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In Washington, columnists called it "silly secrecy" when the government refused to clear a book written by a former Army intelligence officer about the intelligence service. It was a very funny matter when, even after the book had been cut to exclude references to every war since and including the American Revolution, it was still not approved. Gales of laughter went up at the story that the Pentagon would not tell how much peanut butter the Army consumed for fear such knowledge would give the Russians an indication of our manpower strength. But the "laughter has an echo that is grim."
The situation is actually far from humorous. It's silly, but it's not funny when the Defense Department declines to tell the General Accounting Office about "secret" defense expenditures until the GAO's auditor proves his "need to know." Security has apparently become the last refuge of bureaucracy.
The trend, in its more ridiculous moments, may seem inconsequential, but in a democratic society the misuse of the secrecy stamp is in opposition to both good theory and good practice. The public's need to know remains a distinguishing factor between free and slave states.
Perhaps there are still some secrets to guard, but it is foolhardy to continue the unthinking, undisciplined classification of the most routine scientific knowledge and of the more recent discoveries already in the possession of Soviet technicians. A fetish for security can only lead to the breakdown of scientific communications within the United States, and increased handicaps for American scientists.
In addition to scientific knowledge, honest information about our over-all defense posture is necessary. It should not require a politically motivated Congressional investigation to uncover the facts about our military programs. Although the men in charge of these programs may have certain errors to cover up, they have no excuse for irrational secrecy about their affairs. Error is forgivable, deception is not.
The work done by the House Government Information Subcommittee in pointing out the faults of our security system has been encouraging, but hardly sufficient. To correct present regulations will require a new approach to public relations in Washington, but such a shift is not impossible.
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