Is Total Openess A Better Philosophy?

Suppose we allowed our (potential) enemies a look at very weapon we develop. Would this be better (and cheaper) than the current system of spies, counter espionage, secrecy, etc.? Suppose we develop a new coding system that is unbreakable-we announce it to the world-now the Chinese and the Russians know that our communications are secure-so the don’t have to waste time trying to crack them. Likewise, we develop a new spy satellite-we tell everybody, so no need to fear a sneak attack. Would this be a better system for world peace?

Why would the Chinese accept that our code was unhackable based just on our say-so? And if they don’t, what is the advantage of announcing it?

Or if we have a spy satellite, then whoever wants to attack us simply targets the spy satellite first.

If we had some kind of doomsday device where any attack on us would be the end of the world, then we would need to make that public, but you know how Premier Kissov loves surprises.


Would this total openness be on all sides, or would this be like a game where only one player has to follow the rules and all the other players treat that one player like a fool?

When we have clear advantage we could avoid some problems by telling our enemies that we have superior technology and then be open enough to convince them it’s so. But we’d never be totally open about it. It’s really just a threat.

I can’t imagine how this would be better for us. What do we care how much time/money/effort our adversaries spend trying to steal our secrets? We really only seem to have an interest if they possess our secrets, because they could be used to our detriment. How much effort is put into getting them is really none of our concern.

Certainly better than to wait until the next Party Congress to announce our new Doomsday device to the world.

So why do we show off our new F-35 fighter planes to the ROW? Why not keep the whole thing secret, and let our enemies guess at its capabilities?

The plane is just going to airshows and appearing on TV commercials. You think our adversaries are going to understand its stealth characteristics by watching it do a fly-by in “Transformers 6: Over the Edge of Incomprehensibility?”

Sometimes a little ambiguity and bluff is a good thing.

“Thank you for showing me all of your country’s defense systems. But I noticed you didn’t show me the new anti-missile defense lasers I’ve been hearing rumors about.”
“Oh those. Yes, we’re working on them but they’re not quite ready yet. We expect to have them up and running by 2017 and we’ll show them to you then.”
“So you’re saying you don’t have a defense against a missile attack now but you expect to have one within two years. Interesting…”

It depends. As far as “unbreakable codes” go, essentially that IS open to everyone. The encryption standards used by the Federal Government are part of unclassified law. And to a large degree, I think that using publicly known encryption standards makes them more secure. The reason being, close-source algorithms may have critical bugs in them that even having dozens or hundreds of people review may get past them. Now, if you have an enemy government with devoted resources to finding a flaw in a particular security standard, they’ll find it and you’ll never know how they defeated it.

OTOH, if your encryption is open source, it’s generally studied by cryptologists, not just by the government, but by private industry, universities, and even amateurs. Now you have a resource pool of potentially millions reviewing papers, mathematics, and source code and they have incentive to make the public aware of issues with these standards. Now, that doesn’t mean that a given standard is necessarily secure, but it increases the likelihood.

That all said, in general, systems aren’t hacked because of poor encryption, they’re typically hacked because of either failing to apply them properly, or most commonly, poor habits by people. For example, I’ve seen people use password schemes that are technically secure, but where knowing one password makes it easy to guess others.
And as far as weapons and actual intelligence goes, I think it depends. Defense is a lot like poker. Sometimes it’s good to play from strength, as in represent strength and then get called or possibly show. Sometimes it’s best to leave people unsure if you’re bluffing or not. The thing is, at least as far as the US goes, we’re the big stack at the table, people know we have nukes and drones and spy satellites and all kinds of other technology. We don’t have a need to show our hand because even if someone thinks we’re bluffing, they have to put up all their chips just to call, and it’s hardly a dent in our stack. By that regard, if we do a demonstration of new technology and it fails to impress, it might actually embolden an opponent who might otherwise not call. But, unlike poker, anytime someone calls, everyone involved in the hand loses. It’s best to do everything we can to avoid being called. But this is also exactly why a country like North Korea does their demonstrations. They’re short stacked and they will never actually call the bluff of a larger one, but they’re hoping the larger ones aren’t willing to call them and let them pull the blinds; they don’t really have anything to lose.

This reminds me of the situation in 1940-Hitler ordered that the Russian military attaches in Germany be shown all of the German Army’s hardware. The Russians looked at the inferior MK III and Mark IV Panzer tanks, and decided that the Germans were witholding information-the German tanks were inferior to what the Russians had. They could not believe that the Germans were so far behind.
This information/disinformation probably convinced Stalin that the Germans would not be planning a war against him. And his attitude almost cost the Russians the war.