A Trip About Privacy

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

“If terrorists are also wizards, we have a bigger problem.”
― Edward Snowden

Yesterday, I took a trip to the Tuscon area. Went up to the top of Mount Lemmon in the early afternoon and went to UA to see Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky speak about privacy with Nuala O’Connor of the Center for Democracy and Technology as moderator.


Scene of the 2003 fire.

Scene of the 2003 fire.

Howard the Hadrosaur

Obviously, a hadrosaur skull fossil. ‘Eye iz a paleontologist wiht pareidolia.’

I’d regale you with the full photo set, but I recall the “Hell’s Bells” segment from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode 15 starring John Astin.

"One person's vacay..."

“One person’s vacay…”

If you make it to the area, I do recommend the trip up the mountain. Also amazing to see so many bicyclists making it up 27 miles or so to an elevation of over 9,000 feet. These people are Olympiads. There are clubs that arrange biking groups, if you are so inclined to try that.


The University of Arizona is a beautiful campus, at least the portions I had time to tour. There’s also a nice, if commercial, pedestrian friendly area just across the street.

I found friendly people there and not as I feared young versions of John “LeGrouch” McCain. And the eye candy… Between the cyclists and the sporty types on this campus, well, I may have been a little distracted on this trip. The guy with an owlbear tattoo over his heart, for example. “Owlwha…?”

Which brings me to the next point. On a personal level, the most notable thing about this trip is how little there is to note. The Spookspace Meter stayed right at zero the entire time. And it’s not like I wasn’t expecting or looking for something to happen. But it didn’t. What may this portend? I may blog about that in a few days if I get my thoughts on it in order. In any case, it was a reminder of what “normal” was like. And I kinda miss normal.

The closest thing, apart from the discussion about privacy itself, regarding subjects normally found on this blog came from a simple question from a police officer doing security at the event. He asked me if I made this myself:

A Conversation on Privacy

I explained that, no, it was from a professor from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences {also involved with this event and a continuing series of speakers on privacy which will begin in October}. She was giving them out for free.

What’s interesting about this question is I think that he was really doing a threat assessment. He was really wondering, “Here’s a guy wearing a baseball cap backwards, looking perhaps a little haggard,” {I brought the hat because I figured some time on top of a mountain was not likely to be kind to the hairdo and I was correct}, “who showed up early and took his seat. May as well see how he reacts to law enforcement.”

But this is exactly how it should be done. Build a rapport. The police and the public are one. All basic law enforcement science, part of what came out of sweeping reforms in the UK in the 19th Century, also known as Peelian Reform, a la Sir Robert Peel. It also works wonders in interrogation. Whereas the Reid Technique and torture will only gum up the works.


Noam Chomsky referenced the quote at top as the definition of privacy. I don’t want to delve too deeply into being a target, but this is exactly what is denied you. Regardless of the means and methods, the cause, even being alone in a quiet room does not convey a relaxing effect. It feels as though you are not alone and that the room is anything but quiet. Those who utilize these methods are aware of this and part of the purpose is to destroy the target via these “invisible” means in order to maintain plausible deniability and the illusion that power is limited by law and some sense of morality when the opposite is true.

Some of the things Greenwald and Snowden said they had said before but they bear repeating. If there is a legitimate basis for mass surveillance, then let’s at least let the public know so they can sign off on it.

But there were some shifts in the conversation as well. Added to this was, if we are not informed, then we are ruled from above and not, as democracy is supposed to work, electing people who represent our interests.

They went even further. It has become abundantly clear that the purpose of mass surveillance is not terrorism and to a large extent not even crime. It is because much of, for example the Pentagon Papers, indicate that the public is considered the enemy, that it is hiding things from the public that power spends a lot of time and effort trying to achieve.

When power talks about protecting the nation, what they mean is preserving state power and economic/corporate power. They do not mean protecting the public at large nor the public interests which often run contrary to these former concerns.

