Want To Grasp Intel Surveillance Better? Read More Classic Novels

The Long March

Today, issues of surveillance dominate the news as FISA procedures, practices and their implications grab attention. As someone trained to read novels, I absorb these stories with a particular interest, because surveillance is central to the novel.

Not only is the novel a deeply visual form that vividly brings characters and settings in front of a reader, but it is also a form obsessed with watching, with characters looking at one another. The novel isn’t just visual, though; novel readers are hipped on the question “Who speaks?” Reading a novel is, in fact, an act of watching and of listening, of observing and hearing. So novel-reading teaches its practitioner not only how to look and listen, but how to keep track of information. To add in one more layer, we’ll see that novel reading is an act of keeping track of keeping track of information.

Charles Dickens is especially celebrated for the pictorial quality of his novels. A well-known fan of popular visual entertainments, including the theatre, the panorama, and the diorama among others, that allowed viewers to achieve new and interesting points of view Dickens brings this interest into his writing. Early lines of Bleak House run, “Fog everywhere… Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all around them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.” Dickens shows off here, and more than a little. In writing of the obscuring effects of the fog, the unnamed London-dwelling characters look down only to see fog, Dickens parades his ability to show his readers a scene that is about the difficulty of looking experienced by people in that scene.

Of course, there are plenty of times when people in novels do watch, look, observe and examine. Jane Eyre may be the poor relation in a brutally unfair household, but Charlotte Brontë creates a character that knows how to keep her eyes open. It’s through Jane that other characters, events, and settings come into view. When she and her spoiled cousin stand face to face in the opening scene of the book Brontë has Jane report, “John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten; large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities.” Through Jane’s eyes, the reader sees John Reed in all his grimy pudginess.

Novelists also speak openly of the difficulty of accurately painting a world for their readers. George Eliot’s narrator lays out her troubles on just this score, “[M]y strongest effort is to … give a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves on my mind. The mirror is doubtless defective… the reflection faint or confused; but I feel as much bound to tell you as precisely as I can what that reflection is.” Accuracy and precision, painstakingly achieved, are Eliot’s watchwords. The acutely self-aware novelist is aware that their writing is, for all that it strains towards the truth, a representation of things and not the thing itself. The mirror shows an image; a novel captures the image of that image. It turns out that keeping tracking of information, of its sources and its origins is crucial to fiction.

No type of fiction dramatizes this more fully than detective fiction. In addition to looking closely, there’s a reason that the magnifying glass so easily stands in for the detective, the detective also asks questions and listens. The recent film version of Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express wonderfully captures how full the narrative is of dialogue between Poirot and his suspects. Kenneth Branagh sweeps up and down the carriage, fills trains rooms, sits at tables in the dining car and stands outside of doors, all in the service of talking to people, often singly but sometimes in groups. During these conversations two things happens. The detective learns things, he gains information, about people’s pasts, their families, their jobs and their movements. He keeps track of information. Poirot also links the actual information with the person who gave it to him. He has to keep track of keeping track of information.

This all happens within the world of the fiction, but reading about that world makes readers, too, keep track of keeping track. Moving with Poirot through the carriage and listening in on conversations he has with his suspects makes the reader follow along as Poirot does what he does best. Of course the reader doesn’t literally follow Poirot, and the reader knows this. Remembering that there is a line between a world of words and the worlds in which we live, taking seriously the plausibility of fiction even as we recall its very status as invention is the hallmark of novel reading.

So it is that consumers of fiction are surprisingly avid and critical consumers of information. We’re in the midst of a national screaming match about information, its origins, its sources, and how it flows. To be sure reading fiction doesn’t automatically make one conversant in FISA anymore than knowing about FISA makes one an astute reader of novels. Of all the recent explainers and comments about surveillance the one that sticks closest to me comes from another English Ph.D., Virginia Heffernan, who says of those concerned that their conversations have been overheard: “They are their own wiretaps.”

Katherine Voyles teaches, reads, writes and observes in Seattle.


U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob Smith

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

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(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

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(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

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(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

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