Richard Thieme News

by rthieme on May 21, 2013

Hello! I will be using this section of my home page to keep you updated on current projects, plans, things I’m thinking about, articles, speaking engagements, etc.

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(and now for something completely different …)


Richard Thieme

Information, we are told, is the difference that makes a difference. To be honest, I don’t know if that covers all aspects of what we mean by information but I do know that information – and communication – depend on there being a real signal in the noise. Defining it precisely is not the same as knowing how to hear it.

There is a lot of noise these days and signals are harder to resolve. People all around the world, some of them experts at obfuscation and disinformation, create noise disguised as signal and even if they did not, the overwhelming amount of real signal turns massive successive waves of too much information into noise as well.

Learning to discern the signal in the noise is an acquired skill, and distinguishing truth and truthiness and half-truths and lies from one another is not trivial. In the good old days, we used footnotes and documentation to establish credible points of reference. We used rotary telephones, too, however, and drove our own automobiles.

Not any more. Today we say everything and forward/post/repeat everything and document very little. And our brains can’t tell the difference without meaningful points of reference for sources.

But our brains can be enlisted as allies too in the search for truths. We can train ourselves in the skills we need to have a clue about the real … and beyond the noise of the political landscape, the really real. I mean, the really REAL real.

We can learn to listen, to hear the signal in the noise.

When someone who is blind learns braille, the brain develops greater connectivity for the fingertips, the sensitivity of which is critical to distinguishing words from bumps. We call that capacity plasticity, a flexibility that allows the brain to cooperate with executive decisions made by the pre-frontal cortex to learn new things. In other words, we can’t always make things happen but when we intend that they happen, the brain will do what it can to help. Consciousness is nine-tenths below the service of what we think but can be enlisted in its full strength by intentional decisions.

A stunning example of this ability is a blind professor at MIT who attended parties where numerous conversations were taking place and could distinguish and remember the content of them all. He also trained himself to play cassette tapes (remember those?) at six times normal speed and know what was being said, so a one hour lecture could be heard in ten minutes.

A playful example is when I play duplicate bridge. Between hands, we are not supposed to discuss the hand we played because the hints it gives to those who have not yet played that hand can be significant. When I closed my eyes and relaxed after a deal, I noticed at first the confusion of a number of conversations around me. But when I chose to attend to this one or that one, the rest became background noise. I could hop from one to the other as I chose. The conversations turned from noise to signal.

It happened when I intended that it happen and then practiced until it did.

When I first began to do meditation, I heard a lot of noise. The mind is like a chattering monkey, Buddhists say, and that’s what we hear. We hear the random patterns of what we call “ourself.” Over time, however, the volume diminishes and we discover ourselves “hearing” the noise not as “ourselves,” not as “our thinking,” but as background noise or white noise – forgive my imprecise metaphors, but they’re all I have – and we discern by contrast a more silent space in which the noise seems to be contained. At the edges of the noise is a non-linguistic luminosity that is also “us.” Seeing into that space is us seeing ourselves. It’s like looking at the backs of our heads with our own eyes. When we notice we are paying attention to noise and take back the reins of our attention, we detach from the noise and attend instead to that luminous cloud in which the chattering mind seems to be embedded or from which it appears to emerge. We see the noise from outside the noise.

Joe McMoneagle was one of the remote viewers used by the government. Remote viewing is the monitored use of structured protocols for gathering intelligence by clairvoyance. To learn to distinguish the signal from the noise, remote viewers practiced attending to mere wisps of information that the “right brain” picks up. They had to be careful not to let the “left brain” begin analysis prematurely while they gathered hints and intimations. Intense concentration and frequent feedback loops enabled them to visualize the material and frame it or image it or draw it as a gestalt. When predisposed genetically to get good at that – not everyone was – some got very good indeed, but it required a lot of time and feedback and practice. It did not always work, but when it did, the “hits” were striking. Describing the location of a jet that went down in a jungle or a new Soviet nuclear submarine before other sources of intelligence detected it were not trivial achievements.

This is what McMoneagle told me about that:

“I think if you go back to the beginning, one of the constants that has been changing very slowly but very dynamically over a long period of time is that we have been growing more and more layers to our craniums and becoming more and more sophisticated as sentient beings and our world has become more and more complex. I mean by that that it took us 30,000 years to discover fire but only a few years to learn how to build a pump laser. As we are becoming more and more sophisticated, our ability to conceptualize is becoming more and more complex. Given that that’s a possibility, I think what may be happening is that as sentient beings, we are immersed in what you might call a very broad spectrum noise band. Through the studies we’ve done on remote viewing, we’ve discovered that there’s a certain amount of noise emanating out of the core of the galaxy and that noise has an effect on our ability to be psychic or do remote viewing. When we’re immersed in that broadband noise, our ability to be psychic or be a remote viewer is reduced, not because it is blocking us, but because we’re having to deal with a whole lot more information being generated by that noise band. Studying it from a remote viewing standpoint is very interesting, but if you take remote viewing out of the equation and look at the fact that we have to operate while constantly immersed in that broadband noise, we can make certain assumptions. One is that maybe that noise isn’t nonsensical. Maybe it’s an information condition that is very broad spectrum from which – depending on the sophistication of complexity of the sentient being – you can extract information from that broadband information generation at a level equivalent to your capacity. So we believe that out of our wonderment and creativity we generate a pump laser when in fact the concepts for the reality of that may lie within the broadband noise and only when we reach a certain level of sophistication are we able to understand it and therefore build it.

This implies a very interesting proposition: it implies that all sentient beings are dealing with the same source of information. It implies that our more esoteric thoughts like thoughts of a creator or God may be very similar across sentient minds. It implies that our rate of growth might be accelerating and following a path that others have preceded us in.

RT: This is true to my experience. The Apostle Paul used the expression “upward call.” My experience is that in the presence of superior beings which is the true function of mentoring we experience an attraction toward possibilities latent in us which – if too far away, we don’t even try to realize and which if too easy, is not a real upward call – but if we are challenged just enough, like raising the bar just enough –

JM: Exactly.

RT: So we are challenged to reach toward something which without the presence of the mentor we would never have realized. Maybe the slab in 2001 was supposed to represent this. Are you following me?

JM: Absolutely.

RT: Once you accept non-local consciousness as the nature of consciousness and remote viewing as one manifestation of this being true, then this kind of mentoring would take place without regard to customary notions of space and time.

JM: Exactly.

RT: The universe is nothing but a structure of information and energy manifesting itself in what I think of metaphorically as “folds,” manifesting itself as various kinds of beings, species, material forms. Does that make sense?

JM: Absolutely. I have a great deal of agreement with that.

