I was born in January of 1946--among the very first of the baby boomers. It is we whom you will encounter hobbling through your intersections, plodding along at 45 in the fast lane, fumbling for pennies at the checkout line, slowing. . . . . you. . . . . . down. Gray of skin and dim of eye, we are the true zombies.
We are scary: We have some money. We care about politics. We have not just children, but descendants. We read books. We are judging you. And now we know how to blog.
This post is an act of civil protest. Do not respond to it
or repost it lest you be put on an NSA watch list. I’m not kidding.
If you believe, as I do, that a government that spies on its
own citizens is no longer a democracy, then let’s do something about it.
If you believe, as I do, that your emails, Internet
searches, personal social-media posts, and phone calls should not be monitored
by federal agents, then let’s do something about it.
If you believe, as I do, that the right to privacy is
sacrosanct and protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, and that
that right extends to our personal Internet activities and cellphone calls, then
let’s do something about it.
I believe that the federal government’s recently revealed
NSA, CIA, and FBI programs to collect and examine the email, Internet, and
phone data of innocent American citizens are undemocratic and immoral. If you
believe as I do, then let’s do something about it.
What can we do? We can gum up the spyworks. We can flood the
We can overwhelm the NSA/CIA/FBI computers with emails,
Internet searches, and Web posts full of red-flag words and phrases. If
hundreds of thousands of us do it, we can slow down the spy machine. If
millions of us do it, the machine may grind to a halt.
It is unclear what, exactly, the NSA and its fellow
intelligence agencies are doing with all the information about our emails,
Internet searches, and personal posts that they have coerced from Google, Yahoo,
Facebook, and the like. I suspect that they have their computers scan our
emails, searches, and posts looking for red-flag words and groups of words like
these: C4 plastic explosive, ammonium nitrate, LSD, Golden Gate, upstate New
York City reservoir, Oak Ridge, Allah, Abd al-Hamid al-Masli, Islamic Maghreb,
November 22, 2013, jihad.
If I create an email or a post with those words in it (as I just have), I
suspect it will draw the attention of the NSA’s computers and then of the NSA’s
human spies. If millions of us create millions of such emails, it may gum up
the NSA domestic spying system—or at least distract and frustrate the NSA’s
human functionaries, many of whom are not even in the government but are
private, government-paid spy contractors. If we cannot rid ourselves of those
who are spying on us and end their spying, we can at least make their
undemocratic work more difficult.
Before I go on, let me make one thing
clear: I would prefer that the U.S. Congress simply defund the NSA/FBI/CIA
domestic spying programs and pass a law making it illegal for any government agent,
agency, or contractor to gather information about an individual American without
either a) that American’s knowledge and permission or b) a warrant issued by a
publicly chosen court, said warrant being based on probable cause that that
American has committed or is likely to commit a crime and such court’s decisions
being subject to public scrutiny at some appropriate, not-too-distant date.
I would also prefer that the federal
government simply dismantle the NSA’s new 1.5 million-square-foot data-mining
center in Utah, where your emails, web searches and posts—and mine—will almost
certainly be scanned, and where our cellphone metadata (locations, phone
numbers, times) will no doubt be logged.
The NSA's Utah Data-Mining Center
Defund. Dismantle. Delegitimize. That’s
what I’d prefer. But the data mine will not be dismantled, defunded, or made
illegal. Congress will, in the name of fighting terrorism, give the NSA, CIA,
and FBI free, secret rein to spy on us as they wish. The data-mining center
will mine more and more of our private data.
President Obama, a man I admire and for
whose election I have worked hard, twice (and would again), insists the NSA, CIA,
and FBI are not “abusing” these domestic spying programs. The President
disappoints me in this. The fact that our government is gathering
information—any information—about individual innocent Americans without their
knowledge or permission is in itself a form of abuse. And I fear the President
is being naïve if he believes that no government-paid domestic spies are
looking deeper into our private communications than they claim. The basis of my
fear can be summed up in one name: J. Edgar Hoover. (Need I explain?)
