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 held 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.
MY LAST GIG
I’ve been on a grand total of four contracts at NSA since 1999.
I joined my last contract on February 8th, 2010, working for an organization called 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.
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 (way back in the 90s). 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. My point was 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 else 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, boss, 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 Chief Operating Officer (COO), and featured on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (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 spaces.
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 on my personal phone, 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.
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.
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.
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 am currently making custom live edge slab tables, both with and without epoxy rivers in the middle.
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.