Do You Hear: Snowden Uses Tails and TOR!

As I write this, Twitter is being spammed with hundreds of users tweeting out the exact same message:

If you search for ‘NSA’ on Twitter now, you’ll face a wall of these EXACT SAME tweets, sent by different accounts of course.

Well, sort of . Variations on Google, Amazon and Ebay accounts have sent multiple copies of this same message:

There seem to be at least five dummy accounts for each company.

Other ‘identities’ that are heavily represented in this spam-tsunami feature 1) young men with Arabic sounding names like this chap:

2) young ladies with sultry avatars:

3) Beauty/Horoscope/Heath feeds that have suddenly developed an interest in Snowden:

Somebody called ‘Ehad’ has been really busy!

I’ll just go out and say it: an organization with hundreds of Twitter users at its beck and call has decided to push Tor, The Onion Router, and it’s software Tails as ‘the software Snowden uses to keep safe’. This organization doesn’t seem to worry that Amazon, Ebay or Google will get pissy about their logos being used in the operation. This organization decided to swamp Twitter in one big Tails ad after the close of business on April 15th, the day when US taxes are due. (At least that is what my Twitter stream is showing me.)

The article being pushed most is Joe Fingas’ “Here’s the software that helps Edward Snowden Avoid the NSA“. The piece is two paragraphs long– perfect for those of us with a short attention span:

Edward Snowden hasn’t escaped the NSA’s watchful eyes purely by exploiting lax security — he also uses the right software. We now know that he communicates with the media using Tails, a customized version of Linux that makes it easy to use Tor’s anonymity network and other tools that keep data private. The software loads from external drives and doesn’t store anything locally, so it’s relatively trivial for Snowden and his contacts to discuss leaks without leaving a trace.

The underlying technology isn’t completely original, and it’s not perfect; Tails’ open source code and anonymous developer base help resist pressure to include spy-friendly back doors, but there are still potential security holes. Users also have to be careful with their choices of internet services while using Tails, as the wrong ones could give the whole game away. Even with those concerns in mind, the software is a big help to Snowden, journalists and others that want to keep their conversations under wraps with a minimum of effort.

 

That’s it.

Now this will seem odd to people who watched Snowden’s SXSW talk a few weeks ago, where he stated that Tor was useful for blocking run-of-the-mill spybots, but not good for journalists or activists who might be targeted for NSA surveillance.

Do you think Snowden thought he might have been targeted for surveillance once he signed up to work with the CIA/NSA/BoozAllen? He certainly knew Laura Poitras was under surveillance. So why would he use TOR/Tails for ‘keeping safe’ when he clearly stated at SXSW that these tools are not good for targeted individuals?

The people who Twitter lets spam messages like the ones I’ve posted; the people who are trying to spin Snowden’s message; the people who keep hundreds of internet trolls on payroll to spin public discourse; these are the people who are promoting TOR.

You know, TOR– paid for by The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the same American Government outfit that spins for Carlos Garcia-Perez, director of the  Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and Champion of ZunZuneo.

(ZunZuneo is the US government’s attempt to influence public discourse in Cuba and destabilize the country.)

TOR is an American intelligence asset paid for by one of Washington’s top propaganda outfits. Joe Fingas is either really stupid, ignorant or a cheap shill for the NSA. Klint Finley of WIRED is just as bad.

… and one message for the Associated Press: Twitter needs to be ‘outed’  as a spy tool, just as you claim to have done with ZunZuneo. Or is the AP just part of the problem? ;)

Internet community, you’ve been warned. If you want security, start thinking along these lines.

 

Liberal Hollywood and the CIA

APphoto_Book Review Company Man

George Tenet calls it “a must read”. Why is classified.

Howdy readers! A fun one today. Former CIA acting General Counsel John Rizzo has written a new book, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, in which he claims liberal Hollywood actors spy for the CIA.

“The CIA has long had a special relationship with the entertainment industry, devoting considerable attention to fostering relationships with Hollywood movers and shakers—studio executives, producers, directors, big-name actors,” John Rizzo, the former acting CIA general counsel, wrote in his new book.

