In some western countries some government agencies and intelligence services withdraw information from the general public on the pretext of "national security" or "public safety".

eg. 1: The American National Institute of Standards and Technology NIST will not release some vital building 7 (third tower which was not hit by a plane that collapsed on 9/11 at free fall speed for 3.7 seconds which violates the 3rd law of motion unless resistance below is removed) collapse models because it "might jeopardize public safety" ref here paragraph 36

enter image description here

eg. 2: ABC news journalist Amy Robach admits that they had the Epstein story 3 years ago but they were forced by their superiors to shut it down. ref here to Project Veritas.

To what extend could you consider a government to be "democratic" when a non-elected ruling elite decides what is suitable to be shown to the public?

"The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings..." J.F.K.

  • 3
    Are you asking or preaching? If it is democratically decided to keep some things secret, and the agencies tasked with it are under democratic oversight (direct elections are neither needed nor practical) democratic state can keep secrets. Beyond that, this is a question about abuse of delegated authority for Politics SE.
    – Conifold
    Dec 11, 2019 at 9:51
  • @Conifold take Plato's noble lie for instance. This is perfectly suitable for political philosophy. Politics SE is too biased and not valid for these questions.
    – user22051
    Dec 11, 2019 at 10:11
  • Democracy can hold them to higher standards. Democracy can, in principle, say "give us a better reason, or release the data, or you're fired." And they might come back saying "well this data would tell terrorists where the best place on the building is to crash a plane into." and we'd all be like "well shucks, I guess you're right." Also, welcome to HNQ - expect more low quality comments like this one. Dec 11, 2019 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


Democracy - some distinctions

The question apppears to assume representative rather than direct participatory democracy. In a direct participatory democracy there is no ruling elite, elected or otherwise. Only a representative democracy has an 'elite' or government that rules and is therefore relevant to the question.

If a political system is one in which 'a non-elected ruling elite decides what is suitable to be shown to the public', this system whatever its defects or merits is not democratic in any standard sense of the term. I wouldn't 'consider it to be democratic', at least in this respect, because it isn't - it violates the definition of democracy. Democracy at least involves self-government in the sense of being a political system in which the electorate (on a sufficiently broad franchise) elects and dismisses the government in fair elections. Your 'non-elected ruling elite' does not fulfil these conditions. It isn't democratic, not because it withholds state secrets but because it is non-elected.

Democracy: form vs basis

One could vary the conditions for democratic government, of course. The citizenry might widely and voluntarily consent to be ruled by a non-elected elite. I'd call this a non-democratic form of government which has a legitimate democratic basis. There's no paradox in this. Democratically we decide that we prefer to be governed non-democratically. This is a perfectly conceivable state of affairs.

In this case the non-elected elite could within its remit withhold state secrets and still be democratic. The electorate has legitimised a system of government, democratic therefore in its basis though not in its form, in which state secrets are withheld from the electorate.

  • 1
    I am not aware of an existing political system in which part of authority is not delegated to non-elected bureaucracy, nor does it sound practical to elect the entire state apparatus. So either democratic states do not exist at all or 'non-elected ruling elite' will make many operational decisions, including what to classify, even in democratic states (including the standard sense of the term). I think your distinction between democratic form of government and "non-democratic form of government which has a legitimate democratic basis" is a distinction without a difference.
    – Conifold
    Dec 11, 2019 at 20:59
  • 1
    Much to think about here, thank you.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 12, 2019 at 9:09

In democratic states intelligence agencies are governed by laws which were written and passed by elected parliaments, and those laws can be changed by subsequent elected parliaments. The parliament is constituted by elected representatives of the people, and so through that representation it is the people themselves who are, collectively, deciding to keep some information secret, even from themselves. If the people don't like how their intelligence agencies are operating then all they have to do is vote in representatives at the next election who will change the laws.

Of course there have been times when intelligence agencies have operated outside the bounds of their governing laws, which could indeed be considered undemocratic, and they have been sometimes taken to court for such offences. But the question seemed to me to mostly focus on the business-as-usual times when intelligence agencies are operating legally. As long as they're doing only what they are directed to do by law, then they are democratic institutions.


You must log in to answer this question.