AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM UNDERWOOD (one week before his untimely death)

Good evening viewers,” Hank announced.  “We have with us tonight Tim Underwood, Senior Editor at Wired Magazine, who broke the story we’re about to discuss.

“Welcome, Mr. Underwood” Hank said in his best baritone voice.

“Tim, please.”  The young man came dressed in a tweed jacket, white shirt, red tie and jeans, Tim looked barely out of college.  He sported a clean shaven face, bushy brown hair that flowed over his collar, and riveting hazel eyes.  His movements were lithe and swift, like a man in a hurry.  Tim crossed his legs and opened his jacket.  “Thanks for having me on,” he said.  His words stuck together, like his tongue was thick and his mouth dry.  In all, he expressed a sense of unease.

“Let’s get right to it, shall we?” Hank suggested.

     “Yes, of course,” Tim replied. 

     “Operation Stellar Wind.”

     “And let’s not leave out Trapwire.”

     “I haven’t even heard of that,” Hank considered.  “Why don’t you tell us just how they intersect.”

“Of course,” the young man responded, proud of his knowledge and awareness yet

somehow uncomfortable in the present setting.  He pushed back his hair that had fallen forward in his nervousness.  “Let’s start with Stellar Wind.  That’s the code name for the NSA’s Utah Data Center.  This super secret project is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade.  Its purpose is to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they beam down from satellites and race through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.”

     Tim stopped for a drink of water, offered a strained smile that gave concern to the host, then continued.

“Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails – parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital pocket litter.”

“Wait a minute!” Hank exclaimed.  “You’re telling me . . . and our viewers that this

thing . . . this program can get inside our computers, our cell phones, our iPads–.”

“And credit card accounts, and verbal communications,” Tim stated unequivocally. 

The news anchor hesitated.  “Did you just say verbal communications?”

“Yes, most assuredly,” Tim said with the flip of a hand to emphasize the simplicity of the thing.  “The video cameras, so ubiquitous throughout the cities, capture not only your image, but enable computer generated software to read your lips.”

“Are you sure you haven’t been watching too much Sci-Fi?”  Hank gave off a look of incredulity.

“I wish it were only so,” Tim said, then reached for some water.  He seemed parched in spite of an effort to stay hydrated.  The young man looked over the top of the glass while sipping, never breaking eye contact.  He used great care to set his water back down.

“Stellar Wind is up and running, but they’re still working the kinks out of it.  In just a few more months, virtually anything one communicates through any traceable medium, or any record of one’s existence in the electronic world, which these days is everything, will unofficially be property of the US government to deal with as it sees fit.  There is no doubt that it has transformed itself into the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever created.”

Tim held his thumb and forefinger close together.  “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”  He then sat back as if he’d rather say no more.

He started to pick up his glass again, but his hand began shaking and he spilled water on to the table and down onto the floor.

“You look uncomfortable, Tim; is anything wrong?” Hank asked more personally than professionally.

“When you expose or criticize the government you open yourself up to attack.  Those attacks may be smear campaigns to besmirch your reputation or more intrusive like stealing your mail, or . . . .”

“Or what, Tim?”

“Any more would be speculation,” he replied, in a way that conveyed it was not speculation.

“Please go back to your story,” Hank urged, uncustomarily reaching out to touch the arm of his guest in a calming gesture.

“This story broke when a former NSA operative Martin Downey who was a senior analyst, quit his job after he realized that the agency was openly trampling the constitution.”

“Is that the same Martin Downey who was killed when his plane went down over the Atlantic last week?” Hank proposed, now disturbed having made the connection. 

“Well, it wasn’t technically his plane,” Tim corrected with a tinge of sarcasm.  “He was on a commercial flight with 288 other passengers.”

“Wasn’t there a story about that in the Wall Street Journal?”

“And the New York Times, and Chicago Sun Tribune,” Tim added.

“What was the conclusion by the FAA?” Hank asked, urging the editor on.

“There was no warning, no emergency communication between the plane and ground controllers.  It was a mid-air explosion.”

“Did they recover the back box?”

“Yes,” Tim quickly replied.  “No equipment failure, no SOS.”

“So, what’s your theory about the crash?”

“I’m an editor, not a conspiracy theorist,” he shot back a little too loudly.  He tried to correct himself with body language.  “But I can tell you that four hours before that plane crashed, Martin Downey was interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine.”

