The Chekist Mentality (and Snowden/Google, Intel’s Secret Bunker, Russian cops do Daft Punk, Halloween/NSA)

One point many people don’t understand about organizations like the NSA, CIA, Google, FBI, KGB, Stasi, Securitate, FSB, Gestapo and the like. Looking at their actions as an outsider, you think, “…how could anyone do that to another person? Have they no remorse?”

Well, in some cases, no, the person in question simply isn’t capable of it. But, as a “former Chekist” now posting on Slashdot makes clear, those personalities are not in the majority. For many people who work in such organizations, they honestly go to sleep with a clean conscience. The reason for this — and the reason for the rarity of men like Snowden — is the inherently cult-like behavior of these groups.

Their employees may rarely encounter someone who’s an “outsider,” and instead take reference only from those around them. For those employees who regularly work with outsiders, ample training and psychological selection ensures that anyone who’s not “in” is seen as a little less than human.

The only real people are your coworkers.

For human intelligence groups, anyone outside is a potential target. A problem to be solved. Someone to whom you display a glib face, while mentally noting down the information they give you which could be used later… or their progress along the path to serving your end.

SIGINT organizations do this a bit less, because they don’t really deal with people to begin with… instead, the whole world is a problem to be solved, and outsiders just “couldn’t understand” because they don’t know what you know. But these organizations more than make up for it by being even more insular.

(The problem is also not so bad with organizations that view themselves as law enforcers, since their raison’d’etre is helping the public instead of keeping secrets from it. Nevertheless, a clear cognitive divide exists for similar reasons that it comes up in the military — for more on this, read Fletcher’s excellent “What Cops Know.”)

In order to reinforce the “insiders are the only real people” idea it’s the norm for both husband and wives to be recruited. In many cases, because useful traits can be hereditary, “Chekism” runs in the family —
much like the cobblers and blacksmiths of yore, only handing down a very different trade. (This makes security checks much easier, and renders it much easier to ensure control of control employees.)

Further compounding this effect is the strong internal culture of “we’re in the right whatever we do.” Your coworkers are there to help you through the tough times, and — as le Carre captures so well in his books — a sense of cameraderie does any moral-compass-adjusting left over.

One thing to note. I haven’t been able to find which country this was — none of the major Soviet bloc states used a name like “Department of the Citizens’ Safety” for their secret police. Either this author was from a smaller state like the Estonian, Tajik, or Latvian SSR, or this post is fictious.

One Snowden skeptic makes an excellent point. Forget for a moment what the plucky sweary defend-the-users Google engineers wrote… and remember Google is still the embodiment of gotta-collect-it-all privacy-in-the-past-tense evil!

Intel’s Secret Bunker: Just in case you thought the NSA had any trouble doing exotic work in silicon… or making trojaned chips.

East meets West: In the “what happens when you feed the boss unfiltered vodka” tradition of the Red Army Choir performing Sweet Home Alabama, a bunch of Russian cops in full dress uniform pull off a Daft Punk music video.

Trick-or-Treating at an NSA surveillance base. Audio is in German, but the visual is quite enough to understand it.

“Once upon the time, I worked for an organization named “Department of the Citizens’ Safety”. It was in a different time, in a different country, and I had not
had a chance to say no – I knew computers, a few Western languages, and had passed (or failed) a bunch of IQ and psychology test. I had barely gotten my first star, and had only a
few missions under my belt when the government fell, and I found myself out on my ass, forbidden from holding any government jobs at a time when the only legal jobs were either government, or you had to create them yourself.

I’m fine now. I am neither dead, nor in organized crime, the way three quarters of my colleagues ended up. I know, now, that I was working for some pretty evil people, and what I
was doing was pretty evil. I have pretended being a priest, and wiped my ass with the secret of confession, I have infiltrated literary clubs, and framed the most brilliant of
their members for not-so-petty crimes, and I even killed in the line of duty once. It’s all in the past, and I’m not even bothering to hide my IP – if you find out who I am, I’ll
just tell you that I was making shit up – on the internet, no one knows you are a dog.

That said. Never in my life, not before, not since, had I felt that my life was so simple, that what I was doing was so right, that I was going to bed with such a clear
conscience. And of course, never have I felt as powerful and untouchable, but that’s a much easier state to achieve.

When you work for this kind of organization, there is a support structure, a camaraderie, an atmosphere that insures that you are either out before you actually start, or that you
are happy and confident with what you are doing, and the only real people are your colleagues. Well, at least it was for me, then. But I doubt the US NSA is testing, vetting,
training and supporting their personnel less than my old country did in the late eighties.”

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