In the 1960s I worked in Viet Nam with International Voluntary Service and occasionally suspicions were directed at one of our members. When the word spy was connected to the three dirty letters, CIA, people were reluctant to work with those persons. Rumors abounded that this NGO or those missionaries were working with the CIA. Of course no one could prove these charges but we learned to read the signs of work over time and reserve our right to make judgements without needlessly feeding the gossip engine.
In 1967 I joined several of my colleagues to publically resign our work there in my first act of nonviolent resistance. We did so in order to speak out more boldly about the war. Vietnamese who we thought trusted us, long time friends and new persons came to us after we resigned in protest. Several said that they thought we were CIA before we took our action. Others clearly became more relaxed among us. And still others sought us out to thank us for taking a stand. People with whom we had little or no contact came to speak candidly, truthfully from their souls about the horror of the war for their families and their colleagues. They shared confidences that we could never have imagined before our public action. Our simple act of saying NO in a public way changed our relationship forever with Vietnamese people. By acting out of our deepest spiritual and moral convictions we opened space for a quality of truthful relationships that never existed before.
I returned to North America to speak out about the war and I found a peace movement that was rife with internal suspicions and charges that this person or that group was a spy for the FBI, or the Chicago police. If you wanted to make a sweeping and comprehensive destructive charge on someone’s character you called her or him a CIA agent. I learned to listen and suspend judgement until I was internally convinced.
Over time as papers of the era were leaked or the Freedom of Information laws provided facts we learned that some of these charges were true but never to the extent that the paranoia of the times might have demanded. Spy gossiping is one of the instruments that governments employ to get their way and weaken opposition. I have no doubt that bright tacticians are aware that if the fear of spies can be adequately planted within groups, movements, and bodies of faith there will be a weakening of trust, confidence, truth, love, and joy that lubricate the culture of hope. I have been in congregations in numerous countries including North America where the legacy of real spying in communist, Nazi, nationalist and capitalist situations created the impossibility of unity for generations. The charge that CPTers are spies is one of the legacies of 5000 years of war.
In the wake of 9/11 the American government has chosen to rachet up its intelligence ability, especially human intelligence sometimes referred to as people on the ground, spies. Spies are people whose job it is to collect “intelligent” information and sometimes to act on that information although the action component is usually neatly separated out into another department. There are even specialized deeper spies who spy on other spies to make sure no spy betrays their vow of loyalty by giving information and support to the enemy. Spies are taught to lead a double life, to lie, to misrepresent themselves and to follow orders. They are taught how to kill and be killed. A spy who compromises his or her nation is subjected to severe penalty, the charge of sedition, the same charge for which Jesus was condemned to death. Spies have an ethic but that ethic is heavily colored by the vow of loyalty that they have taken to their intelligence agency and the nation. Spies are human beings and many of us may have unknowingly spoken with them. Because of this possibility we should always be ready to bear witness to the truth within. What we say may get passed along and help contribute to the “intelligent” assessment of things higher up and even inhibit war or violence. Of course there are matters about which we do not talk, like naming people who might be made vulnerable denigrating groups, or communities thereby setting them up for attack.
Peacemakers and spies have one thing in common. We want to hear the real thoughts of local people. Good spies listen to what real people are thinking and feeling. Good Christian peacemakers listen. Good spy agencies listen to what their spies say in the field and integrate their analysis based on the reports of as many spies as possible. Good peacemakers operate in teams because we realize that real truth is accessed with more than one set of eyes and ears that combine the energy of the young and the wisdom of experience. Skilled peacemakers do not have a narrow political agenda and therefore they actually have a comparative advantage as they listen to the deepest sentiments of people. In Viet Nam the analysis of the CIA with respect to the war was far more pessimistic than the assessments of government officials who had to pandar to the revolving door of politicians. This does not mean that another department of the same agency did not engage in unconscionably programs of assassination.
Spies are hired by the state. Christian Peacemakers work out of a sense of truth, the stretch towards justice and an inner light from God and are accountable to churches who believe that peacemaking is a priority. Neither are solitary individuals who work well outside human boundaries. Sometimes Peacemakers become so confident of their inner light that they are also reckless with people, information and a vision for a nonviolent world. This is why teamwork that respects the voices of experience, the voices of caution, and the voices of impatience is a gift that needs to be woven together quickly in crisis decision making.
The charge of being a spy is like a silent ghost that creates suspicion among everyone, co-workers, local and international. No amount of denial or truth telling can completely put the charge of spying out of the mind. A report of spying can divide us from one another and can destroy whole institutions, even institutions of faith. Sometimes the suspicion of spying can divide people for a generation. The only answer is to live out one’s convictions of what the spirit is calling for in the time with even more vigorous truth telling and experiments in nonviolent truth making.
When the group, Swords of Righteousness Brigade charged CPTers with being spies they employed an ancient means for neutralizing people, and frightening a part of the body politic into inactivity and isolation. Like spy agencies everywhere and their political patrons the people who captured the four CPTers are trying to achieve short term political ends. We don’t know if they are in the service of international guerilla groups, Iraqi based groups or one of the various nations who have an interest in the outcome of the Iraq war. They may simply be an organized gang or organized crime set up to plunder for ransom. Someday we may know. But our knowing who they are and their purpose does not mean that we suspend in any way the long climb to build a global nonviolent culture where conflicts are worked out witout killing. The powerful myth of the spy ghost is evil wherever it appears but it need not rule us by driving us to the false safety of silence and withdrawal. We can start today to demystify that ghost by shining light upon it. In fact this evil may be the opportunity of achieving great good.