All in the noise
One of my challenges working with Congress on the DIA case was during the initial phases when I was trying to plead my case and get some sort of traction in anything I was doing. That “initial phase” was about a year long and was riddled with setbacks and stalls and stagnations and being ignored and sloughed off and passed off and everything in between. Went to lawyers – they didn’t want to take the case (unless there were big retainers involved), emailed Senators – they went unanswered. Some Congressional caseworkers’ responses were sporadic if not non-existent. It was a trying time and there were more than a few occasions I was close to throwing in the towel. And there were many many occasions in which I became intimately familiar with why people just either lose faith in the system or why they start down the path of doing what’s right but eventually succumb to the inertia working against them.
“In the noise” is perhaps a term you’ve come across. (I’m putting my “Wild Weasel” hat on now – more on that later). Noise, in the electromagnetic (EM) sense, is always present. Everything that is emitting EM energy contributes to it. When you are trying to detect a specific type of signal in the EM spectrum, that detection system has to account (and discard) the noise and focus on the more prevalent signal; the one you are looking to locate.
Imagine you’re in a crowded restaurant and the waiter is telling you the specials of the day. If his voice doesn’t cut through the ruckus in the background, whether with volume or pitch, then it’s drowned out and you can’t hear him. That’s exactly how EM stuff works as well.
I’ve never worked as a Congressional staffer, but I can only imagine the amount of ”noise” they deal with – every Tom, Dick and Harry out there who calls in to complain about everything under the sun from their late social security check to airport noise and everything in between. (At least this is what I envision is happening across the country in every Congressional district). Now, when I was growing up, writing to your Congressman was a big deal. First of all, you had to write to them and then await a written response back. Besides, we were brought up, and rightfully so, to work things at the appropriate levels which meant that to go to a Congressman was a not-so-insignificant event.. I espoused that principle over time so when I contacted Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth’s office in August 2020, I felt like I was taking a big step. Likewise, I assumed my concerns would be taken seriously. Neither was the case. I attribute the very tepid response from her staff to, at least in part, the “noise level” that a Congressperson’s staff is subject, and thus desensitized, to. This is the double-edged sword of our ubiquitous connectivity: neighbor’s dog too loud and the cops won’t come out? Email the Congresswoman! DMV lines too long? Hop on the Senator’s website and bitch about it! And then along comes Ryan Sweazey: “yes, I need to report an issue of a national security threat that exists in the Defense Intelligence Agency” – drowned out in the noise. No doubt a few of those emails of mine got tossed in with the “DMV gripes” pile in Dick Durbin’s office! (Never did hear back from him, by the way).
The point is: there’s a lot of noise out there and so to get your point across, you have to be like the waiter: louder or in a different tone than the background. My grandma “G.O.” used to say “squeaky wheel gets the grease, kid!” She was right. I just never ascribed to being the loud one in the room, so I instead tried to deliver my message in a different, more compelling tone, than the “noise.”
Meghan was a defense staffer on Representative Sean Casten’s office when I filed my IG complaint with her office. I met her in-person about seven months into working the DIA case when we were seeing some, albeit minimal, movement in the committees. She told me the key to my success had been my “patient persistence.” That was great feedback and insight and made sense to me. I have to assume that most people who take up a cause start off all fired up about it but then quickly fizzle out. So, the natural “countertactic” for a staff, so they’re not burned out by week 1 on the job, is to let tempers/emotions kind of run their course. Whoever is still around after that…ok, maybe they’re serious. This was the approach I continued to use. I never allowed the inertia to stagnate the case. There was never more than a 2-week span in which I wasn’t passing an update or querying as to a status. Essentially, I was just continuously keeping the fire stoked, always trying to be above the noise, waiting for that “tipping point” moment in which it would all happen. Eventually, that tactic was met with success. The cost to me, however, was not negligible. Likely not a surprise to those reading this, but taking on the institution takes some stamina and fortitude.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to laud the efforts of a lot of the Congressional staffers I worked with on the DIA case. All cynicism aside, God’s honest truth: I do believe our legislative system does, most times, work. The gears of justice don’t grind quickly, that’s for damn sure, but they do grind. I met a lot of people from The Hill and the vast majority of them took a personal vested interest in the DAS affair. They could have just as easily placated me and moved on, but they didn’t. For that, I am thankful, as are the multitude of victims of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Amongst the all-star performers I worked with, Meghan, mentioned above, is of course one of them.