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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25 Years of ThiemeWorks on September 1 2018

by rthieme on August 28, 2018

A Quarter-century of ThiemeWorks 1993-2018

On September 1, 1993, the first year commercial enterprises were permitted on the Internet, I took a leap of faith, left a successful career, and launched ThiemeWorks as a platform for professional speaking, writing, and consulting.

That was 25 years ago. In 23 years of speaking for Def Con, I have morphed from “a father figure for online culture” (London Sunday Telegraph) to “a grandfather figure for online culture” (witty hacker). You can not predict the future but with luck and the generosity and good will of others, you can co-create it. My gratitude is too deep for words.

We are built to live in space that is gateless, unbounded, free.” – Ferg’s Law in “Islands in the Clickstream.”

have mouth, will travel.


















The Hague

Ghent Belgium



Wodz Poland


Victoria BC







Eilat/Tel Aviv

Kuala Lumpur



closer to home …



New York


San Francisco CA

San Diego CA

Monterey CA







Kansas City

Burlington VT

Woodbury VT


San Antonio




New Orleans

Baton Rouge




Louisville KY

Murray KY



Kansas City

Columbus OH



Sun Valley ID

Los Alamos NM


Des Moines IA

Iowa City IA

Davenport IA

St. Louis

Las Vegas

Lake Tahoe


Provo UT

Charlotte NC

Washington DC

Fort Meade MD

Arlington VA

Norfolk VA

Hampton VA

Charlottesville VA

Springfield VA

Lafayette IN

Indianapolis IN


local …

Minneapolis MN

St. Paul MN

Stillwater MN

Edina MN

Eden Prairie MN

Richfield MN

St. Louis Park MN

Minnetonka MN

Wayzata MN

Eagan MN

Woodbury MN

Shakopee MN

New Hope MN

Mankato MN

and …


Milwaukee WI

Madison WI

Green Bay WI

Eau Claire WI

La Crosse WI

Sheboygan WI

Racine WI

Kenosha WI

Appleton WI

Waukesha WI

Beloit WI

Whitewater WI

Port Washington WI

Mequon WI

Shorewood WI

Whitefish Bay WI

Brookfield WI

Wauwatosa WI

Oconomowoc WI

Clintonville WI

Green Lake WI

Ripon WI

Grafton WI

Random Lake WI

Butler WI

New Berlin WI

West Allis WI

St. Francis WI

Burlington WI

West Bend WI

Waterford WI

Delafield WI

Muskego WI

Mukwonago WI

Elm Grove WI

Pewaukee WI

Menominee WI

Chippewa Falls WI

Antigo WI

Greendale WI

Hartland WI

Franklin WI

Germantown WI

Lake Geneva WI

Janesville WI

McFarland WI

Wales WI

Oostburg WI

Fontana WI

Manitowoc WI

Mishicot WI


and …


Chicago IL

Crystal Lake IL

Zion IL

Grays Lake IL

Waukegan IL

Lake Forest IL

Winnetka IL

Wilmette IL

Northbrook IL

Hillside IL

Galena IL

Oak Park IL

Rosemont IL

and invited, but unable to go for various reasons, to …





Sao Paulo


Abu Dhabi




New Delhi

and some writing along the way …

The Road to Resilience: Strategies for Playing Through the Pain” – ICS2 – Nov-Dec 2018.

The UFO Phenomenon (co-editor) – coming soon from Anomalist Books

a review of “UFOs: Reframing the Debate” –  Journal of Scientific Exploration. Fall 2018

A Richard Thieme Readera 5-volume e-book anthology of fiction and non-fiction on Kindle, spring 2016. On Kindle.

FOAM – a novel (Exurban Press: September 2015)

Mind Games, A Collection of Nineteen Stories of Brave New Worlds and Alternate Realities Duncan Long Publications, April 2010

Richard Thieme’s Islands in the Clickstream, a collection of non-fiction, Syngress Publishing (a division of Elsevier), July 2004. (The column, “Islands in the Clickstream,” was published in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Toronto, Djakarta, Dublin and Capetown and distributed to thousands of subscribers in 60 countries before Syngress published the collection.)

UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry (Anomalist Books: San Antonio, TX: 2012) by Michael Swords and Robert Powell, with Richard Thieme, Clas Svahn, Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, Bill Chalker, Barry Greenwood, Jan Aldrich, and Steve Purcell – a team effort by a collection of veteran UFO historians and researchers who spent four plus years researching, consulting, writing, and editing to develop a work of historical scholarship on government response to the UFO phenomenon from WWII to the present. Recommended by CHOICE for inclusion in all academic libraries, currently in 100+ university and public libraries..

Silent Emergent, Doubly Dark” in Subtle Edens (editor Allen Ashley, Elastic Press: Norwich UK: 2008)

“I Remember Mama” in New Writing, Volume One: An Anthology of Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama From Press Americana (2013)

Entering Sacred Digital Space” published in New Paradigms for Bible Study: The Bible in the Third Millennium from T. & T. Clark, Ltd., June 2004.

Identity/Destiny” published in Prophecy Anthology, Volume 1”  a full-color book featuring sequential art by artists such as Shannon Wheeler, Scott McCloud, Sho Murase, Yuko Shimizu, Nathan Fox and Bernie Mireault by Sequent Media (2004).

“The Changing Context of Intelligence and Ethics:  Enabling Technologies as Transformational Engines” in Defense Intelligence Journal. Published in an adapted version in the proceedings of the New Paradigms for Security Workshop (NPSW 2008) and at the Ethical Spectacle (January 2009 – as “Changing Contexts of Security and Ethics: You Can’t Have One Without the Other.” Commissioned by the University of Maryland.

Short stories in Analog Science Fiction, Ascent, The Puckerbrush Review, Timber Creek Review, Porcupine, Zahir, The Future Fire, The Ranfurly Review, Bewildering Stories, anotherealm, Pacific Coast Journal, The Potomac Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Karamu, Combat, Heartlands, The Circle Magazine, The Listening Ear, Words on Walls, Nth Degree, Down in the Dirt, EWG, Phrack, Cantaraville (Eight), Chaos Theory: Tales Askew, Wanderings Magazine, BigCityLit …

articles in: Forbes, Salon, Information Security, SIGNAL, American Center for Democracy, Review Americana, The Gardian (Infragard), Secure Business Quarterly, Cyber Defense Magazine, ICS2, LAN Magazine, Village Voice, LA Weekly, South Africa Computer Magazine, Wired, Counter Punch, The Pedestal Magazine, Common Dreams, alternet, Internet Underground, National Catholic Reporter, Anglican Theological Review, Asia Times Online, .net, Internet Today, Pravda, rebelion, ATTAC Madrid, Computing Japan, Business Times of Singapore, Convergence (Toronto), Computer Underground Digest, CTHEORY, DoubleClick, Ethical Spectacle, Small Business Times, Computer Mediated Communication, Skeptica (Denmark), Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Informatiebeveiliging (Netherlands). Now Magazine (Toronto), Future Briefs, Access Control & Security Systems, The Bangladesh Report, Phrack, The Witness, Interesting Times … translated into German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Slovene, Dutch, Hebrew, Danish and Indonesian and taught at universities in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

articles anthologized in Digital Delirium, Cyber Reader II, Cyberculture (UK).

fiction anthologized in CyberTales: Live Wire; Chaos Theory; Distinguished Writing: A Master‘s Journal; Whortleberry Summer; Autumn Glory; and Subtle Eden (November 2008, London, Elastic Press). Non-fiction anthologized in New Writing, Volume One: An Anthology of Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama From Press Americana

the short stories Gibby the Sit-down King, published in the Timber Creek Review, and The Man Who Hadn’t Disappeared, published in Karamu, were nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


The Road to Resilience is on you tube

by rthieme on August 24, 2018

“The Road to Resilience: Strategies for Playing Through the Pain” by Richard Thieme at Def Con 26 (August 11 2018) is now available on you tube. 23rd year at Def Con.  Connecting with the heart of a left-brain crowd.

The Road to Resilience: Strategies for Playing Through the Pain

by Richard Thieme –

At one end of the spectrum, stressful events at work can add up to just another bad day. We have all had those. But toward the other end, information security work – which shades easily into work for the intelligence and defense communities – can be traumatic and impact us deeply.

Sometimes the darker knowledge we gather can not be forgotten and abrades the way we like to think of ourselves or life in general. Sometimes we encounter momentous challenges to the ethics or morality we believe governs our actions. Sometimes we are compelled to do things that so seriously assault our core selves – our very sense of who we are – that it rises to the level of “moral harm,” a category of damage often discussed today in relationship to war.