The full interview is available at and as an appendix in my novel FOAM. In FOAM there are three nested levels of consciousness interwoven among the narratives. The “lowest” is the human domain of understanding and communication. The next up is the aggregate of information and energy that turns “individuals” into “nodes in a network” of integrated consciousness, the way we can see cells not as independent entities but as components of a larger complex “body.” The top-most layer I call “the Skein,” the result of numerous civilizations of sentient intelligent creatures linking up and self-transcending their categories of self-understanding again and again. I treated that theme in my short story, “Species, Lost in Apple-eating Time” in Mind Games as well. Identities are shed like skins we have outgrown as we become something more than the previous identity could entertain or contain.

In FOAM, my anti-heroic alien came to earth to do improv with the funniest and sexiest species in the galaxy, i.e. us, and he struggles to listen to communications from the Skein that were clear when he was a conscious part of that entity before he was “downsized” into a human body with its little bone-plate skull-encased brain and its naive belief that “we” are separate entities instead of inextricably connected modules of energy and information. He hears the whispers of the Skein the way we humans mostly do, imperfectly and with great difficulty. He is limited by the primitive “lobes and folds” as Volume One of FOAM is titled that define the current limits of human mentation.

His struggles are the struggles humans face, with our little brains at their current stage of evolution, as we “listen” for those signals McMoneagle discusses. People report contents of channeling, automatic writing, prophetic utterances, etc. but in order not to deceive ourselves, not to project our mundane thoughts onto a higher plane nor be victims of egos that like to believe they are Supreme Beings, we need checks and balances, we need mutuality to counteract our egoistic tendency to go down the wrong paths of interpretation, we need feedback to correct our trajectories as we voyage in the sea of consciousness so we can learn to sail closer and closer to the wind. Mystics need communities to nuance and interpret what they they see or hear, lest they deceive themselves by believing only themselves. To discover who we are, who we are really, we need the wisdom of the ages that is transmitted from generation to generation, and we need wise mentors.

Prolonged practice in a community of mentors with frequent feedback is the way to go down, down, down to the real signals, or maybe it is up, up, up to the real signals. Language breaks and our metaphors dissolve when we try to define our experience. But when we speak from those experiences, from that deeper level at which they occur, our words inflect others toward that level too.

In the Skein – in a universe of unified sentient intelligence – “we” are both speaker and listener. “We” are always talking to … well, to “our Selves.”

Humans have this intrinsic capacity for self-transcendence. It is axiomatic to our human condition. It is axiomatic to all life in the universe. Our pathways are diverse but constrained by built-in limits. “You” – “me” – “us” – “we” are built to discover who we are as we learn how to listen to ourSelves.


Topics, Recent

by rthieme on January 16, 2018

Real Birds in Digital Cages: The Chickens Come Home to Roost

So who do you think you are? Whatever you reply, Richard Thieme will go zen on you and say, no, not that.

Because identity is by social agreement and social agreement is manufactured, managed, and manipulated on the internet these days. We should all know that by now, but knowing something and acting on it are two different things. We live in the confines of prior technologies as if they define our lives – think “horseless carriages” before “automobiles.” Even as the frames of the 20th century dissolve, we live as if they persist.

The Russians have been at it for a long time, but so have we and many others. To have a clue as to what’s real these days, we need to be counter intelligence experts, and most don’t have the time for that. So we uncritically accept that we live in digital cages large enough to let us flap our wings and have the illusion of freedom and flight, but the cage keeps turning and takes us with it.

Richard Thieme invented that phrase,“real birds in digital cages,” a quarter of a century ago. He has worked with colleagues at the NSA, the Pentagon, the Secret Service, the FBI, and more to frame ways to flee those cages. Reality is that which does not go away even when we refuse to believe in it. The task is not trivial but it IS necessary if we are to remain capable of sane decisions as a digital tsunami washes away the structures of a prior society.


A Playing Through the Pain variation: Strategies for Working in the Real World integrates insights into living as a minority (as Richard has in 5 ways) and how that relates to the experience of women above all and other “minorities” and strategies for effectively dealing with the dynamics of both.

The webinar for EWF now available for all.

After 25 years of speaking and writing about the impacts of technologies on “the human in the machine,” Richard Thieme documented the traumatic consequences…
  • Playing Through the Pain – The Impact of Secrets and Dark Knowledge on Security and Intelligence Professionals

Dismissing or laughing off concerns about what it does to a person to know critical secrets does not lessen the impact on life, work, and relationships of building a different map of reality than “normal people” use. One has to calibrate narratives to what another believes. One has to live defensively, warily. This causes at the least cognitive dissonance which some manage by denial. But refusing to feel the pain does not make it go away. It just intensifies the consequences when they erupt.

Philip K. Dick said, reality is that which, when you no longer believe in it, does not go away. When cognitive dissonance evolves into symptoms of traumatic stress, one ignores those symptoms at one’s peril. But the very constraints of one’s work often make it impossible to speak aloud about those symptoms, because that might threaten one’s clearances, work, and career. And whistle blower protection is often non-existent.

The real cost of security work and professional intelligence goes beyond dollars. It is measured in family life, relationships, and mental and physical well-being. The divorce rate is as high among intelligence professionals as it is among medical professionals, for good reason – how can relationships be based on openness and trust when one’s primary commitments make truth-telling and disclosure impossible?

One CIA veteran wrote: “I was for a while an observer to the Personnel Management working group in the DO. I noted they/we were obscenely proud of having the highest rates of alcoholism, adultery, divorce, and suicide in the US Government. I personally have 23 professional suicides in my mental logbook, the first was an instructor that blew his brains out with a shotgun when I was in training. The latest have tended to be senior figures who could not live with what they knew.”

Richard Thieme has been around that space for years. He has listened to people in pain because of the compelling necessities of their work, the consequences of their actions, the misfiring of imperfect plans, and the burdens of soul-wrenching experiences. Thieme touched on some of this impact in his story, “Northward into the Night,” published in the Ranfurly Review, Big City Lit, Wanderings and Bewildering Stories before collection in “Mind Games.” The story illuminates the emotional toll of managing multiple personas and ultimately forgetting who you are in the first place.

The bottom line is, trauma and secondary trauma have identifiable symptoms and they are everywhere in the “industry.” The “hyper-real” space which the national security state creates by its very nature extends to everyone too, now, but it’s more intense for professionals. Living as “social engineers,” always trying to understand the other’s POV so one can manipulate and exploit it, erodes the core self. The existential challenge constitutes an assault on authenticity and integrity. Sometimes sanity is at stake, too, and sometimes, life itself.

We might as well begin our discussion with reality. Choosing unreality instead means we have to spend energy and time on a trek from unreality to reality simply to begin. This talk is about reality – the real facts of the matter and strategies needed for effective life-serving responses, a way to manage the paradoxical imperatives and identity-threatening pressures of our lives and work.

When Privacy Goes Poof! – Why It’s Gone and Never Coming Back

Get over it!” as Scott McNeeley said years ago about the end of privacy as we knew it is not the best advice. Only by understanding why it is gone and never coming back can we have a shot at rethinking what privacy means in the context of our evolving humanity.

