Tom Mitsos is a good friend of mine. You may know him as the guy who went to the 2014 Winter Classic with me. I have known Tom since around 2002-03, when a band that I was in at the time called Craig played a benefit concert to help Tom pay for medical bills accrued due to his battle with cancer. On December 31, 2015, Facebook alerted me that I had been friends with Tom (on Facebook) for 46 years.
To put this in perspective, I thought I would include some information about the two of us. I turned 33 nearly a week before Facebook made this claim, Tom is currently 29, and Facebook itself will be 12 years old this coming February. There is no way that Tom and I have been friends for 46 years. Nor is there reason for Facebook to believe that we have been friends for that long. I’ve certainly been called an old soul at times, but this is ridiculous. And we weren’t even the only ones. After posting about this apparent error on Facebook’s part, four or five friends immediately responded that they’d experienced the same thing, begging the question: What’s so important about the date December 31, 1969?
The short answer is that the UNIX (UNIplexed Information and Computing Service) operating system, which is the basis of many web servers, operates under the assumption that the beginning of time happened on January 1, 1970 at midnight Greenwich Mean Time. Because the Western Hemisphere didn’t get to 1970 quite as quickly as the time lords in the Greenwich district of London, England, a time zone-adjusted calculation of this zero hour would give us some specific hour on December 31, 1969, varying according to where exactly you live. Moving forward, events in UNIX time — also known as POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface) time or Epoch time — were measured in seconds after the epoch date 46 years ago.
Keeping this in mind, the massive worldwide Facebook notification turns out to be nothing more than a bug in the way that some of Facebook’s servers are calculating time. This glitch can happen on any system that uses UNIX’s epoch as the keystone for measuring time and it usually occurs either when the time returns no value or when its value has been reset for whatever reason. It’s my assumption that if Facebook hadn’t rolled out its On This Day notification platform many of us would have never noticed this server hitch.
For years people have been getting phone calls, blank texts, blank picture messages, blank emails, blank Facebook comments, blank voicemails, and seeing information on eBay, Amazon, news web sites, pizza delivery web sites, recorded TV programs, and even home security systems dated December 31, 1969 in the Western Hemisphere or January 1, 1970 in the Eastern Hemisphere. Though many of those afflicted with these phantom communications are now familiar with the UNIX Epoch glitch, there are some other details that have lead some people to suspect that something else is going on surrounding these odd messages. Many of the emails, often called ghost or phantom emails, cannot be deleted and fade in and out of existence. One person reported getting a phantom phone call from an 859 area code where the second to last digit was the letter C (859-???-?C??). Another person reported what appeared to be an encrypted message:
BMy ÓÍ2óè?~d4eA~Ý¹ycÓ?b »ñiÙ?
Perhaps more disturbing is not the content of these messages, but some of the information surrounding them. If we are to trust the scattered online discussion, we would have to conclude that certain individuals are being targeted more often than others by these messages. In fact, many who report these issues have mentioned that they either experienced a recent death of a family member or close friend or are actively involved in subversive political discussions. One person on a cell phone message board suggested that he had tracked down a guy in the Washington DC area who was spying on the American public and somehow these messages were proof. Because of these incidental details, many are suggesting that these messages are evidence of Big Brother watching us or, to use more specific terms, evidence of NSA conducting illegal surveillance of the general populace.
It is incredibly difficult to find information on what might be called conspiracy theories surrounding the UNIX Epoch, and this fact could either feed into the validity of people’s claims or prove that the suppositions have already been invalidated according to the UNIX error. If there is such thing as a central hub for these phantom messages, it would probably have to be a pair of Facebook pages called December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. On these pages, concerned web surfers post pictures of strange comments on Facebook by an anonymous user that some have begun calling Blankman and discuss issues of NSA overreach and persecution. The individual who started the page has put up many posts in the last year or so about how his access to this page which he created had been blocked and various other complications had taken place. The people on this page do not take this lightly. They are convinced that there are federal employees whose entire job is spying on the American population, and they’re doing what they can to out these people for what they are doing.
All of the claims about the origin of these phantom messages appear to be unsubstantiated, but it does make a person wonder. I did run across a post on the Justice Gagged blog titled “My Dec. 31, 1969 Google+ Posts” where writer/activist Mary “Loves Justice” Neal collects all of her posts that were re-dated to December 31, 1969 in order to keep them from public viewing. I think the logic behind this accusation is that posts enter public feeds according to the date and time they were posted, so if some posts are mis-dated to before blogging was even a thing they could just collect unread in a mass grave of posts with the same date and time. In other words, the UNIX Epoch error could essentially be weaponized in order to bury information perceived to be dangerous to the interests of our federal government for whatever reason.
Mary Neal fit into both of the above categories of the people who appear to be harassed the most by phantom posts. According to Neal’s profile, her brother Larry Neal was “a handicapped American who was secretly arrested and returned to his family as a naked corpse after 18 days with records and accountability denied.” After this event, Mary Neal dedicated herself to outing the people who did this to her brother, advocating for mentally handicapped individuals in the prison system, and responding to retaliation, both on the Internet and in person, for her claims. The difference between Neal and the people we were talking about earlier is that instead of encountering ghost posts on social networking sites, her posts are being ghosted at an alarming rate. I’m not going to lie. I felt a little bit of a shiver when I read the following question on her blog post:
Does this symbolize NSA’s attempt to hide my existence in order to cover up the government’s secret arrest and murder of Larry Neal and prevent advocacy for 1.25 million mentally ill inmates in the U.S.A.?