“People might assume that since Hollywood leans to the political left, the CIA’s relationships “would be with the sort of conservative picket of Hollywood,” Rizzo said in an interview. “Well, that’s not true.  People one would normally associated with liberal causes have assisted CIA.”

a.nolen readers know the assumption that ‘the CIA is a right-wing organization’ is an historically inaccurate one; OSS and CIA leadership have been left-leaning since day one, and were eager to work with their Stalin-era Soviet counterparts whenever possible (outside of public oversight)!

Here’s the catch with Company Man: Rizzo can’t say who in Hollywood is a spook. That’s classified. But he can give us details, and using those a.nolen will make some obvious suggestions.

The CIA also recruits actors to give more visibility to propaganda projects abroad, such as a documentary secretly produced by the agency, Rizzo said. And the agency sometimes takes advantage of the door-opening cachet that movie stars and other American celebrities enjoy. A star who met a world leader, for example, might be asked for details about that meeting.

The CIA has officials assigned full time to the care and feeding of Hollywood assets, Rizzo wrote.

Now let’s see– which Hollywood figures bear the hallmarks of CIA groupies? John Cusack is the pet actor at documentary-maker Laura Poitras’ Freedom of the Press foundation. And then there’s actor/athlete Denis Rodman and his buddy Kim Jong Un; perhaps their friendship was sweetened by the fact lingerie Woman’s Basketball wasn’t a money-maker. And who wants to place bets that Angelina Jolie with her UN work and strange movie about the Former Yugoslavia isn’t on Langley’s payroll? (Hollywood’s tough on older women…)

“These are people who have made a lot of money basically making stuff up,” the colleague said. “A lot of them, at least the smarter and more self-aware ones, realize that what they do makes them ridiculously rich but is also ephemeral and meaningless in the larger scheme of things. So they’re receptive to helping the CIA in any way they can, probably in equal parts because they are sincerely patriotic and because it gives them a taste of real life intrigue.”

Rizzo described a scene from “years ago” when one of the CIA’s Hollywood recruiters came to him with news that a major film star wanted to work for the agency after he found out a rival actor had been doing so. “Now this actor was offering his own name and services to us.  Free of charge. Anything he could do. Just out of his patriotic duty.”

The USA is so lucky to have smart, self-aware Hollywoodites who want to make the world a better place by working for the CIA. Let’s consider who these geniuses might be.

Here’s US Patriot/liberal George Clooney telling Ukraine how it’s gonna be:

And Arnie doing the same (Arnie’s been interested in government for a long time!):

And of course, Hayden Panettiere:

And those three are just for the Ukraine!

Perhaps less well known than the regime-change amigos is Goldie Hawn and her work on ‘mindfulness‘ at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, which is all a little MK-ULTRA for me. If any Global World Leaders wig out in the next 12 months, we’ll know why. :)

@BennyJohnson is Good at his Job

Benny Johnson, democracy manager.

Benny Johnson, democracy manager.

There’s a philosophical idea called ‘the Hegelian dialectic’ which says that  by combining a thesis with an antithesis you can find truth, or at least a higher understanding (synthesis). For instance:

1) Thesis: ‘Left’ and ‘right’ are two different things.

2) Antithesis: My ‘left’ could be the same as your ‘right’,  so ‘left’ and ‘right’ can be equal.

3) Synthesis: ‘left’ and ‘right’ must be defined according to something outside themselves.

This might seem trivial to you, but consider what happens if your motivation isn’t to find truth, but to reach a foregone conclusion. Let’s take politics for an example. If you want people to come to a certain conclusion, you need to control what ‘left’ and ‘right’ is. USAID recently tried to do this with Zunzuneo in Cuba: they tried to use cell networks to twist public debate in a way that benefits Washington (or at least which benefits the Cubans who Washington puts in charge of anti-Havana broadcasting).

Imagine that you’re an internet content producer who is trying to do the same thing in the US that Carlos Garcia-Perez tried to do in Cuba. You’ve got a tired program which hasn’t changed since 1946, namely, you promote a socialist agenda that’s cool with Global-Robber-Barron Capitalism. How do you present  ‘conservative’ ideas that won’t undermine your overarching message?

