crazy, horrible things

"Right and left there are other things happening just as bad -- crazy, horrible things too goofy and outlandish to cry about and too much true to laugh about." Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1962.

The week beginning Monday 11 March 2002 -- the sixth-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- was a surreal one indeed for the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York). During its course, the SCP-New York rose to the heights (or, if you prefer, fell to the depths) of Denzel Washington, Britney Spears, "the coming season's new movies," gossip columns, horoscopes and reviews of the latest video and DVD releases, and -- despite the apparent or assumed blandness and harmlessness of such "stars" and spectacles -- also came to the attention of the White House and the CIA.

The SCP-New York's ascension/descent to the level of the stars came in the form of an article on the group in Famous: Canada's Entertainment Lifestyle Magazine, which was published in February 2002 but received by the group a month later. It's a good article; indeed, one of the best written on the group since 11 September 2001. But it doesn't belong in Famous, which is the type of thing that, in America, you'd find given away for free at the supermarket or tucked inside the Sunday edition of the local tabloid newspaper, not sold for $3, as it is in Canada. Indeed, the article on the SCP-New York appears opposite a purple-and-yellow full-page ad for "Cheerios" (a sugar-filled breakfast cereal marketed to children). How did the SCP-New York end up in such a rag? When the guy from Famous said that the magazine was distributed in Canadian "theatres," the SCP-New York's Bill Brown carelessly assumed that he meant dramatic theatres, not movie theatres!

One wonders if the people at the Executive Office of the President and the Central Intelligence Agency get the joke. The simple fact, accurately relayed by the writer for Famous, is that the "four or five main members" of the SCP-New York "are not 'hard-core political people' nor do they have any real background in theatre; they caper in front of cameras because it's fun." Subversive fun, but fun nevertheless. Not armed struggle, not even civil disobedience.

And yet, as the group has been reporting since May 2000, the SCP-New York's website is constantly visited by servers registered to the U.S. military. Though distressing, this fact has never seemed surprising to the group. After all, the Internet was originally the creation of the U.S. military, parts of which are tasked with collecting information about how the Internet is being used.

But things began to change in August 2001, when the site was visited for the first time by an American law enforcement agency: the Mid-State Organized Crime Information Center in Springfield, Missouri. Without a doubt, this organized crime task-force -- a part of the Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) -- became aware of or interested in the SCP-New York because the group has aligned itself with the so-called anti-globalization movement, which has much concerned the US government since the very successful demonstrations and blockades outside of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999.

In October 2001, indeed, on the very day that the US began attacking Afghanistan, the SCP-New York's site was visited for the first time by a federal law enforcement agency: no less than the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has returned twice since then. Once the FBI was done checking out the site, two other federal law enforcement agencies (the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury) took their respective turns visiting it (once in the case of the Justice Department and four times in the case of the Treasury Department).

And then, when the feds were done, and on the day after the six-month anniversary of September 11, the SCP-New York's site was visited by a server registered to the Office of Administration, which provides computer services for the war-mongering President of the United States (the Executive Office of the President). Three days later, and no doubt at the bequest of the White House, someone at the murderous Central Intelligence Agency (Information Services Infrastructure) also paid the site a visit.

Crazy, huh? The same group that is deemed "safe" enough to be written up by a supermarket tabloid is also deemed to be "dangerous" enough to be monitored by the most powerful (certainly, the most deadly) organizations on earth. This absurd situation clearly says something about the uniqueness of the fun-loving SCP-New York, but it mostly speaks to the ghastly reality of "the war on terrorism" and the alarming degree to which the Bush Administration is using it as a cynical pretext for an unprecedented expansion of domestic spying by entities (the military and the CIA) that are prohibited from doing so.

--19 March 2002.

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