Why I Left the Intelligence Community

MY HISTORY

I have worked for the Department of Defense (DoD) since 1992. The first eight years I was serving in the US Navy as a Cryptographic Technician (Communications). I was responsible for disseminating message traffic to and from our command at the Top Secret/SCI level.
In late 1996, I arrived at my last duty station, Naval Information Warfare Activity (NIWA), in Suitland, MD. It was here that I started to get trained in Information Technology (IT), and realized that I really loved computers.
In November of 1999, I was honorably discharged from the Navy. I accepted a position with Compaq as a government contractor to NSA. I had the same clearance that I had in the Navy, but since I was a dirty contractor, I had to have a full scope polygraph. Basically, they go through every little thing you’ve ever done, and make you put it on record.
It sucked.

MY LAST GIG

I’ve been on four contracts at NSA since 1999. I joined my last contract on February 8th, 2010, working for an organization named Intelink. You can read the Wiki page about the organization, but I can sum it up for you: We basically took what was popular on the Internet and recreated it on government systems. My first project with Intelink was to help create a YouTube clone called iVideo that we used to help share videos containing mission intelligence to users all over the world.
After that, my primary responsibility was Intelink Blogs. This was a social networking application based on WordPress. Anyone in the IC could create a blog site, and write about whatever they wanted, as long as it was within our Terms of Use (ToU). We had one of the largest WordPress installations in the world when I left.
Intelink also used MediaWiki to create our own intelligence based wiki called Intellipedia. The fact that the Intelligence Community (IC) was actually sharing intelligence after 9/11 was amazing. I loved the fact that I was helping the community to share information in order to fulfill the mission.
Intelink hosted an instant messaging application that was a like a version of a Yahoo chatroom. People could create rooms for any subject, and could manage them as they saw fit. I was in many chatrooms that catered to information sharing within the IC.
We also had a Twitter clone called eChirp. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of most of our problems with regards to social media on government systems. I was the admin of this application and after a couple years, it became a dumpster fire.
Professionalism was thrown out the window, and flame wars became routine.

TROLLS IN THE IC

What happened? How or why did it get out of hand?
There was no moderation or enforcement of our ToU. Management would try to get involved, then upper management would say otherwise. It was easier to ignore the problems than to address them. That made it easier for trolls to get more and more powerful.
Fast forward to late 2020. Hate speech was running rampant on our applications. I’m not being hyperbolic. Racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamaphobic, and misogynistic speech was being posted in many of our applications.
On top of that, there were many employees at CIA, DIA, NSA, and other IC agencies that openly stated that the January 6th terrorist attack on our Capitol was justified.
By this time, I had been contacted by more than a few government employees at many different IC agencies, who were concerned about the content that Intelink was allowing to be hosted. Most of these people had been long time supporters of Intelink, having been there when we first started. On the other hand, some of them were brand new to the IC, and brought a new viewpoint to what should and should not be allowed on a government system.
Again and again, I was contacted via instant messaging, emails and phone calls, asking what was being done to stomp the hate speech. I could only reply “My government leadership has acted on each ticket as they see fit”. I couldn’t tell my customers whether or not I agreed with my gov’t leadership, because said gov’t leadership were my bosses.
Let’s give you all an example of what happens on an official IC social media application.
One of the many Intelink ToU offenders – we’ll call him Fred – posted something incendiary. He was trying to start a flame war, and he knew it. He had a history of doing it, and I had a history with this user. Fred then replied to another user, complaining that he was being picked on, or harassed, but he’s “A bigger man than that” and that he wouldn’t submit a ticket because that’s a sign of weakness.
I replied to Fred and reminded him that he had submitted multiple tickets to us (Intelink) about people harassing him. I meant to point out his hypocrisy, but I abused my authority by exposing internal ticketing information. I didn’t see it as a big issue. Apparently it was. That was unprofessional, and I should not have done it. Someone submitted a ticket complaining to my management about it, and I was told not to disclose information from our internal systems to external customers.
Roger that, I understood.

