Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets

Barry Siegel, Author
Barry Siegel, Author . Harper $25.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-077702-9
Reviewed on: 03/10/2008
Release date: 06/01/2008
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-06-187385-0
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-06-077703-6
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-06-165630-9
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 400 pages - 978-0-06-165628-6
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In 1948, three civilian engineers died in the crash of an air force B-29 bomber that was testing a missile guidance system; in their widows’ lawsuit, the Supreme Court upheld the air force’s refusal to divulge accident reports that it claimed held military secrets. But when the declassified reports surfaced decades later, the only sensitive information in them involved the chronic tendency of B-29 engines to catch fire, egregious lapses in maintenance and safety procedures, and gross pilot error. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Siegel (Shades of Gray ) ably recounts the case, a scandal and cover-up with grave constitutional implications. The 1953 Supreme Court decision gave the executive branch sweeping authority to conceal information under national security claims without judicial review, a precedent confirmed when the Court refused to reopen the case in 2003. (The author notes the influence of Cold War anxieties and the 9/11 attacks in these rulings.) Siegel insists on decorating the story with often extraneous human-interest profiles of everyone involved. But his is an engrossing exposition of the facts and legal issues in the case, which produced a disturbing legacy of government secrecy and misconduct still very much alive. (June)

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