The Future of Secrecy

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 12:47 PM EST

Julian Assange thinks that dumping U.S. secrets on the internet is worthwhile because it will cause the U.S. government to become more secretive and paranoid, which in turn will make it more sclerotic, which he thinks would be a good thing. But just how good would that really be?

It's certainly true that closed, secretive networks become less effective — but that doesn't mean they become less effective at the things we dislike them doing. Stalin remained exceptionally good at purges and liquidations all through World War II, and that didn't stop him from helping to win the war, and dominating half of Europe. It's just that it took more dead Russian boys to do it, because being secretive and purge-oriented kind of hampered the efficiency of the economy, leaving them a little short of key items like guns. But since Stalin was running a super-secretive, centrally controlled regime, that insight didn't really matter.

Similarly, forcing the US military and the state department to become more secretive might well hamper their effectiveness. But it seems most likely to hamper their effectiveness at things like nation-building and community outreach, where you need a broad, decentralized effort. I don't see why they'd be much less effective at launching drone attacks. To be sure, the drone attacks might kill a lot more innocent civilians. But no doubt Assange thinks this is all to the good because it heightens the contradictions or something.

Discuss. I suggested a few days ago that an occasional "informational enema" might have a salutary effect even if I didn't really want to see stuff like this happening routinely. I still think I feel that way. But what's to keep it from becoming routine? And will the effort to stop it from becoming routine eventually have a positive or negative impact on the world as a whole? Especially as technology makes it easier for leaks to happen and the counterattacks have to get more and more furious.

I'm not sure. And maybe keeping megaleaks like this from happening routinely won't be as hard as we think. But it's still worth thinking about.

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