Unix Ronin June 12, 2008 6:27 AM

One of the bigger problems inherent in too broad a license for secrecy is that it becomes tempting to just rubber-stamp anything you don’t want the public to know you did. A vast multitude of sins can be hidden behind the blanket label of national security. When you do this, of course, it degrades the value of secrets of true national importance, because when trivial things are declared secret, the natural assumption of the public is that all secrets are trivial. Finding and revealing “secrets” becomes almost a game. “Hey, look what those idiots declared secret THIS time.” Then when you compound that by using the veil of secrecy to cover up blunders that harmed the public (like the accidental release of nerve agents from Dugway Proving Ground), you convince the public that not only are you foolishly paranoid, but mendacious and furtive as well.

Secrecy is something that should be used sparingly and reserved for when it is necessary. The long-term result of hiding too much from your citizens is that you lose their trust, and once you destroy that trust, you may never be able to earn it back.

bob June 12, 2008 7:41 AM

Many is the time that I have seen something marked classified and thought to myself (or even said out loud to another low-level peon) “why the hell is this secret? Unauthorized disclosure of this could not remotely impact the national security of the USA.” Whereas classifying it is a waste of resources.

On the other hand the power of the press is far more widely abused than (properly) used. One would hope that an abused press would keep an abusive government in check, but unfortunately its merely a “clash of titans” where mortals can survive only by staying out of the way of either as they battle to accomplish conflicting goals none of which benefit their respective constituencies.

Example – when Ohio finally passed its concealed handgun license law (~44th state to do so), the governor refused to sign it unless the “press” was allowed to have unfettered access to the list of CHL holders.

This was intended as a measure of informing the citizenry whether the CHL law was effective or not by allowing reporters to report whether someone involved in a shooting or a crime was a CHL or not (which actually seems like a good idea to me). The Governor specifically said it was NOT to be abused by simply printing lists of all CHLs (but not written that way in the law). Well, naturally in the 4 years since it passed, there has not been ONE SINGLE story in the papers about whether someone in a shooting held a CHL (which tells one that they did NOT have because sure as hell if they DID it would be FRONT PAGE and stop the presses!) – however the most Liberal newspapers in Ohio (Toledo, Cleveland) have done exactly what the governor proscribed, printing lists of everyone in their counties who held CHLs (directly leading to at least one of the CHLs being ambushed and murdered).

And the supreme irony (at least to anyone not realizing that newspapers publishers are hypocrites of an extreme nature) is that these same publishers are AGAINST publishing the names of convicted criminals because THEY deserve privacy!

Jason June 12, 2008 9:31 AM

IMDB says

“If you enjoyed this title, our database also recommends: Soylent Green”


Shadow June 12, 2008 9:40 AM


It is really sad to hear about that CHL issue bob. I advocate CHL’s personally. It is a pity that law was not written correctly to put a leash on the rabid dogs in the press. Do you have more information on the CHL holder that was murdered? I’m curious if it was because another person was so afraid of others being able to protect themselves with a firearm that they actually murdered him out of fear or hatred. How ironic and sad would that be?

moo June 12, 2008 11:15 AM

Off-topic: in the Slashdot story about the UK government’s current attempt to extend the period police can hold a “terrorism” suspect without charging them to 42 days, this story was posted:

Shadow home secretary David Davis has resigned as an MP.

He is to force a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency which he will fight on the issue of the new 42-day terror detention limit…

He told reporters outside the Commons: “I will argue in this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government.”

moo June 12, 2008 11:18 AM

@Shadow: Regardless of the reasons in that particular case, publishing a list of all CHL holders seems particularly stupid because it tells criminals who want to steal a handgun exactly which houses they should focus on.

aikimark June 12, 2008 11:29 AM

Reminds me of the “You Don’t Know Dick” episodes from The Daily Show, showing how the VP created an new category of classified documents.

Jason June 12, 2008 12:20 PM


I think that was exactly the purpose. It sends a message to law-abiding citizens that you can be singled out and targeted just for buying a firearm.

Gun control by fear only in the opposite direction you normally see.

It isn’t about the bad guys having guns, it’s about the bad guys knowing which good guys have guns that they can steal.

Mitch P. June 12, 2008 1:34 PM

Too Secret? I would have loved to have seen this film in the theater, but it played in my area over a month ago. Is it available on DVD yet?

