The End of Secret

Logo_of_the_United_States_Secret_Service.svgSecret just ain’t what it used to be.

I always thought something that was secret was something that you aren’t supposed to know about.  But the more I think about it, the less that seems to be the case.

Think about when you were a little kid.  If you told something to another kid and said it was a secret, that was a clear signal that is was something that would be shared with some special other person – but only them and nobody else (except their one special other person).

Under oppressive regimes like the Nazis and Soviets, everyone knew there was a “secret” police. You also knew who they were when they showed up at your house and it likely wasn’t a secret why they were there.

The government has lots of secret documents. They even put a “secret” stamp on them.  But that doesn’t keep someone from emailing them around and storing them on a computer server in some geek’s house.

Some documents are stamped “top secret”. Is that as opposed to “bottom secret”? I don’t think so; it just means that if it is top secret the government means it is really, really, really secret.

In my mind, something is either secret or it isn’t. It can’t be somewhat secret.

Military services have secret codes.  Enemies try to crack the codes and, sooner or later, they succeed. Then they are no longer secret.

James Bond is a secret agent. But he is always telling people who he is and what he does, so he really is more of a public agent.  Of course, that is the movies and in real life, there could be secret agents and they really are secret because nobody knows who they are.

Years ago when television came in black and white, there was a program called “I’ve Got a Secret.” A panel of celebrities would try to determine the occupation of a guest by asking only “yes” and “no” questions.  If the guest was a celebrity (Bishop Fulton Sheen once appeared), the panelists would wear masks and the guest would disguise his voice. The show lasted just 30 minutes, so the secret didn’t last long.

I got to thinking about all this secret stuff when the Vatican announced earlier this week that Pope Francis is changing the name of the Vatican Secret Archives to the Vatican Apostolic Archives.

As the center of the Catholic Church, I think the Vatican should have an archive that is apostolic rather than secret. The archive is essentially a repository of old papers and historic stuff. Everyone knows where it is and you can find pictures of the outside and inside of it with a simple internet search.

Scholars visit the archives. World leaders have their pictures taken in the archives. There doesn’t seem to be much really secret about the place. On the other hand, you can’t just wander in there off the street and have your sack lunch with a soda. There are rules.

After pondering on this I concluded that most of the things called “secret” aren’t the least bit secret. It is the things I don’t know about that are secret.

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