Dear Friend and Reader:
Today’s article is from the “too scary to think about” file. One problem with this particular genre is that it leads most people into shutdown or mindless diversion mode just when what’s most necessary is to stay awake and pay attention. These days, it’s a thick file. Everything we hear about of any relevance tends to be so overwhelming that one’s nervous system goes into overload.
This is a fundamentally spiritual issue. I say this recognizing that most definitions of spiritual ignore politics and social justice issues, though what I mean is that how we respond to difficult situations has everything to do with one’s relationship to existence, and one’s relationship to truth. That is spiritual if anything is.
This week I want to start with a personal story. Through all of my investigative reporting career, there was just one project I thought was too hot to handle. In 2000, I accepted an assignment from Covert Action Quarterly, the only publication devoted to covering the CIA, on something called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. I trusted my editor — vital for this kind of story — and was honored that I was chosen for such a sensitive assignment.
FISA court is a top-secret entity that issues secret warrants for spying on just about anyone and anything. It’s a federal body whose judges are recruited from the regular federal judiciary, appointed to the assignments personally by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
I got far enough into the research to learn that based on a secret order from this secret court, federal agents could enter a person’s house, copy all of their data and papers, and leave without a trace, and that they did so regularly. At the time, the Oklahoma City bombing was being used as the excuse-du-jour to ramp up surveillance on the American people.
Naturally, exposing the FISA court’s activities made me a little nervous, which is saying a lot, given what I had reported on up till that time. Well, more than a little nervous. With my editor’s consent, I passed the assignment to a trusted colleague, Philip Colangelo. His article, FISA Court: Rubber Stamping Your Rights, was published in CAQ‘s November 2000 edition.
In the FISA court’s first 22 years in existence, Phil wrote, it had denied only one of 7,500 requests to spy on Americans in the name of national security. It would basically do anything that the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Dept. of Justice wanted.
When the warrantless wiretapping story broke in 2005 — the one about how the Cheney/Bush administration was eavesdropping on everyone, the “warrantless” (i.e., without a search warrant) piece was about how they were going around the FISA court and doing whatever they wanted. It seemed strange that they would need to go around a court that automatically approved everything — and my theory as to why was that the requests would have seemed outrageous even to the FISA court’s judges.
For example, under this program, the NSA installed what became known as a “splitter” in room 641A of AT&T’s Folsom St. facility in San Francisco. The splitter divided the fiber optic signal for the entire Internet in two; one stream was routed to where it belonged and the other identical stream was routed directly to the NSA. That’s absurd even on the scale of what the FISA court was used to being asked to approve: to spy on the whole country.
Splitter: The Next Generation
Last week we learned that federal agencies were still at it. Under the new, improved version of the New World Order, headed by a constitutional lawyer — Barack Obama — the administration went to the FISA court to get approved its plans to, once again, spy on everyone and everything. Under the new, improved Internet, that meant direct access to the servers of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and 50 other services that we use all the time.
The story began with the revelation last week that Verizon was handing over phone records to the NSA. We were told that these were just the records of calls, not the content of the calls. On Thursday I spoke with William Schaap, my editor at Covert Action Quarterly, and he explained that phone records are a lot more meaningful than they may seem on the surface.
He has had people from the NSA explain to him that just based on someone’s calling record, their whole life pattern can be discerned: what time they wake up, when they go to bed, who they talk to and for how long, how much alcohol they drink (repeated one-digit misdials are considered evidence of being drunk), and many other details even before there was GPS capability on telephones.
The Internet (which means nearly everyone connected to a mobile device all the time) and the ubiquitous use of credit cards has multiplied the government’s surveillance capacity.[In this series of videos, Schaap explains how the CIA uses the world media as a propaganda machine, at one point spending about a third of its budget to do so.]
As sometimes happens these days, one person, a former NSA contractor named Edward Snowden, had documents exposing the behavior of the government and was willing to risk his life to come forward and tell us what was happening. Snowden was working under the NSA for a company owned by the Carlyle Group — the Bush family business. He didn’t have a formal education (his highest degree was a GED). He was one of those people who is a born “IT genius,” in the words of a close friend of his who I saw interviewed Wednesday night.
