National Book Award recipient William T. Vollmann spoke to students and other attendees at the McCune Conference Room yesterday in an Interdisciplinary Humanities Center talk entitled “Life as a Terrorist: The FBI and Me.”
The talk focused on Vollmann’s personal encounters with various agencies of the United States intelligence community after these entities falsely suspected him of being involved in various terrorism incidents including the Unabomber and post-9/11 Amerithrax killings. Vollman, who has written over 20 works including some featured by The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review and Harpers Magazine, discussed his own experience with intelligence agencies as a means of critiquing U.S. counterterrorism policy and analyzing its effects on American civil liberties.
Vollman was the subject of both an FBI and a Homeland Security investigation that several times resulted in his detention, including one instance in which he was detained for seven hours. With his experience in dealing with these organizations, he gave the audience tips on how to best react within their rights if the FBI or Homeland Security ever detains them.
“Next time you’re detained, make sure you have to stay,” Vollmann said. “They just can’t keep you and not charge you.”
He also discussed the recent revelations about the National Security Agency surveillance program, warning the audience against passive acceptance of overreaching policies.
“You have to assume something like this is happening to you,” Vollman said.
Graduate student in the English Dept. Nicole Dib said she thought the topics raised in the discussion were deserving of more attention from American citizens.
“We should be more interested in surveillance that we are,” Dib said. “This is something that’s happening right now. It’s not something we can kick down the road.”
Dalia Bolotnikov, another graduate student in the English Dept., said Vollman “spoke very eloquently” adding that his talk shed light on several relevant topics facing the U.S. today.
During the lecture, Vollman discussed the absurdity of U.S. intelligence agencies suspecting him of being the culprit for the anthrax mailings that killed five.
“I remember believing that Al-Qaeda sent those bottles,” Vollman said. “Silly me, I should have suspected myself.”
Vollman also warned of the consequences the U.S. will face due to its covert wars spanning from East Africa to Central Asia.
“Having been to Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq, I can assure you, the rage we engender through secret — and therefore unaccountable — killings over there compels some individuals to reprisals,” Vollman said.
Photo by John Clow / Daily Nexus
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the Thursday, November 7, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.