cover image Secrecy: The American Experience

Secrecy: The American Experience

Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Yale University Press, $45 (262pp) ISBN 978-0-300-07756-8

In his decades of governmental service, New York Senator Moynihan has championed the principles of liberal democracy, in its original sense. His intellectual rigor and wry demeanor are both amply evident in this signal work on the state of American democracy. His skepticism of the secrecy bureaucracy began in the '70s, when he was ambassador to India, and reached a high point when CIA director William Casey lied to him about the Iran-Contra affair. He became the chairman of the 1995-1996 Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy and there continued his investigation into the scope and repercussions of governmental secrecy with further research and privileged access to major players within the FBI, CIA and executive office. Starting with Wilson's Espionage Act of 1917, institutionalized secrecy expanded, culminating in the McCarthy era and the continued disastrous miscalculations of Soviet strength right up to the moment of the U.S.S.R.'s collapse. Moynihan argues that secrecy, while necessary in a very few cases, is both counter to democracy and antithetical to well-informed choices, since what is not known cannot be debated or debunked. The inherent propensity of the bureaucracy to enlarge its powers has resulted in exponential increases in what is ""classified,"" and national decisions are dictated by an unaccountable few. While details of momentous cases, such as the Verona project's successful break of Soviet code, with the concomitant implication of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, and the Iran-Contra affair, are on public record, it is Moynihan's skill as a social scientist that integrates them into a succinct historical analysis of the American culture of secrecy. (Sept.)