“Can you tell us the gist of that interview?”

“He blew the whistle on Stellar Wind.”

“And that interview led to his death?”

“You said that!” Tim insisted, pointing at the newsman, “not me!”  The young man was adamant, trying to distance himself from the supposition.

“What other possible conclusion is there?” Hank insisted, not realizing the implications of making such a connection.

“A lot of other people died on that plane.  Any one of them might have been a target,” Tim suggested.

“Yes, but no one else was in the news hours before that flight.”

“You’ll have to draw your own inferences,” Tim said, edging back in his seat like he was trying to meld into the leather.

”Okay.  We’ll leave it there and go on.  How is Stellar Wind going to affect our lives?  After all, we’re law bidding citizens with nothing to worry about.  It’s the terrorists they’re after, right?”

“The definition of what constitutes an American citizen is narrowing.  Today it’s terrorists, tomorrow it’s independent journalists, street protestors, and then anyone who thinks differently than the people in charge.”

“And who is in charge of this policy?  Is it the President?  Congress?  Can you tell us that?”

“To think it’s politicians that control the government or domestic or foreign policy is naive.”

“Then tell us who!” Hank demanded.  “Are you suggesting that there is a cabal behind the government pulling strings?”  The TV anchor finished with a laugh.


Frank stopped laughing.  His voice didn’t tail off, rather it sounded like the plug was pulled on a mic.  “Should we be worried?” he asked rhetorically.

“There were four people who blew the whistle at the NSA.  Three of them are dead.  I’d say there’s a lot to be worried about.”

“Can you tell us who the fourth is?”

“No!” Tim said so emphatically that it forced the anchor to jerk back in his seat.

“All right.  Can you tell us what Trapwire is?”

The young man quickly recovered his composure by straightening his tie, buttoning his coat, and sitting up a little straighter.  “Trapwire is a counter-terrorism technology company that produces a homonymous predictive software system designed to find patterns indicative of terrorism behavior.”

“In English, Tim, please,” Hank requested.

 “All the information collected by Stellar Wind: everything you say and do, everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, every store you frequent, every movie you see, every website you visit, every email you send, every place you drive and park is looked at by Trapwire.  If it perceives you as a terrorist, mind you, it does not wait for you to actually perform a terrorist act; just the perception is enough.  It’s turnkey.  The computer decides and if it finds you are a subversive, or a danger in any way to the U.S., then you are marked, branded, and your life becomes a nightmare.”

“It’s hard to fathom.  You’re talking about our elected officials.”

“Let me paraphrase something. ‘Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast knowledge beyond the comprehension of the common citizen, and that it is ensuring the constitution when, in fact, it is violating all its laws.’”

“That seems to be very appropriate words, Tim.  Are they yours?”

“No.  John Adams.  Second president of the United States.  1789.”

“We’ve come a long way,” Hank considered without connecting the dots.

“Yes, but in what direction?” Tim questioned.  “Protecting the constitution . . . or

gutting it?”

“Well, we’ll let that go for now.  Please get back to what you were saying about


“Right,” Tim agreed.  “Any patterns detected – links among individuals, vehicles or activities – will be reported back to every law enforcement organization in America, enabling them to begin investigations into the suspected surveillance cell.”

“Can we talk about National Defense Authorization Act?  Or is that off limits?”

 “No, the cat’s out of the bag on that,” Tim began, trying to find a comfortable position in a seat that now felt like an electric chair.  “The NDAA is a United States federal law specifying the budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense.  In other words, it approves funding for all the secret programs that the NSA and the administration come up with.”

“What’s wrong with that?  Those programs are to track and capture terrorists!” Hank insisted, taping his pencil hard against the top of his desk.

“Sure, it just depends on your definition of a terrorist.  Do you think people in the ‘Occupy Movement’ are terrorists?”

Hank thought for a moment.  “Of course not!” he decided, after considering the position of the station as well as his own opinion.

“Well, the Dept. of Homeland Security thinks they are.  And independent journalists who follow police and photograph acts of violence against demonstrators, and every whistleblower, even those uncovering war crimes.  They’re terrorists.”

“From what you’re saying, anyone could be a terrorist!” Hank concluded.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

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