Hire Benny Johnson! Benny exemplifies teaching through entertainment: a method of crowd control which I wrote about here, in Soft News Stories. Benny entertains us and tries to teach us what to think in the process; according to his own Twitter blurb, he ‘makes internet all day long‘. That’s why venues like Salon pay attention to him.

Benny Johnson is what the Mainstream Media would like ‘conservatives’ to be. They trot out Benny to promote ideas that indirectly promote their cause, provide an ‘antithesis’, which combined with Robber-Baron-approved socialism, congeals to an outcome the Mainstream Media finds desirable.

How does Benny do this?

1) Promote ‘homophobic’ ideas while cultivating a gay image. (Synthesis: “Benny Johnson is obviously a self-hating closet homosexual,” and “Conservatives are hypocrites. ‘Cause seriously, who could eat that much Chick-Fil-A!”

2) Race-baiting. Check out what Benny had for dinner on MLK day, which he tweeted on Twitter: Gin’n’Juice with a side of Fried Chicken.

And how about this one…

Race-baiting is a staple to Benny’s act, catch a choice selection here.

Remember, readers, that according to the Mainstream Media, ‘conservatives’ are racist xenophobes, who are *probably* just secretly jealous of minorities, note Benny’s gratuitous plagiarism of Black culture: #YOLO. (‘You only live once,’ or ‘YOLO’ was made famous by rapper Drake.)

3) Straw-manning. Look at the funny White people, everybody! See, White people are like this! Benny attends Annapolis Croquet Tournament trolling for some internet fodder.

Oh, and uh…

Why would an outfit like BuzzFeed be so eager to document Annapolis Croquet 2014? Why post fliers and send their newest editor? Because the Mainstream Media believes that White people live in the past and are increasingly irrelevant– and what better place to snap pics bolstering those beliefs than a fancy-dress croquet party?

Another aspect of straw-manning is Benny’s work on Snowden, which I’ve documented elsewhere. Mainstream media take-home: ‘conservatives’  like Benny are militaristic assholes who hate Edward Snowden and want to live in a fascistic police state.

4)Demoralization. According to the mainstream media, Libertarians– hell, any movement which believes in small government– do not offer a politically viable option. They’re just kinda funny and immature: don’t take them any more seriously than you take Benny himself!

23 Libertarian Problems by Benny Johnson; Yes, I do sleep on a copy of Atlas Shrugged

Mainstream Media: “So er, if any of you @BennyJohnson followers are thinking along libertarian lines, just grow up already, okay?”

Benny Johnson used to work for Glenn Beck at The Blaze; I’ve written elsewhere how Glenn Beck is used to derail ‘small-government’ movements like The Tea Party. Benny proved his usefulness in college by setting up Republican groups and then doing self-depreciating things like sending loads of beef jerky to deployed US soldiers. (Mainstream media: “Huh, huh, the meat-heads like dried meat. Meat. Huh, huh.”)

Of course, Benny would be no use to anyone without the ‘thesis’ pundits who bite on his provocations:

22 Attacks On Obama And The Left From BuzzFeed’s Newest Editor: BuzzFeed Turns To Glenn Beck’s The Blaze For New Hire by OLIVER WILLIS

Or, this sad dude:

By all means, check Benny’s Twitter feed for MANY more examples. As I said, Benny’s very good at his job.

Synthesis: @BennyJohnson is BuzzFeed’s parody of the people @BennyJohnson is supposed to speak for. There really is no alternative to The American Neo-Liberal Way; so get out of the way or follow. Huh, huh. Follow.

 

PS. Many thanks to …

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of “The Rude Guide to Mitt.” Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

And..

methadonna methadonna used to conduct social media psyops campaigns for george soros. he is still waiting for his paycheck.

… without these fools’ thesis-ramblings I would have had to spend a few minutes more on Twitter.

Heartbleed

poulhenningkamp

What being ahead of the curve looks like.

I never get tired of plugging smart people. Heard of “Heartbleed“– the OpenSSL ‘flaw’ that left two-thirds of the internet vulnerable to hackers?

