Literary journalist and author.
The Moranbong Band is best imagined as a North Korean version of Celtic Woman: an all-female ensemble band swaddled in fetching formalwear, blasting highly produced, energetic nationalist kitsch. Of course, no matter how much vigorous fiddling Chloe, Lisa, Susan and Mairead can manage, Celtic Woman is unlikely to attract as much scrutiny from intelligence agencies as the Moranbong Band’s cover of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now”, which is perhaps better known as the theme from Rocky, and was performed – complete with a video backdrop featuring cuts of Sylvester Stallone working out – for none other than Kim Jong-un, the number one of the sinister and secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
1. The Op in the Expanded Field
We vet families – and can bar them from joining the Op – but once they leave our sphere of influence, the Op must seize control and wield his kin as clandestine cover. A respectable man must have a wife, after all, and a respectable wife must be fecund and productive for her State. But the pliant, detached creatures we select for foreign assignment are not householders by nature. Would that we could destroy their defective brood; but that is an engineer’s solution. And much as we suffer the consequences, as much as it might be humane to do so, we cannot simply execute children without risking international outcry and accusations of profound hypocrisy. By mandate each household must reproduce the State in miniature. When a family veers off course the community and State will apply corrective pressures to return it to a productive equilibrium. Abroad, at best the family will live on a diplomatic compound, where a network of families can provide at least a semblance of normalizing forces: a bad facsimile of State, perhaps, but at least an image of State, however blurry. Compound life is not always possible. Often a family must survive as a discrete unit, submerged in a zone of maximal contact with hostile elements, where surveillance must be assumed and proper comportment is crucial. Those families – estranged from State and saturated in alien influence – grow listless and odd.
Decades of discrete surveillance found clusters of traits evolving in families bereft of State. A male and female pair will often allow the infantile fantasies of their children to pollute their discourse and cuckold the State. And what is family but discourse? Or more accurately: what is family but programming and course correction through discourse? Transcripts reveal trained Ops referring to their families as prides of lions (which in turn fosters a base environment of sprawling), wolf packs, dolphins, and in one instance as a flock of geese. Correctives applied through official channels, specifically requests for the patriarch to intervene and introduce elements of Protocol and Doctrine into their play, yield weird and unwanted results. In the aforementioned flock of geese, a mother “goose”, a father “gander” and an infant nicknamed “egg,” spoke of “squawk protocol” and “big honk,” performed chores in service of “the Pond.” Prefrontal lobotomies were performed resulting in the usual steep drops in performance. Gentler correctives should be employed in all but the most severe cases.
Preferred methods of maintaining a semblance of separation from outside elements and a totem of State in the home include cooking meals unavailable in the assigned country. Creating such meals involve complex improvisation to substitute ingredients, or interaction with a network of countrymen- ritual trades of baking soda for dried raisins, for example, or a bottle of wine for carob syrup. Camaraderie is commendable, of course, but substitutions of any sort are worrying, and threaten to undermine the meal. The meal being the transubstantiation of State, nourishment wrest from labor applied to the homeland’s soil, etc…. The amber screen went blank. The satellite feed had broken. He continued typing his report:
A ten-year-old child (male) found a six-inch diameter metal canister marked with Cyrillic script. Broke it open against a stone, spilling a pungent powder. Red welts formed on contact with said powder. Child dropped canister in public well. Well water no longer potable. Request engineering dispatch to drill down to aquifer; install pumping apparatus as appropriate. Child could not locate where canister had been retrieved from, beyond pointing toward “the Black Stork.” (The Black Stork is the local colloquialism for 5615m peak at 29°17’17N 71°55’34.) Nervous system began failing during interrogation. Limb in question shook so above vague directional should not be relied upon with complete accuracy. Degeneration continued despite administration of intravenous atropine. Death by respiratory failure within seven hours. Twelve (12) villagers drank from the well before canister was discovered. Two further fatalities (three total): an 18-month-old female and a 79-year-old male. War Widow’s pension in the amount of Rs. 1400/- monthly for elder’s family requested. Remaining ten developed symptoms ranging from loss of motor function to chronic fatigue. The village prefect’s wife – also the local schoolteacher – was among the afflicted. Disability compensation in the amount of Rs. 2500/- monthly and a replacement instructor humbly requested. Corpses destroyed by cremation. Find death certificates, pension, medico- and material requests attached in triplicate. His wife began to cough. The amber monitor began to glow again and the rest of the message began to download.
