'One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star'- Nietzsche
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Monthly Archives: August 2015

‘We are witnessing the rise of global totalitarianism on the back of Big Data and its delivery system, the Internet’

I’m a Socrates man myself; like his giddy gaddy style, his ‘show me the money’ approach to belief; and I think maybe I understand his hemlock manoeuvre all too well. ‘After all, democracy’s not for everyone, right?’

But Diogenes! Now there’s a man who’d a handled this digital age rather effortlessly. Don’t get me wrong: Socrates and his relentless deconstructions were a hoot, but Diogenes had gumption and attitude. 

Debasing his Daddy’s dollars; strutting around with his daytime lamp looking for an honest man; homeless and sleeping in a ceramic jar (I once spent a winter’s night in a Goodwill box reading the Portable Nietzsche–does that count?); and generally reveling in his counter-culture ribaldry; he was a jester with a gesture the Romans later called digitus impudicus

O, one wakes up smiling at his antics and wanting to crow, “Up yours, too, Diogenes!” Brothers in arms, as it were.

While Socrates found democracy a little too Orwellian for his tastes and fell into a doubt pout, Diogenes goosed the rooster. He’d have been perfect for an age of Big Data and its appeal to pseudo-scientific analysis (for political purposes, of course) and the way people eat it up like manna, believing in the magic of its authorial voice. 

Indeed, we are fat with over-trusting authority – call it our collective obeis-ity.  Too many people seem to accept that with Big Data we have reached the point of Singularity, where humans and machines may merge in a digital stream that makes dialectical materialism obsolete and ushers in the Final Paradigm of humanity.

 As Diogenes would say (and here I’m translating), “I got your paradigm.  I got your paradigm right here,” followed by his own digital stream into the River Heraclitus.

He’d have known that what we’re witnessing with Big Data is just the latest gimmick for exploiting human desire that is so infused –even after millennia of civilizing influences – with fear and insecurity. 

We are witnessing the rise of global totalitarianism on the back of Big Data and its delivery system, the Internet – a central information system we plug into together that replaces our central nervous system.  But it won’t matter.

Men will always play with the latest flint hammer and will still buy more beer if you sex up the suds.  Women will struggle with being in the world — with and without the need for men. Little will change for the masses, with their not-so-quiet desperation, and the eggheads who thought it all up will crack into omelettes at the first sign of ‘research’ cash and/or ego octane boosting. We may be a-dicted to da g’rithm, but Big Data is just one more system that will fail us for a number of reasons.

First, ‘data’ is not God, or, rather, it is.  Powerful in its stim and absence of certainty, an absence necessitating oracles, gatekeepers and messiahs to fathom for us (see Voltaire).  Data itself is meaningless without interpretation; and every system is built around an agenda that serves to constrain the interpretation.

But also, a datum is not a fact, and a fact does not in itself indicate the presence of a truth. Life is in color, full of semiotic kaleidoscoping, no matter how much the controlling neocon symbolists see things in black and white.

This brings up the main problem with Big Data and its analysis – who controls the mode of production?  The rise of Big Data is itself part of the process of normalizing the all-intrusive surveillance regime. The space between the ears of We the People is the final frontier and ripe for singular exploitation. Our brains are colonies, electrical storms of desire keened for exploitation.

The problem is not with Big Data, per se, which offers some astounding new ‘takes’ on the human experience (and I’m actually a Singularity fan-boy), but that, as always, the wrong people are in charge of the system.

By and large, conservatives, back in the day, and neocons in the now, have used the system to force their agenda on the public, which has largely been in the role of world cop and interventionist (read: neoliberal expansionist) since about the time the US began developing their waterboarding techniques in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

Thus, today, when you hear expressions from politicians that begin with, “The data tell us…,” you might want to scratch your bum and walk away. The data don’t tell us diddly: the filters do.

There are already plenty of examples of how data can be abused by the wrong people in charge.  Take, for instance, the Florida debacle of the 2000 presidential election.  Choicepoint, the database company that provided false felony indicators which illegally eliminated thousands of Democrat-leaning voters, was a company run by conservatives (old Cold Warrior and PNACker Richard Armitage was on its board until a few months before the election).

