5.0 out of 5 stars The Folly of Secret Intelligence,July 28, 2011
Ever had someone try to undercut your position by alluding to “secret” information whose details, alas, cannot be shared but allegedly trump your arguments. How much worse when it is the government who is seen to bully its own citizenry in this way?
The hallmark of our free society is the First Amendment, which stipulates that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” Had it occurred to the framers that the Executive Branch would acquire equivalent law-making powers–Executive Orders with the “force of law”–they likely would have constrained that branch of government similarly …and perhaps an activist judiciary, as well.
In the legitimate pursuit of national security, the government intelligence apparatus collects vast amounts of information in order to inform those who make and execute national security policy. Much of that information is “classified” for two legitimate reasons: (1) the information we require is purposely hidden from us by potential adversaries and, thus, is collected and analyzed using sensitive sources and methods which, if revealed would lead to the denial of this information; and further, (2) knowledge by an adversary that a piece of information is in our hands could lead to changes that would negate its value.
Over and over, it has been demonstrated that much, if not most, of the information we require to fully inform national security policy and operations can be gleaned from open sources of information, thus nullifying the issue of sources and methods. Gathering information in this way–open source intelligence–has two benefits: it is cheaper and entails less risk, physical and diplomatic; and, other things being equal, it could permit informing not just “cleared” national security officials, but the general public. This latter enhances the very democracy which national security seeks to protect.
But, what about the danger–inherent in open-source, public intelligence–that a potential adversary would know that we know? Well, in many cases, they know we know, or suppose we know, or must act as if we know, especially it that knowledge can be gleaned from open sources which is our focus, here. Again and again, we find examples of “secrets” being effectively kept from the U.S. public, but not from the adversary.
So, if open sources are of such benefit both to the efficiency of our intelligence apparatus and to our democracy, why aren’t they used more? This is a question asked and answered, if inadequately, many times by many authors (including this reviewer). It is this question that Hamilton Bean, in No More Secrets: Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence (Praeger, 2011), brings new energy to the issue, new insights, and new clarity.
This is a major contribution to our understanding; I recommend this book without reservation or qualification.