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Broadcast New World: The Price of Disclosure

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Is it a sign that we are making progress that we can now find out just about anything about anybody by simply going to a good search engine and knowing the right key words and meta-tags? I wonder if we are any more or less secure now that we have a thick layer of security and terror alerts across the internet that give us the up-to-the-minute news on beheadings, terrorist profiles, among many other resources such as home supplies and even our own counter-surveillance equipment, all to be used in the event of a catastrophe we are told, though I find that by and large, this is not necessarily for what what these resources are being used. I found a map of the top 120 cities in the United States that are most likely to be hit by terrorists, and I’m not sure if this helps me any, since I live in one of these cities and can’t see how I can move, given the givens, or if it hurts me. Everything is suddenly murkier.

I keep saying that I am willing to sacrifice a fair amount of personal privacy in order to be protected from terrorists. That I’ll wait in line at the airport for two hours, kick of my Nikes and stand, arms and legs splayed, as my sneakers run through the x-ray machine and a security guard with an attitude scans my entire body and asks me to remove various articles of clothing and turn electronic devices off and on, because deep down, I’m praying that this isn’t just me. That every once in a while, even if not often, they find someone who really is a threat and prevent a national crisis and terrorist strike – because if they had done a better job on 9/11, maybe those box-cutters wouldn’t have gotten onto the plane at all. I think this; I wonder how much box-cutters influenced the fate of those planes on September 11th. Could they have taken control of the planes without them? The hostages on those planes and those who crewed that day, could in some small way, reassure themselves that it was at least somewhat reasonable to hope that the hijacking of a plane could end with an exchange of sorts. They could not know that this time, planes would be used as bombs to take down buildings with thousands of people – who would think such a thing?

In my family, we have a flight-attendant and a commercial pilot, both of whom were working that day and on the same plane, waiting for take-off in Newark, New Jersey, when the President grounded all planes. The airline they work for is one of the biggest commercial airlines – this particular flight was about to part for San Francisco, when, just a few minutes before 9 a.m., they were about to take off and instead, taxied back to the gate and deplaned. People wandered off the flight and out of the airport in shock.

Later, a search of the plane revealed several box cutters taped to the underside of the food trolleys. An investigation of the flight manifest revealed two believed to be Iraqi men who were never found after that morning. They knew that this plane had been targeted for a similar attack as what had already occurred a few minutes prior, that same morning, in San Francisco. My mother was on that plane; her husband was flying it. Not once, that day or any day since then, did I hear one word on the news about this flight or airline or the box-cutters they found and the passengers they never found. I only heard about it through my mother, who was visibly and understandably, very shaken. I want to know why, when if we are all being so fucking open, nobody told the public about this flight.

Of course, we can’t ever pretend that a hijacking, even if it “works out” and you escape with your life, is not an incredibly shattering and traumatic experience, to say the very least, but never before had we seen a hijacking cause devastation of such magnitude, and while it’s true that in some ways, perhaps it was naive to think this would never happen to the United States, the fact is, it had not happened and if you don’t live with this kind of terror every day, or even every once in a while, how can you for see it? Even for those who were raised with the dark threat of terrorism hanging over us (as it did in London in the seventies when it seems to me that almost every other day there was a bomb from one or another group seemed to enjoy blowing up bombs in front of the central post office where my grandmother worked as an accountant), even knowing and seeing these things in other parts of the world, somehow, America always seemed safe. Sure, we knew that really freaking awful things happened in other parts of the world and that even though we had said never again, there were killing camps in Yugoslavia and rape camps where women and girls as young as twelve (some even younger) were gang raped repeatedly and beaten and degraded over and over again and in some cases even forced to carry the children of their rapists in an effort to breed more soldiers, they said, for the cause.

These things, people said, happened somewhere else. They did not happen in the United States, and while I had never understood why America was immune, it seemed to me a very comfortable assumption and I felt myself slipping into it and believing it because it was better than believing the alternative or the truth, which is that nobody is immune, which is that if somebody wants to blow up a fucking plane they will and if they want to hurt you badly enough they will find a way, that in reality, for all of the searches and war and bombs and security and profiles etc. that we create, I think that there is only so much we can do.

