Tim from ECHELON, glimpsed back in 2000  

Posted by Big Gav in

Bruce Sterling has a slightly self-congratulatory post quoting his book "Distraction" published back in 2000 - Tim from ECHELON, glimpsed back in 2000.

Nowadays Tim from ECHELON goes by the handle “Tim from PRISM and XKEYSCORE,” but one thing’s consistent: Tim’s always been really hard to write about.

From: ZEITGEIST, a novel, by Bruce Sterling (Bantam Books, 2000), pages 254-257.

“Tim,” Starlitz said into the phone, “my associate’s kind of upset that you’re going through his private business affairs there.”

“F@ck him,” Tim said cheerfully, in the same flat voice. “What’s he gonna do about it? This Russian punk’s got no fucking options.” Tim tossed the wallet aside. “He’s broke. And he’s small time. He’s not of major surveillant interest.”

A look of frantic desperation entered Viktor’s eyes. He wasn’t taking this at all well.

“Viktor, chill out,” Starlitz said. “Let me pass you the word, man. This is ECHELON.”

“Did you say ECHELON?” said Viktor.

“Ever heard of it? Shall I spell it for you?”

“Of course I’ve heard of ECHELON!” Viktor protested. “ECHELON is the legendary capitalist global surveillance system. It’s the worldwide signals intelligence directorate! ECHELON is the crown jewel of the antiprogressive Dark Forces!”

“Uh, yeah. That would be the alleged phenomenon.”

“ECHELON is run by the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. It uses undersea-cable taps, and surveillance satellites like ‘Aquacade,’ “Rhyolite,’ and ‘Magnum.’ It taps the Internet through its major routing centers and does comprehensive word searches on email traffic.”

“Hey, shut up,” Tim protested over the satellite phone. “That’s all totally classified.”

Starlitz put the phone on his shoulder and squinted in the sunlight. “Can you actually *see* Tim, Viktor? I can hear him over this satellite phone, but I can’t see a damn thing. It’s like the guy’s installed at hardware level and totally user transparent.”

“I can see a kind of black, hideous, paranoid shape,” Viktor reported. “It’s like some faceless, oozing nightmare that covers the whole earth.”

“What do *you* see, Zeta?”

“I can see him fine. I can hear him too. I can even smell him. He doesn’t change his clothes very much.”

“I’m a busy guy,” Tim complained.

“He looks just like my geeky math teacher. You know, the math guy who used to go out during recess and look up our skirts.” ...

‘Why did you bring a little girl to a Level Three national-security incident? That’s not professional. You clowns are lucky that I even showed up.”

“You’re not supposed to show up, Tim. I never called you. I don’t know why you’re here.” Starlitz shrugged.

“Well, then, let me get *you* up to speed, newbie,” said Tim briskly. “I mean, you can’t even *see* me, because I am, like, light-years beyond your shabby, street-level, hard-boiled little discourse. Because ECHELON is, like, the Olympus of networked globalization. We’re so far beyond your mental grasp that we’re literally unspeakable. Mere mundane user dorks like you can’t even *raise the topic* of ECHELON in any discussion of contemporary reality. Because at ECHELON we’re huge, omniscient, omnipresent, and totally technically capable. We’ve been secretly saving the bacon of the Anglo-American empire since Alan Turing was blowing guys in bus stations. We’re always taping everything, but we Never Say Anything. You get me so far?”

“Yeah, no, maybe.”

“So that means that a guy like me has no conventional path into the narrative. None at all. I’m *always* the deus ex machina. I mean, the twentieth-century master narrative just doesn’t work, unless I remain way behind the curtain, and always super-secret. If ECHELON’s abilities and activities become common knowledge and a public issue, the whole world is transformed. Outing ECHELON disrupts all the basic political and social assumptions. It throws the whole twentieth-century story straight off the rails. It’s like you’re filming some kind of BBC British teatime drama, and a giant writhing kraken comes up out of the Thames.”

“Cut to the chase, Tim. So, why do we have the honor?”


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