I was liking what I was hearing. No more playing the “game” of pretending to, or on good faith actually doing it, take power at its word. This is a huge step in the right direction. I cannot express how frustrating it was, and still is for so many media outlets and people in general, to simply assume power says what it means. It’s a huge waste of time and energy to do so.

Snowden also said, “Privacy is how we know what we think.” This is another way of describing that quiet room. How can you stop, get away from all the influences, if those influences are constantly in your face? Whether watching FOX or CNN, or being glued to Facebook or on that Rightwing Dad mailing list {many of those emails being penned by political operatives no doubt} you cannot, are not, making up your own mind; you are parroting someone else’s opinion without critical thought.

And, really, free will is not quite as free as we’d like to think in the first place per the neuroscience and perhaps even some psychology models. Take away that quiet time and it becomes orders of magnitude less free.

Edward also pointed out the terms we use and why we use them. “Private citizen.” “Public official.” We are supposed to be scrutinizing these people, not the other way around.

And yet... "I have a wide stance."

And yet… “I have a wide stance.”

And, even though they’ve said it before and I’m sure will again and yet often do not get credit for having done so, both Snowden and Greenwald were clear to point out that corporate power is also an issue. For example, the Apple v FBI thing. “Apple did not react the way it did because it suddenly became a privacy advocate; it did it because it’s afraid people will buy some German company’s products instead.” Edward threw up the SilVal timeline slide of when NSA had access to their servers, which of course included Apple and Google.

Which brings me to my only nitpicky criticism of Greenwald for the evening {because I thought the tie was fine, but see again what I said about wearing a baseball cap backwards}. When he told people to “google 2004 Rumsfeld report on terrorism.” I sometimes get prickly over political correctness, especially when it is really nitpicky, but given Google’s status as part of the surveillance state can’t we instead say “Duckduckgo 2004 Rumfeld Report on Terrorism” now?

Chomsy also brought up how lucky we are in the US to have as much openness as we do. While I think, and think he would agree, that we don’t have near enough {Snowden and Greenwald also brought up Chelsea Manning and how one million secret documents being released did not bring the Apocalyptic scenario that pro-classifiers suggest doing so would}, I think he has a point. He means from both FOIA and leaks. Of course I must remind folks about the FOIA reform NATSEC carveouts that may or may not find their way into the final version once the House and Senate versions get reconciled.

But his larger point was we can see, as noted above, power really considers democracy a drag, that the public is enemy number one.

Combine this with the stats on terror attacks–Al Qaeda actually killed fewer people than the IRA, for example–and you can see that someone is trying to cook the books. What are they trying to distract us from? Commercialization of…everything.

Brussels came up and Chomsky said it must at least be worth taking a look at why ISIS claims it is doing what it is doing. If you want terrorism to end, then it would be smart to do so. “And it would work,” he added, to applause. ISIS says it is hitting back for being droned. Pretty simple.

What is perhaps the most strange thing that was said was when Chomsky suggested that good, eg Ivy League, education can lead people to not question authority. That was an astounding thing to note, but pretty clearly true, especially in the UK.

You can read Eric Ortiz’ live blogging of the event for more:

Eric Ortiz, “Live Blog: A Conversation on Privacy With Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden,” Truthdig, 25 March 2016:

truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/ live_blog_a_conversation_on_privacy_20160325

Or watch the video on Monday.

Overall I think things are moving in the right direction in terms of the serious dialog. Of course, policy, law, and oversight are other matters, but I’ll take what I can get.

BBD – Random Musings and Munching

Imagine someone offers you some food. You’ve no reason to distrust this person, so, sure, you eat part of what they offered.

Later, they return and ask why you didn’t eat all of it. They also reveal at this point that they actually “re-gifted” the food, that they weren’t the ones who actually bought it, someone else offered it to them but they already had eaten, so…

You feel kinda down. But not that down. You feel kind of like you got just the right amount of down to just…chill.