We all bear scars. Resilience includes learning to live with them. But sometimes the challenges go beyond that. We deny or minimize or rationalize our experience in order to deal with it, but those strategies are ultimately self-defeating. The traumatic impact of what can never be forgotten – what we did or know others did while we stood by – can erode our enthusiasm for getting up in the morning and rising to the challenge of the everyday.

Information security can bring us into situations we did not anticipate when we thought of the job as merely technical. Engaging with malevolent actors from individuals to criminal networks to nation states can call our fundamental assumptions into question. The real cost goes beyond dollars. It is measured in family life, relationships, and mental and physical well-being. The real impact of this work on people over the long term has to be mitigated by counter-measures and strategies so scars can be endured or, even better, incorporated and put to use.

Richard Thieme has listened closely for 25 years to information security and intelligence professionals who often struggle to “play through the pain.” He presents meaningful strategies for transcending the consequences of being on the front lines of an undeclared war without borders where attackers have taken the high ground. He discusses these issues aloud to combat the silence that so often attends their mere mention.

This conversation needs to happen.


Me and Jim Carrey: Wild and Crazy Guys

by rthieme on May 14, 2018

Jim Carrey, the entity once known as Jim Carrey I should say, is catching flak these days from those who cannot understand what he is saying. He is saying lots of things, including that none of us exist, not the way we think of ourselves, that is, that the universe we inhabit is nothing but a dance, a dance of ecstatic energy, and the names we attach to ourselves are stickers that seem to adhere and suggest a permanent identity but don’t, and — here, listen for yourself. (be sure to add – doing it this way to keep the links optional)



Now, some say Jim is crazy. That’s what humans say when they cannot understand a point of view that differs significantly from their own, when their model of reality of challenged. I myself have been called crazy a few times. Here are a few instances.

Many decades ago, I had an epiphany while playing a computer game (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from Infocom). I saw that my thinking was being changed as I engaged with a computer, but beyond that, I myself was being changed. I saw that interacting with the symbol-manipulating machine called a computer did different things to me than reading the symbol-manipulating machine called a book.

I had studied and taught English literature and writing so I had a clue as to how text worked, how meaning was mediated by writing and print, and by contrast, I saw that meaning was mediated differently by computers. So as more and more people interacted with computers and computers with one another, as the symbiotic network expanded, the social, cultural, political, and mental worlds we inhabit would alter in significant ways.

I was still an Episcopal clergyman then, so I addressed what I saw in terms of religious images, ideas, structures. I wrote an essay called “Computer Applications for Spirituality: The Transformation of Religious Experience” and sent it to the Anglican Theological Review.

The Review rejected the essay out of hand, but it was in the margins that I found the most interesting comments. “He must be insane.” said one. “God forbid!” said another. And on it went, the paradigms within which the editors lived rejecting fresh insights the way a body rejects toxic bacteria.

Years later, a new editor dusted off the piece and wrote that the Review would be honored to publish my “cutting edge essay,” – the technical references in which were long obsolete. (moos and mushes instead of MMORPGs).

What had changed was the context in which the essay could be read. The digital revolution had begun to socialize people to its frames. “Wisdom and insanity are contextual,” I noted, the frames determining which pictures could fit.

Here’s another instance.

After I spoke for a technical conference in Nashville TN, the technologists in the audience invited me to speak for a conference at a school in western Kentucky. I offered a variety of topics and the conference chose “The Future of Hacking.” I liked that. The topic allowed me to explore the real meanings of hacking in several fields and to swing for the fence, describing as best I could what the future held..

I misjudged the second audience, however, which consisted of computer operators in small businesses in western Kentucky, not upper level technologists. The data entry folks tried to follow along but it sounded crazy to many.

After the speech, a woman approached me and said, “You should know what some of us are discussing.”

I raised my eyebrows in expectation.

“We are discussing whether or not you are insane.”

I laughed. “Thank you” I said. “That’s a compliment.”

“No it is not,” she said. “I mean that. We think you may be insane.”

They were saying in effect that the context of their lives and the frames it enabled could not contain the ideas I advanced. And since they were sane – everybody thinks they are sane – and what I said did not make sense, I must be crazy.

