Fukuyama on Secrecy

From the New York Times:

All new threats entail huge uncertainties. Then, as now, there was a pronounced tendency to assume the worst, and for the government to claim enormous discretion in protecting the American public. The Bush administration has consistently argued that it needs to be protected from Congressional oversight and media scrutiny. An example is the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance of telephone traffic into and out of the United States. Rather than going to Congress and trying to negotiate changes to the law that regulates such activities, the administration simply grabbed that authority for itself, saying, in effect, "Trust us: if you knew what we know about the threat, you'd be perfectly happy to have us do what we're doing." In other areas, like the holding of prisoners in Guantanamo and interrogation methods used there and in the Middle East, one can only quote Moynihan on an earlier era: "As fears of Communist conspiracies and German subversion mounted, it was the U.S. government's conduct that approached the illegal."

Even if we do not at this juncture know the full scope of the threat we face from jihadist terrorism, it is certainly large enough to justify many changes in the way we conduct our lives, both at home and abroad. But the American government does have a track record in dealing with similar problems in the past, one suggesting that all American institutions -- Congress, the courts, the news media -- need to do their jobs in scrutinizing official behavior, and not take the easy way out of deferring to the executive. Past experience also suggests that the government would do far better to make public what it knows, as well as the limits of that knowledge, if we are to arrive at a balanced view of the challenges we face today.

Posted on October 12, 2006 at 6:54 AM • 14 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonOctober 12, 2006 8:01 AM

If you need an example of why all over site on Gov activities needs to be open then look no further than a report on BBC Radio 4 this morning.

Apparently an advocate reviewing evidence supplied by MI5 has found that that they have deliberatly supplied conflicting "secret" evidence to two seperate trials.

The only reason this was picked up despite Charles Clark's much touted oversite and review, was the pure chance that the advocate had been involved with both cases...

So MI5 are cooking the books in the UK to increase the likleyhood of convictions well well well, so much for oversite.

Unfortunatly I have not been able to find a link to the story on the BBC website yet, when I do I will post it.

AnonymousOctober 12, 2006 8:35 AM

"...[T]he government would do far better to make public what it knows, as well as the limits of that knowledge, if we are to arrive at a balanced view of the challenges we face today."

Insofar as the Cheney 1% Doctrine prevails, we'll never have balance.

FritzTheCatOctober 12, 2006 9:44 AM

@Clive Robinson: Shouldn't that be "oversight", not "oversite?"

As to the article's subject matter: If the govt. allowed the public a balanced view of the challenges, they'd lose the chance to scare people with exaggerated threat warnings.

sidelobeOctober 12, 2006 12:04 PM

Isn't this precisely why, at least in the US, we have three branches of government? Individually they tend to run amok, but together they attempt to keep each other out of trouble.

Not that this is always effective, but we can be certain it will be ineffective if the balances are sidestepped.

pigletOctober 12, 2006 12:30 PM

sidelobe, the concern is whether the three branches of state power (as it is called outside the US) are independent of each other. In the US, this is not the case, with the President vetoing laws and naming judges, and with state governments being responsible for the conduct of elections. The executive branch in the US is not sufficiently being kept in check, and that's what makes human rights abuses and civil liberty breaches possible.

flyerOctober 12, 2006 12:58 PM

Not directly related, but an interesting article on BBC news: Air passengers 'could be tagged'

Electronically tagging passengers at airports could help the fight against terrorism, scientists have said.
...
The project still needs to overcome some hurdles, such as finding a way of ensuring the tags cannot be switched between passengers or removed without notification.

The prototype technology is to be tested at an airport in Hungary, and could, if successful, become a reality "in two years".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6044310.stm

pigletOctober 12, 2006 12:58 PM

The UK's foreign secretary Beckett can't help stating the obvious, then tries to make it unsaid:

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/...

"In today's report, Mrs Beckett warned that repressive regimes around the world were using the fight against terrorism as an excuse for tightening restrictions on the human rights of their own citizens. But the report argued that it was a "complete fallacy" to draw a link between the "legitimate national security" measures of democratic regimes and the repressive acts of authoritarian states."

Legitimate security measures? "The continuing detention without fair trial of prisoners is unacceptable in terms of human rights, but it is also ineffective in terms of counter-terrorism. It is widely argued now that the existence of the camp (Guantanamo) is as much a radicalising and destabilising influence as it is a safeguard to security."

At the same time: "Mrs Beckett defended Britain's practice of seeking assurances from countries such as Jordan and Algeria that terror suspects deported there will not face torture on their return."

It's not easy to defend reprerssion and human rights abuses at home while criticizing repressive regimes abroad. But it does help to be able to point to the USA's much worse human rights record.

MikeOctober 12, 2006 2:40 PM

Good lord, where's quincunx ?

I thought's he'd be in any discussion of the state and secrecy like a dirty shirt.

quincunxOctober 12, 2006 7:22 PM

Fukuyama is quite sound on the issue, but has no concept of power relationships, for ex:

"Past experience also suggests that the government would do far better to make public what it knows, as well as the limits of that knowledge, if we are to arrive at a balanced view of the challenges we face today."

The government would do far better?

What the hell does that mean? What is the goal? Who is the judge? Who is serving who?

The correct way of looking at the issue is that the elite operators of the State will try to get away with everything they can.

Fukuyama is also a monetary crank of the highest sort.

---

@Mike
"I thought's he'd be in any discussion of the state and secrecy like a dirty shirt."

Nah. I've had it with this blog.

I've come to realize that no one here cares about security at all. They just like to bicker over trivialities.

I will just mention that there is a whole field called 'political economy' that deals with the topic. Those who study it will quickly realize why things work the way they do, and always have when you leave it up to a monopolist to secure your rights.

I don't really care about the specifics of government today - I can rest assured that it functions exactly the same as yesterday, and in all those other historic events that were wholly misrepresented in government schools.

John DaviesOctober 13, 2006 3:45 AM

"In today's report, Mrs Beckett warned that repressive regimes around the world were using the fight against terrorism as an excuse for tightening restrictions on the human rights of their own citizens. But the report argued that it was a "complete fallacy" to draw a link between the "legitimate national security" measures of democratic regimes and the repressive acts of authoritarian states."

That's one of those irregular verbs:

I increase security for your safety
You breach human rights
He tortures people

Dan HalfordOctober 15, 2006 3:25 PM

Someone pointed out to me a while back that, under the anti-demonstration laws in the UK, a person could be arrested and detailed under prevention of terrorism legislation for walking past the Houses of Parliament whilst carrying a newspaper bearing the headline "It's time for Blair to go".

There is no freedom in the UK any more.

CWOctober 17, 2006 11:36 AM

Torture is a red herring. The techniques used by the US on terrorists are more mild (a LOT more mild) than what we do to our own servicemembers in training. I got a big laugh out of the debates about what "torture" techniques were used on detainees: every one of which, and more, had been used on me just for "practice".

The problem with the government's claim of broad authorities in the war on terrorism is that mostly those authorities are not used competently. If we were using all these surveillance measures to detect and apprehend terrorists, that would be fine. But mostly they are used by the government to increase control and power over ordinary Americans. It should be about catching bad guys, but far too often it is about increasing tyranny.

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