The Many Faces of Secrecy

William & Mary Policy Review, Vol. 8.2 (2017)

72 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2017 Last revised: 10 Oct 2017

See all articles by Amy Benjamin

Amy Benjamin

Auckland University of Technology

Date Written: September 18, 2017


Political secrecy in the United States has never been more studied – and less understood – than it is today. This irony is due in large part to the slippery nature of the phenomenon: Secrecy presents in different guises depending on the area of governmental activity under consideration. In the classified world of the U.S. national security state, secrecy results from affirmative governmental acts designed to enforce a sharp distinction between official and public knowledge. In the outsourced and technocratic worlds of governmental contracting and economic management, secrecy results from quiet acts of exemption of whole areas of decision-making from the normal processes of public scrutiny. Scholars have underestimated the magnitude of the political secrecy that besets American society, and misconceived prescriptions meant to manage it, because they have failed to recognize that they are dealing with the same challenge in different form across multiple disciplines.

This Article attempts to effect, for the very first time, the kind of comparing-of-notes that is needed for a proper assessment of the scope of political secrecy. It introduces a simple yet indispensable typology – direct versus indirect secrecy – that enables us to recognize the many different faces of secrecy. Once we do so we are in a position to realize that we are confronting a systemic secrecy crisis. For various reasons and under cover of conflicting rationales, large swaths of policy-making have been placed beyond the review-and-reaction authority of the American people, to the detriment of even the most humble conceptions of transparency and democracy.

Keywords: political secrecy, classified world, governmental outsourcing, Federal Reserve,shallow secrecy, deep secrecy, Vertical Networks

Suggested Citation

Benjamin, Amy, The Many Faces of Secrecy (September 18, 2017). William & Mary Policy Review, Vol. 8.2 (2017) , Available at SSRN:

Amy Benjamin (Contact Author)

Auckland University of Technology ( email )

3 Wakefield Street
Private Bag 92006
Auckland Central 1020, Auckland 1010
New Zealand

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