Feeling a need to humor myself, and casting about for a way to cock a snook at the Department of Homeland Security and The Transportation Security Administration (in German, Die Abteilung der Heimatland-Sicherheit, and Die Transport-Sicherheitsverwaltung, one click of the heels and raised right arm, palm down, required for pronunciation, if you can manage it) and strike a blow for freedom of speech and the First and Fourth Amendments, the DHS provided me with a salubrious vehicle. Cowboy Byte and other blog sites reported the grudging release by the DHS of its 39-page Analyst’s Desktop Binder (2011) containing words employed anywhere on the Internet that should cause red flags and whistles and bells to awaken the glaze-eyed human monitors and alert over-heating computers to open that Binder and follow its instructions.
The list is pseudo-comprehensive, including obvious terms that would slap a monitor on the back of his head when they pop up, and numerous terms used millions of times every day by Internet users, so that one wonders why they were included, unless the monitors and computers are programmed to look for suspicious combinations of two or more of them in sneaky repetitions or recurrences. The DHS may as well have programmed the whole Oxford English Dictionary and the Cambridge Complete Works of Shakespeare.
“The keywords are included…in the Binder,” notes Cowboy Byte, “which also instructs analysts to hunt down media reports that reflect poorly on the department.”
And they’re not even in alphabetical order. Very, very sly. Makes it difficult to follow.
“It doesn’t include the keyword list used by Obama’s gang of plumbers who troll the Net for negative stories, or the NSA, which represents a whole different set of eyes that are watching you.”
Well, let’s give that a try, and reflect” poorly on our very own We Never Sleep Detective Agency, and imagine the critical infrastructure of the average DHS monitor’s mind when he’s on the job. Words in italics are push-their-button terms, except for book titles and the like. But, then, you never know. The lexicon reputedly is incomplete.
As a new hire, our man probably went through several weeks of orientation with other recruits, and he might have innocently asked his instructor why the Koran was not listed the Desktop Binder. The guide hemmed and hawed in his best professorial manner, claiming that Islam was never considered an enemy, all the evidence to the contrary, but the question was secretly logged into the new hire’s personnel file under “Possible Islamophobic Tendencies and Symptoms.” Not an auspicious start of a career of snooping.
The guide’s answer was also secretly entered into his own personnel file. After a brief review of his record by a permanent and anonymous committee of employee evaluation, he was subsequently and regretfully furloughed, and his security clearance rescinded. One of his new hire charges happened to have been working for Internal Affairs, a department charged with the task of policing trainers and training classes and just about everyone who worked for the DHS. Except for Internal Affairs personnel.
In the subterranean consciousness of rank-and-file snoops, Internal Affairs had a nickname, the Mutaween, or The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Crimethink, modeled, some said, after the Saudi Arabian religious police, although no one dared investigate and confirm the parallel, nor could they, for all references to Islam, Muslims, mosques, beards and burkas had been excised from DHS literature. “Rhymes with Halloween,” whispered the lowly amongst themselves.
Our new monitor learned later that any blunt but incautious reference to Islam and Muslims within the confines of his job – and even during chitchat at the water cooler or in the break room or at the Starbucks down the street – was considered hazmat jibber-jabber and evidence of a radioactive mindset that would be closely monitored by his supervisor. He would come to realize that if he did not wish to be considered toxic by his colleagues, he’d better put his mind in permanent lockdown. The pay was too good and the benefits too fabulous for him to risk losing them over a slip of the tongue or an impulsive fillip of independent thought. How often had the orientation instructor emphasized that certain words were verboten, because they could cause episodes of intellectual contamination, acting as bacteria that could metastasize into a plague of epistemological Ebola, and render the DHS impotent to detect and counter terrorists of anonymous and un-named allegiances?
“Not to worry, however,” the instructor had droned on. “The Center for Disease Control has had added to its purview a new task, per executive order, that of managing mental mitigation among the populace. It works closely with the Department of Education to reduce human-to-human ideational infections.”
One day, after a week on the job, the new hire was taken to lunch at a very expensive restaurant on K Street, the Tuscany Bar and Grille, by a veteran analyst, ostensibly to compliment him on his alertness and the number of alarms the novice had sent his way with the click of a button and the swish of a mouse.
After Trish, the comely waitress had taken their orders and served them glasses of Chianti, the analyst smiled and said, “That last referral of yours I had to share with my colleagues upstairs. It was worth a chuckle. The dirty bombe was merely a dessert recipe a lady in New Haven had sent to a friend in Cannes, consisting of strawberry mousse and ice cream packed into a pound cake coated with dark chocolate Godiva sprinkles.” The analyst laughed. “Hardly the ingredients for an explosion, except to one’s waistline, But she called it her ‘Bombe Sale,’ or Dirty Bombe,’ and we had her investigated anyway. There was nothing cryptic in her communication. Our computers also analyzed the text and found nothing threatening in it, and gave the email a pass.”
“Sorry about that,” said the novice, humbled, and forgetting to smile at the analyst’s funny.
“No, no,” assured the analyst. “Don’t be sorry. It showed you know the drill.” He paused. “By the way, I heard that the lobby scanners confiscated a few books you brought to work the other day. What was that one? Atlas Shrugged?” The veteran clucked his tongue and shook his head. “At your age, reading such subversive trash!”
The novice looked perplexed. “Know your enemy,” he ventured. “That’s been my motto.”
“Well, there’s a difference between knowing one’s enemy, and denying he is one. Our job is to detect and foil terrorists of all stripes, especially intellectual terrorists, such as the author of that badly penned novel. Leave enemy designations to your superiors. Don’t go wandering off on your own. There is a point where initiative becomes a vice.”
“Sorry,” answered the novice.