Richard Thieme provides a historical and social context for some of that rethinking. He goes both deep and wide and challenges contemporary discussions of privacy to get real and stop using a 20th century framework.

Our technologies have changed everything, including us. We humans are loosely bounded systems of energy and information. We interact with other similar systems, both organic and inorganic, “natural” and “artificial.” These “differently sentient systems” all consist of nodes in intersecting networks extending in several dimensions. We have always known we were like cells in a body, but we emphasized “cell-ness.” Now we have to emphasize “body-ness” and re-imagine who we have become.

What we see depends on the level of abstraction at which we choose to look. Patterns extracted from data are either meta-data or just more data, depending on the level of scrutiny. The boundaries we like to imagine around our identities, our psyches, our “private internal spaces,” are violated in both directions, in and out, by symbolic data that, when aggregated, constitutes “us.” It’s like orange juice, broken down into different states before recombination as new juice; it is reconstituted by others but still constitutes “us,” and we are known by others more deeply in recombination than we know ourselves.

To understand privacy – even what we mean by “individual human beings” who want it – requires a contrary opinion. Privacy is honored in lip service, but not in the marketplace, where it is violated or taken away or eroded every day. To confront the challenges generated by technological change, we have to know what is happening so we can re-imagine what we mean by privacy, security, and identity. We can’t say what we can’t think. We need new language to articulate our experience and grasp the nature of the context in which we live. Then we can take the abstractions of data analytics and Big Data down to our level.

The weakest link in discussions of privacy is the definition of privacy, and the definition of privacy is not what we think. But pursue the real at your peril: Buddhists call enlightenment a “nightmare in daylight.” Yet when the screaming stops, it is enlightenment, still, after all. That clarity, that state of being, is the goal of this presentation.

Flying Blind: A Framework for Thinking About Biohacking … and Hacking … and Life

Not every country or person in the world talks the ethical talk often heard in the USA regarding (1) hacking (2) biotech (3) biohacking (4) the freedom to live (or die) as we like. And not every country or person who talks the talk, walks the walk. Different rules apply “inside” the national security apparatus than apply to “humplings” who hump along in the body of the bell curve and there are different rules for those with money and clout. I am going to try to talk about those slippery slopes and what they imply for ethics in the domains of hacking, biohacking … and life..

Ethics is just thinking together about what’s the right thing to do, the best thing to do, and the fun thing to do. And we can go off the tracks. From long experience on the edges, Thieme provides a framework for thinking about how to stay steady in a quaking world.

“Biohacking: A Voyage on the High Seas without GPS, Sextant or Stars”

Distinguishing the transhumanist hype from the sane science is not always easy. Then add the antics of real hackers to the mix – adventuresome sometimes reckless souls who want to tease out of a complex system ways to make it do what it was never designed to do, sometimes something playful, sometimes something malevolent. Biohacking is now established as the number one go-to domain for R&D in intelligence and counter-terrorism and a source of sleepless nights for those protecting food, humans, all other animals and plants, from mischief. And yes, we are well on the way to becoming another species – if mutants among us have not already taken that step.

Philip K. Dick was called a paranoid psychotic. But now we are living inside one of his novels.  From “Scanner Darkly” to “Androids Dreaming of Electric Sheep,” the future he imagined is already past, and the present is full of “unknown unknowns.” Take a walk on the wild side with Richard Thieme in this challenging keynote and be sure to bring your towel.

Richard Thieme recently spoke at Def Con for the 21st straight year. An author and professional illuminator of dark alleys, he has been addressing edgy issues for 23 years, traveling the globe and engaging with his betters, who teach him everything he knows. Whether speaking to the NSA about the chill wind blowing from their antics or keynoting Code Blue in Tokyo with “Fiction is the Only Way to Tell the Truth,” he makes the hyper-real real with insights and speculation and suggests strategies for staying more or less sane in a crazy world. As one enlightened author put it, “The situation is hopeless, but not serious.” So buckle up and enjoy the ride.


Hacking Humans: The Future-scape of a New Humanity

Government and corporate structures become more opaque while intrusion and surveillance makes the notion of “privacy” 20th century old-think. The interface of humans with other information systems slights the human itself as an open system of information flow. Research in biotech/nanotech/electromagnetic fields is largely neglected in discussions of privacy and security.

Current research in neuroscience and the extension and augmentation of senses is proceeding in directions that might sound like science fiction. Progress is rapid but unevenly distributed: Some is directed by military, intelligence and corporate interests but beyond their aims, we can discern the future shape of human identity in preliminary forms. Identity – the self we think we are – is undergoing transformation. We are thin-skinned, vulnerable open systems of energy and information interacting with other systems, and as IT eroded boundaries in the geopolitical world, making “foreign” and “domestic” obsolete, biotech is eroding boundaries around individuals and species and between “natural” and “artificial.”

The human body/brain is being hacked to explore radical applications for helping, healing, and harming this and future generations. It is all dual use. One area of research is the recovery of memories, the deletion of emotional charges from memories, the removal of specific memories, the alteration of the content of memories, and the implantation of new memories, some from other organisms and some false. Another area seeks to “read minds” at a distance and extract information. Another explores the use of genomes to understand and replicate thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns. Another implements mind-to-mind communication, using neuroscience to understand brains best suited for remote viewing as well as implants and non-invasive technologies that control the electromagnetic energies of the brain to enable psychokinesis, clairvoyance and telepathy.

Augmentation of human abilities is being achieved by splicing information from sensors into existing neurological channels. To feel the magnetic field of the earth, see the infrared and ultraviolet parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, discern the yaw and pitch of airplanes, see and hear by going around our eyes and ears — all this means we are experience the “self” in new ways.

“We” are more than we think we are, and not what we thought we were. This presentation seeks answers to the question the caterpillar asked Alice: “Who are you?”

Thinking Beyond the Edges: The Sources of Creativity

The edges of our thinking, the edges of consensus reality, the edges of organizational structures – that’s where new ideas first show up. Those we call “geniuses” see them first and give them names. Using the insights and wisdom of the best and the brightest of the infosec and hacking worlds as well as the practice of the craft of intelligence, this presentation demonstrates how creativity infuses the best practices of security and intelligence, how to tend it and make it more likely to happen, and how to capture it on the fly.

Hackers and makers and thinkers and dreamers create the mind of society as it evolves. They make the frame while others live in the picture and often do not see the frame. The battle between Jedi Knights and the Dark Side will never end, but one can choose to be a “Luke Skywalker” hearing the siren call of destiny on Tatooine and committing oneself to recreate humankind as it moves through a major transitional era by making extensions, enhancements, augmentations, and transformational engines of identity and personal and collective power.

