Signals – Intelligence: Disinformation in the age of social media, WMDs and honeycombed sugar centers.

In the 1950s my uncle Harvey served in the signals-intelligence corps as a British national serviceman. While stationed on the east german border he was tasked with the duty of using available technology to intercept transmissions relating to a specific Soviet tank regiment. The last time Harvey and I met for a bowl of soup I shared his delight as he explained how they’d powered their radio equipment with electricity generated by, and surreptitiously siphoned from, the Magdeburg Power Station, “just over the way there, in the Russian zone” he told me, laughing and grinning like a successful truant. Why am I telling you this? Well please, allow me to explicate.

The Cold War pretty much kicked off in 1949 when Russia performed it’s first successful nuclear weapons test, First Lightning they called it. It could have been the name of a debut thrash metal album if Stalin’s Russia wasn’t so infested with those stultifiers of creativity, the gulags. Joe – 1 the Americans called it, after good old Joe Stalin. That could also be the first coffee of the day as prepared by a particularly officious and potentially sadistic police officer. “This is Joe – 1” he might say as he draws a colleague’s attention to his Bush/Quayle ’88 commemorative coffee mug. “Before I get to Joe – 2 I’ll have 10 of those little skate-punk assholes face down on the hot school yard concrete.” The moist bristles of his thick mustache glimmer darkly as they rise and fall in unison with his words.

So! In the midst of all this terrifying mutually assured nuclear tension I imagine my uncle Harvey, crouched over his radio equipment in an east german forest, face smeared in mud, tufts of grass and bunched ferns sticking from the netting on his olive tin helmet, service revolver close at hand, as he listens intently to these encrypted Russian transmissions, and I’m led to wonder: During the long stretches when there is really nothing significantly war-relevant going on how much of these monitored transmissions might be variations on the theme explored in the following twitter exchange? It might be best read against an imagined audio backdrop, of rapidly beeping morse code signals inside the tide-shushing-over-shingle white-noise of 1950s radio technology. The names, handles and dates maybe read in some classic robot voice, the communication in the voice of WW2 british intelligence officers. The fact that it took place in September 2011 should be disregarded.

Begin Transmission:

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

25/09/2011 11:15


Gary Browne (@Sidepipe)

25/09/2011 13:05

@Ratt_Ray From whence did this come?

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

25/09/2011 22:29

@Sidepipe I can’t reveal my sources.

Gary Browne (@Sidepipe)

26/09/2011 00:22

@Ratt_Ray I see. What temperature is it outside?

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

26/09/2011 00:23

@Sidepipe the crunchie?

Gary Browne (@Sidepipe)

26/09/2011 01:23

@Ratt_Ray Yes.

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

26/09/2011 01:23

@Sidepipe Room temperature.

Gary Browne (@Sidepipe)

26/09/2011 01:26

@Ratt_Ray Hmmm… Inconclusive. Ok, whats your height above sea level?

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

26/09/2011 01:35

@Sidepipe 8 metres, no more no less.

Gary Browne (@Sidepipe)

26/09/2011 01:39

@Ratt_Ray “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

26/09/2011 02:06

@Sidepipe Your deductive skill astounds me!

Gary Browne (@Sidepipe)

26/09/2011 02:11

@Ratt_Ray The question now is about hæmoglobin.

John Rattray (@Ratt_Ray)

26/09/2011 02:16

@Sidepipe Mythical, ugly, dwarfish creature of folklore sexually attracted to those of it species who share it’s gender?

End transmission.

“What on Earth does it mean?” Uncle Harvey might think, trying to stay warm, as he glances up from his Macbook pro and stares through the undergrowth at the line of IS-3M tanks just beyond the (downright uncivil) razor-wire that, ostensibly, separates the political ideologies of the time.

Is it some clever stream of disinformation designed to divert allied attention from an imminent Russian strike? A strike Downing Street might dub Operation Crunchie?

Is it a coded message to a KGB deep-cover operative gathering sensitive strategic information in West Germany? Code-name Homo-Goblin?

Why do the Russians even have a Crunchie? I mean those things are great but dear god are they bad for teeth. Wash one down with a vodka and coke in front of a decent, hippocratic dentist and by christ will you receive a stiff dressing down, not to mention a harsh case of acid reflux. Hmm, perhaps we aren’t as different as the higher ups would have us believe. We are all human after all. We share hopes and dreams and a weakness for sugar and chocolate, future consequences be damned! Can those consequenses really outweigh the intensity of this sweet, honeycombed pleasure dissolving into a syrupy nectar in my mouth right here, right now? Well can it? No way! Maybe what that conversation represents is a retreat, an escape, a mental cave made of discarded furniture, pillows and old forgotten curtains, decorated with chocolate and sugar and considerations of ambient temperature. A place where a traumatized soldier, or anyone else for that matter, might go seeking refuge from the searing fact of his or her mortality and more importantly the mortality of those they love, to whom one shocking day they’ll be forced to croak a futile goodbye, to which they will receive no copy.

Illustrations by McGuire

4 thoughts on “Signals – Intelligence: Disinformation in the age of social media, WMDs and honeycombed sugar centers.”

  1. Same shit, different year; Technology just lets us do what we always did, but quicker.
    Agree re Vonnegut-esque comment. Though a true soldier would have eaten a snickers. Quieter.

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