The agency [NSA] found the Heartbeat glitch shortly after its introduction, according to one of the people familiar with the matter, and it became a basic part of the agency’s toolkit for stealing account passwords and other common tasks,” Riley wrote.

“Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost,” he added. “Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.”

Funny, but this sort of situation with OpenSSL is exactly what Poul-Henning Kamp warned us about in his FOSDEM 2014 talk. In fact, I remember him calling OpenSSL the NSA’s “crown jewel“. Catch the full audio here; a transcript of the pertinent part here. Kamp uses OpenSSL as the example of NSA-compromised open source code. I am comforted that at least FOSDEM 2014 attendees and a.nolen readers got a ‘heads-up’ a month before the rest of the world. Pays to check this blog every so often. ;)

Here’s a quick explanation of how the Heartbleed vulnerability works. Read Poul-Henning Kamp’s blog here (in English). Read about his famous Bike Shed here; ‘arguing over the color of a Bike Shed’ is a metaphor for useless, red-herring open source programming squabbles that derail projects. Otherwise known as ‘PAINTINT’ … just kidding.

So She Cleared Customs This Time

greenwald poitras not being harrassed

What’s wrong with this picture? No government harassment! WTF?

Thank God today was not one of the “over forty” times US customs officials detained Laura Poitras!

It seems that the US government is happier with Laura after her Snowden work than it was when she was bopping around Iraq with Sunni Insurgent leaders.

*UPDATE*

Fantastic! Truth wins. I can breath easier now and file my taxes.

If you’re wondering why I’m being sarcastic about this HISTORIC visit to NYC which is also a victory for Freedom of the Press, please read my posts on Laura’s undercover work; why I think she and Glenn are doing Snowden a disservice; and how creepy her chauffeur is.

If you like those posts, there’s plenty more on my Current Events page.

PS. I just happened to notice this gem pulling tweets for today’s post:

More fun with Debian, everyone! Don’t assume Jacob’s making it better. Learn a bit of the history around this operating system from somebody who really knows what they’re talking about, Poul Henning Kamp.

What do I do now, Chuck?

I worked for an ex-professor once; this prof used to teach at MIT. He told me an anecdote from his days at The Institute:

“It was 1990 and I was serving on some committee with Chuck Vest, the president. Cambridge was heady with the fall of The Wall, end of The Cold War. Anything seemed possible– a new era for the good guys.

So you can imagine my confusion when I walked into Chuck’s office to find him slumped over his desk with dark circles around his eyes: ‘What the f*ck do I do now, Bob?’ he asked me.”

Names have been changed to protect the more innocent party ;).

In that spirit, I would like to share with you a very short article from Antiwar.com, written by Jason Ditz.

New Cold War: US Spies, Military Leaders Refocus on Russia

Soviet-Era Specialties May Become Relevant Again

by Jason Ditz, April 07, 2014

The past couple of decades haven’t been particularly kind to people like experts of anti-submarine warfare. The Taliban doesn’t have submarines, or a coastline even.

Since the end of the Cold War, a lot of transitions have come, with the military focusing more on counter-insurgency and the CIA moving away from spying to focus on assassinating people.

When US officials call the annexation of Crimea a crisis, what many of them really hear is opportunity, a chance to start up a new Cold War, and a chance for the aging cold warriors to find their specialties relevant once more.

That’s particularly true for spies with expertise in Russia, who are hoping to see a scramble back into a field that was lavished with funding for decades, but which in recent years just wasn’t as sexy as aiming drone strikes at people in rural parts of Pakistan.

——

Some things never change, eh?

 

 

Soft News Stories

Feel your IQ dropping?

Feel your IQ dropping?

ZunZuneo, the Cuban ‘Twitter’, was one of many network-based tools which the US government used in hopes of destabilizing Havana. Some are still ticking over, like Martinoticias, which RussiaToday describes as “spamming cellphone users since 2011″.

Martinoticias is funded by the US government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), its director is Carlos Garcia-Perez.

Viva Cuba!

Viva Cuba!

Check out Garcia-Perez’s talk at The Heritage Foundation, courtesy of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. (You know, the people who bring you The Onion Router, TOR.)