Christ, if that were changeable then I would be all for it. I’m not saying I’d be happy about it – I’d be terrified, but I think that deep-down I believe that I could sacrifice virtually anything I have for this “greater good” that I hear about because I would know that this would protect the people that I love, even if that meant shooting my plane out of the sky because it was headed for the a building with thousands of others, then okay. It sucks, but alright. And while I never thought anyone could judge the value of one life over another, I find that despite this, part of me says that while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can tell you that if a terrorist were using me as a pawn, as power to kill thousands of others and you had to choose, that perhaps it would be the lesser evil to let me die so that others can live. It’s nuts, I know, but there you have it. I don’t say this glibly or with any measure of comfort – the very idea of such a situation scares the shit out of me, but those are the circumstances – “the circumstances were the circumstances.” War changes everything and this war in particular, because it is a war of unknown that is fought more subversively.

I became so finely tuned to the sound, the loud sharp crack, that years later, when living in little Italy in America, I knew that the sound that shattered the windows was from a car bomb. It was 2:22 am, one morning in late August, and I sat bolt upright and said flatly, “that was a car bomb.” Ian looked at me like I had lost my mind – since when did car bombs become a regular occurrence in our neighborhood, in this country. But I was right – it was a mob-hit that took out a guy as he followed his usual route home. Both he and the surrounding five or six blocks were taken out.

The next morning, we made our way past a huge hole in the road where the car had blown the cement to bits and the old gas lampposts were literally twisted from the force of the bomb. How did I know that sound, he had asked, and I couldn’t really say. I just did. I think if you live with anything long enough you develop a sense for it, and that sound is unlike any other sound I know. I think if you live in gang territory, you probably develop an ear for he sound of gunshots and could identify that sound in a snap. Anything, if you live with it long enough, becomes so familiar that what once seemed so impossible and horrible becomes just another part of your life – something to which you adjust and adapt.

Trying to make sense of terror is, of course, impossible. There is nothing that will ever justify beheading someone and sending the footage of this into the world in an attempt to threaten your enemy, gain support for your cause, terrorize – whatever you hope to achieve, this is never the way. One wants to fit this into a neat, mathematical equation. If x wants a., and I can offer x a, then x will release b. and we will achieve c. It’s a clearly defined equation in which the demands are such that we do not have to negotiate what is at the core of this mess – personal liberty – in exchange for the right to simply breathe. If we bomb the shit out another country, is that going to prevent terrorist attacks? Does this strengthen our position in the world? I’m not sure. I honestly don’t know the answer to this question, because I think it’s far more complicated that we make it out to be – and it doesn’t split down the middle in neat, party lines. I don’t think one can resolve this issue with simply Democratic or Republican principles or value systems – it’s just not that neat.

I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican – I don’t buy either side one hundred percent, and probably that is true of anyone out there who thinks for him or herself – I don’t know anyone who buys one whole system, lock, stock and barrel anymore.

I think most people feel divided. That on the one hand, there is this desire to just bomb the shit out of anywhere the poses a threat, but at the same time, prove to us that this will make us safer – That even though we too are denying personal liberties. this doesn’t make us akin to those who pose a threat to us because we are doing it in the name of Freedom or Good or some other principal that merits a capital letter. Take away as many of my civil liberties as you like, but don’t think that I’m not aware of the irony – that every day, it seems, I give up more and more of my personal liberty in what the government keeps telling me is an effort to preserve the very thing that they are taking away.

I’d love to see the women of Iraq rise up and kick some serious ass and just go nuts, because I think they have more power than they know, and it’s so fucking sad because if you are abused and denied for so long, then you doubt that and question that. I think that if I had been treated the way they have, that I would arm myself with some serious weapons and take out any m.f. who threatened me with that again. That if someone threatened to do to me what some of these women have endured, that I wouldn’t hesitate to pull out a copy of Scum Manifesto by Valerie Solanas and just get totally berserk.

Maybe the women of Iraq hold the key: just quit having children. If you see the men in your family off on a radical terrorist bent, then quit having kids. Quit having sex and hold out and see how much power you really have. If only it were that simple, and maybe it is. Right now, I’m still fishing around because nobody knows the answer and so would welcome most any suggestion, radical or otherwise, because I think it’s going to take unconventional thinking to work through this conflict because this not a conventional war in any sense.

