Some Musings on Leadership, Security, and Secrecy

by Bernard Brandt


You know, what with all the recent discussion of the several Wikileaks and other recent revelations, as well as the content of those revelations themselves, it might be a good idea, not simply to talk about security or its lack, but to look into various ways that leaders in the past have dealt with it, and perhaps to do a compare and contrast.

Any such discussion should perhaps begin with the most recent of our World Wars, WWII. Of course, a reasonable place within that continuum to start would be the record keeping policies of the National Socialist government of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. They kept detailed, assiduous, and complete records of all of the doings during their reign, right down to the last canister of Zyklon-B, which they administered in the ‘showers’ of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz. The only thing which they did not consider was the possibility of their losing the war, and their Thousand Year Reich.

The result was that they provided the rope for the Allied tribunals at Nuremberg to hang the lot of them for their manifold crimes against humanity.

One might compare and contrast the approach which Winston Churchill took as regards security. He kept copious records, classified them all, but made full use of them to craft his masterful History of the Second World War. One suspects that, what with the fact that he was always a scrupulous historian, Churchill planned this strategy from the beginning. He at least took some thought for the morrow, and it seems to have paid off, at least for him.

And finally, one might examine the approach which Franklin Delano Roosevelt took in his approach for security. He, like Churchill, classified just about everything to do with the war. But as to his most controversial acts of that war, such as the firebombing of Dresden, or the internment of Japanese-American citizens, or the Manhattan Project, we have hardly any information at all, even from classified sources.

It seems that, in those cases, he never wrote anything down, spoke only face-to-face, and seldom if ever spoke of his opinion or personal views of anything regarding those subject. We have no sources at all for what FDR actually thought on these matters, or the basis for his decisions regarding them.

Of course, perhaps the most brilliant strategy adopted was that taken, much later, by Henry Kissinger, during his tenure as Secretary of State under President Nixon. In addition to all of the constraints with which his predecessors had to deal, Henry also had to consider the effects of the recently passed Freedom of Information Act. Under Federal law, he was under the duty of preserving all records, including documents, recorded telephone conversations, etc. But under the FOIA, he was also under the duty to make those records available to all FOIA requests.

Obviously, the man who introduced the term realpolitik to U.S. foreign policy could not afford to let much of any of what he had been working on get out to the public eye. So, he carefully preserved the records, but he turned them over to the National Archive, under seal, with instructions that those records not be opened until seventy-five years later. While some of those records have recently been released early, Kissinger managed to prevent people from knowing just what he had done, until decades afterward.

It is in this context that the actions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, during and after her tenure as Secretary of State, should be examined. Ms. Clinton had plenty of precedent with which to work, if only she had taken the time to examine that precedent.  Like Churchill, she could have kept the records of ‘sensitive’ subjects to a minimum, and had those few classified. Like FDR,  she could have kept meetings to a minimum, those face to face, and even those unrecorded, or ‘off the record’. Or, like FDR, she could simply have kept her mouth shut.

Finally, she could have followed Henry Kissinger’s excellent example, and scrupulously recorded everything, but made sure that those records were secure, under government control, and finally, under seal until long after she was dead.

She didn’t. I’d be tempted to say that she followed the example of the Nazis, recorded everything, but made no adequate provision to prevent those records from falling into the ‘wrong hands’. But I will resist that temptation, as I do not wish to be accused of violating (or rather, confirming) Godwin’s Law.

No, she did worse than the Nazis. Ms. Clinton went full metal Richard Milhous Nixon.

Like Nixon, rather than having her records made through the government, she kept private records, through her private server. In fact, she out-Nixoned Nixon: she put all her e-mails on an un-secured, un-firewalled, un-encrypted private server. She did not segregate her private e-mails from her governmental ones. She did not segregate classified documents from unclassified ones. She also, it now appears, was not choosy about who she let all those classified documents go to, including, it now appears, Huma Abadin and Anthony Wiener. It seems to have been a case of telegraph, telephone, or tell Hillary.

And, like Nixon, when this whole mess was discovered, she started the cover-up. She said, repeatedly, saying that there were no classified documents, until it appears that there were. She said, repeatedly, that there were no classified documents, until it appears that there were. She said, repeatedly, that no one, not even foreign agents, could have gotten into the server to hack its contents, until Wikileaks emerged with its drip-drip-drip of disclosures of those contents.

And worst of all, like Nixon, she committed crimes and felonies in the course of her cover-ups. She destroyed the server (in fact, several servers and cell-phones) and many of the contents of her e-mails, even if that constituted numerous felonies under 18 USC 2071, as I have remarked elsewhere.

Karl Marx is said to have said that history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy; the second time as farce. This saying would appear to be true: the first time, we had the tragedy of Watergate; this time we have the farce of an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’, where Our Heroine is getting herself into more and more trouble.

Unfortunately, the two likely outcomes that we have, and which Hillary faces, are either a presidency where the winning party is faced with articles of impeachment soon after her election, or else a disgraced ex-candidate hoping for a presidential pardon, where she has totally trashed the legacy of that departing president.