SHIT GETS REAL

A contractor at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), who I will refer to as Ava, is a non-binary, African-American, disabled veteran. They reached out to me and provided me with documentation on multiple violations of our ToU on many of our services. They submitted tickets to our ticketing system, and had conversations with my government management on how to deal with the offending personnel.
Ava was even interviewed by the IC COO, and featured on the ODNI website and they focused on how hate speech has seeped onto the high side. Ava then sent an email on the high side to the IC COO, cc’d me, with the subject line of “Virtual Introduction”. The body was essentially introducing me to the IC COO and that I was someone that could help in squashing hate speech in the government IT spaced.
This freaked me out.
I’m a contractor, and the IC COO is WAAAAAY above my pay grade. I immediately forwarded that email to my company and government supervisors, letting them know that I did NOT instigate the email, and that I did NOT reply in any way.
I was told to not reply, and that my government management would take care of it.
That weekend, Ava texted me, and they said that my government management was extremely unhappy that the ODNI was involved.
That’s putting it mildly.

ANXIETY LEVEL GOES TO ELEVEN

On July 9th, 2021, I was called into a meeting with my company team lead, and he said “We’re going to have to let you go”. I asked why, and he said, “You were told to not give internal information to folks outside the organization, and you did”.
They had chatroom transcripts of what I had said to people outside my organization in reference to internal information in our ticketing system. Keep in mind, all this information is completely unclassified. The information I was providing these government employees was for them to take to their own agencies’ Inspector General. They didn’t trust Intelink to do the right thing, so they were taking their complaints to the next level.
I don’t have any proof of any other reason why I was fired other than what I was told, but I don’t believe it for a second. I’ve been a contractor since 1999, and I’ve seen folks fired for nothing, and I’ve seen folks kept on after committing felonies. I believe I was fired because I made someone look bad.
In late September of 2021, my company submitted my resume to the same group that Intelink was part of. I was informed that my resume was immediately refused based on my name, due to what had happened in July.
I was blacklisted.

PERSONAL SHOCK

On September 22, 2021, I got a call from my brother in law. My sister, Leah, had been admitted to the ER with a brain bleed and her prognosis was not good.
Around noon on September 25th, 2021, Leah Gilmore Dixon, passed away from complications of a stroke at the age of 48.
This absolutely rocked me to my core. My older sister, and only sibling, was gone.
What happened, and how I was affected, goes beyond the scope of this post. I want to publish something about her soon.
Leah’s death really made me think. What was I doing, and why was I doing it? Apparently life is short, so after talking with Nancy, friends, my therapist and family, I decided to make a life changing decision.

