Friday, June 05, 2009

My Flight with a Spook

A friend of mine has a name for anyone working in government who conducts surveillance on private citizens, and that word is spook.

Well, on Wednesday night, I took a connecting flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco International Airport, and who should sit next to me, but a guy one might easily identify as a garden variety spook, or spy. But, the obvious way you could tell he was not on company time was when he ordered a Bloody Mary.

The minute he sat down two seats away from me, I knew he worked for the federal government, and when he started a conversation, I managed to get the topic around to what he "does"----he said "I work for the federal government. I'm in security." I said "as in homeland security---intelligence?" He shook his head. He went on to tell me that he owns a "small house" in Sonoma, and lives 60 miles outside of Philadelphia. I asked if he was flying to SF on pleasure---"no," he said "I have some business to take care of."

It was a five and a half hour flight, and we talked for about three of the five hours. We did a lot of laughing. I asked him how he usually responded when people asked him what he did for a living. "Oh, I just tell them I'm in security, and they figure I work as a security guard for Walmart," and laughed "not many people guess what I do, or ask as many questions as you do."

I said "since you're in intelligence, you ought to know that I've been writing articles about George W. Bush administration's practices of giving permission to shoot unarmed Iraqi civilians at Haditha, and so-called alternative interrogation techniques for about six years now." I then gulped, and asked if I should be paranoid for telling him that. He chuckled, and said he admired my truthfulness.

Don't know whether it was the Bloody Mary, or the prospect of having to spend several hours thumbing through Sunday's newspaper, but he managed to give me his life story in a thumbnail. It turns out that he started out as a pilot -- (he'd flown in "the service), after which he became a junior college instructor in Florida, before deciding to join the feds. He holds a BA in Political Science, an M.A. in English, and an Ed.D.

We never exchanged names, so I will call him Mr. Security.

Mr. Security is quite enlightened; quite liberal, really, says he likes Obama, thinks he's a special guy, though he likes Hillary Clinton much better; has been working for the feds for 20 years; thinks Bill Clinton got a raw deal; doesn't think much of GWB's foreign policy, said that "enhanced alternative interrogation techniques" like waterboarding have been going on secretly for years; said that he thinks acts committed by the previous administration deserve to be prosecuted, also thinks that the "war on terror" has been mismanaged, and should have been treated as a criminal matter.

I quickly rummaged around in my head for 101 reasons why I should dislike this guy, but couldn't come up with any. I wondered if his sitting next to me was an accident, and indeed it wasn't. The temptation to stereotype, and prejudge, often seems as innate as the temptation to cheat on a test, but it is one that must be resisted. This is an educated person, not someone willing to be a human shield for any president's policies. We can only hope that there are others like him.