The Governor’s 63 Documents: Sort of a Review
I just finished reading Jesse Ventura’s 63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read (2011, Skyhorse Publishing). The 63 docs included in the text represent an array of public, declassified, and Wiki-leaked U.S. government documents on among other subjects, political assassinations, human experimentation, torture, surveillance, genocide, climate change, terrorism and 9/11.
In explaining the symbolism of the number 63 (documents) by way of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the former governor redirects notions on the origins of conspiracy theory. That is, by making the link between the JFK murder – one of the greatest conspiracy theories of the 20th and 21st centuries – conspiracy is hence portrayed as ready made in the structures that govern, awaiting discovery in the form of government documents:
Lest we forget that 1963 was the year that claimed the life of our 35th president. The conspiracy that killed JFK, and the coverup that followed is the forerunner for a lot of what you’re going to read about in these pages. (p.2)
Ventura’s collection of documents come as no surprise to folks who live in government documents land or are assiduous students of history and of domestic and international policy. Many of the gov docs included in 63 Documents illustrate a form of secrecy that goes well beyond the necessary protection of certain types of information or the deliberative privilege that allows agencies to hash out policy in an unrestricted space. In the absence of an engaged public and congressional oversight, policy morphs into pathological secrecy, which
undercuts the possibility of peer review and oversight. In the worst of cases, secrecy will be applied far out of proportion to any requirements of national security and will lead to bad policy, sometimes on a large and expensive scale. (Aftergood, “Government secrecy and knowledge production,” p. 21)
But I have a hesitancy about the 63 docs: readers are left with an incomplete picture of events and the involvement of those agencies and leaders responsible for drafting the documents. Without other confirming information, we are left with only the specter of secrecy and conspiracy, and no new knowledge of history and action. The 63 documents should be cross-interpreted with additional historical documents available, for example, in the Foreign Relations of the United States series, the Digital National Security Archive, the National Archives Record Groups, the continuous (re)building of history by scholars, and through continued use of the Freedom of Information Act in order for a more clear assembly of accounts. History then becomes a tool for accountability and reform.
Lastly, in some instances, the reproduction of the original docs is not clear, and the text is difficult to read. Readers would have appreciated a section, perhaps an appendix, that offered the URL or SuDoc number of the document in order to obtain the original or a cleaner copy.
Aftergood, S. (1999). Secrecy and knowledge production. In J. Reppy (Ed.). Secrecy and knowledge production, pp.17-29. Peace Studies Program, Cornell University. Retrieved from http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu/peaceprogram/publications/occasional_papers/occasional-paper23.pdf