Happy Internet Freedom Contractors
A quick note from the road…
It’s just past Christmas here in Germany. After spending a few days relaxing with my wife and a few friends in Berlin, I’ve taken my leave and headed north to Hamburg to report on 32c3, the annual Chaos Computer Club conference. And I gotta admit, I’m a bit unnerved. (more…)
Originally published in NSFWCORP on April 16, 2013.
When I first started reporting on the subprime suburb of Victorville, I little expected that the neighboring town of Adelanto would become ground zero for a fight between billionaires on one side, and poor, vulnerable minority parents and children on the other.
I first heard about the fight through the local right-wing paper, the Victorville Daily Press, which gleefully announced on its front page that a local school, Desert Trails Elementary, had just made history as the first school in the nation to be privatized under California’s new “parent trigger” law. The paper described the takeover as “promising a fresh start to the failing elementary school,” and claimed it had received widespread support from parents. (more…)
The War Nerd and host Mark Ames recorded a special free episode of Radio War Nerd, their subscriber-supported podcast show, to cover the recent Paris attacks. And as a way of paying back subscribers for the late posting of last Wednesday’s Veterans Day episode. And to see if we can improve our recording-posting turnaround, as we prepare to go weekly.
We’re hosting it on our old digs at eXiled Online in order to make sure our subscribers aren’t charged. That is, to make sure this special episode is free.
For the uninitiated: We launched Radio War Nerd on Patreon a few months ago. The show has been biweekly, with biweekly subscriber newsletters for those who pledged $5 per show or more. Now that we reached our goal of $2500 per show, we’re moving to weekly podcasts in December as promised. We’ll also be adding new features in the future, including interviews with guests, and a way for subscribers to call in questions. To subscribe to Radio War Nerd click here.
Click here to listen to this special edition of Radio War Nerd on the Paris ISIS attacks.
A bit of random war nerd porn from my Surveillance Valley archive research. This one comes courtesy of a taxpayer funded military rag called “Army Research & Development.” It shows a rare specimen: a 1969 vintage Pentagon Quadruped Hotrod. Kinda looks like Google’s Cheetah Drone, which as it happens was developed with Pentagon funding but is now controlled by Google. (more…)
Posted: November 9th, 2015
Brennan on the big screen during a recent appearance at a contractor-sponsored intelligence event in DC. Photo by Tim Shorrock.
This article was first published on timshorrock.com.
In January 2010, a few days after a Nigerian terrorist came close to blowing up a US passenger plane on its way to Detroit, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser made an extraordinary confession. “I told the President today I let him down,” John Brennan said in a White House briefing about the incident that’s come to be known as the “Christmas Day bombing.”
At the time, Brennan’s comments were widely seen as a sign of his deep loyalty to Obama. The CIA veteran had advised Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and remained with him even after he was passed over as the president’s first national intelligence director because of his close association with the CIA’s torture regime. (more…)
Posted: October 27th, 2015
This review was originally published in The eXile in April 2004
In a review of several Vietnam memoirs, I asked readers for information on oral histories by Soviet soldiers who served in Afghanistan. Several mentioned this book, Zinky Boys, published in English translation 12 years ago. As far as I know, it’s still the only oral history by Afghan vets available in English.
Zinky Boys is clearly modeled on the many bestselling Nam memoirs. The introduction is written by one Larry Heinemann, a Vietnam vet who visited Russia to talk to Afghan vets. His introduction is the worst thing in the book, full of silly blather about how democracy is sweeping over Russia and how the Afghan vets will no doubt play a part in its victory.
Yet, for all the superficial resemblance to Nam books, Zinky Boys is unlike any American war memoir. The differences are easy to spot, but hard to explain. Some you’d expect: for one thing, the editor can hardly make a point without quoting Dostoevsky, Lermontov, Berdyayev or Tolstoy. You don’t find that sort of literary figure quoted much in the typical Nam memoir. Hendrix is about as close to high culture as they usually get.