Snowden gave up his cushy $200,000 a year job, a loving, hotter-than-hot girlfriend and a life in Hawaii to exile himself in Hong Kong. He understands that he could be “rendered” by the CIA, that is, abducted and taken to a secret location and tortured, face life in solitary confinement or even the death penalty. He did all of this to get the truth out and put it to the American people to decide what they want to do with this knowledge.
Not So Random Acts of Conscience
Snowden joins the ranks of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Tim DeChristopher as people willing to personally intervene not just with a protest or a statement but by exposing the truth or stopping injustice. After spending years in solitary, Manning is currently facing court martial and life in prison. Assange is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. DeChristopher served two years in federal prison (now the subject of a film called Bidder 70). Snowden has applied for political asylum in Iceland and says that he never expects to see home again.
It’s interesting that some talking heads on the left and the right are defending the surveillance; some are calling Snowden crazy, a glory-seeker, delusional, a liar and a traitor — only occasionally referencing the possibility that what he did was an act of conscience. I have no reason to believe that he’s someone other than who he says he is. As John Steinbeck noted, the truth occasionally gets into the newspaper.
As far as I can tell, Snowden saw something happening that he knew was wrong, and was willing to give his life for his country. One common theme of both Manning’s trial and that of DeChristopher is that they were not allowed to use a defense that demonstrated that what they did was an act of conscience. It’s as if conscience itself is being prohibited — one’s individual right, privilege and authority to distinguish right from wrong, and act on that determination.
If we’re not supposed to be surprised that the surveillance is happening, the American government should not be so surprised that people have been willing to give their lives to stop it, given the hundreds of thousands of patriotic people who have been willing to risk life, limb, irradiation, brain trauma and psychological damage by going to Afghanistan and Iraq.
I would note that the wars, the PATRIOT Act, and the massive expansion of the national security state were all the result of the Sept. 11 incident, still regarded as sacrosanct as a purported miracle. What we know for sure is that trillions of dollars have been handed over to military suppliers such as Halliburton and Carlyle Group, and their countless contractors and subcontractors, all to pay for the resulting “defense” and “security” related activities.
When someone blows the whistle on the NSA spying on the public, it’s not somebody’s honor, career, reputation or even criminal liability that’s the threat. Rather, it’s that ocean of money.
The Family and the Government
We might want to ask why there is so much emphasis on spying on individual people. The ruse, of course, is that it “prevents terrorism.” Many people actually believe that they are safer for having their life pried into, a belief that begs for psychological analysis. The docility with which this is tacitly permitted, or ignored, all in the name of safety, describes issues on the parts of the spies and those spied on that need to be addressed in therapy but rarely are.
I’ve said many times — referencing political theorists of the 1960s and 1970s — that the personal is political; that there is no private life that is not influenced or even determined by some larger public life. In the situation of total government intrusion into our lives, we are expected to be submissive and totally transparent while the authorities are expected to be all-knowing and totally opaque.
The history of modern psychology includes many discussions connecting the government to what Wilhelm Reich called the “authoritarian mini-state,” the family. We are nearly all raised in a family system where everything is known about us and where we get to know very little about our environment.
People know things about us to which we’re not even privy. As a child, one cannot see one’s own school records, and now as adults, we’re even told we cannot see our own medical records. The FBI keeps records on many people and we don’t get to see them — unless we take the risk of requesting them and calling attention to ourselves.
These experiences prepare us for life in society, a life that is fundamentally abusive and invasive. When people become mature adults and claim their personal space and their autonomy, this involves the overthrow of family tyranny and coming to terms with the tyranny of corporate authority, though this is rare.
Most of the time we remain subject to strict parenting in the form of being policed by official authorities or marrying someone who takes the place of our parents. These authorities have what you might call boundary issues — they know no limits. The child internalizes the behaviors of the dominant authority figure as guilt and shame. This leads to problems with intimacy and isolation later in life.
Violation as ‘Love’
The child also learns to see the intrusion as an expression of love and concern from the authority figures. To compensate, the child projects the feelings of shame and guilt onto others — then engages in intrusive behaviors to show love. This is the root of “if you’re not jealous, you don’t really love me.”
