My Deepest Darkest Secret ...

The newspapers have been full of spy stories: Americans reportedly feeding secrets to the hungry Russian bear, and vice versa; West Germans passing classified information to East Germans; and a Soviet agent spilling the beans (for 15 years) to the British. Each week seems to bring new reports of more Benedict and Boris Arnolds.

The intelligence communities on both sides in the Cold War are said to be reeling. And reel they should (with a do-si-do thrown in for good measure), for what is the CIA or KGB without secrets? Indeed, what is a man or a woman without them.

I, too, have lost secrets, so I know a little of what the operatives in Washington and Moscow must be feeling. In 6th grade, I had a crush the size of Utah on Linda Galston, a 9th-grader with shining blond hair and a kind smile, among other innumerable attributes.

I kept my feelings to myself as long as humanly possible before telling a friend that, you know, I thought, sort of, that she was, well, a dreamboat, or close to it. A dream dinghy, anyway. We were watching a school baseball game at the time and Linda and some girlfriends were sitting several rows behind us. My "friend" turned around and told Linda, and a good percentage of the spectators, exactly what I thought of her. Fortunately, it was late Friday afternoon; I had every hope I would be dead before Monday morning dawned.

Next to lying, keeping and passing secrets is probably the No. 1 human pastime. In fact, most lies are designed to preserve precious information. An example: You are walking down the street feeling depressed when you happen upon an acquaintance who asks, "Hey, how`s it going?" What do you say? "I'm really down and this will probably be my last day on earth"? No, more likely you lie, as in "Super, Bob, I feel just doggone super."

When I used to visit the parish priest to confess my sins, I conveniently omitted the really bad transgressions. They seemed (at the time) too dark, too deep. To compensate, I would add a dozen or two onto the total (estimated) of my assorted lesser misdeeds.

As with lies, there are good secrets and bad ones. If you consider someone you work with to be a crashing bore, it would be best to keep that assessment to yourself, if you can. That last conditional clause is the rub, for however much we harbor and nourish our little confidences, they tend to have a short shelf-life. Sooner or later, one way or another, your fellow worker will find out how you feel. Linda Galston may have already known I was enamored of her. (I had been acting peculiarly whenever she was in the vicinity.)

Which brings us back to the CIA and KGB. They have more secrets than a brigade of 6th-graders. With each new weapon or covert operation, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, more. It is a monumental task safeguarding them all. High-flying satellites already give away capabilities and deployments that would have been largely unknowable a few decades ago. Ironically, this form of spying is generally viewed as beneficial since it mitigates against surreptitious changes in the balance of forces.

Still, secrets remain and prosper as never before. We couldn`t get along without them, but we could certainly make do with fewer than we have. I lost one in 6th grade and survived, although I did reel for an entire agonizing weekend. The United States and the Soviet Union could probably trade hundreds, even thousands, of them and never miss a one. They tend not to be as important as we make them out to be. Have a good reel and get on with it.