2. The Expatriate Shopkeeper as Agent
Cities with large expatriate populations have stores dedicated to foreign comestibles. It should go without saying that an Op should cultivate relationships with those who serve the expatriate community, with an eye toward recruitment. These men make excellent agents. Overheard conversations reveal compromising personal information, such as infirmity (toiletry and minor medical items such as familiar brands of bandage, lozenges, cough remedies etc. are a large portion of their trade) or – in the case of stores equipped with a lending library or videocassettes for rent – sexual deviance. The clucking of spouses is a particularly rich seam of information. But it should also go without saying one should also be wary of shopkeepers. All agencies are after them and their information is often muddled with their contact with the enemy (or entirely made up for profit, see: TINCAN where a shopkeeper in Havana supplied us with vacuum cleaner schematics he claimed were taken from a military installation and mislead us for years)
The expatriate store is a site for subtler interventions too. Britons in particular yearn for native treats with remarkable fervor, and often form a plurality of a typical store’s customer base. These treats are not luxuries, far from it. Brewery slurry fermented, potted and sold as toast spread, clotted creams, tinned puddings with phallic names, curdled rose water, sultanas, carbonated fluids… securing and consuming these atrocities becomes ritual for the Briton, and in this way, he is to be emulated. His treats are cheap and their rewards extend far beyond the realm of simple consumption. Consuming native delicacies, a Briton becomes connected to his homeland. A sense of community is fostered and re-inscribed. We can appropriate this process!
Our farms produce delicacies for export and these – purely by accident – are often found in such stores. Caviar, of course, but also rinds sugared and packed with tissue in elegant tins. Dried cubes of stew meat we will call “threadies”. Why don’t we make a concerted effort to place our wares in expatriate kitchens? Our [commercial] agents can spread these products. Then our cuisine will become ubiquitous. Until we assist the struggle of the foodstuff, our products will struggle for shelf space among the lesser foodstuffs, among the gaudy things of the East and West, the heathen and the vulgar, cross-contaminated with the good.
RE: GEESE: A meandering contribution that stopped abruptly.
RE: ARTICLE: This “veritable goldmine of clandestine opportunity” is of highly dubious value.
*** EMBASSY PERSONNEL: A crate containing mulled wine, black currant preserves, cubes of assorted dried meats, and other delicacies from home will arrive soon. This crate will be addressed to appropriate social coordinator, vice counsel, etc. You must intercept. Contents intended as a ‘sampler’ for distribution to any and all stores catering to local expatriate community. Questions? Transmit: HOME OFFICE, re: Sinister Snacking. ***
RANGOON wishes to thank HOME OFFICE for another exceptional idea.
ADDIS ABBA: is appalled by this sudden lurch into arch capitalism.
PARIS: thinks the expatriate community is already well served by domestic cuisine.
LONDON: in all seriousness there are excellent British confections. Chocolate especially.
ZURICH: disagree with LONDON’s opinion re: British confections.
BRUSSELS: also disagree with LONDON; wish to assert Belgian dominance in global chocolate-making arena.
|||||||||||| IMPERATIVE: STOP TRANSMITING YOUR LOCATIONS ||||||||||||||||||||||||
ANONYMOUS: Are we under attack?
*** RE: ANONYMOUS: Do not assume we are under attack. You will be notified in the event of an attack, nuclear or otherwise. ***
October 26, 1982
3. The Ghoulish Irony of Imperialist Capital
As a political officer of quite senior rank I understand the doctrinal and moral objections to our taking a more overt role in global commerce and trade; however, I think the following example of how we are turning our enemy’s greed against him might prove enlightening.
First, a history lesson: Ops allowed access to international news have no doubt noticed the perturbations at the highest levels of our enemy’s government over the past ten years. For those who do not or did not, here is what happened: A politically motivated, but otherwise unremarkable intelligence gathering operation was bungled, and revealed to the public. (It really was slight, in effect seeding a rival’s regional campaign office with ‘devices,’ standard practice for political parties all over the world.) As the agents involved were interrogated and their orders traced back to higher and higher levels of authority, their leader – Richard Nixon, a sleek sinister corporatist – resigned rather than face a trial by his peers in the senate. As his vice-president had earlier been forced out of office, the presidency was assumed by the chairman of their legislative branch; and for the first time in history the United States of America was led by an official chosen by a single state rather than the entire country. The thought that the mask might slip and reveal a fascist snarl sent shudders through the ‘free’ world… Of course, as is often the case, deeper issues were at play. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, long a private fiefdom, lost its founder and leader for almost forty years – J. Edgar Hoover. The White House made a play for control. It stands to reason that one of the remaining senior officials installed by the old director revealed the break-in to the press as a way of retaliating or in an attempt to blackmail the administration into letting him take over. Indeed, in the wake of Nixon’s resignation there were other intensely toxic disclosures, including the revelation of Central Intelligence activities in the domestic United States, apparently forbidden by charter (how easily we forget).
