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Memo to the NSA: You Have One of 725 Domestic Steve Robinsons Spooked

| June 14, 2013

A.R. Penck's 'Prototyp I' (1989)

A.R. Penck’s ‘Prototyp I’ (1989)

Internal NSA documents claim the top secret data-mining program gives the US government access to a vast quantity of emails, chat logs and other data directly from the servers of nine internet companies. These include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Apple. The companies mentioned have all denied knowledge of or participation in the program. (The Guardian)

I can’t sleep. I toss. I turn. Could someone at the National Security Agency be reading my Yahoo emails? Worse, could a high-school dropout from Booz Allen Hamilton be sifting through my private, online conversations?

I lie awake, my mind racing, trying to recall words I’ve typed and sent to friends, relatives and the odd business acquaintance. I bolt upright and turn on the light: The bourbon emails! What will they make of those? Perfectly innocent of course, but could someone at the NSA think otherwise? My friend Jack was out of town, and asked me to enter ABC Fine Wine & Spirits’ bourbon sweepstakes for him. A couple of weeks later I was notified—by email!—that I had won the right to purchase an expensive bottle of rye bourbon at a reduced price.

I sent Jack a celebratory email: “The bourbon is in the mail.” How suspicious does that sound? Now I am sweating. What other word starts with the letters b-o? There is even a message from the mysterious “ABC”: “The store should call you to let you know that the order has arrived and is available for pickup.” Cryptic, yes, but I try to calm myself down. Surely, the NSA spooks will trace the email back to the liquor retailing giant. But with all those billions of emails to sort through, what if they don’t get around to it?

This is needless worrying, I tell myself. Problems always seem worse in the middle of the night. I turn off the light and lay my head on the pillow. I close my eyes, but then I remember: The potluck dinner emails! Now it’s not just me—I’ve ensnared a whole group of friends! And my wife!!

“We’ll bring the salad,” was our emailed contribution. Salad, the spooks will surely say—what a transparent code word for some diabolical ingredient. Or equally diabolical abbreviation. Didn’t Saladin defeat the crusaders? The emails raced back and forth through cyberspace: Dave was bringing ribs; Kim was whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies; Sarah was preparing her specialty, eggplant parmesan! How many keywords and metatags (whatever they are) lit up at NSA headquarters, or on the screens of the ethically-challenged dropouts at Booz Allen Hamilton?

I consider my options. Should I call everyone on the email chain and warn them? No. Calls from my phone at 3 a.m. would set off even more alarm bells. So I settle back down and try to reason with myself. Surely, the NSA would know that potluck dinners are just … potluck dinners. And eggplant parmesan is eggplant parmesan.

I try to doze, but my mind is feverish, wondering whether those lunatic-fringe emails I receive that warn about a Muslim plot to impose Sharia law in America will simply be seen as a clever cover.


My eyelids grow heavy and I finally begin to drift off. But in less than a minute I am wide awake and nearly hyperventilating. My name! What if someone with my name were up to something sinister—how would the spooks know it wasn’t me! Steve Robinson is not as common a name as, say, John Smith, but it isn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski either.

I turn the light back on and fire up my laptop. I pause for a moment before deciding to take a chance that the spooks and dropouts are asleep, or at least dozing in front of their computers. With shaking hands, I find a Website called HowManyOfMe.com, and the result hits me like a punch in the stomach. There are 725 people in the U.S. named Steve Robinson! I stare in horror at the screen, not daring to venture anywhere else in cyberspace.


HowManyOfMe.com
Logo There are
725
people with Steve Robinson’s name in the U.S.A.

Need to clarify something with the NSA?

Are the NSA computers sufficiently fine-tuned to make the distinctions between me and some shady character who has hijacked my name?

There is only one way to find out, so I sit down again to type a search. The results come to my screen in a nanosecond and a chill runs down the length of my spine. How will they know I’m not the Steve Robinson arrested in Newport, R.I., for felony drug distribution last summer? Or, much closer to home, in Daytona Beach, the Steve Robinson who was convicted of two felonies he committed barely two months after his release from prison? Clearly, this is a bad guy—but he isn’t me. Honest.

