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Saturday, August 10, 2013

National Paranoia Day -- or: Cannon versus the Secret Service!

I ignore the news for one day and just look at what happens. All sorts of stories vie for our attention.

We'll get to that material in a later post. Right now, I want to discuss a Salon story you may have missed -- Patrick L. Smith's skeptical reaction to the claimed "terror threat." His reaction mirrors my own:
After a week of ghost stories about an imminent but vaporous plot on the part of an al-Qaida “affiliate” — this is the big new word — it is hard to decide which is more disheartening: 1) The White House’s blithe if clumsy deployment of factoids, 2) the supine complicity of the media (and this, frankly, is my choice), or 3) the willingness of honorable liberals and capital-D Democrats to go along with the show simply because Obama is maestro and one stays with Obama no matter what he does.

Nothing can be said for certain as to what prompted the State Department to close more than 20 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa last Sunday, and this is by design. But it is no excuse not to raise the possibility that Americans are eating a summer salad of nonsense served to justify objectionable surveillance practices now coming in for scrutiny.
Now we find that al-Qaida was not on the run after all. It has fragmented, and this is where all the “affiliates” come in. There are said to be enough affiliates to keep the NSA supplied for years. In this case, intelligence picked up a telephone conversation (those incautious Islamists) between a powerful giver of orders in Pakistan — from the decapitated, fragmented al-Qaida — and an underling in an affiliate in Yemen. The alleged command was to attack.

The rest is smoke. No what, no when, no where.
Jihadists all know that the NSA is listening. Therefore, it seems possible that any incautious phone call might have come from one of "our" agents infiltrating the movement. (There have been many infiltrators.) It's possible that this whole period of frenzy was created by a conspiracy of two -- one guy who makes the call, and another who tells him to make such a call. All of the other actors may be operating in good faith.

Whether ersatz or real, the phoned threat seems to have left the Secret Service jumpier than usual. I was in DC the other day testing a new video camera (given in lieu of pay for a project, as noted in an earlier post). I had planned to take shots of the JFK grave sight followed by footage of the usual monuments. I gotta tell ya, it was no fun lugging a heavy bag around Arlington National Cemetery and then making the trek from the White House to the Capitol Building and thence to Union Station. That sort of activity was a lot easier back in 1988, when I made my first trip to DC.

At any rate, security around the White House was tight -- tighter than I had ever seen before. The photo above was taken with the camera affixed to a crummy (and far too heavy) tripod purchased for seven bucks from a thrift store. Earlier, I had been among that crowd by the fence, setting up a shot, when a Secret Service Guy shouted at me:


"You're kidding, right?" I said. He shot me a look which indicated that he was not kidding. Secret Service Guys are good at giving such looks.

Fortunately, the fence itself provided a good support, and we now have post-production stabilizers which can do magic.

After taking a few shots in that location, I moved back and took the tripod shot you see above. All the while I wondered: What security reason required a tripod-free zone in an area that (not long ago) was free and open? It's not as though I could hide a firearm in that thrift store tripod.

The answer may have something to do with the guys on the roof of the White House, seen here in telephoto. They were allowed to have tripods. Didn't seem fair.

I don't know what those two guys were up to. But I can't help suspecting that their activity, along with the palpably increased paranoia level, may have had some relationship to the alleged terror threat from Pakistan or Yemen or wherever.

Originally, I had also planned to take a few shots of the CIA's old headquarters at 2430 E Street NW. Apparently, the Agency still uses this building in conjunction with Homeland Security. They're working on some sort of joint task force on terror. National Paranoia Day may not have been a good time for a guy carrying a bulky pack to be seen taking video footage of a place like that.

On the plus side -- or maybe the unforgivably sexist side -- the Mall was brimming with beautiful women. All nationalities and backgrounds. All beautiful. If you're an aging letch and you wish to admire a display of pulchritude, don't head to the beach -- hang out near the Smithsonian.

The sight made me proud. God bless America!
Or...if you want to see an array of babes (of various genders) decked out in Manga and anime garb, head to the harbor here in Charm city for the 20th year of Otakon at the Convention Center. I'm sad that I missed the red carpet event last night that welcomed them....tho I saw many on the street as I drove home.

On the surveillance front, there are so many articles, all taking Obama to task for things like reminding people he spoke out against all this a senator! It's almost too pathetic to be laughable. Snowden is getting some credit, which prompted the petulant in the White House to remind reporters that Snowden has been charged with multiple felonies.

Which should have been the cue for the press to start shouting questions about Obama's flipflop on whistleblower protection.
I still don't get the switch from the dissmisive (a 29 years old hacker) to be all over Russia for not handing him over. How did he suddenly became so important and dangerous
I happened to walk past the Convention Center at just the right time to catch that bizarre fashion show.

