This is an email I just sent to myself, in case anyone is reading my accounts.
Maybe you’re not reading this.
Maybe you’re just collating it, my words encoded on a hard drive in some weird anonymous building out in the middle of Cheap Real Estate Land, where the only sound is the big trucks going by on the freeway outside. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something here that pulls a semantic trigger, some Markov chain of words that shunts my email down this chute instead of that one: this chute, with the red flag on it. Maybe you really are sitting at your desk in your cubicle in Fort Meade, reading these words. Deciding what to do about them.
I warned people about you, you know. When the towers fell, all those years ago now, and everyone was talking about the realignment of the FBI and the CIA, the increased cooperation between the various intelligence agencies, I kept asking: what about the NSA? Nobody seemed to know. Nobody seemed to want to talk about it. Nobody, for a long time, would even admit you existed.
But now we know what you were doing: you were building an archive of everything. I didn’t think you could do it, frankly; didn’t think even your massive budgets could handle storing every email, every direct message, every phone call. Even if you had the data, I thought, you couldn’t ever sort through all of it in any useful way. More fool me.
I don’t like you. I don’t mean that I don’t like your employer, or I don’t like your mission. Even though I don’t know who you are, I don’t like you, personally. Because you’re not just in that chair, reading this email, because you needed a job. The NSA doesn’t hire off Craigslist posts. You worked to get this job. This was a career plan for you, something that took you months or maybe even years to get to.
That means you wanted this job. You wanted to be sitting there, reading this email. Maybe you do it out of a misguided sense of patriotism, a belief that you are making America safe from terrorists. If so, you’re just a deluded fool. You know that, right? Even if you’re protecting something from the threat of terror, it’s not America, or at least any America that I recognize. And I am just as American as you are.
But I think it more likely that you’re simply the kind of person who loves having secrets — your own and those of other people. It doesn’t really matter what they are — illicit affairs, drug use, murder, incest, maybe even every so often the actual mutterings of God-deluded jihadis. Information, you dig, is power…and if you have access to all the information, what does that make you, at least in your head?
But you are not a god. You are a clerk, a wretched little civil servant with a gaping hole where your ethical center ought to be. You are the very embodiment of the assertion that a society that would trade liberty for security deserves neither. You, my friend, are a peeping Tom, a rat, a fink, a betrayer of the ideals upon which this country was founded. You are the one who does not mind their own business. You are a traitor, more so than your former colleague Edward Snowden will ever be.
We are not afraid of terrorists, of sad little men sitting in yurts in a desert on the far side of the world, making ignorant plans that will never come to fruition. Some of these men might succeed in waging their war, to be sure…but not many, and not very often, and most of them are foiled by their own witlessness.
99% of the rest of them can be stopped by good old fashioned law enforcement and the kind of intelligence work which all of us understand and most of us condone: the kind where you pick a target, rather than casting your net over all and sundry.
That last 1%, the ones who can only be stopped by your warrantless, unwarranted surveillance of every American and every non-American whose flow of information you can get your hands on? I would rather they succeed in their murderous efforts than see you succeed in yours. Because all they can do is kill people, kill buildings; but you and yours are killing the last vestiges of what was great in America, great about America. Their dust will settle, but yours never will, until everything that we have worked for in this great experiment has swept away.
And that is their true goal, and again, I call you a traitor, because you are doing their work for them. They don’t want to kill Americans. They want to destroy America, and in that, you are their greatest collaborator.
I urge you to do this: walk away. Walk away from that desk. You don’t have to be Snowden, you don’t have to blow any whistles or name any names or steal any files. You can mark your protest against the cheap schemes of your employers by simply refusing to do their bidding. Someone else may step up, someone else will step up…but that person won’t be you. You can make your stand.
If that’s not something you can or will do — if that’s not something you feel is right — if you think that reading this email of mine is the right thing to do, that invading the privacy of me and my fellow citizens without reason, without cause, without warrant, is a noble and just act — then I would ask that you pick up a pen from your desk, walk down the hallway to the nearest restroom…and jam it as hard as you can into your own jugular, and bleed out there on the cheap tile floor.
Because I do not like you, you see. And though I will never raise a hand against you or your employers, I wish you ill, and I would rather live in a world without people who believe that they deserve the power to pry into every human life, not because they can help, but because it gives them power.
Do the right thing, one way or another. History will thank you, either way.
Joshua Zachariah Ellis