In 1998, the national news media informed the public that the United States government had the capability to monitor the satellite phone of a man named Osama Bin Laden. Consequently, Bin Laden was made aware of the intelligence technique and changed his means of communication. Was that secret safe to share with the public? If it were kept secret, some argue in this month’s Salem Progressive Film Series movie “Secrecy,” the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center could have been prevented.
The film does not make a case for one side or the other, acknowledging that some secrets must be kept. The question is where the line is drawn. To help answer the question, the filmmakers chose to interview so-called “secrecy soldiers,” former C.I.A. analysts and the unsung victims of secrecy, like the widow of a man who died in a top secret plane crash.
“I hope that the film and discussion about it help draw people’s attention to the importance of keeping the proper balance between the government’s legitimate need to keep some secrets and the danger that arises when too much governmental activity takes place without the citizens’ knowledge,” said Steven W. Wax, a federal public defender for Oregon and this month’s guest speaker.
Wax’s career background highlights two large cases, including the prosecution of David Berkowitz, aka “The Son of Sam,” and representing seven men held as enemy combatants at the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay.
“The Berkowitz case shows how information about a series of crimes can generate fear, a factor that is usually prejudicial to a defendant. There have been numerous articles written in the past 10 years about the use (or overuse) of the state secrets doctrine and classification of information as secret to keep the American people from learning about a variety of government actions that many people have challenged,” Wax said.
The Guantanamo cases show the other side of the publicity coin.
“When the government is engaged in questionable or illegal activity, it often attempts to keep its actions from public view,” Wax added.
This month’s screening takes place at 7 p.m. on April 8 at the Grand Theater, 191 High St. NE, Salem. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.