No matter how independent you believe yourself, you are always part of some greater plan. Especially in Washington, where the fabric of intrigue is so tightly woven there is no such thing as a civilian. Even those in the private sector do their part, although this is mostly in the form of the unwitting dupe or incidental fool. It took me over fourteen years to realize that I have been both an unwitting dupe and an incidental fool time and time again. Luckily – until now – I had always been both unwitting and incidental. This time, however, I was merely a dupe and a fool. [Listen]
I have been working in the private sector in Washington, DC, for eleven years. Never have I been an employee of the government nor have I worked in the military. The closest thing I have ever had to a security clearance is the light review the Secret Service made in order to let me work as a contractor to the Treasury Department. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
The fool believes that plan is consensual. That one need choose to be part of this rarified cloth. Quite the contrary. One is part of the plan whether or not one is fully involved. Only those needing to know need know. The others are merely players – extras – who need know nothing. And there is a lot of cash spent on making sure that this is the case. But sometimes, this doesn’t quite go according to plan. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
Whose plan, I cannot tell you exactly. Certainly not what I believe my plan to be. Someone I knew to be spooky and in the world of intrigue once told me that the entire infrastructure was designed to prevent widespread panic. That the world was a very dangerous place. The majority of miltel funds and resources are solely dedicated to calm us. To keep us children from being scared to sleep at night. To remain quiet and happy in a very dangerous world. In much the same way that parents are supposed to spare the child these adult concerns. We really don’t want to know. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
But for some reason, I began to know. I began to become privy to the patterns. I started to see the threads that made up the fabric. I began to notice that dad was scared too. That this was a consensual drunken pub crawl. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
You know what a pub crawl is I am sure. It is a night of debauchery when a group of friends plan to get together to go from bar to bar, from pub to pub, to drink through the night. The earlier in the night, it’s a lot of fun, but as the night wears on, as everybody gets a little tight, things get a lot more challenging. People keep drinking of course, but after a stay, it become important to move on to the next bar. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
At some point during the night, people can barely walk straight. The only way to keep moving forward is to make sure all the crawlers are still together and still moving towards the next bar. And crawler not accounted for could break the entire outing into pieces. When a great big crawl is organized, there isn’t anything that will keep the crawl from moving forward and there isn’t anything that the organizers won’t do to keep it going, for to fail is not acceptable. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
There is a blimp that swims above the city as if the beltway – our circle road – where the nose bleed seating of the city. It is new and clean and white and it is called the security blimp. We don’t quite know what the blimp does or is for but it is still for our security. [Listen Chapter 2-8]
Since I have lived here in the city, the boundaries have become closer and closer. Constricting. When I was in college in the District, I took a job as a bike messenger for WEx and hustled packages around the city on a bike. I took the job for fun but the fax was suffocating the industry. Even before the email attachment was a glimmer, bike messengering as a career was dying. I was strong and fearless and smart. I was good at the job. I had carte blanche in my DC. I would carelessly hustle from the big K Street firms in a last minute five o'clock dash to the Hill to score life-and-death legal and government time-stamps. Sometimes, I would be required to skulk through the deepest darkest recesses of the Capitol to retrieve heavy GPO publications. [Listen Chapter 9-14]
When I was a courier in Washington, it was pre-Internet in a big way. Since lawyers are always doing shit last-minute, I would end up shooting across the city on my bike with just minutes left (after flirting with the hot receptionist), only to reach the maw of a heavy dun-colored Official Time Stamping machine seconds before it was put to bed. I made it every time, too, because there was nothing to impede me. The city was open. It's called "vulnerable" now. These days, I can't imagine being able to get anywhere or anytime as a bike courier. The security between me and that machine would be both daunting and amazingly time-consuming -- if not impossible. [Listen Chapter 9-14]
Since I was concurrently a student at a private college, the hours on the bike were very freeing for me. They were liberating. The city was open and gleamed from all the marble. And although there were simple metal detectors, this was really just gate-keeping. Couriers have notoriously bad reps as potheads and criminals. Part of the reason became evident as I stood next to these sprung-steel lifers as Senate guards routinely pulled pocket knives and ornate wooden or glass pipes out of their beat up courier bags. No shit. Were these guys apprehended and sent to Gotmo? No. Their shit was confescated and the were allowed to make their delivery. And they lost their tresured gear, which was enough of a lesson. That's it. [Listen Chapter 9-14]
In all honesty, you could easily move from building to building on the Hill, from the Capitol to the Senate and House office buildings. Of course, the White House has always had the doors closed save official business and formal tours, but the Capitol and the surrounding buildings have always been open buildings. The people therein – the Senators, Congressmen, and their staff – were always just down the street. I could drop off packages then shoot into the Capitol cafeteria for some grub and some air conditioning before returning to the swampy mug of the Washington summers. [Listen Chapter 9-14]
I wonder how much time all of this security eats away from the limited business that couriers have any more. It must be a real investment now, to get in and out of building. Even office buildings maintain security and the ability to enter at-will seems to be well in the past. [Listen Chapter 9-14]
And I always wonder how insidious the security model is. How intimate it is in my community. How close am I to someone who is keeping his or her eyes open? [Listen Chapter 9-14]
My buddy is in the business. He tells me stories about his days in training. A majority of the training revolves around making yourself inconspicuous. How to work a crowd or the traffic without arousing suspicion. And I mean really working the crowd, as in casing the joint, checking for unfriendlies, listening in on conversations, and looking out for people who have probably received very similar training without getting too many false-positives.
The last year has been maddening for me. I have been part of something larger, of that I am sure. Or I believe I am sure. There is always the concern of the false-positives.
As I said before, in Washington nobody is truly private sector. Those fully awake have top secret clearance. They have the character and discretion to be able to see the big picture. I like to think of the big picture in much the same way I understood submarine-making. I once loved the daughter of a nurse. Before she was a nurse, she worked for Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, as a worker. Her job was manual labor and she built or assembled part of a nuclear submarine. In order to ensure security – national and also the security of the workers – management would not make it clear what each machinist or assembler would be producing. They would receive their part through a hole in the wall and then, when finished with their little part of the process, place their finished piece into another hole in the wall. Over the course of an entire career, it was essential that nobody ever really know where their part played in what ended up being a typhoon class nuclear submarine.
The reason is simple. Spies are everywhere and if the simple worker knew what he was making and how to replicate the process, then he would endanger himself, his family, and the security of the United States of America. So, to protect the simple man from becoming a traitor, unwittingly or otherwise, or from being tortured or killed, this Byzantine process of double-blinded mazes existed in a large, secure, factory in Connecticut.
Emergent systems are pretty fascinating. So are hives. Some believe that the human being is an emergent system – a hive if you will – of specialized cells that have chosen to propagate their particular brand of DNA sexually. This theory believes that every organism is essentially a suit of armor for a set of genes. That evolution is a hit-or-miss improvement process by which each suit of armor becomes better suited to its environment for its sole purpose, which is to survive.
Others believe that we have achieved a new level of sophistication in this evolution. This is to say, we have become unsatisfied with the progress of our evolution and we have taken this process into our own hands. We have outsourced evolution to culture. We have emerged from the primordial soup into becoming sophisticated organisms who are in the process of taking further and further steps towards evolving not as a species but as a culture. Using technology and communications, we become more and more interconnected. And this interconnectedness does not required awareness by any of the participants. The system of culture does not require the participant to be awake, merely present.
In emergent systems such as bee hives or ant colonies, there used to be a perception that the queen of the colony held a leadership role and that all the workers were drones. This anthropomorphizing of these simple animals would seem to be obvious, but only recently did scientists become aware that there isn’t a single member of this animal community that is aware of the plan of the hive or of the colony. Each member has a small job with several variables. The variables include density of population, wealth of resources, and the activities of the surrounding members. For example, if an ant intends to leave the colony to forage and it intercepts many other ants that are already returning with food, the ant might change its task because resource requirements have already been met by other ants.
Systems like bee hives and ant colonies cannot be controlled outright. They can be redirected, manipulated, and shaped over time, but they cannot be ordered because there isn’t a strong general awareness that the culture responds to command and control.
I do not receive orders in the morning when I wake up. Neither do you. Yes, you have a schedule, but that schedule in most cases was made by you to respond to your needs of the day. Your manager at work might assign tasks to you, but you probably do not have your entire life mapped out. You probably don’t have an exact strategy for your day, for your week, and for your year. If you’re smart, you are planning for retirement. If you’re smart, you have some semblance of goals for your life, but you probably are spending most of your time responding the the environment around you. You rarely receive a note underneath your door every morning that maps out your day. I know I don’t. Actors know every line. They’re directed by directors who have considered where, when, and how lines will be delivered. You and I are not being directed by a director, but we are still part of a system that can easily be recognized. As a community, as a township, and as a city, as a nation.
Washington, DC, is different. Washington is a planned city. From the radial patterns of the avenues, to the manicured grounds of the Capitol. Washington was planned.
One day I became aware how planned Washington had become. I became aware that Washington is rife with intrigue and that whether I wanted to or not, I was part of this little Passion play.
W came in from Dulles on Saturday. He flew in from Berlin and he looked a little gaunt and exhausted. The first thing he did when I entered my pad was ask to take a shower. I rummaged for a clean towel and pointed him to the bath.
I could hear the shower and smell the steam come under the door. W’s watch on the table gleamed. It was a big watch. It was a stainless steel dive watch, all bezel and links. I have always wanted a watch like that. So I picked it up, all bezel and shiny links. And I played with it, feeling its heft and workmanship. I played with the crown and it came off in my hand, trailed by a heavy black filament. I pulled it away and the filament sprung the crown back into the case. It was fine but it was heavy and it fed in and out of the case easily. I looked up quickly at the door and the shower and the steam. The door opened although the shower was on and only a few minutes had passed. W emerged from the steam. I started and almost dropped the watch as I returned it to the table. He looked at me and must have seen me fumble.
“Chris, do you have any shampoo I can borrow?” he asked.
“Sure. Let me grab it from my bathroom.”
He moved smoothly over to the table to collect his watch. In one deft motion, he unclasped the bracelet and returned it to his wrist. I swear that he screwed down the crown. He never met my eyes or ever looked at the watch. I passed him at the table and went to fetch the shampoo from my bathroom. When I returned, I dropped the bottle into his hand and he turned and returned to the shower
I remembered having left shower gel in the bathroom. I was certain that I had also provided the guest bathroom with several bottles of hotel shampoo and conditioner. Did he overlook these? Did I? In my last-minute notice of his arrival, did I space on it? It has been known to happen. The sweetness of the shower as the steam rose in the bathroom sure smelled of shampoo or at least soap.
When I was in my first year of all boys Catholic school, I noticed that there were army men all over campus every Thursday. I started at St. Louis when I was entering the 7th grade. Until then, I attended public school. Public elementary school in Hawaii was something the entire country could admire. I had plenty of sunshine, air, and support from a an assortment of tiny Japanese schoolteachers. On the other hand, public schools in Hawaii are some of the worse in many neighborhoods once the hormones start cutting in. There was no way in hell that I was going to go to public school after 6th grade in Hawaii. I was a haole. I was a white kid in Hawaii and although I became a kama’aina over time, I was never perfectly part of the fabric of Hawaii. At best, I was a patch. At best, I was an embellishment. At worst, I was believed to be a tear. I worked furiously to make sure that I was not going to go to the Intermediate school I was supposed to attend, which was Central. Central is where all the Mokes and Titas went to school.
So I worked hard and got into a little Catholic school and when I got there I had to wear a uniform aloha shirt with slacks and dress shoes. For the next six years, I had to wear a similar uniform. Every Thursday, it was the day that the members of the JROTC cadets would wear their uniforms to school. I always considered it rather queer that this was the case. In most cases, the uniform was pretty standard. Envelope hat and class A uniforms. Dress shows, socks. When I reached 9th grade, I realized that there were three choices one could make and the choices were to become a band geek, a jock, or a cadet. I decided to become a cadet and joined the JROTC.
The reason why we had to wear our Class A uniforms on Thursday is because on Thursday we would move to the football field en masse in order to practice our parade drills. From the start, we were privates. From the start, we were taught how to hold a wooden rifle and how to dress right and how to get into formation. We trained on how to polish brass, how to salute our superiors, and how to fire .22 rimfire target rifles in our very own firing range. I daresay that we might have been pretty rare in our school because we had our own firing range. I don’t hear about very many people who had a rifle team in their school, although this is American and I am pretty sure that it couldn’t be that rare either.
