Secrecy is Hurting American Life: Ted Gup

Celebrated journalist and CWRU professor Ted Gup told the Club June 6 that secrecy was becoming more endemic in American life and harming it in the process. Gup spoke to 25 members at the National Press Club about the research and findings that went into his new book Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life, recently published by Doubleday.

Gup said that he became interested in the abuse of secrecy when researching an earlier work Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives (2001). “I saw abuses of secrecy, and I wanted to investigate. Then came 9/11 and the culture of secrecy increased.”

Gup vigorously defends some kinds of secrets for national security but believes the culture of secrecy has gone too far. For example, privacy issues (a form of secrecy) may have unwittingly contributed to the Virginia Tech slayings. And the justice system, which is meant to shed light and render justice, allows far too many cases to avoid trial, terminate by settlement instead and seal the records as secret.

In the national security field, government agencies have too jealously guarded their own secrets, said Gup, spurning intercommunication and missing both the plot of 9/11 and facts about pre-war Iraq.

“Democracy depends on information, and when complete information is wanting, we cannot have good public debate,” Gup said. Gup even pointed out that the State Department has trouble writing its own history of diplomacy because the CIA is still censuring material 25 years and more old. “We are not reading true history,” he says.

Gup suggested that government agencies too often believe that secrecy engenders power and that officials too often invoke secrecy not to protect the citizenry but rather themselves and their careers. He pointed out that, in addition, bureaucrats were generally not reprimanded for classifying information, but rather could be for releasing information.

Gup criticized both Republicans and Democrats. He also suggested that the press – owing to editorial budget cuts – is less adept at bringing shadowed facts to light. And he said the public in general has become more tolerant of secrecy since the attacks of 9/11

“There is no quick fix,” he lamented. “We require a shift in the culture and bureaucracy of this country. Of the intelligence community he said, “If advancement for these people depends on the compartmentalization of intelligence, we are in for more trouble.”

Club members challenged Gup on many of his points and some lively give-and-take ensued. Gup has been interviewed extensively about the book and made an appearance June 8 in Cleveland before the City Club. He published an article on Page One of the Outlook Section of the Sunday, June 10, Washington Post. You can learn more about his book at