by John Kendall Hawkins
The System is the Solution.
– AT&T slogan circa 1970
If you look too long into the deep state, the deep state also looks into you.
– Variation of a Nietzsche cliché
Fifty years ago, from a cell in Chicago, Abbie Hoffman wrote in his introduction that “Steal This Book is, in a way, a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika.” Infused with his infectious levity and intelligence, the book seemed to follow up on his 60s walk-the-talk credo: “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”
The Military-Industrial conspiracy that President Eisenhower theorized about to Americans as he left office in 1960, has taken over, and spread its tentacles, and turned the country into a prison — until, the only way you can determine if you have a parole in the offing any time soon is by checking your Credit Report (and even that checking is held against you).
So, the first thing Steal This Book represents is a moral and political confrontation. Steal the fucking thing. When you can set off a revolution in someone’s head — or at least make it spin — just from reading the title, and forcing the would-be reader to consider their imprisonment in the system where they and their desires exist solely to feed The Man, then you are some kind of agent provocateur.
Abbie was pssst-ing that he’s on a jailbreak and would you like to come along. Liberate the fucking thing and join him in survival mode in the wilds of freedom, the book would tell how to tunnel through — dumpster-diving is in the offing, snatching clothes from Goodwill boxes, hitchhiking across Amerika, and even enjoying the occasional fine dining — but lo! “halfway through the main course, take a little dead cockroach or a piece of glass out of your pocket and place it deftly on the plate.” Then scream bloody Mary. (And put that on the tab, too.) Abbie’s kind of theatrical democracy was being-in-the-world, or being-as-activism, not just surfing and burfing,
I was reminded of Hoffman’s Steal This Book when I began reading the recently released ‘survival manual’ A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity by Tim Schwartz. Like Abbie’s book, the title presents a concept that would rattle most people today: public service: whoa. From the circus in D.C. to the oligarchical masters we call the 1%, you’re not seeing much public service these days.
If Abbie blew the whistle loudly and often from the outside, Schwartz is calling for a sneaky insurrection from the unknown interior of the MIC that we call today the deep state (DS). In a globalized world, the DS is virtually unfathomable. Scary stuff to go up against, but A Public Service explains in great detail how to do it. “If you see something you think is wrong but don’t know how to do anything about it,” Schwartz writes in very Ralph Nader-like prose, “let this book be your guide.”
Schwartz doesn’t challenge us to steal his book — at least not explicitly — but he does admonish the would-be reader, “If you can, purchase this book anonymously or gift it to a friend anonymously.” Why? Because, in the world we inhabit and in the system we belong to, every purchase is databased, and presumably — Schwartz’s implicit warning — whoever purchases a how-to book on whistleblowing will be referred, algorithmically, to a list of potential state threats requiring further eyeballing — a disposition matrix, if you will. So, like Hoffman, Schwartz might as well be telling the would-be reader to steal the fucking book.
A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity is not just a how-to book on exposing corruption and wrong-doing; it is also a very important snapshot of our era. If Abbie was all about liberating the mind to open up a world of adventure in being and getting stuff free, Schwartz is all about “compartmentalization,” of living two lives (at least) in a System that hungers for your privacy: you need to offer up an effigy-self to keep the data-deus ex machina types at bay. Schwartz makes it very clear: If you want to whistleblow you could be risking family, career, marriage — even your life. “Frankly,” he writes, “we’re still just at the beginning of this era of privacy invasion.”
You should never judge a book by its title, but with whistleblower Edward Snowden’ s Permanent Record the reader gets as close s/he can possibly get to the soul of a narrative before actually reading it. He means it: The American government, with the help of its data-gathering 14 Eyes partners, is gathering up information on every mobile or Internet-connected individual on the planet. They have a permanent dossier on each and every one of us. Snowden writes, “We are the first people in the history of the planet for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence.” This is germaine to Schwartz’s world view, and cites Snowden regularly.