Richard Thieme has a long track record of seeing and saying clearly what’s coming and what’s needed to thrive during times of radical change. His own reinventions of himself serve as evidence that one can master a resilient response along the way.

Thieme suggests strategies for making choices: join the powers, sidestep the powers, or die a martyr’s death at the hands of the powers. The stakes are high, and it’s no joke – disruptive technologies threaten current investments. The battles will be economic and political, but the geopolitical structures of the world are already morphing in response, and there are thousands of bays and inlets on the coastlines of a fractal reality. These days, the edges are endless.

Engage. Think critically. Design. Do.

“Hacking as Practice for Transplanetary Life in the 21st Century: How Hackers Frame the Pictures in Which Others Live

“In my end is my beginning,” said T. S. Eliot in The Four Quartets, and he might have been talking about hacking. Because radical hacking is a state of mind, an approach to life, the universe, everything, a practice that must be understood with humility, explored with persistence, and mastered with grace and a flair for style.

It begins in the beginning. In Zen we hear of “beginners’ eyes,” which look with no preconceptions and see clearly what is there. That also means we can distinguish what’s in our own minds, see our perceptual apparatus and distinguish it from what’s “out there.” The boundary where those meet, where we half create and half perceive the reality in which we live, is the fertile area where radical hacking takes place. It’s the brackish tidewater in which new forms of life are evolving.

So the future of hacking is in a way already here, a mold for possibility that draws us into itself. Those who allow the future to reach back to them and show them the way look like pioneers, creative geniuses, but really, they’re just hackers.

The future may exist, but not as we think it does. It’s not “there” in an objective way, it’s there as a possibility, actualized when we instantiate it. If that sounds like quantum physics, maybe it is: studies testing ESP have detected hits at a rate greater than chance for the next perception, the next event, suggesting the future is already available to us here and now.

But another point of view understands “the future” as how we hold ourselves here and now as possibilities for action. What we call the future is a range of possibilities and when we choose one, it happens in the now. And all is always now.

Thieme suggests possibilities for hacking aligned with these insights based on his experience. The necessity for mastering radical hacking is a non-trivial imperative, mandated by the untimely stories hackers must invent by making and creating contrary to the consensual realities of our time. They are untimely because they cause cognitive dissonance for those who inhabit the consensus, the “userspace” of our world, which is why hacking requires courage, discipline, the management of one’s ego, and a willingness to go as insane as a shaman, remembering how to return to the village of the present, the village of the damned.

Hackers worthy of the name live by the torchlight of doubt and chaos and find their way by fits and starts. Welcome to the world of not try, but do.


Staring into the Abyss: The Dark Side of Security and Professional

Nothing is harder to see than things we believe so deeply we don’t even
see them. This is certainly true in the “security space,” in which our
narratives are self-referential, bounded by mutual self-interest, and
characterized by a heavy dose of group-think. We become assimilated
by the conversation and cease to see the bigger picture.

An analysis of deeper political and economic structures reveals that
narrative and therefore our core beliefs in a new context which
illuminates mixed motivations, some of the reasons we chose to do this
work, and the interpenetration of overworlds and underworlds in our
global society and profession. This analysis will make you hesitate
before uncritically using the buzzwords and jargon of the profession –
words like “security,” “defense,” and “cyberwar,” and thinking in a
binary fashion of good guys and bad. By the end of this presentation,
simplistic distinctions between foreign and domestic, natural and
artificial, and us and them will have gone liquid while the complexities
of information security will remain … and continue to challenge us
personally and professionally.

The Only Way to Tell the Truth is in Fiction: The Dynamics of Life in the National Security State

Over a decade ago, a friend at the National Security Agency told Richard Thieme that he could address the core issues they discussed in a context of “ethical considerations for intelligence and security professionals” only if he wrote fiction. “It’s the only way you can tell the truth,” he said.

Three dozen published short stories and one novel-in-progress (FOAM) later, one result is “Mind Games,” published in 2010 by Duncan Long Publishing, a collection of stories that illuminates “non-consensual realities:” the world of hackers; the worlds of intelligence professionals; encounters with other intelligent life forms; and deeper states of consciousness.

A recent scholarly study of “The Covert Sphere” by Timothy Melley documents the way the growth and influence of the intelligence community since World War 2 has created precisely the reality to which that NSA veteran pointed. The source of much of what “outsiders” believe is communicated through novels, movies, and television programs. But even IC “insiders” rely on those sources, as compartmentalization prevents the big picture from coming together because few inside have a “need to know.”

Thieme asked a historian at the NSA what historical events they could discuss with a reasonable expectation that their words denoted the same details. “Anything up to 1945,” the historian said with a laugh – but he wasn’t kidding.

Point taken.

This fascinating presentation illuminates the mobius strip on which all of us walk as we make our way through the labyrinth of security and intelligence worlds we inhabit of necessity, all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time. It discloses why “post-modernism” is not an affectation but a necessary condition of modern life. It addresses the response of an intelligence analyst at NSA who responded to one of Thieme’s stories by saying, “most of this isn’t fiction, but you have to know which part to have the key to the code.” This talk does not provide that key, but it does provide the key to the key and throws into relief everything else you hear – whether from the platform or in the hallways – inside this conference. And out there in the “real world.”

“Nothing is what it seem.”

UFOs and Government: a Case Study in Disinformation, Deception, and Perception Management

There is no one “government.” There are many components of government that interact and respond to challenging and anomalous events, often contending with one another – and leaving their disputes on record.

UFOs were challenging and anomalous since the 1940s, when “foo fighters” trailed planes on bombing runs over Germany and Japan. But strange flying vehicles did not go away when the war ended. In the 1950s, the CIA advocated training observers “inside” to learn what they could while dismissing reports from “outside.”

To understand why and how a government responds that way is analogous to hacking a complex system. One has to do appropriate reconnaissance, then execute effective counter-measures, then engage in offensive operations.

The proliferation of reliable reports of unidentified flying objects elicited a response that feels familiar in the days of Assange, Snowden, and the NSA. UFOs were anomalous, well-documented, and challenging because, as Major General John Samford said, “credible people have seen incredible things.” Snowden, too, thought he had seen incredible things that needed to be brought into the light.

But this talk isn’t about Snowden, it’s about how governments manage these challenges. An NSA veteran thinks that Thieme’s talk is “perfect timing – it’s about how the government deals with serious yet largely unknown or not understood potential threats, while trying desperately to keep the public from knowing what they are doing. What better way to discuss the current situation at a meta level, without ever getting into the knee-jerk muddle of response to current events? You can’t ask for a better context for this talk.”

Richard Thieme was privileged to be invited to join the UFO History Group which includes the best researchers in the field. After 5 years of work, they produced “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry,” an outstanding work of historical scholarship that reads like a fascinating detective story. In almost 600 pages and with nearly 1000 citations, the work illuminates the response of the government since the early 1940s. how and why policies were set, and how they were executed. Reviewers say, “this is the best book about the UFO phenomena that was ever written” and “UFOs and Government is a triumph of sober, conscientious scholarship unlikely to be equaled for years to come.”

