Dr. Strangelode, or…

…How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spies

“Of Course this is a friendly call, Dimitri.”

I’ve been trying to sort out whether my dismay over the rising security state is based on a reverence for the constitution and respect for those who sacrificed greatly to establish a democracy, or whether it’s about something deeper, a primary human instinct. All people recognize, as artists and sages often point out, the essence of communication is trust.  If so, how can we not be appalled by the deception and venality, the corruptibility of government officials, and the gaming of the system. What we’re seeing is the emergence of a system of anti-checks and unbalances, designed to serve and protect those charged with supposedly protecting us.

“I do not avoid devices Mandrake, but I deny them my essence.”

If we can’t know what of our exchanges are being gathered, how could we possibly condone the motive behind what’s being sought? For example, can I in confidence think the agencies who parse transmissions by keyword know that the Broadway Bomb is a skateboard race, or that my elementary school child’s homework on presidential assassinations won’t trigger an alert? How can I control the fact of knowing people or having relatives overseas? Can these speculations be dismissed as paranoid when there’s neither clarity nor accountability about what utterances are harvested in the first place?

“Take a look at the big board! They’re gettin’ ready to clobber us!”

We understand the stated reason for these programs, the search for the needle in the haystack. Yet what is less clear is the razzle-dazzle, the fear, the collusion, the answers more crooked than an Escher staircase.  I believe if there were more transparency, there’d be more public approval, more respect, and more success. Instead we see the opposite. Obfuscation, and punishment of those who would offer corrective measures. And worst of all, the aura of mining our communication intimidates the population as a whole, and diminishes inquiry and free thought.

“Gentlemen, keep your voices down, this is the data collection center.”

As the populace grows numb to the facts and facets of constant surveillance, one thought keeps popping up on the horizon of my mind. What if, after all the gleaning, sifting, sorting, listing and storing of conversation and correspondence, the emerging picture to those in the know is that we’re just not that interesting?  What if the vast majority of intercepted exchanges are banal, gossipy, ill-informed, knee-jerking, regurgitated chunks of infotainment. What if intelligence gathering reveals there’s not much intelligence left, and that is the biggest threat and security secret?  It’s a doomsday machine alright, made of emoticons, sexts, and ‘likes’.

Comments | 3

  • The Doctrine of Preemption

    What if they find that most of us aren’t that interesting, but some of us are, and in an era of preemptive policing, just to be on the safe side, they choose to do something with those who haven’t done anything wrong but think something different, as a precaution, for safety. I think that’s the secret fear of many. It has to be a secret fear because everything’s a secret now, even though nothing is…. 😉

  • Of course it isn't only physical...

    … I deeply respect you as a human being. Someday I’m gonna make you Mrs. Buck Turgidson.

    This from today’s Guardian. via Raw Story: Indiscriminate surveillance fosters distrust, conformity and mediocrity: research


    “This is despite the fact that science, alone, can lay claim to a wealth of empirical evidence on the psychological effects of surveillance. Studying that evidence leads to a clear conclusion and a warning: indiscriminate intelligence-gathering presents a grave risk to our mental health, productivity, social cohesion, and ultimately our future.”

  • Self censorship

    I’ve noticed that people seem to be entering a phase of self-censorship. For example:

    – I’ve heard of people cutting back or eliminating sharing their thoughts through email.
    – I’ve heard that some people are afraid that if they use certain words, they will be put on a “list.”
    – I’ve been told that someone is afraid to write their Congressperson, lest they be found out and fired for an opinion.
    – I’ve been told we need to watch what we say these days, or risk consequences.

    I’ve heard people discussing where they can talk where they won’t be spied upon, and know people who are looking for alternatives to, or simply dropping, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and the other collaborators.

    This is just friends and family.

    Some are defeatist and say there is nothing anyone can do about it. Others are waiting for something to be done about it for them, but wonder whom.

    I tend to think that people need to exercise their freedom of speech in order to maintain it. Self-censorship isn’t productive. (Heck, there may be “lists” of people who suddenly shut up.)

    The first step in defeating this is to be not afraid. Unfortunately, it seems like many people are scared to death, sitting silently when they used to have some spunk and life in them.

    There are politicians gearing up to take this on when they return to Washington. At the very least, people who have put themselves on the sideline and silenced themselves should break free and speak up. It’s a pretty simple request: the government needs to end warrantless searching and data collection of citizens.

    (Remember when “that’ll go on your permanent record” was a joke?)

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