Secrets are a mechanism by which information or knowledge is kept from outsiders by those who are privy to it. Matters that are considered in secrecy usually tend to support self-interest. As with other concepts, such as money and pride, secrets are not absolutely good or bad but rely on the purpose for which they are used to define their quality. Matters considered in secrecy usually tend to support self-interest and can be extremely burdensome. The more you are able to keep a secret in your heart, the more weight you have, and the more reliable you become. What secrets have others asked you to keep? Have you ever kept a secret from someone for their own good? Have you kept a secret for the purpose of taking advantage of another unsuspecting person? Have secrets destroyed some of the relationships that you have had in your life? Do people confide in you? Do you experience stress from maintaining many secrets? How do you feel when you discover a secret that others kept from you? Do you sacrifice by lying to keep the integrity of a secret?
Secrets exist at all levels of our society. At the individual level, most of us carry personal secrets that conceal, for example, embarrassing moments during our lives that we are afraid to divulge to others because of some possible repercussion or ridicule. There are also the types of secrets that we keep to ourselves because of the fear of hurting someone, like when we tell Aunt Sadie that we love the holiday fruitcake she sends every year. Of course, there are some who utilize secrets in a manner that maintains their control or advantage in a particular situation. Without a doubt, we have all used secrets in a way that benefits us at the individual level, but secrets are also an integral part of our society at the nation-state level. For example, it is necessary for nations like the United States to keep secret the locations and inner workings of military installations, programs and the resulting products (e.g. new weapons) so that we can maintain our advantage over those who would do us harm. Also, our secret agents, troop locations and satellite positions are kept secret for the same reason.
However, some state secrets, such as those divulged by Snowden concerning the extensiveness of domestic spying, have proven difficult for many Americans to tolerate. The idea that the National Security Agency has the power and legal right to collect (i.e. for later use) every scrap of professional and personal information, which not only includes who one associates with and where one is according to phone GPS but also one’s personal medical information, without any probable cause or oversight is contrary and offensive when compared to our democratic concept of checks and balances. Regardless of whether you perceive Snowden as a patriot or as a traitor, one must admit that allowing a governmental SECURITY agency to decide where the fine line between national security and personal freedom/privacy should be drawn is the equivalent to letting the fox decide when to lock the chickens in the coop.
Just as the Bush-era federal government used the state-secrets privilege to defeat lawsuits against the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program and the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists, Attorney General Eric Holder has intervened in a private lawsuit this week using the privilege. The Justice Department is claiming that state secrets will be divulged if United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group with no apparent ties to the government, is forced to submit their donor list in the defamation suit initiated by a Greek shipping tycoon. Unlike the normal procedure that includes an official sworn public statement explaining the government’s interest in the case by someone with government authority, the Justice Department has merely stated that “the concerned federal agency, the particular information at issue and the bases for the assertion of the state-secrets privilege cannot be disclosed.” I am sure that I am not the only one to wonder how a private advocacy group, with no apparent relationship to our government, holds classified information that could jeopardize our national security. Certainly, the Justice Department’s statement only increases the curiosity and questions concerning the nature of the state secret[s] in this case.