When I signed on to work with the NSA (National Security Agency), I learned that the NSA and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) both shared two primary training paths to the entry role of Intelligence Analyst.
One path: Interrogation, worked hand in hand with the US Military services overseas where you were educated on methods of interrogation and information detection and gathering schemes leveraged by foreign nations.
Another path: Public Affairs, worked hand in hand with US Media worldwide where you were educated on methods of information dissemination manipulation, and source validation as well as receiving a broad education on technology and it’s applications.
EVERY path required you to sign up for military service, whether it was the US Army, the US Navy, the US Marines, the US Air force, or the US Coast Guard, and EVERY path led to DINFOS, or the Defense Information School at Fort George G Meade, Maryland.
Where I went through my training.
AND EVERY path required you to obtain a premature Honorable Discharge from your military branch after you had been cleared for Top Secret work while in Advanced Training.
The US Military services were NOT in on the joke.
They, too, leveraged DINFOS for their own intelligence operatives training.
And since military intelligence services are so completely decoupled from civilian intelligence services, by design, it was imperative for any civilian operative to be firmly aware of not just military tactics and training, but how to mitigate the risks they present to you and/or a team when doing intelligence work both stateside or abroad by understanding their training and the driving impetus of any military program.
Now here was the trick:
If you couldn’t somehow leverage your information resources to obtain an honorable discharge.
The same resources everyone had access to.
You were obligated to the six to eight years of service the career areas of Public Affairs and Interrogator carried with them.
And to be clear: When you sign up for ANY branch of the US Military, you become the de-facto property of the US Military, abandoning your rights as a US Citizen as afforded by the US Constitution and are now bound to something called the UCMJ or Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Where life is substantially different.
The military Public Affairs training was pretty straightforward.
I was taught to write articles and take pretty amazing photographs, but from the beginning, my truthful writing and observation of events in the military was trashed and I was sent back to the drawing board to spin my information and tell stories that somehow found an angle which supported those I was writing about.
It was my job – should I be stuck in the role of a US Military journalist – to make them feel good.
Not to highlight the series of mistakes that led to a single catastrophic failure which reinforced a response by someone who’s ego needed stroked.
I suppose – while going through this training,
I lacked one thing I desperately needed and was being handed to me on a silver platter.
Self reflection and perspective.
While one version of ‘the truth’ was a series of events led to a catastrophic failure.
The truth if you’re focused on problem/solutions.
‘The truth’ also was a quick thinking General saved the day and a bad situation could have been much worse.
And as I learned afterwards….
‘The Truth’ also was that the General himself could have engineered the situation to make himself look good for a promotion.
and ‘The truth’ also was evidence had been found that a company associated with a bid for modernization of the facilities in a very lucrative contract could have engineered the situation to win the bid.
And finally. There’s the funniest of ‘The Truths”: A single probationary Airman Basic left his post early when his successor didn’t show to take over his post as he had failed to take into account a shift in time zones when he moved to Fort Meade and his watch was running an hour late.
What I learned in that brief stint with the military was simple:
A single point of failure can cause catastrophic failures in any hierarchically based system such as the military.
But it can also introduce a single point of amazing success.
Crazy stories from a variety of different perspectives – all I had to do was spin my perspective and look at the event from different angles.
I suppose it’s here I learned to look at terrorism and question – are the terrorists for other countries nothing more than what we regard as religious zealots in our own country? Are those in the United States who are fighting those our country has labelled as terrorists in other countries themselves considered terrorists by the people within these other nations?
During the training at Fort Meade, I began pursuing the honorable discharge while working with my handler at the NSA.
But to be completely honest.
My handler offered absolutely no help other than moral support.
First, I tried the Conscientious Objector route. What I learned was that this was largely invented term by the military to make it appear like there’s an easy escape clause should you decide not to follow through with your contract while you are in. Literally, it was marketing propaganda created by military marketers for people ‘on the outside’.
To be clear, you are NOT a citizen of any country when you join the US Military and have no rights as a US Citizen or citizen of any other nationality. And the truth is, there’s a lot of miserable people in the military and you know the saying – misery loves company. So they’ll keep you in just to spite you in many cases.
So when I tried this route. I was literally laughed at. There’s no process here. Paperwork will be lost. You won’t hear responses. People will close their doors and avoid meeting you learning why you’re coming to them. CO is not just impossible, once you are in the military, you find out quickly the CO is nothing more than a myth created by the military marketers for the civilians considering military service.
