The Insecurity of Secrecy

Good essay -- "The Staggering Cost of Playing it 'Safe'" -- about the political motivations for terrorist security policy.

Senator Barbara Boxer has led an effort to at least put together a public database of ash storage sites so that people can judge the risk to the areas where they live. However, even this effort has been blocked not by coal companies or utilities, but by the DHS. How could it possibly be a national security interest to cover up the location of material that's "not toxic or anything?" It's not. In fact, even if the ash turns out to be as bad as its worst critics fear, blocking the database is far more dangerous than revealing the location of these sites. Not only has there not been any threat against these sites by terrorists, and no workable scenario by which they might cause a problem, coal slurry impoundments are already failing with regularity, dousing parts of America with millions of gallons of this material. It doesn't take terrorists to make this happen.

Blocking the release of this information doesn't protect the citizens of the United States in any way. It's just another example of the same creeping secrecy that makes cities more difficult to manage because of secrecy over facilities. The same creeping secrecy that "blurs" national monuments from images and puts intentional gaps in public information. The same creeping secrecy that increasingly elevates the most unlikely attack -- the shoe bombers of the world -- above our right to know what's going on around us so that we can make informed decisions. The same secrecy that defends torturers.

Posted on July 3, 2009 at 7:18 AM • 21 Comments

Comments

SMJuly 3, 2009 8:28 AM


Somewhere lost in this debate is that the US, through the Feds, is rapidly creating a monoculture of defenses against perceived threats.

Being a monoculture, it actually diminishes the level of overall resistance because once a flaw is found, the attacker can presume it is the same everywhere.

sooth sayerJuly 3, 2009 8:52 AM

Anything B. Boxer does is useless boonedoggle anyways ... what's the whole point of all this? Promote BB for another 6 years of do nothing or to tell me where all the ash is lying around -- geeze .. at least pick a real issue.

Carlo GrazianiJuly 3, 2009 9:12 AM

Laying the blame on politicians still amounts to overlooking the real origin of the problem. What happens to a brave, principled, level-headed politician or civil servant who tries to moderate the panicked, ignorant demands for action of a voting (and campaign-contributing) public that believes it has an absolute right to be absolutely safe from absolutely any danger, no matter how far-fetched?

Politicians don't create this race to the bottom. They merely adapt to it.

DNCJuly 3, 2009 9:26 AM

If you want to see what happens when a government starts lying and denying just look at China's Tienanmen Square Massacre. No one outside of Beijing knew about it via any media sources and later on the Chinese government denied it ever happened, yet most westerners know about it.

Security is an incredibly slippery slope, we're already there, sliding into fascism (see the UK).

@Carlo, stop apologizing for the flatterers and politicians.


Trichinosis USAJuly 3, 2009 10:02 AM

When corporations are treated by the legislature and government as individuals with the same rights as any other citizen; but not held to the same or greater level of responsibility based on their ability to affect hundreds or thousands of other individuals by their actions or inactions, this is the kind of insanity and abuse that results. Kudos to Barbara Boxer, we need MORE like her.

Meanwhile the Department of Hopeless Insecurity continues to prove that it's less than useless. With "protection" like this, who needs the mafia? I mean, really! Who's protecting us from THEM?

StephanieJuly 3, 2009 11:02 AM

"The same secrecy that defends torturers."

Well written Mr. Schneier.

PackagedBlueJuly 3, 2009 12:30 PM

Good timely article.

Some forms of secrecy destroy the working mind and culture of adaptable changes.

Clive RobinsonJuly 3, 2009 1:03 PM

@ Carlo Graziani,

"Politicians don't create this race to the bottom. They merely adapt to it."

No I have to respectfully disagree with you there.

One or more politicos saught political milage in creating big scary bogy men.

One or two TV News and media networks in typical talking head style added more FUD to fuel the flames.

The flames where then abley fanned by other forms of media and other politicos jumping on the band waggon.

So within what was a releativly short time what was just blowing political smoke turned into flames then to an inferno. When a certain critical mass was acheived money became the object of every beltway bandit wannabee and they added more fuel and oxygen and turned up the heat.

It therfore inevatably and possibly unavoidably became a holocust in the minds of those who dared not to look but just listen.

In reality those first wiffs of smoke like that of a gamblers cheep cigar have long gone, leaving behind little but a stale tast and a faint smell of repugnance in the air. However the baise fabric of the table at which the game was played has been almost irrepairably damaged, and those who own it are left with the cost of cleaning up the mess.

Clive RobinsonJuly 3, 2009 1:08 PM

@ Roy,

"Perhaps the coal industry has bought a controlling interest in DHS."

Well since the credit crunch the US people can't afford to buy a share let alone a controlling interest...

Nomen PublicusJuly 3, 2009 1:30 PM

If you can't specify the threat you are protecting society from, you can spend vast amounts of money protecting the population from a fantasy.

The only useful change in security since 9/11 has been lockable, bullet proof cockpit doors. Nothing else has been worth a dime spent on it. All the money wasted on the TSA, the DHS etc should have been allocated to police, FBI, customs etc to further improve their investigations.

Spiny NormanJuly 3, 2009 1:39 PM

"Anything B. Boxer does is useless boonedoggle anyways."

God forbid that you should examine actual policies, instead of reflexively condemning them based on where they originate. There's a word for that mode of operation: reactionary.

Tangerine BlueJuly 3, 2009 1:54 PM

@Carlo, DNC, Clive, Trichinosis -

I agree with you all.

Everybody's responsible.

Politicians, media, corporations, voters, non-voters. Them and Us. You and Me.

In the words of one Howard Ruff, "no individual raindrop ever felt responsible for the flood."

And now that I've pontificated, my own conscience is satisfied for today, and I'm going to go barbecue.

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans. And to everyone, may we all live in a land that is free with a people that's brave.

Clive RobinsonJuly 3, 2009 3:01 PM

@ Tangerine Blue

"And to everyone, may we all live in a land that is free with a people that's brave."

Aymen to that, speaking of 4th July and people that are brave. Tomorow evening I shall be meeting a "boyhood hero" of mine Buzz Aldrin and hear what he has to say about the 40th aniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

anonJuly 5, 2009 12:36 PM

The police officers, military personnel, border guards, etc. now being hired were 10 years old when everything changed on 9/11. Scary thought that. /OT

BF SkinnerJuly 6, 2009 6:11 AM

This reminds me of the Regan executive order that classified unclassified databases becuase they might be used to aggregate intel.

One annoyed activist said "Governments and spies already know or don't care about tritium leaks at Brookhaven. This just keeps citizens from demanding accountability in their civil servants.

Furtive indeed.

tensorJuly 6, 2009 11:34 PM

"Politicians don't create this race to the bottom. They merely adapt to it."

Absolutely true, and also well-written! Well-played, sir.

LEADERS resist it, and rise above it, making our path out of it just a bit easier.

It's the voter's job to make meaningful distinctions between these two categories of office-seekers.

Robin ErikssonJuly 8, 2009 6:06 AM

"The police officers, military personnel, border guards, etc. now being hired were 10 years old when everything changed on 9/11. Scary thought that."

It is more than just scary. Many, if not most of these young people have been spoonfed Fear Uncertainty and Doubt they have likely also been taught that Big Brother knows best.

As you correctly pointed out, many of these young people are now working as border guards, police officers, military personnel etc. But, in a near future they will also start dictating government policies. That, is downright frightening!

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