Daniel Ellsberg on the High Costs of Executive-Branch Secrecy

Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg Susan Walsh/AP File Photo

When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, his primary goal was changing U.S. policy in Vietnam. But he also had a "very important secondary objective" -- he hoped that Americans who read the documents would lose their tolerance for granting the executive branch the ability to act in secret. They'd see that the Vietnam War was enabled by that secrecy.

As we ponder whether the Obama Administration keeps too many secrets from Congress and the people, it's worth returning to a passage in a 1973 interview that Ellsberg did with Reason magazine (emphasis added):

Without the widespread willingness to allow the executive to keep secret the mass of information about its own operations and intentions, it wouldn't have been possible for the executive to steal away so much power from the Congress and the public and to free itself from the kinds of checks and balances that were intended in the Constitution. Precisely because Congressmen realized over the years that they lacked the information on which to criticize Executive policy or to suggest changes, they have opted out from an active role in the field of foreign policy. But by the same token, it was the executive branch itself which was denying them this information. So that what we saw was one more confirmation of the axiom on which I think our Constitution was originally built, which is, "power corrupts -- even Americans." 

Read more at The Atlantic

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.