THE BLOG
05/09/2014 09:35 am ET | Updated Jul 09, 2014

A Washington Committed to (You) Knowing Nothing

Ignorance can be dangerous, as shown in a recent poll asking Americans what to do about the Ukraine crisis. It turned out that the less those polled were capable of identifying where in the world Ukraine is, the more likely they were to want the U.S. to intervene militarily in that country.

If ever there were a demonstration of what ignorance can lead to, that poll would be right at the top of the list of sobering examples. Sometimes, of course, we don't know where ignorance is going to lead, but that hasn't stopped the U.S. government from making it a central policy principle of this era. Just the other day, for instance, National Intelligence Director James Clapper imposed a remarkable, if little discussed, gag on the whole national intelligence "community" (and, by implication, on the media as well). From now on, officials at the 17 agencies that make up that labyrinthine bureaucracy are barred from "speaking to journalists about unclassified intelligence-related topics without permission." Yes, you read that right: They are barred not just from discussing classified information with the media, but unclassified information as well.

Almost nothing from that world is unclassified any more. In the Bush and Obama years, a vast blanket of secrecy has been thrown over just about anything American intelligence outfits do or any of the documents they produce, no matter how anodyne. Still, you never know what small things might have slipped through unclassified due to some oversight. Thanks to the intervention of Clapper, who only months ago promised a new era of "transparency" in intelligence, problem solved. His is a simple way to deal with leaks of even the most innocent information. Now, if you meet with a reporter to discuss anything at all without "permission," you are open to being disciplined, fired, or even conceivably prosecuted.

Think of this as the Obama administration's version of an ignorance rule. In order to keep Americans safe, it turns out, you must keep them blissfully, utterly, totally uninformed about what in the world their government knows or thinks or does in their name, unless that information is carefully vetted and approved by some official or bureaucrat. In other words, we now live in a country in which we have a government of the knowing, by the classifiers, for the uninformed, and if you don't like it, well, there's a door marked "exit" that you can step through right now.

Apply to this situation what might be called the Ukraine rule and you come up with a potential formula (or so the government evidently hopes) that would go something like this: the less the American people know, the more likely they are to believe that our "safety" and "security" lie in whatever Washington wants to do. And by the way, ignorance is on the march in Washington. This week, Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars -- The Untold Story, reported in "Pivot to Ignorance" on how State Department plans to cut the budget for the Fulbright international exchange program will help make government-sponsored ignorance not just a national but a global concern.

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