There appears to be a classified document leak or scandal of some kind every day in the present era of politics. The American government’s concern with secrecy looks to be having a negative impact on politics and its desire to be open with the American people. Even if these are significant issues, there is a more fundamental systemic issue with how the government manages sensitive data and its implications for democracy. Journalist Jeremy Scahill recently examined this phenomenon and the effects of Washington’s preoccupation with secrecy on our culture in an article that appeared in The Intercept.
According to Scahill, a combination of “official secrecy” and “unofficial opacity” keeps a large portion of what transpires in Washington out of the public’s gaze. As a result, presidents don’t provide details about their meetings, budget requests, or choices to the general public. However, many of these records are even out of reach for Lawmakers without the highly coveted security clearances. To make matters worse, presidents frequently hide their secrets in their garages or high-end resorts around the world, where they are out of the reach of curious outsiders.
Because of this secrecy-based culture, it is now possible for people to use classified materials as political pawns to further their own agendas or that of their political opponents. The most recent instance of this was when Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser, quit when it was discovered that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russian officials during the transition period leading up to Trump’s inauguration as president. Additionally, WikiLeaks has been charged with publishing information obtained through hacking Democratic Party computers during the 2016 presidential election. This is said to have raised suspicions that Russia meddled in the election itself, a charge Moscow has denied but that investigators on both sides of the Atlantic have not yet been able to prove.
Behind these particular instances, however, is a much more significant problem with how our governments handle information on behalf of the people they represent. Access to information about state affairs is necessary for democracy to operate effectively, allowing citizens to make informed decisions in voting booths or other public forums without fear of repercussions from authorities seeking control through censorship or intimidation tactics used against those who challenge the status quo politically or in other ways, such as freedom of speech, which should be protected under the Constitution. Regardless of their political affiliations, all voters deserve fair play while making sure that proper procedures are followed at every step of the way. If this didn’t happen, democracy would cease to exist altogether. I hope this doesn’t happen, but until it does, you can bet that a lot more scandals will surface over the next few years due to the government’s obsession with keeping some things hidden.