On writing for indymedia and other media
Looking for hidden and deeper meaning in MSM, using an alias vs. not using one, some speculation regarding what might attract Internet police, and a look at how social engineering can lead to unexpected consequences
In August 2003, me and an acquaintance went to the protest/demonstration at the University of Portland, where President Bush was speaking. It was a nice, sunny day, and a good-sized crowd came out to greet Bush and his entourage. Me and my acquaintance lost track of each other, and met again later in the day, after the protest. My acquaintance showed me Portland indymedia, which I'd never seen before, and we checked for pictures from the protest, and any news about it.
Under a newswire article titled, "photos of bush's police state," I left a comment titled, "A note on Vancouver police presence,": "One of these photos portrays Vancouver police in their SWAT type vehicle, patrolling the street. Indeed they were there, I saw them, and before today I didn't know that Vancouver had a SWAT team. As I've stated elsewhere, I've lived in Vancouver for 13 long unhappy years, and never, even on my darkest day, when the rain was black and death seemed more than a certainty, never did I spy the Vancouver SWAT team, nor their hellbound machine. And so, Vancouver..."
For author's name, I put "jrash" and I left my e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I noted in the September 2005 article, "On writing for indymedia," it was about a month later when I got an e-mail from the Vancouver police spokeswoman. She apologized to me for the tough time I've had in Vancouver, and went on to explain that the personnel carrier(s) used by VPD are merely Army surplus from the Fort Vancouver armory. The response from the police seemed to be an attempt at public relations.
I responded to the response, writing in an e-mail that when I used the word "hellbound," what I meant was "hellish," in regard to the appearance of the personnel carrier. I also wrote that it was probably necessary to have personnel carriers, because of the meth labs that are everywhere. I was being half-serious about that—it's doubtful that personnel carriers are necessary to fight the meth "epidemic." If I remember, I also noted that I was still pumped up from the protest, at the time I wrote the comment—in other words, if the comment seemed over-the-top, it was due to my lingering excitement from the protest.
My response to the police was my way of saying, "Don't worry about me—I'm a good guy."
Months passed, and I made an effort to get a better understanding of the political issues facing all of us these days. Since late-2002 I'd been active in protesting the march to war with Iraq, and later, the war itself. Yet I felt there was something lacking in my full grasp of what was happening in America. So I read Chomsky, among others, and became more grounded in current political issues.
Through my studies, I learned more about the media crisis in the U.S. My studies helped re-enforce the notion of a problematic U.S. media, and taught me to take an even more critical view of mainstream media. Also during this time, I read more about 9/11, including a good book put together by the editors of a German magazine. So not only was I reading Chomsky, but also learning more about 9/11 from foreign media sources.
My media accessibility had opened up at around this time: In fall of 2003 I had cable t.v. for the first time in about 7 years. A new roommate had a computer, so there was readily accessible Internet access. So after having studied about the dire situation of MSM, I had a chance to watch some of the many cable news channels, surf the Internet, and get my own sense of what was lacking in the media environment.
In late 2003, I came back to Portland indymedia, finding it myself this time, and began regularly contributing articles.
As a result of this media confluence, I began looking at MSM more as a loose index or catalog of news. It was a starting point for finding out more information—a kind of crude weather vane which could give a general sense of current events, but with absolutely no ability to prioritize the importance of news. The news just came rushing out in ½ hr or hourly cycles, with no room for explanation or analysis. In other words, newstainment.
So due to my studies, and my natural curiosity, I began to look for hidden and deeper meaning in the MSM, to the extent that I watched it on t.v. or listened to the higher quality news on NPR and BBC. I began to feel that certain news needed to be amplified. Being an indymedia contributor, I had an outlet for this amplification. Gradually, I was becoming a media activist.
Hidden and deeper meaning: what does that mean? It didn't mean that I was looking for hidden symbols or images on t.v., but rather that I was trying to "read between the lines." News is being presented on the MSM, it's just not put into the right context. It has to first be discovered, isolated from newstainment, put into the right context, and amplified. Then it can finally be understood.
Indymedia is a good process for this, and is good at doing it. Democracy Now!, community media like KBOO, and other websites like Counterpunch are also good at amplifying real news.
In many of my early articles on indymedia, I demonstrated this search for hidden and deeper meaning in current news, as it is put out by the MSM. It was demonstrated by the amplification of certain news or themes in the news—that is, by posting articles about a news story or about broader themes found within the media. Among other things, this amplification shows what a particular person is interested in, and what he or she deems valuable or worthy news.
