What to Read? Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy

By District of Columbia Bar

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Review by Ronald Goldfarb

Excerpt from Washington Lawyer, May 2014

Glenn Greenwald, a blogger and Snowden vehicle for press presentations of his purloined NSA materials, has a book coming out with “new revelations,” and The Guardian reporter Luke Harding just published his account of the Snowden leaks in The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.

There can’t be too much attention paid to this constitutional dilemma, so one picks up Secrets and Leaks by Princeton University politics professor Rahul Sagar with anticipation of fresh thoughts about the debate over, to borrow a facetious old song title, “Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter (While the Caretaker’s Busy Taking Care).” However, readers seeking fresh insights about the tricky interplay between necessary and proper presidential power won’t find it here.

Professor Sagar presents the basic issues. The Founding Fathers said that secrecy is required for national security. It is an “essential element of statecraft.” The Constitution divides power in government so the three different branches can regulate—check and balance—each other’s excesses. But politicization of government has warped some of that effectiveness...

... Sagar notes the vexing questions about the moral versus legal elements of secrecy and disclosure, concluding, “[T]there is little hope of finding a neat answer.” Nor does he help readers decide whether the Assanges and Snowdens among us are national heroes or traitorous villains. Is breaking the law in the public interest comparable to jury nullification? Where is the line between exposing the excesses of the security state for purposes of reform and sabotaging national security and endangering one’s country?

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, D.C., attorney, author, and literary agent whose reviews appear regularly in Washington Lawyer. Reach him at