A far more radical and intriguing difference is the prominence of women in the book, starting with the fact that the editor is Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian journalist. I can’t think of a single Nam memoir edited by a woman. It may be that Russian women feel entitled to speak about war more freely than American women simply because Russian women took a huge role in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. In fact, one of the Afghantsi who tells his story here mentions that his grade school was once visited by a WW II vet nicknamed “Mother Sniper,” whose claim to fame was that she had killed 78 Germans during the war. (She scared him so much he was ill for a week.)
But the women who speak here really didn’t enjoy Afghanistan much. As one of them says frankly, “I wanted to be in a war, but not like this one. Heroic World War II, that’s what I wanted.”
Zinky Boys focuses, much more than any Nam memoir I know, on the dead. Even the title refers to the closed zinc coffins in which Soviet dead were sent home. Grieving families were forbidden to open the coffins, and many of the soldiers’ mothers interviewed talk about how awful it was, never knowing whether their dead son was actually in that zinc box:
“They brought in the coffin. I collapsed over it. I wanted to lay him out but they wouldn’t allow us to open the coffin to see him, touch him…Did they find a uniform to fit him?…Now I just want to be in the coffin with him. I go to the cemetery, throw myself on the gravestone and cuddle him ….”
Many of the mothers interviewed went insane after their sons’ deaths: “His mother went mad two days after the funeral. She ran to the cemetery at night and tried to lie down with him.” Does the emphasis on grieving mothers reflect simply the author’s special interest, or does it imply that the mother-son relationship is more important in Russian than American culture? Some of the interviews suggest that this is by far the strongest bond in Russian women’s lives: “Yura was my eldest son. A mother shouldn’t admit it, probably, but he was my favorite. I loved him more than my husband and my younger son.”
Yura’s mother’s story is one of the grimmest in the book, because she blames herself — with some justice — for his death. Theirs was a “good family” in Soviet terms. And like a good Soviet son, Yura enters officers’school, then tells his mother, “All those high ideals you taught me, they don’t exist. Where did you get them all from?” His mother keeps up the lie: “I told him yet again that our Soviet life was wonderful and our people were good.”
Inevitably, Yura ends up dead. And his mother, a born storyteller, tells how she prayed that it was her other son, Gena, who was dead: “I asked them, ‘Is it Gena?”No, it’s Yura,’ one of them said, very quietly.” She tells this story against herself. Now that’s horror.
Not all the women interviewed in Zinky Boys were entirely unhappy in Afghanistan. The Russian proverb, “War is a stepmother to some and a mother to others,” applies even to those women who served. One who volunteered for Afghan duty as a civilian employee has some of the best war stories I’ve ever read. She starts out fending off attempted rape by every officer she meets. (No Afghan women feature in the book in any sexual or romantic context. You get the sense that, unlike US GIs in Vietnam, Russian troops didn’t find the local women attractive — not to mention the fact that, unlike the GIs, the Russian troops were even poorer than the Afghans, making prostitution unprofitable.)
Then she finds a man she likes: “…I found…love? That’s not a word much used over there.” But if it wasn’t love, it was something intense enough to make her shield his body with her own when they come under fire. The narrator boasts that “…when we got back [to base] he wrote his wife about me. He didn’t get any letters from home for two months after that.”
It’s strange how little wives and husbands figure in these stories. Again, I’m comparing these stories in my own provincial, ethnocentric way with the Nam memoirs I’ve read. In those books, if anyone else is mentioned it’s usually the wife or longterm girlfriend. That’s not the case here. There are lovers, who seem to attain, however briefly, the status of mothers in the narrators’ lives. But when those lovers become spouses, they seem to fade into the background; only the mother/son bond remains.
The soldiers’ own stories of combat in Afghanistan don’t seem nearly as vivid as their mothers’ accounts of meeting the zinc coffins. Is this the result of editing by a female, antiwar writer, or does it mean Russian men are reluctant to tell war stories? I can’t believe it’s hard to get vets of any war to start trotting out the war stories, so I’m inclined to think that either the editor suppressed them or, perhaps, Afghan battles just didn’t make good stories.
