American Spying Trends After WWII: Transparency to Opacity to Total Secrecy

Before the Second World War, transparent government was a proud tradition in the United States. After the war, the power to decide what could be kept secret proved too tempting to give up. Since then, we have radically departed from that open tradition, allowing intelligence agencies, black sites, and secret laboratories to grow unchecked. Officials insist that only secrecy can keep us safe, but its true costs have gone unacknowledged for too long.

Using the latest techniques in data science, Matthew Connelly analyzes a vast trove of state secrets  to unearth not only what the government really does not want us to know, but why. Culling this research and carefully studying a series of pivotal moments in recent history from Pearl Harbor to drone warfare, Connelly sheds light on the drivers of state secrecy—especially incompetence and criminality—and how the relentless accumulation of secrets makes it impossible to protect truly vital information.

Connelly elucidates the power of secrecy, the greed it enables, the negligence it protects, and the losses we sustain as citizens when our leaders cannot be held to account. His crucial examination of the self-defeating nature of secrecy and the dire state of our nation’s archives is a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving the past so that we may secure our future.


George Hammond


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Speaker photo by Andrew Steinman; banner image by Sergiu Nista/Unsplash.

Image - Matthew Connelly

Matthew Connelly

Professor of International and Global History, Columbia University; Author, The Declassification Engine: What History Reveals About America’s Top Secrets

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates