None of your business?

 

Last updated 2/20/2024 at 9:09am



Unless you have been living in a cave for the past year, you cannot help being exposed to some degree to the political fighting going on between the current and immediate past administrations over the handling of “classified” information.

The discussion and debate over the safeguarding of the nation’s secrets has been playing out in a very public forum from the news media to the courtroom. Is that good or bad? It certainly raises issues that the general public rarely pays attention to. Why do we need to guard state secrets? Should we discuss such an important issue in the public square?

Safeguarding state secrets, or for that matter, industrial secrets, has been a priority for as long as humans have felt the need to hold an advantage over another by denying access to information that could shift that advantage. As humans advanced, the need to maintain tactical advantage over other groups became more important. Holding onto information that guaranteed an advantage in procuring limited food stocks could literally make a difference between life or death.

As civilizations developed and governments formed, controlling access to information that protected their societies became central to maintaining growth and dominance. With the coming of “The Enlightenment,” developing democratic concepts began to challenge authoritative rule and controlling vital information became more of a balancing act for democracies; for kings, emperors, or dictators, not so much.

The American Revolution produced the world’s first representative democratic government, a truly grand experiment in modern governance. The founding fathers were acutely aware of the importance of guarding secrets that would give the Continental Army the tactical advantage to carry the day. In 1774, members of the Continental Congress resolved “that the doors be kept shut during the time of business” and “to keep the proceedings secret, until the majority shall direct them to be made public.” In doing so lawmakers were able to maintain the advantage and ultimately establish a new nation, free to develop at a reasonable rate with little or no interference from the outside world.

Maintaining state secrets was so important to these early lawmakers that they addressed the issue in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 5 states that Congress “shall keep a journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their judgment require Secrecy.”

Today, secrecy is considered critical in maintaining national security and is aimed at keeping military, political, and advanced technical information out of the hands of foreign enemies.

Our government determined that information that has the potential to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security shall be kept “classified,” and shared only with those who have a “need to know”. In a representative democracy it has become a delicate balancing act between the public’s “right to know” vs. its “need to know” and responsibility of the government to keep citizens safe by withholding state secrets.

Most of my adult life was spent in the U.S. Air Force and over my three-decade career I was responsible for guarding some of the nation’s most important military secrets at the highest level. For more than 15 years I had a security clearance above “Top Secret,” I held a clearance that allowed me access to “special programs and procedures” related to military operations. The clearance did not afford me access to any information; only information I had a need to know to complete mission requirements.

I often thought about the responsibility I carried, and wondered what the consequences of mishandling the information would be, not only for myself, but more importantly, the nation. To this day, even though I am retired and no longer possess a top-level security clearance, I am sworn to secrecy not to discuss what I know with anyone, any place, at any time.

Publicizing classified information, at any level, can have devastating effects on a nation’s security. It could increase its vulnerability to exploitation or attack from an enemy foreign or domestic. It’s a dangerous world out there. Secrets help keep us safe.

 

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