Secrecy and Security

August 7, 1957

Report Outline
Secrecy and Security
Jencks Decision and Access to F.B.I. Files
Obstacles to Freer Information Policy
Special Focus

Secrecy and Security

Proposal to Punish Newsmen for Defense Leaks

Secrecy in government, long a subject of controversy, continues to provoke heated debate among legislators, public officials, and members of the press. The federal Commission on Government Security raised a storm of criticism recently when it proposed extension of the espionage laws to provide punishment for reporters who willfully divulge information classified as secret. Conversely, the June 3 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Jencks case, affirming a defendant's right under certain circumstances to inspect secret documents in the government's possession, has stirred fear that undue disclosure may hamper law enforcement agencies.

Editors are challenging with increased vehemence the federal government's practice of withholding large quantities of information on the ground that disclosure would prejudice national security or the public interest. Much of this information has little or no bearing on the country's security. Suppression may in fact work to the detriment of security, editors argue, because a well-informed public is essential to national strength in a democracy.

A separate but related criticism concerns secrecy in internal security activities and federal loyalty-security programs. The right to due process is violated, according to one view, when persons who become the object of charges based on secret information are denied access to data necessary to their defense. As in the case of the widely asserted “people's right to know,” the fundamental issue is that of reconciling the conflicting interests of freedom and security in an era of unremitting tension.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Government Secrecy
Feb. 11, 2011  Government Secrecy
Oct. 23, 2009  Conspiracy Theories
Dec. 02, 2005  Government Secrecy
Jan. 16, 1987  National Security Council
Sep. 20, 1985  Protecting America's Secrets
Feb. 16, 1979  Freedom of Information Act: A Reappraisal
Aug. 18, 1971  Secrecy in Government
Aug. 18, 1971  Secrecy in Government
Feb. 07, 1968  Credibility Gaps and the Presidency
Aug. 07, 1957  Secrecy and Security
Dec. 21, 1955  Secrecy in Government
Feb. 23, 1955  Security Risks and the Public Safety
Jun. 24, 1953  Access to Official Information
Feb. 25, 1948  Protection of Official Secrets
Jan. 29, 1929  Secret Sessions of the Senate
Freedom of Information
Freedom of Speech and Press