Marc Ambinder On Fed’s ‘Secrecy Industry’

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry seems all but made for the Syfy channel. “The authors explain how the increased exposure of secrets affects everything from budgets to Area 51 (and what really goes on there) to Congress to Seal Team Six, Delta Force, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and organizations that remain official secrets,” reads the book’s jacket.

One of the authors sharing all these secrets is Marc Ambinder, a columnist for The Week who once took a photo of himself in the mirror while wearing a mask. Naturally we had questions.

FishbowlDC: It sounds like it’s sort of a government conspiracy book. Is that a fair assessment without having read it?

Ambinder: Gosh. I hope so. That would persuade a lot of the conspiracy folks to buy the book, and I’m all for upping the sales. Alex Jones! I’ll go on your show. Coast-to-Coast a.m? I’m there! Actually, the book looks at how secrecy often leads to conspiracy theories, and so we generally tend to take issue with the whole lot of them.

FBDC: Should people be scared that there’s a whole government world going on with all these sensitive secrets being passed around?

MA: Yes! One of the best informal mechanisms that policy secrecy is public skepticism. So it may not make things easy on the people who need to keep genuine secrets, but it helps keep them in check.

FBDC: There’s a whole show on ABC about government secrets called “Scandal.” Do you watch it?

MA: I do watch Scandal. It’s a soap opera. I don’t really recognize the Washington, D.C. that’s portrayed in it, but it’s entertaining,

FBDC: There’s some reference to Area 51. Did you find out if that’s a place where alien autopsies take place?

MA: Wow, Eddie. You really read the whole book jacket! I’m impressed. Look, about the alien thing, there’s a lot I can’t say because it’s all classified, so you’re just going to have to trust the government on this one. The whole “Men in Black” thing? Funny story. Those guys just buy their suits at Joseph A. Bank, and they tend to be darker colors.

FBDC: “Real secrets can’t be kept, trivial ones are held forever…” In this sentence from inside the book flap, what is meant by “trivial”?

MA: It’s detritus (obsolete). Thousands of pages devoted to the leadership of Angola in the 60s. Things like that. Diplomatic cables that no longer have any relevance or even interest. The trick for researchers and those inside the government who are doing the mandatory declassification work is to prioritize. The more information the government collects, the more secrets it’s gonna have — but realize that a lot of those secrets are “secrets’ because they’re collected using a secret mechanism. Someone’s phone record isn’t a secret. If the NSA or FBI gets its hands on it, then it becomes secret.

Deep State published April 1. It is co-authored by The Atlantic‘s D.B. Grady.

Publish date: April 17, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT