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executives and bureaucracies to the principle of transparency. Obvi-
ously, for reasons I have just described, I am skeptical about the extent
of this triumph. But even if none of these reservations held merit,
there would be a another problem: The very structure of governing
institutions is changing, subverting the effectiveness of newly adopted
disclosure rules. In the second part of this book, I canvass three of
these structural changes.
One of these changes, discussed in Chapter 6, is the emergence of
“networked” forms of governance, through which agencies in differ-
ent governments cooperate to achieve a common goal. It will seem
odd to think of networking as a threat to transparency “ after all,
one of the aims in network building is to break down impediments
to the ¬‚ow of information among agencies within the network. How-
ever, this sort of information sharing often comes at a steep price:
the construction of barriers designed to ensure that shared informa-
tion is never disclosed to people or organizations outside the net-
work, including citizens, journalists, and legislators. The results can
be a decline in external accountability for every agency in the net-
work. Efforts to promote information sharing among law enforce-
ment agencies in the United States after 9/11 are a prominent form of
networking, raising exactly these sorts of accountability concerns.
But the trend toward tighter networking of agencies in different
countries “ particularly in the security sector “ was already well-
advanced before 9/11. This is one instance in which the effect of
American policy has been to compel other governments to adopt more
restrictive policies on access to information.
A second structural change is the transfer of government functions
to the private sector. Most right-to-information laws are drafted to
apply exclusively to government agencies, an approach that may have
made sense when government responsibilities were clearly demar-
cated and expansive. Privatization requires us to consider funda-
mental questions, as I note in Chapter 7. Why does the right of
access to information expire when work is transferred from a gov-
ernment agency to a private organization? Should the right expire if

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the character of the work itself has not changed? Countries such as
South Africa have adopted right-to-information laws that accommo-
date the realities of privatization and that may provide a better way
of thinking about the boundaries of the right to information in an
age when government itself has a shrinking role in the production of
critical services.
This is not the only way in which power has shifted out of familiar
institutions of government. Increasingly, basic questions of national
policy are negotiated in supranational forums, such as the World
Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, or the World
Bank. These organizations actively promote transparency as a tool for
improving governance. However, transparency is a malleable concept
that can be bent to many different purposes, and the particular kind
of openness promoted by these organizations is often designed to
protect the interests of the ¬nancial and commercial enterprises of
the First World. As I show in Chapter 8, holding supranational orga-
nizations to the principle of transparency in their own operations
is another matter entirely. Long protected by the cloak of diplomatic
con¬dentiality, these institutions have steadily resisted openness poli-
cies like those in force in the advanced democratic states.
There is, ¬nally, a critical change in the technology of governance,
which will also radically transform debates over governmental open-
ness. In popular consciousness, we think of bureaucracy as a world of
paper memoranda, manila folders, and steel ¬le cabinets. In reality,
this view is already archaic. The stockpile of government informa-
tion is increasingly digitized, held within massive databases or as a
variety of forms of electronic “unstructured data.” In Chapter 9, I
acknowledge that the process of digitization has revealed opportuni-
ties for substantial “ and sometimes alarming “ increases in govern-
mental transparency. On the other hand, many stakeholders “ indus-
try, private citizens, and bureaucrats themselves “ now have strong
incentives to push for new restrictions on the release of digitized
data. Digitization will also introduce new complexities for stakehold-
ers interested in monitoring government. Oversight will now require
technical sophistication and the resources to interpret a deepening
pool of digitized data.
This, then, is the terrain covered by much of the book. On the
one hand, it acknowledges that the idea of transparency has gained
considerable ground over the last half century. On the other hand,

