WikiLeaks, Drone Strikes, and Consumer Sovereignty

On June 15, 2011, the CIA officials announced the agency is planning a campaign of “targeted killings by drone aircraft against al-Qaeda militants in Yemen”. Apparently these types of attacks have been taking place since President George W. Bush’s administration and have been accelerated in recent years. Prior to WikiLeaks and the recent testimony of Secretary of Defense Nominee Leon Panetta we might not have known.

This research asks when do people want to know about security related threats and associated activities to enhance security when providing that information could undermine security objectives.

Government secrecy may seem inconsistent with the principles that define a democratic society. However, political scientists have long recognized that some limits to full information disclosure are essential. They have suggested that while the policies and processes of government must be public to ensure the consent of those governed, as would be implied by a democracy; some measures must be held secret to meet their objectives. Nowhere is that more apparent than national security.

The events after 9/11 have prompted greater calls for secrecy. This research asks how much secrecy do people want in the name of security. It is part of a large program of research at CEESP that investigates the tradeoffs people would make to enhance homeland security.

This research develops two surveys to evaluate people’s preferences for the disclosure of information associated with three different threats. Respondents clearly wanted information disclosed about threats to current passenger air travel regardless of the consequences for the ability of officials to maintain the security network in the future.

Jointly developed with Dr. Carol Mansfield of RTI International and Professor H. Allen Klaiber of Ohio State University, this research was also discussed as part of a CEESP conference for DHS policy analysts in Washington DC, September 23-24, 2010. The goal of the meeting was to discuss new methods for evaluating the benefits and the costs of security related rules.

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