2hitTargetisControl June 12, 2008 1:53 PM

Guns are common enough that using a list just to get supplies I think is lame. Just go shooting, easy to meet people. Gun shows sure have a lot of people! Mailing lists of Gun mags/clubs,interpol, cops records, heck info used to be reported on scanners, handgun registration.
Then again, some of the last people I would want to steal from are the gun owners, duh!
CHL would help though if you are a bad guy, although if you are going to shoot somebody, etc, it isn’t that big of an extra advantage.
Singled out for having a gun, well, if things are getting that bad, then perhaps we got other problems much larger than just guns.
Information is everywhere today, hard to have real secrecy.

Nomen Publicus June 12, 2008 1:58 PM

A UK government employee just left two highly secret documents on the train. They were found and handed over to the BBC.

The journalist who received the papers has said that there was little if anything in them that justified being classified as “UK Top Secret”.

mapes June 12, 2008 4:41 PM


The criminals don’t want to buy a handgun thereby making it untraceable or only traceable back to the previous owner.

Also I’m willing to bet that CCW or CHL holders have more than one gun. All’s they have to do is look you up in the white pages, stake out your place and wait for you to leave…note very hard.

Davi Ottenheimer June 12, 2008 4:42 PM

Bummer, missed the screenings.

I like this analysis:

“Mahle describes how the CIA’s Somalia analysts were deprived of intelligence in other parts of the building because they didn’t have a “need to know.” As a result, they were unable to warn U.S. troops that the rag-tag bands ransacking Mogadishu had been trained up by al Qaeda.

As a result of that training, they had the wherewithal to bring down American helicopter gunships.”

Uh-huh. Funny how that sounds when in fact it is a result of American training and American arms that enabled “rag-tag” bands around the world to bring down helicopter gunships.

You don’t need special access to know that US helicopter gunships were designed to fight Soviets in the air, not ground forces. Hello, analysis? The classic arms-race was run by a military apparently oblivious to the fact that the shoulder-fired missiles they sprinkled around on the ground (also meant to be aimed at Soviets in the air) could someday turn around and be pointed in another direction.

You don’t need special access to know that highly mobile and seasoned forces on the ground with motivation will be able to overcome re-purposed expensive technology.

It was not secrecy at work here. The military did not lack the analysis, or the access to the information. What they lacked was leadership willing to listen and learn, instead of attacking with hubris.

Nick S. June 13, 2008 1:28 PM

“…publishing a list of all CHL holders seems particularly stupid because it tells criminals who want to steal a handgun exactly which houses they should focus on.”

I think you mean it tells criminals which house they should try to break into if they want to chance being shot. I’m willing to bet most thieves don’t want to see a handgun pointed at them any more than you do, and will actively avoid a house where the residents are known to be armed, whether they think they’re home or not- they can never be 100% sure the place is unoccupied.

Somebody around here recently stole a big flat panel TV from somebody’s house, but dropped it and took off running when the owner of said house went after him with a shotgun.

If crooks want to find a place they can steal handguns from, they can look up gun stores in the yellow pages.

SumDumGuy June 13, 2008 3:33 PM

I agree, as someone who is unlikely to ever own a handgun, I don’t want a list of handgun owners published because by inference any thief can figure out that I don’t own a gun and am thus “easy pickings.”

On the other hand, the governor of Ohio has only himself to blame for the press publishing lists of handgun owners. He should never have made that information public in the first place regardless of intention, people should understand by now that “information wants to be free” means that once you let information out of your control, it really is out of your control…

John June 17, 2008 1:33 PM

Can be applied to a lot of things. I remember one state that debated laws about handguns (someone touched on something similar above). Someone had the “brilliant” idea to allow citizens to carry handguns, as long as they aren’t concealed. Might as well put a target on people who aren’t showing them.

Things get a bit tougher on the national level, balancing abuse with necessity. Frustrating thing is, you could in most instances make a strong case either way.

This works both ways. My dad once put up a security camera, and labeled it “camera 4” even though it was the only one becaue he wanted would be theifs to think there was more surveillance than there was. On the other hand, some entities don’t want would-be thiefs to know how they are being caught and tracked, and can’t very well let the press or public know without blowing the whole operation.

It’s not a simple problem.

I’ll have to watch the movie. I hope it is more than propaganda.

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