I’M OUT

On October 14th, 2021, I called my boss and officially resigned without notice.
I’m done with the Department of Defense, having a clearance, and everything that comes with that. I spent 30 years serving my country, and I have the unique opportunity to do what I want to do now: follow my dream. That dream is to be a full time woodworker. My wife makes a really good income and we can survive off of that until I start selling stuff.
Most importantly, I have my life back. A wise man, Mick, told me, “the Agency DEFINES who YOU are as a person”. He said that to me about two weeks after I quit, but it resonated with me when he said it. The Agency made me who I was, but of my own choosing.
Previously, I thought that leaving the Agency was a death sentence. When I got booted off the contract in July, on that drive home that day, I thought I’d lose the house, our cars, and hell, even my marriage. I thought my world was ending.
It turned out to be the complete opposite. I sit here on March 10, 2022, in the middle of my woodworking shop (our two car garage) with so many more tools than I had in June. My hobby has turned into a profession.
I chose to work for the Agency a long time ago. I agreed to their rules as a requirement to my employment. For example, I chose to abstain from marijuana when my friends were doing it and then when it became legal in Maryland. I had no problem leaving my phone and text messaging capabilities in my truck for 8+ hours a day. I honestly didn’t have any problems with the rules placed on me while working for the Agency.
Why? Well, the paycheck was obscene, compared to being a non-cleared developer. At the time, making well into six figures meant that I was winning at life, right? That’s what matters: How much you make.
Having been outside of their rules for a few months, I can now wear my phone whenever I want. Most non-cleared folks won’t understand how game changing that is. My productivity has went through the roof. I can track my to-do list on an app that is tied to my laptop, desktop, iPad and phone. I never could do that at the Agency.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I know this reads as a “woe is me”, and how I got fucked over by the system. That’s not what I meant to write. I wanted to tell everyone that there is a cancer within the government and when I tried to weed it out, I got fired. It was just easier for government management to get rid of me rather than to deal with the underlying issue.
If it happened to me, it’s happened elsewhere.
Why have I taken this long to publish this? Honestly? I’m kind of scared. I’m not sure how this publication will be taken. Everything I’ve typed is completely unclassified, so there’s no national security issues involved. Having said that, since I got fired for doing the right thing, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to me for speaking out about doing the right thing.
Nancy and I have started a new company, DancyWood, and I will hopefully have some new inventory for sale soon. I walked away from a huge paycheck in order to have the satisfaction of job fulfillment. I honestly love what I’m doing (when I’m not breaking a tool), and have to fight myself to leave the shop and go upstairs for dinner after being here for 8 hours.
Yes, I got fired for a bullshit, but legitimate reason. As a contractor, I’m replaceable. After 30 years, I get it.
And I thank them for firing me. I’m now able to enjoy my career.

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

I have been making gumbo for 20+ years, and this is probably my favorite recipe for it. I shamelessly stole it from Chef Isaac Toups, of Toups Meatery, when I found this video on YouTube. I added my own flourishes, and to be totally honest, I doubled the whole damn recipe because the leftovers are SOOOO much better than the first meal.
Trust me on this. I’ve been cooking cajun for decades…the leftovers are so much better!
As stated in the video, prep all the veggies first. Once you add the flour to the oil for the roux, you CANNOT LEAVE the roux, and must stir it continuously for 15-45 minutes, depending on your heat.
NOTE: For folks that balk at the okra because “OMG OKRA SLIME!”: This is a necessary ingredient, as it helps thicken the gumbo. The recipe shows you how to blanche the okra and get rid of the slime.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup grapeseed oil (Olive oil if you don’t have grapeseed)
  • 12 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups amber-style beer
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 lb smoked sausage, cut into bite size pieces
  • 8oz frozen chopped okra
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • cooked white rice, for serving
  • sliced scallions, for serving

Directions

  1. Warm up the chicken stock in a pot, and transfer to a large pouring vessel. You do NOT EVER pour cold stock into Cajun Napalm (roux).
  2. Season the chicken with salt, black pepper, and one tablespoon of oil. Sear the chicken in a large pan until slightly charred and golden, about 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness.
  3. Add about 2 tablespoons of the beer to deglaze the pan, and scrape all the fond (the dark flavorful bits!) off the bottom. Set aside, off heat.
  4. Heat a thick bottomed 8+-quart Dutch oven over medium. Add 1 cup of oil and bring it to a smoke.
  5. Add the flour and, using a whisk or wooden spatula, stir constantly, taking care not to allow any to splash and burn you, until the roux has turned dark brown (the color of a bar of Hershey’s chocolate is about right), about 25 minutes, or more.
  6. Add the celery, bell pepper, and onion and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, and jalapeño and cook for one minute.
  8. Add the rest of the beer to deglaze, making sure to cook out all the liquid/alcohol.
  9. Add the stock slowly, while continuously stirring. At this point, it’s like making gravy: keep stirring, you don’t want lumps.
  10. Add the thyme, bay leaves, and 2 teaspoon black pepper.
  11. Stir slowly and continuously until the gumbo is back to a simmer, then add the chicken thighs and the sausage.
  12. Add the okra to the pan you used for the chicken, and cook on medium. Add some more beer to blanche the okra and get rid of the slime. Once the okra is sautéed and dry, add to the gumbo.
  13. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours. Gumbo should thick but not like gravy. Season with cayenne and serve with cooked rice. Top with scallions and enjoy.