Thinking I had had a sure thing with this, and seeing a severe limitation on escape hatches at this point, from there I tried simple disobedience.
There are numerous discharges for disobedience which result in honorable discharge, some which result in something called a general discharge, which would result in my discharge but would have seen me lose out on my end of the contract I had formed with the NSA for my company’s assets and a loss of any top secret clearance, so I was rolling the dice.
But I was beginning to become desperate.
So for 4:30am marches I began sleeping in, intentionally, finding hiding places where the drill sergeants wouldn’t find me.
Sometimes they did. I got in trouble. a couple 100 pushups here and there or a refusal to allow me to leave the premises on the weekend.
But since I had always prepared a change of clothes, had an extra set of keys for my car, and had someone willing to say they were me for a couple bucks on a weekend check in to a drill sergeant who’s monitoring 250 people on a weekend, I didn’t care about the punishments.
But these intensified as my disobedience intensified. I became the First Sergeant’s project, who was clearly sensing there were other motivations for my disobedience, who often would guide the Captain accordingly.
This found three sets of car keys confiscated. All my belongings with the exception of my uniform confiscated.
All which didn’t stop me from doing it.
And then. She my branch – the US Army – ALL on lock down using me as the excuse, publicly.
From there I figured I had pushed the disobedience thing way too far. Most people were laughing at what I had done to cause the lockdown, which was breaking all the rules on fraternization and going places that all military was banned from. So most took it well.
But I backed off.
It could only get worse from here.
After about a month. My liberties were restored.
By about this point, I had less than a month before my formal military training was complete, and had already received my deployment papers.
The US Military was sending me El Paso, Texas once I was done with training.
The first weekend I had my liberties restored, 8 of us rented a single room at a hotel in a ritzy section of Baltimore, where we just wanted a respite away from the madness of urban life and military life, and mix it up with nice dinners in a classy location.
This was mid summer, 2003, and as I sat on top of the 23 story hotel, I dangled my feet over the edge and looked down. They had a pool on top of the building with no personnel up there at this time of night with rails I’d jumped over to hang out on the ledge and look at the city.
I’d been drinking.
And had a chance to look at my life in hindsight.
I’d done all this because my marriage ended in flames.
I truly loved Lisa. More than words can ever explain. And how things ended up with her pains me to this day.
I cried. My emotions a little loose thanks to an evening of light drinking.
And I began looking at my life. In every direction. Where I had come from. Where I had been and gone. Why I had done what I did.
I began asking questions such as why am I here and what is this all about.
I wobbled that evening, spilled my drink, and as I leaned over to catch it, it fell over the edge and I almost did with it.
I caught myself though.
But I looked over the edge again.
Wouldn’t it be easy? Just to end this all now. The best is all behind me anyways. Wouldn’t it be easy just to let go, jump over this edge, and quit struggling for the few bucks this will give me? The woman I loved is gone. The life I knew has fundamentally changed and there’s no one or nothing really in it for me in this life anyways.
I went to sleep that evening in a corner of a hot room with 5 guys and 3 girls.
And with a new idea.
That next Monday. I went to the psychologist.
And told him I was suicidal.
I had sincerely considered it. I explained my reasoning, and my general lack of motivation for myself as an individual to continue with life because of this simple, silly stupid thing called love and a meaningful relationship.
I wasn’t lying, either.
I suppose you could say I have been suicidal for 13 years.
And yes. You could say it is because of that lack of meaningful relationship.
On August 4th, I received something called a ‘Cosmos’ level clearance. I had been expecting a Top Secret/CLI clearance, which required renewal every ten years, but someone or something had cleared me and no one could answer why it happened. So I just accepted it.
What a Cosmos level clearance is this: I have automatic clearance at all levels of secrecy for life.
Yes, I could quite literally walk on to Area 51 or any military installation right now by simply showing my passport. No big deal, right? I could also quite literally walk onto any military installation in the world by showing my passport. Whether it’s German. Hungarian. Nicaraguan. Chinese. There are no set numbers and patterns to who has this level of clearance and why, and there are only 26 people around the world with this level of clearance. I don’t know any of them.
And yes, I have exercised the clearance on several occasions, for instance walking through a Hungarian military base in 2004 and touring a Chinese facility in 2011.