As I became more accustomed to the feel of being a young cadet, I also became more accustomed to the different classes in the corps. There were a number of folks who dressed differently on Thursdays. These folks wore shiny leather boots. These folks wore black felt berets with insignias on the front in school colors, red and blue.
Charlie was older. He was one of the coolest kids in the school. He was respected both in JROTC as well as in the school. He was pretty bad ass. He was a junior the year I met him. The first Thursday I saw him come into class was a dressed differently than everyone else. He wore the same class As that the rest of us wore but there were several important distinctions. He wore jump boots and a black beret. The boots were old and looked cracked but there was a rich shine on the toe. The pants were bloused into the boots, showing off the tall sides, the endless zigzagging laces. The boots were old but well cared for and lustrous. There glinted like opals. His hair was short off his brown head. His face was set in a permanent grin. A shit-eating grin. But not that of a fool as his eyes were cruel. He was never cruel with me but he was stern. He cheeks were broad and set high. On this head he wore a felt beret rakishly. A military crest in our school colors was stitched into the peak. It was formed to his head and when he was indoors, he doffed beret and rolled it, stored it under the epaulette of his shirt. The shirt that showed he was a Ranger. He was a Saint Louis Ranger. He was member of the Ranger club and this club earned the right to wear jump boots and a black beret.
I quickly left the rifle team and joined the Rangers club.
The Rangers turned out to be much more than a simple club. The Rangers was a secret society with a code of honor that was effectively a code of silence. Every Ranger was told of the awful things that could and would befall the Ranger who broke the code. This defilement was the thing of legend. These defilement were legendary and strictly adhered to because each of us held a secret that could not only get us kicked out of school but could also have the Ranger program disbanded and have our Sergeant Major – the man who held all of this together – fired and have the JROTC program disbanded and probably even ruin the reputation of the entire school. Were this secret to ever come out in the school paper or – heaven forbid – in the Advertiser or Star Bulletin, the jig was up.
The funny thing about our secret was that we kept it both because of what telling the truth could have done to us but also because we really could only share it with each other because who the hell else would believe us? And honestly, who really wanted to be friends with anyone else in school after the kind of intense experience shared between us kids? Us cadets? So we didn’t talk about it.
We didn’t talk about the fact that every other weekend, we Rotsee Rangers were for hire. We were hired out by the US National Guard and the US Army Reserves. We were sometimes taken by Force Recon Reserves of the US Marines. Mostly we were hired as OPFOR soldiers for war games, rife with M-16s and M-60s, rife with Alice Packs and field jackets, rife with web gear and L flashlights, rife with cammie paint and canvas pouches designed for 30-round clips. We would bring home a standard form for a field trip to our parents. A form that when signed allowed their fourteen year old son to be issued a 100-percept operational NATO weapon. A weapon that could (and was) fed real armor-piercing rounds. A weapon that was rendered a training aid simply (and only) by affixing a screw-in fuck me red blank adaptor to the tip of the barrel, right onto the flash suppressor. And the 30-round banana clips that we bought at the surplus store didn’t require any adaptation before loading in the shiny brass blanks. We would stuff our cargo pockets full of blanks and bring them home with us. We would get home and we would buy 30-round clips from the surplus store and we taped two of them together so that the clip protruded low from the gun, so that there was always fresh ammo on the gun. So that all you needed to do to reload was to grab the clip, turn the clip upside-down, and load a fresh clip of ammo into the chamber.
We were the kids who would only wear slash-pocket jungle greens and the odd jungle patterns experimented with during Vietnam. Vietnam was the last war but we were looking towards central and south America for our inspiration. Even so, it was always towards the USSR that we were looking. And that was the story we were given. That was the story given to us as our cover story. Our cover story was as follows: we teens were not in fact just two teams of five children. We ten or so Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets were in fact Spetsnaz-trained special forces operatives. Yes, of course we are young teens, but we are told that the Soviets have found that raising operatives from the cradle is the way to go. So, we are kids dropped well behind the lines expressly in order to disrupt the supply chain of the United States government military. The supply channel to the front. So, we would find ourselves time and time again in the jungle, covered in mud and sweet-smelling sweat. We would be caked in cammie face paint. I would sit there hungry, with my nerves jangling. On edge but strangely serene. I could feel the weight of my gun. I could feel the weight of the pack. I could feel the weight of the assault rifle in the palm of my hand. I felt a little sick with excitement. I felt sick with my excitement quite a lot, every weekend.
One of the stories I remember was about how a Ranger, one before us, was caught during an ambush. How this boy was caught by the enemy and how he was strung up in his underwear, lashed to a tree, in the forest and left. Riot cuffs and all.
I went to Zack’s for a bite to eat because I was hungry and especially thirsty. I don’t like to think of myself as a drunk, but lately, in spite of my daily runs, I have been drinking quite a lot these days. Most of it has been a way to get out of the apartment and a lot of it has been to get out of myself. The strange things happening as of late have really put the kind of pressure on me that have made me want to get outside myself and get outside of the house. Things have been getting way too weird. What does all of this mean?
Zack’s is small and dark and people knew me from the neighborhood. And I drank bottles of Bud. And I wanted to smoke some cigarettes. And of course, I usually do. So, after I pulled the documents onto the USB dongle on my keychain I took some time off and dropped by Zack’s for some pick up pool, maybe a burger, and some bottles of Bud.
My taste in beer – and drinks in general – has a lot to do with places and situations. Unlike most people as snobby as me who will really make a fuss until they can be appeased with the appropriate Belgian lager or single malt whisky, I am a situational drinker. I have always been a situational drinker and situations define what kind of fellow I am. Not pretend to be, but really am. At Zack’s I am a man. I smoke Camels and play pool. I hang out with the guys and hit on the girls. I eat blue cheese burgers and drink amber bottles of Bud. Bud bottle. Other places I order a Stella Artois or a Red Stripe; a Yeungling or even a Newcastle Brown Ale. And I will always try the local offering if the place brews its own. I do that in everything and I guess I can be a bit of Chameleon. That said, since I have lived in the same place and with the same people for over five years, I believe that people don’t perceive me as such. If a chameleon spent five years the color of argyle socks, one would probably consider that lizard to be argyle – or preppy at least.
For those who pay attention, there is still a lot of the chameleon about me. Even in subtle things, things that tip people off in the most unfortunate ways.
When I am out to dinner with a group and cede my food choice to others, people sometimes misplace me as someone who needs to assert myself, someone who has no opinion or someone weak in his ability to make choices. Quite the contrary. In fact, I cede as many of the inconsequential choices as possible to the people around me. This has always allowed me to have a more authentic experience of the world around me. Especially when I was traveling and abroad most of the time. Who am I to choose the cheese in France or the pasta in Italy? Who am I to choose the cuisine in Katmandu? And the tastes of others even in one’s hometown can readily say more about at person that anything else. Growing up in Hawaii where oh so many of the people have really finicky diets, I became very sensitive to the selective diets of those around me. The vegetarians, the lactose intolerant, the vegans, the pescavegetarians, the people with peanut allergies.
I am surprised how many people don’t have this sensitivity. I am always surprised how many people are not just insensitive to feelings but really just deadened. Deadened to subtlety and nuance. Zero empathy. I really believe that I have a Spidey sense, that I have a real sixth sense. My friends Jana and Carrie both say that God has me on a tight leash, but there are so many times that I wish I could either retard or remove that aspect of myself. As I said before, this sense really served me well when I traveled alone through many lands as a traveling photographer. I carried around ten grand worth of photo equipment on my back throughout the world and never had an issue with my security. I live in the gentlest, loving, supportive and beautiful world you can imagine. I can nary believe that there are such awful things in ubiquity going on not only across the globe but literally across the street. I am far from naïve. And although I am over six-feet tall and well over 250 pound soaking wet, I don’t think that this is the only explanation for my safety: my size.
Growing up in Hawaii, I had to fight quite a lot. There was of course the normal fight for alpha which any young man must endure, but add to this that I was effectively a minority. I was a haole, a Caucasian, who attended a private school. I was a “fucking haole” and in a school system that actually supported an emergent “kill haole day” -- usually on the last day of school, but no always -- I learned how to be a scrapper. Scrapping is of course not the only way to make sure that there is peace. In many situations, it is essential pick and choose your battles and wars. And there were rules of engagement. All that anybody ever wanted was to be acknowledged. I learned that the best defense was a good offense which has worked every time. I call it my street rules of engagement.
The city rules of engagement revolve around very primal notions of acknowledgement. As I mentioned before, I am the favorite person to both fuck with as well as to fear. I am almost 6’4” and well over 250 pounds most of the time. And I am just big and strong-looking. Whenever I am in an environment I am not familiar with – especially at night – I always make sure that I keep my hands in my pockets. People are never sure what your hands have a hold of. Hands that are out of sight on the street could possibly be holding a weapon. Secondly, I always walk either with purpose and direction, or with insouciance and carelessness. Thirdly, and most importantly, I always make eye contact. And when eye contact is made, it is essential to either raise your eyebrows or to nod your head. The best outcome is a, “hey” or “what’s up” followed by a nod or an eyebrow raise. If this isn’t returned, it is important to raise your personal alert level or orange because as we know from day to day life, the way someone treats you rarely has anything to do with you, it has more to do with him. So, in this case, he might just be pissed, bitter, hurt, wounded, intoxicated, or possessed. He might be a psychopath or he might be so absorbed in his own thoughts (or in the best case, scared shit of you) that he’ll just fade into the night. If someone passes me and I don’t get an acknowledgment, I put up my guard and take evasive action. Evasive action might be stopping in a store or a bar or someplace open, or it might take the form of taking a turn into another road and doubling back. There have been times when I have done this after my hackles rise and I am under heightened alert when I am “surprised” to see my middle-of-the-night acquaintance turned around and walking on my previous vector as if to follow me, as I wait in the shadows. I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but I also do the same thing if I feel like I am being followed. I will double back, I will recede into the shadows and there have been a number of times when intentionally or otherwise, I have caught the elleged tail turn the corner, look around quizzically, and then, baffled, move on. I can only assume that this was motivated by their desire to keep me, dark and bulky, in their radar, but I have been known to go to a little bit of trouble to shake what I perceive as a tail. Primarily for the amusement. Much of my life is fueled by amusement, and being able to put into practice techniques and skills that I learned as a Rotsee Ranger just amuses the hell out of me on my way home. Equally, these techniques are important to practice, to hone, and to keep. When you’re drunk, American, alone, and a traveler and its well after midnight in Saint Petersburg or Katmandu, this sort of diligence is not only sane (as opposed to what you’re thinking which is, “my lord is this boy paranoid”) but it is smart. Especially in light of the constant ten-thousand dollar necklace I have until late always brought along.
I guess after all of that training even though its been about twenty years ago, I do believe I was trained well to smell a tail, to smell someone who’s got evil on his mind. To feel out someone’s intent, and to hide all of that savviness behind the sweetest, most mild exterior you could ever imagine. But fire can lick behind these eyes; a growl can pass these lips.
W once told me that considering how hard I look – and how shamelessly – I had better always remain a photographer. Photographers are allowed to look. To look deeply. And they are almost always excused for that. As a shooter and as a writer, I have also been given the kind of liberty that I would have taken anyway. Being good looking has worked in my advantage as well. It is funny to see. Although people openly try to warn me against being so open, against being so warm, against being so accepting, people don’t really fuck with me. I mean, I have not been burnt outside my comfort zone. There must be a good balance here.
