Echelon And On-Line Surveillance

Barry Zorthian

Barry Zorthian During The Vietnam war

A BEAUTIFUL AND DELIGHTFUL MAN—whom I had the pleasure and fortune of the occasional chat afforded me over the twenty-three years he spent at the same firm for whom my wife also toiled as mensch of the bean counting and IT departments—Armenian genocide survivor, solid American patriot, respected and esteemed diplomatic spokesman during the Viet Nam years, former Time magazine VP, undeclared mentor of, ally, and yes, a kind jostling friend to me, Barry Zorthian, was buried yesterday. A spry, piercing intellect to the end, Barry was ninety years old, passing away rather suddenly with a staph infection at the same Washington hospital that his dear Margaret, treasured and devoted wife of sixty two years, had succumbed similarly, six months earlier on July 4.

Memories flash against my rocks. I feel as if I have lost another set of grandparents who made me feel safe, and needed. This Washington couple's impact on me was both deeply esoteric and spiritual, that is to say metaphorical.

With this and several more Project entries, I hope to tell a modest story of a great man, two wonderful wives, and an escape artist, whose counterpoint to oblivion is obvious to all who take the time to observe, and who against all the majesty of time, will still owe a wealth of gratitude to them all.

I last saw Barry in early November when I presented him the finished portrait I had originally begun five years earlier. The firm was staging a small birthday affair for him in mid-October, and among the prepared treats, had wanted to present Barry with my portrait of him. I at first balked, not because I didn't want to be honored by the gesture of presenting this passionate man with a decidedly raw version of himself chomping on one of his beloved cigars, but because I felt that the painting was not finished, and now scarcely reflected my body of work in terms of depth. I had been aware that Barry's taste in fine art ran from ancient treasures to classical brow (although his brother Jirayr Zorthian, a painter among other rather formidable exploits, had been one of California's most notable artists), a natural preference but which, no doubt, could include appreciation of my own art brut roughness with a smile and a wry quip on the fate of American civilization, even as everyone, including himself, would agree that this Gabriel Thy portrait of Mister Z remarkably captured the man and his spirit.

He was talking about the US Constitution, the Tea Party apparently, and as a registered Republican I do believe, although he'd confided to me that he had shifted his political alliances several times over his lifetime, as if he already knew I would oppose this concession of a wise old soldier not really in the mood to awaken the next day to fight the good fight once more.
After negotiations, I hurried with brush and stroke into the push and pull of personalized themes mapping our history together, and a few days later drove into the city to unveil my barely dry fast-drying acrylic gift to Mister Z, who, in his usual beaming if somewhat sardonic manner, thanked me and added that he only wished that Margaret was there to receive it for him. I asked his permission to take the canvas back to the studio for a few more touch-ups, and promised him the picture in one week at the latest. Of course, he obliged.

Later, my wife and I delivered the painting, called Dancing with Mister Z, to Barry at his surprisingly modest apartment, where he and Margaret had lived for over thirty years. We helped prepare some slice and dice crackers and such he insisted upon to then indulge Barry's trademark martini hour. An amazing host, a charming traditionalist was Barry Zorthian, but it was to be a sad visit for us. Barry obviously was still mourning the loss of Margaret, and struggling with the existential angst of all strategic humanitarians who live long enough to see their life's work begin to crumble into the dustbins of history with its relevance being rigorously challenged by another generation of emboldened young turks with torches and hot wires impetuously resculpting the truth.

Yes. He deeply lamented that his own hard fought history was being rewritten by others occasionally looser and more ambivalent with the assets of cold facts, which bubbled over to strange words from a political mind doubting the existence of God, truth, and the oversimplication of the complicated duties of men, finally mustering up that tired overused phrase of all scoundrels and scalawags who'd forgotten the basic tenet of faith is intangible possibility—what is it all worth in the end? he murmured to my own astonishment as I shot my wife a look she would know all too well.

After all, this was a man who'd once decried my dinner party evangel a decade and a half earlier, "Email? Who needs email?"

He pointed to the bulging wall of shelves filled with hefty political analysis, famed memoirs, and probably more than a few revisionist hatchet jobs he was nimbly now referencing. Books, oh the wonderful but untamable journalistic world of books that had already lured my roving eye. I knew exactly what Barry was feeling. My own struggle for purpose was transfixed by the fact that I had never outgrown my own twenty-something's existential angst, my fate ghosted by a half-hearted rejection of ambition and grandeur at any cost. A foot in each camp, I was a torn soul. But I had already read to the end of the book. Many pilgrims of pursuit had come before me. I drew solace from the forgotten details that far too many impassioned achievers had fallen silent in doubt, in defiance, in search for an unfathomable deliverance but sensing none at the end of their mortality. I knew Barry was telling me that for all his savvy, courageous work along shifting thin lines adapting illusory facts to compulsive needs of state and citizen alike during the Viet Nam era—were being distorted, dissected, reassembled again into a counterfeit of the original package—and this bothered him in these last days even as he accepted the disturbance as the normal march of the band, but the reality of this conclusion was affecting his once gracious health.

