© Copyright 2005 Kurt Snyder

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Iridium

 

It was during my second year of watching after Woody and Judy's place that I happened to come across a very lucrative business opportunity. It was during the fall of 1997. I was 26 years old at the time. I was at a party given by a college friend when I started talking with an acquaintance named Matt who was an engineer for Motorola. I had been telling everyone at the party that I was a handyman, and Matt mentioned that he might have an opportunity for me where he was currently working. He was very evasive about the details, but asked for my business card. I gave it to him. Three weeks later, Matt called me to ask if I would come out to his place of business to discuss the opportunity. He said the facility he worked in needed a maintenance person to work part time. The facility was located in Virginia, about an hour and a half away from my apartment. Considering the long commute, I was skeptical about how profitable it might be, but I went to meet him anyway. Although Matt was employed by Motorola, the sign at the front entrance to his facility said 'Iridium'.

Matt gave me a tour of the place. Matt was a contractor hired by Motorola, and Motorola was a subcontractor to a company called Iridium. Motorola, Matt's employer, was the principal investor in Iridium. He explained that Iridium was the first project of its kind. The Iridium project's goal was to provide global satellite phone coverage. Iridium users using a portable phone would be able to receive and make telephone calls anywhere on the surface of the earth, including anywhere on the oceans, or at the poles. ANYWHERE. The fulfillment of this dream system involved the deployment of more than 70 orbiting satellites. The building I was touring was called the "Master Control Facility" of the Iridium network. The network was expected to be completed by the end of 1998. The project would ultimately cost more than $5 billion.

While I was touring the facility, I estimated that a lot of extra money had been spent to construct it, and I thought the investors would be willing to spend more money than usual to maintain it. The building had a control center that looked like a small version of the mission control room at NASA. Large Projection Screens were located at the front of this room which showed the locations of satellites in orbit, and other pertinent data. Two or three large satellite dishes were located in back, providing communication with the satellite network. The facility had a huge generator for maintaining electrical power in case of an outage.

The building also had an extensive security system. A security card was required to gain entrance to the building from the outside, and to access nearly every room inside. Surveillance cameras were in every room and hallway. Cameras were also located at various points all around the outside perimeter of the building. At the time, I did not anticipate how this environment would affect me.

As I took the tour, I took note of the busy pace that was set there. Nearly everywhere I looked, people were busy typing and monitoring their computer screens. Nobody seemed to be idle. I thought that Matt and his colleagues were too busy getting this project off the ground to bother to look for another handyman. I estimated that it would cost about $35 per hour to hire a maintenance company to provide a worker and I compared that with my regular rate of $30 per hour. I also factored in the one and a half hour commute. I decided then that I was going to ask for a premium rate. A week after the tour, I sent Matt a contract for part-time maintenance services at $40 an hour, two days per week. Then, I waited. A month passed by. Matt talked to me several times and tried to persuade me to lower my rate. He told me he wasn't the only one making the decision, and that my high rate might be rejected. I didn't believe it. I held firm to my price and I waited a while longer. I thought they wouldn't bother to look for anyone else. After three more weeks, I got my answer-the contract was approved.

I started working part-time at Iridium in February 1998. Immediately after I started work there, the Security Chief of the facility asked me to submit to him a criminal background check. I recall that I had to go through the State Police to be fingerprinted. My fingerprints were sent to an FBI crime lab in West Virginia for a criminal background search. The search came back negative, and I presented the official documented results to the security chief. However, I made one change to the documents. The documents had my original fingerprints on them in ink. I gave the security chief a copy of the documents, but with my fingerprints obscured with white-out. I did not want the security office to have my original fingerprints. Exactly why I felt this way is not entirely clear to me now. I had worries that I could be innocently connected with a crime at Iridium. This fear was irrational, and I now know of no rational justification for worrying about this. I certainly didn't plan to commit any crimes there. My worries were certainly a symptom of paranoid fears.

Within two or three weeks after I started working there, I had to participate in an orientation class for new employees. At the class they drilled into our heads the Acronym 'POPI'. It stood for 'Protection of Proprietary Information'. According to POPI protocols, almost every document generated there had to be placed in special trashcans upon disposal. The material in these trashcans was burned by a special contractor, instead being disposed of at a landfill. Apparently, management was afraid someone would go through the trash to try to get information about the Iridium project. They also warned us about sending emails to outsiders with information about the Iridium project. They talked about other security concerns, like allowing people to enter certain rooms without using their access cards. On the same day I was in this class, my Dad needed to get a message to me, but he did not have the phone number of the facility, and I did not own a cell phone at that time. He tried to call Motorola Corporation and get the number directly from them. After calling various places and dealing with many different operators, he was told the place where I was did not exist. This might have been an honest mistake by the operators, since the facility was new, and Motorola has hundreds of different buildings, but later that day, I thought, "What a paranoid organization!" This type of organizational behavior made it seem more likely to me that they would also conduct surveillance operations.