Don Quixote said, “Insanity is seeing things as they really are.” This speech uses UFO phenomena as dye in the arteries of “how things really are.” And how governments carry out cover and deception with all of the best intentions in the world.

Soft Boundaries: Challenges to Identity, Structure and Security

All systems are means of exchanging knowledge, information, and energy, some public and some private. But how do we define public and private partnerships, distinguish governmental from non-governmental organizations, or characterize non-state entities when we live in amorphous clouds of power created by distributed networks?

We know we should work together to fight the bad guys. But in a world of porous borders, melting boundaries, and geopolitical restructuring, how do we know who is who? How do we play the intelligence game when the board itself is disappearing?

This speech confronts the challenges of soft boundaries and the transformation of the structures in which we live, identifies some of the consequences of identity-shift and distinguishes the business of
security from the myths of the security business. It describes new ways to organize ourselves, ways that complement rather than replace more traditional methods of defending both electronic and human networks.

Living in a World Without Walls

Ten years ago hacking was a frontier; ten years from now, hacking will be embedded in everything we do, defined by the context in which it emerges. Real hackers will be pushing the frontiers of information networks, perception management, the wetware/dryware interface, and the exploration of our galactic neighborhood. Mastery means not only having the tools in your hands but knowing that you have them … and using them to build the Big Picture.

Because identity is by social agreement and social agreement is manufactured, managed, and manipulated on the internet these days. We should all know that by now, but knowing something and acting on it are two different things. We live in the confines of prior technologies as if they define our lives – think “horseless carriages” before “automobiles.” Even as the frames of the 20th century dissolve, we live as if they persist.

The Russians have been at it for a long time, but so have we and many others. To have a clue as to what’s real these days, we need to be counter intelligence experts, and most don’t have the time for that. So we uncritically accept that we live in digital cages large enough to let us flap our wings and have the illusion of freedom and flight, but the cage keeps turning and takes us with it.

Richard Thieme invented that phrase,“real birds in digital cages,” a quarter of a century ago. He has worked with colleagues at the NSA, the Pentagon, the Secret Service, the FBI, and more to frame ways to flee those cages. Reality is that which does not go away even when we refuse to believe in it. The task is not trivial but it IS necessary if we are to remain capable of sane decisions as a digital tsunami washes away the structures of a prior society.


some thoughts on countermeasures as a foundation for further thinking on strategies published in AFCEA’s SIGNAL …. Also published at the (ACD) American Center for Democracy –


Countermeasures to a Real Threat: Thoughts in a Dire Time

July 27, 2017

By Richard Thieme


The mind of society is the battlefield in the current global struggle for geopolitical domination. The uses of soft power dominate in this battle and information warfare is the name of the game—not “cyber war” in all the ways it has been described but the influence and ultimately control of individual minds that, like cells in a body, make up the Mind of Society. Then control is used as leverage to achieve objectives that are often hidden.

The recent illumination of Russian operations in this area has received a great deal of publicity. Russian operations of this kind are by no means new or unique but the scale is unprecedented. This is thanks to distributed means of communication, which in turn created distributed digital islands of simulated life as a habitat on which more and more people (some of the time) and some of the people, all of the time, live their lives. The fragmented efforts of the United States and her allies to defend our mindspace and respond with equally effective operations have been less than adequate.

Effective countermeasures require unified, coordinated strategies recognized to have a high priority so that they will in fact be executed. They require clout, funding and leadership to succeed. Once executed, they need to be evaluated to determine their efficacy. Offensive strategies must attack enemies as they attack us, by gaining access to the insides of their hives and securing the queen, not easy to do when the control of the information space in authoritarian and dictatorial regimes closes many of the gaps that in our more open society leave us unprotected.

The Russians have several advantages.

(1) Russian organized crime is protected by a global criminal network and the state security apparatus. The United States often operates from a condition of implicit detente with organized crime but not with obvious cooperation, which is a force multiplier. At the same time, cooperation enables malicious state actors to feign plausible deniability—as if, for example, Russian or Chinese hackers operate independently of state approval. The kind of alliance forged by the United States with the Mafia during World War II is needed to level this particular playing field, but for that to be acceptable, the dire nature of the threat must be as clearly apparent as the threat from the Axis during World War II. Then winning does become the only thing.

(2) The ancient Romans knew that a primary means of domination and control was a network of roads. Their roads were physical, however. The roads in question today are digital. Access to every level of a democratic society is available, while access to closed societies and censored networks are curtailed. “Back doors” and software and hardware exploits have provided multiple access points to critical infrastructure, sufficient to create a form of mutually assured destruction, but that is not the same as access to propaganda networks masquerading as journalism in enemy countries, nor to their effective use to deceive and distort over time.

Russians have built those roads.

(3) The psychological effects of the erosion of trust and confidence in our institutions, in journalism, in a shared consensus about what is or is not factually true, cannot be denied, minimized or rationalized away. The sophisticated testing of effective and lasting memes, for example the birther movement, can then collect uncritical citizens like real birds in digital cages and move the cages into desired positions. That has had a profound effect on morale. The mind of our society doubts itself, which is one major objective of soft power, as doubt and mistrust weaken the bonds that hold together a free society.

(4) Legions of soft warriors are deployed in great numbers with intentionality and vigor. The Russian disinformation campaign in the Baltic states, for example, employed hundreds of individual bloggers, but all fed into the persona of a single person. The same was done here during the recent election.

(5) The brain is designed to believe what it thinks it sees. Evolution favors those who act on what they think is real and dangerous and then reflect later, while those who pause in the moment are doomed.  Designer scenarios, conspiracy theories and malicious memes pass with the help of repetition through the filters of even the best-educated critical thinkers. They seem to come from multiple sources, reinforcing the deception.

NATO forces have dedicated a cadre to monitor the major themes of Russian propaganda, for example, but it was discovered that even though they knew they were reading and analyzing propaganda for the purpose of understanding it, they came to believe assertions they encountered again and again—despite knowing they were lies. The well-educated might believe they would not do this, which only makes them more vulnerable and easier to dupe. Hubris is the opiate of the overly educated.

Here are just a few possibilities for responding:

(1) During the cultural cold wars of the ’50s and ’60s, the CIA was full of cowboys free to execute some pretty wild strategies and the decision was made to covertly create global organizations intended (ironically) to celebrate the virtues of a free, open society. That paradox persists and will persist in the national security state we have become. Once we acknowledge that fact, we can apply appropriate limitations to covert warfare waged that way and do it with finesse. In that prior time, the CIA covertly published more than 1,000 books, made films, sponsored periodicals and formed alliances with major news outlets of the day as well as several hundred journalists. The Communist threat justified covert action on that scale. We can apply those lessons in appropriate ways to structures available for manipulation inside enemy lines, being wary of blowback in a global village. Fabricated environments must be grafted seamlessly onto the cognitive artifacts already in the heads of enemy populations as they have been here.