The Glass Case

there are changes in context “ new fears of terrorism or the increas-
ing complexity of the policy environment or the new challenges in
implementation that arise in “soft states” “ that can still thwart the
drive for openness. There are also changes in the structure of gov-
ernment “ networking, privatization, internationalization of policy
making “ that undermine traditional methods for assuring openness.
And ¬nally there is change in the technology of governance, whose
effects on transparency are complex and not fully realized.
The reader will recognize that I am, on the whole, an advocate for
transparency, although I am more prepared than some to acknowl-
edge the contrary point of view “ for example, in recognizing the
increasing pressures put on policy makers and the threat to privacy
posed by the bulk release of personal data. The commitment to open-
ness comes from a recognition of the harm that unchecked power
can do to basic rights, and the power of collective deliberation as a
tool for solving complex problems. It also comes from a recognition
of the essential frailty of our governing arrangements. Every form of
governance is an experiment “ a concrete elaboration of hypotheses
about the best way to govern. These hypotheses might be wrong, and
the experiment might fail, doing great damage to society as a whole.
“There is a public interest,” says the political philosopher Charles
Anderson, “in assuring that established practice is always open to
challenge, reconsideration, and change.”66 That is what transparency


Even at the end, the secret police thought they would survive. The
most feared security service in the Communist bloc, the Ministerium
fur Staatssicherheit “ commonly known as the Stasi “ had constructed
a surveillance apparatus that penetrated every corner of East German
society. With 93,000 employees, it was larger even than the East
German army; another 173,000 East Germans collaborated as Stasi
informers. The Stasi™s surveillance records, stored in its sprawling
complex on Normannestrasse in Lichtenberg, a suburb of East Berlin,
were massive. Put end-to-end, the shelves of ¬les would have stretched
for 120 miles.1
An equally massive catalog of index cards, organized within an
array of mechanized cabinets and known internally as the F22 index,
allowed Stasi workers to access this mass of information. However,
the Stasi had taken a precautionary step to ensure the security of the
information in its ¬les. Pseudonyms were used in place of the real
names of informants and victims, in the ¬les themselves and also in
the F22 index. To decode the ¬les “ to know who had been spying
on whom “ a select group of Stasi workers were given access to a
second card catalog, the F16 index, which matched pseudonyms to
real names. Without the F16 index, the meaning of the ¬les would
have been practically impenetrable.
By fall 1989, the East German government was tottering. The
communist regimes of Hungary and Poland had already collapsed,
and there were growing street protests in East Germany itself. On
October 16, East German leader Erich Honecker was replaced by
another Politburo member, Egon Krenz. The Krenz government
opened the border to West Germany, made futile attempts to negotiate

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with the regime™s domestic opposition, and collapsed on December 6.
On December 10, Czechoslovakia™s communist government also fell.
Finally, on December 16, a special Congress of the Communist Party
promised free elections in East Germany.
Throughout these weeks, the Stasi became a special object of
the protesters™ enmity. Its regional of¬ces were surrounded, and in
November the Krenz government promised that the security service
would be reformed. On November 6, the Minister of State Security,
Erich Mielke, gave orders for sensitive documents to be destroyed.
The shredding began, and continued until a hundred Stasi shredders
had burned out. Then documents were ripped by hand. By the time
that protestors stormed the Stasi™s Normannestrasse headquarters in
January 1990, about one-tenth of its ¬les had been torn apart. (Torn,
but not disposed of: Later, archivists began slowly reconstructing the
17,000 bags of shredded and torn documents.2 ) Strangely, though,
the F16 index remained intact. By destroying it, the Stasi leadership
might have made the entire ¬le system unintelligible. Their aim, how-
ever, was not to destroy the system: The aim was to scrub the ¬les, not
ruin them. Stasi of¬cials assumed that the organization would survive
in some form, and that their ¬les would continue as the heart of its
operations. Even at the end, the intelligence service underestimated
the intensity of popular anger.
The Stasi itself was ¬nally buried in 1990, but its ¬ling system
lived on “ and even thrived, in a sense. In August 1990, the newly
elected East German legislature voted to preserve the records and to
allow victims of the old regime access to their ¬les. A new Stasi File
Authority was established to preserve the ¬les, and over the years it
made improvements to ease access to their contents. In the four years
following reuni¬cation, the authority received two million inquiries
from German citizens. The results were often shocking: “A story of
deceit and betrayal on a national scale,” said one observer, “with hus-
bands spying on wives, children sneaking on their parents and priests
reporting on their parishioners.”3 Prominent politicians “ including
the minister-presidents of Thuringia and Brandenburg and a mayoral
candidate in Berlin “ were called to account for their relationship to
the security service. More than a decade later, Germany™s bid to host
the 2012 Olympic games was thrown into turmoil when two of¬cials
organizing the bid were compelled to resign following the revelation
of their past links to the Stasi.

