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Today's birthdays: Traces and echoes

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Today would've been my father's 73rd birthday. It's also the 32nd anniversary of my mother's death.

I'm doing okay today so far. Haven't really started my day yet. Planning to spend most of the day on magazine database stuff (it's possible that I'll finish the most important remaining piece today, if all goes well). May take a break to see Skyfall at some point.

One thing that surprised me this morning is the number of birthdays today. I knew that two friends had birthdays today, but when I stopped by Facebook I found three more. Well, Facebook friends, anyway; friendly acquaintances.

One of whom, an sf writer, died in August of 2011. Some of the notes on his Facebook wall today are clearly of the “thinking of you on what would've been your birthday” variety. But a couple of them say things like “Happy happy!”, leading me to suspect that they're from Facebook friends of his who don't know he's gone.

The digital world leaves odd echoes of people we've lost. Memorial sites, Facebook accounts, birthday reminders. There've long been analogs in the nondigital world, of course, but the web gives us new ways to find such things, new ways to remind us.

A couple months ago, I wrote to the FBI to request my father's FBI files. They haven't finished their search yet, last I checked, but in the meantime—in an unrelated search—I happened across a telegram from 1962, from a CIA director, to Mexico City, requesting ”FULL TRACES INCLUDING ITINERARY CONTACTS CURRENT WHEREABOUTS, ETC ON GEORGE PETER HARTMAN”—apparently somehow related to the JFK assassination. (!) (The top of the page says “JFK ASSASSINATION SYSTEM IDENTIFICATION FORM.”)

The metadata on the page says that it was classified SECRET and released with deletions.

Clicking the discreet numeral 2 in the left margin brings up the document itself, which I'm transcribing here:

MEXI, WAVE
RYBAT ZRGRACE ZRPERUSAL
     1. REQUEST FULL TRACES INCLUDING ITINERARY, CONTACTS,
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS, ETC. ON GEORGE PETER HARTMAN, DPOB
UNKNOWN, U.S. PASSPORT B-173244 ISSUED 26 JUNE 61, RESIDENT
4553 - 8TM N.E., SEATTLE, WASH., STUDENT-EMPLOYEE UNIV. OF
WASH. AT SEATTLE. AS OF 25 JULY 61 REPORTED IN MEXI ENROUTE
CUBA.
     2. SUBJ REPORTED IN ODENVY REPORT AS MEMBER SOCIALIST
WORKERS PARTY (TROTSKYITE) SEATTLE, YOUNG SOCIALIST ALLIANCE,
SEATTLE, AND ACTIVE FREE CUBA COMMITTEE PERIOD MARCH - JUNE 61.
     3. FOLL FOR KUBARK ONLY: SUBJECT PARA 1 IDENTIFIED AS
CLOSE PERSONAL CONTACT SINCE 1955 OF IDEN AND AWARE AS LATE AS
1958 OF IDEN'S PLANS DEFECT TO SOVS.
     4. PARA 1 INFO ONLY PASSABLE [  24  ] REQUEST MEXI
COORDINATE WITH LOCAL E ODENVY REPRESENTATIVE PRIOR PASSING
LIAISON TO AVOID POSSIBLE DUPLICATE QUERY.
                                              END OF MESSAGE

(I may've gotten a few bits of that wrong, but it's close. The [ 24 ] looks to me like a redaction. The 8TM looks like a typo for 8TH, or possibly I'm misreading it. The E in LOCAL E ODENVY may be something else entirely.)

At the bottom, after various signatures and initials, it says REPRODUCTION BY OTHER THAN THE ISSUING OFFICE IS PROHIBITED and then under that is stamped CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM / RELEASE AS SANITIZED / 1998.

Possible explanations of some of the code words, courtesy of Wikipedia and other online sources:

WAVE
A.k.a. JMWAVE; “CIA station in Miami (that operated against Cuba).”
RYBAT
“Indicates that the information is very sensitive.”
ZRGRACE
ZR indicates “Intelligence intercept program of CIA Staff D ops, the group that worked directly with the NSA.” It's unclear what ZRGRACE was, but my impression is that it's believed to have been a CIA investigation relating to two NSA employees who'd defected to the USSR: William Hamilton Martin and Bernon F. Mitchell, who'd left the US by way of Mexico in 1960. (That Wikipedia article is fascinating, but goes beyond the scope of this entry.) [Added in 2014: Peter did in fact know Martin; they met in the summer of 1958 (when Peter was 18).]
ODENVY
The FBI.
KUBARK
CIA headquarters (Langley). (The actual telegram has FORKUBARK as one word, but that was presumably a typo, as someone hand-wrote a wavy line separating the words.)
IDEN
I'm not clear on what this means, but from seeing it elsewhere I have a vague idea it's something like “the person who's the subject of this investigation.”

Anyway, my point in posting this material in this entry (to the extent that I have one) is that this is a document that's existed for fifty years on paper, but without the web I would likely never have known about it, and if Peter hadn't died, I would likely never have seen it.

Traces, echoes. As long as there's been history, we've been leaving traces of our lives behind—in oral traditions, in written books, in genetic echoes in our descendants. And as long as there's been bureaucracy, there've been parallel traces in the form of official records of our life-events and interactions—accidental footprints in the sands of time. But these days, it's easier than ever before for each of us to publish a record of (parts of) of our lives, and for others to interact with that record; and although some aspects of the web are evanescent, impermanent, other aspects leave their mark for a surprisingly long time. (At least by online standards.)

And we're all engaged in that work, every day, whether we intend to be or not; we're all leaving traces, whether online or just in the lives of people we interact with, of our passing.

1 Comment

Thanks for the research on the code words, Jed. Very interesting.


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