Being both an only child and the son of a photographer, I have always looked at the world more as something that is as it is no matter what instead of the world and the people around me being something and someone that is constantly being influenced and essentially changed in a very real way by every action that I made. This is why I think it very fine for photojournalists to be Emersonian's invisible eyes, going around and exploring the world but not influencing the natural occurances of the world. A little like being a scientist not wanting to influence an experiment or an anthropologist not wanting to push the primitive into the modern through the force of will. Like these nobles, the photojournalist’s essential mission is to capture history real time. To share the beauty and the horrors of the world. No, journalistically, let the image speak the thousand words. To give Powerbars and chocolate and bottles of water to starving Sudanese is actually a disservice. The photojournalist is in fact the farthest thing from being inhumane. The photojournalist is more heroic than the soldier. The photojournalist is able to collect the most bold of truths. It is not inhumane for the photographer to ignore the suffering of man or beast. In fact, the photographer, the photojournalist is passionately engaged. The blowback comes from the intimacy and success of these images. The blowback comes from being with the poachers who are netting Orangutans for zoos and medicine, the blowback comes from being with the warlords as they intercept UN and NGO supplies, only to force the people deeper and deeper into starvation. All for an image. And that isn’t the only step. The largest step that needs to be considered is how much trust the shooter must build in order to be allowed deep into the bush with the poachers or behind enemy lines with the rebels.
This all goes back to me being an only child, a photographer, and the son of a photographer. Without a camera, I look too hard, without a camera, I am conspicuous. Without a camera, I am a sitting duck. But without a camera I am really beginning to learn how it feels not to have that fucking thing between be and the world. Now I know how *my* actions have reactions around me. I, myself, felt like Emerson’s giant invisible floating eye. And that wasn’t the only lesson. The final lesson is how vulnerable I am and can be to the ripples of the people around me. And how, maybe unawares, I have been an unwitting participant in some really nasty shit. Some really fucked up stuff.
At least nobody has died. At least I haven’t had to kill anybody. At least nobody has tried to kill me. And if they had wanted to, I would have been an easy mark.
The funny thing about ants is they don’t exist as individuals. I don’t mean to go into some sort of community diatribe about the people. The ant colony is competitive, self-serving, self-sustaining, and has a much longer life than any of the ants individually. Although the ant lives for a very short time, the typical ant colony lives for decades. A young colony acts exuberant and youthful while an elder colony is more careful and circumspect. Throughout the course of human history, it has been the family that has existed this way. Surely not the country, or nation-state, which is affectation. Like the ant colony, the large blood family has a much longer life than does a family member. It also has many more resources and resilience.
I try to dress just about as normally as possible. I guess I would like to be one of the preppiest men in the room. If possible. It isn’t easy in Washington. But in my crowd it is. My secret is that is that I host one of the most counter-cultural web sites on the Internet. I also edit one of the most counter-cultural web sites on the Internet. My only saving grace is that I don’t write the most counter-cultural content on the Internet. But I don’t know if that is really the point. I have though long and hard about this. I believe that one of the reasons I don’t have my name anywhere on the site (if I can help is) is because I know that authorship is just one part of what the net-effect of publishing is. I like to think of what I do as altruistic. What I do is give voice to those who don’t have a way to reach a large audience. And I do: the site that I have been working on, slowly and surely, for over five years. And after all of that time, I find myself with thousands of readers reading a site that I am not willing to stand next to, to stand behind. It is because my agenda has always been to see what happens. Maybe I should have been a scientist because I like to mix chemicals, like a chemist, and see what happens as a result. Then introduce something else and see what the outcome is.
Honestly, after years of this kind of science, I realize that no matter what care I take, I cannot avoid influencing the experiment’s outcome and I cannot avoid being influenced. Over time I have seen everything come through the open submission of the web site. Some of it so mad, that I cannot believe it myself. Starting with 9-11, the level of madness on the site has gone into the stratosphere. And I am sure that I have played a part in allowing so much of the madness into the main stream.
I talk about memetics. I talk about the meme. I talk about how culture is dangerous and not only easily influenced but also easily corrupted. By corruption, I don’t mean only political scandal or business shenanigans, but also the integrity of the cultural code base. Where are the checks and balances for popular culture? The arm of the law and its lawyers are for sure the error correctors of this cultural codebase, but only legally. And only rationally. When it comes to popular culture it is much harder to check for errors and corruption. Because there is always desire of change and progress. Because in the world of entertainment, stasis is boring. But influence is influence in much the same way that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Through all of this movement and change and even though I fancy myself a flexible man, I find myself clinging to too many things which kill me again and again. Like the crack-addled lab rat returning again and again to the charged vending chute, I can clearly see myself engaging in addictive and painful behaviors. Simply put, were I able to simply avoid the drug and the voltage all would be well. To blame either is not only fruitless, not only a lie, but a hunger to self-destruct. The story is always the same with these lab rats: they end up killing themselves. The crack and the charge, blameless. Is the situation a stacked deck? Of course! Were there neither crack nor charge, there would be no experiment. Shall I blame the sadistic scientists for their cruel imagination? What is the use? Shall I blame the coca and the cooking process for the crack? Or the machinist shop for milling and assembling this self-service electrical chair? Or even the graduate student who plugged in the contraption to the wall and fed the rats and kept them and finally, one-by-one placed them into the cage? Why blame them? The drug was not alone. There were other options besides. There was the dribble bottle of water, the dish of pellets, the rough cuts of carrot and cheese, even a soft place to sleep, were sleep or food ever compelling. Surely blameless is this scam, this set-up! I mean, come on! Surely the scientist, the graduate student, and the machinist have been able to make it through similar shenanigans. Here they are in their work smocks, healthy and happy, successful and true, exemplars of their places in society. Here I am, the simple rat, living high on the hog, kept well and watered. Fed. There will always be temptations and traps, there will always be the promise of treasure, the windfall. To choose the crack and to suffer not only the sting of the charge (a perfectly good warning sign if ever there was one) but also the association of the two as one, now that’s my fault, now isn’t it? The euphoria of the drug is the charge; the pain of the current grounded through me begins to feel heavenly. Soon, who even needs the crack? Soon, I am flying on the juice flowing from the wall. The mind can always conjure its own mood enhancers to bridge the gap. And the rest is history. The only thing to come out of any of this is whether or not I turned myself – I mean the rat – into an electrocuted masochistic crack ho or a well-fed, well rested white lab rat. We never hear about the white lab rat that said no. Not sexy. The University publicists never cotton to that data. Addiction is where it’s at, man. The weakness of the flesh sells, gets picked up not only in the Journal Science but in the Times! I want to hear the story about the rat that just said no. I want to be that rat. I want to make Nancy Reagan proud with my own personal policy of “just say no” as opposed to just say when.
I am no longer even amused with clever. Clever never did anyone any good save perhaps the writers of The Simpson’s. Cleverness earns nothing more than acknowledgement. Even intelligence is rarely rewarded fully. Smarts and reliability get all the rewards. Small amounts of money made over time supersede the windfall. The ant ends up using the grasshopper as winter food stock. That’s what ants do. They build homes, they repair homes, they forage for food, they even kill food, they bring it home, and they store much more of it than needed until they hunger. Then they dispose of the refuse and tidy up only to repeat.
So, it makes a lot of sense to me now why even bad big families are important. To allow groups to grow in power and influence. The family is ideal because if one strategizes well, one can cover all the bases: doctor, lawyer, CEO, politician, priest, teacher, capitalist, investment banker – and entire community within itself-contained and bonded by blood.
After fancying myself so clever and after getting a pretty good handle on what everything is not, I want to embrace everything that is, as in the way it seems. I can work with that. There are stable metrics and if-then clauses that are simple and effective. The things that I was seeing require special light and squinted eyes. Like in pointillism – or better yet in painting by Dali – things are not as they seem, but it is much easier if they were, for sure. For everyone. I have an even better comparison. In my experience behind the curtain, what people see is like abstract expressionism. Most people look at it and say the obvious, “my n-year-old can do that” or “what kind of idiot spent how much on that?” Well, the truth is even better than fiction. That’s actually what you’re supposed to think. I remember when my buddy W used to work at the World Bank and even at the UN. He used to roll his eyes and curse the chaff that worked in the offices around him. Such beaurocrats, such dolts, he said. And when I worked at the treasury, I felt the same way. This paper-pushing, this red-tape – all of this stuff is essential to the conservative nature of government. Structures have to be created and adheared to. What few people know and what everyone wants to believe – and it is true! – is that there is a small cadre of hyper-vigilant, hyper-aware, hyper-intelligent, and hyper-loyal people throughout the system. Considering how expensive and how expansive the government is, there are so few people actually making the big decisions that you would shit yourself to know. And they really aren’t the ones you would assume, either. Almost never. Okay, maybe Clinton was different, but in general, never.
My life is so much better now that I am buying what I am being sold. The chaos of my life can easily be contained within myself, my new wife, and my future children. We can be crazy, but I really don’t want to ever consider any of the fun mind games I did before. Honestly, outside of myself, my family, and maybe my community (I can’t really be my neighbor’s keeper – and who knows, if I did have a brother, could I even be his? Would I want to? Would I care?) All the rest is hubris. All the rest is wasted breath and wasted life. Let someone else man the barricades! Let someone else be part of this or that social experiment, I am certainly not going to trust my children to a fucking experiment, be it school or drugs or any of it.
Of course, you might think that I am bitter. Sour grapes. Well, a little, and only because I wish I were less clever. Curiosity killed the cat. I wish I bought into this much earlier. I would have had a ten year jump on making babies! On chasing my wife around the bed, practicing and then perfecting the art of makin’ em. All the kinds of simple things that are possible because all of this wonderful, mostly-invisible, active armor that surrounds us at great expense and with great success.
“You don’t want to know” and “most intelligence and operations work is spent to quell unrest and to avoid widespread panic” and two of the first things I am going to forget. I have been working like a madman trying to to no avail. The next thing I want to forget is that we are the children of America and our government is our parents. And it is their job to aggressively and brutally save and protect us. And they have been doing a fantastic job until 9/11. What I want to forget is that I know that these days I have come to know that it is not just the children who are scared of the dark or what’s under the bed, but the parents are as well. I would like to forget that the most.
Sometimes it is impossible to get outside your own head. Trees for the forest. Hindsight these days is not merely 20/20 but is 20/10. As I become older, things become more clear. And it seems like my life is going to become a giant allegory. An example to whom? This is why I am writing this all out. The most important warning I aspire to offer from these words is to stay asleep. I used to warn others that once you push the velvet of the other, the velvet of the other pushes back. Once you become an initiate, you have to work through the entire course. And I conned my way into a program that I really couldn’t handle. Into a life that I couldn’t handle in the first place. A life I was ill-suited to embrace and live. And that was before I saw the patterns. Way before I saw what was really going on. And now I want to go back to bed. I want to just get into the place where the most difficult part of my life has to deal with the 401k plan, with keeping up with Jones’, with paying down the taxes, and killing the debt. With making sure the kids get into the right school, and all the other shit I was so resentful about. That I was trying to be above, trying to avoid as I avoided life for something better. For some arcane inside information, for some background stuff. Life happens when you are keeping your options open. The truth is that it is essential to make some choices and do something while you are trying to figure out what you want to do. What do you want to do? Make some beautiful mistakes. It’s not like your permanent record. This isn’t high school. Nobody gives a fuck.
I have known L for well over five years. His watercolors are all over the walls of my apartment. He really is quite talented.
I remembered the night that W, R, and I dosed on acid is the night W sort of let me in on his secret and I didn’t understand what he meant for what’s coming up on ten years. We were down on the mall at the odd beginning of the high when all the leaves of the tree suddenly become an undulating spin of Mandelbrot fractals. I stood there exposed. I stood there with my mouth agape and my arms hung limp by my side. Not only was I vulnerable but I was exposed. W came up to me and clapped me on the back and I started walking with him.
“You like to look and that’s fine, but if you’re going to look that hard at something or someone, you really should have a camera in your hand,” he said, “because although there is no harm in looking, there is harm in looking suspicious.”
We walked further and although I tried to look less obvious in my hungry desire to devour all the shapes and colors around me, it was to no avail.
“There is nothing wrong in walking around with an expensive camera dangling around your neck. You can look all you want – you don’t even have to take a single picture – but without the camera or a reporter’s notebook or a sketch pad, you are threatening. People don’t know what to make out of you.”
We found a bench to sit on. R was still pretty far down the walk. It was cold and as W talked, I could see the steam swirling from his mouth. I could see the math in the vapor.
