I’m pretty sure I’ve been gaslit by the NSA.
Which confirms Republican talking points about wasteful government spending.
Gaslighting takes its name from the 1944 film “Gaslight,” in which the husband of a character played by Ingrid Bergman tries to drive her crazy by fucking with her surroundings. Household items vanish and reappear. The gaslights flicker on and off.
Cold War-era intelligence agencies, more than a little out of control, experimented with gaslighting political dissidents. In East Germany, the STASI deployed gaslighting-inspired psychological warfare against enemies of the state: sabotaging a victim’s car, sending sex toys to his wife, switching out the food in his kitchen cabinet. The idea was to provoke mental instability in the target’s life — hopefully even driving him to suicide.
The closest thing I can find to a claim that this technique has prompted someone to kill himself is Aaron Edward Hotchner 2011’s complaint that FBI surveillance contributed to Ernest Hemingway’s decision to eat a shotgun. But hey, Papa was prone to clinical depression and drank a lot.
As a fantasy, gaslighting also cuts from oppressed to oppressor; the 2004 German black comedy “The Edukators” depicts a gang of self-styled young revolutionaries who break into the homes of the rich and powerful and rearrange their furniture merely to demonstrate that they can.
There’s no evidence that gaslighting works. Yet — like invading Muslim countries — Western nations keep trying.
“[Russia's] Federal Security Service (FSB) operation involves breaking into the private homes of Western diplomats — a method the US State Department describes as ‘home intrusions.’ Typically the agents move around personal items, open windows and set alarms in an attempt to demoralise and intimidate their targets,” Guardian reporter Luke Harding wrote in 2011.
“The break-ins were not without humour. I once found a cheap paperback left by the side of my bed, offering tips on how to achieve better orgasms.”
I’ve always thought gaslighting was idiotic. If I notice a picture frame disappear and reappear in my home, I know someone has gotten inside. There is no scenario in which I’ll wonder whether I did it myself, but forgot. Because, if I was actually blanking out, I wouldn’t know it, right?
It’s certainly not going to bum me out.
Again, gaslighting almost certainly doesn’t work. Yet our taxpayer-funded superspooks are still trying to use it against people who annoy the powers that be.
Exhibit B: Me.
I came across a reference to a GCHQ (British signals intelligence, closely allied with the NSA) program called JTRIG on page 191 of Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place To Hide.” JTRIG, it seems, is used against targets like the hacker collective Anonymous. To “discredit a target,” a JTRIG PowerPoint slide from the Edward Snowden documents advises, among other ridiculous methods, to “Set up a honey-trap” (Cold War-style seduction by a hot babe) and “Change their photos on social networking sites.”
From the UK Independent: “The agency also suggests accessing a target’s social networking accounts to replace their photograph, adding approvingly: ‘Photo change; you have been warned, “JTRIG is about!!”‘ can take ‘paranoia’ to a whole new level.”
JTRIG might explain why my Twitter feed background photo changes back and forth from a pixelated cartoon making fun of President Obama to plain fire engine red. JTRIG might explain why my log-in avatar, set as a copy of the cover of my book “The Book of Obama,” changed to a blank on my MacBook Pro and a soccer ball on my desktop iMac. Could JTRIG have something to do with my resume on LinkedIn, on which dates and phrases seem to have lives of their own?
Why don’t they mess with my Facebook? Is it an oversight? Or part of their masterful “paranoia to a whole new level” strategy?
If our noble protectors at GCGQ and the NSA think a soccer ball is going to shove my fragile psyche into the abyss of madness, they’re fools.
Because actually, the ball is pretty cute.
Also, it’s nice to see that my work has been noticed in high places.
Gaslighting’s effect isn’t to make you crazy. It’s to make you worry about telling anyone else about it, lest they think you’re crazy.
Which, as this piece proves, I don’t care about.
Does that make me crazy?