Public Affairs
Hardcover $26.99
Available Jan, 06 2015
Lords of Secrecy
The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare


State secrecy is increasingly used as the explanation for the shrinking of public discussion surrounding national security issues. The phrase “that’s classified” is increasingly used not to protect national secrets from legitimate enemies, but rather to stifle public discourse regarding national security. Washington today is inclined to see secrecy as a convenient cure to many of its problems. But too often these problems are not challenges to national security, they involve the embarrassment of political figures, disclosure of mismanagement, incompetence and corruption and even outright criminality.

For national security issues to figure in democratic deliberation, the public must have access to basic facts that underlie the issues. The more those facts disappear under a cloak of state secrecy, the less space remains for democratic process and the more deliberation falls into the hands of largely unelected national security elites. The way out requires us to think much more critically and systematically about secrecy and its role in a democratic state.

about Scott Horton

  • Scott Horton is a Contributing Editor at Harper's Magazine, an attorney active in international practice, and a lecturer at Columbia Law School. A life-long human rights advocate, Horton served as counsel to Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, among other activists in the former Soviet Union. His journalistic work has received the National Magazine Award for Reporting, among other distinctions.


"Scott Horton’s Lords of Secrecy is a brilliantly devastating exposé of the shadow government that runs US national security policy. No matter who wins the White House, this secretive clique retains control over America’s darkest secrets and will stop at nothing to keep them from the public. Its members' names are largely unknown and its actions unchecked. In an era of an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, and the very existence of a free press, Horton’s book provides an essential playbook for battling this undemocratic beast.”—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater and Dirty Wars

“A government accountable to its citizens is one of the foundations of a democratic society. Horton demonstrates how secrecy corrodes democratic institutions, stifles the freedom of information, and protects the powerful from accountability. Lords of Secrecy makes the case that in order to strengthen the rule of law and keep government power in check, we must demand critical debate, civic participation, and above all, transparency.”—George Soros

“This book will resonate widely, a searing indictment of the national security state that undermines the very values it purports to protect. Scott Horton is a consistent, powerful voice against the abuses of power, an apostle for reason and liberty under the law.” —Philippe Sands, professor of law at the University of London and author of Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

“From drone wars to Middle East fiascos to the war on whistleblowers, Scott Horton brilliantly blends original reporting with a reasoned defense of democratic ideals going back to ancient Athens. Lucid, learned, judicious, and hard-hitting, Lords of Secrecy is an indispensable book for any reader interested in public affairs.” —David Luban, professor of law and philosophy at Georgetown University

“Scott Horton has revealed the real secret at the heart of all the exposes about the NSA, torture, the Iraq War, the CIA spying on the Congress: it's the secrecy. And by understanding the secret of secrecy, Horton discloses just how the mysticism surrounding it has created a momentum that threatens what Hannah Arendt once called ‘a crisis of the republic.’”—Sidney Blumenthal

"Lords of Secrecy is one of the most important contributions to the vital debate about democracy in the post-Cold War era yet published. Scott Horton diligently peels away layers of hypocritical rhetoric designed to obscure what has been happening. This is a call to arms: American democracy is under threat and the power of increasingly unaccountable agencies must be brought under control." —Misha Glenny, author of McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld

“In his theoretically sophisticated and eye-opening book, Scott Horton brilliantly traces the many documented follies of the American national security establishment and examines the unjustifiable use of government secrecy. The lethal challenge to the survival of the country’s democratic principles has never been more chillingly diagnosed." —Stephen Holmes, professor of law at New York University and author of The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror

other editions