There are three main sections of A Public Service, roughly corresponding with the sub-title of the book: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity. In the first section, Schwartz provides a cultural and linguistic context, as well as the work (and life) of whistleblowing. Different cultures have different words and connotations. The Finns, for instance, say ilmiantaja, which suggests fink or rat. A google search of klokkenluider, from the Dutch, “evoking the idea of someone ringing the church bell to warn the town of danger.” In America, Ralph Nader gives the term whistleblowing “a meaning of moral courage.” He should know.
Though Schwartz acknowledges that Snowden meets the criteria of what he would call a ‘whistleblower’, he goes out of his way to put the emphasis on action throughout the book. He writes, “As an example, instead of saying ‘whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg,’ we might simply say, ‘Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.’” Thus, we would say, Katherine Gun, who revealed that the NSA had hit on GCHQ to gather kompromat on UN security members to blackmail into supporting the Iraq war. And, as Schwartz cites in his introduction, Peter Buxtun, who documented how a Tuskegee study on syphilis in the 60s intentionally neglected to treat African-American volunteers with the venereal disease — even though treatment was available.
With the emphasis on action rather than labels, Schwartz is hoping that a person will keep in mind the overwhelming value of the public service they are providing, rather than dwelling on how they will be perceived with the label. Whether the revelations will come from the Corporate world (Du Pont, Monsanto) or the U.S. Government (Stellar Wind, “Collateral Murder”), and no matter what the issue — sexual abuse, electoral fraud, pay-to-play, high crimes and misdemeanors — Schwartz emphasizes the importance of guarding your identity. Though it seems, at times, that whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork all over the place, it’s important to acknowledge the malevolent partisan atmosphere that defines the political theatrics in Washington these days and the tone it sets nationally.
There is a very specific set of procedures for gathering documentation to support your proposed revelations, which, in the compartmentalized life Schwartz alludes to earlier, may involve purchasing a second computer device (say, a Tablet), staying away from SIM cards, using encryption, amping up your discretion, wearing disguises when you purchase, transacting with cash, going to free wi-fi, purchasing small denomination VISA gift cards, stalking yourself (to see what they have on you already). “You are your data,” he writes, echoing Edward Snowden in Permanent Record, and, again, “Your data will be used against you.”
Frankly, it sounds like a conspiracy theorist’s kit, in some ways, but if you choose to blow the whistle, expect to be hunted down, retaliated against, and be dealing with paranoia. One side or the other will want to get you. Compartmentalization is key. Schwartz writes, “We are in a digital arms race. The surveillants have more time, money, and power. The only way to win this war is by adopting an alternative frame of mind: compartmentalization.” I’m thinking: Joseph Conrad: “The Secret Sharer.”
This raises another crucial point: “find a partner.” Schwartz advises that it is always best to seek out the counsel of a lawyer first — but, he says, “It’s important to find a lawyer who understands the intricacies of your situation and who aligns with your ethics..” Better not just call any ol’ Saul. Another potential partner to release your documentation to is a journalist. Schwartz says you need to do your homework on a journalist. He writes, “Beyond having an understanding of the topic, a journalist partner should be able to convey the issues involved to the public. Edward Snowden was very deliberate in approaching Glenn Greenwald.”
You should be very careful in trusting someone internally, whether in the government milieu or corporate. “Once you tell someone internally,” writes Schwartz, “your anonymity and the protection that comes with it have the potential to be lost forever.” And, he adds, driving home the danger here, “In 2018, the Global Business Ethics Survey found that 40 percent of the time that an employee exposed wrongs, they were retaliated against.”
Perhaps the most difficult area of government to blow the whistle on is the one needing it the most: the Intelligence Community. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, after Trump lashed out at the IC, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Further, the only CIA whistleblower to ever go to jail for leaking, John Kirikaou, has said that IC whistleblowers are unfavorably looked upon and can expect their careers to end suddenly.
If you can accept the discretion required for partnering and the need for compartmentalization, then maybe you’re ready for the most difficult part: mastering the technology involved in keeping you and your documentation hidden and protected. Schwartz reminds, “Protecting your identity is the priority, and anonymity is the key to success.” As indicated earlier, it can require the care and dedication of having a second life. These are dangerous times for whistleblowing. Be anonymous and encrypted. Schwartz insists: “Go install Signal right now. Go install Wire right now. Try them out!” AND “Email is not a recommended communication technique!” And, by the way, make sure you tell yourself you won’t become a film star — it’s for the public service, and you may have to settle for knowing your revelations helped right a wrong.
