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Thursday, October 27, 2016

I need to know how to build a bomb.

This is not, I hasten to add, for my use or, indeed, for the use of any real person. Rather, it is for Clarence and Dwayne, two hapless wannabe terrorists in a novel I’m writing.

In researching a novel, you often find yourself going places you would not ordinarily go and asking questions you would not ordinarily ask, seeking details that lend verisimilitude to the narrative. For Before I Forget I sat in on an Alzheimer’s support group. For Freeman, I visited a horse farm catering to disabled riders.

For Grant Park, I’m trying to figure out enough of fertilizer bomb mechanics to describe what such a device looks like and give my characters some realistic stuff to do as they discuss their nefarious plot. Failing that, I’ll have to fake it with passages like the following:

“Our nefarious plot is really going well,” said Clarence as he connected the frammistat to the hornuculator.

“Yes,” said Dwayne as he tested the level of tetratrygliceryde in the doohickey tanks, “it is really fun to be nefarious and have a plot.”

OK, so the dialogue could also use some work. The point is, I know squat about bomb building. Ordinarily, that’d be no problem. Helping writers do their research is the whole reason Al Gore invented the Internet.

But an odd thing happened when I went online last week: I found myself hesitating. I wondered what secret watch list this would put me on. I tried to guess how long it would take after I typed “bomb building” into Google before men in FBI jackets started banging at my door. Or maybe they’d forgo such formalities and simply rappel down from helicopters and come in through the windows.

It didn’t help that last week saw the massive data dump by NSA leaker Edward Snowden continue to be Topic A in America. Pass lightly over the news that’s getting most of the attention, allegations that the National Security Agency eavesdrops on the electronic communications of our nation’s allies. For all the indignation France, Germany and other allies expressed at the news, it strains credulity to believe they aren’t watching us every bit as closely as we do them.

No, the headline here is the degree to which our spies are spying on us. The Washington Post reports that the NSA “has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world” enabling it to collect data from hundreds of millions of people internationally — and here at home. This, according to Snowden’s documents and Post reporting.

And here’s the thing: The NSA already has a process allowing it to access user accounts. But despite having a key to the front door, it has taken a crowbar to the back.

In a statement, the spy agency swears it uses its powers only for good, i.e., to spy on foreign targets. You may choose to be assuaged by that if you wish. Me, I’m trying to remember all the Google and Yahoo searches I have conducted in the last year. And wondering if Clarence and Dwayne can be convincing terrorists if I arm them with rocks. And recalling how sanguine some of us were when the PATRIOT Act was passed and secret No Fly lists were compiled and the feds started snooping through library records. And marveling at how much George Orwell got right in 1984. And mourning the Fourth Amendment. And lamenting how readily a frightened people will give up their freedoms for the illusion — and delusion — of security.

I’m reminded of a lyric Michael Jackson sang in 1984: “I always feel like somebody’s watching me.” The song was a comic take on one man’s overwrought fear of prying eyes. But what sounded like paranoia then feels like prescience now.

I’d have more to say, but I can hardly think with that helicopter hovering so low. Hey, look, the door is opening.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

  • old_blu

    It’s too bad our fourth amendment rights are being flushed down the terrorist toilet, but they can watch me all they want and they might catch me going to the grocery store.
    As you can tell I’m kind of on the fence about this, but I think if we are to live in fear of being spied on or watched all the time then the terrorist have won.

    • foundingprinciples

      Yes. The Left in the past used to have “anti-anti-Communism.” In order for the Leftists to protect their beloved Communism, they had to do something. Communism was in disrepute, what with tens of millions dead in Russia and Mao slaughtering more. The Leftists could not come out and PRAISE Communism and offer panegyrics to its wonders as they used to, so the Leftists tried another tactic to protect their Communist brethren and fellow travelers: Stop people from speaking out about Left-winger Communists by appealing to free speech, and also by condemning anyone who ferreted out Commie spies as “McCarthyist” and “fascist.” The latter technique was used in the 1930s and called “Brownshirting.”

      Today, the Liberals have transferred the technique to “anti-anti-Islam terrorism.” Same principle.

      • Sand_Cat

        As usual, you’re full of it.

        Tell me, is there anything at all bad that isn’t a direct result of evil liberal actions? Anything at all? Next you’ll be trying to blame us for the Triassic and Cretaceous extinctions.
        Some “leftists” may have thought Communism was good back in the twenties; that was back when there really were some leftists in this country. The Russian and Chinese versions haven’t been “beloved” by much of anyone for at least thirty years or so, but I guess that’s a small indicator of how far off most of your expositions from so-called “founding principles” are.
        As I’ve said elsewhere, your “original understanding,” or whatever you call it, of the Bill of Rights conveniently excludes those of whom you disapprove: “leftists” and “liberals” clearly aren’t entitled to free speech in your little world. You “originally” claimed on this site that free speech is limited to “political” speech, but you exclude that here, too, with the typical flexibility the “original intent” or understanding, or whatever zealots display when talking about taking away others’ rights.
        I wonder how many genuine spies – if any – McCarthy “ferreted out.” I’m sure that even using the most “liberal” accounting, it would be insignificant compared to the number of people who had the effrontery to disagree with him and thereby were persecuted or even prosecuted as a result. Even those Commies in the Republican Party finally caught on and disavowed him, but of course Neanderthals such as you haven’t figured it out yet.
        Best of all is your projection of your own intolerance and bigotry on “liberals” by comparing us to your own idealogical forebears, the Brownshirts. I realize you must be completely tone-deaf, but anyone with the slightest objectivity can see that it is the right which is doing the really vicious smears and slanders these days. Some of us on this site and others may occasionally lose patience with obnoxious intruders such as yourself, or have a little fun baiting you, but on the national stage among the “real” representatives – i.e., those actually serving in government at some level – very few Democrats would even consider making the kinds of charges GOPers routinely do, if for no other reason than Dems don’t really want to look completely looney on the House or Senate floor, or elsewhere.
        How many Democrats have even proposed voting restrictions on GOP base groups, much less passed them into law? The list goes on and on, but I’ve had enough of you.

        • foundingprinciples

          {Some “leftists” may have thought Communism was good back in the twenties}

          Nope. It kept up. The excuses and heroes changed. Stalin’s atrocities were denied and denied. The Left-wingers in the 1930s took their pilgrimages to “Holy Moscow.”

          In the 1930s and 1940s, the Leftists first wanted America to stay out of the conflict in Europe, but as soon as Hitler attacked their beloved USSR, they demanded involvement.

          The New Left started its anti-anti communism from the 1950s. After McCarthyism made “anti-communism” look bad, the Left-wingers came out of the woodwork in the 1960s, not even denying that they sympathized with the Reds! They said Mao, Castro, Che, Ho and Pol Pot were “agrarian reformers.”

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    I remember reading about Tom Clancy. After “Hunt for Red October” was published, various national security agencies came knocking at his door demanding to know how he knew so much about the capabilities of our and the Soviet submarines. He took out his copy of “Jane’s”, along with all sorts of public information releases by the Navy and basically said “You guys told me what they could do.”

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