And by, in essence, upholding the efficacy of the false data, the US Supreme Court decided the data didn’t matter, as it did not support the desired outcome (i.e., a Bush victory).  Because they got away with it, similar voting data scandals have become more prevalent, as investigative Greg Palast recently exposed in an award-winning piece.

Another case of skewed data, with important public interest implications, was that cited by the Boston-based data analyst company, Recorded Future, which told Dina Temple-Raston of NPR, who uncritically passed the ‘analysis’ along to her drive-time constituency, that, based on their analysis of the data, Edward Snowden’s leaks were tantamount to treason and had ‘put lives at risk’. 

And while Glenn Greenwald was quick to take Dina to task for being a privileged sycophant of power, more emphasis should have been placed on the source of the analysis – Recorded Future, which specializes in predictive analysis of the type consistent with disposition matrices – was a Google-CIA start-up, with current contracts to national security interests. Presumably, this is an  algorithmic detail.

However, it is the deleterious effect on privacy and creativity that make the Big Data phenomenon so existentially threatening to so many individuals around the world.  While the neoliberals conquer what’s left of the free market economies of the world with tax underwritten derivative gambles and growing debt slavery for a growing percentage of the expanding population, the neocons have declared the Internet a battle zone, and democracies can’t exist on the battleground.

There was a time when the American Exceptionalist message had real traction, and, for a while, perhaps, for good reason, but those days are gone. Now the message to the world is: We don’t need congresses or parliaments or diets, when a more effective and expeditious means to getting things done is by Executive fiat based on ‘careful data analyses’. The message is the Supreme Court will ignore data that grinds against a partisan agenda. The message is its okay and necessary to spy on others as intrusively as possible, and as more spy apps hit the market our complicity in our own demise will soon be complete.  The message is democracy is over.

As I ride closer and closer to the sunset, more like Sancho Panza than Quixote, frankly, it is with a sense of release from a phenomenal world that has proven to be largely beyond my ken. Actually, not like Sancho or the Don at all, but rather like Edgward G. Robinson in those final moments of his last screen role in Soylent Green.

If I depart with some sorrow, it is for those loved ones left behind who must face a world unnecessarily torn apart by dark and malevolent forces, by people you can no longer trust.  I don’t envy the future; and maybe the most tragic twist of humankind is that the very people in control, who have worked so hard to destroy it all, will most likely be the world’s survivors, overseers of the molten Hell of their own creation.

There’s no use decrying Socrates’ hemlock.  In the end, we all pick our own poison.  And some sinking into soma will want to recall their roads not taken and their lover’s quarrel with world.  But, me, I pray to Diogenes for the strength as I go under Beethoven’s 7th or Keith Jarrett’s Arbour Zena to raise my finger and take succour in its erectile diss function one last time.

 

Generally speaking, I regard my approach to unravelling the vast complexities of reality (if there even is such a thing) as intrepid and, for the most part, fearless. But there are two ideological holy lands that I enter clutching my commentary with some degree of fear and trembling. 

The first is Israel, the sense of bracing for the worst reactionary outbursts whenever I gather the largely pointless courage to criticize Israeli policies, especially those designed and implemented by the radical Zionists who dominate decision-making there, such as with the relentless and merciless settlement expansions and the genocidal war criminality. You quickly learn that the IDF does not merely physically invade other states, but also has Minuteman-like cyber reactionaries — let’s call them muscle-toughs — at the ready who pounce on any and all criticism of their ways and means. That is, if the article about Israel’s latest arrogance even has its commentary section turned on.

The second tread-lightly zone is in the Untamed Territory that is the commentary section of Glenn Greenwald’s blog. Dissenters know all too well what will happen if they too tightly question a claim or fail to exhibit the appropriate level of hagiographical devotion. Like some of the sceptical animals with questions for Napoleon in Orwell’s Animal Farm, you find you have to get through the dogs first, always mindful of what happened to that working class hero, Boxer, who, you might say, was the glue of the community.  The irony is, and the cult of Greenwald sure does like its irony feeds, you can look left at the righty wingnuts of Zion, and then right at the lefty flywheels of Sion, and totally not know the difference.

