A film by Peter Galison and Robb Moss
WINNER, Special Jury Award for Documentary Features, Independent Film Festival, Boston
WINNER, Best Documentary, Newport International Film Festival
"The most important of American Film Festivals opens Thursday night...as always, the (Sundance) documentary competition offers the most reliably involving films. The best of these include Secrecy...the question of how much we should rely on methods inconsistent with our values is intelligently and elegantly handled."
–Kenny Turan, Los Angeles Times
"Even more politically trenchant is the articulate policy debate called Secrecy, which tackles what is arguably the key question of the information age—namely how do we reconcile freedom and security? Directors Peter Galison and Robb Moss don't attempt to hide their belief that the U.S. government's increasing obsession with classification does more harm than good and is being used today primarily as a means for the executive branch to avoid accountability. To their credit, however, they also give ample screen time to former CIA and NSA employees who make strong cases for the opposing viewpoint. ...this evenhanded act of advocacy is required viewing for the hundreds of millions of us who have consented to be governed."
–Mike D'Angelo, The Screengrab
"Illuminating and frightening."
–Ian M. Fried, The Seminal
"Timely and layered."
–Nathaniel Rogers, Zoom-In.com
"Enlightening and entertaining."
–Noel Murray, AV Club
"This is a strong, probing essay that asks necessary questions."
–Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
"Robb Moss and Peter Galison's Secrecy is quiet and discrete in its examination of how contemporary crimes are being papered over, and devastating in both its analysis and its presentation. (It's one of the few recent documentaries to incorporate animation that doesn't make your eyes cross, then roll.) There's a portrait in there of a career military lawyer who does the right thing against the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, and as his appearances increase, his fury grows: he is right, he knows he is right and history will record he is right."
–Ray Pride, Newcity Chicago
"Secrecy, from Harvard film-prof godhead Robb Moss and Harvard science-historian brainiac Peter Galison, attracted a very particular crowd (at Sundance): articulate, knowledgeable and borderline paranoid. The film's a balanced polemic (no, that's not a paradox) about our government's rapidly growing fetish for hiding information from its citizens; you can actually feel the movie focusing your understanding of the issues as you watch."
–Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
"No less mind-boggling is Robb Moss and Peter Galison's Secrecy, which traces the history of government confidentiality from its origins in the 1940s to its epidemic incarnation in the present day. Although it's not exactly non-partisan, the movie presents compelling, if frequently unnerving, arguments from both sides. Former CIA Jerusalem bureau chief Melissa Boyle Mahle explains, without blinking an eye, that secrecy has the advantage of allowing the government to take action that would seem inconsistent with our ideals if brought to light. Whatever you think of that reasoning, she's hardly the first to think it, just the first to say it without beating around the bush."
–Sam Adams, The Philadelphia City Paper
"Secrecy, a documentary about the benefits and detriments of government secrets, is the most powerful film I've seen at the (Philadelphia Film) fest so far. Directors Peter Galison and Robb Moss artfully lay out both sides of the argument...maddening and...devastating...the film hear(s) from numerous disagreeing voice...(and) does so with a distinct voice, incorporating hand-drawn animation and art installations to embody concepts. It also displays narrative verve, keeping its own secrets as it teases out the story... While many of the docs I've seen at the fest explore their chosen topics efficiently, and are compelling on that basis alone, this is the first one I've seen here that seems truly crafted."
–David Dylan Thomas, Blogcritics Magazine
"...which brings us to the trenchant meta-historical commentary of Secrecy, which was co-directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss. The documentary probes the legal, political, and psychological aspects of the American government's practice of classifying information and traces it back to World war II. While presenting arguments for and against tight control, the film gradually becomes something more unnerving than an expose, screed, or 'white paper' summation—Secrecy describes a metastasizing mentality that can undermine both its own goals and responsible democracy."
–Nicolas Rapold, The New York Sun
"Filmmakers Peter Galison and Robb Moss are sophisticated enough to avoid easy answers and predictable left-wing outrage, focusing instead on the tough issues raised by the institutional use of secrecy, and turning to a diverse and exceedingly well chosen group of lawyers, journalists and government officials to plumb the depths of this rich, and troubling , subject. Moreover, this is an extremely artful, even elegiac piece of cinema, which makes deft use of animation, expressive music and narrative momentum. Such ambitious technique is rarely put to good use in documentaries — usually it's showy and distracting, often at odds with the weighty themes of such films. Most really strong political documentaries, such as Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight, eschew any self-conscious artifice at all. Secrecy goes the other direction, layering its fascinating story with dark beauty, and it merits comparison to the strongest works of masters of the genre like Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and Errol Morris (The Fog of War)."