This morning, the ACLU and other civil liberties groups were urging residents of Boston, Massachusetts – site of the future Democratic National Convention this July – not to comply with subway-authorized body and baggage searches that are to begin this week. The subway lines most at risk seem to be those that run beneath the city – one that connects East Boston and the North Shore to the Financial District via the airport and another that runs through the city’s core. So let’s see. Here’s the plan proposed by civil liberties advocates – Protect your civil liberties by refusing a search, they tell us, at which point, Boston officials have said, they have the right to not only prevent you from riding the subway (so how you’ll get anywhere is a mystery, because nobody in their right mind would swim across the Boston harbor, even on the best day) and let’s give terrorists an advance warning via National Public Radio by announcing that, hey, we’re going to search your bag, so bring yer bomb another way. I like the idea of telling some officious jerk with a badge where to get off and saying No, you cannot search my pocket book or read my personal letters (as one agent did as I was re-entering the U.S. through immigration – he read letters from a friend and detained me and my mother for several hours while he vigorously unwound a box of tampons in an effort to reveal contraband that was not there because we are not criminals or terrorists.) The thing is, I know that at least some of these searches, though not of me, will yield someone who is trying to get away with smuggling something – either a bomb or other contraband. Better that they search.

It’s okay if it means that every once in a while, they do catch someone who is a threat and who is doing something that ultimately, hurts others. I’m willing to go through a great many bag searches and the like if it will help prevent terrorism. Most people I know are willing to make this compromise – whether we would have made it five years ago is another matter, and the same holds true for the future, but right now, it seems we have made relative peace with this idea.

A couple of years ago, I was on a remote beach in Greece and I met an ex-customs officer and his wife, who were sitting beneath the shady umbrella next to us. “Why do I always get stopped?” I asked him, because I really wanted to know. Every single time, it seems, I am the one to be pulled over. He laughed and said, “Because you fit the profile. You so look like you’re not doing something wrong. You look innocent because you’re blonde and young and English you’d be a good person to smuggle drugs or a bomb – who would suspect you.”

It was, according to him, the very fact that I look like the last person to do such a thing that makes me suspect. Sure enough, as we went through U.S. customs on the way home from Athens, I was almost past the rope and to the cab-stand and a five-minute ride home when an immigration official with a badge and a gun on his hip asked me and my husband to step aside. We stood there, mute, for well over an hour, as he went through every item in our suitcases and asked me to tell him about every receipt for every meal that we had had while in Greece. I had saved the receipts as souvenirs, to be pinned in the photo album. Instead, I had to try and remember every little thing, in a language I do not know with characters that are not even remotely familiar, and explain my every move for the last two weeks. After, he actually charged us tax on the sum-total of the receipts. I think it came to about eighty dollars.

The bombs that went off in Madrid were brought onto the train in large duffle bags and backpacks. Maybe a search would have prevented the tragedy in Madrid, but since there apparently was no such search (this is what I’ve heard; if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know, I’d be grateful), no bombs were found. In reality, I think if you are going to do it, maybe it’s better not to announce it first. That by announcing that we are going to do bag searches may give a terrorist lead time to say okay, so Plan a. isn’t going to work because I was going to bring this puppy on to the train in my euro-back-pacque, but now I’ll do it by planting something on the tracks instead. I’m not sure why they announce that they are going to do this. Wouldn’t it be better to not say anything and then do it and then, maybe, you stand a chance of catching anyone who does have intention. Still, I’m up for being searched if it means that we are safer. What worries me though is that it gives us the illusion of safety – and there’s something to be said for that, but it’s not enough.

To say the least, Boston is no fun these days and the urge to move to somewhere remote and Midwestern where there is nothing but cows and corn silos is huge. That sounds pretty good to me, because right now, according to the Army Domestic Preparedness website, essentially any city with a nuclear plant is at risk. One Web site (http://standeyo.com/News_Files/NBC/Top_120_Cities.html) I found noted that “Target factors could include population density, landmark / cultural / heritage centers, proximity to nuclear plants or NBC waste sites, its importance as a shipping / trucking route/port, type of industry performed in the area, dams, communications hubs and other critical infrastructure sites, plus a variety of other considerations not included here.” It then gives a list of the top 120 US cities that are at the most risk, according to the Army. It goes on, “This list is to open people’s eyes, make people aware. Just because one lives in a city other than NYC, Washington DC or L.A. does not guarantee immunity from terrorism.”