I believe Glenn Greenwald has provided some excellent analysis as the national security state has grown. He has been especially effective in extrapolating on the ramifications of executive office abuses under Bush and Obama, and the precedents they have set for deeper abuses by future executives, who may not have the humanity our present and last president have exhibited.  Like many people, I applauded when he went from Salon to the Guardian, not only because it was a no-brainer, but because I felt he had a chance to immensely influence beyond his long-time cultish followers – to open many more mainstream hearts and minds to the unpleasant truths thrust upon us all since the towers came down on 9/11. And though I had stopped reading his blogs at the Guardian for quite some time, I was still disappointed that he gave up his growing influence on everyday readers by jumping, as he put it, at the opportunity to work for a billionaire – a neo-liberal “philanthropist” with a business model where a moral compass should be.

I don’t read Greenwald’s revelations at his new venture, The Intercept. I don’t really feel there’s much more he can ‘teach’ me – a metaphor he often invokes when he gathers his children of the corn around for the latest “lesson” to be drawn and chalkboarded that day.  Nevertheless, while reading a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review yesterday, one link led to another, until I saw in a search engine the headline for an Intercept piece that appeared on August 12, “NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting.” So, out of morbid curiosity, I checked it out.

It didn’t take long to figure out where it was heading and how it would end up.  Greenwald has a hard-on for Dina Raston-Temple following a confrontation they had a couple of years ago, when Raston-Temple claimed to have been made privy by the Obama administration to classified information that convinced her that drone-killing Anwar al-Awlaki without due process was justified, a view she disseminated on her NPR program, no doubt influencing countless middle class commuters looking for an excuse to remain comfortably numb. Greenwald rightly pissed on her parade for seeming to hoard information, which he argued should be released because it was in the public interest.

So here he was again nailing Raston-Temple, who was once again barking for her master, Obama and the national security circus. The silly 5-minute  chicken nugget all dipped in Dina’s honeyed voice made its debut on the NPR drive-time drive-through menu on August 1, and, as Greenwald rightly pointed out, it was essentially the passive regurgitation of an unchallenged allegation made by the CEO of a company not far from Harvard Square called Recorded Future.  Says D R-T, “He had heard the Obama administration say that terrorists had changed the way they behave because of the Snowden leaks. He wanted to see if it was really true.” She then spends most of the segment seemingly vocalizing a company press release detailing how they confirmed Obama’s suspicion that the Snowden leaks had aided the enemy. As with her previous al-Awlaki hit piece, she was casually setting Snowden up for a death sentence. After all, if al-Awlaki  (and his innocent son) could be droned by executive order for expressing sympathy for the plight of jihadists, then surely a man who actually provided information to the enemy that caused them to alter their tactics, consequently putting US lives at risk, was certainly eminently drone-able, right? So Greenwald pounced. 

Among the important things Greenwald pointed out was that Recorded Future had been funded in its start-up by Q-Tel, the “independent” venture capitalist arm of the CIA. Though Greenwald provides one of his typical links to an article detailing this arrangement, it’s from 2010 and one wonders why he hasn’t written about Recorded Future before (certainly he has received prods to do so from members of his commentariat). Because it doesn’t take much of a perusal of the Recorded Future web site to see that, like Booz-Hamilton, the NSA contractor Snowden worked for, that they were offering disposition matrix and predictive analysis features (the company name says it all) that easily could be the user-friendly GUI end of CIA/NSA cyber spookery. It’s also notable that NPR is one of the featured news outlets displayed at the bottom of the website.  Hilariously, in one of Recorded Future’s YouTube video demonstrations, they feature Barack Obama as a demonstration model for how targets and their associations are monitored. Which I found not so much ironic, as, you know, maybe a reminder to the president of what they know.

But D R-T is small fry, and, as it turns out, not the whole story by a long shot, and it defies credulity that Greenwald missed it.