Other psy-ops include Priamideo, which has its own banner at the top of Martinoticias’ website:

Comunicado de la Oficina de Transmisiones a Cuba

Piramideo es una red de comunicación social que permite a los cubanos dentro de la isla comunicarse por medio de mensajes de texto, sin censura ni filtros.

Now, I don’t speak Spanish, but I do speak Technocrati (US), and my guess is that little blurb reads something like: “Piramideo is a social communications tool that gives Cubans information choices free from censorship.” Click on ‘mas‘ and you’ll get Garcia-Perez’s blurb on the service, which makes very clear that the program is sponsored by the US government. But hey, who reads the fine print?

Also on Washington’s rosters is Commotion, another USAID-funded venture that gives young Cubans access to films and online games with anti-Cuban-government overtones.

USAID is lead by Rajiv Shah, Obama-appointee and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alum.

Rajiv Shah will help you out.

Rajiv Shah will help you out.

Apparently, the Associated Press, AP, lead investigations which ‘outed’ these US government programs (which were never very secret, by the way). Why now AP? And when are you going to ‘out’ Twitter?

And let’s dig a layer deeper– which companies are among the 200 “providers of text messages that the Cuban government has threatened should they continue spamming citizens? Any US telecoms in that bunch or do I have to call Petraeus?

Enough. I don’t really care about infighting between the great and good. What does interest me is how these programs sought to achieve their goals. Here’s how Russia Today describes it:

The US government had admitted setting up a ‘Cuban Twitter’, which was created as a text messaging service to avoid the island’s strict internet laws. ZunZuneo, which is Cuban slang for the tweet of a hummingbird, aimed to build-up followers by giving them access to soft news stories, such as baseball and music.

However, once a critical mass was reached then political stories would be introduced looking to tarnish the image of Cuba’s government. The project, which was financed by the US Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID) hoped, would lead to demonstrations and eventually a ‘Cuban Spring’.

This strategy is EXACTLY the same strategy I’ve been trying to develop in my writing. Be a storyteller. If you want to include a message, you can only do so after you’ve paid your ‘entertainment dues‘ to the reader. Write things that they want to read. If you just plug your agenda, it sounds preachy and people switch off. Roald Dahl, the Washington-based British Spy, understood this too.

‘Strategy’ recap: Lull with fun, then plant the seed of new ideas surreptitiously.

At best, this communication method encourages people to think despite themselves; at worse, it’s Rajiv Shah of USAID and his handlers.

Another thing to take home: entertainment– be it music, video games, films– is a teaching tool. Entertainment primes the mind to be receptive to ideas: this is the foundation of art-based therapies, advertizing… so many crowd-control techniques. The past week has merely exposed entertainment’s teaching capacity as applied to social media.

What do the events in Cuba say about Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Gawker, BuzzFeed, Business Insider… let’s not be arrogant and think these operations only target third-worlders. The cat is out of the bag folks, and the internet generation is suffering from one big mind-****.

No more LOL cats!

lolcats truth

ZunZuneo

Joe McSpedon

Joe McSpedon, another washed-up intelligence agent.

Caught with their hand in the technology cookie-jar again!

Joe McSpedon, employee of  USAID and probably some other American government agency, has just been ‘outed’ for trying to destabilize Cuba with a Twitter-like service called ‘ZunZuneo‘.  The goal was to spread discontent– a technique Russian spies call ‘provokatzya’  (провокация)– via a social network. According to TheTimesUnion.com, the US government was also collecting personal data “in the hope that the information might be used someday for political purposes“.

‘ZunZuneo’ is Cuban slang that means roughly the same as ‘Twitter’; the boys in the back room were getting creative.

Laugh you may, but stop and consider what this fiasco says about Twitter and it’s founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass. Twitter is a San Fransisco-based company.

This botched operation is every shade of stupid, because not only has it drawn attention to a ‘tool’ used by US intelligence, it’s implicated USAID also. USAID, a ‘charitable’ outfit that Washington uses to send money to people it likes, has had plenty of mud stick to it in the past: read this post about how USAID and Pierre Omidyar are involved in destabilizing the Ukraine. However, now USAID is bound up in the world of  techspionage; ‘frenemy’ network services which serve their masters at Langley.