By this time, I had been having thoughts and feelings that people were watching me for well over two years. Even a normal person might have these thoughts occasionally, but I had these thoughts constantly. The thoughts themselves however, were not very specific. They were abstract. I did not actually believe that any specific person was watching me. Rather, I had the feeling and idea that, in general, someone, somewhere COULD be watching me at anytime. When I was at a client's house, I thought they MIGHT be watching. When I was at a store, I thought store security MIGHT be watching me. When I saw a police car, I thought the police MIGHT be watching me. I didn't really KNOW whether they were watching me or not. But, this idea that somehow I was being watched occurred to me very frequently--perhaps hundreds, or thousands of times per day. My abnormal experience was the frequency with which these thoughts occurred to me. Up to this point in my life, these thoughts were not associated with any specific group or individual. I just had a vague idea that I was being watched. But that all changed when I started work at Iridium.

From the first day that I started working at the Iridium Master Control Facility, I felt the watchful eye of the cameras bearing down on me. They were present everywhere I went. They were a constant reminder that someone might be watching me every second. By the end of the day, I had a general feeling that someone or some group from Iridium was watching me all the time, although I didn't have a specific person in mind. This feeling stayed with me long after I had left the building. I can remember thinking on my way home that somehow I might still be under surveillance by THEM.

At about this same time I became concerned that my computer system at home might have been compromised. Sometimes, my computer would behave strangely. While I was viewing a document, letters that I did not type would sometimes appear on the screen when I wasn't touching the keyboard, or the mouse pointer would move on its own. I thought this was evidence that a hacker, or a virus had taken control of my computer. Also, sometimes when I was viewing a document, I could hear the hard drive being accessed long after the document had loaded. I tried for many months afterwards to pinpoint a specific process on my machine that could be causing these anomalies, but I was unable to do so. These abnormalities never completely went away and they seemed to happen only when I was connected to the Internet. I had no resources to pursue the matter any further. I didn't care that much that someone else might see what I was doing on the computer. I didn't have any sensitive information stored there. I also didn't use it to transmit any sensitive information. After a while, I gave up trying to determine what was causing the problem. I just kept the idea in the back of my mind that my computer might be under the control of someone else.

I continued working at Iridium two days per week under the strain of the cameras. After about one month of work, I had completed all of my original work assignments. At this point, the chief of security of the facility took it upon himself to provide me with new work assignments. This made my camera related anxiety go off the scale. After he would give me an assignment, I would worry about my performance greatly, and I would think, "Am I doing a good job? Does the security chief think I'm doing a good job? He could be watching me himself, right now!"

My anxiety at Iridium became very intense for several weeks. I soon came to the conclusion that my anxiety was creating behavioral patterns that would make me more conspicuous. I kept looking over my shoulder. I kept looking directly at the cameras. I kept fidgeting. I decided that if security was not interested in me personally, they would soon become interested in me because of my unusual behavior. I did not want to become a "problem" for the security staff at Iridium. I decided it was in my best interest to ignore whatever thoughts I had about people watching me. I started a psychological war against myself to try to counteract the paranoia and negative thoughts I was experiencing. Everytime I thought "Are they watching me now?" I also tried to think, "No, they are NOT watching now! In fact NOBODY is watching me. No one cares about what I am doing." Sometimes, if I had performance related anxiety, I would be thinking, "I'm not doing a good job, I'm screwing this up." I would try to counteract that thought with another one-"I'm doing the best I can, that's all I should expect". If the security chief gave me a task to do, I would try to think, "He's NOT watching me. He has a million other things more important to do. He is not concerned with me." This tactic was only marginally successful at stemming the tide of persistent thoughts. In fact, it did not abate the thoughts at all-the thoughts continued without interruption, but it did help to somewhat reduce the anxiety they caused.

After three months of working at Iridium, the security chief, Bill, invited me to participate in some social activities after work. Several people from the facility, including Bill and my friend Matt, would play street hockey on roller blades. We would meet in a school parking lot about ten minutes away. After the games, most of us would have a few beers and talk. I enjoyed this very much. It made me feel accepted and part of the team. It is interesting to note that at these games, I had no anxieties about being watched. When I knew people actually were watching me, I did not feel self-conscious or nervous in any way. It was only an abstract idea--a fantasy of some sort in my mind, which caused the paranoia. My imagination was a stimulus that had more impact on me than a real experience.

Although I did not have any idea that a specific person was watching me at any given time, the idea that I was under constant surveillance by THEM continued to grow stronger in my mind. I began to feel that I was under surveillance all the time, inside, outside, and away from the Iridium facility. I had no evidence that any surveillance was taking place, but I just felt that it was a reality. The feeling that I was being watched had changed into a feeling that I was being observed. This is a subtle distinction. At first, I did not believe that there was enough staff at Iridium to conduct surveillance on me, and I did not believe there was any reason for them being interested in me individually. However, I still maintained the idea that it might somehow be true. The idea that someone had taken remote control of my home computer system also grew stronger. So often, I wondered whether or not these ideas were true, that they became the truth in my mind. I thought of many different scenarios that would explain how and why these two things were true. At some point, these two previously unrelated ideas came together. I made connections between them both.