I happened to be very interested in the process of posting articles to indymedia, (as I wrote in an article last spring, I got "hooked" on indymedia), and so, possibly like many people, I struggled with the desire to see my own writing online, on one hand, and with the desire to amplify what I felt was overlooked news.
In a sense, posting articles to indymedia is also kind of a query process: if a piece of important, possibly ground-breaking news is put on the newswire, it will likely be amplified even more, either by getting featured, or just by getting a lot of attention, getting e-mailed around, etc...In this information age, the most important thing is that important information be made public in some way.
Sometimes though, the process of amplification is unnecessary, and only takes up space. In early 2004, I posted an article titled, "Cuban Diplomat Expelled From Washington." The story wasn't much more than this headline, but I wrote about seven paragraphs on this subject, which I had seen drift by on the CNN "ticker" at the bottom of the screen, and which I then looked online for. A link: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/01/277705.shtml
Back then, I had a feeling that Cuba may have been in danger of an imminent "transition to democracy" by the Bush administration. This is a good example of looking for hidden and deeper meaning in the MSM, and of amplifying, (or over-amplifying, in that case), information.
As I wrote in "On writing for indymedia," the police response to my first comment on indymedia was an influence in my decision to use an alias when I later began regularly contributing. Naturally enough, after my first comment on indymedia prompted a police response, I considered that Portland indymedia was the website where police contact you if you leave your name (or e-mail address) on it.
When I made my second posting to Portland indymedia, I had the brilliant idea that if I didn't put my name and e-mail address along with the posting, then the police wouldn't contact me. It's a simple equation. It's an important point because in late 2004 I began to recognize a surveillance and harassment scheme against me, and it seems this would've been less covert, and wouldn't have snuck up on me like it did, if I had posted my full name to my indymedia work. Using an alias, or one's initials, would tend to give law-enforcement a measure of plausible deniability in regard to surveillance/harassment: "He was using an alias, how could we have known who he was?"
After September 2004, however, it gradually occurred to me that I had likely been under surveillance since mid or late-2002, (which I'll write about later in this essay).
Would not using an alias have changed what I posted to indymedia? Whether I've used an alias or not, I've treated all material that I've posted to indymedia as if it had my name on it, for various reasons. Firstly, I figured that if someday I "broke" a big story on indymedia, then everything I posted to the site would then come under scrutiny. This is assuming that, after "breaking" a big story, I would become known as the author, either by my own admission, or by the investigative work of others. Secondly, the Internet world being what it is, it would be hard to preserve total anonymity online. Every computer leaves a fingerprint, etc...it's just common sense.
There was a time in late 2004, however, when the issue of potential copyright violations worried me. I assured myself that there was adequate distance between me and my indymedia work, and that I shouldn't worry about any negative consequences in that regard. (I write more about this later in the essay).
In "On writing for indymedia," I noted that there was an indication of censorship in regard to an article I posted titled, "Cuba Update!" This was posted on Jan. 1, 2004, and was featured. (Incidentally, I didn't know that this is the anniversary of the Communist takeover of Cuba, Jan. 1, 1959). At the same time, on the main indymedia page, there was a link to Portland indymedia below a blacked out article title.
I noted that this suggested censorship, possibly of my article. In the article I compared the size and population of Cuba to the size and population of Chechnya, and so, if it was this article that had been censored, it may have been due to this comparison. I think the comparison is appropriate, meant to point out that comparatively small places, like Chechnya, can yet be very tough, and turn into a military disaster for the much larger aggressor, (which in Chechnya's case was Russia). It's the Vietnam principle, more or less, and it has also been demonstrated in Iraq. The Internet police may have equated the comparison with pro-Chechen separatist sentiment. Chechnya is a Muslim region, and that's what makes me think that censors might have taken an interest in its mention.
There's a lot of "ifs" and "maybes" in this assumption. The article wasn't totally censored—it remained featured on Portland indymedia. It could've been another article that was blacked out on indymedia's main page at that time.
In any case, like the police response to my comment from August 2003, the indication of censorship had an influence on me. It wasn't a big influence, but in my subsequent writing for indymedia I remained conscious of the suggestion that this article had attracted the interest of authorities, and that that might have led to an interest in me personally. Again, this shows that though I posted articles anonymously for awhile, I always had the sense that total anonymity wasn't possible.