–PJ Johnston, San Francisco Sentinel
"In a riveting new documentary called Secrecy, former CIA operative Melissa Boyle Mahle tells the damnedest story about how a spy agency can outfox itself by over-classifying its files. Mahle describes how the CIA's Somalia analysts were deprived of intelligence in other parts of the building because they didn't have a 'need to know.' As a result, they were unable to warn U.S. troops that the rag-tag bands ransacking Mogadishu had been trained up by al Qaeda. As a result of that training, they had the wherewithal to bring down American helicopter gunships. 'They were entering the jihad movement,' she says. 'And yet that Somalia analyst never had access to that intelligence.' And so, Blackhawk down. Eight years later came 9/11, famously labeled a failure to 'connect the dots.' Eyewash. The CIA, FBI and others had dots. They hoarded them like marbles. Supposedly, the post-9/11 uber-spook National Intelligence Directorate has solved that problem, although a continuing stream of worrisome reports don't leave one confident.
But filmmakers Peter Galison and Robb Moss are after far bigger game than insider hijinks in Secrecy, which debuted to stunning reviews at Sundance in January... This vivid and disturbing exposure of the human dimension of the conflict between the government's duty to keep secrets and the peoples' right to know deserves a national audience.... You may think you know everything there is to know about military tribunals and Guantanamo, for example. But watching and listening to a defense lawyer's account of a prison visit — a story that seemed cut from a movie version of a totalitarian state's justice — gave me a new and visceral understanding of how far we've slid...and (the film's) visual power is almost overwhelming."
–Jeff Stein, National Security Editor, Congressional Quarterly
"Among the 100 or so documentaries at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival is the first-rate Secrecy. ... Marshalling a high-calibre line-up of interviewees from myriad backgrounds, including government, military, CIA and academia, Peter Galison and Rob Moss tackle this multi-headed and opaque subject with equanimity and balance. Poignant interviews with relatives from a landmark case that occurred over a half-century ago place state secrecy within its historical context, with commentators explaining why the "need-to-know" system of the Cold War is less secure today than an open system where information is more freely distributed. The intelligence failure of 9/11, where compartmentalized intelligence services couldn't see the full picture, is contrasted with the breakthrough that followed the Unabomber's screeds being published in the media. Information is power, but which information should be shared and with whom? And who should decide what should be kept secret?"
–Robert Alstead, Common Ground
"The inherent tension that exists between the public's right to know and the government's need for confidentiality in the service of national security is the subject of Secrecy, a powerful documentary by Harvard professors Peter Galison and Robb Moss. In addition to historical footage, the film employs a series of pulsating animated drawings, with the white ink against the black background injecting an appropriately unsettling, even sinister tone. Most chilling is the former CIA station chief who defends secrecy on the grounds that it 'allows us the latitude of action to use methods that are not necessarily consistent with our values as a nation.' "
–Jean Oppenheimer, The Village Voice
"In this age of political documentaries, it's always nice to come upon one that strives to be even-handed. Such is the case with Secrecy, which tackles the issue of government secrecy. Is it overused? Does it save lives? Going back to Pearl Harbor in 1941 — which some say could have been avoided if there had been better US intelligence — directors Peter Galison and Robb Moss recall incidents that might have been affected, for good or for bad, by secrecy: the bombing of a Marines barrack in Beirut in 1983, the 1948 crash in Georgia of an Air Force plane that killed three engineers and, of course, Sept. 11, 2001. The directors mix visual innovation with talking heads on both sides of the controversy. Neither side scores a knockout, although the pro-secrecy folks are bloodied."
–V.A. Musetto, New York Post
"Secrecy is equal parts history lesson, meditative essay, didactic poem and call to arms. [Secrecy] explores some chilling corridors of the clandestine. Secrecy acknowledges the necessity, in principle, of hiding certain types of critical information. In practice, the film finds much to be troubled about, starting with the momentous 1953 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Reynolds that set the legal precedent for the state-secrets privilege and was later revealed to have been founded on dubious grounds. Developing its analysis of what it calls 'the modern secrecy system,' ... the movie touches on the push-pull dynamic of the government versus the press; the culture clash between those shaped by the cold-war paradigm of information hoarding and those alert to the networked sensibility of the Internet era; the private toll of covering up; and the great danger to the public of secrecy for its own sake."
–Nathan Lee, The New York Times