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Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law Paperback – May 23, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (May 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393339939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393339932
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The December 2005 publication of a front-page New York Times piece about an NSA wiretapping program is the inciting incident at the heart of this provocative consideration of the conflict between the need for government secrecy and the role of a free press. Schoenfeld (The Return of Anti-Semitism), senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, publicly accused the paper of violating the law when it published the article. Here, the author concerns himself less with the specifics of the 2005 incident than the larger theoretical and historical questions it raises. The book goes back to the First and Second Continental Congresses to show that the founders believed the defense of national security made complete transparency impossible. It then jumps ahead to the 1917 Espionage Act, the critical legislation, in Schoenfeld's thesis, locating where secrecy and security trump freedom of the press—as it did until Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the classified Pentagon Papers to the Times. If Schoenfeld's argument sometimes feels one-sided, he succeeds in scrutinizing an issue of vital importance and putting it into a much broader context. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In 2006, conservative commentator Schoenfeld published an editorial in which he called for the prosecution of certain New York Times journalists under espionage laws for reporting details of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping activity within the U.S. With this selection, Schoenfeld reasserts his complaint against the Times in the context of a broader discussion about the historical role of secrecy in American government. Examining the Founders’ attitudes toward government secrets as well as certain precedent-setting incidents such as Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers, he argues that the government should more aggressively assert its prerogative to control certain information, particularly that pertaining to national security, by prosecuting leakers and those who would publish sensitive leaked information. His primary frustration, however, is not with the government’s demonstrated reluctance to prosecute leakers (often for fear of further disclosures in court) but with the confidently adversarial stance of post-Watergate journalism in general. Though uncovering some fascinating and largely forgotten moments in American history—the 1931 Black Chamber affair, for example—this selection may put off some readers with its polemical tenor. --Brendan Driscoll --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

For nearly two years ending in November 2012, Gabriel Schoenfeld was a senior adviser to the Mitt Romney for President Campaign. Today he is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. His essays on national security and modern history have appeared in leading publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Weekly Standard, New Republic, Atlantic, National Interest, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Commentary, where from 1994 to 2008 he was senior editor. His books include: A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign: An Insider's Account; Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law; and The Return of Anti-Semitism.

Before joining Commentary, Schoenfeld was a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, where he founded the research bulletin Soviet Prospects. Schoenfeld was an IREX Scholar at Moscow State University, holds a PhD from Harvard University's Department of Government, and is a United States Chess Federation master. The father of three daughters, he lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. Jaksetic on August 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is an ambitious one, discussing the serious legal, political, and ethical issues raised by media publication of unauthorized disclosures of secret diplomatic, military, and intelligence information. (Because the phrase "classified information" is a relatively modern one, it would be a historical anachronism to use that phrase for secret diplomatic, military, and intelligence information that existed before that phrase came into use.)

The author surveys American history -- from the beginnings of the United States to the present -- in an effort to identify the key issues raised by unauthorized disclosures of diplomatic, military, and intelligence secrets and their publication. The author's survey of American history is interesting, and it provides useful context and background information for his discussion of unauthorized disclosures. The author discusses arguments made in favor of publishing leaked secrets, arguments made against the publication of leaked secrets, and the strengths and weakness of the arguments on both sides.

For the most part, the author is critical of media publication of unauthorized disclosures of secret diplomatic, military, and intelligence information, and he challenges many of the arguments that have been made in favor of such publication. But, the author also notes the problem of over-classification of some government information, the value of a free press to an informed citizenry, and the practical and political difficulties of criminal prosecutions of leakers and the recipients of leaks. The author's effort at presenting the pros and cons of unauthorized disclosures and the government's response to unauthorized disclosures is an admirable effort at being fair, but it occasionally may leave the reader with the feeling that the author is ambivalent and perhaps hesitant about some of the positions he takes in the book.

Anyone interested in the subject of national security leaks should read this book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Fiona Lowther on December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If ever there was a timely book, "Necessary Secrets" is it: With the Wikileaks scandal in the headlines, every American should be reading "Necessary Secrets." The author seems to have tried to provide a balanced analyses of our country's news media vs. government/military secrets -- and has pretty much succeeded. All readers may not agree with his conclusions, but this book should help each make up his/her own mind on the subject.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D Bishop on September 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Consider the following quote from the New York Times story "Iran Fights Malware Attacking Computers" dated September 25, 2010.

"The New York Times reported in 2009 that President George W. Bush had authorized new efforts, including some that were experimental, to undermine electrical systems, computer systems and other networks that serve Iran's nuclear program, according to current and former American officials. ...The program is among the most secret in the United States government, and it has been accelerated since President Obama took office, according to some American officials. "

If it's "the most secret" program, why is the New York Times reporting it? Schoenfeld doesn't discuss this particular case in his book but he looks carefully at the arguments made for and against such revelations.

Frankly I'm surprised by the lack of other five star ratings. His book is well researched, well written and his arguments are balanced, thorough and clearly presented.

He follows the subject from the historical period through to the present. I preferred reading his twentieth century examples over those from earlier periods, but I understand his reasons for reaching back.

I wouldn't say it's a gripping read, but it's clear, fluid writing allows the reader to move quickly through parts of less interest. I also give it credit for succeeding in a somewhat more difficult literary category, which blends history, law and political philosophy.

He covers the Pentagon Papers release by Daniel Ellsberg. Having read Ellsberg's "Secrets" years ago, Schoenfeld's alternate perspective was enlightening.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Walt Eddy on March 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read NECESSARY SECRETS as a fluke. It isn't my normal fare.

At the height of the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange news blitz, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law. I told him I didn't think there was much room for keeping secrets. A secret, of course, is defined as "something kept hidden or unexplained." Thus, it seemed to me antithetical to everything I was taught: that knowledge is power and its application is wisdom. Keeping things hidden and unexplained kept me from knowledge and, hence, from having wisdom. "Necessary" of course means absolutely essential.

My brother-in-law reminded me, however, that there was a need for secrecy -- times when it is absolutely essential. Some secrets are necessary. For example, he suggested I probably didn't want anyone knowing my daughter's bank account information. (It gave me pause that he didn't use my bank account information for his example.) Otherwise, he said someone could go in and withdraw willy-nilly. It is necessary, he argued, to keep the critical information secret or unscrupulous individuals or entities will make you regret it.

My conversation with him got me thinking more and more about secrecy, more than I ever had before. It even spurred me on to start writing a novel with secrecy, privacy, or confidentiality, or all three, as a theme. It also caused me to start considering those matters -- secrecy, privacy, and confidentiality -- more fully. I ended up, through happenstance, picking up NECESSARY SECRETS to read and learn more about the subject.

Obviously, since my immediate take on secrecy with my brother-in-law was to want to do away with it, I wasn't very close to the position of Gabriel Schonfeld, the author of NECESSARY SECRETS.
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