Department of State

Reduce U.S. Diplomatic / State Dept. Secrecy and Related Investments in Classified Information Technology Systems

The U.S. Department of State spends far too much on maintaining a large-scale classified system. We are and will continue to be constantly short of IT resources. Maintaining a large-scale classified IT infrastructure is wasteful and largely counter-productive for American diplomacy. In this regard, as famous U.S. Foreign Service Officer and Ambassador George Kennan argued:

 

"Diplomacy, after all, is not a conspiracy. The best diplomacy is the one that involves the fewest, not the most, secrets -- the one that can be most frankly and freely exposed to the host government . . . The diplomatic mission, above all, was not supposed to be, and had no need to become, a center for espionage ... excessive secrecy, duplicity and clandestine skullduggery are simply not our dish ... such operations conflict with our traditional standards and compromise our diplomacy in other areas . . . the success of our diplomacy will continue to depend on its inherent honesty and openness. Deprive us of that, and we are deprived of our strongest and most effective weapon."

 

With Kennan's goals in mind, we should move to dramatically reduce our investments in classified IT systems. With the funding saved we could advance many initiatives that are far more important today. Investing in knowledge management and IT to support our diplomacy and our engagement with other nations / peoples around the world is far more of a priority than is a lot of talking to ourselves and others in the USG about "secrets" on classified systems.

 

Indeed, President Obama, in his first full day in office, made the following pronouncement:

 

"For a long time now there has been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, that it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known. To be sure issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand, but the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it."

 

While many in the Department of State and the USG continue to believe that an extensive level of secrecy is fundamental to American diplomacy, this view is based on an outmoded, Cold War-era culture that is largely counter-productive to U.S. diplomacy and successful Amerian foreign policy. As late Senator and Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed: "A case can be made . . . that secrecy is for losers. For people who don't realize how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage. We put it in peril by poking along in a mode of an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most pervasive of Cold War-era regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us."

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Idea No. 9342