Until you wonder what might have been in the uneaten portion. Then you laugh.


BBD – Street Theater II

Recalled a couple more, though I think I covered these before.

Toronto, March 2010. Woman dressed like a gypsy/Roma did the stereotypical crossing herself and staring as if looking at someone cursed.

Not unrelated, the above probably served as a precursor to a pair of audio-only events months later in Minneapolis. In bed but not yet asleep one night in apartment 13 on University Avenue SE, heard crowd of people laughing and howling. Then, probably only a day or two later, sounded like “werewolf sex” in the apartment above.

Note that I checked out books on lycanthrope legends prior to these last two, made notes in a notebook in coffee shops, etc., so my intentions were clear to anyone performing surveillance. A fine argument for privacy, though it appears as though that ship has sailed and sank into some watery abyss.

All seemed to be related to harassment related to intentions of writing a {much longer} short story collection with a werewolf theme I planned to call Very Bad Dogs. At least I learned a bit about ergot, the basis for LSD, from one of the books I checked out.

BBD – Street Theater {Updated}

{19 March 2016 update in bold below, a sixth reason to use the street theater technique}.

Before I delve into the main point, a little reminder and some notes.

When the intelligence community wants to deal with someone who actually works for them, they generally have the non-disclosure agreement as a weapon. As Barry Eisler * has been good enough to point out recently…

Barry Eisler, “On whistleblowers and secrecy: What author Barry Eisler said to a room of ex-intelligence officers,” BoingBoing, 1 March 2016:


…the oath taken is actually to protect the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. The “secrecy oath” is a misnomer and it is the conflict between these two things, an oath and an NDA, that tends to get whistleblowers into trouble.

Of course the liberal use of the Espionage Act, used by the Obama administration against whistleblowers more than twice as many times as all other administrations in US history combined, also comes into play. But that’s just another abuse of power on top of the ones typically being exposed.

But the point here is that when dealing with, for example, Thomas Drake, the IC will attempt to mostly use the legal system. Of course there are forms of harassment that come along with that. But for the most part, crippling you financially involves curbing your ability to work due to being investigated and spreading the word so that you’re persona non grata via the poison pen.

What, then, do they do when the target is not actually an employee, but an unwitting asset, in essence a witness to illegal activities? They don’t have that particular sort of direct legal route {with its horrendous side-benefits of guilty-because-being-investigated} to rely on. And they in fact don’t want any attention to the root reason to be noted.

This is to describe just one aspect of harassment that never seems to get any attention. The reason, I think, that it doesn’t get much attention is that it tends to make the person talking about it look mentally ill. Of course, this is the idea.

My intent here is twofold: To discuss one method of harassment and expose it and in case anyone happens to find themselves suddenly experiencing something similar to recognize it for what it is.

* By the way, you should really get a copy of The God’s Eye View and read it. Eisler not only illustrates many of the dangers that mass surveillance of everyone can deliver but the mindset that that kind of power can engender in perhaps once well-meaning people. Plus he has some great notes at the end for further reading.



It’s a little play put on by covert operatives as a PSYOP for a target. Sort of something to go along with CIA’s #1 wishlist item for the MKULTRA program perhaps, from the 1955 draft memo:

1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.

Though the name implies that Street Theater always happens out in public spaces, this is not always the case.


Precisely what the desired effects are in every case, I’m not quite certain. Here a few ideas:

1} Simply to confuse the target;

2} Make the target spend a lot of time wondering why anyone would go to to trouble and what it was supposed to mean, perhaps even causing lack of sleep;

3} Make the target doubt their own sanity and spend time and money checking themselves out while discrediting themselves {see also item #5 of the same memo quoted above};

4} Further alienate the target from their friends, family and co-workers {usually the goal in these kinds of ops};

5} Actually part of the overall effort to cause a psychotic break, to literally drive the target insane {in conjunction with surreptitious drugging and other forms of harassment};

6} Make the target afraid to leave her home and to go outside. This is related to the legal definition of torture, which has three requirements, one of which is that the victim must be detained {“in custody”}. Think of it as surreptitious “house arrest.” This makes harassing the target out of public view easier.


