Staunton, Nov. 3 – There is a wonderful scene in the BBC series, “The Wilderness Years,” about Winston Churchill’s struggle to awaken Britain to the threat Hitler posed. In it, a British intelligence officer tells the future British prime minister that it is extremely difficult to collect information on the Nazi rearmament programs but that it is possible.
The officer notes that his agents have learned that German weaving mills have increased production. When Churchill looks askance at that, the officer says that this bit of information shows that the Germans are making uniforms for their rapidly expanding military, a clear indication of their intentions.
This exchange highlights an important reality. Unless a government controls all information, other governments will be able to learn from what it does make public much about its plans. And that widely recognized reality helps to explain why authoritarian regimes seek to hide behind the veil of secrecy ever more of what would ordinarily be open to public view.
Moscow has now taken another step in that direction. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has now issued an order that as of the start of 2022, five Russian siloviki institutions will have the right to classify all their purchases for even the most mundane of things (publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202111020029?index=1&rangeSize=1).
That order will have two other consequences besides hiding evidence of Moscow’s intentions against its own people and the outside world from others. It will make it much more difficult for the Russian legislature and media to exercise any oversight over these institutions, and it will increase the already high level of corruption such purchases involve.