WHAT IS THAT! Gerald stared at the words on the screen as if somehow he could make them flash first.
“What’s new?” Gerald’s colleague, Elise, turned to him, her eyebrows raised in question. Gerald was usually such a quiet, studious worker that she found his outburst a bit shocking.
“See for yourself,” replied Gerald, turning his screen to Elise.
“Hmmmm.” Elise settled back in her chair with a pensive expression. “It’s certainly an unusual memoir. Not the style of the Boss at all. What do you think led her to issue such a strange assignment?
“I don’t have to assume anything, Elise, I to know what inspired this. This is the second of these national anti-terrorism seminars. The first was a total waste of time, and the second was a total waste of time multiplied by ten. Why doesn’t the boss just tell the prime minister to leave national security to the professionals? »
‘Because managers have no right to tell prime ministers what to do, Gerald – as you well know. The Prime Minister has immersed herself in this misinformation, this misinformation, this bad actor stuff, to the point where she can no longer think rationally about national security issues.
“No, she can’t. What sane prime minister would ask his security chief to put together a “How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Violent Extremist” manual? My God! Putting aside the utterly appalling anti-democratic ramifications of the idea, why would any national security agency provide a real or potential violent extremist with a useful list of all the behaviors to avoid? Do you think it’s wise to warn these characters about what to hide from their friends and family? Surely the Prime Minister can be made to understand that posting something like this only makes it easier for the bad guys? »
“The problem, Gerald, is that she has been persuaded that we, and all other national security agencies, are either incompetent or racist or both. She probably thinks that with the right kind of monitoring, violent extremism can be stopped in its tracks.
“Yeah. And the animosities stoked by the pandemic have only made things worse.
“It’s true, but whose fault is it? Who went from being the Good Fairy, the people’s trusted protector; to Maleficent all the way, enforcing vaccination mandates with a cackle? Who allowed the President to keep pounding that hornet’s nest on the grounds of Parliament until its occupants erupted in fury and started stinging everyone? Who made it clear how happy she was with the kind of journalism that portrayed the country as brimming with white supremacists and fascists? »
“I know, I know, Gerald. She also doesn’t seem to understand that whenever a political leader indicates an explanatory preference, that’s the only type of explanation she’ll receive.
“Hence the boss’s instruction to write this bloody manual. I’m supposed to go through all of our own records, as well as the relevant records of our allies, and identify any telltale signs that someone has been radicalized and is about to organize and/or engage in a murderous act. violence. But that’s not all. I’m also supposed to set up a special number that people can call if they suspect their neighbors are preparing to attack their petunias. I will suggest 0-800-STASI.
“If you think of the Stasi, you should talk to Dieter – he was a colonel in the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, the Ministry of State Security, at the time of the German Democratic Republic.”
“Yeah. He moved here to be with his children and grandchildren after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He works for us from time to time. Under contract, probably. building lately.
“Do you think the boss would hire him to help me out on this mission?” I mean, who is better qualified to write a manual on identifying actual and/or potential enemies of the state than a former Stasi colonel? »
“I don’t see why not. Gosh, Gerald, this is getting really exciting. Have you watched Cleo – this Netflix series about an assassin from the GDR? »
“I keep wanting, but I haven’t done it yet, no.”
“Oh, but you have to, that’s a hoot. Kleo worked for the HVA, the Main Reconnaissance Directorate – the outer arm of the Stasi responsible for espionage, propaganda, sabotage and assassination. Believe me, Gerald, this girl is dangerous!”
“Hey, do you think Dieter could have been in the HVA?” I mean, espionage, propaganda, sabotage and assassination – he would know all about that sort of thing!
“Shit, Gerald, we’re not there – surely? All we are asked to do is alert people to the telltale signs of violent extremism. That doesn’t make us the Stasi.
“Actually, Elise, that’s exactly what it makes us. In the early years of the GDR, there were really thousands of real Nazis to identify and punish the crimes of 1933-45. In the 1980s, however, the Stasi had just about everyone under surveillance. Neighbors were asked to spy on neighbors – and they dared not refuse. One word in your right ear, and your worst enemy could be fired from their job, or you could be sent to jail. When thoughts become crimes, Elise, everyone is a potential criminal.
“And what better incentive could there be to commit an act of violent extremism than to be punished for thinking about it?”