Monday, December 06, 2010

The Late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan On Secrecy

The Wikileaks data dump only underscores the prescience of the late, great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the subject of Secrecy. Granted, the book -- and this conversation -- predate the "War on Terror." Still, there more wisdom contained in that book than in most any of the other hand wringing, paralysis and macho talk going on in the Beltway over the security breach. From a PBS Newshour conversation between David Gergen, a Machiavellian advisor to Presidents, and Moynihan, dated November 26, 1998:

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Secrecy is hugely inefficient. Now, there are secrets you have to have, but if you have so many in this wonderful bureaucratic way we put out a journal on the number of secrets we created last year, but the secret about the report is it doesn't include the real secrets, which are the special access programs, things like that. But the - in the Nixon administration they appointed a panel out of the Department of Defense on secrecy in science. It was headed by Frederick Sikes, then the president of Rockefeller University. Edward Teller, Jack Ruwino - first rate scientists - defense scientists - and they said, well, you know, ideally, there can be no secrets. But there are none. You're not a scientist. But five years absolute maximum did we realize we're realists about the world, because nothing stays secret more than five years. We are still reclassifying material from the Atomic Energy Agency era.

... DAVID GERGEN: How do we move from a culture of secrecy to what you call a culture of openness?

SEN. DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN: First of all, recognize that you have a culture of secrecy. It's so pervasive you don't even notice it. Secondly, get a statute, a commission unanimously recommended a statute say by law this is a secret - sign your name - the person who makes it secret - put down the date when it ceases to be a secret.

DAVID GERGEN: Sunset them.


DAVID GERGEN: Sen. Moynihan, thank you very much.
Moynihan, a sociologist, former Ambassador, naval gunnery officer and advisor to Democrat and Republican Presidents approached the problem as a pragmatist and as a patriot. It merits serious discussion. These are only excerpts; the full transcript is here (and the actual book -- must reading on the subject -- is on sale on Amazon here).

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