I was using my roommate's computer at the time, and it began to slow down, just due to the amount of web surfing I did. (I think that was the reason). So it would have to be defragmented every once in a while, etc...After it was worked on to fix the slowness problem, I posted an article titled, "Iraqi Kurds running out of time, options, friends," to Portland indymedia. A link: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/01/277944.shtml
After posting that article, the computer slowed down to a crawl, possibly due to a virus, and while my roommate didn't comment upon this specifically, I received a subtle suggestion that I shouldn't use the computer anymore.
In January 2004 I noticed some vague signs of physical surveillance, out in public. It occurred to me that it could have been FBI or other law enforcement or investigators. But these were only vague signs, and I promptly forgot about them until later in the year, when I noticed more serious danger signals.
I think that like the Brandon Mayfield case, investigators became interested in me by mistake, and that possibly the mistake had to do with semantics, or interpretations of my writing. Unlike Brandon Mayfield though, I think that investigators pushed forward in pursuit of me because they didn't like my politics. I may have been under a JTTF-type probe, and when it was realized they'd made a mistake, the problem may have been compounded by a "conspiracy" gambit. By "conspiracy" I simply mean illegal and unwarranted surveillance, and it goes without saying that all political harassment is illegal and unwarranted.
Unlike Brandon Mayfield, I wasn't detained by the FBI, and I've never been contacted by the FBI or other law enforcement. I don't mean to discount what Mayfield went through, which amounted to a domestic rendition.
After Sept. 2004, when I realized I was under heavy surveillance, I was concerned that due to my indymedia work I'd suffer fines and/or penalties, in monetary terms. I worried that by reposting news and providing links to news, I'd violated copyright laws.
But I was also concerned that the articles I'd been working on at the time, which were about Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, were so critical that they were the reason that a sudden surveillance scheme had materialized. It was naive to think this—possibly a result of watching too many movies in the past. In early October 2004 I destroyed the rough drafts of those articles, by dunking them in water and tearing them up, (which I believe is a tried and true method).
This was in the first week of October, 2004. Only days after I destroyed my work, the FBI seized some IMC servers in Britain, from a company called Rackspace. (On Oct. 7th) The seizure affected some 20 indymedia sites, none of them in the U.S. The FBI had been prompted by a European nation, (Italy?), to seize the servers. At the time, it seemed ironic to me that I'd destroyed some rough drafts of my indymedia work, and within days the FBI had seized some IMC servers.
In the couple years after Sept. 2004, my worries have expanded beyond the issue of potential copyright violations, and potential consequences of that. After having received all manner of suggestion and innuendo, stimuli and symbolism, I've been given to more fantastical thinking—for instance, that I was/am in serious danger, always have been, that I've been brainwashed,, that "everything you know is a lie," nothing is real, etc...Needless to say, my mind needs to be defragmented.
As noted above, after September 2004 it gradually occurred to me that I'd likely been under surveillance for quite some time. (In an article from March 2006, "Postcards from the past," I made this suggestion as well: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/03/335262.shtml
In that article I included a few articles from an Oregonlive.com blog that I wrote on for roughly a year beginning in spring 2002. Above is the image of John Walker Lindh that I believe may have prompted the Internet police to take an interest in me. The more I think about it these days, the more likely it seems to me that this image, with the word "yes" next to it, prompted authorities to take an interest in me.
The blog I had on Oregonlive.com wasn't an orthodox blog; back then Oregonlive had a section called Community Connection which was split up into three categories: Community Groups, and two other categories, (one other category had to do with sports, I think). People or groups could create their own web page to post information, such as info about group activities, etc...I was misusing the free web space, since I didn't really have community group information to put on there. But the material I put on there was never taken off, except by me. In late spring or summer of 2003 the Community Connection section was taken off of Oregonlive. I believe there is once again blog-like material on Oregonlive now.
The sections within the web site included: About Us/Home, News, Photo Gallery, Get Involved, and Links. Here's a description of of what one of my pages with the JWL image looked like: In bold letters at the top: Friends of the Arts, Vancouver Chapter, below that in smaller letters: About Us, below that in smaller letters, next to the image: John Walker Lindh, and then below that in plain text: "He fled his country. His country brought him back. This country always brings you back."
In the upper right corner it reads: Contact Info, and below that I included my name, address, phone number and email address, (which was jrashrash@hotmail). In the upper left corner it reads: Inside Our Site, and below that: About Us/Home, News, Photo Gallery, Get Involved, and Links.
There was a skinny middle section on the site reserved for text. As far as I know, the pages aren't cached online anywhere, (otherwise I'll feel stupid for this lengthy description).