That may well be it, because most of the casualties seem to have been inflicted by landmines. And mines just don’t make very good war stories: boom, you’re maimed.
Or maybe Russians just didn’t have time to perfect their war stories, because they were trying to deal with the chaos that soon followed the end of the Afghan campaign. Maybe that’s the biggest Nam/Afghan memoir difference: the Vietnam War struck a country at the peak of its power and wealth. In a real sense, America could afford to listen to the Nam vets’ accounts, even savoring the exotic gore they offered to a country swaddled in comfort. The Afghan vets’ stories were lost in the far greater catastrophe playing out in the homeland. The USSR they fought for ceased to exist a few years after their Afghan war ended. Maybe the best story in Zinky Boys is by an ex-artilleryman distracted from his own case by that of another victim of the collapse of “the Motherland”:
“There’s an old woman living in our block…As a result of all these articles nowadays, the revelations, exposes…she’s gone mad. She opens her ground-floor window and shouts, ‘Long live Stalin! Long live communism — the glorious future of all Mankind!'”
The grief of aging women — that’s the biggest impression you take from Zinky Boys. Why the prominence of mothers in this war book? My guess, and it’s no more than a foreigner’s wild guess, is that gender roles are so sharply, excitingly polarized here that only a woman could negotiate the shame of telling the misery of those who served in a Russian defeat, since her gender has far more license to explore grief and sorrow. Hence, perhaps, the soldiers’ mothers’ horror at not being able to embrace their sons’ bodies: a vital part of their role had been denied them, locked up in those closed zinc coffins.
This article was first published in The eXile on February 10, 2000
So-called “Russian Liberal Intelligentsia” long time ago have excluded me from the world of literature. They are behaving like I am not existing, maybe dead, maybe never born. It is interesting phenomenon, the only one other such case that I know is case of Jean Genet.
When I established myself in Paris in 1980 I was surprised by total absence of that great writer from social and literary life of France. He wasn’t mentioned in newspapers, no literary critic would write an essay about Genet. I asked my editors and my friends about Genet, is he alive, is he in Paris? Nobody could say with precision that he is living in Paris. They say that according to some rumors he lives in some cheap hotel, populated by Arabs, somewhere near Montmartre. But I never succeeded in tracing him. Then he died, and suddenly every newspaper been talking about Genet, even bureaucrats of Ministry of Culture started to worship him. I remember that I wrote his obituary for French communist newspaper “Revolution”. Foreigner, I wrote about foreigner amongst the French. Later I understand that all fault of Genet was that he was not politically correct. He supported “Black Panthers”, he supported struggle of Palestinian people for its own state, and so on… He rejected silly mode of thinking of his time. So he was living like in quarantine barrack, like a dangerously sick person, isolated from the world.
I also live in my country isolated, as I am dangerously ill person. If I am mentioned in some context by journalist he always excusing himself adding something like, “Of course now Limonov turned bad, but…” My colleagues-writers are looking through me. Because I am presumably dead or never born, it’s easy for them to get their stupid “Booker” and “anti-Booker” prizes, to quarrel at literary cocktails who is number one in Russian literature, to seduce girls… [But it also well known, that the best girls are fucking bandits, businessmen and politicians. So, here I am superior to my colleagues-writers, because as a head of political organization I have better and younger girls than they have.]
It was only one man whose literary talent I have measured as big one, although different from mine and less original than mine: Joseph Brodsky. But Brodsky have died shortly after his readers died. His readers, that quiet Soviet men, have died somewhere between 1986 and 1991. So Brodsky wasn’t needed anymore, that is why he died. I feel little bit lonely because of his absence, I even wrote a poem about how am I lonely without him in the world. It goes like that:
Died even Brodsky, my antipode and rival.
Nobody is here to look at me.
I left alone.