(2) A wide range of synchronized measures must be directed at the systemic weaknesses of authoritarian states. One characteristic of warfare is the exaggeration of the power of an enemy. But their weaknesses are many, and the opportunities for exploiting them are many as well. There are numerous opportunities other than the executive branch for sourcing those strategies.

(3) A cardinal objective of network warfare is to degrade the reliability, trustworthiness and cohesion of the cells in the network. Selective “leaks” from highly placed officials, designed to point to a targeted individual, will diminish trust in a loyal person and conversely can magnify trust in a weak or disloyal one. Big links can be made small and small links can be made to look big. This strategy undermines the credibility of the entire network. Suspecting a mole can be as dangerous as having a mole.

(4) The explosion of alt.right structures is a proof of concept of how easy it is to gather uncritical thinkers and bind them to one another with distortions and lies that meld seamlessly with their core beliefs. One of those core beliefs is the disintegration of the American dream as a motivating force. The most patriotic thing this country can do is enable a majority to believe in America in a genuinely hopeful and realistic way based on facts and opportunities rather than false promises that only make people more cynical.

Last but not least, here’s a noble hope: a massive effort at education that emphasizes critical thinking and how to distinguish truth from lies, document facts, do good research and recognize bad research. That multi-generational project perhaps more than any other can create a populace that is mentally well-armed and suitable recruits for this very real war.

Americans have demonstrated in the past that, once awakened to the seriousness of a real threat, they will sacrifice a great deal to meet and defeat it. With effective leadership, that can happen again.

Richard Thieme ( is a Minneapolis-based author and professional speaker. He has published four books in the past seven years and has spoken for corporations, including Medtronic, Microsoft, GE, Johnson Controls and Allstate Insurance, and addressed security-related and IT issues for the National Security Agency, the Secret Service, the Department of the Treasury, the FBI, Los Alamos National Lab and the Pentagon. He spoke at DEF CON this summer for the 22nd year.



by rthieme on June 27, 2017


by Richard Thieme


We are continually challenged these days to restructure a sense of who we are in response to rapidly changing conditions and reinvent ourselves. A career change, the end of a time of life, a major life event like marriage or divorce or selling a home and moving — any one of those can trigger the dismantling of a life structure that had become habitual. The event loosens the screws that held the structure together and we see it for what it is — a momentary accommodation to the context that framed it but which had become invisible over time. It’s a rickety structure, too, not as earthquake-proof as we thought.

The process of dismantling a life structure reveals that we build psychological structures too — “cognitive artifacts” — that fit seamlessly the external conditions in which we live. We live inside that doll’s house as if it is and always will be who we are.

A friend responded to our decision to sell our home of thirty years and move to another city by saying, she sure couldn’t do that yet because all of her “stuff” brought up so many memories. My experience is that all stuff is attached to memories and while some are useful and practical, their significance is often related to the intensity of those memories. Dismantling my home and home office meant reevaluating everything in the house. The practical concern asked, Is it still useful? But the emotional concern asked, Is it still supportive of who I am — now? Everything was attached to memories I had knitted into an identity that was suddenly up for grabs. Selling and buying, moving from one city to another, was primarily a psychological event.

All of the seemingly external structures of our lives are “objective correlatives” of psychological events, cognitive artifacts that we create to sustain a self-image, a persona, a life-style, a way of thinking about who we are. The others in our life support that self-image either actively or by not questioning it. The things with which we surround ourselves prop that self-understanding up. When we dismantle, we discover that the components of our identities are modular and fluid like images on a computer screen.

The walls of my home office were decorated with photographs, posters from book-signings and significant speeches, book shelves full of books that were “memory markers” of times of life, people, places, and events that supported a persona I created when I reinvented myself as an author, speaker and internet presence. The objects clustered around me as I worked in that office and helped me think of myself as “that person.” File cabinets contained hundreds of pages of notes and research material and correspondence, records of my life that felt “real.”

Then my daughter said at just the right time, “you can see the future, so why not move here before it arrives?” and we realized she was right. That decision triggered the dismantling process that became an adventure as we sorted the detritus of the past that had settled all around us.

The low hanging fruit was easy to discard, sell, or give away. Then handling the “good stuff” evoked intense memories and the past replayed vividly like a voice-over. But in the end, we didn’t keep much, for an important reason – the dismantling process generated its own momentum, increasing positive energy and feelings of liberation. We reduced 9 rooms of “stuff” to 3. I shredded hundreds of pages as I went through files and realized I’ll never have that client again or speak for that venue again. Each time I discarded more, I felt lighter, more free, as the mass-bound energy of the past dissipated and I rose as in buoyant waters toward air I could breathe deeply, experiencing intimations of who I had quietly become while I was busy fulfilling a different role. That gave me the freedom to choose who to be next, which attributes to jettison and which to keep and recontextualize in a new frame. Adopting a new persona is an act of both discovery and creation, and with the wind at my back, it was exhilarating.

When the truck unloaded at our new place, we realized that we did not miss even the smaller cache of things we had kept. George Carlin was right. A house is a shell for stuff. The psychic reality, what we call “home,” is inside our heads and can become as cluttered as an attic full of junk. Dismantling one means cleaning out the other.

I am rebuilding a sense of who I am now from the inside out. All those artifacts were like an exoskeleton which provided strength but enclosed me in behaviors that became less flexible. It did the job for years but as Updike wrote during a divorce, if temporality were held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds. The moral of his stories, he concluded, is that all blessings are mixed.

This dismantling process is a revelation of what stuff does – and does not – mean. When the house is empty, it becomes an empty shell from which meaning has vanished. It is a corpse-like likeness of a body without an animating spirit.

Design ripens over summers of time but when the fruit is ready to fall, it falls fast and leaves the stem at a mere touch. Only bare branches can once again bear fruit. The readiness is all.


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It’s True What They Say About Aging

by rthieme on April 19, 2017

It’s True What They Say About Aging

by Richard Thieme

There are lots of funny stories about the erosion of physical and mental processes as we age, and it’s true that when I meet old friends near my age (73) or older, we often spend the first half of the conversation discussing health issues, friends we have lost, and making jokes about ears, eyes, skin and all the rest. We talk about how hard it is sometimes to sleep through the night while sleeping in front of the television is a breeze.

All that’s part of the game. But there’s a bigger game afoot, a corollary to the slow erosion of our senses, and it’s a surprising benefice. I’m talking about the growth of insight, even wisdom, as our perspectives lengthen like the shadows of an early sunset as winter approaches and we see more deeply into the life of things.

