Secrecy Essay - Critical Essays

Daniel Patrick Moynihan


Having chaired the bipartisan Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, senior United States Senator from New York, is in a splendid position to discuss government secrecy and to demonstrate how overly zealous policies regarding confidentiality have spawned rivalry among government agencies and have, in the long run, served to weaken the defenses of the United States.

Many Cold War policies that led to undesirable, even dangerous, results stem from a reluctance of agencies to share information.

Moynihan traces the roots of modern secrecy in government to the Woodrow Wilson administration. With the United States finally forced to enter World War I, Wilson became overly concerned with security and obsessed with secrecy. He convinced Congress to pass the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, both pieces of legislation that would lead to future abuses and that were, incidentally, indirectly responsible for giving J. Edgar Hoover the stranglehold he gradually attained during his half-century stint as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Moynihan illustrates how United States presidents, particularly Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon were deceived, and in the cases of Johnson and Nixon, grievously manipulated by officials in agencies that guarded their secrets jealously, because their secrets gave them power and assured their positions in the bureaucratic pecking order. He reveals that the cloak-and-dagger operation of the Central Intelligence Agency by 1990 commanded a budget five times that of the Department of State.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCV, September 1, 1998, p. 40.

The Christian Science Monitor. October 22, 1998, p. B7.

Commentary. CVI, December, 1998, p. 78.

Foreign Affairs. LXXVII, September, 1998, p. 150.

The Nation. CCLXVII, December 21, 1998, p. 27.

National Review. L, November 9, 1998, p. 64.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, October 4, 1998, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, July 20, 1998, p. 195.

The Wall Street Journal. October 29, 1998, p. A20.

The Washington Monthly. XXX, September, 1998, p. 51.