Making Friends and Influencing People

Pen pals edition! 

Before running my article on how it looks like the Justice Department might have conspired to commit fraud as part of a U.S. Government operation that happened to subvert some volunteer tech support of the Arab Spring, I gave the FBI opportunity to comment. 

FBI punted to Justice and Justice ignored me. 

Even though I had other, even more interesting questions for them both. 

So I decided to ask GAO about all this. 

Then I realized I also had information about other stuff GAO might have questions about. 

       
       

GAO is really good at looking at numbers and documents, and asking questions. Not that they always get answers, or Congress/the People listen. But they do good work. 

And when nobody listens, they just keep doing it. 

 

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Anonymous, the Arab Spring, and U.S. Government Repression

Anonymous, the Arab Spring, and U.S. guv repression in my latest at Rebel NewsBe sure to check out genius Hack42 photographer Dennis van Zuijlekan’s photo shoot with the inimitable Keith Downey, Arab Spring democratic peace activist and the target of a seven-figure U.S. domestic surveillance and prosecution effort for his non-violent activism. 

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Open Letters to Senators

such as these are happening now — in follow-up to my just-published open letter response to Senator Feinstein on backdoored mass surveillance

As my letter to Senator Feinstein notes, the Justice Department allegedly backdoored the big post-Watergate domestic spying legislation (FISA). So mass surveillance doesn’t just continue post-Snowden. Illegal domestic surveillance and psyops continued post-Watergate on a built-in technicality.

Congress should fix that now. But Congress is a big, noisy mess of lots of people and factions. So whose job is this? 

Al Franken runs the subcommittee of Senate Judiciary that is basically the mass surveillance subcommittee. And if you put “National Security Threat” in the subject line of an email to a Senator, they probably have to read it. Right? 

***

Dear Senator Franken, 

As a former Harvard Kennedy postdoc, I’m concerned about a growing national security threat I’ve recently started writing about here

I’m sure this will come as a great shock to you since I’ve only written you a gazillion times before. What can I say? You’re brilliant. I’m persistent. 

Today I published an open letter to Senator Feinstein that asks people call you and a few others. I want to be sure you know where that’s coming from. The letter is here. It’s about how DoJ appears to have backdoored FISA, mass surveillance continues, and we need a truth & reconciliation commission. I hope you’ll continue your inspiring leadership by taking the helm on this important issue. 

Thanks and best,

Vera

 

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Too Big to Surveil—Book Summary

By request for an agent I’m really excited to work with, here’s a summary of my first-next book: 

Too Big to Surveil: Tech, World Peace, and Chocolate is a hybrid project combining scholarly research, journalism, artistic reflection, and memoir reflecting the author’s experience engaging in security research while living in a surveillance state. The research shows how mass security screenings for low-prevalence problems jeopardize security. Such programs have been growing—even though National Academy scientists warned Congress about the security threat they pose in 2003. Through a range of interviews, conversations, experiments, and experiences dealing with trauma, the author suggests it was the national trauma of 9/11 that shaped this growing threat. Her research also pushes the boundaries of what we know about the potential for bias in technological decisions that can seem neutral and scientific. Accordingly, she reflects on documented CIA lying to Congress about equal opportunity law when it comes to security decisions implicated in some of the same backfiring security programs, the surprisingly fragile nature of mass surveillance, and the political nature of defining what violence is considered political

Boy oh, she wants to offer hope, and celebrate truth and beauty! To make best practices better, to learn and help learn (Dweck), not judge and be judged. And oh, is the manuscript messy in its current state, struggling with that creative-not-destructive charge, and the ordinary battles of structure and ambiguity. 

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Book Editing Photo Fun at Hack42

Too Big to Surveil, not too big to drink herbal tea and edit on Friday night with friends. 
Too Big to Surveil, not too big to drink herbal tea and edit on Friday night with friends. 

Thanks to photographer Dennis van Zuijlekom for more photo fun at Hack42, making me feel beautiful in my much recycled/only warm pants and sweater here on the Continent (oops—don’t care, live out of backpack), and calling out the arbitrary, self-imposed nature of my book manuscript editing deadline (09/20). 