“Even if we were sitting here on the bench. Together, we can sit shamelessly and pass the time looking and talking. If I were here alone, I would need to have a newspaper with me. I could of course sit for hours looking, with the paper folded on my lap or in my fist and that would be fine, but without the newspaper I am conspicuous and threatening. People recognize patterns. It is this talent that has allowed us to get where we are now, not the other stuff. We call this pattern recognition many things, but one of the things is creativity. True creativity is not just making something pretty. It is recognizing, revealing, and displaying lost patterns. A single adult male spending hours by himself people watching without any other activity, be it a paper, a radio, a notebook, or a camera, is a little creepy and quite possibly will draw attention to himself.”
I could feel W looking at the side of my face and I could tell he was thinking. I was trying to pay attention, but I was looking at the clouds swirl from my mouth as I breathed.
“If it makes more sense to you,” W said after a while, “it is akin to sitting just outside of a playground and not having a kid of your own. Without a kid or a wife, the first thing you must be is a pervert or a kidnapper. What other reason is there for a grown man to spend his afternoon watching children at the park? There isn’t. Not to the parents and not to the cops.”
W sighed. We watched as R slowly approached us. R was still out of earshot.
“So, it is not only about dressing like everyone else and looking like everyone else but it is also about choices, about not setting off an alarm in people's minds.”
He stood up and started to walk away towards R, slowed down, and then turned towards me.
“The best place to hide anything, you know Chris, is in plain sight.”
And that was a long time ago. And that was a lesson lost. And that is a most important lesson. Because in plain site is where everything is hidden. The corporate chart turned on its head. Privates with remote controls hidden in their pockets controlling the arrogant blustering of the General.
To quote R, a college chum, “everything is exactly the opposite of how I thought it to be.”
I have never gotten a satisfying answer as to how many lovers my lovers have had. I discovered much later that most women have a shocking past. Most modern women have been with way more partners than their male counterparts. It would be dizzying. It first became obvious to me when I was living with B. She talked about the long tracts of her youth when she dated no one and pleasured herself with a vibrator from Good Vibrations. I asked a few more questions and discovered that this alone time, this time all by herself, being on her own, also included quite a few one night stands. So meaningless that they were never even considered to have broken this celibacy. I learned later that when a woman tells a man that she hasn’t dated anyone since a vigorous breakup twelve months ago, this has nothing to do with sex. She has had sex since the breakup; she just hasn’t called it dating and doesn’t consider it antithesis to her time alone. She would never call it playing the field or really enjoying being single – which is most certainly different than not dating or being along – but would prefer to misrepresent the situation, or better yet, compartmentalize the experience as being purely physiological. Mechanical, essential. And women have been informed enough.
My friends have been suggesting that I see a therapist. My mother has been asking me about that medicine I had been on. I am certain that I haven’t been quite myself lately. And I am becoming more certain that I am rapidly changing. Change isn’t always good. My change most certainly isn’t very fine at all.
Aldous Huxley wrote Doors of Perception as he rationalized his addictions and his madness. But he did have a point of which I am becoming more and more aware: the most successful members of our modern world have the tightest reducing valves. Huh? Well, Aldous had the insight that the brain is not a projector but rather a receiver capable of intercepting and interpreting a full spectrum of light much broader than the visible, for example. Able to receive waves much wider and narrower than just the audible. To Huxley, the Mind is able to perceive the Universe as it is but the brain is the reducing valve. The brain is the filter that allows man to fend for himself. The farther from Grace and seeing God, the more apt you are to thrive in our world. And although we might innately be superhuman in our ability to sense and know, there is really negligible benefit to realizing any one of these superpowers. The superman is useless in the world; the superman is in fact a liability against which society has built active armor. But the man who is able to loosen the reducing valve – to open the strong filter – and whose mind is capable of comprehending the maddening assault of the universe is amazingly valuable as long as someone’s got your back.
According to Huxley, it takes a village to raise a holy man. Holy men are very important portals to the other, but are useless when it comes to living life.
And so although I have a capable mind hungry to comprehend the static, I now realize that it is essential to strengthen up my brain. To do my Kegels to strengthen the brain’s perceptual sphincter muscles. It sucks to be so sensitive to such extraneous crap. In the beginning it was curiosity. I knew there was something else. I knew that the glimpses I had into something else was very real. To me, it was like solving a puzzle. It was truly a game that required the tools with which I was born which was the ability to recognize patterns, make associations, and notice changes in systems. In other words, I will always notice when you have had a haircut or bought new glasses. Not just the change but the exact reason for the change down to if you have clipped your fingernails the night before. Noticing a manicure is child’s play for me. I want to train to be oblivious. I want to go bumbling around like a regular guy.
I want to go bumbling around like a regular man. Like a regular human. Bumbling around is the legacy of being in the sentient world.
I believe in God. I believe in the Other. I believe that the world as we know it is a construct of our desires. That the world that we experience with our senses is completely illusory. Again, reducing valve cinched tight. What is there is swirling balls of energy and light we recognize as Aunt Matilda and Uncle Bruce. I said before that the mind is a filter but it is also a projector. We perceive the swirling balls of light as kin, but our minds project the recognized patterns conveniently onto the world all around us. This explains why we don’t acutely notice aging in those around us so much as we are constantly projecting and no longer seeing. Thankfully. Otherwise we would never spend time with all the ugly aging people around us.
My old friend told me that when he was returning from Iraq he couldn’t really visit our friends in Europe. He wasn’t himself. He had an entirely different identity provided for him by the Government. His military ID and Passport had a different name. It would have been to confusing to meet our friends in Europe. How would he explain this fully-realized cover story? It was better for him to control his environment, control the people he knows, keeping away from the people he’s known. The day I became privy to this I wondered. I wondered how many cover stories there really were all around me. I was afraid to ask, really. Since everyone is from somewhere else, how much do we really know about anyone else? I mean, I know about lying to the ladies at the bar about your name and what you do, but this is a much larger issue. To be issued an entirely different life that you have to keep weeded and watered. A dangerous life spawned to protect your family and your friends.
There are men in the world who are given papers, fully accredited and fully legal, that do not reflect their given name. M becomes J. And that is who he is. And he has to make his travel plans so as to avoid cities and countries where he might run into friends and family.
“I wanted to visit S, her husband, and her new baby, but I couldn’t, “M told me once. She lived in Brussels and he was free from his last tactical operation and had some time to travel, but couldn’t visit her because he was not M but was J. And national security could not condone this intentional stress on the fabric of reality. Better safe than sorry, as they say.
We sat in a dive bar in Alexandria. It was in a basement off of King Street and the entire bar was decorated in business cards. I looked around and all the people in there wanted to fuck, but until then they wanted to drink and talk shit.
“The intelligence community comes to these bars,” he said, “and they just come and since they are normal men and women, they drink and are lonely and sad and have so many secrets.”
There is such a weakness in the psychology of discretion and loneliness wherein the general truth is, “nobody knows of your successes but only your failures.”
These are men and women who are full of pride and hunger, who need to be part of community and in relationship. They are as desperate and sad as I am, but with better stories. The kind of stories that can always get you laid if that’s what you want. But they want more. They have the vow of secrecy; they have the world on their shoulders. They are noble men who are painted into a patriotic corner.
The most telling thing that M ever told me reflected this sadness. There are two. M is a Romantic man, a man with soul and genius. He told me once that there is such a focus on letting him and his team know that there are many formal structures for therapy and support. The catch is, any attempt at reaching out for help in dealing with stress, depression, and feelings of being disconnected and living a lie is dealt with suspicion and worse. If an elite operator reaches out for help, be it a counselor or a psychologist, that man is labeled broken and his career is fucked. So the smart men and women who live on the frontlines of the war against terror have to stuff their hurt, their stress, their feelings of meaninglessness, their existential crises, and just suck it up soldier, complete the mission. But of course in this community, it isn’t just three or four years of being an on-the-front soldier, but it is a lifetime of innuendo, of subterfuge, of half-truths, of cover stories, and so forth.
So these folks do what men and women do from the beginning of time. They go to bars, they go to whores, they get laid, they get soused, and they self-medicate to the best of their ability.
I never understood what strip bars where all about and so I started going to some. The bars I went to were more like cafes on the road and most of their clients were truckers and traveling salesmen. After buying a meal and having a drink, I watched the girls, some of whom were very beautiful – or at least very sexy, very compelling. I grabbed myself a lap dance from a woman I found very lovely. I asked her for another and another and then it clicked for me. What I was getting was a sexual simulacrum. She moved against me. I was not allowed to touch, of course, but she moved against me, touching her body to mine, stroking my face with her hair, breathing warm breath into my face. I smelled her hair, her perfume. I was slowly intoxicated in the booth. Whenever she moved her breasts and her neck and face close to mine, she talked to me like a lover, she made lover noises, she was mine. She did something that even some lovers had never accomplished. She hypnotized me into a state of acceptance that I was back home, in my lover’s arms, in her embrace, able to access not just her but her body, her mind, her soul. Like a song or scent that evokes the memory of a simpler time and a better woman, this dancer – whom I know was a single mother who needed to commute an hour each way to be there, as we had had this talk too – was able to – in her seduction, in her soft cooing of sweet nothing and breathy feelings of pleasure being with me – bring me to a place of feeling not just like a stud, but like a man: respected and desired. And there is really no price that I can place on that sense of acceptance. It is a feeling so strong that it overwhelmed the obvious artifice of the experience. The lie. The simulacrum.
And the suggestion of the thing is the thing. The idea of the thing is the thing. To say “I once owned a Triumph sports car and know a lot about the Triumph sports car” is as meaningless – and as real as “I used to own."
The British were heavy-handed in the way they colonized the world. The British approached world politics as a bridegroom, each colony the bride. This polygamist attitude of many wives to one husband resulted over the course of history in a lot of very bitter ex wives. America, on the other hand, is the world’s Baby’s Daddy and not the world’s husband, like the British form of colonization.
Powerful influence is oftentimes unperceivable because it mutates base constructs – the institutional memory – so that the evolution isn’t realized or remembered. For this reason, it is important to rigorously log the process and audit the system before the influence begins. This is most important because after the catalyst is introduced, there will appear to be systemic changes that are complex and wide-ranging. These broad shifts can be blamed more easily on the natural process or a natural course than on what they really are, which is the pandemic resulting from the catalytic ground zero. Although it is very difficult to discover the ground zero of an epidemic of TB or AIDS, it is even more challenging to track the infection patterns within a culture that can include any number of important though dissimilar organs of transmission. The track back is even more complex because as the effect expands and becomes more diffuse, the direct attribution will become corrupt and there will be examples of plagiarizing and faux sui generis. Although impossible to track and maddening to account for, the more often there are these thefts the better, because it is only through this sort of ownership of idea by the culture itself that the memory can be universally erased. In some cases, it requires a generation, as in the case of albums, rotary phones, and Betamax, but in other cases it may require only weeks, if not fewer.
I am a city-dweller. I mean, I did grow up in Hawaii and I was a diver, but that was a long time ago. I am not that guy anymore. A few years ago I was on the crew of a working sailboat. Actually, there were only the three of us, W, Otto Helm, and me. It took months to sail from Acapulco Yacht Club to Marina del Rey. Man, the sea! She is such a bitch. She must be a mom and not a wife because she teaches hard but never chastises.
The sea, she can be very remedial in her lessons when you are sailing. She also protects fools and drunks and I am most certainly a fool at the very least. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and Karma is direct, reciprocity is king on the sea. When I am tempted to be willful and push myself past either my abilities or my energy, I always either hurt myself or break something onboard. This is not a joke. She seems gentle -- the sea always does -- but it is life or death.
When I was being trained in target acquisition I was told that movement is key. The best way to acquire a target to defend a perimeter is to sit still and look into the distance at nothing in particular. The mind gets really nutty when you don't choose something to look at. We are truly pattern recognition machines. So, after hours of just looking "out there" into the in between place, even the slightest movement that breaks the fabric of "what is out there" will attract your eye. Nine times out of ten its enemy.
You won't believe me when I tell you this but silent movement training feels like ninja training. Trying to move wraith-like through the forest isn't easy. Try it. BDUs and jungle boots. The only advantage is the ten minutes of jumping up and down before deployment to find and tape down rattlies. After that, it is all about avoiding the particular pattern recognition machine known as enemy.
