They won’t start talking until we put all our phones in the refrigerator. Dennis McNamara, of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, talking about sensitive negotiations.
A year or so ago I posted a blog about the risks of being infiltrated by spies. I seem to have missed the point. True enough, we humanitarians should do more about stopping NGO penetration by the Felix Leiters and Carrie Mathisons of the world. If we want to safeguard trust in our intentions, trust in our essential harmlessness, then we need to keep the spies out.
But that misses the point driven home, driven right into my breast pocket, by Edward Snowden. The revelations about NSA spying make it clear, the spy is I. It is no longer a question of keeping spooks-people out, it is a question of the degree to which they have transformed us into spooks-people in. The unwittingness of our role is of no relevance. Ditto for our pure hearts. It is no longer about deliberately passing information back to spy agencies, it is about their routine extraction of sensitive information from our everyday work.
What to do given the lack of convenient refrigerators? Negotiating access requires daily contact with armed groups, many of whom have so-called terrorist or similar status. We must talk to them. We must phone them to ask if it is safe to travel, safe to deliver care, safe to transport a wounded child. Who needs a mole when our Nokias and Thurayas provide such an effective set of eyes and ears?
Decades ago I thought (briefly, very briefly) about working for the CIA. I never thought I would be doing it for free.