Friday, April 21, 2006

Oliver Stone, Please Come to a White Courtesy Telephone

(Or, He ain't heavy, he's just Big Brother)

It's not every day you find yourself in the middle of a real live conspiracy theory, but that's where I was last week -- and for all I know I'm still there now. It's not a funny story, but it is surpassing strange.

It started when I read a post on Daily Kos from a blogger who believed the Department of Homeland Security was spying on him because his Sitemeter statistics included a visit from someone at

Seemed a bit loony to me, frankly. If the DHS was going to spy on bloggers, surely they could do a better job of hiding themselves. There must be a limit to the incompetence in DC, right? (Right?)

Purely by chance, the next day I happened across a Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff about a new domestic spy agency known as CounterIntelligence Field Activity, or CIFA. Among other things, CIFA had been spying on a handful of protestors who stood outside Halliburton's Houston headquarters in June 2004 and passed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The protestors were responding to allegations that Halliburton had overcharged on food contracts in Iraq. Given the lack of sandwich meats, obviously these people were vegans and not to be trusted.

But this excerpt in particular caught my eye:

CIFA researchers apparently cast a wide net and had a number of surveillance methods—both secretive and mundane—at their disposal. An internal CIFA PowerPoint slide presentation recently obtained by William Arkin, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who writes widely about military affairs... shows that ... the organization also gleaned data from "open source Internet monitoring." In other words, they surfed the Web.

Arkin says a close reading of internal CIFA documents suggests the agency may be expanding its Internet monitoring, and wants to be as surreptitious as possible. CIFA has contracted to buy "identity masking" software that would allow the agency to create phony Web identities and let them appear to be located in foreign countries, according to a copy of the contract with Computer Sciences Corp. (The firm declined to comment.)

(Interestingly, the Washington Times ran a similar story called "CIA Mines 'Rich'Content From Blogs" two days ago, only more in the "isn't this neat?" vein.)

So I began looking at my own Sitemeter stats. Lo and behold, there they were: Computer Sciences Corp. (, reading my blog at 9:37 am on April 13.


But wait, it gets weirder. Looking further at my Sitemeter report, I saw that in the space of 24 hours The WitList had been visited by people from Mexico, Greece, Ireland, Australia, Romania, Hungary, Switzerland, Thailand, Germany, Japan, Canada, and The Netherlands. There were also a dozen or so visits from US government entities, such as the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, and some state agencies.

I don't have a wildly popular blog. I average maybe 60 hits a day, with occasional spikes of up to 500 (thank you, I have a handful of international readers in the UK, Canada, and Germany, but none that I know of live in Romania, Thailand, or those other countries. And since that day, my international traffic appears to have slowed down to its usual trickle.

Admittedly, this could all be just Internet weirdness. Many of these hits apparently came from people looking for images of David Hasselhoff, which I'd linked to in some entries a while back. (Other foreign image searches that resulted in hits: Time reporter Matt Cooper, Charlton Heston as Moses, a Nazi rally, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Donald Rumsfeld giving the one-finger salute.)

Why in God's name would the feds want to spy on me? Do they believe I'm speaking in code to my Jihadist brothers? Is snarkiness now considered a weapon of mass destruction? I find this all somewhat hard to swallow. I am not quite ready to be fitted for a tin foil hat.

But in an age where people can get on a federal watchlist for handing out PB&J sandwiches, or not eating meat, or valuing animal rights, or just expressing a desire for sanity to return to our nation's capital, anything is possible.

And if some spook is reading this, I have a message for you. Please tell your boss it's time to retire back to his ranch -- and to take his demonic sidekick with him. If that makes me a threat to National Security, well, I take comfort in knowing there are 100 million other threats just like me.


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