether the successes have outweighed the failures, but what is beyond dispute is that the legal, political, and tactical landscapes have changed dramatically since September 11. Though discourse within the legal academy has focused on the legality of various policy approaches to the fight against terrorism, we should not lose sight of the broader policy and political questions. The most fundamental of these questions concern the ways in which the United States has approached the fight against terrorist forces: are we as a nation more secure because of the programs and resources in which the government has invested to combat terrorism? Indeed, how can we assess the effectiveness of these initiatives? In this essay, we suggest that, in order to begin to answer these questions, we must have some sense of what it is the government is doing in our name. Among the many challenges in assessing the effectiveness of these initiatives is that the war on terror has brought to the business of policymaking in the United States a historically unparalleled concern for secrecy. We consider this challenge in light of two recent books on secrecy, transparency, and national security. In the first, Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, Gabriel Schoenfeld argues for greater secrecy and urges the government to take steps to curtail leaks to the media; in the second, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, Dana Priest and William Arkin explore the expansion of the national security apparatus since September 11. The picture these writers give us is one of a nation in which the democratic means by which the institutions of government may be kept in check appear to be imperiled.
Keywords: National security, secrecy, transparency, democracy
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