Speaking of films, if you need or want Hollywood inspirations for pursuing the second life of whistleblowing, dozens of movies have been made on the subject.
It’s hard to tell whether this is a sign that whistleblowing works, or we’re so fucking corrupt that the best we can hope for is to see a decent movie produced from the revelations with an IMDB rating of 7 or above.
A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity contains a number of other sections that would prove valuable. There’s a section on Risk Assessment, where you ask yourself such questions as: “Who doesn’t want you to disclose this information? Who is your adversary?” There’s a section that suggests several starting point questions you can ask your partner once you’ve settled on one. There’s some example scenarios to coax your situation. There’s even Edward Snowden’s initial letter to Laura Poitrast to get his 2013 revelations going.
The Appendix includes a “social contract” offered to the reader, including, “In writing this book, I have tried to provide usable information on tools, techniques, and systems allowing the reader to be anonymous, private, and secure.” AND “I will never intentionally harm you, the reader.” All of this nice and reassuring, but unnecessary. In fact, it might even be a little disturbing that a writer feels the need to assure us he’s not out to fuck with us.
It’s an excellent book for the task it sets itself. Sane, sober advice. No jokes, no sarcasm. The book not only tells you how to prepare and succeed as a whistleblower, but gives a heapin’ helpin’ of sage advice. If you’re going to be a critical thinker in the current era, guard your privacy and integrity with your life: beware the eyes all around you and the shivs sheathed (shhh) but ready everywhere. As in the film Network, a whistleblowing about the MSM’s endless blatherscheissen, we should all be mad as hell now, with our heads out our windows, and whistling madly that we’re not gonna take it any more.
“But all the same,” insisted the Savage, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone—quite alone, in the night, thinking about death…”
“But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.” Brave New World (17.31-3)
There’ll come a time when you’ve gone too far with your thinking. You’ve crossed the Imaginot line. Which is to say, à la Descartes, that you’ve gone too far with your being. Cogito ergo sum. A knock comes on your door. You open to find an agent of information (AI) say, “We have so much information on you. Please, follow me. We need to blow out your candles. Have your cake and eat it too. A long convalescence. Some adjustments and renewal.” They’re not asking and God help anyone who tries to stop them.
Amazon, Google, Facebook. Recorded Future, predictions of what you’ll do. MyActvity, the copious details of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and implicitly what you’ve thought.. Algorithms up the yinyang. Fused databases, a life’s postings of “thoughts”. Cogitos you cannot defend. Offenses “Made” on the run, arbitrary, charges bespoken, tailored to your presumed needs. You’ve always been a criminal — like, say, Trevor Noah — but never knew until the fascists came to collect you. To blow your mind to kingdom come. And reset to factory default.
As in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’ll be the Savages who want to be left alone, off the grid, who appreciate the value of privacy, who will be targeted, breaking as they do from the conditioning required by late metastatic Techno-Capitalism breaking real bad. In an information age your cogito is the final frontier for economic growth, your thoughts mere commodities. Settled into Soma, you’ll soon be swimming with the endolphins and feeling new porpoise, but the reality is that the sharks are swimming all around you in algorithmic circles. Only a savage would want to be free.
In a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Huxley discusses his new book Enemies of Freedom and the myriad ways growing technology can be used to influence mass thinking, and suggests ways that a candidate could be pushed by subliminal forces to elect a person that reasoned consideration would otherwise have rejected. One thinks of Trump, the pushing of emotional buttons, the swarming action, the slogans, rallies, and Triumph of the Buffoon’s Will.