Hardly the stuff of Hollywood movies, and typical of bureaucracies allowed to fester far from oversight (not unlike the children of Ops, apparently); yet regardless of why their government began to collapse, keen outside observers took this as just another sign that on a macro level the American colossus’ knees were beginning to buckle. A stagnant economy and rising inflation had begun to gnaw at the pocketbooks of a populace already riven with a discontent over the unpopular, illegal war in Vietnam. Domestic production of petroleum peaked in 1970 and Americans were being forced to import a greater and greater fraction of oil from abroad. This would doom them. In 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a cartel of mostly Middle Eastern Arab countries declared an embargo on oil exports. Prices of petroleum-based products soared and since monies received from petroleum are in hard currency (i.e. petrodollars), to capitalize on Western misfortune we built vast pipelines to transport oil and natural gas from our Eastern wastelands directly into Western Europe.
Not only do our pipelines give us a potent weapon in our diplomatic arsenal (in that we can shut off Europe’s electricity at will) but money, billions upon billions of dollars have begun to flow back to us. And with this money we are able to secretly purchase the most advanced technological products from the West, back engineering them for our own [martial] purposes, in effect contracting our research to our enemies. Indeed, much of the technology we appropriate is actually used to transport oil and natural gas from the farthest reaches of our frontier to directly to down their gullets. One of our most important recent acquisitions has been technology capable of remotely operating our oil supply lines.
***FLASH: Details are emerging. Explosion’s yield determined equivalent to a three (3) kiloton tactical nuclear blast, flash visible from low earth orbit unassisted. No trace of radiation at blast site. No sign of electromagnetic pulse. Nuclear strike ruled out. Transmit any information, most urgent priority. Carbon Copies to HOME OFFICE. ***
RE: FLASH: Has a satellite-based “Star Wars” attack been considered?
RE: RE: FLASH: A bit of Skylab fell on it.
*** RE: RE: FLASH: explosion was obviously not satellite-based. ***
RE: RE: RE: FLASH: Tunguska II?
GEESE: Can we be sure this wasn’t the work of BIG POND?
RE: GEESE: Squawk protocol is insidious but deliriously exciting! Explosive in character! A mere pipeline is a nothing sacrifice for a nation enthralled by the Gander!
CUISINE: How will this affect sales of our native cuisine? After all, comrades, are we not to be considered glorified sales agents from now on?
*** RE: RE: FLASH: Industrial accident not ruled out, but the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) control monitor registered no increase in pipeline pressure, and a mere puncture would have simply leaked and caught fire, without causing such an explosion. Transmit any information or theories, most urgent priority to HOME OFFICE. Carbon Copies to CENTRAL FILES, COMMAND. ***
RE: CHILDREN: Has to possibility of a syndicate consisting of the rogue children of Ops could be responsible?
RE: RE: RE: FLASH: To create such an explosion, an operator would have had to increase the pipeline pressure beyond operational parameters without alerting the control panels. Could the chips have been sabotaged?
*** SABOTAGE: Absolutely impossible. This was on our minds throughout the process. The chips were vigorously tested in Moscow prior to installation. The computer system worked perfectly in isolation. ***
||||||||| Strict professionalism is required even under the veil of anonymity! |||||||
RE: RE: GEESE AND CUISINE AND CHILDREN: Honk!
4. Social Engineering at International Trade Conventions
Our friend in the political section has addressed this to a certain extent already but it bears repeating.
How do we compete with an enemy who is able to devote many multiples more money towards technological development than we can? The answer is that we do this through subterfuge. We buy advanced technologies from him, using the proceeds of among other venues – our oil and gas exports. Of course our foe is far from stupid. In 1974 the United States banned direct sales of computer equipment, radar apparatus, machine tools and other material to the Soviet Union, and their allies have followed suit. So we are forced to trick him into selling us his microchips. Ever since the embargo, we have been forced to purchase through intermediaries. Hence the subterfuge. And international trade conventions have become veritable post-war Viennas of clandestine operations.
To a casual observer the idea that we use our Ops as purchasing agents might seem odd. But a close look at what the Op actually does, however, that is examining what his or her labor actually consists of, reveals a great deal of overlap. To take a somewhat Fordist view of our intelligence community, one might think of our work as a production line of workers assembling information. Our Ops take information in, which our analysts digest, condense and extrude as actionable intelligence for policy makers, commanders, revolutionary archivists etc. There is a feedback loop in this system to consider as well, as our analysts and their supervisors are far from passive receptacles; as information comes in our analysts and their overseers guide the attention of the Ops. This analogy is useful from an organizational point of view, but neglects the ‘blade of the spade.’
