The Declassification Engine: What History Reveals About America’s Top Secrets

Pantheon. Jan. 2023. 560p. ISBN 9781101871577. $30. HIST
Connelly (global history, Columbia Univ.; Fatal Misconception) advocates for the necessity of a declassification engine to tame the U.S. government’s vast amount of secret, classified information. Knowing that this is a tall order, the author meticulously makes his case, while also outlining the history of classified information and deftly illustrating the deep symbiosis between capitalism and national security strategy. Connelly states this emerged during World War II, with Pearl Harbor, the Manhattan Project, and the inception of the Cold War acting as catalysts. Reasons for keeping parts of the public record classified include protecting sensitive information about valuable allies and hiding governmental incompetence. The mutual enmity between some civilian leaders—including presidents—and the military brass directly led to the Vietnam quagmire. The global war on terror, with its nebulous focus on national security, gave the government broad, unprecedented powers to surveil citizens. The information age has added to the glut of data captured and parsed by agencies such as the National Security Agency. Connelly also considers the banality of secrecy, making clear that much of the government’s classified information is mundane and unproductive.
VERDICT Perfect for readers intrigued by the intersection of politics and history.
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