The training is similar to what you see in a Kung Fu movie. Sensei, who in this case was Team Leader, stood in the dappled forested training area with a blindfold on and dared us to get past undetected. Actually, the most effective way to get through is to move forward like you would imagine someone walking through a mine field would: kind of crouched down, loose-limbed, slowly toeing forward. It works. Waiting for the wind at least masks the snaps and crackles. How else are you going to garrotte someone? I mean, how else?
At night walking back from Zack's or the Metro, I am highly attuned to my environment. Whenever I feel a breech in my perimeter, I tend towards taking evasive action. This sounds really insane to say out loud. If I hear heals tap tap tapping behind me, I generally don't escalate, but there are always people that don't understand that personal space after 9PM is a lot different than it is on a Sunday at the market. If you are a man coming up on a woman, move to the other side of the street, buster. And if you breech my perimeter, I am likely to take action to lose you. I will double-back, I will disappear into an alley, I will turn the table and follow you for a while. It is all fun, but it is also as serious as a heart attack. An ounce of prevention and all that rot.
Wow, all this really does sound insane to say out loud.
W told me that if you're going to really look -- even stare -- you need to find an excuse. For me it is the camera but others have their own foil. Then there is The Painter. He has the best cover ever. Unlike making images with a camera, which takes about 1/250th-of-a-second, The Painter's renderings take closer to 250-minutes. Plenty of time to stakeout just about anything or anyone. We have such a painter on the Hill and I suspect him of being a spy.
There was a guy at Starbucks today who was checking out Interns from behind too-small shades and a francophone magazine. Others sometimes feign reading a book or the paper. Incidentally, the guy at Starbucks turned his head.
Never turn your head.
The way the Intelligence community is set up is not the way you would think. To quote my fairy godmother, "there is no terrorist as frightening as a panic-stricken public." Hearts and minds, hearts and minds. That's what it's all about. It works in seduction as well. I have personal experience. I used to tell women how men were seducing them, I felt it my duty to blow away the smoke from the lies and deceit surrounding getting laid. I quickly realized that it was a zero-sum game. Women don't want to be confronted with these things. Every time I divulged, women were angry, but angry at me. Women know that there is something rotten going on, but if you're going to fuck them, make it feel good. And that is not only physically. Far from it: it includes avoiding feelings of shame and, if worst comes to worst, the need to be blameless, the blame landing straight on that awful, awful man.
Think about it. The reason why tourists and backpacker are constantly being harassed and jailed by foreign powers is because they actually are spies. Or, rather, spies and operations officers (operators) dress like dirty hippy backpackers and dorky yokel tourists in order to elude detection while abroad. I would say that just about everyone who has been taken by a foreign government is guilty. The official State Department story is one part spin, one part redirection, and a big lung full of smoke. These days when even Delta Force wears board shorts and flip flops, James Bond might have a better survival rate than a fit longhaired backpacking hippy.
Incidentally, one of the reasons why the entire world is peopled with operatives, operators, soldiers, special forces, recon, and spies dressed like eco-tourists and dirty trustafarian hippy backpackers is purely practical: you get to wear the same gear as the Lurps. Effectively, jungle boots, jungle "day" packs, water, cameras, "guide books," notebooks, tropical fatigues from LL Bean. Thanks primarily to R.E.I., the typical tourists is better provisioned than a Navy S.E.A.L.
Very much unlike the man of mystery aesthetic favored by Hollywood in its spies and operatives, the real field operations officer is Joe Average. The average heights of an American male is five feet and nine-point-one inches. For a man that height, the ideal weight is around 150-pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes. Neither hairy nor bald. Just a guy. The average weight of an American is 180-pounds. That dull-looking guy next to you on the metro who you never noticed -- the one who you assume has a really dull life and works middle-management in software? Well, he is a spy and has top secret clearance, can kill you with his hands and has been trained in evasive driving techniques. Don't be envious because his wife doesn't even know what he really does and she fancies him a bore too.
I am a big guy and tall too. All of my friends are pretty average. 40-regular kind of guys. Off the rack. The kind of guys who can share jeans with their girlfriends. Even the two I know to be trained killers. These two can do surprising things like get me in a fireman's carry or beat me in a fist fight. I am a big guy.
If you want to spot a spy, you have to see him work the bar when he's drinking. Even though your garden-variety spy is only 5-foot-9 and 150-pounds, he gets laid a lot. Women are attracted to fearlessness. Spies are unable to hold their liquor enough to mask this sex-appeal. If he is seriously popular with the ladies and hasn't obvious power, wealth, or beauty, bet he's a spy.
The one thing you can be sure of is that cops don't like private dicks, soldiers hate mercenaries, and government-sponsored spies will not tolerate private-interest entities taking on Intelligence gathering. The common thread between all of the above is that cops, soldiers, and spies are generally doing their work for God and Country. PIs, Mercs, and spies-for-hire are doing it for cold hard cash. At best, this resentment is noble; at worse, it is riddled with envy: of infinite resources, freedom, lifestyle, and glamor.
Find me a government-sponsored American Intelligence Officer, Operations Officer, or Black Ops Operator who doesn't have an amazing collection of spy novels and spy fiction loading down a bookshelf somewhere in his home and I will show you a spy who is willing to go on the free and open market. It is true: they all wanted to be James Bond growing up.
I too wanted to be James Bond growing up. Sadly, for me it was escapist and a way of basing the success of the competition I have with my best friend, W. Our competition is simple: every year since our freshman year of college, we have constantly strived to attain the most James Bond skill possible. W and I both started early. He lived in Monrovia, Liberia, as a child. I lived in Hawaii. W became a polyglot, learning flawless German; I received extensive training in guerilla warfare. W lived in Guatemala, East Berlin, and Africa, and I played it safe in gentler Western Europe. I learned how to hob-nob and W learned how to live on nothing, nowhere, with no one. It was really a draw until a few years ago when W's life was shot unto orbit while my life is easily contained by Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.
When it comes to methods of hiding secrets, camouflage is under-appreciated. Camouflage is the art of hiding in plain site. In my experience, what you don't see is always more secure than something you can't see or can't touch but know it's there. If you know there is something there somewhere, you can easily develop a search and recovery strategy. If you know where something is but its access it restricted, it is simple to develop a break-in strategy. The human mind is brilliant in recognizing patterns, but where pattern is not perceived, there is nothing. The human mind cannot see what it cannot see; or rather, the mind cannot perceive what it cannot recognize.
The reason why everything of value isn't simply camouflaged is because of spycraft. There is an entire trillion dollar industry -- the military-industrial complex -- designed to find patterns where none exist. With the advent of technologies that include IR for people-finding, quantum computers for data-finding, and deep cover Intelligence operators -- moles -- for people-finding, using pure camouflage takes monstrous balls-of-steel. That said, camouflage -- hiding in plain site -- is still the most secure method for hiding the most precious of possession. A perfect example can be readily found in the arcane world of Freemasonry. All the secrets of Freemasonry are hidden in plain site. Simply obfuscated into a dark, damp, dusty corner of a world peopled by harmless octogenarians. Simply brilliant.
After buying the long rifle, the suit of camouflage, the flight to Tanzania, the guide, and the license; after acquiring the training, the marksmanship, the permits, and the experience; after all of that, the hunt is nothing if you are not willing to have the patience to wait for the perfect, clear, kill.
After being issued the long rifle, the suit of camouflage; after acquiring the training, the marksmanship, and the experience; after being delivered to the drop zone and left behind; after all of that, the mission is nothing if the sniper is not willing to have the patience to wait for the perfect, clear, kill.
After securing the clearance, the cover, the back story, the reputation, and the position; after acquiring the training, the trust, the reputation, and the experience; after all of that, the mole is nothing if he is not willing to have the patience to wait for the perfect opportunity. For the mole, opportunity knocks but once.
A Ghillie suit is ideal camouflage for a sniper and tan BDUs are suited for the desert. The Hill also has a suit of clothes best suited for invisibility in plain sight.
The most appropriate camouflage for not standing out in the Nation’s Capitol is a pair of khakis, a blue button-down, a white undershirt, a pair of penny loafers, blue socks, a yellow tie, a black or brown belt, and a blue blazer with gold buttons.
Actually, if you’re on a budget, anything from the GAP, and if you’re financed, buy everything from Brooks Brothers, sailing and golf-supply stores.
Casual wear in Washington is just a variation on the theme. Remove the button down and replace it with a polo shirt -- Lacoste is the current favorite but Ralph Lauren is always acceptable -- dark colors during the Winter months and suprisingly bright colors during the summer, including pink and Carolina blue, to be worn over a white crew neck undershirt.
Options include trading out the leather belt for a cloth web belt and the khaki pants for a pair of golf shorts.
Hair should be maintained above the collar, over the ears, parted on the side, and natural – highlights and coloring are frowned upon.
The face should be clean-shaven. Glasses are acceptable -- reading-glasses even preferable -- but sunglasses need to be conservative and not sporty or wrap-around. Dark, wrap-around, sporty shades are a sure sign of a background in law-enforcement or a history of rigorous training in Fort Bragg or San Diego.
Timepieces should be analog and not any variation of G-Shock or rubber-banded dive watch. Dive watches can have stainless or leather bands. Breitling-type watches are currently very popular.
If a digital watch is preferred, make sure it is a commercial runner’s, cyclist's, or diver's watch, although it is important that there be a familiarization not just with running, biking, or diving but with the recreational communities of running, biking, or diving.
It has occured to me that I really don't know why I am going on about all of this stuff.
Every deep cover operative fears four little words, "don't I know you?" The world is small and no matter what you do -- even identity reassignment surgery -- you're bound to run into someone who recognizes you from a previous life. The Soviets did it right when they built moles from the cradle. The West does something equally brilliant which is to recruit mid-career. Get someone who is already a pillar of the community and then work on him.
As I have said before, if it appears impossible that you possess something priceless or are in fact the steward of valuable secrets, you will be forever safe from scrutiny. Arthur Wellesley said it best, "Be discreet in all things, and so render it unnecessary to be mysterious." Mystery might make an accountant sexy but it will make a mole dead.
We have always heard that the biggest rats in the former Soviet Union were the bubushkas. These old biddies had but one task: to keep their eyes and ears open for dissent. In general, the fat, the ugly, and the old are invisible. Because they're harmless. When a woman is old, there is very little use left for her. When you make her useful, she is cheaper to maintain and certainly more loyal and bold than any ornate system of CCTV cameras could ever be. Better yet, when the population suspects that the fat, the ugly, and the old might be informing, there is nowhere to hide because the fat, the ugly, and the old are shamefully ubiquitous. The results enjoyed by the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union was astounding, especially in the realm of self-policing and impulse control.
Thirty-years-ago military intelligence possessed technology that is just wowing us right now. Google Maps is a fine example because spy satellites were already able to read a license plate back in the 70s. There isn't a makeable cypher that cannot be broken or a pattern that cannot be recognized by some skunkworks black box or another. Keeping secrets and, more importantly, communicating secrets, is no longer about making a better lock box -- technology can now easily shoot the padlock right off -- it is about ensuring targetlessness. If there is no target for technology to snipe, then this guileless gangster will just sit there twiddling its thumbs.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy has to chose the true cup. The chalice that Christ drank from at the Last Supper is one of a hundred sundry cups of all shapes, sizes, materials, designs, and quality. All are poisoned save the true cup which instead offers restoritive powers of healing and immortality. With hundreds of choices, which cup to choose? A room of pyrite with but a cobble of gold. Most modern techniques of discernment spend time, energy, and blunt force to prove the false. Recognizing the true cup, the real gold, or the important message is truly an art. A dying art. An art that very few possess. In the end, Indy knew Christ and so could easily and safely choose the true cup. Indy didn't waste his time looking over each and every ornate cup, each cup more Kingly than the next. He chose the modest cup owned by a carpenter to be used at a table of his friends. He knew the answer before he asked the question, so to speak. Kurt Vonnegut said, "The only way to tell a good painting from a bad painting is to look at a million paintings." I say that the only way to tell shit from shinola is to wade through a lot of crap. This is one profession where experience, not expertise, counts in spades.