Go anywhere on the Web and you can find information about terrorist profiles (see if you meet the criteria! ) Apparently Software Developers are considered a high-risk group, not reassuring for those of us who work in IT and with mostly people from anywhere but here. (Even the most grounded among us starts looking at the other a bit suspiciously.)

Can you imagine being John Nash today? All of this watching and monitoring and black ops and covert shit is enough to make anyone paranoid, and hell, even though I know Nash is schizophrenic, I also know that he is brilliant and that to some extent, his work did involve working with the Pentagon, so I think it wouldn’t be that far of a stretch to be under so much pressure and start imagining things, particularly when, today, it’s quite plausible that you are under surveillance.It’s hard to know what, exactly, the truth is. While we are asked to give up so much of our personal space, I see the government giving up less. It wasn’t until this morning that I heard that Saddam Hussein was being released back into Iraqi custody to face trial. Before this morning, and even now, I have no idea where he was being held, or whether or not we got any information out of him, like where the fuck was his friend (and remember, our former friend who we educated and trained), Osama Bin Laden hiding out. Was he in a cave somewhere chilling out and making his new video, or is he at a Starbucks in Seattle somewhere because some ridiculous bureaucracy let him into the country, the say system that several months after the attacks on 9/11, sent Mohammed Atta’s immigration visa through – signed, sealed, delivered.

Well. I don’t know the answers, very obviously. But in the meantime, feel free to find out just about anything about anyone. Check out these links. I’m posting them because for the most part, they are being used by people for all the wrong reasons – they are used to stalk, to put women under covert surveillance in their homes and bathrooms and broadcast their image unbeknownst to them over the Internet as “peep-cam” pornography, they are used by stalkers, insane ex-boyfriend/girlfriends… the potential abuse of this information is huge.

For the most part, I don’t think these sites have helped us become any more secure or free. Instead, all we are doing is slowly chipping away at our own rights as we enable stalkers, peeping toms, perverts and maniacal ex-lovers and the like access to our lives. I guess if it’s really okay, then we should all start a web site where we post our social security number, income, home and work address and phone numbers, bank accounts, storage spaces, unlisted cell phone numbers, even our cell phone and home telephone bill. And don’t forget to post your driver’s license number, social, and a photograph.

If you really want to be fair, I guess install a Web cam in your bathroom and bedroom and broadcast it over the Internet, and go and support this guy at a revenge website who helps guys get back at their ex s by blindfolding the women them and “tricking” (he insists this is staged) them into having sex with other people, which to me seems an awful lot like rape because it’s non-consensual sex, right? It’s sex with someone other than who you had thought, and it’s right there on camera, broadcast for all the world to see… which looks like it could be evidence. He says it’s all consensual in his disclaimer – My question then, is why does it have to look like it’s not ? With all this reality TV shit, even real isn’t real anymore; it’s like meta-real;’everything is amped up and over played. Reality, it seems, just isn’t good enough.

I believe this is the land of the free, the home of the brave. I know it was anyway and can still be and I’m seeing it slip between our fingers and the worst part of all is that for all that I feel, I honestly can’t say where or when it’s okay to take away my rights and when it is not. Where do we draw the line? Who can investigate me and review my cell phone bill and who can’t ? Who can bug my house and watch me … when is that protection versus perversion?

These are big, thorny issues and honestly, I don’t expect that I can resolve them. I can have an opinion, but even that is harder to fine tune these days. So instead, what I do now is turn over the information to others and encourage you to check out these links. To find that phone number that you thought was private, that bank account or storage facility. Maybe in time things will change or at least, become clearer. Let’s hope so.

by Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti

General Information

Northeast Intelligence Network – http://www.homelandsecurityus.com/

http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/

Terrorist Profiles:

http://library.nps.navy.mil/home/tgp/tgpmain.htm

http://nsi.org/Library/Terrorism/profterr.txt

http://www.terrorism.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=TGroups&file=index

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=79679

Get yer own spyware here!

http://vs-us.com/vs/google.cfm

http://www.123cctv.com/security.html

http://www.bioscout.com/

http://safespy.net/surefiredetective.htm

A few background check and general information sites:

http://www.pimall.com/nais/rback.html

http://www.web-detective.com/?hop=popup101

http://www.intelius.com/

http://www.einvestigator.com/links/background.htm

http://www.people-finder.com/

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About Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti