Palomar Observatory

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fear and Loathing at the National Security Agency

I left the hospital and decided to take a drive and clear my head. Ken had suggested Annapolis, a very picturesque city that I don't think I have ever visited before. I was only in the car a few minutes when I saw the sign, I was going to pass the NSA, the behemoth of a building that has been in the news quite a bit of late. The National Security Agency is the seat of the United States Cyber Command, and presumably the brain center for much of our country's intelligence operations. Hot damn! This would be worth a detour.

The place looked fairly empty on a Saturday morning although I think one can assume that things were still buzzing on the inside in the wake of recent revelations. Still, heavy security was evident, with marked cars poised at several locations around the complex. I wasn't really expecting a tour of the place, even though I pay a sizable portion of the rent as a proud and loyal United States taxpayer.

I guess that I went through the wrong gate. A stern, hulk of a guard with a gun asked me what the hell I was doing? I told him that I was trying to find the National Cryptologic Museum that I had seen on the highway road signage. As you know, I have always been interested in that sort of thing. I asked him if I should back up between the barriers but he said that he would raise the barrier and that I needed to pull a u-turn and get out of there. Stat.

He gave me some vague directions that I must have misunderstood so I pulled my car off the road to try to figure the place out. My camera lens cap  had slipped between the seat so I got out of the car with the camera to fetch it. My location gave me an opportunity to take a picture of the neat sign but I must have also brought some attention to myself.

I got back on the freeway and then had second thoughts. I would never forgive myself if I missed the opportunity to see the museum so I doubled back and this time found the poorly marked road, around the gas station, that led to the Museum. Alas it was closed, only being open two saturdays a month. Bummer.

Well at least I got a chance to feel the vibes at the matrix of our nation's data collection. I needed to gas up the car before bringing it back and thought what the hell, might as well do it here... Then a crazy thing happened, a security vehicle pulled off into the grass right across from me and I swear that they were totally checking me out. The car's lights were flashing. I presume that they were taking pictures of me. I returned the favor.

I hightailed it out of there. Got back on the freeway when another weird thing happened; a brown toyota pickup with all kinds of normal type stickers on it pulled up right next to me and perfectly matched my speed. I saw the man inside turn to look at me, with his very short cropped hair, was definitely checking me out. His face screamed federal agent. At the last second he suddenly veered off the freeway towards the next exit.

My god, they were scoping me out! A normal joe from California who was back in Maryland visiting his sick mother. Now I was being analyzed like I was an enemy of the state. Had I made a mistake in visiting the belly of the beast?

I called a friend who shall go nameless. "Rob," he says, "By this time, they have read your blog, sifted through all of your correspondence, reviewed your medical history, put together a detailed map of all of your movements during the last 18 months, assembled a comprehensive report on your search habits on the computer, including any accidental searches for porn sites and photographed the stains in your underwear." "And what's your name again? I don't think I know you."

Damn, was it time to get paranoid? I have never engaged in any knowingly subversive activity, unless of course it was a crime to maybe think and write? Intruder-Intruder, vaporize.

I made it to Annapolis with no further weirdness or problems. Drove through the wonderful town, capital of Maryland, historic seat of U.S. Naval power, beautiful little historic buildings and colonial row houses and then drove over to Sandy Point to try to get a shot or two of the Chesapeake.

Beach was busy, not so great, Severn River was gorgeous with its giant and graceful mansions. I could imagine them being inhabited by the lords of their day. I stopped at a place that sold crabs by the bushel and went inside. Giant coolers of crab, male, backfin, whatever you wanted and lots of crabbing tools. Buckets of mallets, tongs, picks, the place was really sort of industrial.

I set the GPS to get to my destination and ambled forward, not really having a place to store or cook fifty lbs. of prime Chesapeake crab.

I tried to get on the freeway and guess what, there was a cop blocking the entrance. And the next one. I was starting to enter some sort of fear and loathing, Hunter S. Thompson style paranoia, by god were the local cops hip to me too? What had I ever done, short of stealing that super ball at the Woolworth's in Catalina when I was 11?

I was going to stop and ask a cop what was up but felt that I should probably chill, on second thought. What else would I be forced to admit to, while they were pulling my fingernails out, after I divulged the super ball incident?

Turns out that a New Jersey cop had just offed somebody in a road rage incident and they had to seal off the crime scene. Whew! Dodged that one.

My mother woke me up at 3 to talk, I was at the airport by four, far too early, but I was on the 6:05, which entailed a brief reroute and stop in Detroit. The TSA man was a jerk. I was swabbed for explosives at a secondary station. I put my hands up and went into the spinning module compartment and then they must have not liked the look of something because I had to get a manual pat down.

"Empty your pockets," the guy says. "There's nothing in them," I say. He pulls a small piece of paper out of my right front, Jesus H. Christ, I thinks to myself, I thought you meant metal. Oddly, my wallet, which only has paper and plastic in it, set off a dangerous glow in their sensor both times.

Why are TSA guys so obnoxious? Why are so many of them assholes? My theory is that they were bullied or felt powerless in junior or high school and now had a giant chip on their shoulder which made them seek out jobs where they could feel powerful and bully people themselves...They sort of gravitate towards security jobs where they can use their authority. Would be perfect in the Waffen SS. I have met some nice ones but I can honestly say that the high percentage of the crew cut agents with the bowling alley physiques are dicks.

Anyway I am now back home. Les picked me up and we had great dim sum at Jasmine. Chicken and ginger shumai. Heavenly. Slept the sleep of death last night, amazingly great dreams and I feel great this morning.

I went to coffee and relayed my story of my adventures at the NSA. Bruce said,"Dude, it's the color of your skin and your curly hair." I hadn't thought of that. Middle eastern looking type, maybe being where he's not supposed to be. Had I been profiled as a terrorist?

I had tried to pull the pictures off my sdcard into my card reader at the airport, to no avail. Nothing registered, looked like the card was blank. Weird. One of the boys said that the intelligence service had a device that could disable cameras. Shit, had I been death rayed? Turns out it was just a bad card reader. They loaded up just fine this morning.

Glad I went, had to do it. Good to be back.


Anonymous said...

I guess you weren't aware that most of the TSA employees, especially the managers are relatives of other government officials, including elected ones. I think they are often in a bad mood because they have to do some real work once in a while.

Ken Seals said...

I can't say I buy the "normal Joe from California bit.

Anonymous said...

We are all like frogs
In hot water being to p.c. To rock the pot buts it's time to jump out and change the Terrible direction this country is going