While much is made of digital activism and the ability afforded us by the Internet to help, little is made of its costs on those who do help. Because of one’s extreme virtual proximity, intense feelings of inadequacy and of “not doing enough” emerge. You’re doing what you can, to the detriment of your own health – the people you support and whose digital security depends on you are there facing all of the risks you experience by proxy. You recognize the seriousness yet at the same time the absurdity, as even mundane annoyances, such as being stuck in traffic, become extraordinary moments where you see what is “truly important” in the world. Constantly focusing on what is “truly important” means you often neglect the mundane side of what is “truly important” – your mental health, relationships with family and friends, and fun time to relax. The pleasure of normal conversations, the absurdities of daily life, the sun, stars, hugs, all slowly dissolve as you begin to live the crisis and realities of others thousands of miles away. Those anxieties become internalized and externalized in anger, irritation, lashing out – all of which I did.
It is “the cause,” after all. That movement which will make the world right, which will correct the horrific injustices you were privy to on a daily basis. It will avenge the friends arrested, tortured, or killed. You live, breathe, eat, feel, touch, anything related to it. The moments away from the computer are engaged in phone calls, texts, or in-person meetings and events. My body was in Los Angeles, but my mind was in Iran.
Cameran Ashraf, “The Psychological Strains of Digital Activism”
Much of the information collected by CIFA [Counterintelligence Field Activity] was amassed in a database called Talon, which stands for Threat and Local Observation Notice. Under a classified order data July 20, 2005, and reported in the Washington Post by military affairs blogger William Arkin, CIFA was allowed to collect information about U.S. citizens in Talon if there was reason to believe those citizens were connected to international terrorist activities, narcotics traffic, and foreign intelligence organizations and were a “threat” to DoD installations and personnel (“In other words,” Arkin commented, “some military gumshoe or over-zealous commander just has to decide [that] someone is a ‘threat to’ the military”). CIFA also obtained information about U.S. persons from the NSA and the DIA. As it turned out, however, many of these threatening people were antiwar activists, and the information about them came from monitoring meetings held in churches, libraries, college campuses, and other locations.
Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. Pp. 178.
When your government behaves in such a way that innocent citizens are forced to act as a spies to keep safe, then it’s evident that something has gone terribly awry. Laura Poitras, an American citizen and journalist, now lives like a spy: under the constant pressure of potential government harassment and surveillance of herself, her sources, and anyone that is particularly close to her.
Her crime? Being an award winning filmmaker who has produced films addressing the negative impacts of American imperialism abroad.
Glenn Greenwald has a terrific piece that unpacks what it means to be a prominent journalist, activist, or simple government contrarian who is willing to take entirely legal actions against the American state. Actions like speaking up or otherwise exercising basic civil rights. I won’t lie: it’s a long piece, probably not something you can skim in 2-3 minutes. But if you only read one thing that holds your attention for 10-15 minutes today, go read Glenn’s piece. It’s eye opening.
As a teaser:
In many instances, DHS agents also detain and interrogate her in the foreign airport before her return, on one trip telling her that she would be barred from boarding her flight back home, only to let her board at the last minute. When she arrived at JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, she was told by one DHS agent — after she asserted her privileges as a journalist to refuse to answer questions about the individuals with whom she met on her trip — that he “finds it very suspicious that you’re not willing to help your country by answering our questions.” They sometimes keep her detained for three to four hours (all while telling her that she will be released more quickly if she answers all their questions and consents to full searches).
Poitras is now forced to take extreme steps — ones that hamper her ability to do her work — to ensure that she can engage in her journalism and produce her films without the U.S. Government intruding into everything she is doing. She now avoids traveling with any electronic devices. She uses alternative methods to deliver the most sensitive parts of her work — raw film and interview notes — to secure locations. She spends substantial time and resources protecting her computers with encryption and password defenses. Especially when she is in the U.S., she avoids talking on the phone about her work, particularly to sources. And she simply will not edit her films at her home out of fear — obviously well-grounded — that government agents will attempt to search and seize the raw footage.