December 20th, 2011
07:30 PM ET

Letters to the President #1065: 'Keeping secrets'

Reporter's Note: I write to President every day, although to him I am sure it must seem like the letters come with even greater frequency. Ha!

Dear Mr. President,

Perhaps you, like me, read an interesting article in the New York Times today about how surprised intelligence services worldwide were by the death of Kim Jong Il. In simple terms, the article says that North Korea does a remarkable job of keeping its secrets from the rest of the world, even when they are as big and tantalizing as the passing of a long time leader. (Just think of the temptation to tweet: The dear leader is gone!)

And you have to admit, the fact that no one seemed to have a clue that this had happened until he was well dead and presumably funeral plans were already underway is pretty impressive.

And you know how they pull off such tricks? They limit their secrets to those who need to know them, and those people keep their mouths shut. What a novel concept! In and of itself, the practice appears to have successfully thwarted many if not most of our efforts to spy on them no matter how many great satellites we launch or listening posts we set up.

Now, I'm not suggesting for an instant that we ought to be that secretive, nor do I think such behavior would be good for our democracy.

And, to be honest, I imagine the "discipline" of the North Korean insiders in guarding their affairs has a lot to do with the very real fear that any leaks to Vanity Fair, for example, would result in an execution before sundown.

Still, sometimes I wonder if a little more descretion might be a good thing for Washington, if only so that alliances, plans, and ideas have a little time to take shape and be fairly considered before the whole world weighs in.

Just a thought. I'm writing this on an airplane back from Atlanta. If you were here, we could talk it over. But you're not. Oh well.


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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman
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