Full disclosure is certainly on the rise these days, and not just among Republican vice-presidential nominees. So it’s refreshing—if a touch ominous—to watch a documentary on the dire need for discretion. Secrecy, carefully made by a pair of Harvard professors, is proud to pit its thorny ideas against each other. Abuses at prisons like Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are countered by the straightforward talk of ex–CIA bureau chief Melissa Boyle Mahle, who recognizes that her covert job, a necessary one, would have simply been impossible in the overt world. At least that’s honest of her, but is it an excuse? The doc doesn’t answer.
Hanging over Secrecy, and its most provocative charge, is the idea that the 9/11 attacks might have been prevented (just as Pearl Harbor might have, we are reminded, via archival footage and interviews) had these faceless alphabet organizations been a little less stingy with the sharing. The codirectors have a hard time making their parade of seasoned intelligence vets captivating; slo-mo shots of manila files being clutched in shadowy hallways of power are no match for the imaginative analogies of, say, Errol Morris. But Secrecy brings a serious commitment to its content, making it a valuable challenge to those who would place total openness above all.