Secrecy in Government

Archive Report

Controversy Over the Pentagon Papers

Government Secrecy vs. Public's Need to Know

The pentagon papers have rekindled a conflict dating from the early days of the Republic—the clash between the government's need for secrecy and the public's need to know. Neither need is a right expressly guaranteed by the Constitution, but each is considered essential to a properly functioning democracy. Hardly anyone disputes the argument that the federal government must conduct diplomatic negotiations in secret and withhold details of such things as current military strategic planning or weapons designs. And few would question the assertion that ordinary citizens should know as much as possible about decisions taken in their behalf by elected or appointed officials. The trouble is that the boundary separating secrecy and disclosure shifts ...

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