Jokes abound about short-term memory loss and not knowing what you came downstairs to get. But something more important happens to memory. Long-term memories are more vivid, sharper, more readily at hand. Images in dreams follow suit, manifesting with greater intensity. The longer reach of memory provides the perspective which enables us to see the real relative value of things.

In addition, detachment from many of the emotional investments we made in the past just … sort of happens … and it’s good detachment, neither indifferent nor uncaring, but a recognition of the diminished importance of so much we thought was such a big deal once upon a time. We cared so much, we see, about things that mattered so little, and time is short, so we had better give our energy and attention to what matters most.

That detachment occurs in part because when we think about things we have done, places we have gone, the images are somehow flatter and don’t grab attention with the urgency they once did. They move with greater fluidity through our minds. Contemplation of our histories is like watching branches flow past in a fast-moving stream. And time runs faster, and faster, and faster.

We don’t have to work at this – aging always brings new phases of growth, new developmental stages arrive gradually but seem to arrive suddenly, as surprising as all the others when they first kicked in, from adolescence to midlife.

I read a book called The Seasons of a Man’s Life about 50 years ago. It provided an orderly succession of developmental phases and gave them names, but when it reached the mid sixties, it called the rest of the journey “senescence,” a polite way of saying, “beyond these isles be monsters and the deep.”

Longevity has made a mockery of that taxonomy of growth. The sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties carry their own challenges and rewards, like all of the other stages. The fastest growing segment of the US population by percentage is 100 and older. I remain robustly non-retired and continue to travel the world to give speeches – the part of the brain that does that and engages with audiences for hours seems better than ever – and I have published four books in the last six years. I never would have anticipated that and would never have predicted it. But my focus is changing, I want to address what matters most and not waste precious time on what matters little in the bigger picture — and it is the ability to take a step back and contemplate things and simply see that bigger picture that comes with age.

Viagra jokes aside, the progressive lessening of intense sexual desire which once pervaded every waking hour makes room for a sublimation of sexuality into a different kind of love, not just love for special partners, but a more general love that is concentrated and focused on whoever is before us. We relish the achievements and the promise of youth as the unity of life claims our allegiance more and more. We owe what we have, what we are, to the world. The technical term in Greek is “agape,” a selfless love directed at just about everyone, and a love for being, for creation itself. That happens more and more. We’re still ourselves, but the ability to revere others ripens. We know the difference we each make is very little, but we also know it is the totality of the difference we can make, and we are here to make that difference while we can.

The special love for partners evolves too – it includes greater degrees of gratitude, respect, even piety toward the other that transcends mere affection – and as the more manipulative search for an emotional buzz wanes, the desire to nurture, support, care for others grows.

So yes, there are struggles to adapt as the cold friction of expiring sense, as Eliot put it, becomes a daily challenge, and there is genuine grief for what is lost, but the compensatory expansion of understanding and feeling, what I am trying but failing to describe adequately, expands our opportunities in rich and unexpected ways. We want to make this torch of life in our hands blaze even more brightly while we can, as Shaw said, and be all used up when we die.

In the moment, there is nothing but life to live with intensity and ardor and mindfulness and focus. We hope we have miles to go before we sleep, but however many miles there are, here and now is where we are, and here and now is the opportunity to use our power to reach out and make the difference that we can.


Richard Thieme is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, NML, WE Energies, UOP, and Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.


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by rthieme on December 9, 2016




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What’s real in the post-truth era?

by rthieme on December 4, 2016

What’s real in the post-truth era?

by Richard Thieme

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 4, 2016.

A web of truthiness, post-truths, and half-truths is replacing a once-shared goal of knowing the truth itself. The task of understanding our world has become more and more complex and difficult to navigate. As the recent presidential campaign illuminates, knowing what’s real is a non-trivial enterprise and the effort to understand is a task for experts, if they still exist. The relationship of the maps in our minds to the territory we call “the real world” is blurred and uncertain.

Ever since Eddie Bernays changed his occupation from “advertising man” to “public relations expert” a century ago, the distortion and manipulation of the truth through covert campaigns has been a mainstay of public life. We make light of it by calling it “spin” instead of covert information warfare, but covert warfare it is, and the prize is the capture of friends and enemies alike in webs of disinformation. In a world of global interconnections, it is impossible for information to be aimed at only one group. What intelligence professionals call “blow back” is inevitable and we deceive ourselves in the process of deceiving others.

“Post-truth” is a silly word for distorted images and ideas. The ubiquity of social media and the diminishing importance of responsible journalism has serious consequences. Words — stories, narratives – have been weaponized and collateral damage is extensive.

Here’s what’s coming our way:

(1) Propaganda from multiple sources. The Russians excelled in the use of stolen material, disseminated through Wikileaks, to impact the recent campaign. They have done the same with neighbor countries to undermine clarity about their intentions and actions. There is a NATO group, for example, that does nothing but peruse Russian propaganda to understand it, but it was discovered that even though they knew that was the task, they unconsciously absorbed false material as if it was true, because that’s what the mind does, it treats data as data, even when it knows the data is a fiction. So the NATO group has to be debriefed in order to recalibrate their maps of the real to … well, to the real.

But who debriefs the debriefers? Who debriefs us?

(2) Julian Assange has one goal, to “crush the bastards,” as he said, meaning anyone in power, anyone with authority, and to that end, he has disseminated stolen documents without discrimination, resulting in a great deal of “collateral damage.” Self-righteousness if a tricky path to walk, however, without a debriefing from outside the group-think of the inner circle. It will be interesting to see if he pursues messages from Trump with the same zeal.

Given the ease of hacking into servers, we can expect more of this from multiple parties but the narrative gets even hazier, because material can be (and has been) altered. We can read emails as if they are true, but we don’t know if they are true. This is a game that will be played both ways and many ways. A spectrum of amateurs and professionals with access to purloined materials will distribute both real and false information selectively and strategically. It will be a full-time job to untangle that mess.

(3) That job used to belong to the professional journalism, but the erosion of journalism and the substitution for it of hundreds of web sites has resulted in a world in which people believe anything and everything, and the critical thinking needed for research and discernment is missing in action. Confirmation bias is only a click away. A recent study showed that most teens do not even question what they read online or think about sources.

But it’s not just teens who check their brains at the door of web portals. The recent campaign revealed the impotence of newspapers which expressed near-universal disapproval of Trump – because many Trump supporters do not get “news” from those untrusted sources who are called out as dishonest crooks at mass rallies and booed by the herd. Let me provide one example of the outrageous narratives this leads some to accept.

