Secrecy

I added this book to my Amazon wish-list after having read The Price of Loyalty and being intrigued by the viewpoint:

"When this project officially began in February 2003, I was heartened, though not surprised, to find Paul O'Neill had a striking view of the value of secrecy - that it had almost no value. We both happened to have read Secrecy, a 1998 book by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a friend and mentor to O'Neill, who wrote that twenty years on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had taught him a single sterling lesson: The threat to our national security is not from secrets revealed, it's from bad analysis."

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (as per wikipedia) was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times (in 1982, 1988, and 1994). He declined to run for re-election in 2000. Prior to his years in the Senate, Moynihan was the United States' ambassador to the United Nations and to India, and was a member of four successive presidential administrations, beginning with the administration of John F. Kennedy, and continuing through Gerald Ford.

The books originated when, in the Post–Cold War Era, the 103rd Congress enacted legislation directing an inquiry into the uses of government secrecy. Moynihan chaired the Commission. The Committee studied and made recommendations on the "culture of secrecy" that pervaded the United States government and its intelligence community for 80 years, beginning with the Espionage Act of 1917, and made recommendations on the statutory regulation of classified information.

The Committee's findings and recommendations were presented to the President in 1997. As part of the effort, Moynihan secured release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation of its classified Venona file - the history of which is truly fascinating:
  1. President Truman was not told of the contents of made aware of the contents of these decryptions; and
  2. It's potential impact to have shed much needed light on Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs and Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.

This file documents the FBI's joint counterintelligence investigation, with the United States Signals Intelligence Service, into Soviet espionage within the United States. Much of the information had been collected and classified as secret information for over fifty years.

Mr Moynihan looks at how this culture has impacted decades of American politics, including the Iran-Contra affair and pretty much the entire Nixon administration with it's disastrous culmination in his impeachment.

He also looks at the economic & functional costs of such a culture.

A big part of my interest in this book was how it provided perspective on the Bush II administration and how it can be viewed through the lens of books such as The Price of Loyalty, The One Percent Doctrine and State of Denial. Aside from the Cheney agenda contained within each and it's domination of the administration, all show how a culture of secrecy shaped thinking - even to the point of insane stupidity.

Don't be misled, however: Mr Moynihan wasn't advocating abolishing of secrecy, merely that it shouldn't hidden from scrutiny and that it has a 'shelf life' before it's costs outweigh it's benefits.

Beyond politics, I think many of these lessons can be applied to the workplace. People hoard information as if it is a competitive differentiation for them with their colleagues i.e. people working for the same organisation sharing the same organisational goals. In that context, I was given great advice a long time ago: information isn't power, it's a burden.

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posted by Lee Gale @ 1:27 AM,

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