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7 March 2013

Review of Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry

Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady

Read on Kindle; hardcover due April 1, 2013

This comprehensive assessment of the secrecy industry -- its origin in 1947 national security legislation, rise through promotion of the Cold War, decline with collapse of the USSR, near death before 9/11 rescue, to steroidal enhancement with Coldwarish cyberwar  -- is paralleled with the critical self-advancing role of journalism in managing information flow to the public through quiet mutually beneficial arrangements between officials and the press in deciding what shall be kept secret and what revealed, with "national security" the plutonium-pitting goose.

Until the Internet blasted open the goose-bolthole for bandits like WikiLeaks.

Ambinder and Brown tell an applaudable if sordid story of complicity between government and media to exploit public trust, aptly summarized by the opening authors' note:


This is a book about secrets, and the authors feel an obligation to be transparent about a few things. During his time in the military, author D. B. Grady (which is a pseudonym for David Brown) held a security clearance. No sensitive information he came across while serving in Afghanistan or in the United States made it into this book.

In September 2012, author Marc Ambinder began consulting for Palantir Technologies LLC, an analytics company that does work for intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense, among other clients. He was brought in to work on a specific project that did not require access to secrets or to classified information. There was no cross-pollination; the manuscript had already been completed, and nothing in this book comes from any material gathered at Palantir.

Finally, both authors wrote extensively about secrecy while writing this book. We’ve written tens of thousands of words on the subject, and have collectively written more than 20,000 posts to Twitter. If one compares our body of work to this book, it is possible that we have reused phrases or metaphors to describe certain subjects. If that is the case, it is entirely unintentional. Our brains don’t compartmentalize the way that computers can. However, aside from some material about the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command that also appeared in The Command: Deep inside the President’s Secret Army, the book is an original work in its entirety, the reporting is fresh, and the conclusions, we hope, are original.

While researching this book we stumbled across many things that we won’t be able to write about. Though we have no legal obligation to submit our work to the government before publication, we have an ethical obligation as citizens to take extreme care when writing about sensitive subjects. We shared certain chapters with a number of former senior national security and intelligence officials, including several former directors of intelligence agencies. Our purpose was to learn if the publication of this book would truly jeopardize national security. After receiving the feedback, we asked ourselves whether there was a compelling reason to print the secrets in question anyway, and worked from there. We hope we’ve struck the proper balance.

The last paragraph confirms the national security complicity continues unabated, whether chosen by the authors or enforced by publisher's lawyers and official secrecy agreements. This is the gold standard of national security office-holding and journalism, either join the club or be excluded from rewarding access.

Despite the authors' admirably researched coverage of the secrecy industry and complicit journalism, they condemn both official secrecy officially-sanctioned journalism to follow the USSR into extinction by uncontrollable openness generated by public distrust of government and journalism seen as global spying machines.

Don't dream of rejuggling of government and journalism, online or offline, to head off their decline, no national defense will protect against it, no increase in secrecy measures will stop leaks of vital secrets.

Too many secrets, too many secretkeepers, too many inherent faults to breach overloaded containment vessels. Digital information cannot be controlled by physical fortresses. A thumb drive can be a weapon of mass destruction. Leaks spread at the speed of photons, too fast for human response. At this speed leaks are indistinguishable from secrets except to inhuman machines.

Keeping secrets will depend not on HUMINT but on information system processors requiring layers of interpretation for slow-witted human comprehension and action forever too late. Government and journalism are not equipped mentally or physically for this hyperspeed torrent over-flooding their bulwarks.

A spark of hope national security fear-mongering can work: A specialist is quoted as saying quantum research is as crucial as was the invention of the atomic bomb, the "US cannot survive being second in this race." Photons faster, more unpredictable and more lethal than controlled atomic reactions. The national security threat of Internet swarm is unbeatable except by highly classified technology.

Very fast forward to plot exposure: Bêtes noires of this downfall of authoritative information is WikiLeaks and other outsiders of the authority-by-secrecy industry.

Outsiders win the WarGame:

"A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III."