In spycraft, there is no better recruit than a doctor. Since he has plenty of money and no time, the only way to secure a doc is through extortion. A doctor's discretion belies quite a lot of indiscretion. Even when there's so much to lose. Reputations are very fragile. Just blame hubris and a god complex. Why do doctors make such brilliant spies? Doctors can compartmentalize their lives better than anyone. What a doctor does in a fit of passion away from his family has nothing at all to do with his wife (although it is more commonly a fit of boredom, opportunity, desperation, or frustration). A total disconnect. Along with this impenetrable bifurcation, you have a spy who can make himself scarce at a whim and then blame the hospital. Good for both illicit affairs and covert ops. It would never be suspicious to anyone -- friends, family, even neighbors -- for a doctor to noisily open his garage at one AM and drive off, gone until morning. I met an old married couple. Ira, the husband, was a retired surgeon. After chatting for a while, Ruth, his wife, looked seriously at me and said, "if you ever consider marrying a doctor, remember this: you will never know whether that phone call is the hospital or a mistress." The usefulness of docs never ceases to amaze me. They never sleep, they're self-disciplined, self-motivated, they are discrete, and their entire community trusts -- and confides -- in them. Whats more, docs are generally disgruntled and bored even with their spicy other woman. Many doctors are exceptionally flattered when you offer intrigue into their sad, boring, bourgeois princehoods. If you land one, he will never get caught. He will never be made. He will be forever loyal (he won't know how not to). It won't occur to him to blab his mouth. All the different lives lack any semblence of integration. Even today, the general population trusts their doctor as god. Actually, the best thing about recruiting doctors is that they can make mortal errors. If a doctor loses a patient... well, its been known to happen.
"Stop struggling," he said to me when I started hyperventilating, "nobody will know unless you tell. And you can't tell anyone, you know. What would you tell someone anyway? You really don't know anything yourself. You haven't done anything. Yet. And we're only talking. There's nothing there there. Its your mind playing tricks on you. Its spinning into infinite loop. If you don't pull your shit together, you're going to have a core dump which is never pretty."
The fucker actually gave me a brown paper sack to breath into. I breathed into a sack that vaguely tasted of onion and calmed right down. "Its a panic attack," he said finally, "and a really bad sign." The lights were still low and everything was indistinct except for his eyes which were both calm and cruel. I felt like an ass breathing into a bag but I didn't like the sound of really bad sign so I wanted to bide my time a little. I knew him pretty well and he is always calm but this was the first time I knew the cruel outside of braggadocio. But here it was and all I had was this motherfucking limp brown paper sack to protect me.
I sometimes wake up with a feeling of dread, sweaty hair, and a wet pillow. I usually can't break back into the fog of the dream that did this to me. Sometimes I get a glimpse and don't like it because there's no there there. I believe this dream is why I have an irritable bowel and am a nervous-fucking-wreck. I am beginning to wonder if the answer to this dread -- this distinct impression that the other shoe is bound to drop and that every day could be my last even though I live a decidedly whitebread plentiful life -- is locked securely in the dream.
I feel like I am observing the observers, I am eavesdropping on the eavesdroppers. I am noticing the discretely positioned listening devices, listening posts, and listeners and writing them into this. The inverse of surveillance is sousveillance. More precisely, "it is the recording of an activity from the perspective of a participant in the activity." I can no longer help picking out the surveillers in the crowd. I am surveilling the surveillers. Am I a sousveiller?
Always assume you're being hustled. In other words, listen hard after someone prefeces their throw-away banter with, "I'm just a simple man and I don't know much ..."
If you think that charm is incidental and comes from someone's personality, spend an entire day being charming. Charm is costly, downright expensive, in terms of time and energy. When someone is charming, look and listen. Is that charm being spent on you or is it for the benefit of a third party? Although it is always a good idea to follow the money, it is even a better idea to follow the attention. With any resource terribly dear such as money, time, or energy, you can learn a lot by figuring out how it is being spent -- and where.
From quicksand to being held underwater by the enemy, it is always best not to stuggle after an initial "testing of your restraints." Strength is precious. So is air. If your enemy is superior you must win with guile. Going limp actually works. The moment your body moves in an unpredictable fashion, you have an opportunity for escape. It takes more discipline than most can muster to go limp while someone is throttling you and holding you underwater but it just might pay off. You really had better kill your tormentor the moment he relaxes, though, because you can only try this once.
When I feel like I have completely lost control of my life I find that seducing and taking or dismissing a lover makes me feel like I have control. Being caught in a web of obligation and responsibily pins my wild spirit to the wax board. I can glimpse my brazen spirit when a woman risks everything, break vows, and shames her husband just to fuck me. Getting, keeping, collecting, making, and preserving my own secrets -- my own interests -- makes me feel like my master. My reputation is my own to keep -- or to ruin -- and not their's. My secrets -- the wives I fuck in dark motel rooms, bellies as exposed to harm as family and career -- take power away from them. I can commit suicide rather than being murdered.
The creature with which I most identify is the star-nosed mole. "This species is usually associated with water, and is regularly found in soft marshy ground along stream borders and wet meadows. It has a preference for damp meadows, marshes and swamps. In Virginia, this subspecies is found in the northern quarter of the state. The star-nosed mole is readily distinguishable by the 22 fleshy appendages surrounding the nose, but it is also known to have a long tail, relatively weak forepaws, and a preference for watery habitats. The total length is 161-191 mm and it has a blackish-brown velvet-like furcoat. The female produces one litter of 3-7 young per year usually from April to June. This species is active both day and night. It is gregarious and perhaps colonial. The burrows are found in marshy or riparian areas, 3-6 cm in height, located 3-60 cm below the surface, often with an underwater entrance. Nests are located above high water flooding level, and composed of dead leaves, straw, and dead grass. This mole does much of it's foraging underwater using the unusual appendages as sensory 'feelers.' The tail of this species becomes inexplicably swollen in the winter and early spring. They are limited by the loss of suitable habitat including moist boggy soil, humus, sandy loam, marshes, and swamps, along streams. This species forages above ground at night. They also forage for food on the stream bottom and feed on aquatic annelids and insects as well as earthworms crustaceans and small fish."
Moles spend most of their lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. Most have effectively forgotten what they are. Or it has become so muddied with time, that it takes some concentration to look back far enough into a moment meant to be enshrouded. Like looking back for the varsity wrestler as rolls of fat collect around your midsection. Was this ever me? Am I still in there? It is safer for the Mole to forget. It is safer for him to have never known or to no longer have the memory present. In the end, it doesn't matter. In the end, who would believe him? In the end, a mole has only one handler and no paper trail. In the end, there have been a multitude of moles who have never heard their olly olly oxen free, abandoned into the wilderness, never to hear the reassuring thump from upstairs.
Even a relatively low-grade intelligence analyst needs to let his superiors know when, where, and with whom he spends his free time, especially when that when, where, and with whom is with a foreign national. Sadly, there has always been a gaping vulnerability when it comes to indiscriminate fucking. Hook-ups, one-night-stands, hookers, escorts, mistresses, drunken black outs are the kinds dark, nasty, dank secrets where the when, where, and with whom becomes conveniently omitted. This has been a boon for spycraft since the sex trade is sophisticated and impossible-to-track. Furthermore, while the mail order bride might be scrutinized by a handler before the wedding day, the courtship often isn't. Finally, most of the summer holiday destination service jobs are being filled by beautiful young Eastern European women and most of the nation's health care service jobs are being filled by Filipinas, Latinas, and Carribean Islanders. Both industries throw their hands up when, after only a single season, all their girls get married to Americans! Mata Hari is alive-and-well in spycraft. To be sure, even a completely discrete operations officer indulging in some indiscriminate fucking can be a risk to national security. When putting together a dossier on an agent, identifiable marks such as unique tattoos, scars, birthmarks, and so forth can be key when trying to make a target. Like tagging an orca based on its markings, identifiable marks are difficult to erase even after identification reassignment surgery. In this case even the agent who can guarantee that he doesn't black out (and talk) from too much drink, doesn't talk in his sleep, and who is shut tight as a trap can reveal plenty just by droppin' trou and gettin' nekkid. Spy work is about observation, about analysis, and about connecting the dots. Having a first-person account of identifiable marks can be as valuable as names and coordinates. And that is to say nothing of all the snooping that can be done during sleeping time: wallet, blackberry, cell phone if you keep her out of your pad and basically carte blanche if you invite her back and let her sleep in after you leave in the morning.
Now that I am halfway through thirty, I have to tell you that no matter what misstep you might make when it comes to spying on someone, everyone has already done it and not been a spy. People in love do all kinds of crazy shit to each other every day so no matter what you get caught doing, just play it out as your being human, insecure, and hurt before (once bitten, twice shy and all). We people are fucking crazy! Before we went to visit my grandmother-in-law in New York, my wife warned me that grandma would probably rifle through all our stuff while we were-out-and-about as if it were normal and okay. After broaching the subject of spying on your spouse it came out that everyone -- man and women alike -- has done some really fucked-up shit, oftentimes shamelessly. People are used to it, especially if they are invested in you. Time-tested and brandy-new couples routinely alike check each other's phone logs and phone bills, they go through each other's mail, pockets, wallets, purses, gym bags, suit jackets in the closet, caller ID, dressers, under mattresses, even the hamper! I mean, come on! And that's not including mining data from computers! Even the most sweet-faced and innocent of all my friends has done the most appalling acts of invasion of privacy that I could even have imagined -- and I like to think of myself as something, ahem, of an expert in intelligence-gathering. If you ever get caught with your nose in his wallet, you can do one of two things based on how long you have known him. If you just met, tell him that you just wanted to see if he was who he said he was -- or how old -- and that it was only because you have been hurt before; if you have known each other for a while, just tell him that you were just being a silly girl, were feeling insecure, and have been really hurt before. Whatever you say, tell him (or her) "blah blah blah blah and I have been really hurt before blah blah blah need to learn to trust blah blah blah" and then either tear up or cry if you can. If you play it right, you will simply be dismissed as just another fucking psycho bitch who wants a ring and not made for someone who wants to undermine his government and way of life.
My life is rife with serendipity and coincidence, though I no longer believe them to be either serendipitous or coincidental. I have always hesitated writing my life because the stories seem so manufactured and implausible. They are implausible because they are manufactured.
My friend C grew up in McLean, Virginia, right next to Langley, the home of the Central Intelligence Agency. He told me once that all the kids knew whose dads were CIA and that "you somehow knew that you weren't supposed to talk about it." Only in Washington could there be an emergent culture that is so inbibed with spycraft that even snot-nosed little kids can keep secrets big and cool enough that they could potentially undermind national security.
Despite what Poe might say about our consciounce always getting the better of us, secrets are effectively kept every day. Generations of families have been able to keep their skeletons safely in the closet without taking an oath of secrecy.
Spycraft is an entirely different craft in a world wherein everyone carries a camera phone, a video iPod, a Blackberry, and a 7 megapixel camera that is easily smaller than a pack of smokes. Not only can many of these devices capture intelligence on their very own (and the 7+ megapixel cameras are especially useful, but more on that later) but all the other devices can either convey intelligence (the iPod is actually a 512M-60G hard drive) or be rewired with bugs and mics and GPS devices. Who would ever know? All these devices short of the iPod Shuffle have enough extra space in them for a 2006 model listening device/GPS combo. And you would be none the wiser.
Being a spy is a lot like being an actor. Both stagecraft and spycraft need to find and hold characters. Deeply and without flaw or break.: Stanislavsky method acting. In much the same way a professional actor would do nothing to compromise his role, neither should a spy -- especially a mole. Which is to say, addictions to alcohol and other vices are fine just as long as they never come on stage. Most talented actors are painfully introverted. These introverts use their roles as tools for interfacing and coping with a social world. Most extroverted actors are actually celebrities and stars, the same rule applies in spycraft: the ones who talk about it usually aren't the true performers. The most valuable aspect of introversion in spies and deep-cover-agents, especially moles, is a tendency live quite comfortably alone without being lonely. Counter-agents and counter-spies hunt for the hungry and lonely and many a carefully-laid plan has been foiled by the man who has such a compelling secret, such an invisible sexy dark side, and can't keep his discretion. Governments can be toppled leveraging just one or more of the seven deadly sins. In this case pride.
