You can’t keep secrets without telling lies

Via a comment on Daniel Ellsberg on the Limits of Knowledge. I’m fascinated with the concept of openness lately. What if we, as a community, society, nation, disposed of secrets in the interest of everyone being better informed and thus able to make better decisions?

This response to the question regarding top secret intelligence (paraphrased) “we (the taxed) pay for it, why can’t we know?” also gave me pause for reflection:

Some of the information comes from people who are secretly providing it, and who are the only people who could *possibly* provide it. If the information became widely known then they would be hurt by the people who they are betraying in favor of “our side”. It would be messed up to reveal the information and leave them to the wolves.This is actually a problem with “intelligence” in general — that you can’t even *act* on the source without potentially compromising them because that would be another way to reveal that you knew something that came from the source.

The practical upshot is omniscience with almost no ability to act, except in cases where the value of the action exceeds the total future value of the uncompromised source.

While interesting, I’m not sure I agree that it’s worth keeping secrets on behalf of the source. For one, I don’t believe our intelligence gatherers are anywhere near “omniscient”—that’s just hubris. And why should we seek to know that which is harmful to those who would divulge it? This strand of logic is grounded in deception. Would we not gain more by seeking to be less secretive, less fearful, more free?

One Response to “You can’t keep secrets without telling lies”

- Grace

Yes to all three!