In some situations, the problems with intimacy, shame and intrusion become so extreme that the person suffering from them ‘needs’ an emotionally external object on which to displace these conflicts — something like the state and the public.
Victims of the worst abuse often become the worst abusers, acting out their authority issues as taking power over others or an entire population. Most of the people they act out on themselves have unresolved pain from family intrusion, and the process cycles to the spot where it is now.
In this kind of compromised environment, particularly one that’s been weakened further by extremes of fear (lately of domestic terrorists, school shooters, Muslims, and of government intrusion), government surveillance can proliferate and few will object. And the person who calls it out can seem crazy to many who have not questioned any of this.
Carl Jung said that the role of the father was to limit and block impulses — sexual and otherwise. The father’s role in Jung’s view is to set up a situation where the only thing that’s to be trusted is imposed from outside.
Given that so much of what is communicated privately on the Internet is sexual in nature, the presence of the government can be seen as an overwhelming external limit placed on what is appropriate to say, feel or do. Because most people feel guilty about sexual pleasure, the limiting presence feels like it belongs there — it’s an extension of their own desire to limit their impulses, conveniently imposed from outside.
The rules always say that you don’t make up your own rules. When an Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning violates that and changes the game, there can be an extremely harsh response, mainly because daddy wants to emphasize the point. But one thing is clear: people who violate this dictum in a conscious, well-planned way can get results, even if they are punished for it. Many others look on in amazement, shock or secret envy, wishing they had the guts to do something so brave and, in truth, necessary.
What we are seeing with the NSA eavesdropping is not merely the result of technology, though technology is often what sets the limit on what can happen (of which there is apparently none today). Neither is it the result of an authentic need for a benevolent authority to guard the perimeter. Even crows have lookouts stationed around fields, and deer warn one another of an invasive presence in a forest. Everyone understands that there is some legitimate need for the government to watch the boundaries and be alert to invasion and betrayal. The problem we are facing is when a legitimate need is confused with a totally illegitimate abuse of power.
‘Cheaters’ — Making Surveillance Normal
In a column in The Guardian from last November, Naomi Wolf described a British reality show called Cheaters. The premise is that someone suspects they are being cheated on by their spouse or partner. They report their “case” to the show and if accepted, the program pays for a private eye and makes a spectacle of the bust.
She describes the setup: “A seemingly sympathetic interview detailed the young woman’s fears and suspicions; then, the camera follows a private investigator, who in turn tracks and surveils the boyfriend or husband (or girlfriend or wife) who is under suspicion of committing infidelity. We, the audience, are treated to grainy footage recording the dalliance with the other woman or other man.”
She describes how the plot of each program progresses. “Creepily, the betrayed lover is encouraged to call the deceiver so that we can see his or her verbal betrayal in real time — dialogue like, ‘Honey, when are you coming home? It’s so late!’ ‘Baby, you know I am working’. This exchange, while we witness the man on the phone, but with his arm around the other woman in a restaurant. ‘I am working to get money to, uh, take you out!'”
Wolf comments: “You could not dream up a piece of pop culture better designed to normalize the surveillance society. What is alarming is how directly the series models a blurring, or mission creep, from television surveillance into inviting ordinary citizens to accept and even embrace the role of surveillance and spying in their daily private lives.” Most people don’t have the budget to hire a private investigator and have to suffice with DIY prying into email accounts, their chat history, installing cameras in someone’s private space, or relying on reports from lookout crows who keep an eye on things around town. You can buy apps that retrieve deleted chats from someone’s phone.
No matter how “normalized” or “commonplace” it may be, living in an environment of ubiquitous surveillance, it’s still a sign of cultural and individual sickness. And it’s never, ever for a friendly purpose. All of the most repressive regimes in history start their projects by regulating the most private affairs of people, keeping files on individuals and fomenting mistrust.
When you don’t know who might turn on you, everyone is a potential enemy — and in that situation, it’s easy for the corporate state to rule everything. Under this plan, it becomes the only place you have to turn for comfort, cold though it may be.
Meanwhile, as you watch this story go by, notice how you feel about your relationship to your parents and early caregivers. As you watch pundits and politicians spout their ideas, I suggest you ask whether they’ve addressed their family baggage and therefore whether they have even the faintest hope of clarity on this issue and everything that it represents.
