In Sunday’s edition, The Denver Post published an excerpt from Gary Hart’s new book, “The Thunder and the Sunshine: Four Decades in a Burnished Life” ( In it, Senator Hart describes his participation on the Church Committee, established to investigate the excesses of U.S. intelligence agencies. While discussing how to pry information from these agencies, Senator Hart suggested that maybe they should start by asking the intelligence agencies for the files they had on each of the members of the committee. The silent reaction was broken when Barry Goldwater said, “I don’t want to know what they’ve got on me.”

J.Edgar Hoover’s files on John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. are well-known, and the fact that he used such or similar information, on various occasions, to exercise power over the people to whom it pertained is rarely doubted. Governments, and corporations, employ spies to acquire information about one another, to steel secrets, to plant lies, and, in general, to obtain and manufacture information.

On scales large and small, possession of sensitive information that someone or someones don’t want revealed imparts power over those that have it, and can use it to blackmail those who don’t want it published. On scales large and small, successfully imparting to others a belief, an artifact of knowledge true or false, is the fundamental exercise of political power. Possessing and controlling, to some limited degree, the flow of accurate knowledge in order to manipulate the actions of individuals, and supplementing it by orchestrating or encouraging the flow of inaccurate information in order to manipulate the perceptions of others, is the essence of political power.

By various means, and through various agencies (both public and private), nations, corporations, and other organizations invest large sums of money in research and development, in the production of scientific and technical information, in order to produce goods more efficiently and effectively, or to produce goods not yet offered, or to prevail in military contests, or to conquer diseases, or to achieve some other goal never before achieved (and thus extend human liberty into new domains never before available to it). Knowledge both improves a social entity’s ability to compete and prevail, and expands the range of actions or feats that are possible.

But, ironically, part of the product of this process is expertise in the deception of others. The politics of timed and honed leaks, of intentional gaffs, of the selective release of accurate information supplemented by well-placed falsehood, is part art and part science, increasingly sophisticated and effective. Even so, it is embedded in more complex and organic human processes, the conflicting agendas of various actors with various talents, the uncontrollable forces of profit-seeking and self-aggrandizing propaganda. The real political struggle is played out on the field created by this chaos, by the various professional manipulators of information attempting to impose their preferred order upon it.

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