Secrecy and Security

The disclosures were painful, and sometimes strongly resisted.
While negotiating the terms for uni¬cation in 1990, the West German
government proposed that the Stasi ¬les be given over to its archives,
where they might be sealed for decades; the proposals were aban-
doned only after a hunger strike by civil rights campaigners at
Normannestrasse. The chancellor of the newly united state, Helmut
Kohl, later launched his own litigation against the File Author-
ity, hoping to block disclosure of records that commentators said
might reveal Stasi meddling in West German politics in the 1980s.
Kohl claimed that the release of the documents would violate his
“human dignity,” but in 2004 a federal court disagreed.4 The Stasi ¬les
revealed “monstrous things,” said Joachim Gauck, the East German
pastor and dissident who served as the authority™s ¬rst head. And
yet the process of revelation seemed an essential step in coming to
terms with the past. “We didn™t want to say a friendly goodbye to
another dictatorship,” Gauck said in 1996. “Only with knowledge,
perhaps with some mourning, will we ever become a democratic

The power of the of¬cial ¬le
Other nations in the former Communist Bloc later emulated, with
varying degrees of rigor, the German policy of opening secret police
¬les. Hungary adopted a law in 1994 allowing access to secret police
¬les; the law was strengthened in 2003 following an admission by
Prime Minister Medgysessy that he had worked as a counterintel-
ligence of¬cer in the secret police during the Communist era.6 The
Czech Republic followed in 1996, and expanded its law again in 2002;
later, it published a list of 75,000 former collaborators on a govern-
ment website. Legislators in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia
also sought to open old records, although the post-communist intel-
ligence services that inherited the ¬les sometimes proved reluctant to
cooperate in exposing them to public scrutiny.7
Russia itself did not follow the model of the Communist Bloc
countries; the secret ¬les of the former Communist Party and the
KGB were transferred to state archives, subject to rules that permit-
ted only limited access to the oldest documents.8 But the truth came
out in other ways. In 1992 a dissident KGB archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin,
smuggled to the West thousands of documents that revealed how

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Soviet leaders had wielded power over seven decades. The “Mitrokhin
Archive” provided evidence of Moscow™s attempts to liquidate “ene-
mies of the people,” its disinformation campaigns against Western
leaders and its own dissidents, and its in¬ltration of Western govern-
ments, political parties, and media.9
Whether divulged as a matter of state policy or not, these newly
public documents helped to advance the process of democratic
reform. The very act of disclosing police ¬les constituted a repudi-
ation of the secrecy that had been one of the main tools of repres-
sion, employed to foster a crippling fear of state authorities. Once
disclosed, the ¬les allowed a reconstruction of of¬cial history, which
had denied the reality that the communist governments systemati-
cally abused the human rights of their citizens. Victims were able to
identify and hold accountable the perpetrators of abuses and ensure
they were removed from positions of in¬‚uence.
The of¬cial ¬les had a special power. It was one thing for victims to
give testimony about their persecution by the state; testimony could
be bent by imperfect memory or long-held grievances. It was another
thing to see the ¬les “ tangible, contemporaneous, coldly bureau-
cratic records of state employees™ complicity in the persecution of
The same rituals of revelation were undertaken as military
regimes collapsed throughout Latin America. In Argentina, the mili-
tary leaders who seized power in 1976 and waged a “dirty war” against
alleged domestic subversion were compelled to transfer power to
civilian leaders in 1983. Newly elected President Raul Alfonsin estab-
lished a commission that produced a 1984 report, Nunca Mas (Never
Again), that documented the abduction, torture, and killing of almost
10,000 Argentinians. Although military leaders had tried to destroy


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