Weirdest deja-vu typing that. Did I already publish this book? We already shut down the surveillance state and I can work on my album now, right guys? Right??

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Petition to Shut Down the Surveillance State

Photo Credit: alecperkins cc.
Photo Credit: alecperkins cc.

Growing national security programs threaten national security, the CIA has lied to Congress about them as open-source documents established years ago, and cutting the backfiring programs has the potential to advance liberty and justice for all while saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives. 

To ask the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, along with the rest of the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, to take action—holding a Congressional inquiry and shutting down the backfiring programs—sign the petition here

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Amazon CreateSpace Publishing Rights Threatened Again

I was really happy when Amazon restored my CreateSpace publishing rights, when I got them on the phone so we could go back together through the correct and complete tax info I’d already given them. Especially since I keep talking about how some people lied to Congress and other people died, and it would be weird if my publishing rights disappeared after I wrote a book about that. 

So I’m unhappy that this looks like it’s going to be a more difficult problem to resolve than I had hoped. Amazon has been a great business partner in publishing my first book, Push CoastsAnd they’re trying to take care of their partners while being responsible here. They’re trying to take care of their partners by encrypting tax information, and be responsible by revoking publication rights when the IRS tells them something is not right. 

But this creates a loophole for potential abuse in the form of political targeting like the IRS has been used for before. The loophole is that a political opponent can ask the IRS to check a checklist on someone, the IRS can do it and find something off if they’re looking, and then Amazon can’t see what they’re talking about to tell the partner to fix it because the tax info is encrypted. 

Amazon should say how they’re going to address that loophole, continuing to lead the cutting edge of information security for clients and responsibility to government. 

Since they’ve been such a good business partner in the past, and my tax info is correct and current, I’m sure it won’t be a problem in my case. But I would hate for someone else to feel persecuted for trying to express minority political beliefs in a free society. That’s a bad feeling.

Amazon needs to raise the bar on the IRS, requiring that they give a specific reason and way to clear the bar before they will revoke or even threaten to revoke someone’s publication rights. 

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“People are dishonest—take care and enjoy your time in Amsterdam”

The puppy’s big, brown eyes blinked out from the man’s bag. “Hi,” I said, reaching out to pet hello. The dog was tiny. The man was scruffy, quiet, and soft of soul in face. Grass of the ordinary kind glinted in the midday sun and leaves rustled in the gentle breeze under an uncharacteristically bright blue sky. Strangers often approach me in Amsterdam. Strangers often approach me everywhere. I don’t know why, but I think it has something to do with the universe punking me with kindness.

I felt I shouldn’t be petting the dog. It was a bit too odd, the scruffy man with the pup drawing a person in close. If I know anything about my vulnerabilities, it’s that cuteness shuts off a lot of danger censors. But I kept petting him anyway. His body language told me he didn’t feel safe—he didn’t even like this guy’s voice—but he didn’t mind me, either. I assumed he was a shelter dog, but then realized the bag didn’t indicate anything of the sort—no “Adopt Me,” “Puppy Needs Home,” “My name is [Yours!]”

“People don’t like them when they’re bigger,” the man offered. “Just when they’re little. It’s silly.”

I thought about foster children, refugees, people who get more sympathy the smaller they appear. But make them into grown men, and the empathetic space between creature and curb collapses.

“I like big dogs,” I said, still petting the puppy.

“What are you doing here, you on holiday?” he asked.

“I’m a writer. I’m finishing a book,” I said.

“People hurt people. Animals don’t hurt people,” he said.

I nodded. “Maybe they need puppies in refugee camps.” Then immediately felt stupid, because they probably need food and water more. Education. Medical care. Higher quality entertainment than wandering poet-philosophers can offer. And a more positive attitude than that, too.

“People are dishonest,” he said. “Take care. Be safe and enjoy your time in Amsterdam.”

“Thank you. Take care,” I said, as he gently stroked my cheek and I blew him a goodbye kiss.

