cover image Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy

Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy

Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-62097-052-2

What the U.S. government should keep hidden from the American people is a legitimate question, but recent revelations about the CIA’s torture of detainees and the NSA’s warrantless mass surveillance suggest that American democracy is now threatened by the excesses of state secrecy. So argues author Schwarz, chief counsel at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice and former chief counsel to the Church Committee, the U.S. Senate’s influential 1975–76 investigation into intelligence-service wrongdoing. Beginning by examining the rise of what he calls secrecy culture, Schwarz reaches back to debates over secrecy and transparency among the American Founding Fathers, then quickly jumps ahead to the dramatic growth of government and, in particular, executive power during the 20th century. He also considers the effectiveness of governmental and extra-governmental checks on potential abuses, covering whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations and the checkered record of Congress and the courts in reigning in the executive branch. The cumulative effect of this historical survey is to show that, in the post-9/11 United States, the balance between transparency and secrecy has overwhelmingly tipped toward secrecy. Timely and powerfully argued, this account by an exceptionally well-positioned observer and participant in the contentious history of government secrecy will prove a necessary addition to ongoing policy debates. (Apr.)