From the News column of the March 2008 issue of Perspectives on History
Film on Secrecy Screened at Sundance
David Darlington, March 2008
Secrecy, a new film by Harvard University professors Peter Galison and Robb Moss about government classification debates, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008. Historian Tom Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, played a featured role in the film (and in the discussion following the screening at Sundance). The film examines "the hidden world of national security policy by examining the many implications of secrecy, both for government and individuals."
"We live in a world where the production of secret knowledge dwarfs the production of open knowledge," the filmmakers say. "Depending on whom you ask, government secrecy is either the key to victory in our struggle against terrorism, or our Achilles heel," the directors assert. The film explores the various ways "secrecy saves" lives by keeping volatile information out of the hands of dangerous people, and how "secrecy corrupts" governments by shielding them from public accountability. The film contains interviews with former military and intelligence service personnel, historians, scientists, and lawyers on both sides of the transparency divide. Apart from Blanton, those interviewed include Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists; Barton Gellman of the Washington Post; Neal Katyal of Georgetown University; Meyer Levin, former official of the National Security Agency; and Melissa Boyle Mahle, an expert on the Middle East who had worked at the CIA. The film covers "the vast, invisible world of government secrecy. By focusing on classified secrets, the government's ability to put information out of sight if it would harm national security, Secrecy explores the tensions between our safety as a nation, and our ability to function as a democracy."
Details about the film can be obtained from the film's web site, www.secrecyfilm.com.
—Adapted from an AHA Today blog post by David Darlington