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

by rthieme on May 5, 2014

My topic for Def Con 22 in August. The 19th year at Def Con, beginning with Def Con 4 in 1996.

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 words of an NSA intelligence analyst 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. It also 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 seems.”

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