The promise to keep "secrets of state," once demanded and given, becomes virtually part of one's core identity. In the national security apparatus, one's pride and self-respect is founded in particular in the fact that one has been trusted to keep secrets in general and trusted with these particular secrets. I suggest that there are psycho-social aspects of promises made under these circumstances—bearing on self-image and self-respect, as well as status and acceptance in the larger society— that especially inhibit violating these particular promises. The circumstances I have in mind apply to "secret societies" ranging from the Mafia or associations like the Masons to the CIA, and much more broadly to the Departments of Defense and State and the multitude of corporate contractors that do classified work for the Pentagon and the "intelligence community." Thus what is most feared by most prospective secret-tellers—with good reason— is social isolation, ostracism, exile, if they reveal the secrets of the group. If they are found out, they can expect the loss of friends and relationships, more or less irrevocably, as well as loss of job and career. What would a better secrecy system in a democracy look like? Let's take a moment to be utopian and consider some features it might have or omit, without asking what we could get from this Congress and this president or the next.


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