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Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life Hardcover – May 29, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this probing exposé, former Washington Post and Time magazine investigative reporter Gup (The Book of Honor) surveys the post-9/11 mania for secrecy, focusing on the ubiquitous classification of routine information, the gutting of the Freedom of Information Act and the persecution of whistle-blowers. The government, he notes, is busy reclassifying information that has been in the public domain for decades, and a Pentagon report criticizing excessive secrecy was stamped Top Secret. It's all part of a national obsession with confidentiality, Gup argues, that afflicts corporations, universities and the press itself, whose reliance on unnamed sources corrupts and misleads its reporting. Gup's muckraking sometimes misfires (he reports on an intelligence operative who either murdered two other agents or was pulling his leg), and he ups the anxiety by conflating government secrecy with surveillance and wire-tapping programs. Democracy seems more gummed up than actually threatened by the problems he spotlights, such as the concealment of crimes, defective products and corporate chicanery, gossip replacing verifiable news, government pursuit of misguided policies based on secret information rather than public information that can be checked and debated. Still, this is a cogent critique of a tight-lipped America that is increasingly paranoid, dysfunctional and absurd.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Investigative reporter Gup examines the increasing obsession with secrecy in the U.S., its causes, and risks associated with this trend. Gup notes an increasing secrecy in laws and practices within the various branches of government. The response has been fits and starts of efforts to ensure a more open government. Yet readers would be wrong to assume that the dangers perceived after 9/11 would be the primary impetus for this new wave of secrecy. Gup argues that technological advances just prior to 9/11 increased classified material fourfold. He focuses primarily on the Bush administration's "war on terror" but also scrutinizes corporate America and universities, offering examples of subverted laws initially designed to protect the privacy interests of students. Gup also explores the dysfunctionality of overclassification of secrets and the debilitating impact it has had on both government agencies and the public. A most timely critique in this age of an endless and amorphous war on terror. Ford, Vernon
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514750
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,223,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As one of those who testified to the Moynihan Commission on Secrecy, and to earlier Presidential Commissions of excessive government classification, I consider this book to be a treasure. The reviewer that defends government secrecy to protect "sources and methods" knows nothing of them. I was a spy, I helped steal codebooks and program imagery satellites, and I stood up the Marine Corps Intelligence Command.

The author has rendered the Republic an extraordinary service, and from somewhere in heaven Daniel Patrick Moynihan is smiling upon this superb public service.

The author opens the book with an extraordinary snapshot of a single day, Thursday, February 2, 2006, and a stunning array of secret sessions and practices spanning the entire Nation and all of its domains (academic, business, government, law enforcement, religious).

This is a book of case studies, and a book with a constant theme that we must all note: secrecy breeds contempt and distrust, and secrecy blocks the collective intelligence of the people from playing a role in self-governance.

The author excels at discussion not just excessive national security secrecy, but how secrecy is now pervasive, from agricultural contamination and recalls being concealed from the public, to energy policy (Dick Cheney is the first in history to destroy all records of all his guests).

The author reminds us that Thomas Jefferson stated that "Information is the currency of democracy," and in all that he writes, he shows how secrecy is pathologically altering the relationship between the government and the governed, as well as between all forms of organization and their clients, members, or adherents.
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Format: Hardcover
Secrecy is obviously on the increase in America. Ted Gup certainly tackles the hoarding of state secrets and the difficulties faced by citizens who try to pry information out of the government. But what really makes this book unique is that Gup extends his analysis to a larger culture of secrecy in America, in which the withholding of information has extended to all areas of our political economy, with flimsy justifications from gatekeepers and little resistance from the majority of citizens. Gup does tend to fall into political sermonizing at times, with a shortage of explanation for his larger rhetorical theme of the damage that secrecy does to democracy; while he can also be faulted for mangling the distinction between disclosure and privacy or personal security. Another gap in the analysis is the effect of excessive litigation, as the threat of lawsuits surely chills the willingness of many parties to disclose information. But overall, Gup offers devastating evidence that excessive secrecy is doing real damage to the American ideals of public participation and self-governance.

Gup shows that such tendencies have become a dangerous habit throughout America. In separate chapters and case studies, Gup sheds light on the growing secrecy in not just Federal governmental matters and national security, but also in the press, the university system, the courts, and the corporate world. In particular, universities shield information about crime on campus, the legal system is awash in closed-door settlements, and corporate lawyers are increasingly harsh on courageous whistle-blowers. In all cases, information that could benefit larger groups of stakeholders, or society at large, is kept secret for the benefit of the disputing parties or just for the authorities.
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By MJA on September 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is absolutely fascinating - timely and informative. A must read for anyone truly interested in how our government is "working for the people." Ted Gup's books are based on actual facts and happenings.
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Format: Hardcover
Ted Gup's "A Nation of Secrets" begins by listing several actions by the Bush administration in a single day to restrict information - eg. a blistering report describes the government's inability to cope with Katrina, but the government refuses to turn over documents that might identify who was reponsible and explain how it occured ("would undermine the quality of advice received"). Then we learn that in '05 the U.S. stamped 14.2 million documents as classified, and that excludes the V.P.'s office, the Homeland Security Council, and the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The cost of securing secrets (locks, vaults, training, background checks) exceeds $7 billion/year. However, there is more. Post 9/11 we have a new category - "sensitive but unclassified" - eg. 15 levels at the Department of Energy.

Gup's major concern is that "What you don't know can hurt you." Examples include early warning data on auto-safety defects were exempted from the Freedom of Information Act in 2003 ("could put one manufacturer at a competitive disadvantage"), data from the National Practicioner Data Bank are not available to patients, and Florida exempted nursing homes from public records legislation in 2001. Further, when the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported adverse findings involving Halliburten, Republicans slipped in a provision to close the office. How are citizens supposed to know how to evaluate their government?

Another new development. CIA internal politics includes reclassifying activities to deny access by critics, thus weakening the quality of information by making it less subject to internal challenge. And what about those serving in Iraq being required to sign non-disclosure forms prohibiting talking about equipment/body armor problems.
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