So I am bored without Brodsky. As a politician I compete with Barkashov, but I guess I am winning that competition. In 1992 I have envied Zhirinovsky, but during these eight years Zhirinovsky steadily getting smaller and commonplacer (sorry for such English), that jerk is licking ass to the government. So Mark Ames wasn’t right when he wrote four or five years ago that Zhirinovsky is punkier than Limonov. No way, Mark, I am leader of eight thousand strong young revolutionary party, while Zhirinovsky is leader of 17 corrupted pot-bellied deputies of State Duma. My faction had it places in prisons, for the moment, 18 members of National Bolsheviks Party are behind the bars. Zhirinovsky is a jerk, point. I hope you now will agreed with me, Mark?
I always wanted to be a number one. But now, when I am number one, probably most interesting personality and of course most interesting writer of my country, now approaching 57, I am rather sad. Because I need the rival eyes watching me. Brodsky was a Master, we lived through complicated love-hate relationships. He didn’t like my book “It’s Me, Eddie“, but envied pages of “Diary of a Loser“. I envied his “Ode to Zhukov”. When in 1998 my “Anatomy of a Hero” came out I physically needed Brodsky to read that book. Or somebody like Brodsky. But he was lying in the soil of city of Venice. Why you left me, Joseph? By the way, we both wrote about Venice, my book, “The Death of Modern Heroes” is better than his classical delights about that rotten city-museum. He wasn’t very bright, Joseph, but he was a Master, he could appreciate, he could feel. It is rather rare occurrence, The Master, so who the fuck will read me?
Though, Korchinski will read me! Ukrainian poet, adventurer and soldier, Dmitro Korchinski was founder and leader of Ukrainian Nationalist Organization UNA-UNSO in 1990-97. I met him in April 1999 in Moscow, then last October some comrades from Kiev have sended me his book “Man in the Crowd“. Book is about wars and his party struggle, that is some philosophical reflections in it. I read it with a great pleasure, and understanding. Because it is a book of a free man, cynical and beautiful. Look, what he wrote about Transdniestr: “All of us, organizers and participants of that war made a great mistake. It was necessary to riot regions of Odessa and Moldova, to announce that Transdniestr is a land and refuge of Revolution. To our sorrow was materialized banal separatist idea.”
I agree with him. I took part in a war in Transdniestr. Sometimes he and I were on other sides of a same war as in Abkhazia. I participated in the battle for Shromi, where Ukrainians were fighting on Georgian side and Russians and Chechens on Abkhazian side. My enemy Korchinski will read me. If he will survive, because he is wanted by the Ukrainian authorities. Me also, from March 1996.
The Medvedeva woman was impossible as everybody knows. She was prone to bouts of drunkedness, fits of hysteria, you name it. She was awkward, did not know how to fit into society, she was ready to love or hate passionately at the drop of a hat; she was, as it is well documented, an exhibitionist. She was also a good singer, a lonely girl, a dedicated artist, a beautiful babe, and, binges notwithstanding, a faithful woman in her own weird way. I got married to her in 1985 so she could stay in Paris and live with whoever she wanted, and although I did not put one shred of faith in this “wedding” apart from the bond of friendship (we never slept together), she did, as it turned out.
I found out about her death while on an extended stay in New York. (more…)
Support Yasha Levine’s “Surveillance Valley” Kickstarter campaign here.
For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been covering the “Surveillance Valley” beat for Pando Daily — investigating the for-profit surveillance business that powers Silicon Valley and the way this technology is increasingly being used to monitor and control our lives.
My reporting has taken me deep inside the modern surveillance state — a place where where giant tech companies work hand in hand with the military-industrial complex and make billions by spying on our private lives. (more…)
Note: This is a slightly abridged English version of an interview conducted by the great Berlin-based journalist Àngel Ferrero. It was originally published in the Spanish media cooperative La Marea. You can read the full version in Spanish here. For background, read Yasha Levine’s Tor coverage here, here and here. (more…)
Posted: November 18th, 2014
Posted: September 29th, 2014