Trusted Relationships and Information Sharing

07.30.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Though rarely discussed, interpersonal trust is frequently a prerequisite for voluntary information sharing not only between government officials and members of the public, but even among government officials themselves.

“The effective flow of information and knowledge is facilitated through networks of trust,” a new report from the congressionally mandated Project on National Security Reform nicely observed. Yet such networks within government are fragile and sometimes non-existent, particularly when the individuals involved simply don’t know each other.

The personnel security clearance system is supposed to serve as an objective validator of a government employee’s trustworthiness, but in practice decisions to share information are often dictated by whether the recipient is trusted or not, not whether he is cleared or not.

“Trust tends to emerge between highly committed individuals on an ad hoc basis and within personal relationships,” the Project report said. “In the current national security system, however, disparate organizational cultures, parochial leadership styles and visions, infrequent face-to-face meetings, and frequent rotations of staff make trust difficult to achieve.”

Additional barriers impede communication between government and the public. Some officials seem to fear, disdain or dismiss unstructured or unpredictable interactions with members of the public. On the other hand, according to the new report, “Some NGOs … show outright hostility to the military actors in the national security system, which can greatly complicate the development and flow of knowledge among the actors and decision makers who need it.”

The new report of the Project on National Security Reform, which aims to promote a new national security act and various structural changes in the national security system, is available here.