I force myself to return to bed. I try to convince myself of the futility of appealing in the middle of the night to some unseen spy in front of a flickering screen in the bowels of our nation’s enormous eavesdropping apparatus. I haven’t done anything wrong, I tell myself. I’m just an ordinary citizen, living his life at the beach, doing his best to be a good husband and father. Surely, I have nothing to worry about.

The sun is beginning to rise as sleep finally overtakes me. But my dreams are troubled. Of course, I will awaken to find my identity secure and my life history as clean as any 60-year-old man’s can be, right? They have nothing on me, right?   Right?

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. He previously wrote about the NRA. Reach him by email here.

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7 Responses for “Memo to the NSA: You Have One of 725 Domestic Steve Robinsons Spooked”

  1. Magnolia says:

    I think I’ve had it with our government, both lying sides. We are now no different than China and Russia and we are raising children who are taught in the schools that socialism is good. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the curriculum in Common Core. Get them early, when they are young, and they will not fear you (the government).

    I am tired of hearing: It is for our own good, it is keeping us safe, get used to it, it’s everywhere.

    My education taught us that the government works FOR US. I guess there is a reason why they likely do not teach that anymore. Now the government is your friend.

    Horse hockey. Bush and Obama, it’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart.

  2. RG says:

    The answer is to rebel in protest. Because your tax pays for this and only half of our country’s citizens (legal) ones that is agree its OK to spy on us. A concerted effort to flood our phone communique and computors with trigger words thus flooding thier systems to the point where it may slow or render their technique
    worthless. Im not for overthrowing the US just put the cyber geniuses war mongers on notice. I want to think that the latest Gov employee to turn redcoat did this beacause he really saw where they are going with this massive intrusion. Are we to be afraid to say what we want when we want only to fear the law at our door?

    Or worst yet to tap into our bank and pension accounts and freeze or outright make them disappear. Yes its scary when the Gov says trust me after all the untrustworthy presidents,Governors, Senators,and Congressman we have read about on a weekly basis screwing us over for their perssonal gain. So start saying all those trigger words you know you cant use at the airport anymore on line and over your phone.
    We are still somewhat free God Bless America!

  3. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Phew… only 1 Johnny Taxpayer according to the site, but they apparently didn’t include my son, Johnny Taxpayer Jr…. rot row, time to go dark.

  4. Pamala Zill says:

    This article is hysterically funny and so well written. Great job! :-)

  5. Jim R. says:

    The way to stop these police state tactics, is repeal the patriot act. A strange name for an act that enables the govt. to violate the constitution.
    The really scary thing about the spying on Americans, is how many citizens are willing to give up their constitutional rights , I didn’t think there were that many cowards in the U.S.
    9/11 and the Boston bombings make a total joke out the Govts. ability to stop such acts, so what is the spying really for?

    • Magnolia says:

      @Jim R: I’ll bet you that most Americans have no idea of what the Patriot Act is or what’s in it. That’s the sad reality. If they did, it would never have been allowed in the first place.

      People are more interested in the Kardashians. All that other stuff just isn’t important to them, as long as they are making it. When they no longer are making it, it is usually too late to do anything about it.

      How many are aware that FEMA is no longer going to subsidize flood insurance, which means the cost could go into the thousands for you, making it unaffordable to live anywhere along the coast? You’d better check the new laws. The government is about to screw you again.

      • Jim R. says:

        Magnolia
        You’re right about the dumbing down of the average American (read “The Twilight of American Culture”
        by Morris Berman) but the bigger problem is the two party scam that’s keeps people focused on party politics over superficial issues, while the Elites continue their assault on our constitutional rights and impoverishing the people through unfair trade deals and continuing foreign adventures that benefit the few at the expense of the rest of us.
        We are getting closer and closer to a police state and as long as the people continue to accept the nonsense that we are going to be safe if we give up our rights, it wont be long before we look more like Nazi Germany and the old Soviet Union than America.
        Our government no longer serves the people and there is a remedy for that, just read that document called the Declaration Of Independence.

        .

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