“Then there was that other book the screeners took,” said the analyst, furling his brow. “The Satiric Verses?”
“Satanic Verses, sir,” corrected the novice with a tone of polite deference.
“Yes, yes,” acknowledged the analyst. “By that odd fellow, what is his name? Salmonella?”
“Salman Rushdie,” said the novice.
“Oh, yes. Well, that show-offy writer offended our Muslim friends with that one. Brought it upon himself. No sympathy for him. I’ve heard it’s a lousy novel, anyway.” The analyst recited a list of books the novice was advised never to bring to his job. “That new one by Gertie Wildman, that Dutch fellow, or whatever his name is, Marked for Death. The man is a dangerous paranoid. Lives in an armored car, I’ve heard. The Federalist Papers. Anything by Jefferson, Madison, Adams, that ilk. You don’t want people to think you’re going high-hat on us. Leave that old stuff to the courts and eggheads. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — irredeemably subversive. Cool Hand Luke, that Pearce novel, and the movie, too. Claims to be an allegory on modern American society, according to our authorities here, just chock full of anti-government speeches and the like.”
The analyst studied the novice’s stupefied expression. “Tell you what, son. I’ll draw up a list of no-no’s and send it down to you. The whole grid of things to stay away from. All you have to do is abstain from reading or watching any of it. You wouldn’t want any of those things to spill over into your work, would you? People might think you were in some secret militia spying on us.”
“Thank you,” said the new hire.
“No problem. Always glad to help the new boy find his way through the labyrinth. Ah! Here are our Panini Supremes!” the analyst exclaimed as the waitress appeared with their orders.
Our novice monitor, over the following weeks, gained confidence in his snooping and detection skills, learning how to filter innocuously used terms and forward the emails containing them to specific analysts, who specialized in various usages. A little quadrant of his gray cells, however, did wonder why, when most of the news concerning terrorist attacks invariably involved Muslims – he did, after all, watch TV news and read “safe” newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post – the terms “Muslim,” “mosque,” “Iran,” “Afghanistan,” “Pakistan,” “Saudi Arabia,” “iman,” “mullah,” “Syria,” “CAIR,” “MPAC,” “MSA,” “ISNA,” “ICNA,” and many other Islam-associated terms were not to be found in the Binder of All Knowledge and Threat Level Usages. But he cordoned off that quadrant of curiosity, refusing to allow it to cloud his performance or breach his commitment to national preparedness and domestic security. Homeland security trumped all definitions of common sense and required the most stringent enforcement.
He took special pride in forwarding to his analyst friend an email sent by a university medical researcher to a neurologist in private practice complaining that FDA regulations and delays inhibited pharmaceutical development of drugs that would not become treatment resistant in countless patients, and that when Obamacare went into full effect, medical and pharmaceutical research would come to a halt. It was obviously an undisguised criticism of government policies, and the email suggested to the monitor the existence of a cabal of such people in all medical professions, a veritable conspiracy to incite a coordinated black out of medical services across the country.
He learned a week later that the purloined email led to the arrest by a special military SWAT team of the researcher and neurologist, who were incarcerated without charge indefinitely by the authority of a law passed by Congress a year before. Thus the monitor’s first commendation was entered into his personnel file. Over lunch one day again at the Tuscany Bar and Grille with the analyst, after they had ordered, he queried: “Was there a conspiracy?”
“Probably,” answered the analyst, “Whether or not there is or was, is irrelevant. We cannot tolerate resistance in any form. Not any kind of organized crime. Extraordinary threats justify extraordinary powers, to protect the Homeland, which, in the final analysis, is us. You and me, and all our colleagues. The Homeland isn’t just the country, you see. It includes the state. You mustn’t distinguish between them.”
“I’m learning not to,” answered the monitor eagerly. Still, a little comma of memory tickled the cordoned-off quadrant of his mind. He seemed to remember – and quite reluctantly – reading about historical figures who had uttered words similar to what the analyst had just explained: Bismarck, Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and others. But that reading was done long, long ago in grade school. He hoped his mother had gotten rid of those books, they were an embarrassment and possibly a liability. “I’m learning to get my mind right,” he added, not realizing that submitting to authority was a subject of Cool Hand Luke, the book and the movie, because he had not read the book, nor watched the movie.
But the analyst, who had done both as part of his own training, and had tasted much more of the forbidden culture than he would ever confess to his protégé, smiled mysteriously and said, “Admirable effort, my friend. I see that you are trying not to remain a hostage to your youthful expectations.”
Just then the waiter appeared with the analyst’s Chicken Verduta Flatbread and the monitor’s Risotta and Insalata. He gracelessly set the plates in front of the customers. The analyst frowned and looked up at the waiter, a large, bearded fellow with a swarthy complexion and an inscrutable visage. His white tunic seemed about to burst from his weight.
“Say,” ventured the annoyed analyst, “where’s Trish, our usual server? Is she off today?”
The waiter smiled. “She is off. She had an accident with a box cutter. She is resting in the kitchen, with all the others.” Then he reached inside his tunic, and, as he pressed a button, shouted, “Allahu Akbar!”
Only then did the analyst and his protégé notice that all the waiters were in the crowded, elegantly appointed dining room, standing erect among all the occupied tables, and were all reaching inside their tunics and shouting the unfamiliar malediction in chorus with the analyst’s server. The analyst had just enough time to turn and see another waiter in the outdoor café, before he and his friend were blinded by a flash that turned them both into something resembling cooked calamari and tomato sauce.
The Washington Post, the next day, however, blamed the unfortunate incident, which claimed seventy-five lives (mostly federal employees, not counting the restaurant staff of fifteen), on a dispute between the restaurant owner, the Service Employees International Union, and a renegade splinter group of Occupy Wall Street.
End of story.