In Secrecy, directors Peter Galison and Robb Moss explore when American citizens should ask for transparency from their government – and maybe, when they shouldn’t.
Secrecy's plot can be summed up as a question: Where is the line drawn between telling the American public what they have the right to know, and what needs to be kept secret for the sake of national security?
Galison and Moss fill Secrecy with interviews of people who have first-hand experience with the touchy subject of government secrecy: journalists, former government agents, even lawyers who defended accused terrorists.
In addition to covering the current debate over government secrecy, the film gives earlier instances:
• Woven throughout the film is the 1948 “Reynolds Case,” where a top-secret B-29 bomber crashed over Waycross, Georgia. (The government wouldn’t provide essential documents to the widows of the dead, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.)
• The reasons behind the secrecy of the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons in the US was interesting, to say the least.
For each pro-secrecy opinion offered, an anti-secrecy one is also provided. Some examples:
• A former chief of information for the National Security Agency (NSA) blames the 1983 bombings of the US Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon on media leaks discussing how the NSA was tracking the terrorists before the attacks (he even implies that media people who leak sensitive information are “traitors”).
• A Washington Post journalist uses the absence of WMDs in Iraq to prove his point that the people have a right to know what their government is doing.
• A former CIA exec says that prior to 9/11, press reports on how the government was tracking Osama bin Laden’s communications caused bin Laden to change his methods, and the CIA’s surveillance dried up.
• Providing a media openness for the Unabomber, by publishing his screeds in major newspapers, is what caught the attention of his brother and led to the Unabomber’s arrest.
The film shows many angles to the argument – providing one head-shaking instance after another where secrecy, either kept or leaked, caused an unfavorable incident for the US or its people. All the subjects interviewed provide clear, articulate reasons for their cause, which makes it that much harder to come down on one side (though one expert’s declaration that these secrecies have a sexual connotation feels like a bit of a stretch).
In Secrecy, a lot of questions are asked; no easy answers are offered. And that’s a large part of what makes this film so compelling.
Secrecy is available on DVD Tuesday, September 29.
Will your kids want to watch it?Secrecy’s subject matter doesn’t seem like something that would capture children’s attention, which is fine because there are some grim images and footage – including the aftermaths of 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the US Embassy and Marine barracks bombings; a couple of shots of dead US soldiers; and pictures of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?Much like Escape from Suburbia, Secrecy makes for great debate. I’d say not only have your FilmMother watch it, but make it a group viewing with friends or colleagues. Talks may get heated afterward, but it’ll simply be a testament to Secrecy’s material.
• Directors: Peter Galison, Robb Moss
• Stars: Mike Levin, Tom Blanton, Melissa Boyle Mahle, Ben Wizner, James B. Bruce, Barton Gellman, Steve Garfinkel, Patricia J. Herring, Wilson Brown, Siegfried Hecker, Steven Aftergood, Neal Katyal, Charles Swift, Judy (Palya) Loether
• MPAA Rating: N/A
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