“The Spitter”

The very first one I recall was being alone at what was my and my partner’s condo in Brooklyn. This was probably mid to late December 2009.

I looked out the front window and saw a man emerge from one of those is-it-a-truck-or-a-van type vehicles. I think it was some shade of red or orange, but that sort of darker, metallic shade.

He got out and was carrying a file folder. He looked in the direction of an old church and spit on the ground three times. Then he proceeded in the opposite direction.

Really, I could never quite figure this one out. The spitting at the church thing was perhaps reference to, given the timing, Peter Watts’ status as an atheist. I don’t know.

I’ve also wondered if the man was supposed to be perhaps Mendoza from We Were the Freedom Federation, but he looked very little like the depiction of him in the comic book {I had not yet written the novel}. He had grey hair, whereas Mendoza had jet black hair. This notion was especially humorous once I found out that Alan Moore claims to have seen Constantine twice, which I reckon was MI5 or MI6 having a bit of fun with an author who likes to write about power and its many abuses.

“Guys Like Us”

This is I think the second one. Probably January or February of 2010.

I was waiting outside the Times Square Midtown Comics one morning and decided to grab some cough drops while I was waiting for it to open.

When I went to this Duane Reade…


…two blocks away. Standing outside were three Asian men. The way that they were standing, all facing the same direction, pretty much motionless, reminded me of the bizarre scene in Spies Like Us with Michael Apted, B.B. King, and Larry Cohen as the “Ace tomato agents.”

I chuckled to myself and went inside. Standing in the very aisle to which I was headed was a fourth Asian gentleman who seemed to be absent-mindedly staring at what was in front of him. I made some noise, stomped my foot and rattled the bag of cough drops and he didn’t react.

At that point I knew I was being messed with, but didn’t know by whom. I was guessing it was not in fact the Chinese.

Then, when I returned to the corner of 7th and 40th Street, I saw yet a fifth Asian man come walking quickly around the corner, holding one of those common paper napkins to his face and sort of muttering as if in pain. Then, from around the corner, came a man generally of Peter Watts’ height, build, and general description. He was walking with arms exaggeratedly bowed, like Popeye, but was wearing something akin to what one typically saw Jacques Cousteau wearing.

Who do you tell about this? What do you tell them?

I think those were the only two pure Street Theater events I witnessed. There were some variants, but those are more akin to harassment or other forms of PSYOP like doppelgangers, which I’ve covered before, or people being rude in order to provoke an outburst.

Then, of course, there was The Case of the Fidgety Korean where the goals were a bit clearer.


While this may seem harmless and overall kind of amusing {I certainly laughed at it at the time}, it is done in tandem with many other methods, such as the target being drugged and while the target’s life is being dismantled. My sometimes used description of covert operatives as evil clowns did not happen in a vacuum. I would also note that one of the drugs, or the drug, used tends to make colors bolder, light brighter, sound louder, and movements seem more dramatic. This may be a sixth, or related to the fifth purpose detailed above; at some point it may become impossible for the target to be able to tell the difference between a covert operative engaging in street theater and a random person moving their hands, arms, etc.

Also, this was a precursor to a living hell and the goal was my eventual ruin, attempting to drive me to violence either against myself or others. I’ve covered the whys and what-elses of all that before so I won’t reiterate that for this post.

However, I will say again that this is how the US government, and likely other private organizations, conduct their affairs. This is what it spends time and effort doing. I just kinda gotta question that even if it makes me sound like a small-government libertarian. Doesn’t the fact that this happened make Obama seem like a small-government libertarian? Why do it at all unless you want people to hate government?

No doubt things would be just as bad or worse under a Corporatocracy, at least for those who haven’t been directly screwed yet. I have trouble seeing much difference.