I’m Not Changing, I’m Evolving

I want to make a change to how I use social media, specifically Twitter. There are essentially two large groups that make up the majority of my followers: WordPress folks, and anti-Trump folks.
I feel like the latter group is distancing me from the former group. Most of y’all know my political leanings, so I don’t think there’s much value anymore with me cussing up a storm at Trump.
I’m not going to let a bad thing drive a wedge between me and what I see as a good and positive thing: the WordPress community.
So starting today, I’m going to TRY to chill out on the political posts/rants/etc, and share more WordPress/programming stuff, sprinkled in with puppers and funny videos.
Life’s too short to be angry all the time. I mean, don’t stop fighting the fascists, y’all, but also don’t let them monopolize your energy. Flip them off with one hand will waving to loved ones with the other.
In conclusion, I want to be happy…and fuck Trump and fuck each and every person that supports that tyrannical, insane, racist bucket of fuckdrizzle.
Here’s a picture of Penny

Prelude To An Emotional Breakdown

This post’s title sounds like the name of an epic progressive metal song
*cues up some Dream Theater*
I’m sorry for not having posted any updates in a while. I could sit here and type up excuses, but the bottom line is that I’m just still sort of uncomfortable opening myself up to everyone. More accurately, I’m not comfortable sharing some things to a few specific people. It’s funny: I have no problem telling a perfect stranger all my darkest thoughts/memories, but I have a hard time with a select few people.
Back in October of 2018, something happened. I can’t explain exactly what happened, but I snapped. It had been a loooooooong time coming.

Timeline of relevant events in my personal history

  • The first time I was ever beat up was in 4th grade by a girl in the same grade.
  • Routinely verbally bullied by two classmates and physically bullied (not beat up, but pushed/shoved/bruised) by two other classmates starting in 6th grade.
  • Mocked and bullied throughout high school by multiple people from multiple cliques.
  • My father passed away suddenly in 1998.
  • I lost the relationship with my sister sometime in the early 2000s. She’s still alive, but we simply cannot get along. It is a toxic situation that cannot be resolved, so I have chose to remove her from my life.

There are a few other things that happened to me that affected me greatly, but I am not in a place where I am comfortable with discussing them here. Maybe someday, maybe not.

So what happened?

Honestly? I don’t know.
I get home 2-3 hours before Nancy gets home, and over the last few months, I found myself just staring out one of our windows for 10-20 minutes. I never used to do this.
I was sad for literally no reason. I didn’t find joy in any of my hobbies. I stopped playing guitar/bass/drums. I stopped playing video games, both on my XBOne and Mac. I stopped woodworking.
I’ve always been an emotional person. My mom used to say I wore my heart on my sleeve. I can cry at the drop of a hat. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the word “empathy”. I am empathetic to a fault.
But being empathetic didn’t explain why I would cry for no reason.
I was “tired” all the time. That’s what I’d tell Nancy when she would ask me what was wrong. We’ve been together long enough for her to know when I’m off. I would lie to her and to friends when I should have acknowledged that I was feeling bad.
I would get super pissed off at the slightest things. I would go from 0 to 10 on an anger scale in a matter of seconds, then about 10 minutes later, I was fine. It wasn’t normal at all. I would cuss, scream, slam things. I would do this at home and at work.
I didn’t like the person I’d become.
I actually hated that person, once I realized that he was a total and complete toxic pile of shit.
I used to sneer at suicide victims. I always thought that was the coward’s way out. I simply never understood how someone could be that selfish and weak.
Then I started suicidal ideation. I told myself “I’m being unfair to Nancy. I can’t change, and I’m an asshole, so if I removed myself from her life, she’d be better off.”
Looking back on all of this, I think that’s where I realized I needed help. I came to this blood chilling realization:
One can go from thinking about suicide to actually committing suicide in a fucking instant.
Nancy came home one day and I was sobbing in the corner of my kitchen, gasping for breath because I thought I was over. I honestly believed that I was doomed. There was no hope for me, and I no matter what I did, I didn’t deserve a second chance.
I still vividly remember the words I said to Nancy.
“I need help”
Just uttering those words helped. Just opening myself to my best friend and partner in all things helped.

