September 15, 2013
The Bay of Pigs' unfinished battle (George F. Will, Published: September 13, 2013, Washington Post)
Fifty-two years and many misadventures later, the invasion still fascinates as, in historian Theodore Draper's description, "one of those rare events in history -- a perfect failure." It had a perverse fecundity.It led to President John Kennedy's decision to demonstrate toughness by deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Rasenberger writes that, three weeks after the April 1961 invasion, Kennedy sent Vice President Lyndon Johnson to Saigon: "Johnson's assignment was to deliver a message to [South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh] Diem that the United States intended to fully support the South Vietnamese effort to beat the Communists." (Thirty months later, the United States was complicit in the military coup -- regime change -- in which Diem was murdered.) The Bay of Pigs led to Nikita Khrushchev's disdainful treatment of Kennedy at the June summit in Vienna, and to Khrushchev being emboldened to put missiles in Cuba. [...]This autumn, a federal appeals court is expected to hear arguments about disclosing the document written in 1981 by CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer, who retired in 1984 and died in 1997. The National Security Archive, a private research institution and library, is arguing that no important government interest is served by the continuing suppression of a 32-year-old report about a 52-year-old event.The CIA admits that the volume contains only a small amount of still-classified information. It argues, however, that it should be covered by the "deliberative process privilege" that makes it exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act. The argument is that, for some unclear reason, release of this volume, unlike the release of the first four volumes, would threaten the process by which the CIA's histories are written. Supposedly candid histories will not be written if the writers know that, decades later, their work will become public.This unpersuasive worry -- an excuse for the selective censorship of perhaps embarrassing scholarship -- is surely more flimsy than the public's solid interest in information. And the government's interest.In his 1998 book "Secrecy: The American Experience," Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that secrecy makes government stupid by keeping secrets from itself. Information is property, and government agencies hoard it. For example, in the 1940s, U.S. military code breakers read 2,900 communications between Moscow and its agents in America. So, while the nation was torn by bitter disagreements about whether Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs committed espionage, the military knew they had. But it kept the proof from other parts of the government, including President Harry Truman.
Intelligence is, in fact, public property and none of it should be kept from us. Not least because opening it would allow the wisdom of crowds to reshape it before we act on it.Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2013 8:46 AM