09/24/2006 05:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary, I Had a Visitor

I had a visitor last midnight, a most peculiar stranger. I'll admit I was pondering weak and weary last night, but this morning, I see clearly what has happened. It's my past, but it's your future--our future.

Last night I was at home burning the midnight oil. Then I heard a rapping, a tapping--but no knocking. I turned around and saw that he had entered easily, as if he had a warrant. He was a bulldog of a man, in a dark suit, with a stern impassive face, no smile under his heavy brow. He looked as if he planned on staying for awhile.

"Who are you?" I asked. No answer.

I admit I was already a little creeped out, even before this strange visitor appeared. Normally, I spend my nights reading books of forgotten lore, but lately, I have enjoyed a danse macabre with newspapers, reading about shadowy technology and the wraith-like people who operate it from the darkness--to keep track of terrorists, they say. Indeed, why worry about 19th-century Gothic tales of horror, when the 21st century news is plenty scary? And the more I think about it, the more I prefer the newspaper to the telephone or the computer--because I know the government can't keep track of what I read offline. Meanwhile, my strange visitor was still standing just a few feet from me. He didn't say a word, although he did seem to be surveilling me closely.

So what should I say to this uninvited figure, a man who seemed to presume the right to be in the room with me? My idea was to act normal, to be conversational. But my true thoughts betrayed me; I started talking about what I was thinking. It was if I was confessing my innermost thoughts: "How 'bout all this domestic spying in America today--what's up with that?"

Then came an answer, in a rumbly low voice. Quoth the visitor: "Evermore."

Huh? Now he's giving me cryptic one-word answers? Yikes!

"What do you mean, 'evermore'? You make it sound like this is a good idea--a permanent state of affairs."

Came the same one word again: "Evermore." I studied the man closely. His face looked familiar, like an old black-and-white photograph come to life. And boy, that was a lot of exotic cologne he was wearing.

The stillness of the late night was getting to me. I felt the need to keep a conversation going with this stranger. "Oh, I know," I rambled, "some people say that it's good politics for George W. Bush to be talking about homeland security and the 'war on terror,' right now on the eve of an election. It worked for him in 2002, and it worked in 2004. So why not again in 2006?"

Sayeth the man, "Evermore."

My eyes got wide. Each time he said that one word, it seemed specifically apt to what I was saying.

I thought that I should change the subject, to see if I could lead him in a different direction. "You know," I suggested, "this spying is all so easy. I've just been reading about Hewlett-Packard, the computer company, which seems to have set up its own secret police program, its own FB..." I stopped short, letting that familiar acronym trail off. "Is it really that easy to get information and records on people? A little 'pretexting,' and you've got all their phone calls? A little spyware, and you know all their e-mail, even all their computer keystrokes? Are we that transparent to those who want to peek in on us?"

"Evermore." I knew that was coming.

Me again: "And you know, H-P's 'leak' problem was small potatoes, just some bad p.r. I wonder, now, what's happening with companies that are involved in really serious cases--complex litigation, a regulatory battle, billions at stake. If this sort of techno-jinni can be turned loose on little cases, what about the really big cases?"

The man's face was as impassive as a G-Man's: "Evermore."

Yeah, it does seem that way, I thought--for ever and ever. But what was I going to tell my night visitor, this midnight rambler, right here with me? "You know, I'm sitting here reading in The Los Angeles Times about a Republican Party program for data-mining voters, reaching in to what they call the 'voter vault.' So it's possible for a senatorial campaign in Michigan to get hold of--perfectly legally, I am sure--'credit card transactions, product warranty files, magazine subscription lists, consumer surveys, vehicle registrations and other public records.' For example, the GOP can "micro-target" each and every Michigander who bought a snowmobile, aiming a tailored pro-snowmobile message at each and every voter. That's pretty intense! And I can see vast potential for abuse, although I suppose lots of campaigns will start doing it. Including the Democrats, if they knew how."

"Evermore." There he went again.

"But I guess it's the government that has the most power to intrude, and to use muscle in the course of its intrusion--especially against reporters. I'm reading this article, too, in The New York Daily News, about two journalists who wrote about the Barry Bonds steroid case. This is from the article: 'They are going to jail because of their reporting about Bonds and the rest of the BALCO All-Stars." I stopped and looked up. The man said nothing, but was obviously interested in what I might be saying about myself. I wondered if he was wearing a wire--or maybe my place had already been wired. I started reading again: "The government of George Bush"--oops, I thought, maybe I shouldn't have read that name aloud, I skipped a bit ahead--"now wants Fainaru-Wada and Williams in jail because they won't reveal the names of the person or persons the government says leaked them grand jury testimony. It is always worth pointing out that if you ran the country the way Bush and his people do, you wouldn't want to encourage whistleblowers, either." Oops, I realized I had mentioned the name of the president again. "That's really something, huh?"


I was beginning to get the picture. So I figured I would seek some clarification on something that had long puzzled me: "You know, I know that the government operates under certain rules about spying and surveillance. Those rules aren't always followed, of course, but they are rules. But I think to myself, 'Who's keeping track of all these contractors out and around DC? All the Beltway Bandits? All the companies with vague names such as Titan, and DynCorp, and CSC, and SAIC--who's keeping track of them? Could they, and a bunch of other companies nobody's heard of, run by ex-CIAers and DOD-ers, be pretexting and surveilling, or worse?'"

Quoth the stranger: "Evermore"

I heard what he said, and I could see it, too: the big picture, the permanent picture. It was as if there was a tele-screen in the middle of my home now. "And what does the future hold? Tell me. Is it more of this? And the whole libertarian era--was it just a phase in between the Unchallenged Authority of the Past and the Permanent Crisis of the Present? And what of the Future? Is there never any balm in Gilead, but instead, only more Emergency? Could it be that we face a future of Total Control?


I needed to escape this waking nightmare. "OK, it's time for me to wake up now," I announced, hoping to keep the quavering uncertainty out of my voice. "You'll have to excuse me." But he made no move.

He was standing, not about to be moved, watching me, recording me, intimidating me--Evermore!