Saturday, March 26, 2011


I read NECESSARY SECRETS as a fluke. It isn't my normal fare.

At the height of the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange news blitz, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law. I told him I didn't think there was much room for keeping secrets. A secret, of course, is defined as "something kept hidden or unexplained." Thus, it seemed to me antithetical to everything I was taught: that knowledge is power and its application is wisdom. Keeping things hidden and unexplained kept me from knowledge and, hence, from having wisdom. "Necessary" of course means absolutely essential.

My brother-in-law reminded me, however, that there was a need for secrecy — times when it is absolutely essential. Some secrets are necessary. For example, he suggested I probably didn't want anyone knowing my daughter's bank account information. (It gave me pause that he didn't use my bank account information for his example.) Otherwise, he said someone could go in and withdraw willy-nilly. It is necessary, he argued, to keep the critical information secret or unscrupulous individuals or entities will make you regret it.

My conversation with him got me thinking more and more about secrecy, more than I ever had before. It even spurred me on to start writing a novel with secrecy, privacy, or confidentiality, or all three, as a theme. It also caused me to start considering those matters — secrecy, privacy, and confidentiality — more fully. I ended up, through happenstance, picking up NECESSARY SECRETS to read and learn more about the subject.

Obviously, since my immediate take on secrecy with my brother-in-law was to want to do away with it, I wasn't very close to the position of Gabriel Schonfeld, the author of NECESSARY SECRETS. Schonfeld argues that some classified information is so sensitive it needs to be kept secret and not disclosed, because, if it is, it will be harshly detrimental to Americans. And Schonfeld argues that those individuals and organizations who do make such disclosures of a harmful nature should be punished harshly under U. S. laws.

The Schonfeld book was written before WikiLeaks and Julian Assange hit the newsstands big time. It basically covers the history of secrecy in the United States from its inception to the time the book was completed. Since it focuses mostly on the history of secrecy in the United States, including case law and issues covered in the news, it moves quite slowly, especially in comparison to much of my normal fare. However, it is well written and not difficult at all to move through or understand. Schonfeld basically tries to make the case that the press should not be releasing sensitive classified information that could bring harm to individuals or to the U. S., and if it does, it — including all individuals who participated in its release — should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It seems to me that secrets are only necessary when there are individuals or entities that are dishonest and unscrupulous. Of course, there are such individuals and entities. It also seems to me that, over time, the ability to keep things secret becomes more and more difficult with modern technology and social media being what it is today. Hence, it was informative to read NECESSARY SECRETS and to contemplate its history and arguments. I am not certain I am where its author is on the subject, but I'm certainly much more informed on the subject matter as it pertains to the United States.