I’ve got a secret
And you can’t tell
And if you don’t keep it
You’ll go straight to hell
Ships sunk by your loose lips
Will rise as ghosts from the water
And haunt your nightly dreams
As, of course, they oughter
‘Cause secrets it always seems
Are more dramatic
When made by a fanatic
And who are we to know
If your claims will blow
A ship or fantasy to bits
Or simply hide your bloody mitts
There have been so many cases of secrets in the news lately that I felt it was time to review the whole concept of secrets. Why do we have them anyway? We encode so much of our lives that we have passwords for entering passwords. We have individuals keeping secrets. We have nations protecting secrets and we have everything in between creating and protecting secrets. Some secrets seem to be important while others seem to be self-serving protection from embarrassment. Our national security is important. If you remember My Lai from our excursion into Vietnam, however, that entire episode of depravity and brutal mass murder was classified Secret by The US Army. Was it classified to prevent leaking tactical or strategic information to the enemy? Hmm. No. It was classified because we were embarrassed by the criminal behavior of Lt. William “Rusty Calley” and the dozens of officers who attempted to cover up the incident. Incidentally, if you would like to review the way we handled My Lai, read a copy of the Congressional Record of the testimony. It is chilling for the phobic dismissal of the facts and the acceleration of the process to get past it rather than investigate.
(Then) Major Colin Powell went on to bigger and better things after his role in the “investigation.” Perhaps the Peter Principle was on overdrive for Powell or perhaps he was rewarded for loyalty. Surely he was not punished for spinning a massive massacre into a minor incident. PFC Manning, on the other hand released some 700,000 classified documents and he can expect to spend the rest of his life in prison. It was not a cover up and, even by generous description; many of those documents were sensitive to the security of these United States. That is a violation of trust as well as a violation of law. Richard Nixon pardoned Calley within a few weeks of his conviction by Court Martial at Fort Benning, Georgia. Other participants in the massacre were never convicted and none were charged with the cover up. I reveal this not to exonerate Manning who has “gender identification disorder,” but to illustrate the fragile construct of a secret. Manning’s actions cost our government and our people dearly in terms of security. Our security was never a question in the murder and cover up of My Lai. Our national self-esteem was in question. Wikileaks leader and accused rapist Julian Assange also takes pride in revealing secrets that put us in jeopardy, but revealing the truth merely verifies the secrets disclosed. Similarly Edward Snowden revealed NSA secrets and then called himself a “whistleblower.” The nature of secrets is such that proving they were critical verifies the secrets even while the methods for collecting information by the government can be deplored. This destroys the fabric of trust both ways.
We have still other kinds of secrets that should be troubling to society. A few months ago, the Hallowich family was offered $750,000 to remain silent on the impact of fracking on their home and family. This will allow them to relocate under the court order that they cannot EVER reveal their specific health facts, etc., to anyone. The order extends to their 6 and 7 year old children. The court order for secrecy seems to exchange protection of one family for the jeopardy of all others. The gag order by courts amounts to official support of secrecy under serious penalties by our court system in a way that cannot help the community at large. In fact, even the investigation of fracking damage is specifically hindered by the practice of allowing energy companies to conduct fracking while calling their chemical compounds “proprietary.” In other words, you cannot prove my fracking compounds are in your water because the court protects the secret as a commercial necessity. “Trust me, your water may be on fire and you may suddenly become ill, since we began fracking operations, but we did not have anything to do with it.” Now why would any commonwealth including the Commonwealth of PA disregard the common good for the commercial secrecy of solvents used in fracking? This curious silence of the lambs is hardly scientific since it prohibits research and threatens the unaware. I know. “Corporations are people, my friend.” (Presidential candidate Romney) So we are merely protecting one person (the corporation) over other persons (the kind that eat, breathe and drink). As an exception in Pennsylvania, physicians are allowed to know the contents of fracking fluids, but they are forbidden to inform patients. Just so that you don’t get the impression that we know nothing of the fracking fluids, we know that water is essential to all of them. In Barnhart, Texas that once had a common well for the town, there is no more water for consumers. It is all used for fracking and the town has gone dry in the literal sense of the word.
I cannot leave the impression that fracking is the sole medical issue related to secrets. Our laws protecting proprietary drug information also protect the corporation rather than the consumer. One simple example relates to the products Prilosec and Nexium. Both products are made by Zeneca, Inc., but in order to maintain a competitive edge in the antacid market, Zeneca conducted tests using 40 mg of Nexium versus 20 mg of Prilosec and advertised the superiority of its newer product to avoid the impact of generic imitators of Prilosec. Shh. It’s a secret to make money. Unfortunately, there have been drugs like Vioxx that actually injured people before it was removed from the market. The recall actually cost about $6 Billion mostly due to litigation, but the company (Merck) kept the test results secret. Had Merck revealed that patients in the test suffered heart attacks instead of merely touting the value of Vioxx for arthritic pain, many injuries and deaths could have been avoided. Yes, profit was the ultimate motive, but secrecy caused unnecessary pain and suffering.
We have other examples of secrecy being used to impede due process as when a corporation prohibits calling witnesses who could testify to the facts of a case or otherwise stifles open investigation. Similarly, the military approach to sexual misconduct has been to keep all that information “inside the family,” rather than reveal the violations to the public. Military commanders have long been evaluated by the number and severity of criminal convictions within their commands. So, if a commander dismisses charges before they are fully investigated, there was no criminal activity, QED. Let us reduce this to little misunderstandings or “he said, she said” kinds of inputs and there are no outputs. Unfortunately for the military, sexual misconduct incidents have soared and secrecy simply does not work as a deterrent or a cure. Look for outside review instead of command review as occurred for My Lai.
There have been significant abuses in the medical field. Henrietta Lacks unknowingly, and without her permission, gave samples of her cancer, not for treatment but for research and profit. Her cells have been bought and sold for billions of dollars while her family struggled with the basic expenses of life including healthcare. The true purpose of their interest was not revealed to Henrietta, but was secret. Unfortunately, Henrietta is dead and the secret earned her fame without compensation. There have been secrets such as the results of testing the Chevrolet Corvair that allowed production and sale of an unsafe automobile. The Corvair blew tires on nearly every test vehicle and sucked unhealthy amounts of carbon monoxide into the cabin. The Ford Pinto had an unsafe gas tank that caused grisly injuries and death. Those are harmful commercial secrets. Yet we see secrets used in our daily lives and often they are expected and harmless. Priests hold confessions as secret. Courts may hold certain items secret. Diplomatic discussions are usually secret. Medical records are usually secret. Secrets can serve useful purposes when not used to hide unlawful or embarrassing information. Our lives can be safer and more secure when secrets are handled properly.
There are many more secrets that you and I encounter in our daily living and dying, but there is one that only Congress would dare to create. As of 25 July this year: Today reported that Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), are working on a complete rewrite of the U.S. tax code, have assured their colleagues that any of their requests to preserve a loophole will be kept secret by the National Archives for 50 years. “Each submission will also be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes,” Until 2064. Now let me think. Why would any congressman be afraid that tax loopholes, if known, would damage our United States in any way? Perhaps we know that the Congress is afraid that tax loopholes only protect the political and financial interests of congressmen and their special benefactors and that if we knew the truth during their lifetimes that their exalted elected positions would be at risk.
It is this distortion of purpose that should get us angry enough to demand the truth and the elimination of secrets that enrich and empower the few highly placed people in our economic and political systems. These are the people who are charged with our common good even while they instead serve themselves.
20 August 2013