The girl in the Ms. Marvel costume was...


But costumes aside, America's fairest daughters are to be found on the Mall.
Joe, because I am already risking a place on a government watch list via my Jay Eff Kay activities, I will not address your main point about the growing surveillance state. But I am interested in your observation about the parade of people on the Capitol Mall.

Washington is one of the wealthiest locales in the world, and many of the people strolling through its public spaces are professionals of a certain confidence, income and attractiveness level. It is not unlike what you would see in L.A's Westwood or New York's Times Square or Baltimore's Inner Harbor, but I imagine the Mall in summertime is more Disneyesque in its costumery--and more carnivalesque in the concupiscence it stirs.

The human zoo is especially fascinating when its specimens are healthy and well-groomed. We old curmudgeons are often surprised when we roll out of our caves and see how the world is regenerating without us.

Paris is probably my favorite city on the planet because it was designed on a human scale, with few buildings taller than six stories, and an abundance of parks and promenades for walking, talking and flirting.

One of the worst things about modernity is the way it is isolating us--at our keyboards and inside safety zones that are both physical and philosophical. To step into the light of the crowded, carnal marketplace is like a shot of adrenaline. How wondrous that these lovely lambs haven't given up!
TJ, you may be right about the isolation of modernity.

But there is something I forgot to mention about the Mall which may be germane...

SOME PEOPLE come there to work for the government.

SOME PEOPLE go there to look at the monuments.

But MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE go to the Mall to play softball. I cannot stress this enough. It's ALL about softball on that piece of real estate. I nearly got beaned twice during my journey. That shot of the White House you see above? About thirty seconds after I took it, a guy told me to get out of there because they were going to play softball in that very spot.
Wah. Boo! Hiss! Otakon has decided to move to DC. Bad call.
I was watching an European interview of some Somali pirates.

The interviewer asked what the pirates used the internet for in planning their pirate attacks.

One of the men looked at the interviewer like he was crazy and said we don't use the internet to plan our attacks.

I think Al-Quada is a little sharper.

I think the American public is a little more ignorant.
Hi Mr. J.C., I started a job next to the old executive mansion in the spring of 2001, and ate my lunch most days in Lafayette park (a coworker used to play chess with the regulars, until they found out he was a ringer). The snipers were there already. There were a lot of changes after September 11, but I am proud to say that I ate my lunch on 9/12/2001 in Lafayette park, just a few feet north of the White house and PA Ave. I saw a lot of what was going on, firsthand, including one of the fence jumpers, an airspace incursion (holy crap, it was exciting getting chased across Lafayette park by machine gun wielding officers, while the press was running out of the west wing right behind us!), and so much more that was never reported.

I'm surprised you missed the snipers on all of the other buildings in the area. FDIC had a building at the NE corner of 17th and H, which always had snipers on the roof (sorry, I don't know if they were there before 9.11, only noticed them after). I also saw snipers (post 9/11) on rooftops of other buildings in the area that are privately owned. I don't know specifically about the 'no tripods' rule, but pre 9/11 I got slapped down on several occasions when I tried to take photos with my camera being too far 'across the plane' of the north fence. I also had a member of my youth group get tackled by an agent when he jumped on top of a bollard between Lafayette park and PA Ave. I think he deserved it, but not for any of the reasons that are popular here (or perhaps NOT popular here). He was just a bit excited because of his first trip to DC (and it was a memorable trip!).

There were also a LOT of very interesting civil engineering projects that I observed while working in DC. You may recall the makeover of 'Americas Main street'. Oddly enough, it looked pretty much the same after a couple of years of work as it did before. There were others, some covered by local press (blasting at the VP Residence, the Naval Observatory, in NW), most not covered.

I remember when WTOP (local news radio, reported just a few days after 9/11 that they had been asked by Metro DC Police to not report on certain breaking news items, like unattended packages and bomb-threats, and that they were complying with that request. I understand the position they were put in, and why they made the decision. But it sucked as a commuter when you were trying to get home, and the fact that a certain metro station/road/neighborhood was closed down because of a threat that WTOP could not report during their on-the-8s traffic reports. I and many coworkers lost a TON of time (and probably years from our lives due to stress) that this caused.

I no longer work in the area, and miss it more than I would like to admit (although I don't miss riding the Metro). While my life is far more relaxed and peaceful, I kind of miss the excitement of life by the White house - presidential motorcades, political protests, running in to politicos (and Chris Matthews) at the local Starbucks, being barricaded in my office for hours because of IMF/World Bank protests.... well, you get the idea.

TL;DR: What we think is bad now was in place before 9/11 (12 years ago). It has only gotten worse.

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