Secrecy versus Democracy: New Developments


John Scales Avery, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

A Government with Many Secrets Is Not a Democracy

24 Apr 2023 – What are we to think when governments make every effort to keep their actions secret from their own citizens? We can only conclude that although they may call themselves democracies, such governments are in fact oligarchies or dictatorships. In a democracy, the citizens must control the actions of their government. If they are unable to do so because those actions are secret, then any claim to democratic government is lost.

Many governments have agencies for performing undercover operations (usually very dirty ones). We can think, for example, of the KGB, the CIA, M5, or Mossad. How can countries that have such agencies claim to be democracies, when the voters have no knowledge of or influence over the acts that are committed by the secret agencies of their governments?

Nuclear weapons were developed in secret. It is doubtful whether the people of the United States would have approved of the development of such anti-human weapons, or their use against an already-defeated Japan, if they had known that these things were going to happen. The true motive for the nuclear bombings was also kept secret. In the words of General Groves, speaking confidentially to colleagues at Los Alamos, the real motive was “to control the Soviet Union”.

The true circumstances surrounding the start of the Vietnam war would never have been known if Daniel Ellsberg had not leaked the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg thought that once the American public realized that their country’s entry into the war was based on a lie, the war would end. It did not end immediately, but undoubtedly Ellsberg’s action contributed to the end of the war.

In a democracy, the power of judging and controlling governmental policy is supposed to be in the hands of the people. It is completely clear that if the people do not know what their government is doing, then they cannot judge or control governmental policy, and democracy has been abolished. There has always been a glaring contradiction between democracy and secret branches of the government, such as the CIA, which conducts its assassinations and its dirty wars in South America without any public knowledge or control.

Julian Assange, a Martyr to the Truth

Barack Obama decided not to prosecute WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange because the New York Times had also published classified documents, and also because he thought that the Espionage Act was unduly broad and possibly unconstitutional. However, during Donald Trump’s extreme right-wing (neofascist) presidency, Trump had no such qualms. In fact, high-level governmental lying became a way of life. According to the Washington Post fact checker, Trump himself told an average of 15 lies per day during his first year in office.

Joe Biden might have reversed Trump’s prosecution of Assange but he has not yet done so.

From the rest of the world, outside the United States, very many voices from across the political spectrum have been raised condemning America’s 11-year-long persecution of Julian Assange; until recently. No one in the U.S. Congress has had the courage to defend Assange. However, in April, 2023, seven members of Congress, led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, signed a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to drop the charges against Assange. Those signing the letter were Reps. Tlaib, Omar, Bowman, Bush, Casar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley. Their letter reads (in part):

 “The prosecution of Mr. Assange, if successful, not only sets a legal precedent whereby journalists or publishers can be prosecuted, but a political one as well. In the future the New York Times or Washington Post could be prosecuted when they publish important stories based on classified information. Or, just as dangerous for democracy, they may refrain from publishing such stories for fear of prosecution.”

Politicians in the UK, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico sent similar letters. A letter from the U.K. Reads as follows:

“This [the Assange prosecution] would clearly have a chilling impact on journalism and would set a dangerous precedent for other journalists and media organisations. It would also undermine the US’ reputation on freedom of expression and the rule of law.”

The New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, El País, and Der Spiegel – released a letter condemning the prosecution of Julian Assange:

“Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists. If that work is criminalised, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”

Chip Gibbons, Director of the Defending Rights & Dissent Policy organization, made the following comment:

“Defending Rights & Dissent applauds Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s courageous defense of the First Amendment. Defending the Bill Of Rights is the responsibility of every branch of government and we are proud to stand with those members of Congress who are joining with nearly every press freedom group and newspapers such as The New York Times, in calling on the Department of Justice to end its prosecution of Julian Assange.  When the Trump Administration brought unprecedented Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange for doing what journalists do everyday, they put the First Amendment in peril. To turn the page, the Biden Administration must heed the call of nearly every major human rights and press freedom group, and halt this press freedom endangering prosecution.”

I wonder whether those who wish to continue the prosecution of Assange realize that they will attract an enormous amount of public attention to the governmental crimes that he is accused of revealing.

Leaks from the Pentagon

In mid-April, 2023, 21-year-old Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira published a number of leaked secret documents from the Pentagon. The leaks revealed (among other things) that the U.S. government has not been honest with the public about the war in Ukraine. The public has been told that Ukraine is likely to achieve victory soon. If kept supplied with advanced weapons and ammunition by NATO. However, the Pentagon leaks reveal that a stalemate is much more likely, increasing the danger that this proxy war of the U.S. and NATO against Russia will involve nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon leaks also reveal how the Ukraine war now involves the Middle East and the long-term conflict between Israel and Iran.

Edward Snowden’s Revelations

The gross, wholesale electronic spying on citizens revealed by Snowden seems to be specifically aimed at eliminating democracy. It is aimed at instilling universal fear and conformity, fear of blackmail and fear of being out of step, so that the public will not dare to oppose whatever the government does, no matter how criminal or unconstitutional.

The Deep State

What is the excuse for the massive spying reported by Snowden, spying not only on US citizens but also on the citizens of other countries throughout the world? “We want to protect you from terrorism,” the government answers. But terrorism is not a real threat, it is an invented one. It was invented by the military-industrial complex because, at the end of the Cold War, this enormous money-making conglomerate lacked enemies.

The revelations of Edward Snowden and others have shown that the number of people involved in secret operations of the United States government is now as large as the entire population of Norway: roughly 5 million. The influence of this dark side of government has become so great that no president is able to resist it.

The people of the United States must make the effort needed to reclaim their democracy.

Many of my freely downloadable books can be found at the following web addresses:

Some other relevant links:

Readers who are interested can find below some links which expand the discussion of governmental secrecy:


John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf). Website:


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 May 2023.

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One Response to “Secrecy versus Democracy: New Developments”

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