Just two days after NPR spread their fool’s gospel to the goldfish, a piece appeared in the Washington Post written by one Stewart Baker, “As evidence mounts, it’s getting harder to defend Edward Snowden.” This piece is interesting for a number of reasons:

* Baker cites the same Bruce Schneier blog Greenwald does, but, unlike the Interceptor, he attacks Schneier’s credibility with respect to his assumptions about al Qaeda cryptographic adaptations. Schneier, a cryptographic analyst, argues that Snowden’s revelations provided no technical assistance to al Qaeda operatives and debunks the notion that they re-jigged their encryption coding. Baker essentially libels Schneier as a lackey for muckrakers like Greenwald. Ordinarily, this is not a sling Greenwald would allow to go unchecked. Yet in the week or so between the Post piece and Greenwald’s blog, no one seems to have brought it to his attention. It gets better.

* Baker is not a journalist but a former counsel for the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as a current principal champion of Obama’s machinations. He provided important testimony to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, where he pointed out with wrung hands that ‘if only we’d had predictive analytics the horror, the horror might have been averted.’ Baker’s own blogging on the group blog site, the Volokh Conspiracy, where he often cites legal cases in defense or clarification of NSA shit, would be, I put forth, a natural place for Greenwald to have planted one of IEDs (improvised expressive device: usually I mean by that a pun, but a blog can go boom, too).  Of course, if you go to Baker’s blog now, you’ll be re-directed to WaPo, “as part of a new joint venture with the Post.” This escaped Greenwald.

* WaPo is owned by Amazon (Bezos) and Amazon is building a special database for the CIA, which, among other things, suggests a conflict of interest for reporting anyway, let alone a piece written by an intel counsel (a fact not mentioned in the piece). So you have a company–Amazon–building a CIA database out one orifice and allowing penetration by another spook into another, and yet Greenwald does not find this worthy of mention in his D R-T slap down?  Why not? Could it be (I’m being cynical) because he has his mother lode Snowden book listed with Amazon? But Greenwald is not merely selling his book on Amazon, he has entered a special arrangement. Just under his book listing on the site is a special offer to readers: If they apply and are accepted for an Amazon.com Rewards Visa they could get his book on the surveillance state for free (!). Look:

When you delve further, you discover that the card is issued by one AGI gift cards, which Amazon, in typical deceitful fashion, describes merely as “a Washington corporation,” totally neglecting to mention that AGI is in fact a subsidiary of Amazon.  Nor do you discover before beginning the application process for the Rewards Visa that your information will be processed by JP Morgan’s Chase bank, with them clearly receiving data from a very specific group of readers (dissident types) that certain collectors would love to know more about. And it’s because they would be specially filtered through this deal with a Greenwald purchase that a certain question of integrity arises.  One notes rather quickly, by searching, that Thomas Piketty has no such special come-on associated with his Capitalism in the 21st Century

Greenwald has of course railed against the abuses of JP Morgan Chase in the past, not so much because of their prominent role in the sub-prime mortgage debacle and other assorted shystery, but because of the special cosy deal they worked out with the Justice Department to get off rather lightly for their horrid abuses.

Amazon is one of eBay’s principal competitors (according to Forbes magazine, only about 7% of Amazon’s total revenues comes from book sales; the rest is from selling other stuff, just like eBay. Maybe Greenwald felt conflicted by this awful potential blip in his bestseller sales and could not bring himself to delve. But it’s embarrassing, to say the least, for someone who polishes his integrity to such a high sheen, and so passively works with a company like Amazon, which, aside from working with the CIA, is known to treat workers with contempt; which sniggily responded to widespread drone fears by suggesting Amazon might deliver books that way; which uses very intrusive algorithms; which DRM locks its e-books that you unknowingly don’t really buy but lease; and which has alienated writers and the publishing industry with mean anti-trust-like tactics.