The best way to destroy someone is to appeal to their pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. Yes, and governments too. Any number of governments, administrations, families, plans, marriages, relationships, and immortal souls have fallen since time immemorial thanks only to the seven deadly sins. So, here's a refresher course:
Pride is excessive belief in one's own abilities, that interferes with the individual's recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
I for one am especially vulnerable to pride. In addition to pride, most in Washington are vulnerable to lust, greed, and anger.
Strangely enough, after years of fighting for what I want, I am realizing that it is always better to be patient. Timing is everything. Preserving energy, keeping alert, getting good intelligence, setting up traps, organizing fall back positions, and devising a plan B and plan C are key. Generally there are many opportunities for action. In most cases, there were no moments in history that couldn't truly be pushed a day. Never allow the pressure of "speak now, or forever hold your peace" bait you to reacting. Take your time, take a breath, take a nap. If its not your plan you're walking into be especially careful. It is impossible to be ambushed if you're not there. When you feel pressured by time or by situation, remember that you don't need to do anything. The time constraint is artificial and intentionally fashioned to coerce you to act under duress. Heroism rule one: don't be a hero. Heroism rule two: act, never react.
There has always been domestic intelligence gathering. How else do you think we have been able to avoid the true blowback of American global interventionism? The American government has always monitored its citizens in one form or another. Come on, think. Think hard! There is a cadre of very serious, very dangerous, and very patriotic Americans making sure you can sleep safely all night, every night. Since Americans fancy ourselves proud, private, and free, this has always been something artfully denied. Under duress, the powers that be call any notion of a panopticon, or domestic intelligence gathering, of spying on Americans in America by Americans to be paranoid and the rantings of conspiracy theorists. Smart Americans remember that the majority of resources spent in spycraft -- especially with regards the issue of domestistic surveillance -- is spent on protecting us naive and hopeful American citizens as to how sausage is made, what the making of sausage entails, and of what sausage is comprised. Grisly, indeed.
Orwell wrote, "When war becomes literally continuous, it also ceases to be dangerous. When war is continuous there is no such thing as military necessity. Technical progress can cease and the most palpable facts can be denied or disregarded." "War" can of course be replaced by "crime" or "terrorism" domestically. It all preys on fear and insecurity. Its why a wife might allow her husband to keep guns at hand in a house bursting with children. For security. And when a public official seeths with rage and indignance on TV these days, its usually over a leak to the press that makes it impossible to deny and disregard the erosion of the perceived privacies and freedoms of the American people by its stewards, the American Federal Government (and city and state government in the case of crime and terrorism). The rage and indignance shown by the public official is not about this erosion of privacy and freedom but rather the erosion of the perception -- of being exposed.
My advice to those of you who believe you are having a secret love affair or have had a discrete one night stand: 1) it takes two to tango and if one of you confides with or brags to anyone (guys brag and women confide) it isn't a secret 2) if your secret love affair or one-night-stand also involves infidelity, you aren't merely keeping a secret, you're being a liar; furthermore, you are also the target of one or more interested parties. It is much easier keeping a secret, being discrete, or maintaining privacy if you keep below the radar; keeping below the radar is easier when you're unattached because there is little interest in either outcome or eventuality.
When you are cheating on a spouse or significant other, you are lying to someone, being private from someone -- someone who knows you even better in some cases than you know yourself. When one maintains discretion, when one maintains privacy, it is essential to spend as much energy as possible avoiding attention or from bringing attention to yourself. Once you're under scrutiny, human nature makes it nearly impossible to remain discrete, to keep the secret, to keep on message, to maintain believability, and to keep from contradicting yourself or paint yourself into a corner.
As long as you can 1) guarantee that your partner is as discrete as you are and doesn't brag, have an agenda, or confide in friends 2) guarantee your spouse or SO trusts you so completely that you will never be scrutinized or targeted 3) and guarantee that your cover story is plausible and absolutely simple to maintain, you're golden. Then and only then would I recommend it. Being a sociopath wouldn't hurt, either. Remember: the lie, the privacy, and the discrete nature of the affair hinges on your weakest link: your lover. Don't assume that pillowtalk and postcoital promises are worth anything. Come on, soldier, you're smarter than that!
Too many perfectly normal, God-fearing, men have become unglued over new years, whether in celebration or in fortification. Either way, there is generally too much to drink and a rarefied environment of sentimentality. Sometimes the sentiment is regret, other times, joy. Both can get you killed. The mixture of losing time or being with those you love can make even the most hardened operative melancholy. The most common feeling is a self-loathing firmly attached to a life of deceit. The thoughts could be, "here I am, with the woman I love, and she knows nothing at all about me -- who I really am -- and I think I will take this time to reveal myself to her;" or, it could be, "here I am, alone in the world, unmarried and unmarriageable -- I have nothing and no one, what do I have to lose? Fuck it." Both are self-destructive and invariably result in an unacceptable security risk. Better leave New Years to the fools and the amateurs. Remember, you'll never lose your wife and family if you just stay home and act like an old fart, unable to stay awake until the ball drops; you'll never find a wife if you're out and about getting pissed while being pissed. In both cases, your career, family, health, life, the lives of the men and women with whom you work, and national security are better served if you just stay in on New Year's Eve.
I felt cornered and unsafe in Washington. The pavement felt hot and everything seemed like it was falling apart. Most people I knew I felt like I didn't know. The others had moved away. After all that has happened, I gladly took an opportunity to sublet an apartment in Berlin.
W made all the arrangements. W friend moved me into his former apartment. I never really thought about it, but I am here as a direct result of W's time and energy and I am beholden to him.
Of course, I speak no German and have never had any passion or dream to move to Germany. That said, moving here does satiate a lifetime desire to expatriate to Europe. The vision was Paris, but Berlin is said to be the new Paris, the new New York, the new San Francisco.
I guess I moved from one Nation's Capital to another, Bundeshauptstadt. From my first impression, Berlin might well be as saturated in international intrigue as it was twenty years ago. It rings of subtext and safe houses. It smells of statecraft and spycraft. All underground railroads seem to lead to Berlin. They call it multiculti but I think that maybe Berlin is a safehouse all its own.
It really doesn't matter. The city is civilized and safe, the people are generous, and all the trains still run on time. Below the surface, however, there is something going on. I just received my residency papers and I will be required to perform 300 hours of language training and 50 hours of German integration training.
At the end of the day, I think the secret to becoming a Berliner is to receive the 300 plus 50 hours gladly and with a certain amount of civic and national pride. Otherwise, I fear, to not gladly integrate can result in some prejudice from both the government and her people.
While the record book like to say that public relations as a concept and profession hails from just after the turn of the last century, it wasn't until World War Two that propaganda had become a worthless garbage word, replaced by public relations by Edward Bernays.
Not only was propaganda associated with Hitler's Nazi Germany but it was also the term associated with communist imperialism. A Minister of Propaganda was generally perceived as both evil and nefarious. While undoubtedly effective in grooming culture and the populace and in crowd control, the perceived methods of a Ministry of Propaganda were considered cruel, manipulative, and the antithesis of American liberty and freedom.
In 1952, Bernays published Public Relations following-up to his 1928 book, Propaganda. Essentially, Bernays was able to rebrand and relaunch a military and wartime word associated with oppression into something that was perceived as being transparent and friendly -- and opportunity for organizations, governments, and corporations to be able to better expose themselves to their members, citizens, and customers.
Before Propaganda became public relations, there were advertising, marketing, and publicity firms. It wasn't until the work in psychoanalysis by Bernays' uncle, Sigmund Freud, became popularized and utilized in professional communications and propaganda that modern propaganda was born. Or, at least, until public relations because a more acceptable euphemism for such a tarnished word.
Today, of course, even PR is considered tarnished and sleazy. PR is popularly called "spin" and the entire industry has been painted as using manipulative, calculating, and lethal campaign strategies on behalf of their clients. As a term, PR has been replaced by marketing and communications.
Even so -- and whatever it may be called or labeled -- public relations works, whether used in wartime or in times of peace; to placate a populace or to encourage consumerism; or to repair the reputation of an entire country or just as a way of removing the egg off of the face of a indiscreet CEO. In fact, if used judiciously and long-term, PR can and does groom entire cultures towards destinations both known and unknown, the consequences of which can often be anticipated and mostly planned for.
No doubt that PR is a compelling industry and effective whether or not anyone believes in it any more. Actually, the less people are guarded against the effect of messaging, communications, the media, PR, marketing, advertising, publicity, and sales (and they are beginning to collaborate more and more), the more effective these tools and methods become.
To quote Baudelaire, la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas! Or, in English, the devil's best trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist!
I have to admit that my work does sounds intriguing, especially when you live in a city rife with spies and spycraft.
I tell most people I am a business man who does business. When that isn't enough, I tell people I am in PR. I am lucky enough to have my own "virtual" company, can keep my own hours, have almost thirty employees spread around the world. When I share this, which isn't very often, it confounds people -- which is why I mostly keep it to myself.
Sometime, after a few drinks or during dinner parties that are falling into dullness (or, if I am just feeling playful) I take my simple PR work further and discuss some aspects of my work that can ring of inrigue: online intelligence and operations. Simply put, this means that clients hire me to create, groom, improve, or repair their online persona.
Usually, most companies use online monitoring to track the course of their online brand perception, that's all. My company has a rapid response operations component that is brilliant at engaging negative discussion online and either diluting it so completely that it effectively disappears or by doing a little bit of Judo and turning the negative attack into a net-positive. This all comes down to aggressive hearts and minds outreach and persuasion and needs to happen shamelessly, powerfully, professionally, and expertly.
Needless to say, the sort of clients who are not only interested in this sort of work but who can also pay our fees are the sort of clients who get a lot of attention anyway. Funnily enough, I always attract the attention of people who one might fancy being spies assigned to me on a reconnaissance detail. You know, just to make sure I am who and what I say I am, which is to say just a humble PR consultant who focuses exclusively on influencing, guiding, and respoding to online conversation.
Half a year ago I took a client who is an oligarch and a businessman -- or, rather, he was. This work was intriguing even to me as my job was to remove his brushes with International courts and his scrapes with the leaders of his former Soviet Union.
This was no easy game because while I am very good at what I do with online brand reputation management and repair (I am a cleaner), I knew that my work was being countermanded both by a communications team in Russia and by a wide assortment of articles and post in the Russian press that made it a constant challenge to both gain ground and hold it in the search engines.
At the end of the day, however, my client disappeared under suspicious circumstances. While there is no confirmation that there was foul play -- I mean, this could be a publicity stunt -- the contract has broken and the operation has been decommissioned.
You know what they say ... you're not in the big league until you have a client disappeared!
After spending time and effort trying to clear my mind of what I know and what I assume I know. It is a deceptively confounding exercise because most of what we know about someone is based on what we're told and what we have personally experienced. And, of those two, what we're told is totally unreliable and what we experience is only partially reliable. Only partly reliable, you ask?
Our minds are unreliable pattern recognition engines. We perceive incompletely through our senses and our mind, in its dislike for ambiguity, always draws in the missing bits. What data does my mind use to finish its sketch? Well, it uses my situational understanding of things.
If I trust someone or am in love, my mind tends to dot all of my I's with hearts and assume good intent, whether or not this is rational or provable. It is in fact possible to actively encourage people to trust you, if you're a mole. There are two ways, one is through active participation and the other is through invisibility.
Invisibility is the easiest the but still a little tricky. It requires that you're actively dull, unassuming while still being present and pleasant enough not to be the target of conjecture as to why you're so reclusive.
Actively encouraging people to trust you is necessary if you're going to ever integrate or ingratiate yourself into the community-at-large. A mole lives in the land of the sociopath and will quickly start being able to identify certain pathologies in social situations. However, that's neither here nor there.
And by actively encouraging, I don't mean getting people to like you. No, what is required is consistency, simplicity, repetition, routine, accessibility, affirmation, and mirroring.
Like I said before, the mind is a pattern-recognition machine. For example, our eyes are better at registering erratic movement than they are at noticing detail. This is so assure we will neither miss spotting prey or predator. Our brain masks out any visual data it can account for based on past experience so it can focus its resources on something important. This is true for all the physical senses. What's more, this is true for all the emotional senses as well.
We humans are a dizzyingly complex array of senses and nerve endings. We do not have the capacity to respond to everything all at once. The body constantly takes a inventory of its systems, both physically and mentally, and only flags on the abnormal or titillating.