“I hope you write a lot,” he smiled.

And I am. 

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Too Big to Surveil—Essay series beginning at Rebel News

Too Big to Surveil. Watercolor notecards via Zazzle. 
Too Big to Surveil. Watercolor notecards via Zazzle. 

Four essays drawn from parts of my next book—Too Big to Surveil: Tech, World Peace, and Chocolate—are running at Rebel News over the next few days. They fit together in a story of a mathematically proven current national security threat, documented lying to Congress that should spark a Congressional inquiry addressing that threat, how that hearing could cut the surveillance state, and ten better things we the People can do with the freed funding. 

The first essay details how mass security screenings for low-prevalence problems jeopardize security. The programs have been growing—even though National Academy scientists warned Congress about the security threat they pose in 2003. So what do we do now?

The second essay shows how the CIA lied to Congress about violating equal opportunity law when it comes to these programs. That documented, illegal lie about documented law-breaking should spark a Congressional inquiry. What should be at stake in that inquiry?

The third essay suggests that the emperor has no clothes. We don’t have an effective surveillance state, we have a piñata state. Whack a few dozen backfiring security programs and billions of dollars of federal funding fall out. That’s why you should want this inquiry. But how do we ensure it won’t be a repeat of the Church Committee, which produced 14 published volumes documenting intelligence agency abuse, fraud, and waste like what we’re dealing with today? 

The fourth essay lists ten ways we can use the freed piñata state funding to wage peace, not war. 

We now return to our regularly scheduled walking Amsterdam editing next book manuscript. More links to come as essays run. 

Still ISO good editor to help me overhaul and self-publish book by 09/20. 

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Amazon CreateSpace Publishing Rights Restored

I love doing business with Amazon. They’re really good about making things right. 

Kinda seems like a policy that might be improved there is in cases where the IRS says someone’s tax info is off, and Amazon is gonna suspend publishing rights til that’s fixed. The IRS is notoriously vulnerable to political abuses. And tax info is encrypted in Amazon’s system—good on them for using proper information security. But that encryption in this context also means they can’t see your tax info to begin telling you what might be wrong. 

So as far as I knew, my tax info was correct and complete, but the IRS was able to get my Amazon publishing right suspended when I was talking about publishing a political book. It was probably just a regular ol’ red tape snag. But this system is vulnerable to abuse, and the very privacy protection meant to keep people’s tax info safe also makes it harder to keep the system from being abused. 

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First, and Then

When I was a nanny, I discovered the most useful phrase in the English language was “first… and then.” As in, “first we will eat breakfast, and then we will go outside.” Or, “first lie down and rest your eyes, and then we will have a dance party.” 

Now that I have escaped normal life completely for no readily apparent reason other than it occurred to me I was free (and a few other reasons explored in my next book)—and it was very silly of me to not act like it—I am playing the next level of the “First, and Then” game with myself. 

First, I will finish my next book. And then, I will figure out which project to prioritize next, and just start before I feel ready. 

 

Next Steps in Finishing Next Book

Next book is draftedToo Big to Surveil: Tech, World Peace, and Chocolate is 200 pages, or 90,000 words plus bibliography. It’s a melange of translational science (including stuff from my National Science Foundation-sponsored dissertation and postdoctoral research), investigative journalism (including stuff from my documentary film interviews and collaboration with McClatchy), travel memoir, and me making lists of things we could do to solve problems in an attempt to offer a constructive critique of the surveillance state instead of just saying what is wrong with the way things are.

I think it’s fair to say (as I did) that I prove the CIA lied to Congress and people died, but maybe I should get it published first and let people judge for themselves. That will be slightly harder if Amazon doesn’t give back my publishing rights. But I’ll figure something out. 

Immediate next steps, then, for finishing the next book, albeit imperfectly, include: 

– adding more references in the text where I know something but other people haven’t been reading PubMed abstracts for fun on the weekends for ten years, so probably I should cite more claims. 

– locating paper, printing hard copy of manuscript to pace around Amsterdam with talking to myself and rewriting. 