On the site I put stories, anecdotes, and a few images, mostly in the time period from May 2002 to the end of that year. In summer of 2002, when Bush came to visit Portland, I wrote a brief mention of the trip on the blog, lightly criticizing Bush. I wrote something like: "Bush had his picture taken with some people who paid $25,000 to have their picture taken with him." The subtle humor was that I was giving the impression that it was just as significant that Bush was getting his picture taken with some people, as it was that some people were getting their picture taken with Bush.
In January 2003, as I noted in "Postcards from the Past," I put an image of a pot plant on the blog. It wasn't labeled as such, but is pretty clearly an image of one.
In this age of "war on terror," it's not just fanciful thinking that leads one to believe the worst, in regard to surveillance. In my own case, I think it may have begun in summer 2002, prompted by the JWL image on my Oregonlive blog. Authorities may have investigated if I was a follower of JWL. But there was little if anything, (that I remember), that would have seemed like a sign of surveillance, until the end of 2002. In November 2002 I was hassled by customs agents when I went to Canada, and in the last couple of years I've considered that the episode may have been somewhat staged.
To sum it up briefly: I took the Greyhound up to Canada from Seattle. At the border, I was the only one taken aside by Canadian customs, and my bags were searched. (I wasn't frisked though). It seemed to be a problem that I couldn't prove how much money I had in the bank—I didn't have an ATM receipt, for instance. After about ten minutes, during which time everyone else on the bus was held up, I was allowed to go through.
At the time, I chalked this up to the fact that I was a young male, with a skull cap on, and a days growth of beard. When I got back on the bus I was fuming over how I'd been singled out due to my maleness. It somewhat soured my trip to Canada—in fact, after being allowed to go through, I think I considered turning right back around once the bus reached Vancouver, B.C.
Not long after this I went to my first anti-war demonstration in Portland. In February of 2003, about a month before the invasion of Iraq, I was part of the worldwide protests against the looming war. At about this same time, I began coming into contact with people who, in retrospect, seem likely to have been law enforcement helpers. ("informant" is too strong a word—it suggests there was something about me to inform on).
The purpose of this contact doesn't seem to have been surveillance, but rather just a way of jerking me around. However, it's possible that my likes, dislikes, hobbies, habits, and fears were taken note of, gauged, and so on.
Given that this social contact came just before the invasion of Iraq, there may have been a political edge to it. This notion is premised upon the view that the Iraq war is largely a Republican project, and this view is tempered by the fact that the war had broad bi-partisan political support when it began. But I have to assume that, a) if there were instances of social engineering and behavior modification targeting me just before the war, then b) this demonstrates a far-reaching attempt to stifle or disrupt, annoy, or otherwise influence a person's behavior and thinking in regard to the lead-up to, and the beginning of the war.
If both of these are true, then it must be political, because why else would any entity go to such lengths to influence thinking and behavior? The Republicans wanted the Iraq war very badly.
This reasoning also makes me doubtful that local law-enforcement would be involved, if this was a broader attempt at behavior modification meant to coincide with the beginning of the war. (I've adopted the term "behavior modification" from a phrase that journalist Ron Suskind used to describe the Bush administration's overall goal of regime change in Iraq. The goal was a "global experiment in behavior modification," which was designed in part to intimidate other "rogue" nations like Iraq, so that they would act less like Iraq).
In a March 2006 article, "Postcards from the past," I suggested that an image of a pot plant on my Oregonlive blog, in early 2003, may have prompted some law-enforcement attention, but it's doubtful that a cartoon rendering of a pot plant would attract much attention.
It was only after September 2004 when I looked back and considered that some of the people I knew might not have been who I thought they were, etc...It took a sudden jolt to turn my thinking toward this proposition.
In spite of the timing, I don't think my views of the invasion of Iraq were altered much or at all by instances of possible social engineering. They had a different kind of effect on me, a gradual effect that helped contribute to changes in my life. In a way, the questionable social contact almost duplicated authentic social contact, so that in retrospect it's hard to examine the results of the former as separate from other things, since they might be too enmeshed within ordinary, everyday life.
But these kinds of things—social engineering and behavior modification—are life changing, and can't be undone. Time may pass and obscure the errors of the past, but they can't be erased. Society can be a delicate thing, and tweaking and rearranging it has definite consequences, which are not insignificant.
On writing for indymedia (includes links to "Cuba Update!" and "AQ Khan/Iraq connection...revealed!")
Notes from September 2004
Examples of irregularities and other harassment
Where I'm writing form
Rallying cry for a safer America?
Democracy Now! Interview with former WSJ journalist Ron Suskind
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