In 2013, an unknown former CIA analyst became, overnight, among the most prominent whistle-blowers in U.S. history. Most Americans know Edward Snowden’s name and, on a surface level, what he revealed about the government’s mass surveillance of American citizens.
Understanding the history, technology and the far-reaching implications behind the revelations is another story entirely.
In their new new graphic novel, “Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare, and Mass Surveillance,” journalist Pratap Chatterjee (“Halliburton’s War”) and artist Khalil (“Zahra’s Paradise”) create a vividly comprehensive and concise guide to the story of mass surveillance and its whistle-blowers, while extending it into a sort of expose on the technology’s connection to a larger, darker reality.
The book primarily follows two story lines: the behind-the-scenes chain of events up to and after Snowden’s leaks, along with Chatterjee’s own journey as a journalist to uncover the implications of mass surveillance programs. Chatterjee, who is also executive director of CorpWatch, based in San Francisco, eventually comes to discover that the surveillance technology, created for the war on terror, is relied on in drone warfare to deadly and flawed effects.
“We have assumed that we can find and stop terrorism and terrorists on the other side of the world speaking a different language, a different culture, purely by scooping out their data even though we barely understand the complexities of history and the nature of what’s happening on the ground,” Chatterjee says.
“Verax” details the complicated operations behind these unmanned drones, based on accounts of former drone operators themselves. The aircraft are coordinated by a slew of military personnel in locations across the world communicating simultaneously and relying on fundamentally imprecise technology to attack suspected targets.
“It’s prone to error,” Chatterjee says. “And it also falls for the basic mistake that a lot of people make — that technology can provide justice. And the reality is that technology can never equal justice.”
As a result, numerous innocent men, women and children have been killed — a fact that the Obama administration had admitted, if not downplayed quantitatively in reports. Yet the evidence of these consequences is often ignored, Chatterjee and Khalil say. Innocent lives lost in Yemen or Pakistan, under the guise of antiterrorist efforts, exists as a far-removed reality.
More crucially, the intended effect of combatting terrorism enters into a negative feedback loop, fostering only more enemies.
“From the comforts of your Nevada air base, you can kill people half a world away, and they can’t do anything. The problem with that idea is that by killing so many innocent people, you create blowback,” Khalil says. “You create a lot of animosity to this country.”
In its telling, “Verax” is no megaphone for partisan conspiracy. For one, the history it documents, Chatterjee notes, has been shaped over the decades by administrations red and blue. And the truth of these revelations appear to be well-understood and documented.
“Within the military and the upper echelons of the national security system, this is well-known. It’s almost an open secret that this war is not succeeding,” Chatterjee says. “It’s not killing terrorists, but it is, in fact, killing a lot of innocent people. But nobody will admit it.”
Brandon Yu is a Bay Area freelance writer.
Pratap Chatterjee & Khalil: 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16. Free. Fantastic Comics, 2026 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley. http://fantasticcomics.net. 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18. Free. Sole Space. 1714 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. solespace.myshopify.com
Bawdy Storytelling presents storytellers of all kinds recounting their tales of sexual exploits, this time on the theme of “Gifted.” 8-10:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14. $20-$30. Verdi Club. 2424 Mariposa St., S.F. facebook.com/bawdystorytelling
Why There Are Words gathers acclaimed writers and authors to read from their works and reflect on the theme of identity. 7-9:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14. $10. Studio 333. 333 Caledonia St., Sausalito. www.whytherearewords.com
or The East Bay Reading Extravaganza, reconvenes with readings from Tom Barbash, Pamela Weymouth and Dr. Vanessa Grubbs. 7-9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15. Free. The Octopus Literary Salon. 2101 Webster St. #170, Oakland. www.dougsovern.com/there
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