Oh, Right, Echelon
Have you been encrypting your email and phone conversations, web browsing anonymously? Have you been practicing safe communication? If not, and you've been talking on the phone, sending plaintext email, or otherwise making use of the worldwide communications network, then They know all about it. They've been listening to you, and scanning your communicationstraffic on underground and underwater cables, off satellites, across microwave towers and cellular networksall that and more. Anywhere communications traffic exists, They are listening. The mechanism they use is called Echelon, the National Security Agency's worldwide monitoring program.
This is old news by now, at least to some of us. There are informational websites about it, the European Union has debated what to do about it; even the BBC has had to acknowledge its existence. All this exposure, this discussion by the media, governments, even in the courts, could be seen as a victory for Us over Them, but ...
But remember Area 51? The Department of Defense ran so many disinformation campaigns, year after year, that no one could know what they were up to, really. Flying saucers built with alien technologies? Oh, all right, why not? Human-alien clones? Could be.
Well, I don't think so. I mean, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid, as the old joke goes. That stuff was jive, all jive: They liked nothing better than absurd tabloid stories and fevered abductee testimonials about irrelevancies because They had real secrets therehigh-flying spy planes and stealth fighters and bombers, among others.
We can't afford this kind of nonsense. Paranoia is too important to be left to fools and the gullible.
So let's look at Echelon with a cold, suspicious eye.
Echelon has become another language virus, or meme, replicating through our culture. Major television networks will get around to it with their hopeless brand of investigative reporting; and of course the telegenic reporters will find out just as much as the NSA wants them to, in scrambled, incoherent form. More food for silly conspiracy geese. Noise, not signal. Frighten the geese, don't alert them.
So look with your third eye, listen with your astral ears. Think: Maybe there's no Echelon at all; the whole thing's bogus, a dark story intended to keep us up late.
An interesting notion, but one I don't subscribe to: it seems unlikely, in realistic terms, and uninteresting, in paranoid ones. So let's assume there is an Echelon and that, therefore, They are listening. They have found some way of getting a grip on the traffic; They have modes of analysis that are, to some unknowable degree, effective; They aren't just scanning communications traffic for keywords but are in some profound way listening. We can imagine that They are doing context-sensitive analysis, keyed to particular people, places, times, ongoing topics of interest, past histories, contacts, and connections. These things and more.
What is the primary implication? If you want to have private communications, you must work at it. Encrypt. Surf anonymously. Create a variety of nyms—false names, worknames, as the intelligence jargon has it—under which to carry out different tasks. Install programs on your own computer that monitor attempts to access it through the net. Be shifty, wily, and smart.
Or not. Do what you want. I've got my own problems; I can't worry about yours.
Or about how you deal with this minefield of supposition and paradox, which is what it is. It's spy crap, smoke-and-mirrors all the way down, presenting us ultimately with the old radio-implanted-in-the-head-at-birth koan. We don't know if we know what we know because They want us to know itThey want us to think about that while They palm some other ace in front of our eyes. We have no access to Their strategy, tactics, assumptions—or to the facts.
But again we can assume; we have to.
On the one hand, maybe the cat's out of the bag about Echelon, and now it's all intelligence community disinfo ops and denials, damage and spin control, which would mean that citizen activism is the word for the day. Probe and push, demand information from the government under the Freedom of Information Act; write your Congressmanall that.
On the other hand, maybe They let the cat out of the bag because they want us to watch its mad antics instead of paying attention to something else. A strong possibility: the NSA has allowed knowledge about Echelon to become public for Their own good reasons. Something else is going on out there that They don't want us to even consider the possibility of, and Echelon is a wonderful beard. We look here, and They do Their work there--on that other, unknown project.
In which case They're counting on you to think inside the usual boxes, stay sane, stay calm: to be easily locatable and accountable, manipulable and predictable.
So don't be. Maybe it's time to assume connections that aren't obvious or necessarily sane, wear your tinfoil hat and sleep with your head under a wok, and pay close attention to that guy at the bus stop who's talking to his lunchbox because maybe he knows something that you don't.
Whatever you do, though, remember: we don't know how, and we don't know when, but we do know—They are listening.
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