Friday, January 11, 2008

Ellsberg debunks media myth about secrecy

I am now reading Ian Henshall's book, 9/11 revealed: the new evidence (Carroll and Graf, 2007) and find it quite useful. The writer's acuity is especially good in the area of political chicanery. I will discuss this book more fully later on.

But for now, here is a useful quote that Henshall found. I verified that it's in Ellsberg's book Secrets: a memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon papers (Viking, 2002, page 43):

It is commonplace that "you can't keep secrets in Washington" or "in a democracy," that "no matter how sensitive the secret, you're likely to read it the next day in
The New York Times." These truisms are flatly false. They are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well. Of course, eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn't in a fully totalitarian society. Bureaucratic rivalries, especially over budget shares, lead to leaks. Moreover, to a certain extent the ability to keep a secret for a given amount of time diminishes with the number of people who know it. As secret keepers like to say, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are
dead." But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public. This is true even when the information withheld is well known to an enemy and when it is clearly essential to the functioning of the congressional war power and to any democratic control of foreign policy.
The reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest import to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders.

Henshall's point in quoting Ellsberg is that the machinery is in place for the "elaborate conspiracies" that some presume are impossible in America.

Another point is that an "elaborate conspiracy" can occur when the press is essentially silent on ugly facts "hiding in plain sight."

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