My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Recently, I became an iPhone owner again after several years with a “not so smart” phone. I have been amazed by its capabilities (and sometimes disturbed). For instance, my phone knows my habits. When I open the home screen, it will suggest destinations on the maps, based on the days of the week where I go certain places. That is just a little creepy.
Creepier still is the network of information that our government has access to on us, and on many people all around the world. Even creepier is how they use that information, based on data matrices to schedule the done killings of suspected terrorists based on metadata. Creepiest yet is how they sometimes get their data wrong and kill innocent people.
That’s the world that Chatterjee explores in his book Verax. In this book, Chatterjee is shaken when someone that he meets along the way, an innocent young man, is mistakenly a casualty of a drone attack. This sends him on a hunt to examine how intelligence contractors develop systems of information collection, how intelligence agencies collate that information and how the military uses it to pick targets and eliminate targets.
Along the way, Chatterjee examines the treatment of whistleblowers who have went through the proper channels, and the harassment that they have endured from the government. Then, as he goes through stories, such as Edward Snowden or Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, I can completely sympathize with the reasons that they felt driven to go to the media instead of the appropriate NSA whistleblowing channels.
Peppered with interviews of those who have worked within the drone program and those who have lost innocent loved ones, this is a truly damning work for the military-industrial complex, regardless of which political party is in power. It’s powerful as it examines how the material is collected and analyzed, how the drone targeting works, and how little margin of error there is in targeting an innocent individual and a known terrorist.
Chatterjee has an obvious agenda here, and I think that his agenda is to end the drone targeting systems because the abundance of proof is that old-fashioned intelligence and police work simply works better. Several times the statement is made that non-American lives are not valued as much as American lives by our government and their intelligence systems. That seems a little harsh and biased, but that also doesn’t mean that Chatterjee does not have the truth in his analysis here. If we cannot be sure that we are targeting the right person, we simply cannot afford to randomly target innocent people.
We also cannot continue in the collection of information on our own citizens. It breaks our constitution and it does not make our country a safer place. Otherwise there would not be the almost weekly shootings that we hear about in the media.
I am uncomfortable with a world in which people like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are heroes. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and yet, I struggle to believe that they are anything but bold and courageous in their willingness to go outside the system and outside the usual channels to make sure that information is actually given to the American public.
Snowden said that his greatest fear was that he would be prosecuted or executed as a traitor and yet nothing would change. Although there are new laws in place, there are also new technologies in place. Drone attacks are on the rise, and not on the fall, and the targeting does not seem to have improved if the reports of civilian casualties are to be believed. We also also increasingly inviting digital information collectors into our homes as we become more addicted and obsessed with our technology. According to Amazon, their Echo was the largest seller this year on Black Friday. Echo is on standby, able to listen all the time, able to collect information and to continue to perpetuate the collection of data available to prying eyes.
We are a democracy now, but we may not always be. Enemies also can gain access to the data that is hoarded so and collected so doggedly. That makes for a brave new world any way that you look at it.
(By the way, I purchased this book on Amazon.com, and read it on my Kindle. A Kindle is a wonderful device for reading a graphic novel as you can read in a mode that allows you to read one frame at a time.)