Back Goldfinch looking backwards

Thinking back on my discovery about the one Top Secret document among those I had charge of as a young naval officer in 1960 can be confusing. For on the surface of things, the secrecy of our operational codes for the crypto machine I had to bang away on regularly in the too-small crypto room was surely more important than keeping secret the fact that our aircraft were violating Chinese airspace. Yet the code sheets telling me how to set the rotors on the enigma machine were only classified Secret.

If the “enemy” got one of those code lists, he’d have a big lift up towards breaking our messages sent over the radio air. I could see this being very useful to an enemy. But how could it matter to China or the Soviet Union if either discovered our procedure for lying to the public about where our planes were flying? It couldn’t. China obviously knew what we were doing, and Russia would never believe we weren’t doing to China what we were surely also doing to them.

So whom were we protecting from what? OK, obviously we were protecting the American people from learning that we were lying to them about what we were doing in China. And this was more important to the people who put labels like Secret and Top Secret on things than keeping our crypto codes from the enemy.

But this is silly. We weren’t protecting the American people from learning something; we were hiding something from them. Hiding something from them that we were not hiding from China and Russia.

It looks like the government must have been worried that the people, if they got wind of what was really going on, might protest in some significant way that would lead to a change in this policy. That’s certainly one legitimate way to reason about motives. Government has to protect itself from democracy. OK. Makes a certain sense.

However, in reading about the trials of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine in the late 1950’s (my time in the USN, too), I came across another reason for the government to keep things secret from the people – you don’t want them to lose faith in the government. I can imagine some people in high places reasoning that way about this covert operation, too. Like this: for the sake of national security, the government has to do some ugly things from time to time. If the general public finds out about that, they are likely to lose faith in their government as just, decent and righteous. So we have to hide it from them.

Perhaps that makes no sense to my reader. Or to me. But that is exactly how things went down in the case of the polio vaccine in the 50’s. – The Salk vaccine was widely known (in the medical world) to be dangerous to people injected with it. Its use caused many cases of polio, including polio with severe paralysis and leading to death. It is possible that it also prevented a few people from getting polio, but from my reading, I don’t think it was more than a few Polio SM40 HIV Ebola etc. These facts were available to medical people at the time, but not to the general public. Suzanne Humphries explains why:

You may be wondering how this information was concealed from the public for nearly fifty years. Congressman Percy Priest ordered and chaired a full investigation of the vaccine controversy. He admitted in 1956 that:

…in the previous year (1955) many responsible persons had felt that the public should be spared the ordeal of “knowledge about controversy.” If word ever got out that the Public Health Service had actually done something damaging to the health of the American people, the consequences would be terrible.… We felt that no lasting good could come to science or the public if the Public Health Services were discredited. {452}

I have found it very troubling to reflect on Congressman Priest’s statement. This is because it is easy to see how this rationale can be used in good faith by people in high places who see bad things happening to good people because of bad government (including regulatory) practice. Perhaps they know that biosolids, strongly supported by the EPA, are actually dangerous to the school children whose playgrounds are covered with them and the consumers who eat food fertilized with them, but they don’t want to let this information get out because they want people to have faith in EPA rulings.

The biosolids situation is treated very fully by the EPA whistleblower David L. Lewis in Science for Sale. He doesn’t see very many people operating in good faith, but he does show a lot of covering up.

Whatever the motives of people who might share more of what’s going on in the world with us, it definitely happens very often that significant detail is omitted from government, corporate and media presentations. And when this happens in such a way as to maintain the people’s faith in what we may broadly call the establishment, I find one of my many sources of cognitive dissonance.

In the right margin, I will post links to elucidations of such of these as I come to take time for.

Fascinatingly, on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (i.e, James Clapper) where the interview is dutifully reprinted in full, this quote comes out as “most truthful or least most untruthful manner.”

David L. Lewis, Science for Sale.

Silence in the Mountains.

Karen Sykes makes the news when she goes missing, but the press protects the public from the really disturbing part of the story.