*Looking back, a further cause of alarm is the claim last year by the New York Times and the Washington Post that they were hacked by “Chinese” spies. Seems plausible at first. But then the two papers coincidentally hired a company called Mandiant to come in and determine what data was stolen and how it was done. Kevin Mandia, for whom the company is named, spoke before the US House select committee on intelligence in February and made this telling remark:

“While many industry players have extremely capable security programs, the majority of threat intelligence is currently in the hands of the government. Indeed, about two-thirds of the breaches Mandiant responds to are first detected by a third party – usually the government – not the victim companies. That means that a majority of the companies we assist had no idea they had been compromised until law enforcement or a business partner notified them.”

But what’s equally telling though is the degree to which Mandia’s online biography has been scrubbed. You have to do some digging to discover that Mandia, a Lafayette University graduate, started out his cybersecurity career in the Air Force and was “a computer security officer in the 7th Communications Group at the Pentagon,” a fact that you’d think he’d be prominently displaying, and yet it is buried and unelaborated upon.  The government hacking of corporate computer systems, followed by offers to have Mandiant fix it, sounds like, a form of protection to me.                 

Mandiant said all usernames and passwords for all journalists at both papers were poached. Bad, sure, but worse is that it turns out that the directors of Mandiant have roots in the spook community and actually came over from another company called Man Tech Inc., which boasts such old school spooky luminaries on its board as Richard Armitage, Richard Kerr, and Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan. 

In another instance of deep irony that Greenwald would have appreciated had he looked into it, one industry article on Mandiant describes how they modelled their facilities after Star Trek motifs, including having a control room that was a mock bridge from the Enterprise – just like the control room NSA head Keith Alexander operates from, and with which Greenwald took such delicious issue. What a coincidence.

Not terribly long after the “Chinese” breach, the Washington Post went up for sale, with none other than eBay’s Omidyar and Amazon’s Bezos bidding on its holdings. Omidyar opted to pursue an information empire by corralling “the best and brightest” adversarial journalists, while Bezos decided to do so by building and expanding on a name brand. It’s almost like they were the two rich brothers in the film Trading Places, and Glenn Greenwald was Eddie Murphy.

But there’s more.  The Post was sold in October 2013, and, as if by modus pollens, Mandiant got bought out shortly thereafter, in December, by a company called FireEye. And, of course, FireEye ends up being venture capitalized by Q-Tel, just like Recorded Future. Which raises the question of what happened to Mandiant data captures, including usernames and passwords of reporters and editors, from the NYT and WaPo expeditions? Maybe Greenwald will get around to that, although he was prodded about the Mandiant connection more than once without any response of interest.

Back in March, Counterpunch’s Chris Floyd discussed at length eBay owner Pierre Omidyar’s role in helping to fund the corrupt but democratically elected Ukrainian government, a success which has brought the world closer to another catastrophic war. He was assisted in his doings by USAID, the old soft shoe of the CIA. Greenwald is not fazed by this.  He’s not fazed by Omidyar’s cooperation with the NSA, tweeting at one point, “I don’t doubt PayPal cooperates with NSA….” Until some of his long-time followers expressed alarm, he wasn’t fazed that the website he built from scratch was employing Google Analytics and Amazon algorithms, and others, to track and store data on visitors who showed up at Intercept, nor fazed that Intercept’s TOS was not exactly visitor friendly.  He’s unconcerned that his readers who take advantage of the special offer on the Amazon website may, trusting his judgement, divulge personal data to authorities that risks their becoming persons of interest by virtue of their connection to Greenwald. And he’s unconcerned that some readers see his document-hoarding as not much better than Dina Raston-Temple’s gatekeeping role-play.

What Greenwald’s doing may not be technically wrong, from a neo-liberal point of view, but it sure raises some serious questions from a progressive point of view. But no one seems to have the cajones to ask. Greenwald’s authority now, and we know how that goes.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia. His articles on politics, pop culture, and literature have appeared in publications in the US, Australia and Europe. He can be reached at sprockethawk@roxxmail.ch 

Failed States of Conscience

Midway through The Internet Is Not the Answer, Andrew Keen sums up the Question his book presumes to address: ‘What can help us create a better world in the digital age?’ It is with an acerbic wit, perspective and profound dismay that Keen dismisses the Internet as the revolutionary vehicle for progressing human civilization that it started out to be. Instead, he argues, it has become a counter-revolutionary means for extending the age old venal sins of greed, excess, and unchecked profligacy.

