Serving Two Masters

MSNBC, a media outfit not known for pro-liberty sentiments, is reporting that there are 3100 organizations involved in the war on terror. The original report comes to us from The Washington Post, another entity not commonly regarded as champions of laissez faire. According to the Post, 1271 government organizations and 1931 private ones are working on counterterrorism. 854,000 people hold top secret clearance. When government programs have become so large that even liberals can’t help but notice, you know you’ve got a problem.

Though liberals are normally (and accurately) described as “big government freaks,” it is difficult to imagine any way to more intractably install big government than to simply make it all secret. This is where those in favor of both small government and “a strong national defense” are simply out of touch with reality. There simply is no way to have both small government and high levels of secrecy about what that government is doing. This is a point Dan Carlin makes in his podcast. Vietnam-era documents which are only now being declassified appear to have only been classified in the first place to avoid embarrassing the people covered in the documents, not for anything we would normally call “national security.” As Carlin points out, these things were intended to be buried until the Congressmen quoted in them were all dead.

Allowing the state to keep secrets is a sure path to expansion of that state. The government regards the leaking of information which undermines people’s confidence in the actions of government employees to be “a threat to national security.” If even pointing out that a course of action is a bad idea is itself considered a bad idea, what hope can there possibly be of learning and improvement? And since the national security advocates all seem to believe that the government should have the right to keep secrets, how can they honestly also believe that it is possible to effectively limit a largely secret government?

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