It is too easy to become invisible to even the closest people in your life. It is frighteningly simple. Become predictable, a creature of habit, a man of few words, reassuring, loving, and routine. The only man our culture considers dangerous is the unpredictable man.
While this advice may be good for becoming the most trusted fellow in your community it is great for picking up on the people who have become completely invisible to you. Beware of the invisible men and women in your life -- and they are everywhere in their sameness, plainness, in their age and sadness, in their difference or in their incompatibility.
By working hard to notice everything and training your mind to break its lethargy and current assumptions, you will become more able to enhance your situational awareness. You will also become more attune at breaking your senses of some of their inconvenient shorthand.
This is only partially useful because then there is emotional perception. Listen to the people around you anew. Realize that you only ever know them for what they tell you, what you infer, what you assume, and what your personal experience with them has been in the past, all of which is completely unreliable. Most of which is the direct result of your brain brazenly sketching in the parts of your maps of these people based on some sort of impression you have of them from your interactions and personal feelings towards them: boss, love, mistress, wife, employee, staff, service worker, mother, child, etc.
The image that I find useful is the training exercise used to train rapid response teams to react to hostage situations. Under a hail or noise and in a busy hostile environment the shooter is required to quickly discern the hostage takers from the hostages. This exercise is used to develop perception, reaction, and response under fire. Since the difference between hostage and terrorist isn't always clear, it is important to cue on more than just dress, color, posture, or movement. It is important to train your senses to make fewer assumptions and to spend a couple extra hundreds of a second to verify the target as friendly or foe before holding or squeezing off that round.
When it comes to getting made or making someone it comes down to whether or not you're willing to spend that extra little amount of time verifying.
To quote Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but Verify."
Berlin is known as the "poor but sexy" city, according to Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Berlin's unemployment rate is 17.20%, which is astounding. Berlin is also multicultural, drawing people from around Europe and the world. It is probably one of the more difficult environments to make a spy. Making an intelligence operator requires recognizing patterns and this is easiest in homogenous cultures.
It's a snap in Washington, where everyone is pretty much defined on what they do and where they work. In Washington, and much of the United States, people are pretty routine. It is pretty unlikely that upstanding citizens will vary from this routine very much in their course of their daily lives, especially when their livelihoods depend on it.
Berlin, however, is a city rife with artists, musicians, opportunists, and the unemployed. Even those Berliners who have good, reputable, jobs enjoy quite a lot of vacation and flexibility. To make it even harder, traveling around Berlin, Germany, and around the world is relatively cheap due to subsidized public transport and discount airlines.
Of course, added complexity comes from the richness of immigrant, expatriot, and tourist culture. The variety of languages spoken on a daily basis is dizzying. Berlin is an international, heterogeneous, city plop in the middle of one of the most homogenous countries on the planet. Even Germans are confounded since they're only good at discerning "German" and "not German."
Sometimes, this is really all that is important, even when non-German are natural citizens of Germany. If you're not ethnically German, you'll probably never be accepted as German. Whatever the case may be, this holds little bearing in Berlin where difference is not simply tolerated but celebrated.
When it comes to coercion and blackmail, Berlin is tough. One cannot gain control over another operator simply by threatening to expose dirty laundry. While that may work in the rest of Germany, in Berlin, with its culture of exploration and experimentation, most of the usual secrets and fetishes are not simply embraced but promoted.
In Berlin, prostitution is legal, drugs are not a high priority, infidelity is uncommon but no reason for panic -- most Berliners never marry and have children with more than one partner, which is pretty normal and accepted.
And, when it comes to antisocial activities, residents of Berlin are pretty low key. In a city with high unemployment but also generous social services, breaking with the generous-but-strict laws is neither amusing or rewarding.
Generally speaking, the only Berliners who are considered to be a menace are the skinheads and white supremacists and they're easy to identify -- they fly their own flag, if you will, and are covered in tattoos -- and generally politically and commercially unimportant and uninteresting. It will be interesting to see if I will be better able to tune my pattern recognition machine and maybe develop some better filters and more discernment.
Until then, I am going to err on the side of flagging false positives -- I would much prefer to be a little paranoid than getting even one false negative, that's for certain.
We think that spies are exotic. We believe that spies are as rare as they are in the movies. That maybe there are around ten or so. James Bond, 007, and maybe a few more.
Truth is, there aren't nearly enough but there still quite a few. There are upwards of 10,000 FBI agents domestically, 10,000 CIA operations officers worldwide, and who knows how many more operators there are in the DIA, NRO, NSA, Secret Service, ATF, and JSOC.
Let's assume there are upwards of 50,000 operators in just the United States -- well, that's quite a lot. And I am not including, of course, any of their support staff, the eyes in the sky, the men and women who are the men and women behind these men and women.
I am just saying that while there are not nearly enough men and women to protect every man and woman, there are still more than you'd think, especially in areas as dense in intrigue as Washington, DC.
A dear friend, a friend of mine for over sixteen years, is one of the 10,000 I mentioned above, and he told me that one could "make" a spy in most of the lobbies of most of the hotels in Washington. Someone on a tail, someone learning how to tail, or someone who is simply a secondary or tertiary backup.
No, they're not always out to get you and they're oftentimes not authorized to use deadly force -- they don't have a license to kill -- but they're out there, even in the day of video cameras and technology and listening devices, online analysts and field operatives are still the most reliable way.
And, let me remind you that I am not even including the men and women who are spying, looking, and listening on behalf of other countries and private interests.
Even if you're in military intelligence, the life of a spy is generally more couch potato than action hero. In order for a spy to be able to keep up with the sudden spurts of athleticism, coordination, and strength, a lot of training is required. Unlike cats, who seem to keep up their muscle tone no matter how terrifically they laze in sunbeams, secret agents require rather a lot of attention.
Thankfully, for cover's sake, the private club with its cigars and drams of scotch, have been popularly replaced with athletic clubs, and late night drinking binges have been replaced by early to bed in order to fit in weekend mileage for upcoming races and marathons.
In fact, in the last 20-years, keeping up enough training to maintain the fitness required to be able to quickly run down someone and take him out with a well-placed bullet while still being able to maintain breath discipline is now possible.
Here in DC, keeping in practice with small arms and long weapons is a snap, even if you're deep, well away from being able to drop into the range under the HQ. While DC gun laws are still pretty strict, Virginia is a veritable wonderland for gun enthusiasts. Enthusiast, not freak. If you drop by the range even a few times a week, its just good fun and healthy sport -- burning off a little steam, a relaxing and cathartic pastime.
That said, since there is very little oversight in the world of moles and since moles very rarely are actually given orders, self-discipline is essential; even so, spy spread is not uncommon. In many ways, spycraft is an intellectual endeavor, requiring succinct writing and analytical skills. Journaling and observation.
When a spy gets a little heavy, one can easily make excuses, "I'll blend in better if I am a little softer, just like everyone else," or, "I might have gained some weight but I am still strong and can kick your ass." Like every man getting older and fatter.
At the end of the day, however, training is essential because when the time comes when you're activated as an operational asset, wouldn't it be a pity to have a stroke or a heart attack in the middle of a maneuver.
That's why I have recently returned to roads around my apartment; that's why I have recently picked up a new pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes; and that's why I have been keeping a journal of my mileage, my blood pressure, and my weight.
I have spent my entire life awaiting an opportunity to die for my country -- Lord knows I don't want to keel over dead of my own neglect well before I have an opportunity to serve.
One of the best tells that you're going to be taken to the cleaners is if a man starts his conversation with, "I'm a simple man, and I don't know much, but..." That "but" is going to be the most expensive three letter you've ever heard. You're done. The biggest advantage anyone can have in his favor is to be underestimated. Beware the modest, self-effacing man in politics.
To quote Baudelaire, "the devil's best trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist."
In the same way that a mother has taught her child that there are levels and volumes of voices appropriate to each situation -- the inside voice and the outside voice, for example -- men in politics have their private and public voices as well. And, as we have learned from the released American diplomatic cables, they can be quite contrary.
Another thing we've learned from the released cables is that American operatives and diplomats are far from ignorant cowboys in the same way that the Middle East subjects of many of those cables are not primitive and stuck in the 16th century either.
When you become lulled into a feeling of calm and safety by someone you perceive as a hapless fool, someone you can easily best in your spycraft, in your operations work, think again. Try to get as contextual as you can. Try to figure out whether someone so gullible or naive would have been able to attain such a position as to be interacting with you; additionally, would a man without guile be able to survive in a position such as this even with handlers and support and family and so forth?
Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were both well-educated and well-tested men. Decoys as hapless fools, indeed. Even Bill Clinton was even more cunning than his sweet Bubba demeanor conveyed. In many ways, we'll never know how fierce Jimmy Carter was, though I daresay one doesn't get stuff done by being nice and gracious only.
Want to know what the best chaff ever is to make sure that someone underestimates your power and influence? Start your bio off with "... was a peanut farmer in Georgia." That'll get them every time.
No matter how complete the training, the weakest link in the equation when it comes to covert operations and spycraft is the psyche. Such a ticking time bomb, no matter how many trials. The more elite the agent, the more canny. While you may strip down a man to check for lacerations and bruising, it's harder to know what's inside the mind. Not all men are like a blade, becoming stronger and more flexible after heating, hammering, folding, heating, hammering, and cooling. The same level of tempering has different effects on different weapons. The heroism of war is tragic and each hero is flawed. Testing mettle is an art. Too little and your tool fails to reveal its brittleness, too much and it becomes brittle from abuse.
The good news is that the most intelligent and capable students in school are the best spies by happenstance rather than by design. In the modern world, intelligence and academic prowess are not only reviled but abused and often isolated, no matter how supportive and enriching their family life may well be. Being handsome or pretty does not effectively inoculate the young genius from deep feelings of rejection, isolation, and self-pity. At this point, no matter how grand the acquisition, no matter how advanced the degree, no matter how beautiful the spouse, and no matter how prestigious the position, these men and women are both ripe for service and almost impossible to detect. They're a triple threat: visually-, intellectually-, and culturally-appealing. Perfect spies.
In the movies, spies are tapped. It's like a secret society. Like Skull and Bones. In the real world, you apply online. Then, after you apply, enough time passes that you forget. Then you receive an email asking you to take a two-hour test at home. Then you hit submit and enough time passes that you forget.
Then, you might get an email inviting you to their tony recruitment center out near Dulles. Or, rather, where to park your car near a bus stop. And, to leave all your electronics in your car before you wait for the bus. Then you jump on a bus with fifty other people from around the country. Then you wait in a room, then another room. Then you wait and read magazines and watch TV. Then they invite you in.
Did I mention that everyone who works at recruitment are smoking hot? Did I mention that the digs are accented in gold. That the digs are far from the austere Brutalism so omnipresent in downtown DC.
Then you're called in with everyone. They play a movie about the OSS, the history of spycraft in America, and then ask you if anyone has been asking about you at the hotel, at the front desk. And if there are snoops, this is no joke: let them know. Who knows. There was a girl in the waiting room who was tearing articles from magazines. I am sure I should have reported her. I am sure she was a plant. I bet the snoops at the hotel were plants as well.
I bet we've been under the lens since well before planting it in this room, watching movies, listening to who you can tell (your wife) and who you can't (everyone else) and how, if you aren't married, you'll probably marry someone in the same business. Like how celebrities marry other celebrities.
And they tell you how to avoid gotchas when you meet someone at a party, how to not tell anyone you're being recruited into this world and to not lie or be too specific. With my luck, they say, you'll tell someone you're interviewing at The World Bank and the person you're chatting with knows the recruiter there and would be happy to put a good word in. Be as boring as possible, they tell you, of be totally vague, they say, and then change the subject. To turn it around on them, make it about them, ask them about their life. People love talking about themselves (who else is going to really know what you're going through who doesn't have clearance? Nobody, really).
You'll get low balled on salary but offered three hours of personal training every week, as much language study as you can eat, and any degree you're willing to pursue. Also, an excellent retirement plan, a terrific credit union (Northwest Federal), and the opportunity to possible make the ultimate sacrifice for your country and your fellow citizens.
They lost me on the low ball offer because I live in DC and Washington's stupid expensive and there are companies that are willing to pay a lot more for my unique skill set.