I was asked to submit a bio to a local group as a possible speaker. My topics were misunderstood, distorted by the framework through which the contact for the group read them, and he sent an email defining the speech he hoped I could produce:

“ … it would be fantastic to have a “dream speaker” that could link the topics of the Power-Elite, Occult ritual, who’s teaching them how to do this, why they are doing it, pedophilia, bohemian grove, Eyes Wide Shut parties, the Clintons, technocratic globalism, child trafficking, main stream media, main stream entertainers/Hollywood, Alien/UFO government mythology, Lolita Island, War, Alister Crowley followers, state sponsored assassinations, CIA, FBI and much much more…. a speaker who can skillfully link all of these dark connections in an eloquent, matter-of-fact way.”

The email provided a link to a video in which three men discussed all this and more in sensational unsupported terms and added satanic ritual, cannibalism, and child rape to the antics of the power elite, crimes that are unreported by “the media” because publishers are at those parties, participating in rape and human sacrifice, hence unwilling to tell the truth about them.

That group is a mainstream group. That video has more than half a million hits. That absurd narrative collects unthinking people into a homogeneous group which by repetition reinforces the credibility of their assertions. In a similar vein, I am sometimes asked after speeches if I believe we went to the moon or have rovers on Mars.

How does one even begin to respond?

The inability to discriminate between plausible and crazy plus the impossibility of knowing what’s real in this perpetual fog of information warfare causes anxiety and fear, which people counter with narratives to comfort the afflicted soul. Then it’s called “truth.” When we feel helpless and lacking control over our lives, we project impossible narratives onto fragmented data and comfort ourselves with theories which, if examined closely, would be seen to be foolish.

And many won’t read these words in a newspaper, or if they do, will dismiss it as the propaganda of coastal elites, written between pedophile parties. These are omens of dark times ahead with dire consequences for the existence of a consensus reality, a sane map we can share, which is the basis and fabric of civil discourse and a free society.


Richard Thieme is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.


by rthieme on November 20, 2016

Trump Trauma

by Richard Thieme

November 11, 2016

Op Ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – a USA Today Publication

A younger colleague, a brilliant guru in the security world, said of the impact of “the Trump event” on his family, “Well, on the galactic scale, none of this matters one whit.”

That was not the first time that I or someone else had to stretch our thinking to the cosmic, the galactic, or the ends of time to find a benchmark by which to say “in the big picture this will be insignificant” or something like it. During a crisis in my life years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and looked down the walls toward layers deposited millions of years earlier and thought the same thing. “Keep this in perspective,” I thought, trying to diminish the impact of a traumatic event. People are doing that now, alluding to the Trump victory, and have invoked evolutionary time scales, the galaxy, the cosmos, all of known history, to make the felt impact of the campaign feel smaller than it actually is.

These attempts in fact signify the huge significance of it all, right here, right now. Those vast scales enable us to live with the event as if it is less manageable by ordinary means.

I am not hearing this just from liberals. I dined this week at a meeting of a very conservative forum of business people and government officials who gathered to hear an economist discuss the likely impacts of the election. Similar feelings were expressed. So it’s not just the crowd I run with: The impact spans the spectrum of political partisanship.

I spoke with a dear friend who is 101 years old. She was born during the Wilson administration and has lived through seventeen presidents. She said she could not sleep after she heard the election news and spent the day crying. She said we have had good and bad presidents but she has never seen anything like this.

By “this” she means nothing about Hilary or Trump as candidates; she knows that both candidates brought less than honorable records in business and politics to the table and that no one reaches those heights with clean hands. She means something deeper, she means the deplorable vitriolic assault on decency and the Republic that we dignify by calling it a campaign and which can not be erased from memory or our daily consciousness.

The lacerations caused by Trump’s words against so many people and groups cut deeply and indelibly into our souls, and healing will not be quick or easy. He did what he did and said what he said, regardless of whether he now acts “presidential.” Anyone who directed and followed the scripts of a reality show – yes, Virginia, they are scripted – knows how to play a part well. Transparent postures and role paying do not fool victims of trauma into thinking that everything is fine now, everything will be just fine. Instead we become hyper-vigilant, somewhat paranoid, and binary in our thinking.

The impact of traumatic events is what I am seeing, hearing, feeling. Trauma is what this is about. I have addressed traumatic impacts lately in speeches, and it is obvious to me that we are in shock from a trauma that struck many individually and the entire nation as a whole.

The symptoms of trauma are identifiable and present in the body politic. Other markers include the minimization and rationalization that pervades so much discussion and punditry. Smoothing things over is an attempt to normalize the abnormal, the aberrant, and make the flow of historical events include and tame this event, but it resists taming. It bobs along in the rapids like a movie monster with its head above the water, looking for its next meal.

Three people called this week to ask if I had tickets yet – for NZ, Australia, or Canada. I wish they were less than half serious. Older people have said, well, we can still live out our lives, we’ll be OK, whatever happens, and younger people have asked, how will this effect the decades ahead of me? What will my life – and my children’s lives – be like? One mentioned the flood of refugees that we mostly relegate to brief scenes on the nightly news and wonder if it could happen here. Walls, they fear, keep people in as well as out.

These are all markers of trauma, that’s all I am saying. This is something new under the sun, this is serious, and how we respond will be important. I am giving a speech these days called “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge and Secrets on Security and Intelligence Professionals.” It’s about trauma and secondary trauma, the latter coming from engaging with people who are traumatized. For those people, rates of substance abuse, divorce, and suicide are high. I conclude that talk with a set of strategies for dealing with trauma in more life-giving ways They include restorative time with friends and family, music and gardening; they include greater mindfulness, awareness of our bodies and what they are telling us; they include the necessity for mutuality and frequent feedback from trusted others, for deepening bonds of community and strategies for collective response. Sanity demands at the least advocating for a fabric of civil discourse and mutual respect in our country to replace the derision and insults of shout shows and the recent spectacle of a campaign.

Acknowledging what has happened, knowing it and feeling it, is dark knowledge indeed and reveals painful wounds, it is visceral awareness of the darkness in the American psyche that we like to pretend is manageable or just not there. But it is there, and we are obligated to confront denial not with despair and pessimism but with realistic self-awareness and building frameworks for concerted right action.

Richard Thieme ( is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, and Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.

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One of 3 talks at Def Con 24, this short mini-keynote for r00tz Asylum spoke to “kidz” ages 6-16 on critical thinking, using biohacking and UFO studies as examples.

Richard Thieme: UFOs & Biohacking @ r00tz’16 DEF CON 24
In this talk at r00tz Asylum ( at DEF CON 24, Richard spoke with kids about critical thinking and importance of challenging the norms.

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Richard Thieme is an author and prolific speaker focusing on the impact of technology on individuals and organizations with an emphasis on security and…


Richard Thieme Def Con 24 on “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge and Secrets on Security and Intelligence Professionals

September 15, 2016

Richard Thieme at Def Con 24 August 2016 on “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge and Secrets on Security and Intelligence Professionals” Dismissing or laughing off concerns about what it does to a person to know critical secrets does not lessen the impact on life, work, and relationships of building a different […]

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