Going forward…

Holy shit, dropping Facebook helped so much.
I’m not making a jab at anyone using FB. Nancy’s still on it, and shows me the important stuff, but I was investing way too much emotion into it.
I also contacted mental health professionals. I’m currently getting counseling from Jodie at Greater Baltimore Counseling Center. I’m also seeing Christy, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, also at GBCC, for medication management.
Between counseling and medication, I have turned my life around. Am I cured? Hell no. It is going to get worse before it gets better. I have demons to fight and defeat.
Having said that, I AM getting better. I learned that my cognitive behaviors needed a LOT of help. I was literally thinking badly.
Anywho, this has run on more than I thought it would, so I’ll sum it up with this:
It’s OK to not be OK, and we’re all fighting demons, so you are not alone.

Call 1-800-273-8255

 

I am not OK…but I’m getting better

From a mental health standpoint, I am not ok, and I’m not doing well, at all.

A few weeks ago, I had my “snapping point” and I told Nancy “I need help”.

After talking to some mental health professionals, I’m pretty fucked up.  So far, I’ve been diagnosed with the following:

* PTSD
* Severe anxiety
* Severe depression
* OCD
* possibly bipolar disorder.

I just want to put that out there for now. I want to document my journey, simply because it helps me to face my problems, and also that it might help someone else.

That’s it for tonight. I have a ton of stuff to write about, but that’s for a later post.

Thanks to everyone that’s reached out a helping hand. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it.

 

Honey

My wife, Nancy, has been best friends with Melissa for over 20 years. They were college roommates and their friendship has only grown since college.

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Nancy and Melissa

Yesterday, Nancy and I attended a “Life Celebration” for Melissa’s mom, Honey, who passed away on July 15th. The very first thing I learned yesterday was that her name was Victoria, or Vicki. I’m sure that at some point I had learned her name, but in the past 15 years, I’ve only known her by her nickname Honey, so that’s how she will always be remembered to me.
Continue reading “Honey”

The Man Kiss Incident

I was stationed in Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico from August of 1994 to October of 1996. It was my second duty station in the Navy and I loved pretty much everything about it. I was 20 years old when I got there, and for the next 2+ years….well, I’d like to say that I could remember all of it, but that would be a lie. There are a lot of fuzzy memories down there.  But one of the best memories is when I was first kissed by a man.
That last sentence is pretty much the weirdest sentence I’ve ever typed.
Continue reading “The Man Kiss Incident”

My Wife Cried At the Bar Today

No, this isn’t the title of my new country/western song.nancy
As most of you know, my wife Nancy is shaving her head tomorrow and donating her long locks to WIgs for Kids.
She and I have been raising money for St Baldrick’s to fight children’s cancers. She set a goal of $10,000 to reach, back in November of 2014, and it came to fruition today…one day before the event. Continue reading “My Wife Cried At the Bar Today”

The Fathers Day Incident

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Don caught a Hodges!

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Cap’n Chris driving my boat!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
DISCLAIMER: I, AND MY CLOSE FRIENDS, HAVE A VERY WEIRD AND TWISTED SENSE OF HUMOR
(If you share this link on Facebook, please DO NOT tag folks involved in this story)
What do I mean by this? Myself, my wife, and damn near all my friends and family laugh at things that we probably should not laugh at. I can’t speak for my other friends, but I laugh at inappropriate stuff to help me deal with whatever I’m going through.
Continue reading “The Fathers Day Incident”