But those thoughts paled in comparision with his comment perhaps five minutes later. Without appealing to any obvious context, out of the blue so to speak, Barry Zorthian, a man often quoted in the smartest and most posh of Washington DC eschelons, announced in his usual lilting but deliberate Old World voice that he "could not believe that a document intended to govern a nation of twenty million could suffice a nation of over 300 million." He was talking about the US Constitution, the Tea Party apparently, and as a registered Republican I do believe, although he'd confided to me that he had shifted his political alliances several times over his lifetime, as if he already knew I would oppose this concession of a wise old soldier not really in the mood to awaken the next day to fight the good fight once more.

I was crushed into silence. Barry and I had long ago, over short clips of conversation at firm events, developed a short hand language from which we tackled each other's milieu. (To be continued...)

Read more official commentary about Mr. Z's illustrious career and colorful personality here and here and here.

BARING ANOTHER DISTINCTIVE VEIN, we should perhaps revisit the following thoughts from a British associate I knew as kubhlai during a three-year mailing list collaboration which ended a few months after an iconic group meet-up in Paris, '00 November:

En regarde de the email most recently sent to us by our francophiliac comrade, and prefigured at regular intervals by similar ones in the past on the subject of Security Service monitoring of keywords in emails, faxes etc.....

the idea of "saturating" the airwaves with emails containing assemblages of the said keywords in order to waste the Security Service bandwidth is a non starter.... in fact it's shooting oneself in the foot and here is why....

The monitoring system works not by drawing the attention of a security service employee to the specific document containing the keyword, but by compiling a statistical map of where the said keywords repeatedly occur. By studying such frequency maps, and changes in it over time, and by trawling for certain combinations of keywords (much on the same principles as many Internet search engines) the agencies are able to detect the general flow of attention to certain subjects on a demographic basis. Properly analyzed on this basis, such statistics can tell 'Them' a lot more than you might imagine—a lot of it of political rather than policing usefulness.

This is not to say that they do not have the theoretical capacity to zoom in upon a specific email message and have a real live person actually read it, but this is very much an exception rather than the rule. How do I know this? Think about it for just one moment—how many personnel would they have to employ to read every email, fax. phonecall containing a keyword if they read them purely as a random response to a certain string of letters or noises? A computer can filter an electronic signal but it cannot *understand* it, it cannot place you under arrest... It can however easily (in particular - QUICKLY) match recurring strings, or ignore combinations of words which make no sense. THESE are the things which it is easy to program a computer to do....

Secondly. The deliberate transmission of keywords is actually COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. Use that brain cell once more. The agency wants to know the general virtual-location of radicals: only radicals will make a habit of retransmitting such keywords in order to launch a "counter-attack on the agency", therefore these messages do exactly what the agency wants them to do—track radicals... DOH!

Moreover, because such deliberate artificial and unnatural assemblages of keywords are easy to pull out of the statistical data, they can monitor their incidence on a statistical GEOGRAPHIC basis... i.e. the spread of such documents reveals to them *WHO ASSOCIATES WITH WHO*. This is the cream on the pint so far as the system is concerned—being able to create maps of human relationships is just gold-dust when some real-world event sets them hunting for a specific individual..... Such supposed acts of self defence actually turn the needle in the haystack into "needle" in a search engine....

Moral—if you act like a fucking machine you will lose to the machine every time...

You might care to bear that thought in mind next time you receive an email from some campaign or other (or ostensibly from some campaign or other?) asking you to "Forward this email to your MP or Congressman or Monsanto..." Such email chains are an absolute GIFT to the monitoring agencies...(and you have to wonder... but no, they wouldn't surely?)

Thirdly, (and here's the irony of it all). Any radical considering blowing up Parliament or whatever is hardly dumb enough to discuss the manufacturing of the explosives over the Net. No one on the J18 discussion list was obliged to submit any evidence of their academic qualifications but no one was dumb enough to make plans to hit any particular institution or even to meet in some particular place over the List which any Tom Dick or James Bond might have been monitoring (which of course they would not need half a dozen satellites to have achieved since they could just sign on the discussion list...). So is it likely that this is the technology they would use to target that kind of activity? The only anarchists they could identify by that method would be ones who are so devoid of gray matter that they would not be worth identifying in the first place.....

Which of course suggests a final characteristically miserable reflection.... What hope is there for any kind of political activity, what purpose is there for any kind of electronic or other association between radicals, if the general level of comprehension of how the world arounds them works is so poor? We're all computer users we really understand so little about how they work? We are all anti State here, do we really study so little about the tactics and strategies of social control? We are all paranoid about political repression here... does anyone comprehend the basic methodologies of mass manipulation?

If we aren't prepared to think like soldiers, as if there were a war on an we are IN it, how do you suggest we are ever going to get a shot at winning it?

If the technical understanding of how the computerized world in which this List exists is so poor, what is the point of it? Its only effect is to send a big "I AM HERE" message to the wrong people.... Its a liability for anyone who means it for real....

—kubhlai (sober and fed up this evening)

"...there is a distinction not between revolution and reform but on the one hand between the kind of revolution which installs a different gang on rulers or the kind of reform which makes oppression more palatable or more efficient, and on the other those social changes, whether revolutionary or reformist through which people enlarge their autonomy and reduce their subjection to external authority."

—Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action

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