For some reason, I find all of this hilarious. The Emperor is stark naked, and he’s got the body of a pudgy, middle-aged, chocolate milk drinker.

Don’t think the developed world is safe from these stupid schemes. Follow some of the more rabid pro-Washington commentators on Twitter and the command chain of a handful of operations will become evident quickly. The unrest in the Ukraine provided some funny examples, my favorite of which is this tweet, which was released the day before Western media outlets announced Yanukovych had fled Kiev:

The tweeter, Mark M Mullen, is an activist on behalf of the country of Georgia, and who was in San Fransisco when he sent this tweet. (Or so he told me via PM.)

US Intelligence community: tweets like that happen when you put arrogant kids in charge of things they don’t understand. But don’t beat yourself up– take a deep breath and get some Nesquik.

P.S.

“The project, dubbed “ZunZuneo,” slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet, was publicly launched shortly after the 2009 arrest in Cuba of American contractor Alan Gross.”

a.nolen is now taking bets on where Mr. Alan Gross will turn up next. Your choices are 1) in academia or 2)  at an investment firm.

Good Morning, America

Love blisters, otherwise known as 'the NSA disease'.

Love blisters, otherwise known as ‘the NSA disease’.

“Confirmed: US Conducts Warrantless Searches on Americans”

As if the American Government’s cagy behavior wasn’t enough to convince you of the truth behind Snowden’s allegations of massive domestic spying, James Clapper, Director of US National Intelligence, has admitted to this dragnet spying in a letter to US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

What that Russia Today headline doesn’t tell you is even more chilling, and will probably be ignored by the mainstream media. Senator Wyden thinks the NSA and their buddies have access to your medical records and purchase history (read banking and credit card information). Surprised?

What this is,” Wyden said, “is this allows the government to look at the emails of law-abiding Americans. That needs to be fixed. And then, I believe strongly we ought to ban all dragnet surveillance on law-abiding Americans; not just phone records, but also medical records, purchases and others.”

These civil servants are reading your doctor’s files to ‘catch terrorists’.

They’re scouring your Visa purchases to ‘catch terrorists’. And, er, sometimes for ‘LOVEINT’.

To have access to your medical records, the NSA would need to partner with companies like Epic Systems, a Wisconsin-based medical records digitizer. (The founder has a Star Wars fetish. Be afraid.) Epic has about 40% of the US population’s health records on file. Read about their market dominance and Stockholm Syndrome. I put it to you: Are the good people at Epic Empire or Resistance?

If you watch T.V., or if you read the news online, you’ve probably seen more than one ‘expert’ bending over backwards in support of the NSA and their antidemocratic practices. The question is, which one of these shills would you trust with your health records?

Pontius Pilate and Christ

St Andrews Church in Kiev's Andriyivskyy Descent, where the Bulgakov family lived for a time.

St. Andrew’s Church on Kiev’s Andriyivskyy Descent, where the Bulgakov family lived for a time.

The travesty that is A Young Doctor’s Notebook left me with a bad taste in my mouth, so this weekend I want to wash it away with a reread of the introduction to Master and Margarita. I owe readers more analysis of Bulgakov’s Christ-story. This subplot is the most important in the book because Christ is Bulgakov’s template for a perfect writer. Bulgakov started M&M with the Devil Woland relating Christ’s history to two Muscovite hacks-for-the-state, Berlioz and Bezdomnie. The book ends with Bezdomnie promising never again to write bad poetry: better no fame at all than fame at the price of his soul.

The Master and Margarita is about how artists shouldn’t prostitute themselves to power; like Christ refused to prostitute himself.

I’ve written briefly about Bulgakov’s interpretation of the life of Christ: he doesn’t give the story from a purely biblical perspective, the author incorporates archeological knowledge and political science into the narrative. This isn’t taking liberties; it’s adding an erudite and educated element to our understanding of what Christ is recorded to have said.

