Riddle me this: What’s the difference between spies and gangsters?
Take cybermercenary outfit NSO Group—a sort of legalized mafia, an outsourced protection racket for countries still catching on to the best ways to impose tyranny on the cheap.
Out of reach with their shadowy skills? Apparently not! Incompetent AND malevolent, who woulda thunk???
Citizen Lab totally busted them. Citizen Lab are the righteous CyberForensicSleuthForensicsInvestigators at the University of Toronto with a splendidly placed bee in their bonnet for scum like NSO Group.
In this vid-vid, Raphael Satter slow-mo chases a well-suited NSO gentleman thug around a Manhattan restaurant politely asking what in tarnation NSO is doing?
The slowness and the politeness mask the gravity of the situation. The banality of evil, indeed.
You’re killing us, NSO. Spying on us in order to intimidate us, blackmail us, disappear us, torture us, and murder us. Why does this shell company not really exist, again? Satter rhetorically asks, leaving the horrors unspoken, while the large man from Israel looks for the door.
This kind of power rewrites government, rewrites how we organize ourselves as a society. The stirrup ignited the feudal order in medieval Europe by creating a new class of warriors so powerful that they could demand droit du seigneur—and get away with it for centuries.
But what can you do about it, amirite?
Spies are ascendent. Outsourced or insourced, like some disfigured toenail, we are now ruled by gangster peeping Toms with bone saws up their sleeves: NSO Group helped Saudi Arabia hack Washington Post columnist Jamal Khassogi, who disappeared into a sack of body parts in that country’s Istanbul embassy. What’s a little torture and bone saw dismemberment among friends?
“Spies gonna spy,” they say, as if murdering a journalist with a bone saw was in the same category as the compulsive eating of pink marshmallows on Valentine’s Day because your boyfriend dumped you.
They being whoever wants to justify such freakishness under the mantel of a helpless-little-ol’-me shoulder shrug about the inevitability of death at the hands of state-sponsored mafia. Spies.
The watching, the watching, the eternal watching, the vigilance for any sign of nonconformity, any sign of dissent, so that it can be crushed by lawfare or by bone saw, by “accident” or slander; it matters not much. “We must spy on the terrorists and pedophiles and mafia and drug dealers!” they cry, and the clippity-clop, clappity-clop of the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse becomes a thunderous drumbeat that drowns out all other discourse.
Like a cop could ever figure out the difference between a terrorist and a journalist. Law and order fascists put the crushing of dissent at the top of their list, in the name of “public safety.” Dangerous ideas make pinheads in uniforms anxious, and slandering a journalist as a terrorist is the best way to achieve the best possible outcome—Khassoggi in tiny pieces in a bag.
NSO Group claims they plan to improve their human rights record. That’s a bit like Al Capone saying he’s going to shake down fewer flower shops cuz it’s his daughter’s wedding. NSO Group exists to destroy human rights. That’s their job. They’d go out business if they stopped.
Spying is not about watching. It’s not about being a peeping Tom. It’s not even about gathering “intelligence.” It’s about gathering information that can be used to hurt people.
But yeah, spies gonna spy.