Where does our information come from? Our Ops harvest it. Ops cajole information from agents. In theory there are many ways to do this, through brute force, bribery etc. but by far the most frequent technique is through an Op’s sheer charm and a target’s lust for human contact. Of course this lust for contact has a determined component. More than one wag has described our work as being in the business of engineering fortuitous coincidences. After all, how else does one connect with another human being than with a series of shared qualities and experiences? The bulk of our preparation in advance of a meeting involves the creation of dossiers on the principals. Should we require an introduction to a Swedish manufacturer of precision machinery, for example, and their representative enjoys ice-fishing and Norse mythology then we will book a seat beside him, and have a knowledgeable Op strike up a conversation. The skills we use to cultivate relationships with military officials and diplomats easily overlap with the commercial world. And by charming our salesmen not only do we secure the necessary items; we often do so at a bargain price.
SABOTAGE: Is it possible the chips were sabotaged?
AGAIN: Chips are put through vigorous testing. Impossible.
ARTICLE: This sounds as though the same man wrote it all. Every article in this document has the same voice.
RE: ARTICLE: Do you remember signing up for this?
RE: RE: ARTICLE: No. What is this document? Control? Respond!
5. Self Reproduction of Programmes
This talk of sabotaged computer chips has a familiar and disconcerting ring to it… Though it may seem the stuff of science fiction, of computers coming untethered from their tape drives and acting according to the whims of another, maleficent programmer’s agenda; our corps of Autonomous Systems engineers – and of course their counterparts in the West – have begun to create malicious computer programs. Most varieties replicate autonomously and clog the memory banks of afflicted computer systems. However, more sophisticated and sinister variants are being developed. Software can carry a disguised payload and operate as a sort of computational time bomb, primed to execute its secret orders when a certain set of conditions arise – a certain amount of time has passed, or even a sequence is entered remotely. As autonomously controlled systems spread throughout our infrastructure we become (and our enemies become) ever more vulnerable to such an attack. Remember, it is useful to assume that any technique you employ will eventually be encountered on the other side.
ARTICLE: A malignancy in the control system. They expect us to believe this?
RE: ARTICLE: The starred remarks have gone. CONTROL RESPOND!
RE: ARTICLE: Why take credit for the explosion?
RE: RE: ARTICLE: To conceal a sloppy job?
RE: RE: RE: ARTICLE: Cast doubt on our systems?
RE: RE: RE: RE: ARTICLE: Wouldn’t they want us to trust compromised equipment?
RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: ARTICLE: A Chinese plot? Sowing discontent between USA and USSR?
CHINESE? More likely a delinquent Op-ling than a Chinaman.
SOLUTION: Let’s ignore the document. What action can we take? Whatever we do, we lose.
RE: SOLUTION: And if it’s a test?
RE: RE: SOLUTION: It isn’t a test. It never is. How many ‘tests’ have you encountered? They’re just an excuse for covering things up, claiming cunning to conceal gross incompetence.
RE: RE: RE: SOLUTION: So it is a nuisance and we should stop responding? What about the pipeline?
RE: RE: RE: RE: SOLUTION: Leave it alone.
Assuming my issue of EYE SPY, a British glossy devoted to “The Covert World of Espionage,” can be trusted, between 1973 and 1995 the United States government (and its Chinese and Soviet rivals) spent millions hiring teams of personnel to scry photographs of enemy installations and describe their heretofore unknowable innards.
In 1998, James McGirk spent five weeks living and working in Arcosanti, a desert community built in the 1970s that attempts to use ornate architectural planning to help create a harmonious society. Its designer, Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Paolo Soleri, passed away this week at age 93; McGirk remembers his experiences at the location and his interactions with Soleri.
There is no better analogy for contemporary art than Conway’s Game of Life. This is not the same thing as The Game of Life, which is played on a board and simulates the education and subsequent useful employment of a human being. Conway’s Game of Life is a math game, an evolution simulator simple enough to be played on a checkerboard, but most often encountered on a computer. In the game, three rules govern whether or not an individual “cell” lives, dies or reproduces.
Going West is an adventure. Maybe not as much as was when you had to take a covered wagon and float across the Mississippi and shoot bison along the way for food, but still, it’s a thrill. My wife and I decided we’d had enough of New York City. She’d been there almost fifteen years, I’d been there ten, and as ostensible creatives it seemed foolish to work 90 hours a week before we even began our “real work.”
Tahlequah, Oklahoma is a bucolic swatch of storefronts and brick bungalows nestled among rolling hills and lazy rivers. Situated in northeast Oklahoma, it is the capital of Cherokee Nation, which, with nearly 300,000 members (189,000 of whom live in the state), is the second-largest Indian tribe in the country, and a domestic dependent nation with its own court system and government.