"The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.....The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government---lest it come to dominate or lives and interests."
Who doesn't love a secret? Do you believe that you have a right to know information about your government and what it does? Thanks to the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), passed in 1966, government agencies are legally required to be make most of their documents accessible to the American public. Reasonable arguments can made for the US Government's protection and withholding of certain documents and information for reasons relating to national security. However, thousands of documents are declassified and released annually. Many records are a few decades old and the individuals involved are deceased, and most of the time, it serves no logical or reasonable purpose to keep them secret from the American public. Other records will remain secret for several decades or, if released, they may be so redacted that gleaning anything meaningful is impossible. This is often due to the sensitive nature of the material, or because it may be too embarrassing and would potentially cause negative domestic and international perceptions.
However, there are several previously top-secret documents that have made it into the realm of the public which contain information involving questionable activities of our our government, some of which are sensational, appalling and highly embarrassing.
The subject of government secrecy tends to be highly divisive. Many radical political groups use declassified documents as fuel for anti-American propaganda. Meanwhile, others (especially those who are/have been in positions of governmental leadership roles) advocate perpetuating the secrecy of files long after the potential usefulness by our enemies. My personal observation is that most average people simply do not care...and tend to dismiss these kinds of subjects as fodder for the margins of our society. In other words, only conspiracy nuts and kooks will take the time to read and discuss these kinds of things.
Sure, there are conspiracy theorists and some fringe groups out there that tend to discredit themselves. However, there really are truly disturbing things that should concern any educated citizen. I am persuaded that the American citizenry has an obligation to be informed and educated about their own government and history. To do otherwise is irresponsible and becomes another example of the growing mediocrity of our society. I would argue that it is your patriotic duty to be aware, educated, and to question the actions of your government when it encroaches upon individual liberties.
Here are some interesting government secrets revealed by declassified documents:
1. A post WWII program by our military (sometimes referred to as "Operation Paper Clip") that allowed former Nazi scientists, doctors and SS Nazi officers entry into the United States to glean useful information (this was defended as a way to keep their knowledge out of the hands of the Soviets).
2. Operation Northwoods. This dark "cover and deception" plan was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in which Cuba would be blamed for fictional attacks against the United States. Of particular interest are pages 7-11. Horrific and shocking.
3. The U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948. This was a program in which Guatemalan commercial sex workers, soldiers, and residents of mental health facilities were deliberately exposed to syphilis and other venereal diseases as part of a study on the effectiveness of vaccines.
4. US Inspector General's Survey of the Cuban Operation (Bay of Pigs)
5. The FBI and Martin Luther King. There was a long history of tension between J Edgar Hoover & MLK. These documents provide some interesting
On a lighter note, there's always some fun to be had in reading things in our history. Almost everyone can find something they would find interesting. Want to read about what the FBI knew about UFO's? Read about Project Blue Book here. Want to see a humorous & previously classified 'exploratory reconnaissance' mission request from some spies at the CIA, including the super-spook himself, James Jesus Angleton? Click here. Did you know that the FBI investigated the song, "Louie Louie?" Want to read the official FBI account of the Roswell UFO incident? Click here. Did you know our military kept files on Mt. Ararat, Turkey, relating to "Noah's Ark?" Click here to see pictures. Interested in reading FBI documents on President Nixon and Watergate? Click here. Want to listen to some of the infamous secret tapes in Nixon's Oval Office? Click here!
Below is a good list of on-line resources about declassified documents. Many are federal gov't. databases, while others are from universities and private organizations & citizens, and document collections in presidential libraries.
http://www.archives.gov/research/search/ (A search engine that uses multiple National Archive databases simultaneously)
http://vault.fbi.gov/reading-room-index (A must-visit! You can spend hours at this vault reading everything from the declassified files of J Edgar Hoover, to the dossiers kept on celebrities, politicians, gangsters, and 60's radicals. From Marilyn Monroe to Al Capone, it's great reading!)