Bulgakov’s explanation of Christ and his sacrifice is rooted in the power-politics of Roman Jerusalem: Romans provide the muscle and law; the Rabbis provide the propaganda. Christ, like any real writer should, spoke what he saw as truth without deference to either power. Christ was pained to think that his message was misrepresented by the scribe Levi Matvei; Christ stood by his message facing Pontius Pilate’s tribunal. Yeshua Ha-Nozri loved the world enough not to lie to it.

The most interesting character to come out of this (apart from Woland, the Devil) is Pontius Pilate. Pilate is not a villain like Kaifa, the chief Rabbi, neither is he a hero like Christ. The most powerful man in Jerusalem is more like one of us, he’s caught between powers he can’t control, he’s terrified and he feels the lack of something wholesome.

I say ‘more’ like one of us, because of course, Pilate isn’t ‘one of us’: he’s a seasoned military commander, master of the secret police, a procurator– a man entrusted with power and the favor of the State. This makes him less free than you or I. Pilate is afraid of losing his power, a prospect which is doubly terrifying for him because failure to do what the Emperor asks could quickly land him on the cross along with Christ. (With some planning you or I can leave a job we don’t like, but a man who is privy to state secrets can’t just forget them, take his ball and go home.)  These thoughts are at the forefront of Pilate’s mind as he interrogates Jesus.

Pilate’s plight is poignant because the man who he has been asked to unjustly condemn offers him hope. No more suffering alone with only his dog Banga at his side, no more emptiness. Ha-Nozri promises Pilate a wholesome philosophy which will bring the procurator truth, fulfillment, peace… but only if Pilate gets to hear the philosopher talk! Christ won’t take Pilate’s hints to lie under oath, so the innocent man is condemned and the procurator cheats himself out of happiness… and spends the next 2,000 years wishing he’d “just let Ha-Nozri go” and taken that walk with Christ through the palace gardens.

But, good heavens, philosopher! How can you, with your intelligence, allow yourself to think that, for the sake of a man who has committed a crime against Caesar, the procurator of Judea would ruin his career? ‘Yes, yes…’ Pilate moaned and sobbed in his sleep. Of course he would. In the morning he still would not, but now, at night, after weighing everything, he would agree to ruin it. He would do everything to save the decidedly innocent, mad dreamer and healer from execution!

Pilate, as we all know, doesn’t have the courage to go up against the rabbis and his employer to save Christ. So instead of doing the right thing and freeing Ha-Nozri, Pilate takes revenge by abusing his power as head of the secret service to murder Judas and shame Kaifa. Acts of second-rate freshness.

There’s one more parallel I’d like to draw here. In his attempt to save Christ, Pilate asks him to lie: say you’re crazy so that you can be placed under house arrest in my home in Ceaserea.

In M&M, the Master checks himself into a mental hospital after his book on Pontius Pilate, from which Woland quotes the story of Christ to  Bezdomie,  gets damning reviews. By betraying the truth of his magnum opus, the Master betrays himself and his readers, he symbolically checks into Pilate’s house in Caeserea. That’s why the Master deserves only peace, not heaven.

People pursuing a literary career should consider the fact that once you ‘declare insanity’– be that literal, or by taking a position in print that you don’t believe in but that gets you strokes from the ‘right people’– once you do that, your reputation’s in the gutter. Thinking people will have contempt for you. Truth and peace leave. You’re just left with stuff and the idiots who haven’t yet seen through you. Not a nice place to be. And it’s not where Pilate or Bezdomnie wanted to be.

Every time I read M&M I find more in it to like, and Bulgakov’s portrayal of Christ and Pontius Pilate is a very rich vein. Bulgakov’s knowledge of Roman Judea is no accident, he was the grandson of two Orthodox priests and his father was a teacher at the Kiev Theological Academy. Bulgakov was in a perfect position to benefit from high-quality, turn-of-the-century biblical scholarship; a field of study which, sadly, has now been cheapened (in the West at least). It seems to me that Bulgakov’s whole life was a lead-up to this incredible, profound, book.

I wonder how many times Pilate’s tragedy was played out again in ‘Kyiv’ this winter?