Keen leads the reader through three stages in the journey toward his unsettling conclusions – Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, which roughly correspond to the past, present and future of the Internet’s development. He begins with Web 1.0, reminding us of the Internet’s paranoia-driven beginnings. There might not be the online environment we have all come to depend on if not for the US military panic over the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1959, which demonstrated an unimagined first-strike capability and made militarists aware of the catastrophic vulnerabilities of the national telecommunications system. 

Keen details the discovery and implementation of two still-key electronic protocols – TCP/IP – that would allow any two computers anywhere in the world to speak and share with one another. It was rather like a Westphalian treaty for data, which provided standardization of rules – protocols – making communication uniform and universal, as the system reduced all human languages to logical data bits. Once generals were certain they’d developed a system of networked computers capable of reliably talking to one another even in the event of nuclear war – they called it ARPANET – they breathed a sigh of relief from within the padded walls of the Cold War policy known as Mutally Assured Destruction (MAD).

Out of this early Shakespearean web of paranoia emerged Web 2.0 and the equally Shakespearean (and middle class) conceit of human progress out of tragic consequences.  To wit, enter Tim Berners-Lee and his good-intentioned development toward a free worldwide open system of information sharing, known as the World Wide Web. Keen reminds us that some Twenty Five years ago when scientist Berners-Lee premiered his idea of a World Wide Web of computers and their data stores, he was motivated by a scientist’s fear of forgetting amidst the constant storm of complex thoughts; but the Web would never forget and what’s more would open to the world the vast stores of information ‘out there’ and needing only the connective tissue of hypertext to become available online to all.

Says Keen, it was a rosy picture Berners-Lee and his legions of idealistic acolytes painted of the human-computer symbiosis to come – one that would lead to bounding human progress, great new economic opportunities, and the fine-tuning of a global system of informed participatory democracy. But then came the psychopaths, packs of salivating Macbeths, and opportunity, and the idealists were invited over for a sleepover.  We know the rest.

In his Web 3.0 scenario, Keen notes that the executives of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Instagram came to town wearing white hats and broad smiles but riding black steeds.  Keen conjures up an almost-idyllic late Twentieth century American middle class town these riders enter, citing what New York Times columnist George Packer calls a period noted for “state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organization,” as well as publicly funded research; in short, a system that the Internet might have helped tweak and fine tune.  Instead, Keen now sees that all as an exploded dream, and calls out the four riders for special condemnation for giving us a world more and more controlled by algorithms, and for inspiring the dark spirits in the shadows of government to co-opt the predictive analyses of the riders in order to create a perhaps now-ungovernable global surveillance state.

Such institutionalized profligacy, excess and unaccountability has, in turn, led to the rise of a monster elite headquartered in Silicon Valley, who control the workings of the Internet and more and more control the workings of human life as it becomes ever more digitalized.  This elite, says Keen, is so dangerously dissociated from ordinary human endeavors that they hold FailCons, where they gather in Homeric fireside chats and tell war stories of “Epic. F*ck%ng. Failure” that led to their ultimate success. Of course, the Trojan War has a whole new meaning amongst the geek fraternity.

The Internet has turned into a ‘winner-take-all’ Wild West, says Keen. “It creates a surreal economy in which we are not only the creator of the networked product, but also the product itself.”  We are all unwitting workers in “data factories” who work not for sweatshop wages but for nothing, he says, and when Google perfects its artificial intelligence plans, the human-computer symbiosis that began wit so much optimism, will be more akin to the same old master-slave relationship that history is built upon, a “feudal system” of 1% Haves and a vast reservoir of succulent Have-Nots.  “By thinking like us,” writes Keen of the exploitative algorithms, “by being able to join the dots in our mind, Google will own us.” They will soon become the unregulated controllers of our collective destiny.

