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Secrecy and disclosure: Policies and consequences in the American experience

Government Secrecy

ISBN: 978-0-85724-389-8, eISBN: 978-0-85724-390-4

Publication date: 26 January 2011


Since the early years of the Cold War, two countervailing trends have been present in the treatment of officially held information in the United States. On the one hand, as the foundations of U.S. information policy were being set after World War II, wartime practices were remade and made permanent in a crisis atmosphere, with the establishment of a classification system (essentially the same one used to this day) by executive order, as well, as the passage of the Atomic Energy Act in 1946 and the National Security Act in 1947. However, even as the practice of official secrecy took root, the United States took the lead in formalizing standards of openness by statute, beginning with the 1946 passage of the Administrative Procedures Act and culminating in the passage (and 1974 strengthening) of the Freedom of Information Act. This article traces the development of U.S. information policy since World War II and describes the impact of official secrecy on decision making and democratic practice more generally.



Ellington, T.C. (2011), "Secrecy and disclosure: Policies and consequences in the American experience", Maret, S. (Ed.) Government Secrecy (Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 19), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 67-90.



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