In both instances, events have proven me far-seeing and right on the money. When you get older, you get a track record, the downside of which is you have to get older to have one. I described the future by following the contours of emergent properties as a result of technological transformation to identify the shapes of relationships, organizational and geopolitical structures, everything. I was not crazy, I was early in terms of their timelines. (My mistake as a speaker was not understanding who I was addressing and communicating appropriately).

Back to Jim Carrey. If you have listened to him or watched the documentary on his transformation as a result of engaging with the personas of Andy Kaufman in “Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond” on Netflix, then you can understand why some think he is crazy. Hopefully you can also see why he isn’t crazy at all. His transformation led into the right-brain frame where boundaries dissolve, categories evaporate, and the fluid unity of everything can be experienced.

I interviewed Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell (it’s an appendix in my novel FOAM and on my web site at Mitchell recounts how, returning from the moon, he went in and out of altered states and experienced the unity of all things. It changed his life and he struggled to communicate what he discovered for the rest of his days. The remarkable thing, he said, is not that we experience everything as interconnected, but that we experience anything as separate.

For a neuroscientific approach, read Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight,” or watch her TED talk or interview with Terry Gross online. She describes the serenity she found in the “right brain” experience after her stroke wiped out linear and logical distinctions. The anxieties of worldly attachments disappeared. She described in effect what people report after taking psilocybin, what Buddhists call nirvana, what Jews and Christians call “the peace that passes all understanding.”

No wonder those who take religious and spiritual experiences seriously sound crazy. Their experience leads them to rethink how they ought to be in the world, once arbitrary labels and categories and distinctions no longer hold. The knowledge that we are all part of One Real Everything compels a different ethical and moral approach to life, since everything we do affects – well, everything.


The artist formerly known as Jim Carrey is not crazy. He saw the light and chose to speak out about what he knew. Shamans experience that, too. A priest, like a shaman, is empowered to go crazy on behalf of his or her community, but the trick is, they have to know how to come back. When you can transit between states, you can see the world from a different point of view, and coming back, you can use language as best you can to say what you experienced. But language breaks, and we are left grasping for meanings. We seek metaphors that might make sense of a different landscape.

I wonder what “Jim Carrey” will do next. Will he create personas that let him make more brilliant films like “Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “The Truman Show?” or “Man on the Moon?” Or will he do something entirely else?

The only thing I know is, it doesn’t matter. “Jim Carrey” knows that, too. It really doesn’t matter.

And it doesn’t matter that some of what I see and say, once again, sounds crazy. So when I say that I know the universe is teeming with life, when I say that “visitors” have been coming to our planet for many years (a US Air Force text book suggested in the 1970s that at least four different civilizations accounted for some UFO phenomena), when I illuminate the “wilderness of mirrors” where illusions are manufactured and disseminated, when I try to hint at how it feels to have the very cornerstone of one’s construction of reality pulled out by an intelligence professional disclosing what they did – some will call what I say crazy.

Wisdom is making a distinction between what one knows one knows and the vast rest of it, what one knows one does not know. I’ll stick with what I know and partner with those who know other things. It worked when I went to hackers half my age and said, show me, please, what kind of world you are building, that the rest of us will inhabit. The gift of their vision suggests that’s a good way to learn, and I hope I will still be a learner in coming years.

The readiness is all.

Richard Thieme ( is an author and professional speaker who addresses what’s past, and passing, and to come.


New Old Videos on YouTube – May 2018

by rthieme on May 10, 2018

Richard Thieme on This Week WSN TV Milwaukee 1994

Richard Thieme is interviewed by Wayne Youngquist in 1994 on “This Week” – WSN Channel 12 Milwaukee. Thieme was less than one year into a new career as a professional speaker and writer and discusses his focus at the time.

Richard Thieme Speaks for the Teachers of Grays Lake Illinois in 1995

The digital revolution was just getting under way in the mid 1990s and the challenge to traditional education was felt keenly by the teachers on the firing line – and on the interface between eras. The teachers of Grays Lake Illinois asked Richard Thieme to help them know what would be needed to make the transition successfully. This inservice presentation emphasized “the human in the machine” – the capacity of ordinary men and women to be resilient and heroic in the everyday world fired at them at point blank range.

The Dynamics of Mergers – Advanced Health Care – June 1998

Three Milwaukee clinics – Milwaukee Medical Clinic, West Bend Medical Clinic, and Menomonee Falls Medical Clinic – merged in 1998 to form Advanced Health Care. Richard Thieme spoke to their management teams about the dynamics and challenges of mergers. “The human in the machine” was his focus – how companies and cultures negotiate differences as they struggle to become something new and different.