J. Edgar Hoover
Gen. James Clapper
Representatives of the intelligence
community claim that they are not reading the emails or listening to the phone
calls of innocent Americans without court permission. They are probably lying.
They are, after all, known liars. We know this because when Director of
National Intelligence James Clapper, the man overseeing these programs, was
asked earlier this year, in testimony before Congress, whether the NSA collects
data on millions of Americans, he answered, unequivocally, “No, sir.” That was
a lie. Later, when caught in this lie, Clapper claimed he was merely giving the
“least untruthful” answer he could. And this is the intelligence community that
asks for our trust?
We must not trust the NSA. We must not
trust the CIA. We must not trust the FBI. No healthy democracy ever trusts
secret government spy agencies. That way lies the Stasi.
the spirit of distrust, then, I offer a simple, perfectly legal way to gum up
the intelligence cabal’s domestic spyworks and flood its data mine. Here are
three things we can do:
can send emails that contain red-flag words that will attract the attention of
the spy programs’ computers.
can do daily Internet searches into subjects that will catch the attention of
the spy programs’ computers.
can create blog and social-media posts (like this one) that will attract the
attention of the spy programs’ computers.
With respect to emails, we can simply
add, at the end of every email, following our sign-off, a list of hot-button
words. I recommend a list that contains the name of one famous terrorist, one
potential U.S. target, one potential terrorist weapon, and one significant
date, like this: Ibrahim al Asiri,
Gateway Arch, nitroglycerin, November 5, 2013.
Ibrahim al Asiri
If the mere listing of words like this
makes your palms sweat, it is testimony to the paranoia at work in this country,
thanks to our overreaction to imagined terrorist threats. If such a list seems,
to you, to imply a threat (although it clearly does not, being no more than what
an outline of a bad thriller would contain), then, instead, include your
hot-button words in simple, clearly nonthreatening sentences, like this:
al Asiri is a terrorist bomb-maker.
Gateway Arch is in St. Louis.
is an explosive.
5, 2013 is Guy Fawkes Day.
Do not send such hot-button-word emails
to people whom they would upset. As an experiment, I recently sent such emails
to a group of friends on a political email list I frequent. Two recipients
became seriously alarmed. Both, curiously, had a history of working for the U.S.
intelligence community. One claimed that by sending him emails with such word
lists, I was “putting [him] in the line of fire” and “endangering [his]
As for Internet searches, blog posts,
and social-media posts, do more or less the same thing: Every day do at least
five searches into topics that the NSA’s computers will red flag. Frequently
create blog posts and Facebook posts that use the same kinds of words. Again,
the names of terrorists, potential targets, and weapons will probably do the
North London Central Mosque
phone calls are a trickier area. We could make millions of innocent phone calls
to numbers that might be on the NSA’s list of suspicious places and people.
Examples: North London Central Mosque,
in England; Amsterdam
Tawheed mosque, the Netherlands; Iranian Embassy, Damascus, Syria. But
calling those places is a discourtesy to those receiving the call, and
expensive. I do not recommend doing that.)
The NSA, CIA, and FBI insist that they
are not listening to our phone calls, reading our emails, trolling through our
web searches, or examining the content of our private Facebook posts. They
claim that they are doing no more than gathering “metadata” about us—not
examining the specific content of our communications. I don’t believe them. But
if they are telling the truth, then my call to flood the data mine will do
their work no harm.
On the other hand, if they are lying, as
I believe they are, then if we flood the data mine and gum up the spyworks,
then perhaps we can lessen the harm they are doing to individual Americans and
to our democracy in general. As for me, I suspect I may soon be on their watch
list. Fine. Let them be distracted by me, a harmless old retired English
teacher. It means they’ll have that much less time to spy on my fellow
# # #
Perhaps I'm tilting at windmills. But some windmills really are ogres.