I can’t verify the truth of Neal’s assertions, but I can verify that her posts express some real hurt. Whether the conspiracy that she speaks of is legitimate or not, something heinous certainly happened to her brother Larry and I can understand her desire for answers and for justice.
The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001
If history had unfolded in a different way, I think that the accusations of Blankmen with their empty messages and cyber burial could be immediately dismissed as groundless. However, because the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act of 2001 breezed through Congress to an eager President’s desk in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, there has never been more reason to suspect that government agencies are involved in monitoring and disappearing American citizens.
To start, Title II gives the FBI what appears to be a blanket authority over the surveillance of American citizens. With the use of National Security Letters (NSLs), the FBI was given the power to search telephone, email , and financial records without a court order. For those of you who like to follow the party line and blame this massive overreach under George W. Bush’s leadership, keep in mind that when Edward Snowden leaked classified information regarding a massive NSA data harvesting campaign fingers pointed to the Obama administration as well. The only difference between the Blankman accusations and the verifiable reality is that the FBI/NSA probably would not leave these blank after-images to mark their overreach. If our data was being gathered or disrupted, we would probably never know.
As for disappearing and potentially killing American citizens, there is reason to believe that the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 has a provision for that as well. Under section 412, the act justifies indefinite detention without trial for resident aliens suspected connections to terrorist organizations or activities. As is the case with an unfortunately large amount of US policy concerning immigration and/or terrorism, racial profiling becomes a concern. For years, I have heard of people reporting that persons of color had been detained, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally, without ever being charged a crime and without being able to contact friends and family members, let alone a lawyer.
Perhaps the most famous example is that of Jose Padilla, a US citizen from Brooklyn, New York. Padilla was held for three and a half years as an enemy combatant and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques with no explicit criminal charges raised against him. Eventually, his case was brought before a series of courts where it was deemed that the President lacks the constitutional authority to detain Americans on American soil outside of a zone of combat. The Bush administration was eventually ordered to release Jose Padilla or charge him. Either way, his period indefinite detention had to come to an end.
I doubt it would surprise Mary Neal if her brother experienced a similar illegal detention and interrogation, if his mental handicap was perceived as willful lack of cooperation, resulting in harder interrogation that was simply more than he could survive. I am not saying that this is what happened. What I am saying is that the United States has not had a great track record for respecting civil liberties in the fifteen years since the USA Patriot Act was signed into law and this gives the people reason to believe that such abuses are much more commonplace than they might have believed during other periods.
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In writing this post I promised myself that I would follow what I then referred to as “the conspiracy theories” as far as I could, and I think I have done so. Regarding Facebook’s assertion that I have been friends with Tom Mitsos for 46 years, I think this was little more than a widespread server error. There are some who suggest that Facebook’s severs aren’t UNIX based and others who believe any such error should be viewed as a serious security risk, but in my opinion I think the incident that brought about my inquiry was probably fairly benign. As for the accusations against the government, I think most of them fall under the category of a stopped clock being right twice a day. The strange artifacts of the UNIX Epoch only accidentally point to a government conspiracy, and it is only coincidental that we now have verifiable proof that the FBI and NSA are committing espionage against the people of the United States. I’d like to be a little more careful with the case of Mary Neal and her deceased brother Larry. Something happened here, and the last two Presidents have given us plenty of reason to believe that Mary Neal’s suspicions are true. Unfortunately for Neal, I doubt she will ever find the truth she is looking for.
Is Big Brother watching me? Probably, but I can’t imagine he’s finding anything interesting. It certainly crossed my mind that NSA surveillance might be the reason I was hit with the Facebook UNIX Epoch error rather than someone else. In the week prior to the incident, I’d published a critical post about wage and labor and a documentary film round-up post referencing the Edward Snowden film Citizenfour and the 9/11 conspiracy film Loose Change, and that wasn’t even the worst of it. I’ve been courting revolutionary ideas about economic reform for over four months and there’s a veritable bread trail out there to prove it. That said, I have to believe that what separates me from those we might call conspiracists is an understanding that I am just not that important to the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, and President Barack Obama himself. I could be a nuisance some day, but only with a lot of effort and no interruptions. At the end of the day, I’m just not a big enough fish for the President and all the President’s people to fry at this time.
To conclude this article I just want to say one more thing to my good friend years, Tom Mitsos:
If you’re reading this I want to wish you a happy 2016. We’ve crammed 46 years of friendship into somewhere near a decade of intensive hanging out. Here’s to 46 more years of the same.
PS. If I get disappeared you know who did it. Tell Tiberius he can finally fulfill his dream and eat all my underwear, socks, and shoes. Tell my wife I love her very much. She knows.
PPS. You might want to back up this post on your hard drive and maybe with a hard copy as well, just in case it gets disappeared too. I wish I could have sent a droid with a holograph, but alas, we have the technology to monitor every human on the planet but an astromech droid is beyond us.