One day, when I get a motor-home and subsidies to pay for travel and living expenses on the road in a pimped out motor-home, I am going to tour the secret installations around the country and blog about them. Hopefully they’ll allow photography. But I will respect their policies and not bring recording equipment in if it’s unwanted.
So on October 23rd, 2003, I received a full honorable discharge from the US Military.
The military wasn’t interested in the suicidal man.
Well. That’s not entirely the truth.
They were simply not interested in the man who would die for love.
Spin, ya gotta love it, right?
On October 23rd, 2003, I was asked to return to Phoenix, Arizona, and go back to work for Intel in the Research and Development division, where I would receive Intelligence Analyst training.
My cover was funny. I was hired into an underperforming group a friend of mine – Bill Stokes – had been working in, which had me questioning Bill’s background ever since. Bill, you see – has always been one of the smartest men in the room anyways, but this group where my work requirements could be reduced to 15 to 20 hours a week allowed me to spend 20 to 30 hours a week training for my role as Intelligence Analyst.
It was too… Clean and coincidental.
But I never questioned him. Never suggested who I was working for. And I had kept things in secret between us, between myself and my other friends and family, and any woman I dated out of simple fear.
NEVER because I’d explicitly been asked to, mind you.
I had just made the assumption I was not to share my employment as a private contractor with the NSA with anyone.
My education as an Intelligence Analyst started off pretty benign:
The wonderful thing about digital distribution networks, in particularly cable television is this: I can receive channels that literally no one else can.
This is how much of my educational material was received.
With this, I was first taught that the origins of many television shows, movies and video games are fabricated and do not hold up to very simple investigation. This was preliminarily brought to the US Government’s attention by the IRS who was seeking revenue sources, who at first thought this was a result of tax evasion strategies, but as they dug into it, they realized there was much more going on.
For instance, in some cases the IRS was completely unable to locate the real world actors and actresses appearing in the shows. Now these people were often in hit shows, and with no reported income, all it took was a nosy IRS agent wanting to know what ‘so and so’ was making a year to learn there was absolutely no record of that person’s existence. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
In other cases, the organizations and production companies – while indicating, online, real world locations and having pictures of office buildings, when agents would physically go to the offices, and the real world organizations simply didn’t exist in some cases.
This started a dialog between the US Intelligence agencies and the IRS, the IRS who was at first suggesting there’s potential manipulation of media occurring through external influences leveraging computing technology the US may not have access or awareness of, and the US Intelligence agencies decrying “No, we are firmly in control of the most advanced technology in the world. What you’re proposing can’t happen “
But in 9/11, everything changed.
But the NSA, like the CIA, like the FBI – were all grasping at straws trying to figure out what happened.
My specialty and reason the NSA was interested in me should have been pretty obvious – computing technology and artificial intelligence.
At first, that meant simply watching a lot of tv shows and playing even more games than I was already doing.
Stupid, right? Getting paid to do what I already enjoyed doing for a living…
But this was different. Analyzing a video game’s artificial intelligence capabilities or a tv show or movie’s technology you know full well is on the list of ‘did not originate in the US’ despite production claims really creates a different frame for the viewing and interaction experience.
I had to file reports.
3Ps reports they called them, or Plausible Paths to Production which included answering questions such as what was the supply chain of this tv show/movie/ video game including potential sources of origin, as well as an assessment of how technology presented could be created in the real world.
Believe you me, these reports were the bane of my existence for much of my work life with the NSA.
Fortunately, it made for some unique training.
In 2005, I signed up for a course in Microexpressions. Micro expressions are very brief facial expressions, lasting only a fraction of a second. They occur when a person either deliberately or unconsciously conceals a feeling. Great poker players have long known about this, so it’s long been used to detect deception. And it’s surprisingly easy to learn about them. There’s a wonderful show called “Lie To Me” which came out in 2009, which details the applied usage of microexpressions exceedingly well.
What I learned was there’s far more to be gleaned from microexpressions.
You can, for instance, tell if something or someone – whether it’s on tv or in real life – is an android or robot or simply not human.
And as I went down the path of truth.
Be careful what you wish for.
Do you want your truth.
or the truth.
There’s a huge difference.
And not all linear minds are prepared for the truth.
It’s then I learned why intelligence agencies such as the NSA and CIA as well as another one I will leave unnamed have to exist.