Film note: “Secrecy” revealed

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How much secrecy is necessary for our national security, and to what extent is secrecy detrimental to our national security? How much information do we as citizens have the right to know, and how much endangers our lives as we know them? These and other questions are probed in the documentary film Secrecy, showing as part of the Walker Art Center’s Cinema of Urgency series. Providing no concrete answers to these deep questions, the film reveals the ongoing pendulum swing between factions thinking there is no such thing as too much secrecy, and others who think too much secrecy infringes on citizens’ right to know.

Secrecy, a film directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss. Screening August 15-17 as part of the Cinema of Urgency series at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets ($8) and information, see walkerart.org.


Both sides of the coin are discussed in a talking-head format accompanied by ominous imagery. From the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency, after Congress’s conclusion that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was due to lack of intelligence to the Manhattan Project being kept top-secret—not only from potential enemies but also “from any other agencies, and Congress that might interfere with the project,” to 9-11, when the investigative commission found secrecy “impeded the functioning of our national security due to information being classified so high”—Secrecy explores the history of secrecy and the ongoing debate among agencies, politicians, and the media about how to handle information we have the potential to receive affecting our security.

Secrecy features photographs, war footage, dark animation, and a haunting score. Interviewees include former US Intelligence officer Melissa Boyle Mahle, who discusses positive and negative aspects of being a secret agent; 24-year CIA Agent James Bruce; Barton Gellman, a special projects reporter at the Washington Post who was in Iraq reporting and writing on the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction, and many more. Issues discussed in the film include how press coverage has affected discovery and capture of threats and might actually have prevented 9-11; how press coverage, on the other hand, may have caused intelligence sources to dry up; citizens’ rights to be present at trials that are deemed top-secret; and habeas corpus rights have been taken away at prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo.

This month, Salim Hamdan was found guilty in the first US War Crimes tribunal since WWII. Secrecy provides fodder for conversation about the question: what is democracy?

Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.

Cinema of Urgency in the Daily Planet:
Lydia Howell on The Judge and the General (July 24)
Cyn Collins on Flow: For Love of Water (August 1-3)
Lydia Howell on The Listening Project (August 28)