I began to think of Iridium as a venture that would be of great interest to the United States government, especially the Defense Department, and the intelligence community. I was certain they would be one of Iridium's largest customers. (In fact, this is what has occurred). The Defense Department and the Intelligence community would not buy into a product that they thought was insecure. I expected that there would be great scrutiny of the Iridium system and its employees. Because I was working at the Iridium Master Control Facility, I expected the intelligence community to be interested in everyone working there, including myself. I thought the intelligence agencies would use every tool at their disposal for the purposes of evaluating the system. I believed these tools would include cyber-surveillance. I began to suspect that my computer anomalies were the result of careless user error on the part of the cyber spies.

So, after several months of working at Iridium, I suspected that I was under surveillance by the intelligence community, and that they had electronically placed something on my computer that enabled them to monitor my online activities. For many months, I wondered whether it was true or not. I certainly did not believe it was a fact, because I had no evidence to support this belief. But, I maintained the idea that it MIGHT be true, and I did not dismiss it. I also did not think my anxiety was a sign of paranoia. I thought my anxiety at work was a type of performance anxiety, a symptom of a poor self-image, and self-criticism. I thought that if my performance was adequate, this anxiety at work would diminish. I was wrong. There were many times when my performance was fine, but I still continued to be anxious when I thought I might be under observation.

After I initially had the idea that I might be under surveillance, I had many doubts about my own thoughts. I started to become introspective; I started to examine my own mind and how it worked. I thought extensively on the subject of knowledge. More precisely, I thought about how we know things to be true, and how many things are unknown. I quickly came to the conclusion that although I might believe something to be true, this does not make it the truth. This realization caused me to doubt my own beliefs. After this time, I never completely believed in my delusions again. When I say I believed I was under surveillance, I mean that I was nearly sure it was true, but I was never completely sure. I always had a little bit of doubt.

I came to understand that many people believe certain things, but they are often wrong. I also understood that many people believe certain facts, even though they cannot verify them. For instance, I believe there are more than 1 billion people living in China. Of course, I accept this as the truth because I have relied on information from other sources that I consider to be reliable. But I have no other evidence to support this belief. Also, there are many things that I know to be true, even though I do not understand exactly how I know these things. For example, most of the time, I know whether someone is a woman or a man simply by looking at his or her face. This holds true even when there are not other obvious indicators, such as a beard. However, I could not tell you how I know this. I can not give you a description of how a man's face differs from a woman's face. I don't know what features make a woman's face distinguishable from a man's. Often, you know something to be true without knowing how you know it. I simply know when someone is a woman or a man, but I do not know how I am making the distinction. Of course, your gut instinct is not always correct. There are a small percentage of cases where you simply cannot tell the person's sex by looking at their face. Your gut instinct, or your first impression is not always reliable. After thinking about these realities, I believed that I could not determine the truth simply by thinking about it. I realized that my thoughts were irrelevant to the truth. I decided that I needed more evidence to decide whether it was true or not. I began to believe however that it was LIKELY that I was under surveillance. The fact that it was UNLIKELY never occurred to me. It is interesting to note however, that for more than a year and a half I did not make my thoughts on this subject known to any other person. I realized that most people would think the idea that I was under surveillance would be UNLIKELY, and they would therefore think I was crazy. So I did not mention my suspicions to ANYONE. I continued to think about them introspectively.

I thought that I would be under surveillance at a very high level. If the intelligence community was the group of people who were conducting the surveillance, then the security guards at Iridium would probably not know about this. I did think however, that the security chief would probably know something about it. I thought it was likely that he would be getting reports from the intelligence community about their findings. However, the security chief would probably not be in direct contact with the people who were following me. As the months passed, I began to believe more and more that this was likely to be the truth. I was probably under surveillance, and the spies were reporting their findings to their bosses, who were indirectly reporting the findings to the security chief. Of course, while I was at the Iridium facility, I still wondered constantly whether I was under surveillance by the cameras that were located all over the building.

At this time, I never thought that I had become paranoid. I thought that I understood a reality. I thought I was becoming aware of the FACT that I was under observation. However I was keenly aware that my behavior could be interpreted by an observer as paranoia.

As the months passed, and I continued to believe more and more that I was under surveillance, I also questioned why it was happening to me. It did not occur to me that it was untrue. I simply tried to understand why it WAS true. I thought of many different scenarios that would explain why it was true. I questioned why it would have continued for so long. I understood that conducting surveillance on someone was extremely expensive. I knew that I was beginning to exhibit paranoid behaviors that could be observed if someone was watching me carefully. I thought this was the reason that THEY were continuing to observe me. I thought my paranoid behavior would give them a reason to follow me even closer than before. Maybe in the beginning, I wasn't under surveillance at all, but the observations of the Iridium staff could have prompted them to hire surveillance. Perhaps this could be the truth. But if so, who would be conducting the surveillance? I thought it would probably be a private detective. How could I know what the truth was? Of course, that's probably the truth...they've hired a private detective.

© Copyright 2005 Kurt Snyder

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