Think of it as a vast family drama — where father supposedly knows best.
Weekly Horoscope for Friday, June 14, 2013, #954 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — I suggest that as you make decisions and attempt to organize yourself in what may be an unsettled moment, you follow the idea that a home is best organized from the kitchen outward. The kitchen used to be the hearth — the fire at the center of life, used for warmth, cooking and as a spiritual focal point of the home. In any situation you find yourself, see if you can determine the fire at the center of the situation. Notice the most pragmatic elements and focus on them. Arrange the situations you’re involved with in such a way that you ensure that everyone in your immediate household or sphere is taken care of, and that nobody is left out. There is plenty to eat; there is plenty of space; offer what you have to those around you when you notice that someone has a need you can fulfill. Any confusion or ambivalence you may feel will resolve itself when you put your priorities in order, and right now those can easily be described by a concept that’s easy enough to understand: nourishment.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Any troubles or challenges that a partner is going through will be responsive to a spiritual approach. That starts with being open to healing, and you may be the one who guides the discussion out of the dark and into that direction. Yet I suggest you notice what you can about what anyone else’s situation says about you. Some say that ‘relationships are mirrors’, though I’ve never been fond of that — it seems too accusatory. I would say that relationships can be reflective, they are the basis of a dialog, and that people can compliment one another in unusual ways. At the moment, you have resources that can be helpful to those around you. You have a perspective, both intellectual and emotional, that can improve your situation and those of close partners or associates. Whether you agree with that notion or not is one form that the ‘reflection’ aspect of the relationship will take.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — I suggest that over the next week or so, you try a few things you thought were impossible. Include among them something that you really, really want to go well in the long run; something you’re sure would require an immense amount of luck. Can you think of anything? You’re likely to come up with something, or several things, over the next few days. What will help is if you make sure you’re clear about what you want. Eliminate any extraneous goals that will only weigh you down like water in your feathers. Keep your thinking light and remember what matters to you. I cannot emphasize this enough — success involves knowing your priorities and honoring your real intentions. We have all noticed the ways that we make decisions and want things that go against our own needs, desires and best interests. While you have this unusual opening in front of you, make sure you tidy up that unseemly bit of human nature.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Planets are gathering in your sign now, which is offering at least some relief from the sense of pressure you’ve been feeling, and offering some tangible sense of improvement in your circumstances. Yet despite the improvement, you may still be feeling some sense that you’re trying to look into a blind spot or dealing with too many unknowns. Over the next few weeks, these mysteries will unravel, and you’ll have a lot more information to work with. The Sun and Jupiter are about to change signs, and as they do, you’ll begin to realize what pressure you were really under. As you start to get answers, you will see how deep the questions you were asking really were. As you start to feel your life gather even more positive momentum, you’re likely to want to let that carry you even further. I would add one thought, which is that there seems to be a purpose to this all. It’s not merely improvement for its own sake. Discovering and embracing that purpose will be the greatest gift of all these changes.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — A Course in Miracles in one of its many sobering moments says, “You do not ask too much of life, but far too little.” This is the time to ask a little more from life. Of course, to do that, you have to know what to ask for, and I think that over the next few days you will get some clear ideas. Yet you may also have some priorities that you’ve set aside or that you’ve pretended matter less than they do; get those into focus now. Rather than make a list of everything you want to accomplish immediately, consider what you would feel good about achieving in three months, one year and three years. Allow yourself to explore the idea that time is your ally rather than something you have to fight against. Time is a space in which to do what you want and what you need. We tend to use time in a microscopic or myopic way, knowing where we will be next Tuesday at 3 pm. I suggest you take a more spacious view. Give yourself some room to move around.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Unusual events may bring people together around you. They may be related to a personal goal you have; they may be related to a family situation. Therefore pay attention to when people are gathered, including spontaneous encounters. Meanwhile, on the professional front, this is the time to get your priorities in order, and to focus your vision. You’re looking at what may be the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime advancement. The scenario may not come to full fruition immediately; there may be a delay involved. What’s important is that you initiate the changes when you have the opportunity to do so, and that you think forward and not in reverse. The experience and even the idea of going forward are likely to bring up some concerns and attachments related to the past, though you have time to resolve those and work out the details. For a little while you will need to address matters of the future and the past with equal emphasis; maintaining a balance between the two is what will get you to your destination.