Perhaps you do not clearly recall the name Reality Winner. In the cast of that whistleblower show shaking up the hidden shadows of power and control these past few years, she seems to have slipped a few notches from the limelight, leaving the major players, such as Snowden, Manning, Greenwald and oh yeah, that Wikileaks guy stuck in the embassy, to the revolving headlines. But for the recent article in New York magasine (Dec25-Jan7) by Kerry Howley, I would have forgotten her myself, despite my continued interest in the travails of these brave and determined souls.
As I read the extended portrait I was repeatedly struck by quotes which, to me, with my spiritual and esoteric preoccupations, rang a very clear bell. Here was a portait of a soul passing from the stage I have previously identified as “young” to that of “mature”. The mature soul seeks to shuck off the blinders of egotism and ambition to consciously work for the betterment of her fellow man and society in general. They devote themselves to causes, they work tirelessly for their ideals, sometimes, but not always, developed in youth. They submit themselves to organisations, – political, charitable, military, – that have pitched them the right lines developed at length by public relations firms. There are a myriad of ways that disillusioned youth can be hooked and landed, while organisations require a constant flow of fodder to maintain their illusions of relevance and paradigms of constant growth. They are all, as the biblical turn of phrase goes, ‘fishers of men’, -that is young, impressionable men and women.
From a reasonably happy childhood, with intelligent concerned parents, one of whom, the father, after 9/11, took care, when talking geopolitics to his children, to “distinguish for them the religion of Islam from the ideologies that fuelled terrorism” . Reality now says. “I learned then that the fastest route to conflict resolution is understanding”.
An early matuation and remarkable facility with languages lead her to study Arabic. An Army recruiter, coming to her school in her senior year, spotted a likely convert, and her test scores indicted that becoming a cryptolinguist would be her forte. Basically that means “helping the military eavesdrop on people speaking languages other than English.” That lead her to one of the drone program locations, Fort Meade, where she would translate communcations in Dari, Farsi and Pashto so that “drone operators would know who to target”. As a former boyfriend commented, “It was definitely traumatising. You’re watching people die. You have US troops on the ground getting shot at, you miss something, a bomb goes off, and you get three people killed.”
For a woman who “worried about global warming, about Syrian children, about famine and poverty all over the globe”, who ranted about her “carbon spewing, famine ignoring fellow citizens” and thought “her humanitarian impulses were compatible with the military’s mission” this would likely have been quite the ethical challenge. KIlling for peace, coming prepackaged with its inevitable Orwellian overtones, certainly contains the seeds of its own destruction, and we can already see the blinkered idealism of the mature soul tilling the soil of its own harvest. As her former yoga instructor Keith Golden comments, “She was really really passionate about Afghanistan and stopping ISIS. We would go to lunch, and that’s pretty much all she would talk about. She was despondent that ISIS was the way that it was, that we can’t do anything to help the whole situation, that it’s so fucked up”. Add to this her commendation of October 2016, which praised her for “geolocating 120 enemy combatants during 734 airborne sorties, removing more than 100 enemies from the battefield, and aiding in 650 enemy captures and 600 enemies killed in action.”, and you have something of an outrage/revenge balance barbeque.
Also of significance is her reaction to the much publicised killing of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS, the man locked in a cage soaked in gasoline and filmed as he slowly burned alive, as if public executions were not enough. While I was reminded of equally gruesome Tibetan Buddhist rituals intended to disarm the viewers of their bodily attachments, Reality was “deeply upset and full of fury”, and as she commented in an email to her yoga instructor, “I could not escape thoughts about the Jordanian pilot, and I spent hours playing mental chess with the world, …who should strike first, hardest, what message should be sent, revenge, etc”., and despite her thoughts turning to yoga “as the means by which I can really understand and acknowledge powerful emotions and put them aside to gain more clarity and peace”, she couldn’t “just hide in asana and meditation because it made me feel good. In the pain I felt, I did not want the moral to be compassion and forgiveness”.
Tiring of the military and gaining an honourable discharge in November 2016, she thought to work with NGO’s and maybe use her Pashto “to actually talk to people, maybe refugeees, maybe childen at Christmas”, but she found they more or less wanted “a degree to hand out blankets”, a degree she did not have. But she did have Top Secet clearance, one of 1.4 million Americans who do so, and that was “something to sell”. Augusta, Georgia was full of contractors “paying good money for cleared linguists and she soon found a position with one operated by a former CIA operative”.
It should be noted that “surveillance requires surveillors and mass surveillance requires more of them”. One of the documents Edward Snowden snuck out informed us “that at least 105,000 Americans work for the intelligencve community through 16 agencies” and it would seem likely that the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers proceeded from this realisation. Their harsh treatment of Thomas Drake and William Binney, honest employees exposing outrageous waste and corruption, not handing secrets to some ill-defined enemy, is almost legendary by this point., and it certainly set the tone for Reality’s awakening once inside the maze of secrets swamping the NSA. That and Wikileaks, Snowden and Bradley Manning.
A classified report on a Russian cyberattack was the straw that broke her camel’s back. She knew that in “releasing the document she ran the risk of alerting the Russians but felt that this specific account ought to be a matter of public discourse, In fact it was surprsiing to her that someone hadn’t already done it.” and so she folded it up, “stuffed it into her pantyhose and walked out of the building”. She wondered, “Why do I have this job If I’m just going to sit back and be helpless”? Interestingly, just that day Trump fired James Comey, the man who’d been leading the investigation into Russian election meddling.. She dropped the plain evelveope without a return address into a post box in a shopping mall, hoping that Glen Greenwald’s Intercept was he smartest choice. Unfortunately it was not. The Interecept published a scan of the documents revealing creases that showed it had been printed and folded rather than submitted online. That and watermarks revealing a print date and a serial number. In no time at all, despite, or perhaps because of, the Intercept’s headline of “Top Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days before 2016 Election”, our Reality was nabbed.
For me, the quotes and descriptions let loose in the preceeding narrative are so reminiscent of the passage of earlier generations of radicalised would-be reformers, the iterations of the sixties and seventies being the ones I am most familiar with, – the Weathermen, the Red Brigade, the Basques Separatists, the Baader Meinhof gang, the PLO affiliates, – not to mention the many others throughout history, that I am swamped by that unmistakable sense of deja vu, which, If i give it breathing space as I stare out the window onto the snowy street and bare branches, spreads out into an eternal pattern of behaviour that all humans have to cycle through on their way to complete detachment from score settling and righteous revenge action sourced in outrage. Of course, this is something akin to what Reality might have experienced had she chosen meditation intead of remedial action, a torment typical of the mature soul I might add.
Eventually, mature souls with deep concerns, like Reality Winner, discover as they outdistance their despair, that letting go, renouncing, helps realign their karma so that momentary or youthful passions do not lead to reactive disappointments and despair, that tending one’s planted seeds leads to blossoming and decay no matter what one does or does not do in the meantime. All things must pass, as George’s song goes, including the sense of things passing. Old souls, graduates from the tumble dryer world of action and reaction, learn to indulgently smile at the apparent chaos mature souls desperately try to fix and young souls barely notice. Certainly they suffer those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune just like their neighbours, but they do not sweat and quiver over the pointlessness of it all, as praiseworthy and meaninghful actions and the much lauded rewards of ambition have long since melted in the light of understanding.