Bad Arguments for Government Secrecy


Spencer Ackerman has a list of the five worst arguments ever offered by the government to justify keeping its most egregious misdeeds secret. It includes last week’s claim by the NSA that it would violate the privacy of those whose privacy they violated if they were to reveal how many people’s privacy was violated. It also includes this one:

The 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco was one of the worst foreign policy disasters of the 20th century. A plan hatched by CIA to overthrow the communist government of Fidel Castro led to the training of what President Kennedy was assured was a crack team of exiles — who were quickly rounded up and killed or captured almost as soon as they hit the Cuban beach.

Most accounts of the Bay of Pigs fiasco are incomplete or confusing. That’s by design. Historians have long tried to get the CIA to disclose details surrounding the plot. The final volume of the CIA’s official history has never seen daylight outside of Langley. When the disclosure advocates at George Washington University’s National Security Archive tried to read it, they learned that the CIA thought your minds are too feeble to comprehend just what happened.

In 2005, the CIA explained that it was keeping the volume secret because it risked placing “inaccurate or incomplete information into the public domain.” Scholars, reporters and the public might reach an “erroneous or distorted view of the Agency’s role in the events described in a draft or otherwise lead to public confusion.” This “inaccurate” “draft” is part of the CIA’s official history of the Bay of Pigs.

The CIA’s obstinacy might have more to do with its displeasure with the volume. It’s criticized it as a “polemic of recriminations against CIA officers who later criticized the operation and against those U.S. officials who its author, [CIA historian Jack] Pfeiffer, contends were responsible for the failure of that operation.” In other words, you can’t read it because it makes the CIA look incompetent and petty.

Yes, we can’t tell you what really happened because that would give a distorted view of what happened — as opposed to having everyone use incomplete information to fill out the picture.

Comments

  1. D. C. Sessions says

    Fletcher: Your honor, I object!
    Judge: Why?
    Fletcher: Because it’s devastating to my case!

    Or, in this instance, devastating to our image (and more importantly, budget.)

  2. Skip White says

    When I was a kid, my mom’s boyfriend claimed he fought in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Of course, he also claimed to have cured someone of their cancer using bee pollen.

  3. thisisaturingtest says

    In 2005, the CIA explained that it was keeping the volume secret because it risked placing “inaccurate or incomplete information into the public domain.” Scholars, reporters and the public might reach an “erroneous or distorted view of the Agency’s role in the events described in a draft or otherwise lead to public confusion.”

    Sounds to me like they’re more worried that accurate information might get out, leading to a clearer picture of the CIA’s role in those events. (This is obvious, isn’t it?)

  4. alanb says

    “Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.” -General William Westmoreland, 1982.

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