The Many Faces of Secrecy

Note from the Digital Editor: In order to highlight the high-level of research and scholarship from the authors who have published in the William & Mary Policy Review’s peer-reviewed print journal, we have reproduced the abstracts from Volume 8, Issue 2 along with a link to an electronic copy of the full form of the piece. 

Political secrecy in the United States has never been more studied—and less understood—than it is today. This irony is due in large part to the slippery nature of the phenomenon: secrecy presents in different guises depending on the area of governmental activity under consideration. In the classified world of the U.S. national security state, secrecy results from affirmative governmental acts designed to enforce a sharp distinction between official and public knowledge. In the outsourced and technocratic worlds of governmental contracting and economic management, secrecy results from quiet acts of exemption of whole areas of decision-making from the normal processes of public scrutiny. Scholars have underestimated the magnitude of the political secrecy that besets American society, and misconceived prescriptions meant to manage it, because they have failed to recognize that they are dealing with the same challenge in different form across multiple disciplines.

This Article attempts to effect, for the very first time, the kind of comparing-of-notes that is needed for a proper assessment of the scope of political secrecy. It introduces a simple yet indispensable typology—direct versus indirect secrecy—that enables us to recognize the many different faces of secrecy. Once we do so we are in a position to realize that we are confronting a systemic secrecy crisis. For various reasons and under cover of conflicting rationales, large swaths of policy-making have been placed beyond the review-and-reaction authority of the American people, to the detriment of even the most humble conceptions of transparency and democracy. 

Find the full version of this article in PDF form here.