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — You may be a little too focused on what you think you have to give up rather than what you think you will gain. In truth, any significant improvement you make does require you to give up something, even if it was the situation that was not working out for you. That kind of thing can be more difficult to let go of than most of us would care to admit. The first thing to investigate are family situations that are demanding too much from you. Once you see beyond those, you may have a lot clearer perspective on the rest of your existence. You’ll be able to evaluate whether recent career developments were really the best thing for you, and explore other options. What is essential is that you really take the time and evaluate each situation, and that you be mindful of your own prejudices and those that were imposed on you by someone in the past (such as your mother). This is the time to see the world and your life through your own eyes, as things exist now.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — There’s enormous emphasis in our world on loss and death. These things influence nearly every perception we have of life, every priority and every relationship. What would your life look like, and how would you feel, were you not always negotiating with your worst fears? It may actually take you some time to notice the many ways in which you do this, and to identify the compromises you think you’re forced to make as a result. I suggest you be vigilant about these things. In truth it’s enough to recognize that everything changes over time. Make peace with that and everything on Earth makes a little more sense. It’s not really possible to control your thoughts, but it’s eminently possible to notice and observe them. In doing so, you can see your negative expectations go by and as part of that, shift your emphasis to what is more positive and life-affirming.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Unexpected developments in a relationship are almost certain to work out in a way that you’re happy with but could not have predicted. You may have noticed that when you get to the edge of any territory, life becomes more interesting. Whether it’s the region near the border between two countries or the edge of an era in your own life, the transition zone is where life often offers the most potential. You have seemed reluctant to take an emotional risk of some kind, or to believe a promise that’s been held out to you. If you look underneath that, you may notice the ways in which your hesitancy says more about you than it does about whoever you’re involved with. That recognition may influence you to be more courageous and more accepting of your own potential. It’s not like you to be this cautious or hesitant, though you get to decide whether that is really helping you. The risk you’re concerned about is not as big as it may seem.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You may be figuring out that the work you do is fully dependent on the relationships that you have. This includes the collegial relationships with your co-creators and the influence that the work you do has on your intimate relationships. I suggest you consider this one environment, which for shorthand we can call the Love-and-Work-o-Sphere. There are likely to be significant developments where these two seemingly different areas of life cross over, blend and enhance one another. There are those who say that it’s best to keep one’s home life and one’s work life separate. When one’s work is truly meaningful, I don’t see how that’s possible. You’re not two different people, or one person with a watertight compartment dividing your character. There’s creative synergy to be had if you allow your one life to be one, and your purpose to be something that informs everything you do.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You seem to be drawn in many directions, with many options to choose from — and all you want to do is feel good. There’s a relationship between the two sides of that equation, that is, between having the sensation of perhaps confusing or ambivalent potential and your desire to take it a little easier. I suggest you cultivate some receptivity: some time to listen to yourself, to explore some of the experiences and ideas that nourish you, and to give yourself space to think and express yourself. Then the potential you’re feeling will be less confusing and more oriented on something inwardly relevant. Let me say this another way. Accessing creative potential in any satisfying form is less associated with activity and more associated with making contact with an inner reality, and then expressing what you notice. The content of what you express means a lot more than the form in which you express yourself.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — You may feel like you’re taking a long walk along the edge in the dark, though I don’t think you’ll feel that way for long. I suggest you not try to do anything too fast or especially declarative, particularly if you have more questions than answers. You can afford to let events and situations develop over the next week and see what discoveries you make. In honor of a magnificent Sun-Jupiter conjunction that’s now developing, I would propose one other thing: set one goal for yourself and start taking steps to make it happen. We can take for granted that you want a happy life, a dry roof over your head and good company. I mean one truly ambitious goal, something you might even think is impossible or improbable. Focus on that to the exclusion of whatever trivia you can get out of the way. Take tangible, fully conscious steps toward that one thing, and then keep paying attention. Remember that last bit.