One also thinks of the frenzied Joseph Kony campaign, the sudden swarming by millions of largely white, clueless suburban teenagers invited to join an intervention to capture an evil, but obscure African warlord in a staggering display of militarized political correctness. Lots of money raised. Congress, which can do nothing about gun control, immediately mobilized to pass a bill to allow American soldiers to foot-down in Uganda, where oil, by coincidence, is in great supply. Nobody’s looking for Kony today; nobody any longer cares. Kony is said to be alive and still kickin’ in Central Congo.
The Trump and Kony campaigns highlight how the Internet can be used and abused by nefarious forces to create flash floods of chaos online and in the ‘hood. It’s exactly the kind of desecration and trashing that has put the father of the Web, Tim Berners Lee, into teary despair. It’ll get worse: we know now the US military regards the Internet as a battlefield, needing constant reconnaissance, and a look-out for spies. We’ve come to see that ordinary citizens can be mobilized in an instant by government agents, some of whom may not have democracy’s best interest in mind.
We’ve gone way beyond just needing to Keep the Bastards Honest. As we’ve been reminded often enough, ex-general Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his final presidential address, warned explicitly about the threat to democracy by the secretive powers and influences of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Only a well-informed democratic populace is capable of keeping the bastards honest. That’s the job of the Fourth Estate. Today, through mergers and shutdowns, there are fewer and fewer newspapers, and only three global mainstream newspapers of record: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Guardian. But they aren’t trustworthy.
The NYT once quashed a crucial story by its prize-winning staff journalist James Risen about the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying on American citizens — a story that might have derailed Bush’s re-election a couple of weeks later. The NYT claimed that they didn’t want to influence the election; but not running the story did just that. The Washington Post has, primarily through owner Jeff Bezo’s work with the CIA, been undermined; and they have worked to defame legitimate alternative news sources, such as Counterpunch and Black Agenda Report. The Guardian, while famous for helping to report on Edward Snowden’s leaks and a one-time partner with Julian Assange, has curiously withdrawn a vigor of reportage on national security issues and seemingly gone to war with Assange.
It seems like Julian Assange has been at war with the MIC forever. At least, that’s how he’s been depicted. He’s always known the Bastards couldn’t be kept honest by simple, ordinary mainstream means — not when they’ve turned into paper tigers and no longer practice adversarial journalism (their approach to Trump being the exception — and instructive). He also seems to appreciate the Abbie Hoffman yippie credo: Revolution — for the Hell of It. And he understands that the Cogito is facing extinction, threatened like never before by the forces of conditioning that will only deepen as we approach the Singularity. He’s even written an extremely thoughtful book about cryptography, how it will be required to protect privacy in the future.
In his 2012 Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, which he calls a “warning” rather than a “manifesto, Assange writes, “The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen…within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.” Hacker, certified, ethical or otherwise, Assange has demonstrated he is a kind of hero for the new dark digital age. And he’s provided tools to fight back to a new generation of ethicists.
Rewatching “Collateral Damage,” the Wikileaks video from 2010 that shows an American Apache gunship firing on unsuspecting Iraqi civilians, one is awed not only by the brazen cold-blooded murder depicted but also what the incident encapsulated: The war on journalism; the disgusting impunity the War on Terror has engendered; the secrecy and lack of accountabilty; and the sheer pleasure in the double-tap murder exhibited that goes against all the boastful bullshit of democratic America’s exceptionalist imperialism.
Well, Assange may end up a martyr for the freedom we all threw away, cogs instead of cogitos, locked away in America after an Espionage Act conviction in a max security prison, in the hole, his privacy ‘privileges’ taken away, hosed down constantly by the surveillance camera hanging from the ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see if the MSM comes to his emotional rescue when he goes on trial, criminally charged with the adversarial journalism they’ve so often neglected in the name of protecting what used to be called the bourgeoisie.
For now, they treat him like he’s all wrapped up like a douche in the night, comparing the wicked leaks of his condom one night to his wikileaks, the idea being in each case that he’s careless with the information he disseminates, and leaves behind questions as to whether his hacking was ethical or not. While the ‘vast conspiracy’ of right wing sexual hypocrites continue to press for his annihilation, Assanges and his work endures. Keeping these secrets, our thoughts — this is the last frontier. “If we do not [redefine force relations], the universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.”