– considering getting someone to actually read the thing before I publish it. (But look. I released documents proving the CIA lied to Congress in 2012. Nobody noticed then. Who’s to say anyone’s gonna have time to read my book now, even if I could get it perfect?) 

– getting Amazon to let me publish again even though the IRS is telling them my tax info is wrong. (My tax info is right.) 

– consider putting the thing down for another year or so, since I started collecting some of the interviews in the book in 2009, defended the diss research in 2014, and it took a lot of distance in lots of ways to accidentally come back to it all to spew out a book manuscript in the first place. Maybe it would be better if I just shelved it. Again. 

– rewriting and pitching slices of the book to various contacts/editors who have expressed interest. Smaller publications, perhaps building audience and interest in the topics, perhaps occasionally making a bit of money. Perhaps being clearer on the heart of the thing. 

– laughing at myself because nothing is ever perfect but I have given this surveillance state silliness just about enough of my precious time. Life is too short. The book will never be perfect. Release the beast. This would free me to turn to the next question, of what is first-next… 

 

Possible Projects to Prioritize Next

More long walking in warmer places will be necessary to ascertain which of the most obvious contenders for next possible projects is next. 

1. Next book, Interviews with Dead People—researching, writing, backpacking Asia to learn and tell a story about the legacy of U.S. foreign military involvement, soft power, and shifting narrative. The point is the process and the adventure, not to make money per se… My poetry book probably hasn’t made $100. But I think the story needs to be told and it calls me, and there’s not actually anything stopping me from going to find and tell it, so why not? 

2. The apocryphal album—re-writing the best of a backlog of about 30 songs in Protools (software) using professional recording equipment I might have access to in Berlin (hardware). Really keep clearing out this backlog of creative-intellectual projects I haven’t finished and put out because they are not perfect. Really push myself to do things I want to do but am uncomfortable with, like public speaking and singing (even by myself, I still sometimes have trouble making noise). Really show up to my life to play, do it in a month, put it online for free, and move on. (Or eventually if something clicks in another way, I guess I don’t move on, I roll with it.)

3. Go east—talk to people about what is up with this global refugee crisis, see how I can help. 

4. Nest—I miss painting horribly, and haven’t been able to get comfortable and do my artist thing in that way since I blogged on my last blog that people lied to Congress, and the universe lost its shit. I want to hole up, make spinach and miso eggs for dinner, poison myself with oil paint fumes, and not speak for a week. 

5. Keep working on next poetry book. 

6. Go to NYC already to study political comedy with Scott Blakeman, who Jon Stewart studied with and whom I’ve been emailing with off and on for years. 

7. Ditto Chicago’s Second City (where Tina Fey and others trained) for writing and improv. The upshot of the U.S. is I can work for money without worrying about a visa, and might find a theater/writing home at one of these places. The downside is, I don’t like being harassed and threatened for my writing, and it seems like that was happening quite a bit back in Boston. So I don’t want to let fear make any of my decisions, but I’m afraid to come back to the U.S.

8. Go to Congress and fix stuff. I know it’s really silly since I don’t have millions of dollars or a social network to acquire them, among other reasons, but I think if we could stop drop-shipping firearms around the world as if to deescalate through escalation the conflicts that have generated the global refugee crisis someone really has to address now… Maybe we would have funds for other stuff that actually has a good evidence base for making people safer. But just because I think my research should spark a Congressional inquiry that could accomplish this kind of reform in the best case, doesn’t mean it can or will. 

9. Make plan to make money doing something in order to run out credit less quickly while plotting wild acts of painting and world peace. 

10. More chocolate. 

 

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Play Nice, Children

Without prior warning and despite my tax information being correct and current, Amazon CreateSpace suspended my publishing rights last night after I emailed a few people a book manuscript in which I prove the CIA lied to Congress and propose we take them to Church

I’m sure this is a coincidence and the result of a bureaucratic miscommunication between me and Amazon, that will be resolved through the prompt assistance of their wonderful customer service.  I really love doing business with them. They made publishing my first book, Push Coastsso easy! 

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