State Secrets: Computers, Defense Contracting, and the Origins of the National-Security State


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Historical Studies during academic year 2018-2019


This project looks at an important but understudied case in the history of the “state secrets privilege.” Formally established in 1953, this privilege allows the US government to refuse to disclose information in judicial proceedings that it claims would compromise state secrets and thereby enables it to withhold information from scrutiny. By examining a little-known case from the late 1930s involving computers and defense contractors, this project shows how the concept of state secrets became embedded in US law and policy earlier than is recognized and with ramifications that persist to the present day. Moreover, it reveals how the concept of state secrets was bound up with a significant episode of international technology transfer that hampered scientific and technological cooperation between the United States and Great Britain at the start of World War II.