The principal picture of cultural and socio-economic erosion brought about by the Internet’s failure to live up to its early promise could not have been more graphically summed up than it is in his bleak section on what became of the city of Rochester, New York, once the home town of the sprawling and vibrant Kodak film industry, and now a ghost town of boarded up houses and stores, where the murder rate is 340% higher than the national average, where the marrow of the city has been sucked clean by the virtual vampires of Algorithmia.  It’s so bad there that when Keen went to snap a picture outside Kodak headquarters he was told by a guard, “No photos allowed.” As Keen sums up the situation in Rochester, “[W]hat happens if the devastation is not only permanent, but also the defining feature of our now twenty-five-year old digital economy? What happens if the tragedy in Rochester is actually a sneak preview of our collective future…?” It’s hard to see a silver nitrate lining in all this.

As the elite hold Caligula-esque parties on football field-sized yachts, where they are served food and beverages by squadrons of waiters naked but for their aprons, and tell their tall tales of Narcissitic genius, while the climate burns all around them and the populace sinks into deeper depravities, it’s hard to avoid thinking of Nero fiddling as it all falls down.  Or more aptly, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Instagram in an echo chamber, playing a string quartet grosse fugue that somehow makes sense to them, even if its complexity eludes mere dilettantes and aficionados. Or maybe they are as they seem, to Keen and many others, akin to the Four Riders of the Apocalypse finally come to reclaim the “Epic. F*ck%ng. Failure” of human civilization.

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Hamlet’s Ghost and the Mouse-Trap Empire

Book Review: Chameleo by Robert Guffey

OR Books (2015)

280 pages

Available in print and e-book

Hamlet’s Ghost and the Mouse-Trap Empire

By John Kendall Hawkins

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, a melancholy Hamlet tells his stoic sidekick, Horatio, and by the time you exit – if you can exit – this Five Act Hotel California of tragic truths and consequences, you damn well believe him.  Stuff happens, and there are spaces and places in the fissures of human consciousness where we don’t mean to go, but there we find ourselves: weird places; undine spaces of horror illuminated by mere hints of occult wisdom; what Freud called The Uncanny, where Thanatos and Eros mud-wrestle in the dark and our minds are the small stage on which they do their existential porn. 

That’s how I felt reading Robert Guffey’s memoir Chameleo: A Strange But True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction and Homeland Security.

The simple narrative drift of the tale goes like this: Dion Fuller, a down-and-out heroin addict living in San Diego, allows a guy named Lee to crash at his pad during a ‘rave’ (turns out Dion allows pretty much anyone to crash at his pad), blissfully unaware that Lee is an AWOL Marine from Camp Pendleton down the road, who has apparently stolen from the base valuable assets, including a Department of Defense (DoD) laptop, a dead Iraqi general’s pistol, and, of key interest, 21 night vision goggles. 

The party gets raided by NCIS, with ravers, including Lee, scattering and leaving behind enough drugs to put Dion behind bars for, by his own estimation, “a long, long time.”  But though arrested, Dion is not busted for drug possession, but instead becomes the prime target of clandestine investigators who decide to experiment on Dion’s mind in an effort to recover the night goggles. Enter invisible midgets who proceed to gang stalk Dion, using a variety of techniques borrowed from intelligence services psy-ops field techniques for disorienting and encrazing a target.  He is followed everywhere – everywhere – including in his own home, where he can feel invisible homunculi bumping into him. He is doused with electromagnetic radiation; presented with optical illusions, including a window out which he sees a holographically projected phantasmagorical world; he is subject to directed sound bursts.

For sure, Dion’s in deep doo.

Interestingly enough, this early section of the book reads like a mixture of Hunter S. Thompson, William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick.  The narrative has a kind of junkie’s angst to it that actually serves to bolster the bizarre happenings. But more than anything else it struck me as a could-be scene from the cult TV series Breaking Bad – specifically the ‘Open House’ episode, in which a meth-encapsulated Jesse invites ravers to his home to party and collapse, and you get the sense that anything goes and anything could happen.

