Dangerous Information: Is Secrecy Ever Justified?

2007-09-03 23:03:00

To start with full disclosure, I'm big into networks and the science behind information. Based on what I've learned, my conclusion -- temporary but firm -- is that open source information sharing is the most effective system to foster innovation, spread knowledge, and improve human culture. I do not live in a culture that agrees with me, but that's part of the fun of the Kali Yuga.

Our last article on Skilluminati was a transcript of the remarkable 1968 NSA document, "UFO Hypothesis and Survival Questions." The "survival" in question was not biological, human survival, it was the perpetuation of the existing power structure of the Western World. The NSA's conclusion was that UFO disclosure -- which goes something like "We don't know what's going on and we can't control the situation" -- would be disasterous for the continuation of our existing social structure.

In Jared Diamond's outstanding and essential book Collapse, he illustrates quite a number of cultures that fought to hold on at any cost: hold on to power, hold on to traditions, hold on to worldviews. They did so at high cost: their lives came to an unpleasant end. All empires collapse into the sand, even when they need to spend billions of dollars to ship their military out to the desert.

That Other UFO Report

In 1960, the Brookings Report was published. At least, that's how most UFOlogists refer to it today -- the actual title was “Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs.” It contains some of the most sane and reasoned considerations of ET civilizations, especially this gem: "It is possible that if the intelligence of these creatures were sufficiently superior to ours, they would choose to have little if any contact with us."

Calvin and Hobbes intelligent life contact us

The report closes with an interesting request for further research: "Continuing studies to determine emotional and intellectual understanding and attitudes -- and successive alterations of them if any -- regarding the possibility and consequences of discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life." One could argue, mostly because it's true, that there has been a constant array of investigations and experiments in exactly that field ever since, such as the bizarre Disney UFO "Expose" broadcast in March 1995, the victimization of Paul Bennewitz, or the MJ-12 "documentation."

The Brookings is a remarkable and influential organization, often referred to as "America's oldest think tank." Their lineup has changed consirderably since 1960, and their current member roll is very impressive -- you can get an overview from the invaluable research tool They Rule:

Brookings Institute members list They Rule

Dangerous Information in Biological Systems

Of course, don't mistake me for some kind of hippie -- it's not all sweetness, light, and increasing intelligence. On a biological level, there really is "dangerous information," so dangerous it's frequently fatal. I'm referring to viruses, which are merely packets of information which serve to disrupt the functioning of the larger systems they infect. These days, I could also be referring to the scariest monster of the 22nd Century: prions, which is an abbreviation for "proteinaceous infectious particle." Even wiki makes it sound like a f***ing horror movie: "All known prion diseases affect the structure of the brain or other neural tissue, and all are currently untreatable and fatal."

Prions are mysterious critters, and so far as I know, nobody's proposed a "conspiracy theory" origin, such as government and military labs or rogue South African nihilists deliberately creating a brand-new nightmare for Earth humans. Biowarfare has come a long way since Jefferey Amherst was planning the distribution of blankets laced with smallpox to the local "Indian" natives during the French and Indian War. (By the way, many revisionists try to claim Amherst was really a great guy, but unfortunately for them, historians have an actual copy of the letter where he discussed the smallpox blankets: you can read it here.)

Laura K. Donahue Drops Science

So it would appear pretty damn clear that we should be keeping information about viruses and biowarfare under wraps, right? Wrong, though. Most folks who have considered the situation have reached a conclusion at least vaguely similar to my own: if you're faced with an uncontrollable situation, trying to maintain control is probably a waste of effort. There is no inherent security in maintaining biowarfare secrecy, and in fact you make the general public more vulnerable because they're uninformed and unprepared. There was an excellent Washington Post op-ed piece in 2005 by Laura K. Donahue, titled "Censoring Science Won't Make us Any Safer", which argues the case better than I could:

Biological information and the issues surrounding it are different. It is not possible to establish even a limited monopoly over microbiology. The field is too fundamental to the improvement of global public health, and too central to the development of important industries such as pharmaceuticals and plastics, to be isolated. Moreover, the list of diseases that pose a threat ranges from high-end bugs, like smallpox, to common viruses, such as influenza. Where does one draw the line for national security?

Terrorists will obtain knowledge. Our best option is to blunt their efforts to exploit it. That means developing, producing and stockpiling effective vaccines. It means funding research into biosensors -- devices that detect the presence of toxic substances in the environment -- and creating more effective reporting requirements for early identification of disease outbreaks. And it means strengthening our public health system.

Keeping scientists from sharing information damages our ability to respond to terrorism and to natural disease, which is more likely and just as devastating. Our best hope to head off both threats may well be to stay one step ahead.

No Conclusions, Just Opinions

Of course, this is unusually fertile territory with prime real estate in dozens of different disciplines. I have not even begun to do it justice here. I'm also curious if anyone reading this disagrees -- specifically, curious about why.

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