Intelexit helps secret service agents to start a new life
The fiction that turned into a reality: we created the first initiative that reaches out to troubled secret service agents and helps them out of the rabbit-hole.
In 2013 Edward Snowden broke the news that intelligence agencies are constantly abusing their power and infringing on the rights of citizens worldover. There were a lot of news articles, there were some campaigns but overall civil society was a little lost as to how to respond. How do you talk this topic without confusing people or just making them scared? It’s technology, let’s not forget, and it’s all completely secret.
So far, the only tools campaigners have had are pictures of CCTV cameras, matrix numbers and the face of Edward Snowden, making him look like a dying polar bear from the data-world. Unsatisfying, we thought.
We wanted to bring a fresh perspective, create positive messaging, and break the discourse of fear. And we wanted to focus on humans, not on data. That’s where the idea for Intelexit comes in: a campaign to motivate those secret service agents troubled by their role in mass surveillance and drone warfare, to leave their jobs and build a new life.
An easy way out for spies
We pulled strings wherever we could, and used money we didn’t have to make ourselves look much bigger than we actually are. In three countries, we made our presence known reaching out to spies at the GCHQ, the NSA and the BND with a giant billboard van and handing out helpful brochures to the employees on their way to work (even though it turned out that they were briefed not to talk to us). We also made friends with one of the NSA’s least favourite people, the ex employee and whistleblower Thomas Drake who appeared in our promotional video and declared Intelexit a sure way “to get out”. For those spies who heard about us, through secret relays on internal forums, and were curious enough to visit our website, we provided convincing arguments for why to leave and a resignation letter generator.
In Berlin we brought important voices into the debate about just why secret services are so dangerous. Jérémie Zimmermann layed out the destruction of freedom of speech and democratic structures that is taking place though mass surveillance. Nighat Dad from the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan explained what it is like to live under drones operated by the US military and CIA for surveillance and targeted killing of suspected terrorists. Mitat Özdemir from the Keupstrasse ist überall Initiative in Cologne spoke about the right-wing terror attacks on the Turkish community in Germany and the allegation that they were supported by the Verfassungsschutz (interior intelligence in Germany).
At the end of the campaign week a drone flew over the Dagger Complex, NSA’s central hub of signals intelligence in Europe, and dropped Intelexit flyers over the premises for the 1.200 employees working there. As Spiegel reported, intelexit.org was blocked at the facility for a few hours after this airborne leaflet operation.
A similarly compelling moment was when members of the Verfassungsschutz were photographed ripping off the Verfassung (the German constitution) which local activists had pasted on the wall of the Bundesamt für Verfassungschutz in Cologne.
The multiple efforts to reach out to spies resulted in some real contacts, a clear sign that there are people out there working for these institutions, in need of help. After lots of outreach efforts, and the building of a network of support for secret service agents who want to exit, we had to realize that this task ate up all of our capacities and left no more time for other Peng! work. That is why we discontinued the actual work of the Intelexit organization and closed communication ways in summer of 2016. The idea of Intelexit became the foundation of our next project Call-A-Spy.
Intelexit is funded by Bewegungsstiftung. Thanks a million!