Though the narrative centers on Dion, it is delivered by his friend, the author, Robert Guffey, who flits in and out of Dion’s physical presence at various stages of the tale’s timeframe.  Guffey cleverly makes up for this potentially fatal hearsay trap by essentially delivering up transcripts of his emails and phone conversations with Dion (and others), so that one always feels the pulse of Dion’s fate unfolding.  (The one exception being when Dion escapes to Kansas in his ‘death van’ and goes silent for several months and we get a later summary of his doings there.). While the key missing asset stole from the military are the night goggles, that the DoD and its shadowy contractors are dogged in pursuing, clearly the principal illusion that shakes Dion’s sense of reality to the core is the invisibility mechanism that his stalkers use, creating an overwhelming sense of paranoia that Dion struggles mightily to survive.

The book is not a work of fiction.  And about two-thirds of the way through the tale we are introduced to Richard Schowengerdt, the key personage who transforms the narrative from a potentially far-fetched junkie’s hallucinatory fable (although Guffey is quick to point out that heroin is not a hallucinatory drug) to a much more disturbing discussion of military secret weapons in the works, including the now overexposed invisibility cloak that can disappear people before your very eyes (or appear to).  Schowengerdt, a scientist and inventor, was the director of one Project Chameleo, which was an attempt by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to come up with a camouflaging technique that would make battlefield assets ‘invisible’ to enemy recognizance. 

Guffey’s long verbatim interview with Schowengerdt certainly adds credence to not only Dion’s sighting of invisible midgets, but also to the existence of a parallel Dark State system beyond democratic governance and rules of law, which, of course, leads us back to the ‘gloves off’ days of Dick Cheney and the current global apparatus of all-pervasive surveillance and the machinations of Endless War that Edward Snowden’s revelations have partially taken the lid off.

The final section of Guffey’s narrative is the most chilling.  For here, Guffey, supported by Schowengerdt and other experts, argue that elements of the US government – spooks – intentionally target select individuals who cross some intangible line separating the Dark State from the presumptively normal Enlightened state.  As Guffey puts it, Dion has been “placed on a list that nobody wants to be on,” and adds grimly: “Let’s not be obtuse: we’re dealing with a rule-crazy, Puritanical, hypocritical, Old Testament–style perception of reality that desperately needs to wipe out anything or anyone that is Other. Different. Contrary.”

Recently I reviewed Thomas P. Keenan’s Technocreep, which exhaustively detailed the myriad ways we have lost our privacy to the technological, and the psychologist Gold brothers’ Suspicious Minds, which introduces the rising category of delusion called the Truman Show delusion.  While those books were sobering enough, Guffey introduces and confirms a secret malignancy directed at the public not seen since the COINTELPRO days of the Sixties when the CIA and its spooky contractors were putting unaware targets into LSD nightmares to brainwash and play with the mind of others.  An anonymous Bush henchman (later attributed to Karl Rove) once told a New York Times reporter: “We [presumably the PNAC crazies] are an empire now, and we make our own reality.” 

It is also clear that the Dark State agencies, in their quest to rebuild the world order, will in their ‘disruptions’ intentionally create chaos, seeded with superstition, occult symbolism, and Pavlovian propaganda.  The Cold War has been sentimentalized, and the Nietzschean Götterdämmerung has been walked back to make room for a very useful symbolism and the re-ascendancy of Good and Evil. Indeed, imagine, if you dare, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, neoliberal enforcer, laying down the new, same-old moral code, with this warning offered up to John Pilger: “Get used to it world. We’re not going to put up with any nonsense.”  Call it the neo Golden Rule.

When I was a young man in the post-Sixties, I would delve into weird spaces – Edgar Cayce’s out of body recountings, Carlos Casteneda’s mystical tales, Herman Hesse’s Jungian stories, Joseph Campbell’s ‘synchronicity’.  But I stepped back, because there are shadow worlds best left alone. But now the spooks and those spaces are encroaching on the normal, and people are beginning to Break Bad everywhere. Soon Jesse’s apartment will be filled with AWOL sailors, raving. Hopefully Guffey will be there to document the invisible when it comes to light.