Richard Thieme on Thriving in the Digital World for Professional Speakers – October 1998

20 years ago Richard Thieme spoke to other professional speakers about “how to thrive in the digital world.” 20 years later, it sounds obvious, but the advice still holds – living on the edges requires focus, intentionality, and discipline. This presentation was for a local chapter of the NSA (National Speakers Association).

Richard Thieme on the Human Dimension of Technology and the Workplace – Alliant Energy – 2001

Alliant Energy invited Richard Thieme to illuminate the challenges they faced as a utility in light of changing regulations, mergers, the digital revolution, new security challenges, and more. He addressed all that with some zest and his insights continue to be relevant.

Richard Thieme on the Workplace of the Future – Medtronic – Minneapolis – Sept 2003

Richard Thieme describes a vision of new possibilities in September 2003 for Medtronic. The poignant opening, days after his son’s motorcycle accident, framed the work of the medical device maker and its importance for “the human in the machine.”

Richard Thieme. Are There UFOs on Mars? International UFO Symposium 2002

A presentation for the MUFON Symposium in 2002 with a heavy emphasis on methodology and the sources of some error in UFO research. Stories, speculations, admonitions. Do what it takes to seek the truth in a post-truth environment.


Playing Through the Pain, Part Two

by rthieme on May 3, 2018

Two years ago Richard Thieme spoke on “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge on Security and Intelligence Professionals” for Def Con 24. He relied on dozens of experiences provided by colleagues over a quarter-century, colleagues from NSA, CIA, corporate, and military. Responses to the presentation have often been emotional and have corroborated his thesis: The real impact of this work on people over the long term can be damnable and has to be mitigated by a series of counter-measures and strategies so scars can be endured or, even better, incorporated and put to use.

Thieme ran out of time and did not elaborate those strategies and counter-measures in detail. That’s what he does in this presentation. This one is spoken directly to the “human in the machine” and his/her needs AS a human being. It’s not about quitting or leaving the profession: it’s about what we can do to survive, and thrive, and transcend the challenges. It includes a sidebar for women and others coping with minority status as well, based on his experience as a minority in five different ways.

Thieme thought he might deliver this follow-up on what to DO in response to the darker impacts of oppressive cultures and the “moral harm” they can cause – defined as a conflict between one’s ethic and what the culture demands one do instead – but after 22 years of speaking for Def Con, the submission was rejected and he will not be returning to Def Con. So a long happy run at that conference has ended.

Reality will not go away, however, because we refuse to believe in it or look at it, to paraphrase Philip K. Dick. So if these themes resonate and can be invited into other venues, please contact Richard at [email protected].

It is so much easier to focus on exploits, cool tools, zero days, and the games we play in the hacker space that “makes us smile.” It is not so easy to know how to play through the pain successfully. As we know from professional football, sucking it up, injecting drugs, and going back onto the field does not prevent long-term damage. The damage to us is also to our heads, but it does not show up in scans. It shows up in our families, our relationships, and our lives. Thieme is not preaching, he is sharing insights based on what he too has had to transcend in his own life. They call some people “supernormals,” which means they discovered resilient responses to deprivation, abuse, profound loss … or the daily challenges of work that makes clear that evil is real. Supernormals are driven, never quit, fight through adversity, create and recreate personas that work, do what has to be done. It pays to know how to do that and know that we know so we can face whatever comes our way.

A contractor for NSA suggested that everyone inside the agency should see the video of “Playing Through the Pain.” A long-time Def Con attendee asks all new hires to watch “Staring into the Abyss,” a sister talk Thieme did a few years before. Both are available on youtube. This subject matter is seldom discussed aloud “out here” and by all accounts is not taken seriously enough “inside,” which is perhaps why there have been half a dozen suicides lately at NSA and a CIA veteran said, “I have 23 suicides on my mind, the most recent senior people who could not live with what they knew.” One way or another, our choices bring consequences, and intervening in the cycle proactively is better than letting everything take its course. That’s the assumption baked into this talk: real hacking, its ethos and its execution, provides the tools we need to do this damn thing right. We are built to live in a space that is gateless, unbounded, free.

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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

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 […]

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